Tuesday, December 14, 2010


by Anita Shreve

Testimony: A NovelI'm currently disrupting with the time/space continuum. I read Testimony in July, but am writing my review today (December 1, 2010), and not planning to post said review until December 14. Do with this information what you will.

Actually, today was a crazy day. It started off super productive and successful ... seems my job has evolved into a bit of corporate training and it doesn't suck. It's draining for sure, but interacting with people is one of the things I do best. I'm passionate about my work and always eager to share my knowledge. After the training there were some events that took place that actually made me need to leave the office for fear of doing/saying something I might regret. As I drove home I vowed to forget about these aggravating circumstances and not speak again for the rest of the day. Oh, and drink a lot of wine.  So if I can't express myself verbally, my blog readers get treated to a buzzed post. Here goes...

I've been up and down with Anita Shreve. I read The Pilot's Wife years ago and absolutely loved it. Then I read a few other titles and as write this have no idea what they were. I knew they were forgettable, but I didn't realize until now just how much so. But this one was handed to me by Joanna, and we all know that I trust her recommendations and sort of see her as my personal screener. This one passed the test.

Testimony is the story about college students and, more specifically, how one seemingly harmless series of events effects a long string of people. Each chapter is told by a different affected person. I really like this style of writing. Easy to follow, yet complex enough to keep the reader on her toes. I'm reading other reviews to refresh my memory, and find that this book didn't get much praise. For once, I completely disagree. I thought this book was great. The subject matter was totally believable and I definitely sympathized with the characters.

Three star college basketball players and a freshman girl make a sex tape that quickly gets leaked to the entire school. It's eerily reminiscent of that poor Rutger's student who jumped from the GW bridge (even though this book was published two years ago). And I was hooked after the first two sentences:

"It was a small cassette, not much bigger than the palm of his hand, and when Mike thought about the terrible license and risk exhibited on the tape, as well as its resultant destructive power, it was as though the two-by-three plastic package had been radioactive. Which it may as well have been, since it had produced something very like radiation sickness throughout the school, reducing the value of an Avery education, destroying at least two marriages that he knew of, ruining the futures of three students, and, most horrifying of all, resulting in a death."

Quick read. Compelling. Worth it.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Last Time I Saw You

by Elizabeth Berg

The Last Time I Saw You: A NovelI have had a post-it note with Elizabeth Berg's name tacked to my computer for over a year. This was the first book I finally got around to reading. Really, whose list isn't a million miles long?! And now that I own a kindle, it seems easier to add more and more to that ever-growing list.

As I had said a couple weeks ago, I am way, way behind on posting. I read this one back in June (2010, duh, I'm not that far behind), and as I went back to read the synopsis, I realized how forgettable this book was. It's not that The Last Time I Saw You was poorly written or had an uninteresting plot, but for once I am completely in the wrong demographic for this author's novels. Luckily I'm not approaching my 40th high school reunion (not even close!), but, in a nutshell, that's the premise. And as I read a few reviews, I agreed with a few spot-on keywords like rose-tinted and vanilla, yet ably written. I couldn't agree more.

I may revisit Berg's books in about 10-15 years, but for now, I'll pass.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

by Stephenie Meyer

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella (Twilight Saga)I'm so sucked in. As angry as I get at that martyr Bella, I can't help but love Edward and the fantasy life of Meyer's vampires. And if I haven't said it before, the version of Edward in my mind is way hotter than RPatt. I went super cheap too, and read it for free online (during the month of June on Meyer's website). No way was I paying $9.99 to read a measly 178 pages on my kindle.

I think everyone knows this was not a good novella. Terrible reviews, most calling the protagonist Poor Vampire Trash (PVT). There is nothing glamorous about Bree  like there is about the Cullens. Yet, I have to say that it was pretty interesting to see the "other side" of the vampire existence. And I did like finally understanding the impetus for the big battle of the Cullens vs. Every Other Freaking Vampire in Existence. I also suppose I felt a little sorry for Bree at the end too.

"Take care of that, Felix," Jane said indifferently, nodding at me. "I want to go home."
"Don't watch," the redheaded mindreader whispered.

I closed my eyes.

I read The Short Second Life before I saw New Moon, so it was kind of cool to recognize who Bree was and pay attention to her demise while I watched the movie. And call me a nerd, but I'm pretty excited for the two-part Breaking Dawn finale.

Bottom line is this: If you've invested time into reading all four Twilight books, read this one. It will take a couple hours, max.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lilly Ponder

by Rebecca Wells

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder: A NovelWho doesn't love some good Ya-Ya's? I adored every one of those books and think of them often. So endearing. And that was why I was so excited when Wells released Crowning Glory. For some reason, I'm drawn to books that drip with that sweet, Southern charm (I'm looking at you, Fannie Flagg).

From page one, Calla Lily made me smile. Her relationship with her mother and her dream to become a "famous" hairdresser was so cute and honest. I was really connected to the title too because my grandmother always told me, "your hair is your crowning glory." Her little phrases will pop into my mind when I least expect them and they always make me smile. I think my favorite was, "save your tears for when you're hurt."

I digress. The first half of Crowning Glory is the expected, enchanting tale. But a few tragic events take place and the book changes pace a bit. Cally Lily goes to New Orleans to attend beauty school and realize her dream. There she meets wonderful people, forms friendships and gets married. And although more tragic events follow, the story becomes way too over-the-top syrupy for my taste. Do this: with a cheesy grin, stick your index finger in your cheek and twist back and forth. That's how I felt finishing this one. Cheese ball. I have to admit that I didn't even finish the last page. Didn't care. I had had enough of how life is so perfect and friends are so perfect and she's so perfect and...puke. I'm sorry to say this one falls short of some very high expectations.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Reliable Wife

by Robert Goolrick

A Reliable WifeOh hi. Remember me? I thought maybe not. Honestly, I think about you often, my dear blog, and have been meaning to get back to you. Where has this year gone? Why have I been so busy? I'm not sure I can put my non-stop summer and fall into words that would make you understand why you've been neglected. But I'm back. No more excuses. I love to read and write about the books I've read. I'm ten posts behind. Today, this quiet, lovely Saturday, I vow to you to catch up on all of those reviews. I won't post them all at once, that would be silly. I'm thinking two a week for now. Maybe more. We'll see. But here goes...

Unfortunately, I resume my reviews with a crazy one. Ralph is a man who puts an ad in the newspaper for a "reliable wife." He feels he is unable to find a woman any other way, and in 1907, this may not be too unusual a method. Catherine responds to the ad and arrives by train to meet Ralph for the first time and marry him. So far it seems pretty interesting, right? Goolrick's writing style is quite smart and I was hooked from the beginning. But then the story turned dark and sinister and downright depressing. One of Ralph's greatest regrets in life is becoming estranged from his son. So he enlists his new wife to help find his son so that they can make amends. When Catherine finds the son, a series of unpredictable events begin to unfold and the book completely changes tone.

A Reliable Wife is:
1. Dark
2. Well-written
3. Depressing
4. Sinister

Ralph is:
1. Pathetic
2. Weak
3. Desperate

Catherine is:
1. Maniacal
2. Deceitful
3. Flawed

A Reliable Wife is not:
1. Typical
2. Comforting
3. Recommended by me

I think this quote from the last few pages of the book sums it up perfectly:

"It was a story of a son who felt his one true birthright was to kill his father. It was the story of a father who could not undo a single gesture of his life, no matter the sympathies of his heart. It was a story of poison, poison that causes you to weep in your sleep, that comes to you first as a taste of ecstasy. It was a story of people who don't choose life over death until it's too late to know the difference, people whose goodness is forgotten, left behind like a child's toy in a dusty playroom, people who see many things and remember only a handful of them and learn from even fewer, people who hurt themselves, who wreck their own lives and then go on to wreck the lives of those around them, who cannot be helped or assuaged by love or kindness or luck or charm, who forget kindness, the feeling and practice of it, and how it can save even the worst, most misshapen life from despair.

It was just a story about despair."

Decide for yourself.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Shadow Tag

by Louise Erdrich

Shadow Tag: A Novel Sometimes I think that if it weren't for Joanna, I wouldn't know what to read! She has given me so many great books over the years, but every once in a while she slips me a dud. When I got this one, I swear she told me it was a good book. Apparently I was dreaming. The premise is great: A woman battling alcoholism and a bit of an identity crisis is manipulating her painter husband so that he will finally give her the divorce she wants. She does this by writing a diary (that she knows he is reading) and making up lies in hopes that her husband will finally crack.

With this as the setting, Shadow Tag started out with gusto. I loved the manipulation of Gil by Irene in her diary. Gil was an abusive, selfish husband and father. He sort of deserved what he was getting. But then the author proceeds to lose me by intertwining Native American history into the plot. I admit, I completely missed the point here, but I still think this section could have been cut down by at least half. Irene was the subject of Gil's paintings, and Native Americans believe that art houses your soul ... contributing to Irene's struggle. Because of my ignorance to their history, this fact went over my head entirely.

But then Irene became a drunk. Pathetic and weak. And then I actually hated her as much as I hated Gil. When the end of the book was finally approaching, I thought there was no way the author was going to do what I thought she was going to do. And she did. By that point I hated everything about the book and couldn't believe I took the time to finish it. Apparently Joanna felt the same, but I didn't listen. So of course I asked her why she shared it with me in the first place? But isn't it true that sometimes you have to share the worst reads because you need someone else to confirm your feelings? If that was her goal, she succeeded.

Wow, I don't think I've been this harsh on a book since The Shack. Glad they don't come around too often! But I honestly couldn't recommend this one unless you're in the mood to be frustrated.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Late, Lamented Molly Marx

by Sally Koslow

The Late, Lamented Molly Marx: A NovelWith a name like that, who could resist? Molly has recently died and is in the "duration" waiting to see what comes next; and while she's there, looks over her grieving family and friends. The circumstances behind her death are suspicious, even to her, so Molly's goal is find out what really happened to her on that fateful February bike ride. Was it an accident or murder? Suicide? Even her plastic surgeon husband and his over-the-top mother are suspects.

As I listened to this one on CD, it was just the kind of light-hearted chick lit that I was looking for. I really think I prefer this type of book for audio. It's harder and harder for me these days to pay attention to a narrator when the subject matter is really deep. But while the book started off a little fluffy, it ended up being pretty endearing. Yes, it was fluffy even though the main character is dead. As she looks down on the crazy cast of characters, the only one you really feel sorry for is her 4-year old daughter Annabelle. Molly's stories and impersonations of her loved ones were pretty hilarious.

There really isn't much more I can say about this one. It is what it is: Cute. Easy to read. Fun.

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

by Katherine Howe

The Physick Book of Deliverance DaneBook number two purchased on my Kindle. Yay! I read this one on my vacation to Palm Desert, which seems to be becoming a yearly occurrence. Fine by me. Palm trees you can touch and snowy mountains you can see in the distance is a lovely setting when it's cold and nasty in Cleveland in March. If only the desert had water...

I had first heard of this one on, of all places, Good Morning America. How I miss Chris Cuomo and Diane Sawyer, but that's another story altogether. I've always thought witches and witchcraft were kind of cool. By no means do I want to join Wicca, but I like the fantasy of being able to cast spells. Bewitched was such a fun show! So that's what immediately allured me to this book. A grad student moves into her long-dead grandmother's house in order to prepare it for sale. In the house she finds a book that contains a small key and a rolled-up piece of paper that has only two words on it: Deliverance Dane. This leads Connie to do extensive research to find out what DD is, only to discover that DD is a who. She was accused of witchcraft and hung during the Salem witch trials. The story weaves flawlessly between current day (1991) and 1692.  The only thing I had a bit of trouble with was the Old English vocabulary that Howe used when taking the reader back to Salem. I'm not completely sure that it was necessary to such an extent because it really felt like an obstacle at times. But that is honestly the only bad thing I can say about this book. It was so unique, so different and interesting, and I could barely put it down. I think I was actually sorry to finish so quickly.

The other really cool thing is that Deliverance Dane actually existed. I'm not sure that you would call this book historical fiction or not, but Howe was able to weave in quite a few characters that existed in the times of the witch trials. She is even a descendant of a few accused witches herself, and has links on her website as proof. Even when I finished the book I found myself reading more into the lives of these 17th-century women. For me, that's a sign of a book that genuinely interested me. I say that if you're in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is the perfect solution.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

South of Broad

by Pat Conroy

I said a million times how much I enjoy Conroy's books. This one was no exception. But here's the weird thing: knowing I am way behind on book posts and having read this one almost three books ago, I'm having a bit of trouble conjuring up the feelings I had when I finished it.  I have to go back in the vault because I know I had some pretty strong feelings about it.

The reviews haven't been great for South of Broad. I know I can easily put several other of Conroy's books in front this one. But even if a certain title isn't your favorite, his writing is still so poetic and graceful that you can easily be absorbed into the plot and worry about whether it was "good" later. For me, I was instantly drawn in. The characters were introduced slowly and expertly, so although there was such a variety, I had a clear mental picture of each individual. From the beginning the story was interesting: A senior in high school, Leo King, has recently left a mental hospital due to the suicide of his 10-year old brother and must make penance for the acts he committed and rebuild his life. His friends come from every imaginable walk of life, yet they all seem to work together. Leo also discovers that his mother was once a nun, but left the convent to marry his father. The friendships develop, despite their differences, in quite a believable way, and then we flash forward 20 years to find that even though distance may separate the group, they are still the closest of friends. I personally loved the way that longevity was portrayed. But at about three-quarters of the way through, I watched the book nearly fall apart.

All of a sudden the plot twisted into a bit of a thriller. Really not a strong genre for this author. Luckily, this portion seemed to wrap up rather quickly. Then I was beginning to think that maybe we would never really find out the reason for Leo's brother's suicide. I would have been fine with that because I don't always need a tidy ending. Except, it was bugging me, for obvious reasons. The boy was only 10 when he slit his wrists. Once the reason is revealed, I felt that the ending became extremely rushed and messy. The reason itself could have been the main plot of the whole book. I felt as though there were too many things trying to happen in 500+ pages. As much as I was devouring the book in the beginning, once I closed it I was honesty disappointed. This hasn't turned me away from Pat Conroy altogether though; he's still a brilliant writer. I think he just missed the mark on this one, if even just by a hair. Oddly enough, I would still recommend South of Broad if for nothing but the true friendship of an eclectic group of people.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Glass Castle

by Jeannette Walls

So, yeah, I'm way behind on book posts. Not good. I even had exciting news to share and didn't get around to that. How rude of me. I got a Kindle for Christmas!! At first I didn't think I wanted one, you know, because real books look, smell and feel so cool. But I'm finding my Kindle to be a delightful sidekick to regular books. Busy me took four trips in three months and my Kindle was the best travel companion. My only complaint is that you have that 20 minute take-off and landing issue where you can't read. I found myself sneaking it into a magazine so I could keep going. I mean, if I shut the wireless off, is there really going to be a problem?!

The Glass Castle was my very first Kindle purchase back in January. I was headed to Chicago to see two dear friends, and I bought the book (in under 60 seconds!) in the airport on the way. Once I was on the plane, in flight, I tried to access the Kindle store with no luck, so I guess there's only so much you can do at 10,000 feet. And since I was on a plane not much bigger than my Kia Soul, sitting in the front row, the flight attendant felt the need to talk to me about my Kindle the whole time. Seriously, can't you see I have a new toy and I'm trying to read it?! I don't care about your Sony reader! She never got my subtle hints, and I'm admittedly not one to just tell some to S.T.F.U. (look it up)

I know I'm way late in reading The Glass Castle too, as it was published five years ago. But it's been on my list forever, so it was a perfect choice for my swanky new book reader. Needless to say I was instantly drawn in. The chapters were short and very honest. Chapter Two's first sentence was "I was on fire." Doesn't take much more than that to be completely drawn in.

This book is a memoir about a family so abjectly poor it made my heart ache for the four little children. They would go so long without food that the kids had to steal it from the school cafeteria and sometimes resort to picking old food from the garbage. It was nothing for them to eat moldy bread because their mother told them it built character. The alcoholic father was a man who constantly ran away from his problems. He moved his family all over, and most of the time, they were squatters in old, abandoned homes or buildings. And at the risk of a spoiler alert (although I think I'm safe since I'm one of the last people to read this), at the very end, we find out that the family had plenty of opportunity to be millionaires, but the whack job parents chose the life they struggled through. That fact is what made it unbelievable to think that this really happened. But I guess you can't make up a life like that.

If there's anyone else out there who hasn't read this book, go now and get it. It puts a lot of things into perspective. It definitely made me reflect on how grateful I am for my family and the priveldges I am afforded.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Year In Review - 2009

Oh my dearest blog, the neglect you have experienced is painful for me too. Please believe that you are constantly on my mind and I am several posts behind. With a vacation coming up this week, my biggest hope is to catch up on my posts and give you the love you deserve.

That being said, this post excited me when I started it on January 9, only for me to push it aside until now. I even had an awesome Christmas with a surprise gift – a Kindle (more on that later)!! Yet I haven't shared that with you either. I honestly think that the first two months of 2010 were by far the busiest on record. The dust seems to be settling now and I can finally get back to my passion ... BOOKS.

Here is my recap of 2009, late as it is, but hopefully still relevant.

How many books did you read in 2009?
22! I have to admit, counting back, that is WAY more than I ever thought I read. Yay me! Hoping to top that this year with my shiny new Kindle.

How many were nonfiction?
I'm not typically a fan of nonfiction, unless memoirs count. And I say they do. So in that case, two: Grayson and Look Me In The Eye.

Books about animals?
Not normally a topic I would seek out because animal stories are almost always sad. But if werewolves count, the count would be five: Grayson and the Twilight series.

Male/Female author ratio?
Fairly even: 10 by men, 12 by women

Favorite book of 2009?
Without a doubt, The Help. It was so great, and I think about it all the time. I'm considering reading it again very soon.

Least favorite book of 2009?
Hmm, let me think (insert sarcasm). The Shack may come to mind as my least favorite book of all time, but I won't give it that much emphasis just yet. Yuck.

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?
This doesn't happen to me very often, mainly because of my displaced obligation to finish everything I start. But The Shack was the closest contender. It was just horrible, but I forced myself to finish it because it was a gift from a dear friend.

Oldest book read?
Without doing too much research, I'm going to say She's Come Undone. Most of the books I read are current and/or on the bestseller list, so I don't normally go back to older books. But I had to reread one of my favorite books of all time, and will probably continue to do so every couple of years. It's that good. if you haven't read She's Come Undone, DO IT NOW.

Probably The Help. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Longest and shortest books?
The Hour I First Believed = longest
The Reader = shortest

How many books from the library?
Only four. I was surprised by that low number, but now that we have a lending library at work, I guess it makes sense.

Any translated books?
I think The Reader was translated?

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?
Two by Wally Lamb. Wish he would write faster!

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
Friday Night Knitting Club

Which author was new to you in 2009 that you now want to read the entire works of?
Not too many new authors for me, but if Kathryn Stockett writes anything else, I'm all over it.

Any re-reads?
There really are so many books I want to reread, but the list of new books keeps getting longer and longer. I was pretty impressed with myself for reading She's Come Undone and Wicked again.

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?

Maybe I could classify the Twilight series here. I was somewhat intrigued because of all the press the books were getting, but didn't ever think it would be a subject I'd be interested in. After some coaxing, I was quickly hooked. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

It's no secret that The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my favorite books. I think about it all time (but not more than She's Come Undone). So obviously I was excited to hear that Audrey Niffenegger finally came out with another title. I picked up Her Fearful Symmetry completely excited to tear through it at top speed. And for my standards, I did. It held my interest until the very end. But then I sat there kind of scratching my head.

A woman in England dies. She, Elspeth, leaves her apartment and nearly all its contents to the twin daughters of her twin sister, who lives in Chicago. With one stipulation. Her sister is not allowed to set foot inside the apartment; which incidentally is next to Highgate Cemetery; final resting place of many famous people. The lazy, unmotivated girls move to England and meet Elspeth's neighbors. I will go as far as to say that the character development is brilliant here. Then Elspeth realizes that she is a ghost and is trapped in her former apartment. A bit of a stretch, but then tell me time travel isn't. She's pretty endearing as a ghost and makes great effort to communicate with the girls and her lover, Robert. And that's when it started to go way off the map for me. It's a crazy thing called the "Little Kitten of Death." Hmmmm ... not so much. Any shred of believability is out the door for me at this point. Plus, once Robert starts reading Elspeth's journals, I just become confused. Trying to figure out relationships and who's who and generally thinking "oh please don't go there. Oh no, don't. Stop. And we started off so well."

The thing is that even when the plot went completely wonky, I was still flying through the pages. And I admit that I was pretty pleased with the last page ... not the overall ending, but one specific part of it. But there is still a question that I don't know the answer to! And I don't think it's because I just didn't get it, but because the explanation was so confusing. I've even asked a few people what they think and they aren't sure either.

So I'm torn. Niffenegger's writing is beautiful. The plot had serious potential. But I'm on the fence. I'm not going to tell anyone not to read it, because I want you to so that I can ask you who the father is (don't want to spoil it too much!). So hurry up and read it then call me, OK?

maybe more like 3-1/2? can't commit on this one
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