Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Beginnings: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

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.

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

"One thing that puzzled me during the American health-care debate was all the talk about socialized medicine and how ineffective it's supposed to be."

Spoiler alert: David loves his French dentist!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Tilted World

“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:

The Tilted World: A Novel by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Set against the backdrop of the historic 1927 Mississippi Flood, a story of murder and moonshine, sandbagging and saboteurs, dynamite and deluge-and a man and a woman who find unexpected love-from Tom Franklin, author of the bestselling Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and his wife, Pushcart Prize-winning poet Beth Ann Fennelly

The year is 1927. As rains swell the Mississippi, the mighty river threatens to burst its banks and engulf all in its path, including federal revenue agent Ted Ingersoll and his partner, Ham Johnson. Arriving in the tiny hamlet of Hobnob, Mississippi, to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents on the trail of a local bootlegger, they unexpectedly find an abandoned baby boy at a crime scene.

An orphan raised by nuns, Ingersoll is determined to find the infant a home, a search that leads him to Dixie Clay Holliver. A lonely woman married too young to a charming and sometimes violent philanderer, Dixie Clay has lost her only child to illness and is powerless to resist this second chance at motherhood. From the moment they meet, Ingersoll and Dixie Clay are drawn to each other. He has no idea that she's the best bootlegger in the county and may be connected to the missing agents. And while he seems kind and gentle, Dixie Clay knows he is the enemy and must not be trusted.

Then a deadly new peril arises, endangering them all. A saboteur, hired by rich New Orleans bankers eager to protect their city, is planning to dynamite the levee and flood Hobnob, where the river bends precariously. Now, with time running out, Ingersoll, Ham, and Dixie Clay must make desperate choices, choices that will radically transform their lives-if they survive.

Publishing October 1, 2013 by William Morrow.

Book review: The Bride by Julie Garwood

Lately I found myself lecturing my intern on the importance in the publishing business of being open-minded and reading widely, and I pushed him to read some women's fiction and he didn't bat an eye. In the back of my mind, I felt guilty though, as I know I have my own preconceptions and although they have been frequently proven wrong over the years, they persist. So when I was looking at my shelves for what to start reading three days before my wedding, knowing I couldn't handle something that wasn't very light and fluffy, it occurred to me that I had a couple of romance novels hidden in the back of my bookcase, given by a romance-novel-loving friend, who wanted me to give them another shot (I read a handful in high school, and again a few in my mid-twenties when I was interviewing for a job at a publishing house that mostly published romances.) I read half of one but had never tried the other. And guess what the title was? The Bride. It was kismet.

The Bride was certainly light and fluffy and reading it zipped along at the speed of light. It was not great literature. No male in the book can speak in a normal tone of voice, instead they are constantly roaring, bellowing, shouting, yelling, and hollering. There were loose threads left dangling, particularly our heroine's family who never factor in again (aside from one sister whose story line was resolved very quickly and off-page.) But I was surprisingly impressed by the sex scenes. I recently discovered that probably forever, I have been at best skimming and probably usually outright skipping sex scenes in books (not being an avid romance reader, they don't actually come up all that often.) I was dreading reading those, but they were very well written, with not a throbbing member to be seen, and none of the icky awfulness usually seen in literary novels (and as that is a big part of these books, one would expect a higher bar, but it exceeded even my expectations.)

For the plot, Jamie, an English young lady, and her sister Mary are told by the king they will marry a couple of Scottish lairds who will come for them shortly, and they do making their father and twin sisters sad but we never see them again so who cares. Jamie is feisty and stubborn but Alec, her husband, is patient and willing to wait for her to settle in, especially so long as they continue to have acrobatic and frequent sex. Jamie is conveniently already skilled in speaking Gaelic, healing, archery, and horseback riding despite having been also raised to be a proper lady. She naturally gets into minor troubles here and there and yet by the end, despite thinking she has caused several impending wars with other clans, she has instead united them all. And won over her husband, who has won her over too, and they declare their love for each other (it's a romance novel so if I'm giving away any big secrets here, sue me.) There is a twist although it's not hard at all to figure out, and is a little hard to believe. And all of this plays out over about a two week period.

My romance-reading friend did tell me this book is nowadays considered rather old-fashioned, as being forced into marriage is not "in" right now (although arranged marriages then are historically accurate and there isn't exactly forcible sex, although there is persuaded sex.) And the author's note in the book mentions she broke with romance novel-writing tradition at the time by having the book be quite humorous (I think she overstates its humor a bit but I did appreciate it not being overly earnest.) Another friend said she couldn't overlook the bad writing, and it's interesting that it didn't bother me so much, being an editor and all, but I have gotten better at turning off that side of my brain, particularly when reading fluffy books. Yes there are stereotypes galore, characters aren't well developed at all, and the plot is fairly predictable, but none of those are crimes and I am willing to overlook them for a few hours of mindless fun.

I received this book as a gift from a friend.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays: The Group

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 Group by Mary McCarthy p. 62

"To her horror, now that he had said he wanted her on his terms, Dottie found herself having second thoughts: what if she had lost her virginity with a man who scared her and who sounded, from his own description, like a pretty bad hat? For a moment, Dottie felt cornered, but her training had instilled the principle that it was a mark of low breeding to consider that you might have been wrong in a person."

What scares Dottie is that the gentleman in question is asking her to come over and spend the night whenever she is on town and is inclined. While the 1930s are apparently much more progressive than I thought, they're not quite that progressive!

Book Review: The Group by Mary McCarthy

Wow, the 1930s were a lot more risque than I knew! In the first 50 pages, while we have seen one of these friends from Vassar married off just a week after graduation, we have also seen one embark on a strictly sexual relationship and get birth control! Goodness!

The Group follows most of eight college friends in the first seven years after college in their marriages, careers, families, and so forth. As with any group of young women, some are more and less successful in varying aspects of these areas of their lives. None are wildly successful with everything, and it's probably a pretty fair representation of what did happen at the time (it is supposed to be pretty autobiographical.) I particularly liked Dottie and Polly. I felt sorry for Priss who seemed to easily influenced by everyone around her. And I found Libby, though a bit grating, fascinating since she started off as a reader for a publisher and then became a literary agent. In fact the careers were what I found the most interesting in the novel for not only in 1933 was it just taken for granted that all of them would get jobs, but all of them did, aside from two girls who went to graduate school,and another who did have a teaching job lined up but her mother talked her out of it. One did quit once she became pregnant but as she'd lost a few previous pregnancies to miscarriage that's very understandable. But the rest graduated in the middle of the depression, came from money, and yet all embarked on work lives that ranged from retail to a hospital administrator to working for one of Roosevelt's WPA projects. Life in the 1930s wasn't all that different from life today.

However, this book, written in the 1960s, is very different from the writing style of today. Ms. McCarthy's paragraphs often go on for more than a page, even with multiple changes in speakers. She gives us these stories in big chunks, often without going back later to tell us what happened after the window of life we viewed. A couple of the eight in the group get shafted with really no stories of their own at all. And a family butler gets a good sized narrative for no good reason. The book dripped with details which on the one hand did help place it in its era, but on the other hand sometimes I didn't know what they were going on about (especially when it was an obscure fabric or article of clothing not in use anymore.) It took the first 50 pages or so to get used to the style. After that, I did find it a fast read, although I wished very much that I knew more of what happened later to some of the girls covered early on, that sort of thing. Today she certainly would have been advised against treating the eight so unequally in the narrative. But that is part of what makes it such an interesting look into what was popular in the 1960s.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was a great discussion for my book club. If you're interested in Peyton Place but found it a little to prurient and the writing style too commercial, this is the perfect book for you. It's more literary and less shocking for shock's sake, but very eye-opening about a previous generation.

I asked for a copy of this book from the publisher, not for a review, after seeing it on Mad Men.

Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Nothing. I got married last week so it's kind of a miracle I read anything at all. Probably could have finished a book but I started reading two instead and so finished neither.

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Bride by Julie Garwood
Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America by Les Standiford

Up next:
1775: A Good Year for Revolution by Kevin Phillips
Boleto by Alyson Hagy
Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another by Ellen Stimson

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Beginnings: The Group

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 Group by Mary McCarthy

"It was June, 1933, one week after Commencement, when Kay Leiland Strong, Vassar '33, the first of her class to run around the table at the Class Day dinner, was married to Harald Petersen, Reed '27, in the chapel of St. George's Church, P.E., Karl F. Reiland, Rector."

This is awfully formal and sounds like it's directly quoting from Kay's invitation or the alumni newsletter. Running around the table was a way to say you were engaged.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Maid's Version

“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:

The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell

Synopsis from Goodreads:
 The American master's first novel since Winter's Bone (2006) tells of a deadly dance hall fire and its impact over several generations.

Alma DeGeer Dunahew, the mother of three young boys, works as the maid for a prominent citizen and his family in West Table, Missouri. Her husband is mostly absent, and, in 1929, her scandalous, beloved younger sister is one of the 42 killed in an explosion at the local dance hall. Who is to blame? Mobsters from St. Louis? The embittered local gypsies? The preacher who railed against the loose morals of the waltzing couples? Or could it have been a colossal accident? Alma thinks she knows the answer-and that its roots lie in a dangerous love affair. Her dogged pursuit of justice makes her an outcast and causes a long-standing rift with her own son. By telling her story to her grandson, she finally gains some solace-and peace for her sister. He is advised to "Tell it. Go on and tell it"-tell the story of his family's struggles, suspicions, secrets, and triumphs.

Publishing September 3, 2013 by Little, Brown and Company.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays: Blue Nights

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 Nights by Joan Didion p. 25

"Had there been an instant when Tasha was afraid not to die? Had there been an instant when Quintana was afraid not to die?"

Tasha is Natasha Richardson, a family friend, who also died young. Quintana is Joan Didion's daughter.

Book Review: Blue Nights by Joan Didion

I was moved to tears more than once while reading (listening to) The Year of Magical Thinking, Ms. Didion's memoir of her husband's death, and I was hoping I would enjoy Blue Nights, about her daughter's death, as much. Alas, it was not the case.

I found Blue Nights to be unfocused, confusing, and repetitive. The timeline seemed off (I think Quintana was about my age but her mother was born ten years before mine and was not significantly older than mine when she was adopted.) There wasn't a narrative, more of a meandering, which was so meandering that we never even find out what Quintana died of. There is a lot of justifying of Quintana's privileged upbringing, and I did tire of the namedropping. I think Ms. Didion really did write this for herself. She was working out a lot of unresolved issues and understandably great trauma. I just didn't think she did anything for me. Personally I think it would have been fine if she'd kept this book for herself. I know other readers have found it profound and deeply meaningful, but I found it scattered and slight. I probably wouldn't have finished it except that it was so very short.


I bought this book from my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

Monday, August 19, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Life With Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Bride by Julie Garwood

Up next:
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) by Carol Fisher Saller

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Beginnings: Blue Nights

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 Nights by Joan Didion

"In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilight turns long and blue."

Hm, I've never experienced this. She does say it doesn't happen in California, but that it does in New York. I have lived in New York, and I missed it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Room 1219

“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:

Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood by Greg Merritt

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In 1921, one of the biggest movie stars in the world was accused of killing a woman. What followed was an unprecedented avalanche of press coverage, the original “trial of the century,” and a wave of censorship that altered the course of Hollywood filmmaking.

It began on Labor Day, when comic actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, then at the pinnacle of his fame and fortune, hosted a party in San Francisco’s best hotel. As the party raged, he was alone in room 1219 with Virginia Rappe, a minor actress. Four days later, she died, and he was charged with her murder.

Room 1219 tells the story of Arbuckle’s improbable rise and stunning fall—from Hollywood’s first true superstar to its first pariah. Simultaneously, it presents the crime story from the day of the “orgy” through the three trials. Relying on a careful examination of documents, the book finally reveals, after almost a century of wild speculation, what most likely occurred in room 1219. In addition, Room 1219 covers the creation of the film industry—from the first silent experiments to a studio-based system capable of making and, ultimately, breaking a beloved superstar.

Publishing September 1, 2013 by Chicago Review Press.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review: The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham

Recently I was explaining to someone my division of chick lit into two distinct parts, older and younger, and how much I prefer the older segment (and yes, I know the phrase "chick lit" is now considered gauche, but there's not good substitute, plus I think the people upset about it were overreacting.) Younger chick lit is more obsessed with boyfriends and the problems are sillier. Older chick lit tends to deal with more real problems. Some people might not think there's a big difference but to me, there is. I also prefer my chick lit to not be set in New York or London, and not to automatically have a horrible boss and a nutty best friend.

In The Wedding Girl, we are in Bath, England, and Milly is about to marry Simon, the only son of a multi-millionaire, but Milly has a secret from ten years ago. We actually find out the secret on page one, and the suspense lies in when it will be reveals and how and by whom. And of course what the ramification will be. The secret comes out just past half-way in the book, with a great deal of denouement, and tension still remains in how it will be resolved. Of course, not only Milly has a secret. So does her sister Isobel, her father James, Simon's father Harry, and Milly's old friend Rupert. Like any good chick lit novel, we get nearly everything wrapped up at the end, but Ms. Wickham is brilliant in adding a few twists, and having at least one minor story line only partly be wrapped up.

Madeleine Wickham also writes as Sophie Kinsella, and while those books sell better, I prefer these books. They remind me of Sex in and City, mixing fluff and fun with serious topics and real problems. I do like my fluff, but I don't want it to be completely without any depth or meaning. In The Wedding Girl, she hits on topics such as, what does it mean to truly know a person? Is it okay to lie to someone you love? What truly makes for a happy marriage? What sacrifices do we make for happiness? I like to have my cupcake, and have it not be just icing. If you do too, pick up a Madeleine Wickham novel.

I bought this book at B&N.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Wedding Girl

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 Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham p. 37

"Milly sat at the kitchen table with a thumping heart, wishing she could run away and escape. It was him."

The one person who could blow Milly's secret out of the water has just shown up on her doorstep and if her luck holds, he won't recognize her. What do you think the odds of that are?

Monday, August 12, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Life With Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Up next:
The Good House by Ann Leary
The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks by Simon Garfield

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Beginnings: The Wedding Girl

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 Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham

"A group of tourists had stopped to gawp at Milly as she stood in her wedding dress on he registry office steps."

It's curious how the book can be called "The Wedding Girl" when it seems the girl gets married on the first page. But that's the twist in this novel.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Mud Season

“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:

Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another by Ellen Stimson

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In self-deprecating and hilarious fashion, Mud Season chronicles Stimson's transition from city life to rickety Vermont farmhouse. When she decides she wants to own and operate the old-fashioned village store in idyllic Dorset, pop. 2,036, one of the oldest continually operating country stores in the country, she learns the hard way that "improvements" are not always welcomed warmly by folks who like things just fine the way they'd always been. She dreams of patrons streaming in for fresh-made sandwiches and an old-timey candy counter, but she learns they're boycotting the store. Why? "The bread," they tell her, "you moved the bread from where it used to be." Can the citified newcomer turn the tide of mistrust before she ruins the business altogether?

Follow the author to her wit's end and back, through her full immersion into rural life--swapping high heels for muck boots; raising chickens and sheep; fighting off skunks, foxes, and bears; and making a few friends and allies in a tiny town steeped in history, local tradition, and that dyed-in-the-wool Vermont "character."

Publishing October 7, 2013 by Countryman Press.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Book Review: Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult's Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development; Or, Why It's Never Too Late for Her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not for Dinner by Jen Lancaster

Jen's back, with her usual snark and over-the-top ridiculousness brilliantly culled from everyday life. After her last book I was worried that she might not have more material or might become more boring, but like David Sedaris, her life magically continues to be hilariously inappropriate, no matter how old and not-broke she gets!

In this book she is documenting how she and Fletch are gradually growing up, in a very Generation X fashion, and of course kicking and screaming as we all know there's nothing Jen wants to do less. So at the end of each chapter, she tells us what lesson she's learned and how it makes her more grown-up now (such as after a possum dies in their yard, the lesson Jen learns is never to hire the cheapest assistant you can find, even if you are married to him. And to buy a good shovel.

My favorite stories in the book are when her cats escape (if you've ever tried to call a cat and dealt with the frustration of knowing they can hear you, could even see you if they bothered to turn their head--which they won't-- and are just flat-out ignoring you because, they're cats, you will so identify with this) and of course the story of the monkey jockeys racing on horse-dogs (dogs wearing saddles). Who doesn't want to read about that? Meanwhile, Jen and Fletch buy a house and move to the suburbs where Jen has a pool and can truly perfect her tan. She starts to volunteer more, gets life insurance, and stops eating food that is bad for her so I guess she really is growing up! Miracles happen!

Reliably hilarious fun, if you're even remotely a Jen Lancaster fan or just want a good laugh, this is the perfect beach read.

I bought this book at Subterranean Books, an independent bookstore in St. Louis, MO.

Teaser Tuesdays: Jeneration X

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!

Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult's Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development; Or, Why It's Never Too Late for Her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not for Dinner by Jen Lancaster p. 45

"Stacey's been here next to me, working through lunch and now dinner. We've been ass-deep in pans and pies and potato peels and plungers."

Jen and her friend Stacey are trying to prep for Thanksgiving dinner in a fraction of the time they should have. And potato peels can back up all your drains. Jen recommends a wet-dry vac.

Monday, August 5, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Reversal by Michael Connelly

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Life With Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Up next:
The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Friday, August 2, 2013

Book Beginnings: Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster

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.

Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult's Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development; Or, Why It's Never Too Late for Her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not for Dinner by Jen Lancaster

"Thanks for completely ignoring me."

Ignoring Jen Lancaster is a terrible idea, especially if you're a valet and she's in her car in front of her valet stand. No one does indignant self-righteousness like Jen.