Monday, October 31, 2011

Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Title: Harbor
Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Pages: 512
Publication Date: October 11, 2011
Harbor
“John Ajvide Lindqvist is rightly seen as one of the most exciting writers working in the horror genre at the moment – a rival, indeed, to Stephen King.” --TheScotsman.com
From the author of the international and New York Times bestseller Let the Right One In (Let Me In) comes this stunning and terrifying book which begins when a man's six-year-old daughter vanishes.One ordinary winter afternoon on a snowy island, Anders and Cecilia take their six-year-old daughter Maja across the ice to visit the lighthouse in the middle of the frozen channel. While the couple explore the lighthouse, Maja disappears -- either into thin air or under thin ice -- leaving not even a footprint in the snow. Two years later, alone and more or less permanently drunk, Anders returns to the island to regroup. He slowly realises that people are not telling him all they know; even his own mother, it seems, is keeping secrets. What is happening in Domaro, and what power does the sea have over the town's inhabitants?

As he did with Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead, John Ajvide Lindqvist serves up a blockbuster cocktail of suspense in a narrative that barely pauses for breath.
My take: This one grabbed me immediately and did not let go until the very end of the book. It surprised me at every turn. It thrilled me, horrified me, sickened me, and was executed with expert timing. I was completely mystified as the book introduces the island, the geographical features and the water surrounding it. We meet Simon, an old magician who has lived on the island for decades. He has close relationships with the citizens of the island that translate to family. He also has secrets. Actually, they all have secrets, some bigger than others.

Then we meet Anders, Simon's lover's grandson who views Simon as his grandfather. Anders and his wife, Cecilia are walking out to the lighthouse with their 6 year old daughter, Maja, while Simon watches from afar. We toggle from Simon to the lighthouse where Anders et. al. enter lighthouse and Maja disappears without a trace.

The story skips around chronologically as characters are developed, histories revealed, secrets unearthed. Mysteries are encoded then decoded but some never resolve themselves adequately for me. Honestly, though, it was a completely engrossing read as the story unfolds. The chronology is not confusing but makes sense in the way the characters reveal themselves and their secrets.

But people are not the only one with secrets. The island itself holds secrets as does the sea.

The tone changes near the end to horrifying and then more horrifying. Then it didn't make sense. So much is resolved in a somewhat satisfactory way but some aspects left me still scratching my head. Maybe it was the translation, although up until that point it was artistically written. Like I mentioned, it was riveting. But then it just got too weird.

The storytelling itself is a solid 5 stars.
The character development is 4 stars.
It was the resolution left me unsettled.

3.5 stars overall

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wintertown by Steve Edmond

Wintertown
Title: Wintertown
Author: Steve Edmond
Pages: 336
Release Date: December 5, 2011
Goodreads: Every winter, straight-laced, Ivy League bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, a childhood pal who moved away after her parent's divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she's changed. The former "girl next door" now has chopped dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth, "Old Lucy" still exists, and he's determined to find her... even if it means pissing her off.
Garden State meets Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist in this funny and poignant illustrated novel about opposites who fall in love.
My take: I really liked Edmond's Happyface. It provided depth and perspective to a character a person would not usually concern themselves with. Also, illustrations added interest and depth as well.

This book is a little more complex but incomplete in some ways. Again, the illustrations provide more perspective and I finally understood that the point was that both characters seemed to be on the same quest but, in fact, they were not. What they had in common was a childhood friendship. Then Lucy's parents split up and Lucy moves away with her mom but returns every Christmas break to be with her dad where she and Evan pick up on their best friendsies status even though their contact throughout the year is nearly nil.

This year Lucy returns to her dad's house looking different. She's gotten a nose piercing. She's died her hair. She's gone all Emo. Meanwhile, Evan is struggling because he doesn't want to disappoint his parents who have big plans for his success and on the basis of him being the perfect student/child. And so Evan and Lucy clash and attempt to find some sort of equilibrium.

My expectation was that I would eventually understand why Lucy had turned so cantankerous and hostile. She's closed down and taking a lot of her anger out on Evan who is just doing what he's always done. So Evan is a parent pleaser and his dad is Mr. High Expectation and hovers over every little thing. Lucy is on the opposite end of the spectrum in that her parents completely ignored her and slipped into their own little dramas so she is seeking attention with her outward appearance, wondering when and if anybody will notice that she desperately needs approval. This is explained to some extent but the explanation and the resolution left me feeling dissatisfied.

For me, it was a nice little story about two teens who are attempting equilibrium in somewhat extreme circumstances (although nothing shockingly extreme - mostly parental involvement) but I didn't feel connected to the conflict, the plot or resolution.

3 Stars

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Don't Sing at the Table by Adriana Trigiani


About Don’t Sing at the Table

• Paperback: 240 pages
• Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (October 4, 2011)
New York Timesbestselling author Adriana Trigiani’s gift for illuminating the profound challenges and issues defining women’s lives has propelled her novels to the top of bestseller lists and earned her a wide, devoted readership. Now, she shares the roots of those insights—the wisdom handed down to her from her unforgettable grandmothers, Lucia and Viola, which she began collecting for her own daughter—with readers everywhere.
Filled with practical, sage advice, and infused with Trigiani’s trademark warmth, love, and humor, Don’t Sing at the Table introduces a pair of feisty, intelligent, and strong forces of nature whose lives embody the story of 20th-century America itself. Between them, the extraordinary Lucia and Viola lived through the century from beginning to end, surviving immigration, young widowhood, single motherhood, four wars, and the Great Depression. Culled from their remarkable experiences, this heartfelt guide, at turns hilarious and poignant, offers answers to the seminal questions in a woman’s life, from getting married to saving money, nurturing the soul to keeping calm in a crisis, raising children to finding private comfort.

My take: This is a surprisingly quiet yet profound book. The author has collected pieces of both grandmothers and provided a compared, contrasted, then combined philosophy on the struggles of women. She offers no apologies but provides insight into her grandmother's lives and events that molded them which then molded her and she continues with her own daughter.

The reader can find solid and sage advice on working, planning, love and marriage, parenting, loving, growing up and growing old. My favorite section is that the best years are after the age of 40. 

Taking anecdotes from both grandmothers, including their heartaches, heartbreaks, joys and coping mechanisms, Adriana draws together the strings that have made her the woman she is today. Both women knew how to laugh, work, cry, grieve, live, and love. Her grandmothers were very different people but shared many of the same ethics and beliefs.


This one is a keeper for my own bookshelf. It's one I can pull out again and again to gain perspective and remind myself of my own grandmothers and the wisdom they imparted upon me, their favorite grandchild (my opinion, not my sibs or cousins).

About Adriana Trigiani

Award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker Adriana Trigiani is the author of the bestselling Very Valentine and Brava, Valentine, part of the Valentine series, Viola in Reel Life and Viola in the Spotlight, part of her new young adult series, as well as the bestselling Big Stone Gap series, and the bestselling novelLucia, Lucia. She also has written and will direct the big-screen version of her first novel, Big Stone Gap. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.
Visit Adriana at her website: www.adrianatrigiani.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.
www.adrianatrigiani.com, her Facebook page, and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Destined (House of Night #9) GIVEAWAY

Destined (House of Night, #9)


"...Zoey is finally home where she belongs, safe with her Guardian Warrior, Stark, by her side, and preparing to face off against Neferet – which would be a whole lot easier if the High Counsel saw the ex-High Priestess for what she really is. Kalona has released his hold on Rephaim, and, through Nyx's gift of a human form, Rephaim and Stevie Rae are finally able to be together – if he can truly walk the path of the Goddess and stay free of his father's shadow…"


The 9th installment of this epic series of paranormal proportions.







WANT IT? YOU MIGHT JUST GET IT! FILL OUT THE EASY FORM BELOW!

THAT'S IT!

The Time In Between by María Dueñas Review

The Time In BetweenThe Time In Between by María Dueñas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: The Time In Between is a word-of-mouth phenomenon that catapulted María Dueñas, a debut author, to the top of Spain’s bestseller lists. 

This sweeping novel, which combines the storytelling power of The Shadow of the Wind with the irresistible romance of Casablanca, moves at an unstoppable pace. Suddenly left abandoned and penniless in Algiers by her lover, Sira Quiroga forges a new identity. Against all odds she becomes the most sought-after couture designer for the socialite wives of German Nazi officers. But she is soon embroiled in a dangerous political conspiracy as she passes information to the British Secret Service through a code stitched into the hems of her dresses. 

Goodreads: I love a good historical novel. This one has elements I am familiar with; Germans and Nazis, mixed with elements I knew little about - the Spanish Civil War, the leadership bought by the Nazis and how the Allies dealt with attempts to keep Spain out of WWII.

There are four parts to the book but all are told by Sira's perspective. Sira is a humble seamstress in Madrid, helping in the shop where her mother works. She learns skills, is promoted, meets a nice boy, gets engaged then runs off with another man who is not a good man and leaves her to fend for herself. This part is setting the stage for what Sira does next and explains her reasons for not seeking romantic involvement, and explains how she winds up in Morocco.

Meanwhile, back in Spain, a horrendous war is raging between two factions. One political party has the money and support of the Nazi party, which I was unaware. When the war ends and the dust settles, the citizens of Spain are war weary, hungry, and desperate. The political history of this part of Spain was new information to me. I had a difficult time keeping all the characters and their affiliations straight but this is key to Sira's endeavors.

The author uses actual people who were instrumental to the rebuilding of Spain after this war and the beginning of WWII. Sira opens a dress shop and becomes good friends with Mrs. Rosalinda Fox, the mistress of a high ranking political figure in Spain. She rubs shoulders with Franco and his brother-in-law, overhears conversations not meant for her ears and eventually this comes in handy.

It is an interesting book because it is so well researched and includes information on the role of Spain and the political pulse at the time of Hitler's rise. It is also quite human in that Sira comes alive within the pages of the story and her struggles with her own identity are realistic. The characters from both Morocco and Madrid are well developed and entertaining (Candeleria and Felix).

Good, educational, and solid writing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

Make the Bread, Buy the ButterMake the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Known to her online foodie following as The Tipsy Baker, Jennifer Reese brings a realistic—and very funny—perspective to the homemade trend, testing whether to make from scratch or simply buy over 100 foods, in what is destined to become the new go-to reference for home cooks.
When Jennifer Reese lost her job as the book critic for Entertainment Weekly, she was overcome by an impulse common among the recently unemployed: to economize by doing for herself what she had previously paid for. And so began a series of kitchen-related experiments with the practical purpose of breaking down whether it makes sense to make household staples—or just pick them up at the corner store.
By no means straight kitchen science, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter tells the often funny stories surrounding these experiments and offers a full picture of what is involved in a truly homemade life. On the practical side, Reese asks a handful of questions about each item to decide whether to make or buy: Is homemade better? Cheaper? How much of a hassle is it to make? And what about sustainability and animal welfare—what value should we place on knowing that our eggs came from happy chickens, for example? Is it somehow ennobling to slaughter your rooster yourself? Full of recipes and featuring an extensive chart at the end that summarizes the make-versus-buy status of every food, this eminently practical yet deliciously fun book reminds readers that they don’t have to do everything by hand—and shows how to get the most out of your time in the kitchen.
My take: Jennifer Reese is a girl after my own heart. I had a similar experience only I didn't write a book about it and I forgot to get the chickens. Mostly because I have an aversion to eating animals I grow, even if it is only eggs. Don't even get me started on growing up on a farm and eating the cows that wandered through the field. Vegetarianism is so under-rated.

So Reese experiments with what can be made at home and what can not. It is hilarious and right on. I agree with her on so many levels. On the title alone, I stopped buying Rhodes rolls over 5 years ago. I can whip up rolls and 5 different artisan breads for pennies thanks to hard economic times. I did, however, have some extra cream and attempted to shake it into butter. Like Reese proposes, it's not worth it.

In a world of changing economic times, Reese takes into account cost and time, economizing both for a fun, entertaining, and educational read.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop



I have the fantastic and wonderful ARC of The Time In Between

The Time In Between

Leave a comment with email.
Go ahead and let me know I'm witty or skinny, or beautiful or completely weird. I'll take it into consideration when I choose you.  Or not.


I'll send an email to the winner on November 1st.

For more blogs with free book stuff on this hop, click the "Spooktacular" image above. Because I don't want to slow my own page load to give them all to you. Lazy? A tad.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

BunheadsBunheads by Sophie Flack

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet. 

But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah's universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other "bunheads" in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?


My take: Hannah is a thinly veiled Sophie Flack, a former member of the Manhattan Ballet Company and a solid voice in Young Adult (semi) fiction. Her life experience has clearly and definitively shaped her writer's voice. Flack's story is about Hannah, a dancer. She spares no reader from the brutality of ballet. On stage, the dancers are graceful and defy gravity. They dance in unison and in perfect time. But performing is only one aspect of the job. The work is grueling and punishing, both physically and emotionally. A ballet dancer is dedicated, focused, and purposeful. When not performing, he or she is rehearsing or taking classes, working out or sleeping. Injuries are expected and constant. Puberty is a death toll. A "bra" is a four letter word.

The book follows Hannah through three seasons. Her only friends are forced into competitions against one another to have a solo or to be promoted as a soloist. When one dancer falls, another must rise to take her place and it is with mixed emotion but mostly elation. But Hannah feels conflicted. She has a small taste of life outside the theater and realizes how inexperienced she truly is. How little she knows of the city she's lived in for five years. How hungry she is to finish reading one novel. How she yearns for something more but unwilling to sacrifice what she has worked so hard to accomplish.

Her last words in the book are, "My name is Hannah Ward and I am a dancer." I feel compelled to shadow that sentiment but in absolutely no way near Hannah or Sophie's dancing experience.

My name is Nancy and I am a dancer. Every Tuesday night, I gather with about 15 other women (real women who have curves including a woman who is 9 months pregnant with her 9th child. No joke), and we dance. When our fouetté lack altitude, settle for Coupé turns. We elevé and relevé. We rond de jambe, Jeté, Pirouette, and my Pas de bourrée can only be achieved by my mouthing the term. It's three counts, just like the term. My favorite is to Piqué turn. I rarely tip over.

I am not the thinnest dancer. I am not the heaviest dancer. I am not the least talented nor am I nearly the most talented. I am not the youngest in the class although there's a pretty good chance I am the oldest in the class. My Sautés are not the highest. My leaps are abysmal. But we dance. We have no dreams or aspirations of dancing professionally. Most of us have multiple children and many of us work in other fields that we love. But for those two hours every week, we leave the world behind and enter an existence where we can. After those two hours, we go home to our sleeping families and dream of flying.

What Flack has so beautifully articulated is the not only the backstage brutality of dance, but also the magic of dance. Those who commit themselves completely give themselves to the craft and the craft owns them. Those who hang on in the fringes become 45 year old delusional dancers and addicts to "So You Think You Can Dance."

My name is Nancy and I am a dancer. Don't ruin my delusion. It's all I have.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fathermucker by Greg Olear


About Fathermucker

• Paperback: 320 pages
• Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (October 4, 2011)
A day in the life of a dad on the brink: Josh Lansky—second-rate screenwriter, fledgling freelancer, and stay-at-home dad of two preschoolers—has held everything together while his wife is away on business . . . until this morning’s playdate, when he finds out through the mommy grapevine that she might be having an affair. What Josh needs is a break. He’s not going to get one.
“All kinds of funny—raucously, wickedly, sweetly, saucily, surprisingly, profanely funny…a wonderful novel.” –Jess Walter, author of The Financial Lives of the Poets
“A reflection on love, marriage and parenthood, so astoundingly honest, laugh-out-loud funny, and genuine, it will break your heart.” – Robin Antalek, author of The Summer We Fell Apart


My take: I have mixed feelings about this book. Let's first get the most obvious out on the table. Olear is a gifted and observant writer. He takes the mundane of life and writes with aplomb. He articulates  many thoughts I have that I think might be too weird for anyone to know. But Greg Olear does. The language is exceedingly strong. Shocking, I know, given the title of the book so I really have only myself to blame. I don't mind a couple of "f" bombs in my reading. But the language he uses is far from the language I use or language I hear at work.

And I work at an alternative high school.

My students come close but then there is the added content. Again, it's the "f" word. Nearly everybody's doing it and not with their spouses. But it's the detail that pushed me just a little over the edge. Again, it's just not the kind of detail I go into with my friends when we talk girl talk. But herein lies the quandary.

The protagonist, Josh, is a stay-at-home dad. He hangs out with the cast of The Real Housewives (not really, but very close) which, I might add, are far too surgically perky and thrive on neurosis and drama for my own tastes. Not that that kind of thing isn't going on, but, ew.

So, back to Josh. He's a writer experiencing writer's block. He sold a screenplay and he's feeling rather smothered by the lack of testosterone laced interaction and the full hilt of parenthood. His wife, Stacy, is an actress who is working for IBM. They have two children who are both high maintenance. This is one day of Josh's life. Any mother or father who has spent any amount of time with their children will relate to Josh. It is clever, witty, and his thought processes and emotions mirror real parents.

That said, Josh is tangential. If you are a "give me the story" kind of a reader, this book might frustrate you. Olear is an incredibly gifted essayist, using Josh's thought processes to go off onto any subject. Some of them are really good while others left me feeling like I needed to take a shower.

But don't stop yet. Olear does an exceptional job at describing Asperger's Syndrome and different theories along with opinions not supported by scientific research but thoughts of a parent of a child with PDD. Really, it is very well written and gives the reader an accurate glimpse of what parenting a child with PDD might look like. If you have a child with PDD and are already suffering from PTSD, skip the descriptions but do read the history of Autism and the theories.

Ultimately, the book had a message that I really, really liked. For all the humor, the drama, and the crass language, I finished the book and was glad. I felt empowered.

So, sorry for the mixed review.

About Greg Olear

Greg Olear is the senior editor of the lit blog The Nervous Breakdown and the author of the novel Totally Killer.  His work has appeared in The Rumpus, Babble.com, The Millions, Chronogram, and Hudson Valley Magazine.  A professor of creative writing at Manhattanville College, he lives with his family in New Paltz, New York.
Connect with Greg on Facebook and Twitter. Visit his blogand website.

Greg’s Tour Dates

Tuesday, October 4th: The Scarlet Letter
Wednesday, October 5th: The Lost Entwife
Thursday, October 6th: Raging Bibliomania
Monday, October 10th: Like Fire
Wednesday, October 12th: Rundpinne
Thursday, October 13th: The House of the Seven Tails
Monday, October 17th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Tuesday, October 18th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, October 19th: Colloquium
Thursday, October 20th: Amusing Reviews
Greg's Facebook page, his Twitter account, and his blog and website.

Triangles by Ellen Hopkins Review

Triangles: A NovelTriangles: A Novel by Ellen Hopkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: In this first adult novel by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the unforgettable Crank trilogy, three female friends face midlife crises in a no holds-barred exploration of sex, marriage, and the fragility of life.
Ellen Hopkins has made her mark as the wildly popular author of several novels for young adults—every one of them a New York Times bestseller, and every one a hard-hitting exploration of tough-to-tackle topics. Now, in Triangles, Hopkins brings her storytelling mastery and fearlessness to take on the challenges of adult dramas.

In this emotionally powerful novel, three women face the age-old midlife question: If I’m halfway to death, is this all I’ve got to show for it? Holly, filled with regret for being a stay-at-home mom, sheds sixty pounds and loses herself in the world of extramarital sex. Andrea, a single mom and avowed celibate, watches her friend Holly’s meltdown with a mixture of concern and contempt. Holly is throwing away what Andrea has spent her whole life searching for—a committed relationship with a decent guy. So what if Andrea picks up Holly’s castaway husband? Then there’s Marissa. She has more than her fair share of challenges—a gay teenage son, a terminally ill daughter, and a husband who buries himself in his work rather than face the facts. As one woman’s marriage unravels, another one’s rekindles. As one woman’s family comes apart at the seams, another’s is reconfigured into something bigger and better. In this story of connections and disconnections, one woman’s up is another one’s down, and all three of them will learn the meaning of friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness before it is through.

My take: Ellen Hopkins has a way of connecting with her readers in a way that seems almost intimate and a little voyeuristic. Her novels are written in poetic verse - some more artistic than my non-artistic mind can wrap around - but the story is always touching on some level.

Be forewarned Hopkins is not a tiptoeing author. Her previous novels, written for young adults, tackles difficult subjects head on. This one is much more graphic than her previous books. Hopkins tackles the difficult stage of the middle age woman, using three women whose lives constantly intersect, like a triangle.

Marissa is stretching towards her mid-forties. She is a stay-at-home mother who is bitter with the cards she has been dealt. Marrying later in life than her contemporaries, she was a stewardess who fell for a passenger, married him, and settled in Reno, Nevada. She is the mother of two children; Shane, her 16 year old gay son and Shelby who is terminally ill and expected to live only months into her fourth year. Christian, her husband, is often absent and Marissa is filled with resentment as her life is completely engulfed in caring for Shelby and dealing with her gay son on her own. When her husband makes an appearance, he is usually drunk.

Andrea is a divorced mother of a 14 year old daughter, Harley. Her specialty is dead-end relationships. Although she craves companionship she knows her tastes tend toward the unavailable - her last relationship being with Geoff, a man who forgot to tell her he was still married. He was also an ugly drunk. Andrea is also the younger sister of Marissa. Both girls are the result of a marriage born of free love hippies. One of the girls may not be the daughter of her identified father. Andrea is a passive player who lacks backbone, at least in the beginning of the book. Andrea covets what Holly has.

Holly is a friend of Andrea's. She is the discontented housewife hiding behind the perfect, successful husband and three lovely children. Adopted as a baby, Holly sought security early in her college career which she cut short. Holly and Jace have the suburban dream. Now Holly is reaching her fortieth birthday and she wonders how life would look if she was not married or a mother. Holly begins a hedonistic second adolescence beginning with innocent flirting at a bar and littered with lies and ideas for her writing career in Erotica.

Although the story is about sex and love, it is also about commitment, friendship and acceptance. It's a difficult book to read for so many reasons. There is loss, betrayal, one character who pursues hedonistic sex. There are also subjects that the middle age woman doesn't want to admit - different figure, lines and sags, existential questions, life defining moments of, "So this is it?" Redefinition of love and marriage, reasons for staying, choices of leaving and all of it fascinating in a sociological way at a distance, a personal way closer to the age of forty or so.

If I were to be perfectly honest, I would admit that I identified with each of the characters at least to some extent. Questioning the social mores, religious morality, purpose of life, home, God's will and chance are all part of adult stages of life. Some of these issues were definitely taken to the extreme by some of the characters in the book. And yet I am glad Hopkins went that direction for the reader's benefit. It was a strangely discomfiting yet satisfying read.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Variant by Robison Wells

VariantVariant by Robison Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.
He was wrong.
Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.
Where breaking the rules equals death.
But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible.

My Take: Okay, another book about a boarding school. Not original except there are no vampires. But, oh. It gets good. It really is different. Very different. First of all, the protagonist is a 17 year old boy. Second, the school has no teachers and the most bizarre curriculum. And it's a prison. Nobody gets out. The rules are odd and social mores are determined by a talking head on the television and the students themselves. Punishment is severe and inconsistent. Death is a real threat.

Benson arrives at the school and quickly wants to leave. He is approached by the leaders of the three gangs; The Society, Havocs and the Variants. In order to survive, he must choose one. Guess which one he chooses. Go ahead. Guess. They play paintball for high stakes. A prissy student teaches odd subjects dictated by someone nobody has seen. If someone is sent to detention, it can be assumed they are killed. There is blood. There are cameras and microphones. The Society are the security and the revel in their duties. Their behavior is rewarded in points which is currency.

It just gets more and more bizarre and just when I thought I had it figured out, the author threw in a curve ball. No way. That's about the time Benson understands how precarious his position and his life really is. And then another curveball. And another. And then the ending left me with my mouth hanging open. What the crap? Not a "what the crap" stupid ending but "what the crap" I can't wait for the next book. Then being the weirdo I am, I read the acknowledgments and I realized the author lives in the same county I do.

Dude. Don't make me stalk you.

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin WallStasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight and one in 50 East Germans were informing on their fellow citizens, there are thousands of captivating stories. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany. She meets Miriam, who as a 16-year-old might have started World War III; she visits the man who painted the line which became the Berlin Wall; and she gets drunk with the legendary "Mik Jegger" of the east, once declared by the authorities to his face to "no longer to exist." Each enthralling story depicts what it's like to live in Berlin as the city knits itself back together—or fails to. This is a history full of emotion, attitude, and complexity.

My take: I entered Berlin nearly two years after the wall came down, the full import bowling me over when I walked past Checkpoint Charlie. Remnants of the wall were few and far between. The museum that replaced Checkpoint Charlie was sanitized. But even without the physical barrier, I'd entered a different country and time. The buildings were in disrepair, the cars all the same and rarely running. One was now used as a planter. While on the western side English was universal, kindness and willingness to help the lost American was peppered with frustration at the lack of verbal communication on the other side. Subways didn't cross the invisible line. Buses routed themselves within the eastern side. I passed a synagogue still bearing the marks of Krystallnacht. The economic divide was still a strong barrier.

With the German language in her arsenal, along with the mixed blessings in her media job, Anna Funder gets personal with those who lived under the Stasi regime. Although Funder presents historical facts, this is also part memoir of the interviews she conducted and experiences she had researching. She finds a woman who nearly made it across the border, later marrying a man she loved dearly and who died mysteriously, still searching for answers of his death during an interrogation. A surprising story by her landlord that is unexpectedly revealed one evening. She meets former Stasi, former informants, she taken to the prisons, detentions, and torture chambers. She finds the attitudes different from one person to another. The Wall shaped each of these people. Indignation, fear, indifference, national pride, personal pride, and nostalgia are all emotions she finds in the people of former East Berlin.

The stories are not sanitized nor are they wrapped up nicely in the end. They are simply individual stories of individuals that may or may not represent many citizens of Communist controlled Germany. It was a police state. While fear was a tactic to keep the citizens in line, crime (outside of the Stasi) was prosecuted. It was a state of safety in some ways. The economy was poor but stable. There are mixed emotions for Communist ways.

I found it disconcerting yet it provided explanation of a time not yet history and too fresh to categorize. It is the bridge between Nazi Germany and Hitler's rule and the solution for stabilizing post-war Germany. What Funder glosses over is that the Russians exacted their price from Germany for the war on the Eastern front. Precious resources were quickly and quietly shipped to the Motherland. Also not necessarily discussed is from what pool the Stasi were chosen. They were the lower ranking Nazis not tried in Nuremberg and not smitten by a political ideal but by their own power.

It is both a fascinating and emotional read.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

How to Save a LifeHow to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she's been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends--everyone who wants to support her. You can't lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that's exactly what it feels like she's trying to do. And that's decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows what it's like to grow up unwanted--to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?

Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about what it means to be a family and the many roads we can take to become one.


My take: This was a surprisingly satisfying read. Zarr contrasts Mandy who, in my mind, is a Harry Potter Luna only with big hair and an enormous pregnant belly, and Jill, a girl grieving over the death of her father within the last year but burying it and lashing out at everyone she loves.

Every character in the book was one the reader could love and relate. I mean the ones in the Denver area, including Mandy, a street smart yet optimistic and sweet survivor. Mandy who has only broken promises and a crappy mother who openly admitted she was a mistake, decides to place her baby for adoption with Robin, Jill's mother. Robin is a do-it-all kind of a woman who faces her grief by filling it with more people to love. Maybe some codependency issues but overall, her life and her heart has room for growth and continuation of what she's already been doing.

Then we have Jill, the ungrateful teenage rebel who is really not so bad or misunderstood as she believes she is. Like Mandy, Jill lacks a father. Unlike Mandy, Jill had a father for 17 years who loved her like crazy. Like Mandy, Jill has a mother. Unlike Mandy, Jill has a mother who loves Jill like crazy.

Both girls are trying to navigate their new circumstances and define who they are and who they will become. The catalyst for this definition is the impending birth of Mandy's baby. Mandy wants a better life for her child. One filled with love. One not filled with a mother's latest flavor of the month. She also wants a choice in her life. She wants to leave the past behind and know who she is. Jill is seeking for the old Jill that she thinks was a good person. She wants to be a person that is not so sad or angry. She wants to figure out who Jill really is.

Excellent writing and contrast. Relatable characters.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

The Christmas Wedding by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo Review and GIVEAWAY!

Christmas Wedding

Product Description

The tree is decorated, the cookies are baked, and the packages are wrapped, but the biggest celebration this Christmas is Gaby Summerhill's wedding. Since her husband died three years ago, Gaby's four children have drifted apart, each consumed by the turbulence of their own lives. They haven't celebrated Christmas together since their father's death, but when Gaby announces that she's getting married--and that the groom will remain a secret until the wedding day--she may finally be able to bring them home for the holidays.

But the wedding isn't Gaby's only surprise--she has one more gift for her children, and it could change all their lives forever. With deeply affecting characters and the emotional twists of a James Patterson thriller, The Christmas Wedding is a fresh look at family and the magic of the season.
My take: While the main event remains the wedding and the big reveal will be who Gabby will marry, the story is also about Gaby's four children and where they are in their lives at this point in life. Her only son finished his first novel and is waiting to hear back from Knopf. Note that this is not the publisher of this book. He is also living with a lovely girl and they are happy if not not financially stable.
One daughter is living the life of PWT (Poor white trash) with a husband who would rather get stoned than get a job while she is left to parent the wayward teenager and fraternal twins while juggling the household and tutoring at an exclusive private school.
One daughter is a powerhouse working at a power attorney's office and playing powerful games and wondering if it is all worth it. Married to a powerhouse surgeon.
At last another daughter is struggling to care for her possibly terminally ill husband and wondering if he will live another day.
The Christmas promises changes for all of the participants. It's a nice, feel good novel. It has been compared to Sunday's at Tiffany's. I'm rather partial to Sunday's at Tiffany's so I'm going to just have to say it is an enjoyable read for the holiday season.
Thanks to Little, Brown and Company, you can have your very own copy!
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood GIVEAWAY

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination


Product Description:  In Other Worlds: Science Fiction and the Human Imagination is Margaret Atwood’s account of her rela­tionship with the literary form we have come to know as science fiction. This relationship has been lifelong, stretch­ing from her days as a child reader in the 1940s through her time as a graduate student at Harvard, where she explored the Victorian ancestors of the form, and continuing with her work as a writer and reviewer. This book brings together her three heretofore unpublished Ellmann Lectures of 2010—“Flying Rabbits,” which begins with Atwood’s early rabbit superhero creations and goes on to speculate about masks, capes, weakling alter egos, and Things with Wings; “Burning Bushes,” which follows her into Victorian other-lands and beyond; and “Dire Cartographies,” which investi­gates utopias and dystopias. In Other Worlds also includes some of Atwood’s key reviews and musings about the form, including her elucidation of the differences (as she sees them) between “science fiction” proper and “speculative fiction,” as well as “sword and sorcery/fantasy” and “slip­stream fiction.” For all readers who have loved The Handmaid’s TaleOryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood—not to mention Atwood’s 100,000-plus Twitter fol­lowers— In Other Worlds is a must.

Reviews: “A witty, astute collection of essays and lectures on science fiction . . . It’s clear that [Atwood's] affection for the genre is deep and genuine . . . Wholly satisfying, with plenty of insights for Atwood and sci-fi fans alike.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred

“Atwood archly and profoundly delves into her ‘lifelong relationship’ with science fiction in a collection of glimmering essays.”
Booklist
“A speculative-fiction visionary . . . Atwood has an uncanny knack for tapping into humanity’s uncertain future and predicting mankind’s cultural, scientific and sociopolitical falls from glory . . . Her fiction has peeled back the skin of our disturbing subcutaneous nightmares.”
Wired
“One of the most intelligent and talented writers to set herself the task of deciphering life in the late twentieth century.”
Vogue

“Throughout her literary career . . . Margaret Atwood has impressed and delighted readers with her wit, lyric virtuosity, and imaginative acuity.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“This amazing woman’s voice, this fine writer’s constant example, is extraordinary.”
Boston Globe

“The tremendous imaginative power of [Atwood’s] fiction allows us to believe that anything is possible.”
New York Times Book Review

Product Description

At a time when speculative fiction seems less and less far-fetched, Margaret Atwood lends her distinctive voice and singular point of view to the genre in a series of essays that brilliantly illuminates the essential truths about the modern world. This is an exploration of her relationship with the literary form we have come to know as "science fiction,” a relationship that has been lifelong, stretching from her days as a child reader in the 1940s, through her time as a graduate student at Harvard, where she worked on the Victorian ancestor of the form, and continuing as a writer and reviewer.  This book brings together her three heretofore unpublished Ellmann Lectures from 2010: "Flying Rabbits," which begins with Atwood's early  rabbit superhero creations, and goes on to speculate about masks, capes, weakling alter egos, and Things with Wings; "Burning Bushes," which follows her into Victorian otherlands and beyond; and "Dire Cartographies," which investigates Utopias and Dystopias.  In Other Worlds also includes some of Atwood's key reviews and thoughts about the form. Among those writers discussed are Marge Piercy, Rider Haggard, Ursula Le Guin, Ishiguro, Bryher, Huxley, and Jonathan Swift. She elucidates the differences (as she sees them) between "science fiction" proper, and "speculative fiction," as well as between "sword and sorcery/fantasy" and "slipstream fiction." For all readers who have loved The Handmaid's TaleOryx and Crake, and The Year of the FloodIn Other Worlds is a must.


Want your own copy? Thanks to Doubleday, I have two copies for to give! Fill our form below.


Saturday, October 15, 2011