Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Outlander Graphic Novel

I have not had particularly good luck with graphic novels. Of course, I can count on one hand how many I have read. There's just something about large swaths of art work combined with words that distracts me (and yes, I have a similar reaction to books with glossy picture sections in the middle but for some reason, I still love those in ways that I don't love graphic novels). This is not easy to admit in a household overrun with comics thanks to D. and all three of the kids. Maybe I just really want to be able to create whatever paltry picture I can in my head without interference. I don't know. But in any case, I had already determined to give graphic novels another shot this year. And I was waffling between French Milk, which has gotten really good reviews, or the graphic Pride and Prejudice, which is a take on my favorite book ever. But I hadn't committed yet (and in the case of P&P this could be a good thing because while I am no purist, I do have very set conceptions and it would be easy for a book to fail spectacularly to live up to these). And I'm glad I hadn't committed because it now appears that the graphic novel from Diana Gabaldon, called The Exile, and which retells Outlander from Jamie's (swoon) perspective, has an on-sale date of late September of this year. I might just have to get myself a copy. Or maybe I can convince D. to buy it for me (so it doesn't count against *my* monthly book budget), gleeful that he might finally be one step closer to converting me to his "picture books."

Check out Diana Gabaldon's blog for some sample pages and artwork from the upcoming book.

Review: One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer

I discovered Joe Coomer's books years ago through another reading friend's recommendation. Then I chose one of his books for my summer book club last summer to help spread the word a bit farther. There's just something wonderful about the quirky characters he creates and the way in which he can tackle deep philosophical issues in the guise of a humorous, thinking novel that makes his work shine. One Vacant Chair is the latest I've read and thoroughly enjoyed.

This novel opens with the Hutton family gathering for the memorial service to bury their mother and grandmother. Edna, an unmarried school cafeteria worker and artist who paints portraits of chairs had taken care of her cantankerous, bedridden mother for twenty odd years. But Edna (and grandma) lived lives that would have surprised the rest of the family and after the reading of the will where grandma asked for her ashes to be scattered in Scotland, a place she'd never been, the details of their lives start to emerge. Sarah, Edna's niece, reeling from her husband's infidelity, offers to stay and help her aunt pull together all the lose ends involved in international travel for those who have never left home. She also has the chance to observe her aunt's artistic process and to get in touch her own artistic roots while in the presence of a wonderful artist, one who will be revered posthumously as small comments scattered throughout Sarah's telling of the story make clear. While living with Edna and then traveling with her to Scotland, Sarah learns the secrets, large and small, of her aunt's life and comes face to face with the delicate realities of living and dying.

On the surface, a quirky tale filled with unusual characters, Coomer has a knack for delving deeply into the things that drive our lives. Here the examination is not only of life and death as points on the same continuum but also of the place of family and love on our own personal time lines. With Sarah telling the story from the benefit of hindsight, the reader knows much of the territory that the narrative will cover but that doesn't make it dismissively predictable. Instead, it freights the conversations between Sarah and aunt Edna with more portents than perhaps would have been possible otherwise. And still there are major twists that are surprising in their deviation from the expected. As the two women travel through Scotland doling out ashes in the places they have chosen, they each struggle with the path their lives are on, trying to find the right thing for themselves in balance with those surrounding them. The book is never preachy and always accessible but it is full of the symbolic and the philosophical. It is beautifully presented and entertainingly drawn, well-written and appealing. You'll warm to the characters, ache with their indecision and weaknesses, and laugh with their eccentricities. You might even learn something about art and art process (I sure did). Readers looking for an unusual story will be richly rewarded with this one. It's a gem.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

Marina is twenty-two, living in rural Japan, and teaching English in a vocational university. She moved to Japan with her girlfriend Carolyn, in part to escape her grief over her father's suicide. But living in the midst of such a foreign culture, bottling her emotions up so tightly, and hiding the actual nature of her relationship with Carolyn makes for a stressful and eventful year. The novel opens with a letter to Marina from her supervisor Miyoshi-sensei trying to explain to her the importance of the elaborate and confusing gomi (trash) disposal rules in rural Shika and her neighbors' unhappiness at her inability to follow these rules. Throughout the year, Marina continues to receive these letters from her supervisor, both chastizing her and illuminating the Japanese character.

Marina's experience teaching is not at all what she expected and her relationship with Carolyn struggles and undergoes a major shift during this year abroad. Marina's students run the gamut from girls studying to become secretaries and oblivious to the accepted marginalization of women that surrounds them, to cock-sure boys destined to work at gas stations and in factories who harrass Marina and Miyoshi-sensei, to a silent and sullen former shut-in. She finds the majority of her interaction with the Japanese in town to be superficial, suffering disappointment whenever she thinks she's making a friend and discovering that said new friend only wants free English conversation. So the fact that she and Miyoshi-sensei develop a friendship is all the more valuable, until a strain threatens to eliminate this source of comfort for Marina. Meanwhile, being each other's only friend and companion is proving to be too much for Marina and Carolyn's relatively new relationship as they find themselves sinking under the combined weights of homesickness, loneliness, and grief.

Absurdities, humor, disturbing events and characters, and quirks, cultural and personal, abound in this novel. While the entire year covered in the book is narrated by Marina, the other characters do come off as fully-rounded as her understanding of them allows them to be. The conceit of using Miyoshi-sensei's letters to Marina to insert interesting cultural tidbits about Japan that otherwise would seem out of place, is well done and creative. Isolation as a major theme is handled well, with Marina's internalized feelings accurately reflected by her external circumstances: grief and aloneness reflected in her failing relationship and in her cultural isolation. Watrous has drawn a vivid picture of a small corner of Japan and although it is a picture that entices me to visit Japan not at all, I still appreciate the insight into the culture. More than the story of a young woman traveling part way around the world to find herself amidst a completely different culture, this plumbs the depths of love, life, and community.

Check out Malena Watrous'Facebook page.

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

Monday, March 29, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm still not getting much reading done but maybe the fact that the computer is broken again will help restore a little balance in my reading life. That, plus spring break coming up, might help me make a reasonable dent in the mushrooming stack of books in progress. This meme is hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Books I completed this week are:

One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer
Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog by Lisa Scottoline
Magnolia Wednesdays by Wendy Wax

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Great Lakes Nature by Mary Blocksma (this is going to take me all year as I read her year's entries on the corresponding days of this year)
Into the Tangle of Friendship by Beth Kephart
Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney
Solar by Ian McEwan
Sweater Quest by Adrienne Martini
A Rather Lovely Inheritance by C. A. Belmond
If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

Reviews posted this week:

Not Quite Paradise by Adele Barker
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):
Seeing Stars by Diane Hammond
One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer
Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog by Lisa Scottoline
Magnolia Wednesdays by Wendy Wax

Monday Mailbox

The mailbox was good to me again this week despite my complete inability to finish anything I start right now. It's good to know that everything will be waiting for me when I get my reading mojo back. This past week's mailbox arrivals:

The Vera Wright Trilogy by Elizabeth Jolley came from Rachel at Meryl Zegarek Public Relations, Inc..
I read Elizabeth Jolley's The Sugar Mother many years ago. After hearing that she is one of an online friends' favorite author, I keep meaning to go back and read her again. This largely autobiographical trilogy gives me that chance.

Just Don't Fall by Josh Sundquist was a contest win from Wendy at Caribousmom for her Reading for a Cure Challenge which benefits the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. You can enter to win too by joining the challenge or sponsoring someone who is participating.
The author lost a leg to cancer as a child going on to become a Paralympic downhill skier. This is his memoir. Reading about amazing people is always a wonderful experience I expect this to be nothing short of that.

This One Is Mine by Maria Semple came from Gigi.
Aside from wanting to eat the goody on the cover, this take on Hollywood, infidelities, and New Age mumbo-jumbo also looks delicious.

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

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kristen's Kitchen Chronicles

photo credit here

My kitchen isn't nearly this pretty. It's also falling down around my ears all of a sudden. But I am woman enough to tackle it, sort of. First the dishwasher went. It wasn't working perfectly, the soap trap not always opening during the wash cycle, but it was mostly working. Until the day it wouldn't turn on. Not even one reassuring blue light on the control panel as it at least *tried* to work. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. So after many days of washing dishes by hand, which I find to be an oddly soothing chore (as long as they aren't too disgustingly dirty), I finally talked to a repair man. His first question? Did we check the circuit breaker to mke sure it hadn't tripped? Well, of course we did. I'm not the world's biggest nincompoop. Well, did I check to make sure the outlet that feeds it power was on? Wait! An outlet to the dishwasher? Seriously? Ok, apparently I am not the biggest nincompoop in the world but I'm second tier stupid. Switch located and flipped on, dishwasher is working again. Color me embarrassed and also thankful that the repair man diagnosed my idiocy over the phone so I didn't have to pay a service fee.

Dishes gleaming and no longer sporting dishpan hands, I smugly buzzed around my kitchen using all my assorted and much loved appliances again. And then the garbage disposal quit working. After I had shoved epic quantities of orange rind and tomato seeds down it, of course. No grinding, just a sad and sick sounding hum wavered out of its maw (probably much muted by the slimy muck now slowly rotting in it--hey all cautions say not to reach into the disposal and I wasn't interested in fishing it out and slopping it into the garbage). Now, being a garbage disposal problem veteran, I immediately dropped to my stomach and pressed the handy dandy red reset button on its underside. Didn't help. And that was the end of my garbage disposal fix-it knowledge. Not wanting to get laughed at by another repair man though, I did some poking around on the internet and discovered exactly where to shove that disposal key that gets shuffled unused into the back corner of the cabinet under the sink in every house we've ever owned. After removing the cutting boards from the cabinet (yes, they knocked over and crashed into my head before I had the bright idea to remove them), I was once again on my stomach under the sink, this time turning the handy dandy key to dislodge whatever was causing such problems. Eventually it was unstuck, water was run and the problem was fixed. I am woman, hear me roar! (An optimistic note for anyone else with a stopped and stopped up garbage disposal: when the water drains out of the sink so slowly--and it will, you will still have enough soapy water left in said sink to wash the stray glass or plate you find hours later. Saves on running another sink full of soapy water. Of course, you could also just toss said article in the now working dishwasher too, but I was trying to look on the bright side.)

It's not just appliances killing me in the kitchen lately though. I was cooking up a storm for book club the other day. I really enjoy cooking but I am a bit scatter-brained. Now I've gotten more adventurous about not measuring everything exactly but when baking as opposed to cooking, well, it's best to follow a recipe to a T or risk producing bricks and hockey pucks, neither of which is particularly appetizing. So I was makig scones. This is a recipe I've made before. I know it works; it's easy; and it turns out tasty results. Then again, with enough butter, anything will be wonderful. (Is it any wonder I have a weight problem?!) There I stood, having assembled various other appetizers, throwing the scone ingredients together. But then I made a fatal mistake. I threw in 2 tsp. of baking soda instead of baking power. Now the recipe did call for 1/2 tsp. baking soda so it wasn't a total loss but since it would have been all but impossible to fish out the extra 1 1/2 tsp. I decided to just multiply all the ingredients by 4 and call it good. Even with poor math skills, this actually worked and the scones were a huge hit. Multiple people asked for the recipe. But I have about 4 dozen scones left after the night was over. Here's hoping the freezer isn't the next appliance to go on the fritz because I'm about to pack it to the eyeballs with cranberry scones.

As if the scone over-population problem wasn't enough, as I went around cleaning up after book club left, I noticed that I had made the bacon and tomato tart by the recipe but had completely neglected to put the Swiss cheese on it. No wonder it tasted like it was lacking a little something. Apparently I'm a reader but not a recipe reader. Then I went to put away the half drunk bottle of wine. I personally am not a wine drinker. I buy it by the pretty labels. But I know a half drunk botte of red stays on the counter and a half drunk bottle of white goes back in the fridge. Now my fridge (still working as of this posting) is not configured to suit me. And I can't take shelves and stuff out to re-do it better because I need all the shelves so I can store things long past their expiration dates and observe the cool colors of mold you can grow on perfectly common former foodstuffs. So this fridge doesn't have enough tall spaces in it to stuff big things like milk jugs and wine bottles. They have to live in the door. And yes, I know milk shouldn't be in the door but as it lasts all of 6 nanoseconds with my growing children, I don't worry my pretty head too much about it. But the door was crammed so I took the wine bottle, cork firmly stuffed back in its neck, and slid it onto a shelf on its side. Big mistake. Did you know that cork screws sometimes go all the way through the cork, thereby creating a little spigot so you can have a nice, fancy wine-fountain cascading from shelf to shelf in the fridge? Yeah, it was news to me too. Twelve trillion scones, a cheeseless tart, and a leaking wine bottle. All in a day's kitchen work for me. I don't think I'll be earning any Michelin stars in my kitchen any time soon. On the other hand, I might hang out my shingle as a garbage disposal repair goddess. At the very least, it's going on my resume.

This post was written as a part of Beth Fish Read's Weekend Cooking meme in which I contribute very sporadically. Feel free to join in or just to surf through other folks' contributions. They seem more competent in kitchen matters than I do.

Saturday Shout-Out

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

Best Food Writing 2009 edited by Holly Hughes was mentioned at Joyfully Retired.

Love, Revenge and Buttered Scones by Bobbie Darbyshire was mentioned at Stuck in a Book.

A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White was mentioned at Chick With Books.

Cars From a Marriage by Debra Galant was mentioned at Breaking the Spine.

The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters was mentioned at Chick With Books.

Leopard Rock by Tarras Wilding was mentioned at Sandals and Snowshoes.

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

Friday, March 26, 2010


The title above refers to what real runners call Obligatory Running Notes. It's a sort of training log that helps them get to and stay at the top of their form. Obligatory running notes for me are more an extended form of whining. ;-)

Today I ate 3(!) cranberry scones. They were totally delicious, not that I'm patting myself on the back or anything (although I am) since I made them from scratch all my little self with only the merest help from a recipe. Ok, a lot of help from a recipe. But they were too tempting to resist this morning. And after eating three of them, well, I felt compelled to run at least a mile for each extra scone I ate. Not that I probably even worked off the calories for even a quarter of one of those tasty buttery goodnesses. But I did actually push myself out the door so that's a plus.

On that note, when does "have to run" become "want to run" and please can't it come sooner rather than later because my own motivation doesn't seem to be standing me in particularly good stead these days.

Today's run offered a dilemma I haven't faced in quite a while. Sleeveless shirt to prevent the potential farmer's tan look or short sleeves to hide the mad flapping of the bingo wings on the undersides of my flabby, pasty, sunless arms? I love spring but the unveiling of the flesh is a bit distressing at the moment. (Multiple scones daily won't help that problem either.)

Not only do I need to start getting back into the running frame of mind, I really need to find someone to run with since company makes me happy. I didn't mind running alone when we lived in the frozen northland. I just got out and did it. And by doing it, I discovered a whole group of people with whom to exercise. I had H. for spin and tennis. I had M. and C. and J. for running in the evening and weekends. I had K. for running before school. I was spoiled beyond belief and it made me happy. And I ran a lot. I had running buds down here when we first got here but I stopped really running and now I can't keep up with them. I know all the runners in my neighborhood and they have always been way too fast for me (uh...Boston anyone?). And so having been spoiled, I am now finding it hard to get myself out there and go it alone. Dare I say it? Yes, I find my own company while exercising, dead boring. Running with myself is like being trapped in a conversation with a person who ignores all your social cues that you want to be released while you are too well-raised to walk away from them in mid-sentence. So you see my problem? Must get more interesting internal dialogue going on or look into hiring the crane to hoist me off my couch a couple of years (and several thousand scones) from now.

Now I'm off to the grocery store to buy bleach. Oh the exciting life I lead! Maybe I should have run there and back, although I suspect they frown on customers pulling sweaty money out of their bras to pay for their groceries. But I could have called carrying the bleach home while I ran a cardio-weight workout!

Book Blogger Hop

Every Friday Crazy-For-Books hosts the Book Blogger Hop, which allows you to post a link to your own book blog and hop around visiting other bloggers. It's a great way to meet more people who share your reading and books addiction.

For those of you who arrived here today via the Hop, thanks for visiting and I hope you stay a while. Poke around, settle in, and check things out. This could be the start of a lovely relationship!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

This chatty, conversational children's novel about a young orphan girl who goes from one set of relatives to another set and blossoms with the change is a complete delight. It's another one I had never read as a child myself but picked up because of the Shelf Discovery Challenge. Elizabeth Ann is a small, somewhat sickly, very timid child who lives with her Aunts Harriet and Frances, neither of whom are actually aunts but are related more distantly than that. Aunt Frances, who has the main care of Elizabeth Ann loves Elizabeth Ann dearly but fosters in her a very dependent relationship. She is quite fond of declaring that she "understands" this little girl left in her care. When Aunt Harriet suddenly takes sick and must go away, needing Aunt Frances, who is actually Aunt Harriet's daughter, to attend to her health, Elizabeth Ann is sent to yet more distant relatives who, not really wanting to be responsible for her care, in turn send her to her mother's aunt's family. This upheaval and plan strikes fear and shuddering into the little girl as she has heard these cousins of hers disparaged as horrible for as long as she can remember. But lo and behold, when she is finally with the "horrid Putney cousins," she comes out of her shell and starts to relish life instead of jumping at her own shadow. She learns independence and resourcefulness under the laconic and easy care of these country-living folks. Rechristened Betsy, she is expected to help around the house and to master her own fears. She finds sympathy when she needs it but is not coddled, and stops thinking that her every thought and action is of utmost importance to Cousin Ann, Aunt Abigail, and Uncle Henry. Over the months of living with these cousins, Betsy grows into a sturdy, healthy child who learns much of life and of another way to love and be loved. Written in 1917 and set in that decade, the slower, simpler way of life at the time is now nostalgic for readers. The characters are appealing and wonderful and Fisher manages to show that Betsy is happier and healthier with the Putney cousins without disparaging Aunt Frances and her more fearful, fluttery parenting style. This is a sweet book and one that I'm glad I finally made the acquaintance of.

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction Challenge

Do you love non-fiction? I do. I never used to read it but it's become quite a staple in my reading diet. Sometimes I want nothing more than a well-written memoir or the escape of a travelogue or the fascinating details of some bit of history with which I was unfamiliar. So it always pleases me to see non-fiction challenges in the reading and blogging world. And I could hardly turn down the Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction Reading Challenge as a result.

The Rules:

Only non-fiction books apply! These can be anything you're interested in: memoirs, history, geography, politics, religion, sports - whatever non-fiction you've put your hands on and your nose into.

Overlaps with other challenges allowed!

Post a list of choices if you want, or make it up as you go along.

Any book format is allowed.

There are four levels:

Just the Facts - Read two non-fiction books.
The Scoop - Read four non-fiction books.
The Whole Story - Read six non-fiction books.
Nothing But the Truth - Read eight (or more) non-fiction books.

The challenge will run from February 1, 2010 through February 28, 2011.

I will be going with Nothing But the Truth level as I've already completed it, not that I'll stop reading non-fiction for the year. :-)

Since Feb. 1, I have already read:

A Slant of Sun by Beth Kephart
Dog Years by Mark Doty
Inside the Postal Bus by Michael Barry
The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet
American Daughter by Elizabeth Kendall
The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
Admit One by Emmett James
Not Quite Paradise by Adele Barker
Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog by Lisa Scottoline

Themed Reading Challenge

I love coming up with my own theme so the Themed Reading Challenge is one I enjoy every year. Last year my theme was Austenesque books. I have enough of these still left that I could do this again this year. But I like variety and have a desire to disappoint all those who land on the blog expecting to be titillated after googling the word sex so I am changing up and overlapping with my ThemeQuest theme: sex. All my books this year are thematically linked by sexuality. I am hvaing to change out one book because I'd already read it before this challenge started but surprisingly, I had at least one more on my shelf to fill in the gap.

1. Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex by Jennifer Lehr
2. Been There, Haven’t Done That by Tara McCarthy
3. The Sex Life of My Aunt by Mavis Cheek
4. A Round-Heeled Woman by Jane Juska
5. Thoughts While Having Sex by Stephanie Lehmann

Check out the challenge rules for more information (and more sane themes).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Give Me Moore Reading Challenge

I know. I don't even like vampire books. If seeing a review for Twilight on this blog didn't send you into terminal shock, me joining a vampire book reading challenge probably will. But those of you who read me carefully (and really, why haven't you anything better to do with yourselves?!) know that I love Christopher Moore's writing. And if you read me microscopically carefully, you'll already know that I did once declare that his vampire books were the only ones I'd be happy to read. Besides, I like throwing you all for a loop sometimes. And so I am cheerfully jumping into the Give Me Moore Reading Challenge at the Unread Reader. Even more surprisingly, I have already read and chuckled my way through Bloodsucking Fiends so I only have two books in the trilogy to tackle for this one: You Suck and Bite Me (which sounds shockingly like the sniping conversations I overhear between my oldest children these days).

The official rules are:

There are three books in the series, Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, and Bite Me. If you’ve already started this series, you can still participate in the challenge. You can either start all over again as a refresher or just start where you left off.

• Anyone can join at anytime between now until the week before the challenge ends. You don’t need a blog to participate. If you don’t have a blog, you can post your comments or reviews in the comment section of the wrap-up post.

• Any book format is acceptable, including audio books.

The challenge runs March 23rd to June 23 so everyone has a full three months to savor Moore's wicked humor. (And when you're done with the vampire books, make sure to read his other stuff as well since I love it even more than I loved Bloodsucking Fiends--it's that vampire thing for me again, ya know.)

Numbers Challenge

The Numbers Challenge is always rather fun since it is a sort of design your own challenge with only loose guidelines. You choose books with numbers in the title, either spelled out or numerically represented, any type of number really. And that's the extent of the unifying idea. Easy peasy, right? It has it's own dedicated blog and there are suggestions there for the numerically challenged. This one runs from Jan. 1 through Aug. 1. I swear if my teachers had used book titles or prices or whatever, I would have had a fighting chance of understanding math!

My list:

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreath, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreath Carey
Admit One by Emmett James
One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer
Fifteen Minutes of Shame by Lisa Daly
Four Ways to be a Woman by Sarah Reidy

This will bring me to level three (the highest!).

People of Color Reading Challenge

The People of Color Reading Challenge is another of those challenges floating out there in the blogging world that I have meant to sign up for and yet have not gotten off my lazy can to do it officially. I actually think I may have read enough to have completed Level 1 already so I definitely think I should sign up. I'm all about attainable accomplishments. ;-)

The rules are as follows:

For this challenge all you need to do is grab the button from the side bar and add it to a post saying you are committed to reading POC authors and characters in this coming year. You do not have to pick your books now but you have to sign up to a level of how many you will read. Leave a comment to your post stating how many books you will read this year and tada automagically you are done.

Level 1: Read 1-3 POC books
Level 2. Read 4-6 POC books
Level 3. Read 7-9 POC books
Level 4. Read 10-15 POC books
Level 5. Read 16-25 POC books

Leaving out my January reads, since I have no idea if I read them after the stated Jan. 19th start date (the challenge runs Jan. 19th through Dec. 31st), so far I've read:

The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories by Charles Chesnutt
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia
The Writing on My Forehead by Nafia Haji

That means I am firmly into level 2 (and I could have more but these are just the ones that I am pretty confident are written by people of color without doing any research). Since that it the case, I will shoot for hitting Level 3 or reading 7-9 books that fit the criteria. I have no idea what the next 2-4 books by POC authors will be yet but I'm pretty confident that I'll find some good ones if the above books are anything on which to judge.

Review: Not Quite Paradise by Adele Barker

Adele Barker is an American who went to Sri Lanka on a Fulbright to teach university for a year immediately following the terror of Sept. 11. She traveled back there again after the devastating Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. This book, part memoir, part travelogue, part political history tries to marry the two experiences and to illuminate Sri Lanka for the westerner.

In the first portion of the book, Barker arrives in Sri Lanka with her fifteen year old son and faces some of the culture shock inevitable to anyone moving from a familiar culture to an unfamiliar one. Instead of staying in the city, she and Noah move further into the country, to the town close to her university. This takes them farther from the ex-pat community and enables them to meet and become involved in the daily lives of the Sri Lankans around them. It also forces Barker to learn Sinhalese quicker in an effort to communicate. Her observations about the people and the customs around her are interesting and often lead her to wander into the history of Sri Lanka (once Ceylon). In addition to this history, she finds herself interested, saddened, and horrified by the ongoing violence between factions of Sinhalese and Tamils, continuing to wage a civil war that rends family, land, and a sense of oneness. The end of her subsidized year approaching, she sends her son home and soon thereafter follows him. This happens very abruptly in the book, cutting short any continued tales of daily life in Kandy, which was a shame as the rhythm of life in other places is so very fascinating.

The second part of the book opens with the news of the tsunami and Barker's unfolding knowledge of the devastation. She worries for the friends she's made, frantically calling and e-mailing to find out their fates. And eventually she makes her way back to this island that has so captured her, this time without her son. She meanders around the island, needing to see the impact on the people of the "day the sea came to the land" for herself. She hears and recounts tales of new misses, amazing luck, and stumbles on the sorrow of hearing that someone she knew daily had disappeared forever. She examines the good and the inefficiencies of the aid proffered this tiny island nation and laments the misunderstandings about the survivors' needs and continued displacements of the people. She doesn't probe too hard at the psychological remains, knowing that this is not her story. And she does, on this sojourn, go to the war torn portions in the north of the island to see the perspectives from there not only from the tsunami but also from decades of unrelenting war.

The book is a fairly complete short history of the island with political information evenly interspersed. Where it tends to fall short is on the memoir side. While Barker mentions her friendship with many local people, she doesn't really bring those people alive for the reader. And she is remarkably reticent about her own and her son's personal lives while there aside from the initial adjustment to a very foreign culture. Despite this lack, I did enjoy the book and certainly feel more educated about the state of an island nation about which I previously knew very little. Sri Lanka has always felt a little exotic to me and while it probably still would were I ever to visit, its current events are definitely more familiar to me after having read this book. The two portions of the book hang together awkwardly since the two sojourns were made for such disparate reasons but read more as two separate journeys connected only by country and author, they are fine. People looking for a true memoir or ones who want more of the personal should be warned that that is not a strength of this book before reading it. But it is a fascinating glimpse into another culture nevertheless.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers from sending me a review copy of this book.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's just a number

Today is my birthday. It's not one of the "big" birthdays. It doesn't even matter much (and hasn't since I had kids and their lives have trumped mine in every measurable way possible). But somehow, I still believe today should be all about me. And my friends came through, taking me to lunch and giving me gifts and a cake, the leftovers of which will not help my healthy eating intentions as will-power was not one of my birthday gifts. I have saved all of the cards that have come in the last week or so so that I can open them today, on my day of days. Because I am weird like that, only wanting to open things on the *actual* day. So do you think my family could wait for today to give me my presents? Nope. D. came out of our bedroom hiding my gifts behind his back (wrapping is not an option for him). The first thing was a book called Triathlons for Women. I sort of suspect that this is a get off your lazy arse and exercise some woman, but when I asked him if that was the case, he denied it fiercely. The second was the latest Harry Potter movie. And that was the reason why it couldn't wait for today. Because you see, the little darlings wanted to watch it last night and it was terribly inconvenient for me to have a weekday birthday, don'tcha know. But whatever, because it's just another day because like I said, it's not a "big" one this year. That's next year.

Actually, D. got an e-mail from a club he belongs to (well, I guess *we* belong to it but it's more a business thing) which offered to help walk him through organizing a big private party since they noticed that I was turning 40 this year. After he laughed his butt off at this (he's younger than I am), he responded to them that he appreciated the offer but since I was not indeed turning forty this year, he would pass. Whew! Nasty divorce averted! And honestly, I don't know how old I am turning this year since my mother, who is rather particular about age, likes to tell me how old I am allowed to be each year. It's really sort of embarrassing to say that I'm in my 20's when I have a child about to become a teenager. So I'm hoping I can age up into my 30's and mom can just go to her second favorite method of fooling people on the topic of her own age: telling everyone that my sister and I are my father's by his first marriage, neglecting to mention that she is his first wife.

Does age bug you? I'd say my mother inherited it but it was actually my paternal grandmother who refused to tell anyone her age. If you were rude enough to ask while she was alive, she'd tell you it was "None of your damn business." She even told that to the poor harassed guy investigating my dad so dad could get government clearance for one of his jobs. Dad left Nan's birth year empty on the voluminous forms he had to fill out because he truly didn't know. So when the omission was pointed out to him, he demurred to the FBI. And she still didn't give up her age, even when she was told that his clearance and therefore his job could depend on it. She felt so strongly about it that nothing short of serious torture would have prised it from her, and maybe not even that. Let's just say that at her funeral, I was asked more than once just how old my Nan had been. All the grandchildren told people they'd have to go back to the cemetery once her stone was in place. We may be squirrely about age, but we're remarkably loyal to foibles. I truly didn't know that day (I do now and it still feels like I know a big, special secret) but really, why is it such a big deal? The number on the scale now...

I'm officially 39 today according to my birth certificate (I haven't heard from mom yet to see what my adjusted age is) and while I don't feel 39, I don't really care if you mention the number. Just don't age me prematurely like D.'s rotten club did. My hair might have been old for a long time, as evidenced by the hairdresser recently giving me a sample of that purple shampoo to use, but the rest of me feels like 39 isn't such a bad age to be.

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

I didn't get much read and even fewer reviewed this past week. I think I'm still adjusting to the crazy pace of spring. This meme is hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Books I completed this week are:

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
Not Quite Paradise by Adele Barker
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Great Lakes Nature by Mary Blocksma (this is going to take me all year as I read her year's entries on the corresponding days of this year)
Into the Tangle of Friendship by Beth Kephart
One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer
Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney
Solar by Ian McEwan

Reviews posted this week:

The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

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

Seeing Stars by Diane Hammond
Not Quite Paradise by Adele Barker
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Monday Mailbox

Despite my attempts to cut down on the ridiculously teetering piles of unread books around here, the books continue to arrive in my mailbox. (And if I'm being honest, I'd be incredibly sad if they didn't.) This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen came from a Shelf Awareness offer.
A mother's love even in the face of something unspeakable, this one promises to be riveting.

Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson came from Anne at Authors on the Web.
A woman retreats to her farmhouse after witnessing an accident but she has to ultimately open her home and her heart to others. I'm interested to see how this created family comes together.

The Life O'Reilly by Brian Cohen came from the author.
A lawyer who changes and grows as a result of his pro bono case, this one might actually dispel the stereotype of the lawyer as bottom feeder. And I'm terribly curious to see how that turns out.

Sweater Quest by Adrienne Martini came from Caitlin at Free Press.
I love the so-called stunt memoir so even though I don't knit, the idea of a woman's year trying to knit an incredibly difficult pattern with a rare yarn is totally intriguing to me.

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler came from Hachette Book Group.
I have liked previous Fowler books so this one about a woman coming into her own with the help of a varied cast of characters, dead and alive, was appealing to me.

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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: What the shelves say

What do your book shelves say about you? Carin sent me a link to The Subconscious Shelf done by the New Yorker. They take a look at a person's shelf and extrapolate about personality. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? And yet I wonder which set of shelves I should take a picture of to send to have myself analyzed. Do I send the obsessively alphabetized (and separated by binding type) to be read shelves or the shelves of the books I've decided to keep, at least for now. Do I send the picture of the under the bed(s) guilty pleasures? Do I send the cluttered shelves of the kid books ostensibly bought for my kids but really bought for myself? Do I send the shelves that contain the coffee table books or the one of the leaning stacks on my desk? Do I send the picture of the set of shelves where I have pulled all the books I intend to read for this year's challenges as well as all my review copies? So you see why there's no hope indeed of me actually doing this. Sending pictures of all my shelves, which I'd need to do to get a full and complete analysis, would crash their server.

But that's okay, because between us, Carin and I have already analyzed what my shelves say about me. I already know that my bookshelves say I have a serious addiction and need an intervention. They also say I read without regard to quality since I run the gamut from highbrow to scraping the gutters. Oh, and I suspect that they also say I have spurts of anal retentiveness (hence the alphabetical thing and the separation by read/unread and hardback/trade/mass market but that the cattywampous stacks not neatly shelved rat me out as not as terminally organized as I'd like to be. Carin added "that the sagging of certain shelves say that books are more important to you than the imminent avalanche that could in fact pinion you to the floor, perhaps badly injured," an then went on to suggest that I might not be opposed to being in the hospital in traction because, well, more reading time. Take a gander at your own shelves. What do they tell bookshelf snoopers like me about you?

This past week I spent a lot of time dipping into books and then setting them aside almost as if I wanted to make sure all of my bookmarks got equal use. But my book journeys took me to some wondrous places. I visited an Indo-Pakistani journalist who learned through tragedy that your family is always a part of yourself no matter how far from their path you roam. I solved a 40 year old crime in Sweden. I learned about the past and present of Sri Lanka through the eyes of a university teacher. I made the acquaintance of a charming little girl who came into her own in the early 20th century. And bookmarks continue along in too many books to recount here. Where did your page travels take you this week?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

I really don't read mysteries. My husband thinks it's because I am a book snob despite the fact that I weaned myself off thumbing my nose at all but highbrow "lit-ruh-chure" many years ago now. But that really isn't the truth of it. I don't read mysteries (or thrillers or true crime or paranormal or anything even remotely similar to any of these) because I am a class A coward. Make that a class A coward with a shockingly overactive imagination. Yes, Nightmares R Us. And so I steer a wide berth around any book that might feed into this little problem of mine. So it was with a sinking feeling and no little amount of dismay to discover that one of my bookclubs would be reading this for March. The only positive as I saw it was that we did already own the book since I gave it to my husband for Christmas based on all the rave reviews I saw around the internet for it. (He is either blessed with a less active imagination or a stronger constitution or both and thus does read and enjoy mysteries.) Being me, I procrastinated on picking the book up until the very last minute, hunkering down with other books not likely to upset my sleep patterns. And then I realized that I had one day, a mere 24 hours, to read this 608 page behemouth before the book club meeting. The good? It's a fast and easy read. The bad? I was up until 1 am finishing it. The ugly? My husband was out of town so I was too creeped out to turn out the lights when I finished.

I'll be upfront and say that I didn't love the book. I know this puts me in the minority. I thought it was a decent read (albeit one that scared me) but not one that was sublime. The prologue opens with an elderly man getting a framed, pressed flower delivered on his birthday. He views this annual birthday present as a taunt from a murderer but the yearly flowers have afforded no further clues as to what really happened to his great-niece 40 years prior when she went missing, presumed dead. Jumping then to the first chapter of the novel, the reader is introduced to Mikael Blomkvist, a financial reporter who has just been found guilty of libel against a large and powerful player in the Swedish financial market. He is trying to figure out where his life and career will go now when he is hired to investigate the 40 year old disappearance of Henrik Vanger's great-niece and to write a family history of the Vangers, long-time financial giants. Although he is not a crime reporter, he is intrigued enough to take the job when the bait dangled in front of him is not only a large sum of money, but some hidden information that will allow him to take down the man who successfully sued him.

Meanwhile, 24 year old Lisbeth Salander, a young woman who is a ward of the state, perhaps because of her Asperger's like personality (the diagnosis here is entirely mine) and who is a genius at private investigating thanks in large part to her incredible computer skills, has been hired to investigate both Mikael Blomkvist and his nemesis, Wennerstrom, also by Henrik Vanger. Ultimately because of this connection, she ends up pairing up with Blomkvist to work on the long-unsolved mystery of what really happened to Harriet Vanger. As Mikael and Lisbeth start digging, they uncover many dark and appalling secrets about the Vanger family. Grisly murders are described and lead to the ultimate, somewhat surprising denouement of this thriller.

In order to flesh out his characters, Larsson not only focuses on the main thread of the narrative, the investigation into Harriet Vanger's disappearance, but he also makes many side excursions into the lives of Mikael and Lisbeth. The reader experiences for him or herself what makes these characters tick and why they react in the ways they do. While this makes for multi-dimensional characters, it also adds to the sometimes confusing narrative hops. Larsson will go from one character to another within the same chapter and without any warning, making for occasionally choppy transitions. There are also some sloppy bits at the very end that have no good explanation, dialogue that makes no sense given the recent developments in the plot line and one character who is dropped entirely despite her long-time proximity to the baddie. These things bothered me far more than they are likely to bother others, especially mystery fans who will be a bit more engaged in the book than I was. Hovering above the story always magnifies any faults and I just couldn't find my way into the story more deeply. The themes of violence against women, obsession, desire, and truth and justice all play out at different times in the novel, overlapping, highlighting, and occasionally tangling together. I really can't speak to this compared to other mysteries but I do think that most mystery lovers will thoroughly enjoy this one. Meanwhile, I am not pleased to note that this same bookclub is reading yet another book with a murder in it. Do you think they're trying to tell me something?

Spring Reading Thing Challenge

Every year, I jump on Katrina's bandwagon and participate in her Spring Reading Thing Challenge. It is one of my favorite kinds of challenges, a design-it-yourself. This year, as always, I am choosing to list the books that currently have bookmarks in them. My challenge is to finally get around to finishing these seemingly permanent bedside table residents. Because of this my list will not change for the duration of the challenge. It will be composed of only the books I am reading as of this morning. I might have one page left to read or 999. But they are all currently incomplete and therefore make my list. (Note: there is one notable exception to my inclusion of all incomplete books this year as I fully intend to take all year to read Great Lakes Nature by Mary Blocksma and so it will not be on my challenge list intentionally.) Here's Katrina's explanation for the challenge in case my own version doesn't trip your trigger.

Essentially, Spring Reading Thing 2010 is a fun, low-pressure reading challenge open to anyone and everyone. It will take place March 20th-June 20th (which is, not-so-coincidentally, the spring of 2010).

To participate, here’s what you need to do:

  • Create a list of some books you’d like to read or finish this spring.

  • Feel free to set some additional reading goals (such as reading to your kids two hours per week, getting through your pile of magazines, etc.). This is completely optional.

  • Write a blog post including the list of books you want to read and any additional goals you’ve set, and get ready to post it on your blog on March 20th.

  • Visit my blog on March 20th to sign up. I’ll have a Mr. Linky set up that morning, so you can submit a link to your personal Spring Reading Thing post, and it will be added to the master list.

  • Read! Work on your goals throughout Spring 2010.

  • Report your results. Write another blog post in June to let everyone know how you did.

  • Have fun! Visit other participants to see what they’re reading. Write reviews if you’re so inclined. But most of all, enjoy your spring reading.

So, without further ado, here's what the bedside table has spit up at me for my reading and finishing pleasure this spring:

1. The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
2. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
3. Into the Tangle of Friendship by Beth Kephart
4. Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney
5. One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer
6. Solar by Ian McEwan

Saturday Shout-Out

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

Kinky Gazpacho by Lori Tharps was mentioned at A Striped Armchair.

The House on Salt Hay Road by Carin Clevidence was mentioned at The Book Case.

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's the dog's fault

(Not my dog and not my bed but you get the idea.)

I blame the dog. It's all her fault. If she wasn't such a bad influence, being all soft and furry and sweet looking, I would be ever so much better about cracking the whip and getting down to exercise. As it is, the minute I walk in the door from taking T. to the bus stop, she runs back to my bed and leaps up, ready to snuggle back down in the warmth. And who am I to deprive her? So you see, my lack of motivation is all because of her. And before any smart alecks suggest I could take the dog for a walk, the last time I tried this, I broke her. Yes, one measly short walk and she tore her ACL. So dog walking as exercise is just the equivalent to one large vet bill and a broken dog.

I'm still trying to figure out who (beside myself because where's the fun in owning my own bad behaviour?) to blame for my recent eating binges too. All I have to say about that is that it is certainly not my fault that M&M's were on sale two weeks before bookclub. And it's also not my fault that it was a better deal financially to buy the jumbo bag than a small bag. Peanuts have protein so having them for lunch and then dinner and then lunch again wasn't too outside the realm of reasonable, right? Ok, maybe it wasn't the smartest thing to bring into the house. But I mean, if I left some in the ginormous bag, it would be just like having leftovers. And nobody in this house likes that, so it was just better to eat them all, right? Oh, and sorry fellow book club friends, there will be no M&M's at our meeting next week. But since I saved you all from terrible overindulgence, well, just know that's the kind of friend I am.

So yeah. The non-resolution about eating healthier and exercising more hasn't exactly been a raging success yet. But it's still on the agenda, if for no other reason than the fact that the vast amounts of very lily-white skin I will be exposing between the too short bottoms of my shirts and the too small and tight shorts in my drawers resembles nothing so much as the source of all the lard Southern cooks like to use in such abundance. And that is most assuredly not pretty. I'd like to cover the fleshly real estate without having to spend money on larger clothing. As T. wrote in his paragraph about what our family is doing to participate in the All-Star Healthy Challenge, "We [I] could do better."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji

Opening with the adult Saira's longing for the comfort of her mother as she walks down the hall to check on her sister's daughter, this novel is one of family, tradition, and secrets and it quickly turns back in time to Saira's childhood. As the American-born younger daughter of strict, traditional Muslim, Indo-Pakistani parents, Saira never quite fits the image of the girl and then the woman that her cultural heritage insists she be, not like her older sister Ameena. She has no desire to grow up and marry well, being more interested in living a life of freedom, as exemplified by her unmarried, but self-sufficient, much-beloved great aunt back in Pakistan. Her desire for an education and a less constrained life bring her into conflict with her mother especially, a woman who is determined to create for Saira the same contented, married life sister Ameena has embraced. But Saira rebels in small and large ways, especially after her journey back to Pakistan for a cousin's wedding where she uncovers family secrets, the consequences of which continue to reverberate far past the borders of Pakistan. The secrets give her a different view of life, but they also, ultimately, intrigue her in a way that finding a suitable husband does not. And so Saira follows her own path, deviating from what is expected, becoming a journalist, focused on the small details, the bearing witness. But just as she bears witness to others' suffering in war torn areas around the globe, she will be drawn back in to her family's intimate life when tragedy strikes.

Haji's novel is beautifully written, taking on identity and family in the context of the second generation, that generation still so tied to the culture from whence their parents came but oftentimes wanting to assimilate, rejecting their cultural history partially or in full. Saira is in a difficult position, both American and Indo-Pakistani and so many outside forces, current and historical, contributed to her character, the Partition of India, the Western concept of love, the Muslim faith and its tenets, the culture of the American teenager. She is a character who is completely appealing and as she reveals her story and that of the neglected family secrets, I was drawn into a world both like and unlike mine in so many ways. The characters felt real though some of the revelations towards the end of the novel, mostly about Saira's generation, were quite obvious and predictable at least to me, including the one involving Saira herself. Haji has taken the story of a family and skillfully woven major events in the modern histories of India, Pakistan, and the United States into the more personal narrative. Only when cousin Mohsin is regaling Saira with their shared grandfather's service with Gandhi does the history seem to overwhelm the story itself, becoming more a history lesson than a piece of a fictional plot. It feels at this point as if this is inserted in its entirety for an audience who can't be assumed to know about Gandhi, the British Raj, and the Partition at all. And perhaps that's a fair assessment of the English speaking and reading public but it is the only time the novel descends into the didactic, generally preferring instead, to let the personal speak for the universal, and doing it successfully.

The ending of the novel feels a bit rushed, as if Saira is more comfortable telling the story of a more distant past than of her years outside the family fold, the immediate past, and so the deaths and her grief have, perhaps a bit less of an impact than they could have had if her more current life been included more in the plot. But overall, Haji has written an insightful book on family and relationship and the complexities of both. She has created characters who are not "other" but are us, despite differences in cultural expectation and superficialities. The book is engrossing and despite minor flaws, flows pretty seamlessly through until the reader turns the last page and sets it aside, still thinking about some of the issues it raised. Those who value insights into the Indo-Pakistani culture will find much to revel in here. And those who enjoy novels limning the difficult balancing act that second generation children face, caught as they are between two strong cultures, will enjoy this novel of one of these children who is still, and always will be, balancing culture, tradition, and history with the new, the sometimes forbidden, and the different.

Check out Nafisa Haji'swebsite for more information about this book and the author herself.

Thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for sending me a review copy of this book. Be sure to visit other tour stops for this book and see how their views and mine match up (or don't):

Monday, March 1st: Literary Feline
Thursday, March 4th: Luxury Reading
Monday, March 8th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, March 10th: Bibliophile by the Sea
Thursday, March 11th: My Books. My Life.
Monday, March 15th: Lit and Life
Tuesday, March 23rd: Book Dilettante
Wednesday, March 24th: A Sea of Books
Monday, March 29th: Lost in Books
Tuesday, March 30th: Entertainment Realm
Wednesday, March 31st: Book Club Classics!

Monday, March 15, 2010

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

Hmmm. Perhaps I should stop starting books and actually finish some of those in which I have perpetual bookmarks, eh? My reading was not helped by the fact that my daughter had a dance competition this weekend where she performed her first solo ever. Stress and nausea on this mom's part didn't exactly lend itself to reading, even though I took two books with me for down times. This meme is hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Books I completed this week are:

Merely the Groom by Rebecca Lee Hagan
Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie
The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Great Lakes Nature by Mary Blocksma (this is going to take me all year as I read her year's entries on the corresponding days of this year)
Into the Tangle of Friendship by Beth Kephart
One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer
Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney
Not Quite Paradise by Adele Barker

Reviews posted this week:

The Witch's Buttons by Ruth Chew
Fool by Christopher Moore
Merely the Groom by Rebecca Hagan Lee
Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie

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

Seeing Stars by Diane Hammond
The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

Monday Mailbox

Don't you just love it when you find unexpected bounty in the mailbox? I surely do. And what a bounty it was this week, one much longed for, one based on an old favorite. This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton came from Hachette Book Group.
Domestic satire about a woman who decides to stop sleeping with her husband and then maneuvers him into having an affair with a radio host when she decides to write a romance novel.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees came from Lydia at Penguin and Amy Einhorn Books.
I loved Little Women so a book about a supposed love that changed Louisa May Alcott, paving the way for her to write the much loved book is one I can't wait to dive into.

Dancing With Jou Jou by Barbara Louise Leiding came from the author.
A scam artist and a love affair, this one sounds madcap and entertaining.

The Lunatic, the Love, and the Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes came from Trish at TLC Book Tours.
Hamlet, Horatio, and Shakespeare reimagined in a completely new and different way made me terribly curious about this one.

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

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