Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

For me, I can't wait to read: 40 Love by Madeleine Wickham. The book is being released by Thomas Dunne Books on August 30, 2011.

Amazon says this about the book: Both the author and reader win this game of literary tennis, a comedy of manners in which British first-novelist Wickham aces the shallow rich, displaying a wicked backhand along the way. At their country estate, Patrick Chance and his wife host a weekend tennis party of six (two couples, plus a widower and his daughter) that "comes to an unseemly end." Serving as a catalyst for the debacle, the unprincipled Patrick tries unsuccessfully to peddle a financial fund to the superwealthy Charles Mobyn, then cons Stephen Fairweather, a floundering doctoral student, into mortgaging his home to make the same investment. While the couples' children amuse themselves with pony rides and rehearsals for a play, the adults suffer a series of personal revelations and crises. These stem not only from Charles's self-serving schemes but from the unexpected arrival of Charles's ex-lover, Ella Harte, to whom Charles is still attracted, as well as from an unexpected financial threat. In this light, fast-paced novel, where the plot is sure, if occasionally predictable, and the characters are superficial, because that is their nature, Wickham deftly shows at every turn that matters may not be as they seem, but that one truth can be relied upon: money corrupts.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

For me, I can't wait to read: Little Black Dress by Susan McBride. The book is being released by William Morrow Paperbacks on August 23, 2011.

Amazon says this about the book: Can there be magic in a Little Black Dress? Susan McBride, author of The Cougar Club and the Debutante Dropout mystery series, answers with a resounding, unequivocal, “Yes!” McBride’s mesmerizing tale of two sisters whose intertwined lives are torn apart by a remarkable dress that opens up doors to an inescapable future is an ingenious work of the imagination that recalls the novels of Claire Cook and Jill Kargman. A sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking look into two generations of women, this Little Black Dress is something every fan of quality contemporary women’s fiction will want to own.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

I took seven years of French and spent some of the summer after my senior year in high school in France. My daughter wants to take French as her foreign language when she gets to high school. We definitely find a mystique about France, the French, and Paris in particular. If I ever get there again, I want to walk through the city with a French tutor at my side and completely immerse myself in the Paris experience. In the meantime, I can read books about this fabled city.

Opening with an introduction to three French tutors and their complicated personal lives, the book is followed by three distinct stories and then a final chapter on the tutors. This structure allows Sussman to examine love in many different aspects and at various stages: beginning, disappointed, forbidden, waning, and steadily constant. Nico, a poet who has just discovered that he is going to be published, is in love with fellow tutor Chantal, holding the memory of their night together close to him. But Chantal is with Philippe, a handsome but morally casual fellow tutor, and her evening with Nico was a bid for attention or revenge or something from Philippe. Tangled as their lives are, these three French language tutors are about to meet up with three very different Americans and the emotional baggage they have lugged to Paris.

Nico is assigned to Josie, a high school French teacher who has come to Paris grieving and newly pregnant. She was supposed to come to the city with her married lover but she is unexpectedly alone and finding it difficult to put one foot in front of the other. As she and Nico wander Paris together, working on her conversation, he becomes acutely attuned to her fragile emotions, supporting her as she faces the death of love and the uncertainty of her future. Their easy, flirtatious, and comforting banter allows for the emotionally charged revelation of her affair and its terrible end. Her pain teaches Nico even as she learns from it herself.

Philippe has a standing tutoring session with Riley, an American ex-pat struggling with her situation and floundering in her marriage. She has two small children, one of whom is an infant, and an emotionally unavailable husband. She cannot find anything positive in her life in Paris, feeling alone and friendless. For a change, she and Philippe go out into the city instead of their usual lesson in her home and because of Riley's low mastery of French, they remain isolated from each other, conversing at cross-purposes and without complete understanding. Riley exists fully only to herself, continuing only to be one of many women in Philippe's orbit and even as she realizes that this is the way in which she has come to live her entire life in Paris, she does not fight against it, simply acquiescing, loveless and resigned.

Chantal is on the final day of her walking tour tutoring session with Jeremy, the husband of an international film star in Paris on location for a movie. He has tagged along with wife Diana but is an outsider to the film world and so has stayed occupied by taking these lessons, building his confidence in the spoken langauge. He finds that he is attracted to his beautiful tutor but as he fantasizes about her, he also knows that what he has with his wife is special. As Jeremy learns that a steady, comfortable kind of love is not one to forsake, Chantal has her own revelations.

Sensual and intriguing, the novel takes place over the course of only one day in Paris. It is tied togther both by the French tutors but also by the presence of the movie being filmed in Paris, with each of the characters seeing in the day's movie scene a reflection of themselves and of the day they've had. There is graphic sex, some jarring and discordant, but in many ways that is its function in the story. There is loss and longing woven throughout the connected stories but there is also love, residual, real, and undying. The writing is flowing and easy and I absolutely devoured the story in one sitting. Sussman has captured Paris and its feel beautifully here and has created wonderfully human characters who experience a full range of emotions, involving the reader and pushing her to think and reflect on this messy life and our relationships within it.

For more information about Ellen Sussman and the book visit her webpage.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

For me, I can't wait to read: How to Love an American Man by Kristine Gasbarre. The book is being released by Harper Paperbacks on August 16, 2011.

Amazon says this about the book: A lovely, warm, and poignant true story that reads like compelling fiction, How to Love an American Man is Kristine Gasbarre’s unforgettable memoir recalling the valuable lessons on love she learned from her newly widowed grandmother—and how Grandma’s advice and memories enabled the author to find and fall for a man with an old-fashioned approach to romance. Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, women readers drawn to tales of powerful female bonding, and anyone looking for a beautiful love story will be moved and, perhaps, profoundly inspired by How to Love an American Man.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

For me, I can't wait to read: Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago. The book is being released by Knopf on July 12, 2011.

Amazon says this about the book: An epic novel of love, discovery, and adventure by the author of the best-selling memoir When I Was Puerto Rican.

As a young girl growing up in Spain, Ana Larragoity Cubillas is powerfully drawn to Puerto Rico by the diaries of an ancestor who traveled there with Ponce de León. And in handsome twin brothers Ramón and Inocente—both in love with Ana—she finds a way to get there. She marries Ramón, and in 1844, just eighteen, she travels across the ocean to a remote sugar plantation the brothers have inherited on the island.

Ana faces unrelenting heat, disease and isolation, and the dangers of the untamed countryside even as she relishes the challenge of running Hacienda los Gemelos. But when the Civil War breaks out in the United States, Ana finds her livelihood, and perhaps even her life, threatened by the very people on whose backs her wealth has been built: the hacienda’s slaves, whose richly drawn stories unfold alongside her own. And when at last Ana falls for a man who may be her destiny—a once-forbidden love—she will sacrifice nearly everything to keep hold of the land that has become her true home.

This is a sensual, riveting tale, set in a place where human passions and cruelties collide: thrilling history that has never before been brought so vividly and unforgettably to life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano

Since I first read Wise Blood in high school, I have been fascinated with Flannery O'Connor and her works. I had never heard of Southern Gothic or of literary grotesques until I made the acquaintance of her writing and yet I have been attracted to the eccentric and painful version of the South that she first drew for me ever since. Napolitano has created a tartly realistic, deeply honest, yet fictionlized O'Connor and the people in Milledgeville, GA who allegedly inspired many of O'Connor's own flawed characters in this engrossing novel.

Seriously ill with lupus and living rather remotely from town on the family farm with her mother, O'Connor has had to abandon her vibrant life in New York when the novel opens the night before the wedding of a childhood acquaintance. The unconcerned and shatteringly loud screaming of peacocks rends the night air, setting the stage, introducing tension, and clearly foreshadowing the unexpected, catastrophic, fateful day that will change lives.

Told in varying voices, the novel tells not only of O'Connor and her developing friendship with Melvin Whiteson, who has come to Milledgeville to marry the beautiful and socially adept Cookie, but also of Cookie and her secret feeling of inadequacy, of Lona Waters, stifled in her marriage to a local policeman but finding some worth in her business making curtains, of young Joe Treadle, retreating from expectations and connections. Each of the secondary characters is drifting through life without respect to the choices that lead them. It is this unconsciousness that Flannery forces Melvin to confront during their long, secretive country drives. Astute and unblinking, Flannery sees her own future, or lack thereof, quite clearly.

Napolitano has drawn characters clearly related to O'Connor's own fictional creations. Although not nearly as grotesque, they are direct descendants of O'Connor's. And this novel echoes much of the moral questioning that reverberates through O'Connor's own works. But it also adds a dimension to O'Connor herself, plumbing her inspirations and examining her intentions, drawing her as a complex and intricate woman and author. As her character tells Melvin, when he mentions the unhappiness and disturbing view of humanity rife in O'Connor's writings, "Maybe I left them on their way to a happy ending" and "it's possible that the characters are closer to grace at the end of the stories. Grace changes a person, you know. And change is painful." It is hard to say if Napolitano's characters are on their way to a happy ending here but they certainly experience their fair share of pain and grace and clarity. The novel starts out almost sleepily, just like a summer's day in the heat shrouded south, but the narrative tension builds slowly and steadily throughout the story so that when the climax comes, it is both unexpected and perfectly on time. This is a masterfully written tale especially richly rewarding to a lover of Southern literature.

For more information about Ann Napolitano and the book visit her webpage.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Still cleaning and now packing for my daughter's dance Nationals followed by vacation but I am getting a little reading and reviewing done. This is a good thing since it gives me a break and drops my stress level enough to face getting back to everything that needs to be done! This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this week are:

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
Next by James Hynes
Spanish Holiday by Kate Cann

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Vagabond by Colette
Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann
Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann

Reviews posted this week:

Down From Cascom Mountain by Ann Joslin Williams
Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel
Slow Love by Dominique Browning

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

West of Here by Jonathan Evison
Made For You and Me by Caitlin Shetterly
You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice
Twelve by Twelve by William Powers
Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
The Wedding Cake War by Lynna Banning
Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney
Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan
The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache
When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle
The First Husband by Laura Dave
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
Next by James Hynes
Spanish Holiday by Kate Cann

Monday Mailbox

Very different books in the mailbox this week. Sort of encapsulates my eclectic range. They're just begging to be tucked into the vacation luggage! This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany came from Washington Square Press.
A mother who drinks too much but thinks no one knows except her, this will likely be an unflinchingly tough read but it sounds really good.

What Language Is by John McWhorter came from Gotham Books thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours.
I've always been fascinated by language so this linguistic journey through languages around the globe promises to be a delight.

Triangles by Ellen Hopkins came from Atria Books.
Novels in verse are not terribly common. I think I've only ever read two before (one a YA and one a classic) so I am quite curious to experience a contemporary novel written this way.

The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton came from Little Brown.
I love Clyde Edgerton. I even have a bit of a crush on him after hearing him read and perform. I can't begin to explain how exciting it is to get my hands on his newest book, this one about boys and music and racial tensions and the South.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit A Sea of Books as she is hosting this month's Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Review: Slow Love by Dominique Browning

The editor-in-chief of House & Garden magazine, Browning was blindsided when the magazine folded. All of a sudden, the job and life that had defined her for over a decade didn't exist and she was left wondering what to do with herself. She carefully details her different strategies as she come to terms with her new life. And while her sacrifices aren't nearly as drastic as those that some people who have lost their jobs have had to make, they were no less painful and hard for her to make for all that. And she has beautifully captured the nuances of feeling, the treading water, and the eventual courage to let go that often accompany the loss of identity that so many in the business world experience when their jobs disappear.

A slow, contemplative read, the pace allows the reader to really consider much of what Browning was discovering for herself. It is very well-written and sprinkled with humor. There are moments where it is hard to find sympathy for Browning: having to sell one of her two homes and continually returning to a married (but legally separated) lover who is clearly using her but to whom she is too addicted to break free. But her honesty and introspection and the very real feelings that she faces at things like the loss of her carefully and lovingly tended garden are among the things that counterbalance these other factors. Slowing down and fully experiencing even the small things in the world around you is always good advice, whether it is given by a woman spending yet another day in her jammies or by a woman once she's come through the other side of the experience and learned to embrace a new life and a new identity.

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

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