Wednesday, February 27, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: A History of the Mary Tyler Moore Show by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The story of the making of a classic and groundbreaking TV show, as experienced by its producers, writers, and cast. Mary Tyler Moore made her name as Dick Van Dyke’s wife on the eponymous show, a cute, unassuming housewife that audiences loved. But when her writer/producers James Brooks and Allan Burnes dreamed up an edgy show about a divorced woman with a career, network executives replied: “Americans won’t watch television about New York City, divorcees, men with mustaches, or Jews.” But Moore and her team were committed, and when the show finally aired, in spite of tepid reviews, fans loved it.

Jennifer Armstrong introduces readers to the show’s creators; its principled producer, Grant Tinker; and the writers and actors who attracted millions of viewers. As the first situation comedy to employ numerous women as writers and producers, The Mary Tyler Moore Show became a guiding light for women in the 1970s. The show also became the centerpiece of one of greatest evenings of comedy in television history, and Jennifer Armstrong describes how the television industry evolved during these golden years.

Publishing May 7, 2013 by Simon & Schuster

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: American Ghost by Janis Owens

It's unusual to find a book set in Florida that is definitely "Southern" but this one certainly qualifies. 18-year-old Jolie and her best friend Lena meet a grad student, Sam, studying the Creek Indians in their obscure neck of Northern Florida, Hendrix. Sam and Lena hit it off and in a few months she's not only helping him interview the notoriously difficult town residents about their heritage, but they're also falling in love. However it turns out that Sam isn't there just for the Creek - he's also on the side researching the local scandal. In the 1930s, Hendrix was the site of one of the most vicious and last lynchings in the United States. And digging up these ghosts is not going to go well for anyone involved.

Ms. Owens has created a unique character in Lena - church-going, reticent, stubborn, and determined to not follow the sorry path of her female relatives to poverty and infamy. She felt really real, and while I don't know that I'd have liked her if I met her, she did feel very authentic. As did the accents. Ms. Owens didn't overuse them, they weren't at all hard to decipher and most importantly, they didn't feel insulting. They added to the atmosphere of these self-described Crackers in rural small-town insular Florida.

In Act 3 of the book, a host of new characters appear, and I'd rather they hadn't (the ones Lena works with are understandable and easy enough to mostly ignore, but I do wish the Hendrixes had been at least mentioned in the first half of the book. The third act also takes some surprising turns, mostly good and believable, although I found the Big Secret not to be very earth-shattering or life-threatening after all. Even once Lena found out what it was, all the apprehension and fear just disappeared. So while all the loose ends were tied up, not all were as satisfactory as this reader wished. That said, it was a wonderfully suspenseful and surprising story, with culture clashes, ugly history, and honest truths about the South. Janis Owens is a terrific Southern author who really knows how to keep readers guessing.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Teaser Tuesdays: American Ghost

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

American Ghost by Janis Owens p. 23

"At the time, she was too young to be farsighted, too inexperienced with human sexuality to realize that a public outing of the Hoyt genetic ladder in the shape of her sweat-glistened, eighteen-year-old body might pack a more powerful punch than she intended, dynamite strong enough to blast her into another life. She was only concerned with the glorious present: walking in the foaming surf; feeding the dolphins off the jetties; lying out side by side on sand-covered blankets, with Sam most solicitous that she not get sunburnt, rubbing on so much Hawaiian Tropic that by the time they made it to the air-conditioned bliss of Taco Bell, she smelled like a walking pina colada."

Ah, to be 18 and at the beach, oblivious!

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End by Scott W. Berg
Don't Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth C. Davis (audio)

Up next:
Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters With Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean
Ordinary People by Judith Guest

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book Review: Bizou by Norma Klein

Eliane, called Bizou by her family, is coming to America to the first time with her mother, having grown up in France. Her father died when she was little and so it's just been her and her mother, Tranquility, a model. On the plane they met a young medical student, Nicholas, and stayed in the same airport hotel as him in New York. Nicholas takes Bizou sightseeing and when they return, Tranquility has left to sort some things out for herself. Luckily Nicholas is a responsible and upstanding young man and he takes Bizou under her arm and helps her try to track down her mother.

Boy, were they lucky with Nicholas. He really is a great guy and treats Bizou like his younger sister. She's also lucky to remember a couple of key details, as Tranquility never told her anything about her past. I would like to think Tranquility is an excellent judge of character, but I think she was really reckless and got very lucky.

It's interesting that (as far as I know) this is the only Norma Klein book featuring black main characters. Tranquility went to Paris and raised her daughter there, as she found the treatment of blacks in Europe much better than in America (I do hope Bizou will find things have changed). These characters also have the least traditional family - it's just mother and daughter, no siblings, no father, and while they don't seem to have lived a very wild life in Paris, it likely has been somewhat unsteady with work as a model, plus Tranquility would have had to travel a lot. Bizou is both innocent and experienced at the same time. She's very innocent of American ways and racism and she's very trusting of complete strangers, but at the same time she has a sophistication that is unusual in a young teen.

While as usual, there is acknowledgment of sex (Nicholas has a girl friend and hooks up with another woman, and Bizou's mother certainly had her share of boyfriends), Bizou herself only kisses although she does have two boyfriends. Mostly though this book isn't about romantic relationships, but about family. Yet another younger-skewing Norma Klein book that I thoroughly enjoyed rereading! I had totally forgotten the twist at the end and it came as a complete surprise. I really liked Bizou who is very appealing. I'd recommend this book highly to girls 11-14.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Beginnings: American Ghost by Janis Owens

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.


American Ghost by Janis Owens

"Though rumors of Jolie Hoyt's star-crossed romance with Sam Lense would dog her reputation for many years to come, in truth their grand affaire was a little short of grand: barely three months long, and as quickly ended as it had begin."

"Star-crossed" is always an intriguing phrase, and I am wondering who this Jolie is, that a short affair would affect her reputation for years.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Five Best Books I Read in High School

I read this article in the Huffington Post about which books that we were forced to read in high school that we actually turned out to like. And it's sad that the initial assumption was that we should automatically hate all the books we're forced to read in high school. In fact, they are mostly chosen in the hopes that teenagers will like and identify with them. Do no high schoolers ever notice the plethora of teenaged protagonists in these adult novels? Do they really think their teachers are just out to torture them? Do they really think that if a book is Great Literature then they must, by its very nature, hate it? All very sad things. I liked a lot of books I was forced to read in high school, although I was perhaps a bit too young for a couple of them. It was almost be easier for me to list the books I hated, since that's a pretty short list (Billy Budd, Democracy in America, Candide although now I like it, Light in August, The Grapes of Wrath which I admit I didn't even finish, and ditto for David Copperfield.)

The Sun Also Rises - I went out to the beach with this book, expecting to hate it and only be out for about twenty minutes. So I had no sunscreen on. Four hours later I stumbled back to the house and spent the rest of the week whimpering under damp washcloths and a thick layer of aloe, but I sure did love that book.

The Color Purple - there are very, very few school books that I later reread because I loved them so much but this is one. I love the line about how It makes God mad when you walk past the color purple in a field and don't notice it.

The Lord of the Flies - I only very recently (last week!) discovered what the title means. The Lord of the Flies is the God of the Underworld, because dead bodies have flies on them. This is one of the few books for school that I read and loved so much, I pushed it on my little sisters before it was required reading for them. One of them claims it as one of her top five books of all time!

A Separate Peace - how I cried at the end of this book! I was so invested in the characters and the setting and this book felt so real and so alive to me.

The Human Comedy by William Saroyan - I loved this book. It felt sweet and kind although it was dealing with major topics, and I felt like I was extra-smart when I got allegorical references to The Odyssey (which I hadn't read at that point yet so I'm sure I missed more than I got.) This may sound weird but the characters to me seemed like characters from a Beverly Cleary book, but older. They felt real and authentic, but I liked how their lives were ordinary and not filled with constant bad things, like many other books we read at that time seemed to be (Dickens anyone?) I picked up a copy a few years ago (this one was in our Literature textbook and in fact, I'm not sure but I may have read an excerpt and not the whole book) and I really should reread it and see if it's as wonderful as I remember.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Eighty Days

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman

Synopsis from Goodreads:
On November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly, the crusading young female reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper, left New York City by steamship on a quest to break the record for the fastest trip around the world. Also departing from New York that day—and heading in the opposite direction by train—was a young journalist from The Cosmopolitan magazine, Elizabeth Bisland. Each woman was determined to outdo Jules Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg and circle the globe in less than eighty days. The dramatic race that ensued would span twenty-eight thousand miles, captivate the nation, and change both competitors’ lives forever.

The two women were a study in contrasts. Nellie Bly was a scrappy, hard-driving, ambitious reporter from Pennsylvania coal country who sought out the most sensational news stories, often going undercover to expose social injustice. Genteel and elegant, Elizabeth Bisland had been born into an aristocratic Southern family, preferred novels and poetry to newspapers, and was widely referred to as the most beautiful woman in metropolitan journalism. Both women, though, were talented writers who had carved out successful careers in the hypercompetitive, male-dominated world of big-city newspapers. Eighty Days brings these trailblazing women to life as they race against time and each other, unaided and alone, ever aware that the slightest delay could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

A vivid real-life re-creation of the race and its aftermath, from its frenzied start to the nail-biting dash at its finish, Eighty Days is history with the heart of a great adventure novel. Here’s the journey that takes us behind the walls of Jules Verne’s Amiens estate, into the back alleys of Hong Kong, onto the grounds of a Ceylon tea plantation, through storm-tossed ocean crossings and mountains blocked by snowdrifts twenty feet deep, and to many more unexpected and exotic locales from London to Yokohama. Along the way, we are treated to fascinating glimpses of everyday life in the late nineteenth century—an era of unprecedented technological advances, newly remade in the image of the steamship, the railroad, and the telegraph. For Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland—two women ahead of their time in every sense of the word—were not only racing around the world. They were also racing through the very heart of the Victorian age.

Publishing February 26, 2013 by Ballantine Books.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

The year is 1865 and Iris Dunleavy's husband has sent her to an asylum on Sanibel Island, as he thinks she much be crazy. After all, she ran off with a bunch of escaping slaves, and who doesn't want to be the mistress of a plantation? We know something more horrible happened, but you don't find out what exactly for a while. Meanwhile, Iris suffers the difficult fate of a sane woman in an insane asylum. She befriends Ambrose, a veteran who plays checkers and suffers from PTSD, and Wendell, the young teenaged son of the psychiatrist. After failing to persuade the doctor of her sanity, Iris concludes her only option is to escape.

Initially we're introduced to a lot of characters quickly and I was confused, but that quickly sorted itself out. I loved the setting. I don't think I've ever read a book set in the middle of the civil war, which didn't go from beginning to end (unless it was about a single battle). Certainly not one where the war was a more peripheral event, like here, instead of front and center. I'm not sure I bought how many of these Southerners were opposed to slavery (felt very anachronistic to me) but if that was seen at the time as a sign of insanity, perhaps asylums would be filled with abolitionists. I also liked the setting of Sanibel Island which was almost like another character in the book. I did not like how the character of Lydia just disappeared halfway through the book. (Yes, she was given an exit, but you don't just write off a major character in the middle.) A couple of the twists at the end I thought were quite clever. One I saw coming and one I did not. It was a very fast read which is always a good thing, and overall I enjoyed it despite a couple of minor quibbles. But it didn't really stick with me.

I am interested what we'll talk about at book club. There are a lot of themes--sanity, slavery, freedom, power, control, blue, the ocean. That usually makes for a good discussion.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Teaser Tuesdays: Blue Asylum

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall p. 22

"She summoned all her self-control, loosened her fists into hands again, and told him the story... the abridged version, calm and steady until she reached the part about the baby, where her voice choked and she had to stop and compose herself. In doing so, she glanced at the doctor and saw what was in his eyes."

Hmm, I wonder what the doctor was thinking. And what happened to the baby?

Monday, February 18, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan
How it All Began by Penelope Lively
Bizou by Norma Klein

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Don't Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth C. Davis (audio)
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Up next:
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely
38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End by Scott W. Berg

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Beginnings: Blue Asylum

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.


Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

"When Iris dreamed of that morning, the taste of blood was gone, and so was the odor of gun smoke, but her other senses stayed alive."

Blood? Smoke? This author certainly knows how to whet an appetite for more!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: After Visiting Friends

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story by Michael Hainey

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A decade in the writing, the haunting story of a son’s quest to understand the mystery of his father’s death—a universal memoir about the secrets families keep and the role they play in making us who we are.

Michael Hainey had just turned six when his uncle knocked on his family’s back door one morning with the tragic news: Bob Hainey, Michael’s father, was found alone near his car on Chicago’s North Side, dead, of an apparent heart attack. Thirty-five years old, a young assistant copy desk chief at the Chicago Sun-Times, Bob was a bright and shining star in the competitive, hard-living world of newspapers, one that involved booze-soaked nights that bled into dawn. And then suddenly he was gone, leaving behind a young widow, two sons, a fractured family—and questions surrounding the mysterious nature of his death that would obsess Michael throughout adolescence and long into adulthood. Finally, roughly his father’s age when he died, and a seasoned reporter himself, Michael set out to learn what happened that night. Died “after visiting friends,” the obituaries said. But the details beyond that were inconsistent. What friends? Where? At the heart of his quest is Michael’s all-too-silent, opaque mother, a woman of great courage and tenacity—and a steely determination not to look back. Prodding and cajoling his relatives, and working through a network of his father’s buddies who abide by an honor code of silence and secrecy, Michael sees beyond the long-held myths and ultimately reconciles the father he’d imagined with the one he comes to know—and in the journey discovers new truths about his mother.

A stirring portrait of a family and its legacy of secrets, After Visiting Friends is the story of a son who goes in search of the truth and finds not only his father, but a rare window into a world of men and newspapers and fierce loyalties that no longer exists.

Publishing February 19, 2013 by Scribner.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Review: The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro

It is so rare that I read a book right when it jumps onto the New York Times Bestseller list, that I really think I should do this more often! It's nice to be on the cutting edge of literary news for once. But this is one of those books that when I heard about it, I just knew I had to read it.

Claire is an artist, and on the side she paints copies of famous paintings, mostly Impressionists, for Reproductions.com (what a brilliant idea - why is this not a real website?) After all, she needs to do that for income because she is a pariah in the art world of Boston. Three years earlier she had made a couple of dubious decisions that resulted in her being called The Great Pretender and blackballed from pretty much everything important in her field in her city. She is trying to work her way back to at least anonymity, if not respectability, when an acquaintance, the owner of one of the most powerful galleries in the city, comes to her with a proposition. He has somehow (don't ask how) gotten his hands on one of the Degas paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum back in 1990, and he wants Claire to paint a copy. He plans to return the original to the museum after bilking an unscrupulous collector with the copy. This isn't quite the entree back into the art world that Claire has been waiting for, but when he backs up his significant paycheck with a promise of an art show, she doesn't feel she can turn him down. Naturally, things get complicated. Particularly when Claire notices some details in the original that are just... wrong. Is it really an original at all? If not, where is the original and why did this one hang in its place for so many decades?

One thing I found fascinating about this book is that the first two-thirds are all about the Boston art scene, about how forgeries work, about Claire's past mistakes, and about her wanting to move on. Then somehow the last third of the book morphs into a thriller with the cops and FBI and arrests and intrigue and hidden secret basements and forgeries and lies, and yet it totally works. If I had known this in advance, it probably would have been a bit of a turn-off as it's so rare that an author can pull off such a drastic change in tone and pacing successful, but Shapiro has. The shift is flawlessly pulled off and I dare anyone to try to put this book down in the last fifty pages. I couldn't. And I have the lack of sleep to prove it! And yet there are formal gowns and Degas paintings and museum openings and art, which really class the book up, and make it a thriller for the intellectual set.

A couple of super-minor but niggling critiques: her little band of friends who have not forsaken her at the bar is at least two people too large and not very important overall except for two of them. And her volunteering that she does at the local youth correctional facility doesn't factor at all in the last third of the book, in fact it's kind of dropped. If it doesn't tie into the overall story, I think it needs to go, but these are both really minor.

To this day, none of the artwork has been found, despite a $5 million reward and the statute of limitations on the theft being expired. (The painting featured in the book is fictional.) I actually wish I knew more about both the theft and the Gardner Museum. This book has really intrigued me, and I plan to visit a couple more museums this year, as my appetite for art has been whetted.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Art Forger

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro p. 28

"It comes as no surprise to me when I have trouble sleeping that night. Especially after my nightmare about being chased through Markel G by people wearing menacing, feathered Mardi Gras masks."

Menace and nightmares make for an exciting teaser, I think!

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Queen of the What Ifs by Norma Klein
American Ghost by Janis Owens

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Don't Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth C. Davis (audio)
Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan

Up next:
Let Me Clear My Throat: Essays by Elena Passarello
MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search For A New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: The Queen of the What Ifs by Norma Klein

Another reread of a lovely Norma Klein novel that I didn't give as much attention to at the time, because it was on the younger side. I am so glad I'm rereading all of these!

Robin is fifteen and summer is usually great but not this year. Her best friend is abroad, her mother is away all the time taking classes in the city, and her father is living in a friend's apartment in the city, to "finish his novel," but Robin thinks her parents, who have been fighting nonstop recently, are heading for a divorce. Luckily she has her older brother Lowell and her older sister Vanessa to lean on, as their once idyllic family is looking more and more like it might be just another statistic in the early 1980s. Her mother didn't work after college (and didn't finish college) and while she had done art all along, she didn't pursue it as a profession, and is terribly worried that she won't find work if she does end up a single mom, but is also feeling unfulfilled and like she gave up a lot for her husband. Meanwhile he seems to be hanging out a lot with a divorcee from his office who is rather nightmarish and making Robin just feel terrible.

Yes, there is a tiny romantic story for Robin, the son of a family friend, Mason, who kisses her one night after Vanessa throws a party and plays tennis with her on another day, but it's definitely a distraction, not at all the focus of the book. The focus is Robin's family. She adores her quirky and opinionated grandmother, is very close to Lowell, and idolizes Vanessa a bit (which is funny because I probably would have idolized Vanessa too at that age - she's in college, she's creative,she's a free spirit - but as an adult I can see how Vanessa thinks she's a free spirit but is in fact a stereotype as well, and she's got very strong opinions about things she knows nothing about.) Robin is very sweet. She's a little naive but not annoyingly so. She worries but isn't anxiety-riddled. She's responsible and kind and in some ways, very freshingly ordinary. I think I would have been friends with her. In fact, I truly wished I could have spent more time with her.

As with all Norma Klein novels, this book does acknowledge the existence of sex, but our main character only kisses a boy. She does wonder about "doing it" and has a friend who does it, and her sister and her grandmother are both living with their boyfriends, but there's nothing the least bit explicit. There is also one instance of marijuana use. I'm still going to recommend it highly for preteens. Especially once with parents whose marriages are in trouble. Robin really does cover all of the "what ifs" involved in divorce and remarriage, even if in the end not all of them play out.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I read my own copy of the book that was bought in the 1980s.

Friday, February 8, 2013

What Makes a Genre a Genre?

I signed up to do the Genre Variety Challenge this year which I thought would be easy for me because I read so widely, and I take great pride in that. I signed up to read thirty different genres this year! Back when I used to be a sales rep, I have every kind of store covered. Cooking store? No problem, I've read food books. Pet bakery? (Seriously.) I can recommend not only pet books, but even pet cookbooks. You're a museum with an upcoming gross exhibit on bodies and need some adult books? Easy. Check out StiffDriving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain and Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy, all books I've read. My boss could send me anywhere from a museum to comics store to a gardening store (The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms and Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers) and I could always speak about at least a handful of book on their topic.

But now that I am forced to categorize books, I am reminded how hard it is to sort books at the Friends of the Library sale. What category should The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship be in? Sociology? Biography? Regional? How about The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life from on High? Or any book by John McPhee? Or Cloud Atlas?

Although what I'm finding even harder is deciding what IS a genre. Is Young Adult a genre or just an age category? Can stunt memoir stand on its own as a separate genre from memoir? I include novels about art in my art category in Goodreads, but is "art novel" really a category of its own? What about regionality? Books set in the American South or in Asia? Can I include a book that is a memoir in the "medical" or "legal" or "food" categories? I am trying to remember by days working in a bookstore and where it would be categorized, but that doesn't solve everything (we didn't have a biography/memoir section at all and books would be shelved in whatever secondary section that would otherwise fall into. If there was no secondary category at all, they'd go in essays. It wasn't the best plan but I didn't have any say-so.) The library helps somewhat, but it sometimes categorizes things bizarrely, in my opinion, at least in the nonfiction section. Adult fiction in the library only has four subgenres (African-American, mystery, sci fi/fantasy, and short stories, although the spinner racks also add Westerns and Romance) which can't possibly be enough (not to mention there are dozens of authors whose books are split between two sections -- sometimes even different books from the same series.) While I may not always agree with them, I now have a lot more sympathy for the librarians coming up with the Dewey numbers for books and the buyers at bookstores that have to make these calls.

What are your classifications for what makes up a genre? Can you help me figure out if I'm cheating at my Challenge? I know ultimately it's up to me, but I really want to nail this one, and if "literary fiction" really shouldn't count separately from "general fiction," I don't want to count it.

Book Beginnings: The Art Forger

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro

"I step back and scrutinize the paintings."

Well, that makes sense for an art forger. I guess we're jumping right into the action in this book!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Vow

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs) by Wendy Plump

Synopsis from Goodreads:
There are so many ways to find out. From a cell phone. From a bank statement. From some weird supermarket encounter. One morning in early January 2005, Wendy Plump’s friend came to tell her that her husband was having an affair. It was not a shock. Actually, it explained a lot. But what Wendy was not prepared for was the revelation that her husband also had another child, living within a mile of their family home.

Monogamy is one of the most important of the many vows we make in our marriages. Yet it is a rare spouse who does not face some level of temptation in their married life. The discovery of her husband’s affair followed betrayals of Wendy’s own, earlier in the marriage. The revelations of those infidelities had tested their relationship, but for Wendy, it was commitment—the sticking with it—that mattered most, and when her sons were born, she knew family had to come first. But with another woman and another family in the picture, she lost all sense of certainty.

In Vow, Wendy Plump boldly walks one relationship’s fault lines, exploring infidelity from the perspective of both betrayer and betrayed. Moving fluidly from the intimate to the near-universal, she considers the patterns of adultery, the ebb and flow of passion, the undeniable allure of the illicit, the lovers and the lies. Frank, intelligent and important, Vow will forever alter your understanding of fidelity, and the meaning of the promises we make to those we love.

Publishing February 12, 2013 by Bloomsbury USA.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book review: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

I knew the minute I heard about this book, that it was a book for me, and I was so right. I love when that happens.

Susannah is a young journalist in New York City, working, hanging out with her boyfriend, and just going along with everyday life when she suddenly began to have psychotic symptoms and seizures. In a frighteningly short period of time she went from normal to hospitalized. In retrospect and thanks to research, she can see a few minor, subtle signs that something was wrong in the weeks leading up to her breakdown, but they're ones that no one would likely clue into at all.

Soon she is in the seizure ward of NYU, baffling doctors of all stripes, until finally a doctor comes along who is intrigued by the bizarre aspects of her illness instead of stymied, and comes up with a rare and only recently discovered syndrome. Finally there is a diagnosis and treatment. You know, simply from the fact that Susannah is writing the book, that she survives and gets her mind back, but there certainly are moments in the book when that outcome seems unlikely. And if she had gotten this syndrome just two years earlier, she would have had a much poorer outcome (many people with this syndrome who are untreated become permanently mentally handicapped if not psychotic, and some do die. A minority will recover.)

It is fascinating that for the month she is hospitalized, Susannah has no memories. And so, to write this book she had to interview her doctors, her parents, her boyfriend and friends. She had to watch the monitoring videos, read her parents' notes and journals, and try to reconstruct these events that were so foreign to her that they might have happened to someone else. While the book is told in first person, that part of the book does have the vague feeling of being outside of Susannah watching what is going on from the outside, not experiencing it from her eyes, which is disconcerting, but very appropriate.

Susannah does remember the recovery, which was long and tough. Her parents and boyfriend are all troupers. No one is completely overwhelmed and has a breakdown. In fact, her parents get along better than they ever have since the divorce, putting hurt and dislike behind them to join together for this battle for Susannah's sanity and life.

I whipped through this book in just two days. It's easy to read and hard to put down. A memoir with a medical mystery, insanity, and overcoming extreme obstacles is an easy sell to me, and luckily Ms. Cahalan has the writing chops so it reads smoothly and with emotion but not maudlin or filled with purple prose. It's terrible she had to go through this experience, but it's remarkable how well she came out of it and how the rest of us can now experience what that would be like through her eyes.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Teaser Tuesdays: Brain on Fire

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan p. 40

"As Stephen later described that nightmarish scene, I had woken him up with a strange series of low moans, resonating among the sounds from the TV. At first he thought I was grinding my teeth, but when the grinding noises became a high-pitched squeak, like sandpaper rubbed against metal, and then turned into deep, Sling Blade-like grunts, he knew something was wrong."

Wow, I don't know what I'd do if I heard those noises coming from someone supposed to be sleeping. Call 911 I suppose.

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro
Now That I Know by Norma Klein
Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Don't Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth C. Davis

Up next:
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham
Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobel

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book review: Now That I Know by Norma Klein

A few years ago I reread a handful of my old favorite Norma Klein books, but the ones I reread were the ones I adored, the ones I'd read dozens of times as a teenager. I have a whole shelf of Klein books though, and not all of them had equal impact. Recently, I thought I'd pass along a few of her books to a young teenager friend, and it occurred to me that I ought to reread them first, and it is most of the books that are on the younger end of Klein's protagonists that I didn't reread a ton. Probably because I aged out of them more quickly. But I thought I'd rectify it now.

It'a unusual to reread a book that wasn't beloved and much-read when I was younger. Those books are like old friends, and I sometimes find I have whole sentences and passages memorized. But in Now That I Know, instead I have a sense of vague familiarity, and I figured out the plot twist pretty much right away. Is that because as an adult it's so much easier to spot, or because the plot is stored somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain and I actually remember the story, if subconsciously? There's no way to know of course.

Nina is thirteen, a 9th grader in New York City whose parents have joint custody so she spends half the week with each. She's a bit worried about her shy, bitter mother being all alone. After all her father has his best friend Greg to hang out with. Greg, who does all the cooking, including breakfast, and always seems to be at their house. Hmmm. I wonder if, reading this book when I was fourteen, I clued in to the real relationship before it came out in the open, but now, it was very obvious to me from about p. 7. Not that that's bad - it's well set up so readers won't feel blindsided by it. I just wonder if perhaps, as a young teen, I was a bit obtuse and also more concerned with Nina becoming the editor of the school paper and there being maybe an interesting boy in her class.

One of Norma Klein's hallmarks is her very three-dimensional, flawed characters, and she doesn't disappoint in Now That I Know. Neither of her parents deal with their situations perfectly (oh, and they're younger than me - when did that happen!?), her best friend is frustrating, and Nina herself is quite flawed, hiding from situations she doesn't like and trying her best not to deal with them head-on. Teens can really identify with these well-rounded and very human characters. It's a tiny bit dated, but not overly (the book's jacket more than anything - denim with denim!) I am definitely going to pass this book on to my friend's daughter, as there's nothing remotely inappropriate, just a tiny bit of language and an acknowledgement that sex exists. I'm so glad I gave it another read!

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Beginnings: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

"At first, there's just darkness and silence."

That's an ominous and intriguing start to things!