Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Why I picked it: I have had this book on my bookshelf for over a year, wanting to read it but not having time.  I was able to get an audio copy at my library - which is my plan to help me get caught up with the books I have yet to read.

Synopsis: Connie is looking forward to starting work on her graduate thesis over the summer, when her mother asks her to sell an abandoned house once owned by her grandmother in Salem, Mass.

Reluctantly, Connie moves to the small town and inhabits the crumbling, ancient house, trying to restore it to a semblance of order. Curious things start to happen when Connie finds the name "Deliverance Dane" on a yellowed scrap of paper inside an old Bible, and begins to have visions of a long ago woman condemned for practicing "physick," or herbal healing, on her neighbors in 1690s Salem. Interspersed with modern-day sections are chapters on the actual witch trials, revealing the fascinating story of Deliverance Dane and how she got caught up in the tragic events.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: This novel moves back and forth between 1991 and 1692, and is filled with facts about the women and their 'witch' like tendencies.  Connie's research about the trials and discoveries along the way about life in Salem play an important role to the story.  The story starts to unfold when Connie begins researching Deliverance Dane and the book that she is sure will help uncover the mystery. 

Did you know the author is a descendant of Elizabeth Howe, who died in the Salem Witch Trials? A little mystery, history and a villain made me think about The DaVinci Code while reading this book.

Source: Review copy

Review: Hummingbirds

Why I picked it: Hummingbird's is a TLC Book Tour selection.  This book sounded intriguing, a NYC prep school story that included the faculty and the secrets that surround an all girls school with a token male teacher. 

Synopsis: A wonderfully compelling novel about the intertwining---and darkly surprising---relationships between the teachers and students at an all-girl prep school, Hummingbirds marks the debut of author Joshua Gaylord, a prep school teacher himself on New York City's Upper East Side. Spanning a year at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, this intimate private school community becomes tempestuous and dangerously incestuous as the rivalries and secrets of teachers and students interact, intersect, and eventually collide. Ultimately, Hummingbirds poses a fascinating question: who are the adults and who are the children?

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - This may sound odd but this story reminded me of Glee, the storyline cirlces around Mr. Leo Binhammer and his female student Dixie Doyle but stops there. Dixie is the popular girl in school, has a crush on Binhammer and is a bit of snob.  Leo revels in knowing he is an icon at school (everyone loves him).  This book is hard to discuss without sharing plot twists (good twists) but I will tell you there are plenty of twists in the book to keep you wanting to know what will happen. 

The story is mostly told from the adult/teachers vantage but with a good mix of teen girl mixed in for good measure.  It's a story of many messed up lives but I confess I did enjoy reading it.

Click here to read an author Q&A with Helen's Book Blog

Source: Thank you TLC Book Tours for supplying my review copy.  Click here for details of the Hummingbird's book tour and to read more reviews.

Review: The Girls

Why I picked it: My book club in Omaha read this book for our October selection and discussed the book with the author Tuesday evening.

I was so excited when they called me to talk and catch up!  I miss these ladies so much.  We talked for an hour (about everything)... as soon as I hung up the phone I thought... I forgot to ask:

Cheryl,  How are your boys doing? 
Lisa, Tell me about the call with Lori (we didn't even talk about it)
Linda, How are the grandchildren? How's the musician?

I could go on and on.... but with a dozen women in our group I will spare you the individual questions (ha).

Synopsis: Rose and Ruby are closer than most twin sisters. Indeed, they have spent their twenty-nine years on earth joined at the head. Given that they share a web of essential veins, there is no possibility that they can be separated in their lifetime.

On the eve of their thirtieth birthday, Rose sets out to write her autobiography. But because their lives have been so closely shared, Ruby insists on contributing the occasional chapter. And so, as Rose types away on her laptop, the technophobic Ruby scribbles longhand on a yellow legal pad. They’ve established one rule for their co-writing venture: neither is allowed to see what the other has written. Together, they tell the story of their lives as the world’s oldest surviving craniopagus twins – the literary Rose and straight-talking Ruby often seeing the same event in wildly different ways. Despite their extreme medical condition, the sisters express emotional truths that every reader will identify with: on losing a loved one, the hard lessons of compromise, the first stirrings of sexual desire, the pain of abandonment, and the transcendent power of love.

Quick Take: Recommend - I read The Wife's Tale earlier this year (loved it) and was excited to read this book for my Omaha book club. Someone from my book club suggested The Girls and talking with the author was a wonderful experience so it was an easy selection for us.  I know I shouldn't compare books but I will - I liked The Wife's Tale so much more than this one, there is a long family trip to Uncle Stash's home town that seemed to last forever (maybe it was the audio experience).  That said, I adored Ruby and the descriptiveness of how they live from day to day.  I know this is a novel loosely based on a particular set of twins which made the book more interesting.

Source: Library (audio)

Review: If you lived here, you'd be home by now

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club selection.  Click on the green arrow below to listen to the book discussion (30 minutes), you can also download the audio from the MMBC page to listen on your ipod.

Synopsis: Rickie left home a long time ago-so how is it that at the age of twenty-five, she's living with her parents again, and sleeping in the bedroom of her childhood home?

At least one thing has changed since high school: She now has a very sweet but frequently challenging son named Noah, who attends the same tony private LA school she herself attended. Rickie fit in fine when she was a student, but now her age and tattoos make her stand out from all the blond Stepford moms, who are desperate to know why someone so young-and so unmarried-has a kid in first grade.

Already on the defensive, Rickie goes into full mother-tigress mode when her small and unathletic son tells her that the gym teacher is out to get him. She storms the principal's office, only to discover that Andrew Fulton, the coach, is no dumb jock. As her friendship with Andrew develops, Rickie finds herself questioning her assumptions-about motherhood, being a grown-up, and falling in love.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - This is a quick read about a woman who is lost and trying to find her way.  This was a great book club discussion book.  I was so happy with the feedback I received before the call which made for a great discussion last night.

Source: Review copy

Author Q&A

Tell us a little about yourself: I'm married to a TV writer (he works on "The Simpsons" at the moment) and we have four kids. Which means life is very busy.

What was it like getting your first novel published? What is your writing schedule like? I'm a mother first and foremost, so writing has to be fit in around all the rest. It's not too bad during the school year--I usually have time to write while the kids are in school. But summers are hard! I have someone home on pretty much any given day and it gets tough to find a block of time to work. Out of necessity, I've become a master at racing over to the computer and writing a paragraph or two when everyone's distracted. I keep my laptop in the dining room most of the time--near the first floor action but just slightly apart from it, so I can dash in and write whenever I find the time.

I'm NOT complaining: I am so lucky to be able to be a full-time mom and stay home with a sick kid and go to any school performances or games and STILL have the career of my dreams. I actually think having both was the key to my success. I had a nanny for a awhile and it wasn't until I found her another job and started taking care of the kids completely by myself that I felt emotionally freed up to write--it was like I had given myself permission to do something just for me because I had no guilt about not being with the kids enough.

Selling my first novel was literally a dream come true. I was a huge reader as a kid and all I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a writer. Seriously: I had no other ambitions (or abilities). But it wasn't easy. I had two novels with two agents that never sold and it wasn't until this third agent and third novel that I actually sold one.

When you start writing, how much of the story do you have mapped out and how much is organic? I write a very loose outline that's probably about two pages. Very loose. Did I mention it's very loose? I have characters, a situation, a sense of where it's going . . . but scene by scene is pure invention. There's an amazing "ah-ha!" feeling when you're struggling with what should happen next and suddenly you have an epiphany and it feels almost obvious. But (probably because my process is so unstructured) I rewrite a LOT. There's often very little left of the original draft in the final version. Things clarify with time (and with my husband's and editors' notes).

If you could interview anyone, who would if be and why? What would you like to ask them? I just read for the second time this unbelievable graphic novel called ASTERIOS POLYP which is one of the greatest things I've ever read. The author is a guy named David Mazzucchelli and I'd love to sit him down and ask him all my questions about the book--because there are so many layers in both the writing and drawing that I could spend hours studying each page and still want to know MORE. So it would be fun to talk to him.

Of course, I just reread it, so it's on my mind. Ask me on another day, and I'll probably have another answer!

Review: The Art of Disappearing

Why I picked it: With the move behind me and the house mostly settled I thought I would re-enter the world of book tours.  Thanks TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read this book.

Synopsis:  How do you know if love is real or just an illusion?  When Mel Snow meets the talented magician Toby Warring in a dusty roadside bar, she is instantly drawn to the brilliant performer whose hands can effortlessly pull stray saltshakers and poker chips from thin air and conjure castles out of the desert sands. Just two days later they are married, beginning their life together in the shadow of Las Vegas, where Toby hopes to make it big. Mel knows that magicians are a dime a dozen, but Toby is different—his magic is real.

As Toby’s renown grows and Mel falls more and more in love with his wonderments, she starts to realize that Toby's powers are as unstable as they are dazzling. She learns that he once made his assistant disappear completely, and couldn’t bring her back. And then, just as Mel becomes convinced that his magic is dangerous, a trick goes terribly awry.

Exiled from the stage, Mel and Toby flee the lights of Las Vegas for the streets of Amsterdam where a cabal of old-time magicians, real magicians like Toby, try to rescue him from his despair. But he’s haunted by the trick that failed, and obsessed with using his powers to right his mistakes, leaving Mel to wonder if the love they share is genuine or merely a fantasy, conjured up by a lost magician looking to save himself from being alone.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: This book dances a fine line between magic and sorcery.  Mel and Toby time travel in a unique way and Toby is obsessed with his magic abilities and Mel and her brother Max also have some magical abilities (to simplify).  As the story progresses the plot thickens and Toby's decisions start to change the future as he finds a way to revisit moments from the past.

I have read comments comparing this book to The Time Traveler's Wife, I'm sorry to say I don't see the comparison.  I don't read much in this genre so it's only fair to say I did struggle with some elements of the book. Don't let this sway you though - if you enjoy magical elements (ie: Harry Potter) you will probably like this novel.

I did like that Toby's obsession started taking a toll on him, and those around him.  What comes out from his obsession that is a creative ending to his story.

Source: Review Copy

Review: The Nobodies Album

Why I picked it: My book club read The Dogs of Babel which we all enjoyed and I had been reading such great things about The Nobodies Album that I had to read it.  The premise was so interesting to me.

Synopsis: Bestselling novelist Octavia Frost has just completed her latest book—a revolutionary novel in which she has rewritten the last chapters of all her previous books, removing clues about her personal life concealed within, especially a horrific tragedy that befell her family years ago.

On her way to deliver the manuscript to her editor, Octavia reads a news crawl in Times Square and learns that her rock-star son, Milo, has been arrested for murder. Though she and Milo haven’t spoken in years—an estrangement stemming from that tragic day—she drops everything to go to him.

The “last chapters” of Octavia’s novel are layered throughout The Nobodies Album—the scattered puzzle pieces to her and Milo’s dark and troubled past. Did she drive her son to murder? Did Milo murder anyone at all? And what exactly happened all those years ago? As the novel builds to a stunning reveal, Octavia must consider how this story will come to a close.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - Reading reviews for this book I was surprised to see so many people label it a murder mystery.  There is a murder that's solved by the end of the book but I thought this was Octavia's story about lifes regrets and hope for her relationship with her son and their future.  This novel takes place over just a few days yet you have no idea of this while reading (it's a page turner).

Source: Library (audio)

Review: The Boy Next Door

Why I picked it: It's not a secret that I love reading about Africa and the Middle East so when I found out that Irene Sabatini won the Orange Prize for new fiction I had to read this book.  The day the announcement was made I logged on to the libraries website and was delighted to see an audio copy with no holds.  I picked it up the same day and burned a copy for my ipod. 

Synopsis: In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, there is a tragedy in the house next door to Lindiwe Bishop--her neighbor has been burned alive. The victim's stepson, Ian McKenzie, is the prime suspect but is soon released. Lindiwe can't hide her fascination with this young, boisterous and mysterious white man, and they soon forge an unlikely closeness even as the country starts to deteriorate.

Years after circumstances split them apart, Ian returns to a much-changed Zimbabwe to see Lindiwe, now a sophisticated, impassioned young woman, and discovers a devastating secret that will alter both of their futures, and draw them closer together even as the world seems bent on keeping them apart. The Boy Next Door is a moving and powerful debut about two people finding themselves and each other in a time of national upheaval.

Quick Take: Recommend - I wish I could give this a highly recommend but I can't... I enjoyed most of the book but it does carry on a bit to much in some parts.  I was intrigued by Ian and Lindiwe, she starts a relationship with Ian knowing he has just been released from jail for burning someone.  As the story progresses we slowly learn what reallly happened.

This novel span many years.  I was captivated by Lindiwe's decisions throughout the book and couldn't wait to see how this story would end.  It's wonderfully written.  If you enjoy award winners this book will not disappoint you.

Source: Library (audio)

Review: Room

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club Selection.  Thanks to Miriam at Hachette for picking it for us almost a year ago!  I enjoy reading the Booker prize winner (I almost always love the book), congratulations to Emma Donoghue for making the short list.

Have you read Room?  If you have, click here to join the discussion!  We have a few book related questions for you to answer.

Synopsis: To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - This book is getting alot of buzz and it's much deserved.  How the author wrote an entire book from the view of a fie year old still amazes me (and she said it was easy!).  We had a lively discussion of the novel using the reader's guide and gathered some great questions. 

Source: Review Copy

The author wasn't able to join us to discuss Room but she did answer our questions:

I’m curious to find out why the author had a television in the room. Was this an addition during the seven years (maybe a sundaytreat) or was the TV as part of the Room from the beginning? Good question. I agonised over whether they should have a TV or not; I really didn't want them to watch it all day, but I thought that with no TV they might be living a rather 19th-century life, a premodern one rather than the modern-but-sealed-off-from-the-broader-world one I wanted for them. So I decided to make Ma strongminded enough to severely limit their watching, and that way Jack could have visual recognition of many things in Outside without truly understanding them.

This is a common question for writer’s but we are curious… have you thought about Ma and Jack and what their live might be like in ten years time? I've thought a little bit... what I hope for them is that they gradually become more and more like everybody else! They'll always be marked by their experience but they shouldn't have to always feel so strange and special.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you stayed in a five year olds mindset for the entire novel? Was this as challenging as it seemed to us? No, this novel was easy: the story, perspective and tone came to me all in one go, and having a five-year-old son at the time made it pretty effortless to 'channel' Jack. What I struggled with was the balance between grim and upbeat, naive and satirical, slow and fast... lots of tinkering, basically.

Jack seems to have a bond with objects in the room, calling objects Plant, Wardrobe (capitalized). We would love to explore this with you, can you share a little more behind the purpose of this to a five year old? I saw him and Ma as a tribe of two, and I thought their religion would have a large element of animism: seeing a spirit in everything. My kids do that too, they automatically personalise, play and talk to every object they encounter. I figure Jack needs friends and Ma will encourage any way of getting them.

Breast Feeding: One of our readers emailed me to add one more question to the list. She’s wondering if you had gotten a lot of attention or criticism regarding the presence of breastfeeding an older child in this novel. Breastfeeding felt like a logical ‘must’ for Ma.  Yes, lots of rather uneasy attention, almost all of it in the US. To me the breastfeeding made absolute sense on every level, because Jack and Ma are still living very much as mother and baby when the novel starts; they're never more than a few feet apart. She would hold onto any habit that comforts him. But in the US especially, many people are viscerally horrified at the idea of nursing a five-year-old...

Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Booker! As a writer, mother, and partner we are wondering how you do it all. Are you working on your next novel?  I do it all with the aid of my partner (she got six months paid leave when each of the kids was born, which really helped) and then daycare; I manage to do things like email when the kids are in the house, but never actual writing. Yes, I'm working on the next novel now, an unsolved crime from 1870s San Francisco.

I appreciated Ma’s breakdown once the escaped and she knew Jack was safe. This made the story feel like it could have been a real experience for someone (albeit a horrific one).  I'm glad this rang true for you! I (rather coldbloodedly) wanted Jack to be parted from Ma for a while so that he'd start growing up fast, but I also thought it was very plausible that someone would fall apart AFTER their escape; prisoners released from solitary confinement very often only develop psychological problems afterwards...

What is your writing schedule like? It's determined by school and daycare: the minute the kids are out of the house I rush to my computer like a lover!

When you start writing, how much of the story do you have mapped out and how much is organic? I'm entirely inorganic: I plan everything, pretty much. If there's a good strong structure there's room for changes at a later stage, but the structure (and usually the first and last scenes) remain the same.

If you could interview anyone, who would if be and why? What would you like to ask them? Emily Dickinson - but I doubt she'd agree to be interviewed!

Review: Every Last One

Why I picked it: I was visiting the library and saw an audio copy sitting on the shelf - after hearing so many people talk about this book this summer I had to read it.

Synopsis:  Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener, or even her life as the wife of a doctor.  Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount.  And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence. What happens afterwards is a testament to the power of a woman’s love and determination, and to the invisible line of hope and healing that connects one human being with another.

Every Last One is a novel about facing every last one of the the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live but must be brave enough to try.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend - This is a story of how a mother copes through day to day life, she is married, has three teenagers and owns a landscaping business. She's tired, trying to stay connected to her kids and be ahead of anything 'bad' that can happen until life hands her a situation no one can plan for.

If you are going to read this book I will tell you to give it time. The story progresses slowly and with a lot of detail. It's important to the story though once you get close to half way through when something tragic happens to the family.

Source: Library (audio)

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