Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Mailbox

I am on vacation right now but have added books that have arrived in my mailbox as I could based on my long-suffering husband's intelligence from home. So if I have misattributed who sent me something, I apologize and feel free to note my mistake in the comments.

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner.
This book came from Simon and Schuster, my illustrious former employer (not that I worked for Atria when I worked there many a moon ago, mind you--I worked for Prentice Hall, which has since been sold to another publisher). I do still love to read their books so I am always glad to get something in the mail from them. And as for this one specifically, I have enjoyed other books by Jennifer Weiner and think this one looks delicious too.

Mercury in Retrograde by Paula Froelich
Another from Simon and Schuster, this looks like a delightful and fun book about three women who end up in a New York tenement together, befriend each other, and go on to right their lives. Feel good summer fare, what could be better?

Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart
Amy from My Friend Amy was running a book drive to get as many people as she could to buy this book. I'm ever happy to buy books and the description of this one sounded good so buy it I did.

As always, if you'd like to check out the goodies that other people found in their mailboxes, check out The Printed Page where Marcia kindly hosts this meme every week.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review: Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton

As a complete sucker for all things Jane Austen, need I say that the idea of reading the very first "sequel" to Pride and Prejudice was an appealing one to me? Even better than that was dicovering that this is more than just a Pride and Prejudice sequel. As its newly minted subtitle claims, it is a sequel to all the novels. Pulling many favorite characters from all of Austen's best-loved works, Brinton has created a fun romp through Regency England in the company of Austen's secondary characters.

This is not focused on the main characters of Aussten's books. After all, she wrapped their stories up fairly neatly. Instead, the focus is on Georgiana Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, Kitty Bennett and Mary Crawford, Tom Bertram and William Price, and others. While some purists shudder at the thought of introducing these characters to each other, Regency society was fairly small and so people of the same social standing could be expected to have connections to each other, making this intermingling of Austen's creations feasible.

The plot, while not as witty and sharp as Austen's herself, is quite entertaining, opening with Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam breaking their engagement to each other to the stern annoyance of Lady Catherine. Both will look for suitable partners throughout the rest of the book. Each will have to overcome societal obstacles as well as the difficulties of their own hearts and personalities in order to be happy.

As with most Austen sequels, a reader who is not familiar with the backstory and characters from the originals will be disappointed with the novel. But Austen fans who are willing to allow the mingling of their best-loved minor characters will likely enjoy this short and quick read.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Review: Blackman's Coffin by Mark DeCastrique

I made an exception to my no mysteries with bodies in them policy for this book because my book club was reading it. And I have suffered from creepy nightmares since reading it. I will have to go back to being a coward and refusing to read anything that even has the faintest whiff of being scary. So keeping in mind that I am far from the ideal reader of this particular book, indeed of any book in the genre, here goes.

Sam Blackman is in Asheville, NC, in the hospital doing rehab after losing his leg in Iraq when a fellow vet brings him a book. Tikima challenges him to stop feeling sorry for himself with a sarcastic and honest wit that intrigues him. But she never returns like she has promised and Sam discovers that she has been murdered. He attends her funeral and decides to speak on behalf of all the vets whom her life touched. It is because of this moving tribute to a woman he met only for 10 minutes that her sister Nakayla searches Sam out, convinced that her sister had chosen Sam to help her uncover the truth of their great-great-grandfather's murder (eerily similar to Tikima's) some 90 years prior.

Nakayla gives Sam a journal she discovered at Tikima's and this account, by a young boy who knew him, of great-great-grandfather Elijah Robertson's desire to bury his great uncle in the family cemetery (not an easy task considering that white undertakers would generally not touch a black person's body and this one needed to be taken from North Carolina to Georgia) will drive the investigation both into Elijah's long ago murder as well as Tikima's more recent murder. And the investigation will take them to the Biltmore Estate and Pisgah National Forest and will be wide reaching enough to touch Asheville's famous son: author Thomas Wolfe.

The historical information included in this mystery is fascinating and I wondered where the lines of reality and fiction intersected. Asheville is a terribly interesting place and DeCastrique has certainly captured that. But, as noted before, I am a huge wimp about bodies and this book not only has the two main murders, but there are some collateral deaths that haunted my dreams as well. I think that mystery lovers will enjoy this greatly as it is well written and the ultimate denouement isn't easily guessed (at least for this mystery novice) until moments before the text confirms the reader's surmise. Not for me because of my life as a scaredy-cat, it is nevertheless a book many will like.

And as an ironic aside, I actually went to the library and applied for a library card so I didn't have to buy this book, knowing it would be unlikely to be my sort of read. It was on the boat I sank. So despite doing a decent job drying it out, it now looks like a rolodex instead of a book. And I own it. Because the library is strangely sniffy about books after complete immersion. Library copies are far more expensive than bookstore copies. So much for being smart!

A North Carolina author for the Literary Road Trip hosted by Galleysmith.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review: Caenus and the Quiver of Artemis by Christopher Ledbetter

I took a mythology class in college and have always been intrigued by Greek mythology. I will, however, freely admit that I am not the world's most knowledgeable person on the topic. What I remember about it these days is probably more thanks to Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief, which I read with my son when it was assigned to him in school last year, than to any recent reading of Ovid's Metamorphoses or the like. But the very little bit I have managed to retain did help me out when reading this particular book.

Caenus is a young man just reaching his majority and he has much to prove to his father, the king, before he will be granted charge of the military. He decides to prove his mettle at a famous contest of skill that has previously been won by the same man several years in a row. While there to compete, he meets an elusive woman with whom he has an immediate connection. Rather than try to find her again after being bested through his opponent's dishonorable move, he and his best friend sail home, determined to train well and excel the following year. After completing the grueling training, Caenus and his family are summoned to the wedding of his opponent only for Caenus to discover that the mystery woman to whom he is so drawn is to be the cheater's bride.

In addition to the human plotline, there are hints of mythology and godly intervention in Caenus' contests as the title suggests. But these are little more than hints, not being fleshed out nearly enough to satisfy. Perhaps the question of why the gods seem to favor Caenus without interfering too heavily will be answered in the following books but it seems an important plot point that is never elaborated upon.

And this is my concern with the book as a whole. It is much thinner than it should be, almost bereft of enough to tie all the storylines together. Caenus is determined and has a loyal friend but we as readers don't see enough of him to think of him as a fully rounded character. To be believable, an all-consuming love should grow out of the characters' interaction, even if they do only meet once. Somehow, this seemed more a deus ex machina, a way to get Caenus to fight Makedon than a real and legitimate love. And really, for me, the training with Kheiron and the descriptions of the challenges at Apollo's Tournament were where this book excelled, rather than detailing Caenus and Kalliste's fledgling love.

This has the bones of a good story but it needs to be fleshed out further. There were echoes of Hercules and of the Odyssey but the epic struggle and the love defying all elements need more to bolster them, make them stronger. Perhaps this shouldn't be the first in a trilogy but rather the first part of a longer single book that incorporates the remaining adventures and grows the existing characters more fully.

Thanks to the author for the opportunity to read this. I will still be passing it along to my son and seeing if I can wrest an opinion from him.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hop aboard: the Literary Road Trip

If you're the sort of person who meanders into the "local" section of bookstores when you are on vacation or who reads up on the area of the country or the world you'll be visiting long before your suitcase is packed, the Literary Road Trip is a concept you'll love. Hosted by Michelle at Galleysmith, this is a way to showcase local authors from your state, region, country. Interested bloggers can sign up to review books from their area. But it's not just bloggers, publishers and authors can suggest books as well. I signed up to showcase North Carolina books and authors. Hopefully others will join me too so we can cover more than I can do alone. I don't know exactly what I'll be reading and reviewing for your North Carolina reading pleasure yet, but I thought I'd leave a link to Jim the Boy by Tony Earley which I read earlier this year and which is a delightful NC novel.

If you have any suggestions as to my future NC reading, feel free to leave me a comment and if you feel so inclined, go sign up to be a tour bus driver for this road trip. And I'll see you in the "local" section browsing away each and every time I go on vacation.

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

This meme hosted is by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog. And again, my list of books with a book mark still in them is almost the same as it was two weeks ago but they are just about dry now so hopefully they'll stop appearing on the in progress list shortly!

Books I completed this week are:

Caenus and the Quiver of Artemis by Christopher Ledbetter
Blackman's Coffin by Sam DeCastrique
Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton
Seducing Mr. Darcy by Gwyn Cready
Vanishing by Candida Lawrence
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
As Sure As the Sun by Anna McPartlin
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin
Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh
Lamentations of the Father by Ian Frazier

Reviews posted this week:

Pokcetful of Names by Joe Coomer
Last Light Over Carolina by Mary Alice Monroe
Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson

I have 6 books awaiting review, all from this week.

Mailbox Monday

Still mourning the destruction of so many of my books, I have had a lovely mailbox week with lots of pristine, un-water-damaged books arriving to take some of the sting out of my losses. It just does my little heart good to open the mailbox door and see the little beauties in there waiting for me.

Reed City Boy by Timothy Bazzett.
This book came compliments of the author. It is the first of his memoirs and I thought if I was going to read something of his, it would be best to start at the beginning. Saves me the mental anguish of knowing that I am reading out of order. LOL! I've always thought boys were different creatures than girls (and having boys of my own, I now know that to be true) so it should be fun to read this memoir of a boy from small town middle America.

Waking Up in Eden by Lucinda Fleeson
This came to me from Algonquin Books. What isn't appealing about a journalist who becomes a fundraiser at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai who has written a book about her experience both personally and professionally? I personally may be able to kill mint (perhaps I should undertake to deal with the kudzu scourge here in the southeast) but I do love to read about botany.

The Puzzle King by Betsy Carter
This came to me from Algonquin Books. Aside from being one of the most appealing book covers I've seen to date, the story of two immigrant Jews who meet and fall in love in America and then work to rescue their realtives from Hitler's Germany is definitely a hook for me. And the fact that it is inspired by author Betsy Carter's own family history is simply gravy.

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
This came to me from Algonquin Books.
What must it say about me that I always gravitate towards books with conflicts between parents and children? I hope this isn't an omen for my life to come. But seriously, a father who tries to derail his son's romance with the significantly older daughter of good family friends? How can you not rub your hands with glee when offered that as a teaser? Oh, and note to all art departments everywhere: if you put a picture of water on the front, I will pick it up. Guaranteed!

The Lie by Fredrica Wagner
I saw this all over the blogsphere a few weeks ago and coveted it each and every time I saw it so when FSB offered to send it to me too, I couldn't say yes quickly enough. Love, love, love the vintage glamour girl on the cover too.

Benny and Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti
Another one from the folks at FSB, I love that this book knows that relationships are hard no matter the age of the people involved. Even more, I am drawn by the idea of two misfits trying to find each other, even if it is with difficulty.

An Inside Passage by Kurt Caswell
Sent from the author, the descriptive phrase "luminous essays on wanderlust" from the amazon description, sends shivers down my spine. Terribly intriguing hardly describes it!

As always, if you'd like to check out the goodies that other people found in their mailboxes, check out The Printed Page where Marcia kindly hosts this meme every week.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Salon: What makes a good book?

I've been sitting around today musing about what makes a book a good read. And of course, I realize that what I think makes a book good, won't necessarily make it a good read for someone else. Why would I be pondering this, you ask? Well, because I have a new gig of sorts. Really it's just a formalization of what I've been doing for years, reading and recommending books. And it won't carry my name but rather carry the endorsement of a committee of which I am only a part. But it's a big responsibility to help decide which books will get our imprimatur as good reading group books. Hence my Sunday pondering. My short list at the moment contains: believable and complex characters, an issue or concern which could engender difference of opinion or disparate views among readers, engaging writing, an accurate representation of the time in which the book is set, and a subject or plot of sufficient interest to keep readers turning pages. Some wonderful books won't fit all these criteria of mine. In my experience, not all books are fodder for a good discussion. So what makes a book a good discussion book for you?

This past reading week I spent time in ancient Greece with a young man favored by the gods. I investigated the murder of a security consultant which was connected to the murder of her great-great-grandfather nearly ninety years previously. I frolicked in a Jane Austen sequel that pulled many of her most famous characters together into one storyline. And then I traveled into Pride and Prejudice with a reader of romances, really messing up the plot to the point that an Austen scholar had to help unravel the mess. Finally, I dipped from event to event and essay to essay in the life of an eighty year old memoirist.

The coming week finds me heading north again with my mostly dry books. With luck nothing will happen to them and I will be able to resume my travels inside their crinkled and warped pages rather than just hauling them hither, thither and yon about the country without a glance inside (rather like my school textbooks used to travel).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review: Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson

Subtitled Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink, this is exactly the quirky kind of memoir to which I am drawn. I personally wouldn't get a tattoo in a million years (the needle phobia sort of rules them out) but I'm intrigued by people who are so passionate about them. Johnson, who co-owns a venerable shop on the West Coast, would seem to be the perfect person to write about this then.

Divided into distinct parts composed of mostly related essays, this is not a memoir in the linear sense. For that matter, many of the essays address the state of the industry rather than specific happenings in Johnson's shop or life as a tattoo artist although there are more personal bits as well. The reader is certainly left in no doubt as to Johnson's opinions on everything from the retro art trend, to artists who want to draw directly on skin, to the importance of clean toilets. Johnson himself claims to be a sort of middle of the roader in terms of artistic talent so the reader doesn't have to wade through boasting to get to the meat of each related essay.

However, there are times where it seems as if the author suddenly remembered that tattoo artists have this reputation as bad-asses and he must reinforce that at least ever so slightly. To this reader, his asides about needing to masturbate after doing a pubic tattoo or about sexual favors offered (and in some cases accepted) seemed forced, simply for the effect, or perhaps just not flowing seamlessly with the rest of the narrative. I don't doubt that these things happen(ed) but in most cases they weren't particularly interesting to read about. The most engaging parts of this book for me were the essays where we met some of the eccentric folks that either work in or hang out around tattoos shops and when Johnson gives us one of his infrequent anecdotes from his working life. The least engaging bits were when he tries to get philosophical or the extended meditations on what makes for a good shop versus a bad one (although perhaps this latter is more interesting and pertinent for people without my needle phobia as they might consider a tattoo). An interesting enough read, it didn't hang together as well as I'd hoped.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Giveaway day 7 winner

And the winner of the grand finale is Pam. I will be e-mailing her shortly to see which books from the selection she'd like to receive. Congratulations Pam!

Summer Reading Challenge

I might have failed dismally at the Spring Reading Challenge but I am always game to try again. This one is hosted by A Southern Daydreamer Reads. As I do with all seasonal challenges that allow me to create my own list, I resolve to finish all the books I currently have in progress for this challenge. This might be a bit complicated this go round as several of them are still drying out. But I'll stick to tradition and if I fail, I'll blame it on the books' condition instead of myself. If I complete it, well, I can just feel smug. Win, win I think! So without further ado, here's my list:

1. As Sure As the Sun by Ann McPartlin
2. The Far Pavillions by M.M. Kaye
3. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
4. Caenus and the Quiver of Artemis by Christopher Ledbetter
5. A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird
6. What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin
7. The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
8. Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh
9. Lamentations of the Father by Ian Frazier

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Review: Last Light Over Carolina by Mary Alice Monroe

Shrimping is a hard way of life. It is tough work for less and less payoff these days given the global economy. It is dangerous and messy. Gruelingly physical. But it it the only way of life for so many people in small coastal South Carolina towns. And it is here, in one of these towns that Mary Alice Monroe has set her new book.

Bud Morrison comes from a shrimping family. It is in his blood and is the only thing he's ever had the desire to do. He is a good captain, safe and competent, but like so many others scrambling to make a living, he is deeply in debt. Married to Carolina for 30 plus years, he worries that they'll lose the big, beautiful house she inherited from family if he doesn't have some good runs. And this worry is one of the reasons that drives him out alone on his boat the fateful day chronicled in this novel.

Told in chapters from Bud's point of view, as well as wife Carolina's, we go through the day with the characters, hearing their worries and glimpsing the stresses and fissures in their marriage and in their lives. Each character reminisces about their past together, the mistakes they've made and what has brought them to the pass in which they find themselves now. Despite taking place all in the framework of one day up until the very last chapter, the reader is taken through Bud and Carolina's meeting and instant zinging connection, the early years when so in tune that they shrimped together, the years of escalating stresses about money, the betrayal that they pushed past but never quite managed to leave behind, and the current detente of a chilled marriage.

All of the memories that flood through Bud and Carolina during the day bring them to a greater understanding of what they want out of life and this comprehension becomes the touchstone that pushes them through the crisis they each face when Bud's boat the Miss Carolina is overdue. Carolina knows in her heart something is wrong but she is ignorant of what the reader knows to be going on onboard. And it becomes a race against time to find the boat and Bud before it is too late.

The major side plot here involves Bud and Carolina's grown daughter and her ex-husband. Like her father, Lizzy's ex is a shrimper and although she still cares for him more deeply than she'd like to admit, she doesn't want to live the life she's grown up seeing. But Josh is persistent and as Lizzy goes through the day her father is missing, she comes to some home truths about love and marriage and community. And Josh, as part of that community rallies to find Bud and his boat.

Even though the reader is aware at all times what has happened to make Bud late getting in, the tension in the novel ratchets up every time a new chapter starts an hour or further into the day. Alternating these chapters with Bud and Carolina's flashbacks serves to easily give the reader the back story between the two of them so that both their connection and their reserve with each other is understandable. But the precipitous alternating also made it harder for me to remain fully in the story. I don't know if a strictly linear account would have had the tension Monroe was going for, but it probably would have worked a bit better for me.

Second changes and forgiveness run through the novel thematically, and not just through Bud and Carolina's marriage and Josh's and Lizzy's relationship. It is evident in Bud's willingness to employ his cousin as his striker despite the fact that Pee Dee has been blamed by so many for Bud's younger brother's death. It is evident in Bud's former best friend being willing to allow the fleet to gas up free of charge to search for Bud despite Bud's and his long standing animosity.

But Monroe never suggests that second chances or forgiveness is easy. Her characters suffer and struggle. They are imperfect but through the aegis of this accident, they will come to understand that the powerful love that so consumed them in the early years is still there, waiting under the surface of the communication problems, the financial struggle and stresses, and the day to day mundanities that threaten to weaken a marriage. And that chance for happiness all over again is really the ultimate message of the book. And if the book occasionally felt a little emotionally manipulative, the uniqueness of the setting and the appeal of the characters themselves helped to ameliorate that, making this a page turner right at home on a lazy summer day at the beach.

A big thanks to Sarah at Pocket Books for sending me the book. If you'd like to check out other stops on the tour, a list of participants follows:

All About {n}:
Bookin’ with “BINGO”:
My Guilty Pleasures:
Just Jennifer Reading:
Chick With Books:
Bella’s Novella:
Books and Needlepoint:
Booksie’s Blog:
Beth Fish Reads:
Medieval Bookworm:
Living Life and Reading Books:
Book N Around:
The Eclectic Book Hoarder:
Pick of the Literate:
A Book Bloggers Diary:
My Friend Amy:
The Tome Traveller’s Weblog:
Gaijin Mama:
Blog Business World:
ScarpettaJunkie’s Blog:
Frugal Plus:
Carolina Gal’s Literary CafĂ©:
This Book For Free:
Marta’s Meanderings:

Giveaway day 6 winners

Announcing the winners of giveaway day 6. Thanks to the generous folks at Hatchette and my buddy, the following five people win a copy of The Imposter's Daughter:

A Reader (liane66)
Belinda M.

Congratulations to all the winners. Please e-mail me with your address so I can pass them along to the folks at Hatchette.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer

I chose this book for our summer bookclub, knowing that just about everyone would find the cover with the black lab terribly appealing. The fact that so many of us in the group also spend our summers on islands (although in a far different manner than the main character here) didn't hurt either. The meeting hasn't happened yet but I have high hopes that it will turn out well. There's certainly enough to talk about in here to keep us busy for quite some time.

Opening with a dog falling off a passing boat, swimming desperately towards land and ultimately being washed ashore, this is the story of Hannah, an artist and a hermit, who lives a contented life painting and creating art on the remote Maine island her great-uncle left to her. Hannah is skilled at keeping people out of her life but when she finds the dog sleeping on a ledge in the old stone quarry that makes a sort of harbor on her island, she takes him in, naming him Driftwood. The dog is just the first in a motley collection of people and creatures in need who arrive on her island and in her life.

Initially determined to keep him out, Hannah finds herself coming to value the high school boy fleeing his abusive father and posing as her nephew sent her way by her half-sister for safe haven. As Will becomes a fixture on the island, even posing for Hannah, he quietly steals into her heart. With Will's presence come more people intruding into Hannah's solitude. She befriends Zee, the local boat delivery service girl, and Zee's father, Tom, and grandfather. Tom and Hannah come to a comfortable relationship and through him Hannah starts to learn not only about her great uncle, but also about who she herself is really. This self-knowledge becomes crucial as Hannah faces the biggest setback in her life.

Coomer has written an understated masterpiece in this book with Hannah's island as the perfect metaphor for life. As more and more people, and even an animal or two, invade her space, Hannah comes to understand the difference between solitude and loneliness. She learns that opening her life to others enriches it beyond measure. And she learns that no matter how barren and rocky a place, no matter how thin the soil, things will grow. And while this sounds like it could be sappy as all get out, Coomer handles it deftly, surely, keeping it true to the stoic New England characters he's drawn here. The setting is accurate and reflective of the overall book. Clearly this story could take place no where else and yet, in terms of the underlying theme, it does take place all over the world all the time.
Coomer writes with meticulous precision. His characters are people you think you might be likely to meet in the local restaurant in any small Maine lobster town. None of them are perfect and as each character starts to reveal him or herself, each one becomes more faceted and more realistic. The book manages to evoke the sights, smells, and sounds of ocean islands effortlessly.

Perhaps the best summation of the book comes from the novel itself. On page 150, Hannah muses:

She'd read somewhere that there were three things worth doing in life: making something new, caring for something old, and finding something lost. Her art was new; the house was worthy of care. What had been lost? It was like asking what had been forgotten. You didn't know until you remembered it. She wouldn't know what was lost until she found it.

A powerful novel, I really enjoyed this one and look forward to more of Coomer's work. Fingers crossed that the book club feels the same way!

Giveaway day 5 winners

According to, the six winners of today's giveaway for The Link are:

Belinda M.

Please e-mail me with your addresses (my e-mail can be found on my profile). Congratulations all!

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

This meme hosted is by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog. Sadly enough, my list of books with a book mark still in them is almost the same as it was two weeks ago thanks to still trying to dry everything out. I'm starting to think I'll have to read them with a blow dryer in my lap to get them dry enough to read. ::sigh::

Books I completed this week are:

Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer
Last Light Over Carolina by Mary Alice Monroe
Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
As Sure As the Sun by Anna McPartlin
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickers
What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin
Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh
Caenus and the Quiver of Artemis by Christopher Ledbetter

Reviews posted this week:

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand
How Perfect Is That by Sarah Bird
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon by Gideon Defoe
Time Stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye
Ooh La La by Robin Wells
Instances of the Number 3 by Salley Vickers
The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

I have 3 books still awaiting review, all from this week. I'll probably jinx myself, but I seem to be making headway!

Mailbox Monday

I don't know that these all came in the past week as we were on vacation part of the week prior as well. But it's been a pretty happy week book-wise. And since these are dry rather than wet, well, that's cause for celebration around here. I could only imagine the irony if they'd been left out in the rain for days while we were gone.

The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell from Hatchette

No Mad by Sam Moffie from the author

Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn from a contest win at Bookin' With Bingo

Across the Pond by Storyheart from the author

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin from Random House

The Boy Who Harnassed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer from William Morrow

For those who regularly read my Monday mailbox posts, a quick question. Do you like having the books linked to the amazon reviews or should I not bother with that? On weeks when there aren't so many books to list I don't mind cutting and pasting the info but it seems like that would make the post too long some weeks (and yes, I recognize the irony in me saying a post is too long, queen of rambling that I am). Or do you prefer the weeks where instead of info about the book, I post why I am eager to read them?

As always, if you'd like to check out the goodies that other people found in their mailboxes, check out The Printed Page where Marcia kindly hosts this meme every week.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Review: The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

In your typical chick lit book, the heroine is generally in her twenties, single, figuring out who she is and what she wants from life. Oh yeah, and she generally stumbles into a relationship that helps her make sense of all of that. By this criteria, this novel is not chick lit. This is something different but it still retains the fun and hilarious feel that you find in the best chick lit. Becky is the married mother of (almost) four. She's a Mormon housewife with a harmless crush on the actor who plays her favorite big screen characters. So when she is out in Hollywood selling her screenplay, she meets Felix himself and they immediately have a connection.

If you think this connection is going to parlay into a steamy adulterous affair from which Becky comes to learn the importance of fidelity and family, you have it completely wrong. The reality is even better. Becky and Felix are soul mates destined to be best friends for all time. They love each other without "loving" each other. And Hale has brilliantly captured the giddy feeling of meeting someone who just "gets" you in Becky and Felix's relationship. There are bumps in the road, such as when Becky's husband admits he's completely uncomfortable with her relationship with Felix and Becky pulls back out of her undying love for Mike or when Felix's wife faces her own green-eyed monster. But this chronicle of a friendship meant to last forever shows a strong and unbreakable friendship in a charming and entirely entertaining way.

The ups and downs between Becky and Felix are the natural ebb and flow of a real friendship. As disparate as their lives are, they add a touch of cheer to each others' existence and accept each other for who they are. There are moments when the lightness of the book slips as the characters face the scarier and sadder aspects of life. But these plot twists serve to highlight the deeper meaning of friendship, showing enduring love in different forms. And while I admit to a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach during the most tragic moments, it is these moments that took the book out of the realm of light, unbelievable fiction and into a more realistic and thoughtful book. Good escapism, enjoyable writing, delightful characters, and a pitch perfect ending. Fun all the way around (aside from the careful, powerful gut-wrenching in the middle).

Everyone should have one of these friendships--one that can be picked up with no awkwardness even after long absences; one that defines you and brightens your life; one that is simply predicated on kismet. This is a completely delightful book, one you'll want to gulp in one sitting. Then you can go back and enjoy Hale's previous book Austenland, another one I read with glee.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with the book to review.

August Reading Challenge

Pizza's Book Discussion is hosting a reading challenge in August to see who can read the most books during the month. Interesting concept and since it requires no thought on my part as to which books to include, I figured I'd throw my hat in the ring. Given that I have a very long drive in front of me in August, I'm sure my book count will be fewer than normal but that's okay. There really don't seem to be rules per se so just go to the site and sign yourself up.

What I read in August will eventually be listed below:

1. Mermaids in the Basement by Michael Lee West
2. The Rogue and the Rival by Maya Rodale
3. The book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark
4. Cornfield Heiress by E.
5. A Strong West Wind by Gail Caldwell
6. The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey
7. The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
8. Sand in My Bra edited by Jennifer Leo
9. The Scenic Route by Binnie Kirshenbaum
10. The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone
11. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
12. However Tall the Mountain by Awista Ayub
13. The Wedding by Julie Garwood
14. While I'm Falling Laura Moriarty
15. No Mad by Sam Moffie
16. East of the Mountains by David Guterson
17. Benny and Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti
18. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
19. That Summer by Sarah Dessen
20. As Sure As the Sun by Anna McPartlin
21. Cost by Roxana Robinson
22. My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler
23. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson

Giveaway day 4 winner

And again with the on time drawing results announcement! This insomnia thing is really working in your guys' favor. and I are becoming fast friends over this daily visit. According to my new friend, the lucky winner of The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is:


I will be sending you an e-mail momentarily. Congratulations!

Sunday Salon: Shallow where books are concerned

Yes, the title of this post is a terrible pun. It's intentional. My books are still wet. They are drying out but they are still wet. And in some cases they are now growing mold. If you missed the story of the boat sinking and therefore have no idea why the books are wet, you can read about it here. Wet books are unreadable books and this means I am appallingly behind on my reviewing. Formerly submerged books that have dried in the sun when the humidity wasn't too high to squeeze the water from them are not much easier to read given the wrinkles and waves and general disarray of the pages. I have been diligently rifling through the pages to try and get them all dry but it actually hurts me to see the destroyed things out there on my deck table.

I am one of those people who doesn't dog-ear pages. Doesn't ever produce marginalia. Doesn't so much as crack the spine of my books. And now I have close to 80 books that look like someone abused them badly. This somehow makes me less eager to read them. Perhaps this disappointment in the physical books (haven't read them so can't comment on the contents) as they are now goes a long way towards explaining why I am not likely to become a Kindle or e-book reader. I want the whole sensory works, not just the content on the page. And books that have scraped the bottom of a lake don't trip my book pleasure trigger. They just look forlorn and awful. The pages stick together; they're bent in strange configurations. One's cover is completely torn off and others have bits of the cover picture flaked off. They are a motley (and moldy) band. I will, of course, continue to dry them out and will read them but I will forever look askance at their ruined faces because I have discovered through this that I am shallow and I like pretty and pristine books.

As a side note to the books looking like a disaster, it's bad enough that almost all of them are mine but one is a library book. I actually went and got a library card specifically so I wouldn't have to get a copy of the book one of my book clubs is reading for August. I have never been much of a library user, preferring my own pristine books instead. But I really didn't want to buy a book I am fairly certain I won't enjoy. Hence the library card. I only checked out one book. The first and only book on my brand spankin' new library account. And it went down with the rest of our stuff. So now once it dries, I will read it and then return it shamefacedly with an offer to replace it. Because surely no one else will want to read it in such a condition. That means I will have spent more on it that I would have if I just bought the dad-gummed thing in paperback in the first place. I wonder if they'll make me turn in my newly minted library card when I return it? Chalk up another reason for me not to use the library!

Most of my book adventures this week have been outside the reading pages, shuffling the books physically outdoors when the sun was shining and the humidity low and indoors when it was too unbearable for man, beast, or book to be outside. But I did read a couple books not sacrificed to Poseidon. I inhabited an island in Maine with a reclusive artist who reluctantly opens her home to a steady stream of people. And I spent a day paddling through the memories of a husband and wife on the day in which the husband's shrimp boat was overdue. Odd how my reading has inadvertantly centered around boats and islands, right now isn't it?

If you haven't seen my giveaways, there is still time to enter to win The Link, The Imposter's Daughter, and a whole selection of bookcrossing books and better yet, they are non-swimming books.

If anyone has any suggestions on killing the mold, feel free to share. Oh, and any suggestions to completely dry out the books would also be appreciated. I have been tempted to throw them in the convection oven at about 100 degrees but then think how embarrassing it would be to have wet and scorched books all at the same time. I don't need to meet the local fire department that badly!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review: Instances of the Number Three by Salley Vickers

I read and enjoyed Vickers' Miss Garnet's Angel years ago as a book club selection and thought that I should try revisiting her novels. Opening after the accidental death of Peter Hansome, this is the story of the two women who loved him: his wife and his mistress. When Bridget, his wife, finds evidence of Peter's long suspected duplicity, she contacts Frances and the two begin a wary relationship, tied because of their feelings towards Peter. As the women develop a friendship of sorts, they are watched over by the speechless but generally benevolent ghost of Peter himself. An Iranian boy claiming to be Peter's protege appears and moves in with Bridget and then with Francis and then again with Bridget becoming the third in the newly reconfigured combination. And this doesn't begin to unravel even half of the plot. Although my accounting is terribly disjointed, the narrative hangs together beautifully as more truths are slowly unveiled about each character and each of their former places in Peter's compartmentalized world.

Vickers' characters, and indeed the book itself, are restrained, carefully guarded, and proper. Her impressively fluid writing lulls the reader so that the major plot twists come not as shocking surprises but organic growths out of the story itself. She plumbs the depths of relationships with these characters and plays with the characters in variations of threes of which Bridget, Francis, and Peter are only the most obvious set. The back cover copy of the book suggests that this is "a modern drawing room comedy" and while there were flashes that drew a chuckle, this is not comedy in the guffawing sense. It has a subtle, well-thought out, sly sort of humor interwoven into precisely drawn situations. None of the characters are particularly forthcoming to each other, nor even to the careful reader, who must mine the text for deeper revelations. I enjoyed the book but the slow pacing and restraint might put off some readers.

Giveaway day 3 winners

Stop the presses! Two days in a row of spot on time posts. There must be a blue moon tonight or something. In any case, I am indeed on the ball and with the help of we have five winners for My Name Is Will. They are:

Renee G
Belinda M
Jenny N

Look in your e-mail for a note from me (and if you don't see one, check your spam filter) as I'll need your addresses to pass along to the ever generous folks at Hatchette so they can send you your prize book.

Friday, July 10, 2009

100+ Reading Challenge

I love to have firm goals in my reading. Actually, striving for a certain number of books read is about the only time in my life I really enjoy anything to do with numbers. So I always happily jump on the bandwagon for any and all challenges like J. Kaye's 100+ Reading Challenge which challenges you to read 100 books for the year. I am not going to post my list of books (gasp!), especially since I've already read 96 so far this year that count toward the challenge (I also finished a couple that were started before 2009 so they don't count). For the most part, if I've reviewed it on here, give or take less than five books total, it goes in the pot towards completing the challenge.

2nds Challenge

The 2nds Challenge is another of J. Kaye's brain children. It can follow nicely on the heels of her First in a Series Challenge or it doesn't have to since the books don't have to be part of a series, just the second book you've read by an author. It is a nice incentive to read more of an author you enjoyed the first time. And if you're like me, you've stockpiled other books but have just never made it back to reading him or her again. This is the challenge to help you rediscover why you cheerily agreed to read more by these authors.

Here's my list as it stands right now:

1. something by Sarah Dessen
2. Laughter on the Stairs by Beverley Nichols
3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
5. Kristin Lavransdatter II: The Mistress of Husaby by Sigrid Undset
6. Apocalipstick by Sue Margolis
7. Through Thick and Thin by Alison Pace
8. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
9. A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev
10. Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith
11. The Old Forest and Other Stories by Peter Taylor
12. The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo

First in a Series Challenge

And another challenge I blithely joined way back when without ever joining up officially. Obviously I am feeling the need to recitfy this omission for a few challenges today. The First in a Series Challenge is also hosted by J. Kaye of J. Kaye's Book Blog. She's going to be mighty tired of my solving the procrastination problem by the time I'm finished today but I love how easy going she is about all of this!

So here are the rules for this one:
1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. Read 12 books that are the first in any series. You may read & list your chosen books any time during the year.

3. Challenge begins January thru December, 2009.

4. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

And because I am the list queen, I, of course, have a list and have already been reading from it.

1. The Alphabetical Hook-Up List A-J by Phoebe McPhee
2. Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols
3. Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins
4. Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
5. Cordelia Underwood by Van Reid
6. 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
7. The Pig Did It by Joseph Caldwell
8. The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell
9. An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aidan
10. The Virgin in the Garden by A.S. Byatt
12. Mr. Darcy’s Daughters by Elizabeth Aston
13. Cooking With Fernet-Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson

Young Adult Book Challenge

In my own inimitable fashion, I read about this Young Adult Book Challenge way back in January on J. Kaye's Book Blog and decided on the spot to participate. I also decided that I'd put off signing up officially until some later date which seemed doomed never to come. But stumbling on it again just recently, I was reminded that not only can I sign up at any time (no time like the present!), I can actually count the books I had already been reading towards an unofficial completion. WooHoo! So in order to make certain that I don't wait another 7 months to sign up, in which case I would have missed the challenge entirely, I am signing up now.

Here are the rules to participate:
1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. Read 12 Young Adult novels. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

3. Challenge begins January thru December, 2009.

4. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

And even though I don't have to offer up a list, because I am an over-achiever, albeit a late one, here's my probable list:

1. Twilight by Stephanie Meyers
2. Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins
3. Slam by Nick Hornby
4. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
5. The Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez by Judy Goldschmidt
6. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
7. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
8. Thwonk by Joan Bauer
9. That Summer by Sarah Dessen
10. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
11. Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
12. The Alphabetical Hook-Up List A-J by Phoebe McPhee

Review: Ooh La La by Robin Wells

I don't typically tend to read a whole lot of contemporary romance because I'n not a huge fan of paranormal elements nor of a thriller-ish plotline and those two things seem to be dominating the current contemporary romance releases. I prefer fun and humor with my happily ever afters. So I don't know how long I've had this book sitting around the house unread, but after skimming the back cover copy, I decided it would suit my mood and fit the very narrow personal guidelines I have for books in the genre.

Set in New Orleans, this is the story of a former child actor turned director shooting a movie in the famed Red Light District and the history professor hired to ensure the historical accuracy and integrity of the movie. Given Zack's willingness to sacrifice accuracy for explosions and chase scenes and the like to make his movie, at base a love story, appealing to both male and female audiences, he and Kate are destined to butt heads and often. Both characters have a huge stake in the movie. Zack's last few pictures have failed and this is his last shot at directorial success. Kate is up for tenure but the department chair doesn't like her and thinks her historical focus is soft and unacademic so her professional credence is on the line with the movie. Tension between the characters is high as they both fight for their professional lives. But as they learn to accomodate each other, the movie starts to pull together and so does their relationship at least until the more underlying issues start to eat at them. There is a subplot here with Kate's mother having anxiety attacks and agoraphobia traced back to the early death of Kate's father and the way that it affects her own potential relationship with a cameraman on the movie. The other major subplot deals with Kate's teenaged daughter and the deadbeat father she's never known.

The characters here are entertaining and watching them open themselves up to each other is fun. Wells throws in small bits of humor, like with the script writer who may just throw a tantrum once Kate finishes slashing through his screenplay, excising the historical anachronisms, which helps lighten the book. Perhaps too many plot lines swirling around, the subplots were handled a bit cursorily but as the bulk of the book is the development of Kate and Zack's relationship, this is merely a blip. The tidbits about New Orleans' Red Light District are welcome and I personally would have enjoyed hearing more but that might have derailed the plot too much. Overall a good story with just the right amount of conflict culminating in the necessary happily ever after. A good choice for contemporary romance fans.

Disaster-prone Daphne

Apparently I am disaster-prone Daphne. No, I didn't have to take any poorly written Facebook quiz to find this out. I just took a look at the past week in my life and came to the conclusion that I should go back to bed and call a do-over or failing that, invest heavily in bubble-wrap. Sank a boat? Check. Left expensive dance shoes several states away and completely inaccessible? Check. Dumped an entirely full can of diet Coke all over books not included in boating disaster? Check. (Because just wet books aren't enough, they should be sticky and stained brown too.) Hide your children when I'm near. Get off the road while I am driving. Who knows what my next disaster will be?! At least I seem to only be affecting myself and my own things at the moment (leaving aside the fact that it wasn't my boat).

Giveaway day 2 winners

Look at me posting the day 2 winner this early in the morning! Whee!!! (By the way, don't come to expect this punctuality; it'll just disappoint you when I slide back into my usual slacker mode.) Again using, the lucky winner of my previously enjoyed copy of The $64 Tomato is:

#9 comment--Tina

I will be e-mailing you in a moment for your address. Congratulations!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: Time Stops For No Mouse by Michael Hoeye

A middle grades book that is rated "Not Too Scary," I bought this book in hopes that it would intrigue any one of my children. Somehow it managed to stay on the shelf so I thought I'd take it down, read it, and see if I could recommend it to them. I am pleased to say that this was indeed a cute book that is liable to appeal to all of the residents under five feet here.

Hermux Tantamoq is a mouse who works in a watch and clock shop. He takes great pride in his work and so is a little put off when daredevil aviatrix Linka Perflinger leaves her watch to be repaired, admonishing Hermux that it must keep perfect time, and them fails to return to pick it up. He knows something is wrong when a less than savory rat asks for Linka's watch and so this mild-mannered mouse decides to follow the rat and see where he goes. This plunges him into a kidnapping mystery with a biological bent. The characters surrounding Hermux are eccentric and fun. The evil villains are ruthless and sneaky. The plot zips along at a good clip with revelations, both expected and unexpected, coming fast and furious. Hoeye leaves a trail of clues for an astute reader to solve the mystery but I must admit I'm not that reader, even when the book is written for children less than half my age. But even though I didn't figure out the entirety of the whodunit, I thoroughly enjoyed this adventurous and delightful novel. It reminded me of nothing so much as the wonderful, from-my-childhood movie The Rescuers in tone and flavor. The first in a series, I hope to convince the kiddos to read it while I move along to the second.

Giveaway day 1 winners

The plane was on time, it's just me being a little behind in drawing the winners. But thanks to and without further ado the 5 winners for a copy of Julie and Julia, furnished by Hatchette are:

Neas Nuttiness

All five of you will be getting an e-mail from me so please be on the lookout for it!

I live in fear of the third thing

Bad things come in threes, right? I am just going to hide under my bed and hope the third thing doesn't look for me there. ::sigh::

If you've been paying attention, thing one was sinking the boat with all our vacation belongings on it. I just discovered thing two. I left R.'s dance shoes (jazz and tap) locked in the car in the long term parking lot at the Detroit airport. Nevermind that we were only flying back down here for her to attend her dance rehearsals and Nationals competition next week. Nevermind that she can't do her dances barefoot. Apparently I completely and totally forgot that she had her shoes in the car (at least they weren't in the boat--although if that had been the case, I might have remembered them). And we blithely flew off without them. We definitely want to spend loads of money on new dance shoes since replacing the things ruined in the boat bath won't cost us enough. Today's headache is just getting worse. And I really will be hiding from thing three.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Review: The Pirates! In An Adventure with Napoleon by Gideon Defoe

The fourth in a series I have previously enjoyed, this entry wasn't nearly as humorous and entertaining as the prior books although it did still cause a few chuckles. The Pirate Captain and his crew are back but the Pirate Captain is not himself. He seems weary of pirating and when he is beaten out by some pompous little upstart for Pirate of the Year, he declares his intention to retire. The crew cannot dissuade him and they loyally follow their captain as he is bested by Black Bellamy again, buying land on St. Helena, soon to be home to the infamous Napoleon, and trying to become beekeepers. Many hijinx ensue as both the Pirate Captain and Napoleon vie to be the most famous, most important citizen on St. Helena. I don't know whether the swashbuckling is getting old (even the author admits tongue in cheek that he might be a bit of a one trick pony) or if I missed the references in the jokes but this fourth in the series didn't captivate me like the others did. As a continuation of a running joke, it was a decent enough entry but it wouldn't have inspired me to read further had it been my introduction to the pirates. All of the usual characters are here: the pirate with the red scarf, the pirate with gout, the albino pirate, etc. and they do their usual covering for the dim-witted, laughably egotistical Pirate Captain. But the caper with Napoleon is less madcap than previous capers and perhaps that explains my disappointment here. Well, that and the noticeable lack of ham. Still of interest to fans of the series I hope future books will hark back to the goofy, off-kilter humor and plots of the prior books.

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