Review: The Uncommon Reader

Last month at book club we were talking about favorites books read recently and Lisa (Lit and Life) mentioned she was delightfully surprised by this novella.  Searching our library I found an audio version available.  This was the perfect companion for my day today, working in the yard... mowing, pruning, planting flowers.

From Publishers Weekly: Briskly original and subversively funny, this novella from popular British writer Bennett (Untold Stories; Tony-winning play The History Boys) sends Queen Elizabeth II into a mobile library van in pursuit of her runaway corgis and into the reflective, observant life of an avid reader. Guided by Norman, a former kitchen boy and enthusiast of gay authors, the queen gradually loses interest in her endless succession of official duties and learns the pleasure of such a common activity. With the dawn of her sensibility... mistaken for the onset of senility, plots are hatched by the prime minister and the queen's staff to dispatch Norman and discourage the queen's preoccupation with books. Ultimately, it is her own growing self-awareness that leads her away from reading and toward writing, with astonishing results. Bennett has fun with the proper behavior and protocol at the palace, and the few instances of mild coarseness seem almost scandalous. There are lessons packed in here, but Bennett doesn't wallop readers with them. It's a fun little book. 

Type: Fiction (Novella)

Quick Take: Recommend - This is a delightful novella and the first one I have read.  It's engaging, original and surprisingly funny. Can you imagine the Queen blowing off scheduled events because she just has to find out what happens?

Source: Library (audio)

Review: Dune Road

There are a few women lit authors I always read, if only because everyone else is reading them. Jane Green falls into this category, for me.

Synopsis: The novel is set in the beach community of a tony Connecticut town. Our heroine is a single mom who works for a famous–and famously reclusive–novelist. When she stumbles on a secret that the great man has kept hidden for years, she knows that there are plenty of women in town who would love to get their hands on it–including some who fancy the writer for themselves.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: This is the story of Kit Hargrove, a recently divorced woman who is trying to find a new life. The story takes place in New England and having recently read The Beach House, I half expected it to include some character cross over.

As the story unfolds, we learn of Kit’s new circle of friends and a budding new romance. Most of the characters are flawed and some are have secretive lives yet the details that create connection to a character are missing. The ending was not realistic to me, I can’t share why or I would ruin the book for you.

This is not my favorite Jane Green novel, in fact I might like this one the least of all her books. The book is getting mixed reviews with an average review of 2 of 5 stars on BN.com and Amazon.com.

Source: Personal copy

Review: Roses

This book might be the prettiest book I own, if you have seen it you know what I'm talking about.  The cover is beautiful but when you open the cover you are greeted with more flowers - it's stunning. 

Synopsis: Spanning the twentieth century, Roses is the story of the powerful founding families of Howbutker, Texas, and how their histories remain intertwined over the span of three generations.

Cotton tycoon Mary Toliver and timber magnate Percy Warwick fell in love, but because of their stubborn natures and Mary’s devotion to her family’s land, they unwisely never wed. Now they must deal with the deceit, secrets, and tragedies that surround them, and the poignant loss of what might have been—not only for themselves, but also for their family legacies.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - This book is told by a few voices and moves from present day to the past a few times telling Mary Toliver and Percy Warwick's love story and the story of three families (spanning decades).

I thought I would enjoy the present day story the most but Mary's story was my favorite. The sacrifices families endured are important to remember.  I did start to lose interest towards the end, I didn't expect a twist towards the end and there wasn't one.  If I am going to pick on something with this novel I think it's too long.  I curious to read other reviews to see how this is reading for others (I think 150 pages could be cut without impacting the story).

I am happy I read it - I enjoy reading about the past and did learn about a place/time that I knew nothing about.

Source: Review Copy

Review: The Senator's Wife

Many of you know that I have been busy loading my ipod with books to make sure I always have choices.  Having read several Miller books in the past, I listened to The Senator's Wife last week and really, really enjoyed it!

Synopsis: Once again Sue Miller takes us deep into the private lives of women with this mesmerizing portrait of two marriages exposed in all their shame and imperfection, and in their obdurate, unyielding love. The author of the iconic THE GOOD MOTHER and the best-selling WHILE I WAS GONE brings her marvelous gifts to a powerful story of two unconventional women who unexpectedly change each other's lives.Meri is newly married, pregnant, and standing on the cusp of her life as a wife and mother, recognizing with some terror the gap between reality and expectation. Delia Naughton—wife of the two-term liberal senator Tom Naughton—is Meri's new neighbor in the adjacent New England town house. Delia's husband's chronic infidelity has been an open secret in Washington circles, but despite the complexity of their relationship, the bond between them remains strong. What keeps people together, even in the midst of profound betrayal? How can a journey imperiled by, and sometimes indistinguishable...

Type: Fiction
 
Quick Take: Highly Recommend - This story looks at marriage and is told from Meri's voice - a newly married woman who moves into the other side of the bungalow from Delia (the Senator's wife). 

As Meri struggles with the realities of marriage and motherhood, she discovers secrets about their neighbor while house sitting.  She has to make decisions based on knowledge that she shouldn't have, this helps move the story forward and a good pace.

Another book that kept me on my toes! I was pleasantly surprised at the pace of this book and the twists and turns that kept the storyline moving.
 
Source: Library (audio)

Review: How Clarissa Burden learned to Fly

Manic Mommies Book Club Selection (June 16, 2010)

Synopsis: How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly is the transcendent story of a young woman who, in a twenty-four hour period, journeys through startling moments of self-discovery that lead her to a courageous and life-altering decision.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - This is a fun summer read with enough content to make the book discussion worthy (a good book club selection). 

We follow Clarissa as she moves throughout the day, the quirkiness that is her life and her husband will keep you on your toes.  She's trying to make sense out of what the expectations put upon her and how to persevere.  Ultimately she learns to accept herself and ownership of the situation.

Source: Review copy

To listen to our discussion, click on the green arrow below (this months call is edited down to just over 30 minutes).  If you would like to download the call, you will find all MMBC audio calls on the MMBC page.



Author Q&A:

Tell us a little about yourself: I live on a sandbar in the middle of nowhere with my husband (I’m a newlywed with a marriage not yet two years old) and four dogs. We have no full-time neighbors save for a few folks down the road. A mama bear and her cub live in the back yard next to the bay. I keep the dogs in at night because of coyotes. I love it here. It gives me all kinds of time to think. I love to cook and fish. I love bad TV and good books. I garden; trying to coax life out of the sand is a mad act committed by a happy woman. I bird watch. I teach folks who love words and who have stories they must tell. I work on environmental and family violence issues. And I’ve taken up genealogy; what I’ve discovered never ceases to amaze, clarify, and confuse.

Do you write daily? I surely try.

What was it like getting your first novel published? My experience was totally a-typical and was one of the few times in my life when all the stars fell into harmonious alignment. I was in grad school and my professor, Carolyn Doty, said I needed to send my thesis (my first novel Sugar Cage) to an agent. She provided me a list of five names. She said, “When the first person on the list rejects the book, send the manuscript immediately out to the second person.” That process seemed way too logical for my artist’s brain, so I gazed at the piece of paper and tried to divine which name proffered good luck. The third one down was Joy. Easy wheezie. I sent the manuscript to her and, low and behold, she loved it. Within about a month, she’d sold it to an editor at Putnam whose name was Faith. Both Carolyn and Faith have passed away, but I still have Joy in my life and my editor ever since Remembering Blue is named Deb. She has brought me great luck too. Perhaps it’s the three-letter thing that’s working for me.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I think they’re very, very cool. I don’t own one but I sat beside a woman on a plane last weekend who had a Kindle. I asked her to show me how it worked. Pretty impressive, I must say. And I’m totally excited about the Ipad—I’m a big Apple fan. I don’t think books you hold in your hands will ever go away, but these new devices aren’t going anywhere either. They’ll become more sophisticated even as they’re used by future generations of readers who are totally accustomed to the virtual world. I also think that there’s every possibility that people will read more because where they go, so too does their library.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Feed your mind: read, read, read.

What are you reading now? I reread the Great Gatsby once a year. And it’s that time of year again. Also, I’m looking very forward to reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna.

Just for fun:
- Favorite Season: Spring. We’re on the migratory path for monarch butterflies so it’s pretty awesome. Also, an astonishing variety of birds migrate through here. For the same reasons, I love fall.
- Morning or night: Morning, definitely.
- Favorite ice cream flavor: Rum raison
- If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: Africa

ANNA Read-a-long: Part 4

Well we are officially half way through Anna Karenina.  Part four is less than 100 pages, it was a quick read and the plot is really starting to move at a good pace.  I usually put the book down for a few weeks but before starting the next part but I'm not sure I will be able to - I just need to know what happens next!

We are using Oprah's discussion guide to help facilitate the dialog. the recap below is from her website. 

Part Four: Marriage and Divorce Laws

Many contemporary readers picking up Anna Karenina for the first time ask a very logical question after the consummation of Anna and Vronsky's affair: Why don't Anna and Karenin simply divorce? It would seem to solve many of the messiest issues for the three lovers in this triangle. Though that may seem to "solve" the problem, when thinking it through, the truth is that divorce in Tolstoy's Russia produced another set of complications potentially more devastating. All legal issues aside, Karenin and Anna feel the sacredness of their union in their own ways. This is part of the reason for Anna's extreme guilt and Karenin's extreme confusion.

Review: this one is MINE

This book seems to be making it's way through the book blogging community this spring.  Now that I have read it I need to track back to posts to read some other reviews.

Synopsis: Violet Parry is living the quintessential life of luxury in the Hollywood Hills with David, her rock-and-roll manager husband, and her darling toddler, Dot. She has the perfect life—except that she's deeply unhappy. David expects the world of Violet but gives little of himself in return. When she meets Teddy, a roguish small-time bass player, Violet comes alive, and soon she's risking everything for the chance to find herself again. Also in the picture are David's hilariously high-strung sister, Sally, on the prowl for a successful husband, and Jeremy, the ESPN sportscaster savant who falls into her trap. For all their recklessness, Violet and Sally will discover that David and Jeremy have a few surprises of their own. THIS ONE IS MINE is a compassionate and wickedly funny satire about our need for more—and the often disastrous choices we make in the name of happiness.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: This one is MINE is a modern day train wreck - think current day Anna Karenina, living in LA. I happen to be reading Anna Karenina now and can see the similarities. 

This wasn't my favorite book and I realize I might sound like a prude but I was really put off with the use of the 'N' word (which was used so many times in this book).  It's mentioned several times in the beginning of the book and I wasn't able to move past this, it left me feeling uncomfortable and worrying about what other off color words would be said.

This book wasn't for me but it doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.

Source: Review Copy

Author Q&A:
Tell us a little about yourself:  I'm a former TV writer, turned stay-at-home-mom, turned novelist. I wrote for the shows Mad About You, Suddenly Susan, Ellen, and Arrested Development. My dream was always to become a novelist. After I had my daughter, I didn't want to go back to TV because the hours were too long, so I finally wrote that novel.

Do you write daily? What is your written practice? I try to write five days a week. I drop my daughter off at school, then sit at the computer, try to stay off the internet, and write. I usually get about three hours in. Then, it's errands or exercise, and pick-up. That's when I become a Mom again.

What was it like getting your first novel published?  It was terrific. I have a wonderful editor, a great publishing house, and everyone has been really supportive. You of course dream that being a published novelist will magically transform your existence into one of great ease and wide acclaim, and so when that doesn't happen, it's a big bummer. But I am so happy to have met other terrific novelists at conferences and such. I'm honored to have been welcomed into this new tribe. Very few people know what it's like to work years on a project and then get thrown into the publication process. So we all stick together.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I don't have one. I love the feeling of a book in my hand. I don't see the need to improve on the format.

What are you reading now?  UNION ATLANTIC by Adam Haslett. I'm on page fifty and really liking it.

Review: Baker Towers

I remember reading Mrs. Kimble for book club years ago and thinking... why did Ellen make this selection?  I really enjoyed the book it just didn't seem like the type of book she would select.  Last year I read The Condition (also enjoyed the family dynamics and storyline) so when I saw Baker's Tower's sitting on the audio shelf at the library I thought it would be a good choice. 

Synopsis: BAKER TOWERS is an intimate exploration of love and family set in a western Pennsylvania coal town in the years following World War II. Bakerton is a town of company houses and church festivals, union squabbles and firemen's parades. Its ball club leads the coal company leagues. Its neighborhoods are Little Italy, Swedetown and Polish Hill.

For the five Novak children, the forties are a decade of tragedy, excitement and stunning change. George comes home from the war determined to leave Bakerton behind and finds the task impossible. Dorothy is a fragile beauty hooked on romance. Brilliant Joyce holds the family together, bitterly aware of the life she might have had elsewhere, while her brother Sandy sails through life on looks and charm. At the center of it all is Lucy, the volatile baby, devouring the family's attention and developing a bottomless appetite for love.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take:  Recommend - I enjoyed this novel but not as much as Haigh's first two which had an element of surprise to the storyline.  This is a solid book and you might be surprised by some of the characters.

Following the Novak family over decades you will feel a connection to them and small town America - life is hard, the choices can be even more challenging.  With young children living at home for most of the story and the grown children returning home throughout the book, we learn about the Novak family from many points of view.

It is so important to remember how hard people worked just to put dinner on the table, it's easy to forget how hard life was post wartime.

Source: Library (audio)

Review: Just Like Me, Only Better

Every once in a while the Fed-Ex guy surprises me with new books and that was the case with Just Like Me, Only Better.  I enjoy light/fun novels so I was excited to have the chance to read this one. 

Synopsis: From the author of Here Today, Gone to Maui, the story of a woman who finally got a life...some else's. Ever since Veronica's husband found the love of his life-not her-she's been a walking zombie with runny mascara. It doesn't help that she keeps getting mistaken for Haley Rush-the Hollywood starlet whose dazzling life is plastered on every magazine. When Haley's manager offers Veronica a job as a celebrity double, it only takes a moment before she says yes. Veronica gets to drive Haley's car, wear her phenomenal clothes-and have fun with her hot celebrity boyfriend, Brady Ellis. Too bad the job's only part-time, and at the end of the day she has to return to her life as a cash-strapped substitute teacher and cub scout mom. But when real sparks fly with Brady, is it a fantasy come true or a disaster in disguise?

Type: Fiction, 306 pages, trade paperback

Quick Take: Recommend - This is a really fun book about a divorced working mother who looks like a celebrity and ends up accepting a part time job as a 'double'.  I love reading books that are fresh and new in concept and this fits the bill.  If you enjoy Jane Porter, you will love this book.  A quick, entertaining read, perfect for summer!

Source: Review copy

Review & Contest: The Threadbare Heart

Calling all Manic Mommies and anyone reading this post!  I'm happy to share news that you have been invited to participate in a Mother's Day contest (see below for details).  This is a great book, discussion worthy and book clubs will enjoy reading The Threadbare Heart. 

Synopsis: A photo of her sons. A doormat from Target. Twenty-three tubs of fabric. Somehow it comforts Lily to list the things she lost when a wildfire engulfed the Santa Barbara avocado ranch she shared with her husband, Tom. He, too, didn't survive the devastating fire. His last act was to save her grandmother's lace from the flames-an heirloom she has never been able to take scissors to, that she was saving for someday. 

As she negotiates her way through grief, mourning both the tangible and intangible, Lily wonders about her long marriage. Was it worth all the work, the self-denial? Did she stay with Tom just to avoid loneliness? Should she have been more like her mother, Eileen thrice-married and, even now in her elderly years, cavalier about men and, it seems, even about her daughter's emotions?

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - A quick read, I enjoyed this book.  The Omaha Bookworm's are reading this book and will be discussing it with the author later this year. 

The character's develop quickly and you will quickly begin to think about relationships, mother/daughter, husband/wife, parent/child and friendships.  There were parts of this book that were difficult for me but purley on a personal level - my family lost everything in a fire and I find I still have issues reading about fire a decade later.  The smell after a fire is undescribable... I'm always taking inventory (making lists).

After the discussion guide are a few stories behind the story - I happened to read these before reading the book which I thought was an added benefit.  I enjoy learning about an authors writing process and how they get their ideas for plot, character developmet etc...

Source: Review Copy

Contest:  WHO'S YOUR FAVORITE FICTIONAL MOTHER-DAUGHTER PAIR?
27 BLOGGERS WANT TO KNOW! WIN A BOOK CLUB IN A BOX!

The Threadbare Heart is a story about a mother and a daughter torn apart by grief, jealousy and misunderstanding — and the family heirloom that finally brings them together. To celebrate its publication, and in honor of Mother’s Day, I’m running a ―"Favorite Fictional Mother & Daughter" pair contest.We want to know which fictional mother-daughter pair made you laugh? Made you cry? Made you cringe? Which pair revealed something true about your own mother-daughter relationships? (And yes, mothers and daughters in film are eligible. Fiction is fiction, right?)

HOW TO ENTER:

• On MAY 2, 3 or 4, visit one of the blogs and enter 250 words explaining your favorite fictional mother-daughter pair. These are some of the best blogs about books, literature and life. Have fun exploring them – but you can only enter on one blog.

• ON MOTHER’S DAY, each blogger will post the entry they like best. Each blog’s winners will receive a signed copy of The Threadbare Heart and will be entered in the Grand Prize Giveaway.

• On MAY 16, I will choose a Grand Prize winner from all the winning blog entries. (How will I pick? Whichever entry just hits me as being heartfelt and true.) The Grand Prize will be announced on the participating blogs, on my website and on twitter.

WHAT YOU WIN:  The Grand Prize winner will receive a ―Book Club in a Box‖ — ten signed copies of The Threadbare Heart, a call-in from the author, and a delicious rum cake to share with your book-reading friends. (Why rum cake? You’ll have to read the book to understand! I’ve picked out a cake by a baker named Kelli because she started selling rum cakes when she lost her baking buddy to cancer and I loved her story - and I happen to think that good stories are a big part of a good life.) Happy Mother’s Day! Jennie Nash

How to enter:  You can leave a comment or email me directly with your favorite fictional  mother/daughter relationship.  

Looking at the books I have read since beginning to blog my favorite mother/daughter relationship would be Catherine and her mother, from The Heretic's Daughter.  Catherine's mother was so strong, had conviction and faught for her family and had strong values. 

I will have to think about movies... the possibilities are endless!

Review: An Irish Country Doctor

I can't tell you how many times I have picked up this book over the years while scanning the bookshelves at my local bookstore - the only reason I haven't read it before now is timing. 

Synopsis: Barry Laverty, MD, can barely find the village of Ballybucklebo on a map when he first sets out to seek gainful employment there, but already he knows that there is nowhere he would rather live than in the emerald hills and glens of Northern Ireland. The proud owner of a spanking-new medical degree, Barry jumps at the chance to secure a position as an assistant in a small rural practice. At least until he meets Dr. Fingal Flahertie OReilly. The older physician, whose motto is never let the patients get the upper hand, has his own way of doing things, which definitely takes some getting used to. At first, Barry cant decide if the pugnacious OReilly is the biggest charlatan he has ever met, or possibly the best teacher he could ever hope for. Ballybucklebo is a long way from Belfast, and Barry soon discovers that he still has a lot to learn about country life. But if he sticks with it, he just might end up finding out more about life and love than he could ever have imagined back in medical school.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book, it was sweet and delightful - filled with stories of a small rural town in Ireland and informative at the same time. I knew the author was an doctor before reading this book which made the clinical descriptions feel spot-on. I didn’t doubt the descriptive treatments, the births etc. While reading this book I could tell the author was setting up the sequel.  It was a little too idyllic for my taste but I did walk away feeling I learned a bit about living in a small rural town in Ireland so I'm happy to have read the book.

Source: Review copy

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