Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Beginnings: The Rosie Project

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 Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

"I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem."

To be more specific, it's the lack-of-a-wife problem that Don is trying to solve at the beginning of this book. And given how much Don appreciates specificity and accuracy, it's a little surprising that he would make that mistake.

Book Review: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson

I wasn't sure what to expect from this audiobook. I wasn't expecting a soft-spoken British journalist's sort-of memoir learning about psychopathy from a layman's perspective and then exploring it deeper.And boy does he meet some interesting people! Yes, the actual psychopaths are most interesting, even though they have little affect and little empathy. But also Bob Hare, who came up with the most used test of psychopathy. And the Scientologists who are trying to discredit psychology as a field.

Mr. Ronson made the book very accessible and fun. Sure, some parts were more esoteric or confusing, such as the man in Sweden who was sending hand-made books to psychologists around the world (and eventually to Mr. Ronson) and who claimed to only be the translator. But then you'd get interviews like with Al Dunlap, the ex-CEO of Sunbeam (appliances, not bread) who is a very successful, very wealthy man. Ronson went through the checklist one at a time and Dunlap did answer yes to most of the questions that would make him a psychopath, but he very interestingly rephrased the in positive ways (such as Do you have a low affect? Yes, but he's just keeping emotion out of decisions which is a smart thing to do. And when asked if he is impulsive, he redefined that as a quick decision maker.)

This isn't a serious psychology book, much more like a memoir of one average man's dip of the toe into a world of those who might just kill "to see what it feels like," in other words, the bat-shit-crazy. Thoroughly entertaining.

I bought this book from Audible.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book review: The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by Debbie Stier

This is the perfect book for me, combining two of my favorite things: memoir and the college application process. Debbie's son doesn't have the grades to get academic scholarships, she doesn't have the money to put him through college, and so she figures out his best shot is to ace the SAT and that will open another avenue of scholarships for him. But she both knows he won't do the work, and also figures she shouldn't ask him to do something she isn't willing to do herself. So over the course of a year she signs up to take the SAT every time it is offered, certain that by the end of the year she'll have the exam all figured out. And that kind of works.

Her initial plan is to try a different studying technique for each test, which isn't the best plan. Some of the methods, like the math tutoring, she really should have begun early and stuck with the entire time to see results. And switching back and forth all the time is actually not conducive to mastering any of them. She certainly did learn some tricks and tips, and her kids both did eventually begin to be interested in her project (her younger daughter was more interested than her older son from the start.) And then finally the day came for her last test. And did she get a perfect score?

For once I'm going to do a spoiler, because I don't think it's a shocker, that she doesn't. But like I said, she did get some tips and tricks and more importantly, she got her son mildly interested and got him to prepare better than he otherwise would have. So in that regard her project was a success, even without a perfect score.

Sure, this is the naval-gazing of an upper-middle-class woman who really ought to be able to send her son to college, who can get a book deal based on this idea, and who can afford the time and all the expenses associated with this project, so it's surely a first world problem. But she does acknowledge that, and there's not much she can do about her circumstances. And that said, I did enjoy it. The times she freaked out or stressed out, not so much, but luckily those were few. Overall, it was nice to read about someone else going through that kind of stress, but not experience it myself. In fact, I am such a nut job, that she almost inspired me to retake the SAT myself. But not quite.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Pioneer Girl

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

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pamela Smith Hill (Editor)

Synopsis from Goodreads:


Pioneer Girl follows the Ingalls family's journey through Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, back to Minnesota, and on to Dakota Territory sixteen years of travels, unforgettable experiences, and the everyday people who became immortal through Wilder's fiction. Using additional manuscripts, letters, photographs, newspapers, and other sources, award-winning Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill adds valuable context and leads readers through Wilder's growth as a writer.

Do you think you know Laura? Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography will re-introduce you to the woman who defined the pioneer experience for millions.

Publishing November 2014 by South Dakota State Historical Society.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays: Someone Else's Love Story

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!

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

"William's body has more adrenaline after all. It is dumping into his bloodstream, and he can feel his heartbeat pounding through all his limbs and in his spine, even in his eyes."

It makes sense in the middle of a robbery/hostage situation you'd both feel like you have a neverending supply of adrenaline, and like you must have exhausted it. And I know what he means about the pounding, as sometimes your pulse is just everywhere and very powerful.


Book review: Someone Else's Love Story: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson

This is a book with two wildly different covers, but recently when I met the author, she had a marvelous explanation. The book is told by dual narrators, William and Shandi. The hardcover jacket (dark blue) is William's. The paperback with the flower on the purple, is Shandi's. The dark blue reads much more literary and serious. Since I was reading this purple one with the flower, I was expecting a rather light and fluffy book, and I was pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be much more than that.

Shandi is twenty and a college student... with a four year old son, the result of a sexual assault at a fraternity when she was still in high school. They are moving from her mother's house in the country, to her father's condo in Atlanta proper, so she more easily commute to school, when they stop for gas. In the convenience store, she see a gorgeous man (she calls him "Thor" in her head) who is puzzling over a box of detergent in a way that makes her sure he must be divorced. And just as she is trying to flirt with him, the store is robbed. And the gunman takes all the customers and employees hostage.

See what I mean? Not very light and fluffy, although also not dark and twisty. I really didn't know where the book was going to go from here and I don't want to spoil it. So I will say I thought it was terrific, handling multiple very deep issues with a lightness that wasn't disrespectful, but that felt appropriate. I wasn't sure where the ending was going--of course I did think I knew at a couple of times but it didn't quite take the route I anticipated. Ms. Jackson kept me on my toes but the novel wasn't unexpected or kooky at all. I really felt an emotional pull to these characters, I liked the twists introduced at the end, and I actually think I'm going to recommend this to my book club as it has a ton of really good topics for discussion. I would love to talk about this book with someone! It was great.

A friend gave me this book.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

So now I have read all three Gillian Flynn novels, and I also saw the movie Gone Girl last week (which was my first book, too.) I read them in reverse order, which I don't recommend. Like most authors, Gillian Flynn's writing skills have developed with each book, so when you go back, they don't improve. I think I would have liked this book much more had I read it first.

Camille has to return from Chicago to her hometown in rural Missouri to investigate a story about missing girls, as her boss is determined to be ahead of the next big serial killer story. But her hometown is not at all a happy place for Camille. And due to a small budget, she must stay with her mother, step-father, and thirteen-year-old half-sister in their impeccable Victorian mansion. Bad things happened in this town in the past, and those resurface for Camille, dredging up memories that caused her old cutting problems. Meanwhile, will she figure out what's been happening to these girls and help the cute out-of-town cop solve the mystery?

I found the book okay but uneven. Camille's sister has that common problem of in some scenes sounding eight, and in others sounding twenty-five. I hate that inconsistency. I know partly that's because she's supposed to be somewhat regressive to a younger age in some scenes, but it didn't sit well with me. She was a hard character to pin down. Camille's step-father might as well have not been there, which I know was his personality, but I don't like a useless character. And I really don't think Camille's habit of cutting words--instead of just lines--is a thing. That felt contrived.

But the book was compelling, a little bit spooky, and while I was frustrated about halfway through, certain I had figured out the ending, I was wrong (well, half wrong.) So I'm glad I stuck with it, as it proved to be better plotted from
the point of view of the mystery than I had initially thought (good red herrings.) And the ending did throw me for a loop. It was completely surprising, but it was well set up once you thought back.

Ms. Flynn's characters and plotting have improved, but you could see her talent even with this first novel.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John W.S. Bradshaw

Up next:
Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett

Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Beginnings: Someone Else's Love Story

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.

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

"I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K."

Wow, that's quite a first line! It's hard not to keep reading after that. And yes, this is about a robbery so it's not a fake-out that's just enticement to get you in but doesn't actually mean what you think it does.


Most Influential Post-21 Books

Back in August a meme was going around Facebook asking for your most influential books, and like most people, ALL of mine were from my first 21 years. I get that those are influential because of the place you're in emotionally, still trying to figure out who you are, who you're becoming, what you will do with your life, what is important to you, and so on. But does that truly mean that for the rest of our lives, even the great books we read just roll off of us like water off a duck's back, not penetrating at all? That just can't be. So I decided to make a second list:

10 Best Books I've Read Since I Turned 22
(I didn't do "most influential" because that has a different connotation, but books that have truly stuck with me, that I still think back on occasionally, still recommend, and wish I could reread for the first time. I'm not including any books I edited or acquired.) In no particular order:
  1. Making History by Stephen Fry
  2. The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds 
  3. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  4. Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate by Helen Prejean
  5. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts
  6. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
  7. The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman
  8. Poachers by Tom Franklin
  9. Straight Man by Richard Russo
  10. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
Okay, all but the last one of these I read in my 20s. Why is it so hard to find books that resonate like these did, these days? Is it where my mind is now? Is it that I have already read a lot of great classics (and modern classics) and so now have to settle for second-tier books? I do find it interesting that half of what I read is nonfiction, but only two of these books are. Why do I love reading nonfiction if so few of them make much of an impact on me? 

Darn it. Okay, should I make a third list of books I loved in my 30s?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Secret History of Wonder Woman

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

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A riveting work of historical detection revealing that the origins of one the world’s most iconic superheroes hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminism

Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no superhero has lasted as long or commanded so vast and wildly passionate a following. Like every other superhero, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike every other superhero, she has also has a secret history.

Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has uncovered an astonishing trove of documents, including the never-before-seen private papers of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator. Beginning in his undergraduate years at Harvard, Marston was influenced by early suffragists and feminists, starting with Emmeline Pankhurst, who was banned from speaking on campus in 1911, when Marston was a freshman. In the 1920s, Marston and his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, brought into their home Olive Byrne, the niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential feminists of the twentieth century. The Marston family story is a tale of drama, intrigue, and irony. In the 1930s, Marston and Byrne wrote a regular column for Family Circle celebrating conventional family life, even as they themselves pursued lives of extraordinary nonconformity. Marston, internationally known as an expert on truth—he invented the lie detector test—lived a life of secrets, only to spill them on the pages of Wonder Woman.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history. Wonder Woman, Lepore argues, is the missing link in the history of the struggle for women’s rights—a chain of events that begins with the women’s suffrage campaigns of the early 1900s and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later.

Publishing October 28, 2014 by Knopf.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book review: Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last by Patience Bloom

I was so excited to read what was essentially a meld of chick lit, a  memoir, and a book about editing! It is possibly that this combo of three of my favorite things lead to slightly unrealistic expectations. So it ended up being a case of a good, well-written book about things I like... that I found disappointing. Which basically means you should ignore me because I don't make sense.

Patience grows up in Connecticut, moves to Ohio, then to New Mexico, but does eventually end up in New York City, working as an editor at Harlequin, which she absolutely loves. She is in love with love. Idealistic and dewy-eyed, she reminded me of a baby deer wandering into traffic, and I worried about her in the city, but she seemed to navigate that aspect okay. But her love life was just one disaster after another. always looking for The One, she barrels through a string of inappropriate boyfriends. And yes, it is ironic that she's a romance editor and can't get her own love life sorted out. But of course things do end on a happy note.

I really wanted to read about her experience as an editor, and I found it much more congenial, collegiate, and cooperative than I remember. Her coworkers are awesome, her authors never seem to disagree with her suggestions, and Harlequin sounds like an awesome place to work. That said, it seemed pretty unrealistic and I was disappointed she perpetuates the dream of editing at the office (instead of at home) and neglects to mention the meetings, paperwork, and disagreements, but if this is her experience, I'm envious.

The book is light, breezy, enjoyable, and has a happy ending, so I do recommend it. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but that's not a fair bar to hold Ms. Bloom to.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Teaser Tuesdays: Romance Is My Day Job

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!

Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last by Patience Bloom p. 90

"I'm not sure how much time I can devote to this relationship," he tells me the next day on the phone.
"Oh."

Boy, Patience has it bad as she takes this as a good sign, that their relationship is becoming deeper. Why don't people listen to what people actually say instead of what they want to hear?

Monday, October 20, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (audio)
Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John W.S. Bradshaw

Up next:
Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson
As Good as Dead: A Novel by Elizabeth Evans
Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo

Book review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

This book scared me. I heard great things about it, but I saw the length (544 pages) and heard the set up, and it put me off. So in this book, Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in England in 1910. And then she dies. And then the book starts over and Ursula is again born on a snowy night in England in 1910. That time she lives to be about three but then dies in an accident at the beach. Then she is born on a snowy night in 1910.

See, that's weird. That's not how books work. Is it reincarnation? Not exactly, because time goes back to the beginning too. It's more like a loop in time. And each time, things are slightly different. Sometimes things turn out better, sometimes worse, but each time when it reaches the end, it begins again. Sometimes Ursula is living in pre-WWII Germany. Sometimes she is living in bombed-out London. Sometimes she is married. Sometimes she is not. Sometimes she seems like she could change history.

I really enjoyed this novel. I enjoyed the inventiveness of it. I like Ursula's quiet, British-stiff-upper-lip determination that sees her through even the more unpleasant futures. I like how it made me think about life choices and how something small can mean a huge change, and how something that seems like a good choice can lead to a bad outcome, and that we shouldn't put values like "good" and "bad on decisions, because they're just hinges that open doors, but they're not what is behind the door.

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?” Hm. Ms. Atkinson does a great job of making me think.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Beginnings: Romance Is My Day Job

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.

Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last by Patience Bloom

"I know there's a reason why I'm here, all pouty and sullen on this Amtrak train speeding back to New York City."

Patience is 40, still single but dating a gorgeous man she calls Superman, is a romance novel editor, and yet is very disappointed with her love life. And she's tired of the irony.

Book review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

Fifteen-year-old Thea has grown up on a Florida estate in the 1920s, riding horses and hanging out with her twin brother and her cousin, mostly isolated. Then comes 1930. As the world is crashing down around them, they remain fairly isolated from it thanks to their mother's citrus farms, but their cousin isn't so lucky, as his father invested unwisely. And then something terrible happens. But you don't know what it is for a long time. Thea is sent off to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp in the North Carolina mountains (turns out it is also a school and her parents don't intend to collect her in the fall although they don't bother to tell her that.) Thea is being punished for an awful thing that happened back home, which we readers don't find out the details of for quite some time.

In the meantime, Thea builds a new identity, having girl friends for the first time, roommates, rivals, and even an inappropriate crush. She is obviously working out some of the trauma for herself through distance and physical activity, but that can't last of course, and the incident must eventually be dealt with.

Some members of my book club found The Incident quite graphic, but I did not. I was okay with it. I did though think people overreacted a fair amount. I really enjoyed the book so much more when she was at Yonahlossee.  Her mother I found cold and controlling. Her brother was odd and diffuse. The book had some brilliant turns of phrase, and really captured the timeframe well (although at a horse camp like that, it could have been any year int he previous 50 years, as not much had changed in that time.) It was fascinating to see the relatively slow impact of The Great Depression on the students and the school as the year 1930 spun out, with us knowing what they don't: that this will not be a fast rebound, and in fact will get worse before it gets better. There were some flaws in the plotting and some unrealistic parts. I found the cousin in particular to fluctuate times when he seemed so juvenile that I wondered if he were mentally handicapped, to other times when he seemed overly mature. Thea was prickly to say the least, but I liked her. I liked her strength, her ability to move forward no matter what, and her determination not to be a victim.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: First Impressions

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

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett

book description (from Goodreads):
Charlie Lovett first delighted readers with his New York Times bestselling debut, The Bookman’s Tale. Now, Lovett weaves another brilliantly imagined mystery featuring one of English literature’s most popular and beloved authors: Jane Austen.

Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

Publishing October 16, 2014 by Viking Adult.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book review: The House Girl by Tara Conklin

This novel tells two stories. First is the story of Josephine, a slave girl in Virginia whose mistress is a wannabee artist--while Josephine really is talented. The second is the story of Lina, a lawyer in modern-day New York City, working on a slavery reparations case and searching for descendants of a slave who would be good plaintiffs for the case, when she stumbles across Josephine's story.

I found Lina's story much more compelling. Josephine's, while overall not bad, did strike me as a bit cliched (it starts off with her master hitting her in the face for absolutely no reason and no history of doing that, and it comes to nothing, just gratuitous violence.) Lina felt a lot more real, more well-developed. While she's searching for the truth about Josephine, she's also searching for the truth about her own mother who died when she was a small child and about whom she knows next to nothing. But her artist father might be finally ready to talk with her.

The book does move forward at a pretty good pace, but a chunk of the book that is a letter from the 1860s did drag, as did another collection of letters. I wish she had incorporated the content into the storyline more, rather than giving us the unexpurgated, full letters, which were written entirely too on-point to be considered remotely realistic, and yet were too slow-going and artificially historically-written to flow well.

The above storyline is quite enough for one book, but throw in a controversy about the legitimacy of the paintings, an entire subplot about another family working the underground railroad, a missing baby, and it started to feel like she's dumped in everything but the kitchen sink.

Now don't get me wrong, I did overall like the book well enough, but it did have some first-time novelist flaws. And I just wasn't in the right mood for the book, as I am feeling overdosed on Civil War-slavery novels right now. I liked the book well enough as a whole, and it did have some interesting discussion points for our book club, but it was flawed.

My mother bought me this book for my birthday last year.

Teaser Tuesdays: The House 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 House Girl by Tara Conklin p. 63

"Every week Josephine would hold these ornaments in her hands and wipe clean the wooden mantel beneath them. She would rub a cloth over their brittle painted faces, the deer's snout so realistically drawn, the cow's hooves black as the man's face, the blue glass thinning to such a fine edge that once Josephine cut her thumb and it felt as if she had drawn it against a blade."

Josephine is the house slave of the title, and she is also an artist, so these ceramic figurines may have appealed to her because of their design. But the key phrase here is the end comparison to a blade, as there is an undercurrent of violence throughout the events that happen in the 1800s, as naturally there would be any time people are held against their will.

Monday, October 13, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (audio)

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (audio)
Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Up next:
Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Beginnings: The House 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 House Girl by Tara Conklin
"Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run."

What's odd is that Mister never had hit her before, and there was no reason for it this time. And there never is a reason given. It felt a little contrived to me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

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

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Publishing October 21st 2014 by Spiegel & Grau.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr.

Gone With the Wind was one of the very first adult books that I read. And it's a doozy: over 800 pages (or over 1200, depending on which edition you have!) I remember one night, a couple of years before I read it, my mother let me stay up late and watch the movie with her on TV. I think it was the first time it had been on TV in many years, and the color was restored or something. For decades, every time I read the book I was guaranteed to sob through the last 100 pages (although sadly, not the last time I read it.)

I have heard over the years that the backstory was a good one. I'd seen some E! True Hollywood Story-type shows about the casting of the movie and how the women in the film were so upset when the original director was fired that they continued to sneak out to ask his advice on scenes for most of the rest of the filming. I vaguely remembered a made-for-TV movie starring Shannen Doherty as Margaret Mitchell. But that was all I knew.

Every wanna-be author should read this book. It's about the reality of how life can be if your book miraculously becomes a bestseller. We all wonder about one-hit-wonders but Margaret Mitchell was very clear about how managing GWTW was more than a full-time job (she had a full-time secretary and her husband worked nights and weekends, eventually quitting his day job to devote himself to GWTW.) There were three big reasons for this that hopefully would not happen today. Firstly, she didn't have an agent. (Get an agent!) Secondly, the U.S. was not a signatory to the Berne Convention which meant that protecting her copyright internationally was a massive pain in the neck (and in her bad movie contract, she was 100% responsible for that even though her publisher, MacMillan, held the copyright). Thirdly, on advice of her editor she retained foreign rights, which are always complicated to deal with and downright awful without an agent.

Throughout everything, Ms. Mitchell was steadfast, forthright, and stuck to her word, whether that meant sticking by a bad contract or never making any exceptions to her "no more signed books" rule. She and her husband agreed on that point, to her detriment, as their movie contract wasn't good at all and their publisher did repeatedly ask them to take a cut on royalties (often for legitimate reasons but in my opinion their answer ought to have been "no" more often.) And just when things were slowing down and Ms. Mitchell started jotting down ideas and occasionally mentioning to friends and family that she might write another book, she was tragically killed after being hit by a drunk driver.

But if you're only going to put one book out in the world, what a book! Mega bestseller breaking all previous records, Pulitzer Prize-winner, and also a phenomenal movie. The sequels have been too bad (I tried to read Scarlett twice, back when it first came out, both times I just could not take it anymore when Scarlett decided to stop wearing her corset.) But luckily they haven't tarnished the original.

The book was fascinating, with details about Hattie McDaniels's gracious note to Ms. Mitchell, turning down attending the movie premier in Atlanta's segregated theater, to the book's popularity in Europe and Asia (and I love all the foreign edition covers that were included), to the complicated rights situations, I found it riveting. It's probably only natural that the woman who discovered the book, Lois Cole, was never publicly given credit for that, instead her boss Harold Latham took all the credit. Similarly, the movie deal was brokered by a woman, the deal was handled on the studio side mostly by a woman, and the foreign rights agent was a woman, yet they were never mentioned as having anything to do with GWTW's success at the time. Any author wanting to know what being a bestselling author is really like, must read this book, for its honest depiction of the annoyances and aggravations. Any GWTW fans also should read it to find out the amazing story behind the book and movie, which certainly was more than worthy of its own book.

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

Teaser Tuesdays: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood

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!

Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr. p. 22

"If Latham was amused or offended by Mitchell's forthrightness, he did not let on. He assured her there would be nothing in the contract about a delivery date."

If forthrightness would offend him, he was not the right person to work with Margaret Mitchell. And while there might not have been a delivery date, they did hound her for the manuscript and rushed it into production with NO EDITING. That's right, it was that perfect when she originally wrote it. Thee wasn't even much copyediting done.

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (audio)

Up next:
Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara
Unexpectedly, Milo by Matthew Dicks
The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Beginnings: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood

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.

Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr.

"Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind has its roots in that Sunday afternoon tradition of visits with the family."

A lot of Ms. Mitchell's interest in and original research into the Civil War was from hearing first-hand accounts of her elders as a child.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Some Luck

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

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres: a heartwarming, deeply engaging new novel-the life and times of an American farm family over three transformative decades-certain to become an instant classic.

On their farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon abide by time-honored values that they pass on to their five wildly different yet equally remarkable children: Frank, the brilliant, stubborn first-born; Joe, whose love of animals makes him the natural heir to his family's land; Lillian, an angelic child who enters a fairy-tale marriage with a man only she will fully know; Henry, the bookworm who's not afraid to be different; and Claire, who earns the highest place in her father's heart. Moving from post-World War I America through the early 1950s, Some Luck gives us an intimate look at this family's triumphs and tragedies, zooming in on the realities of farm life, while casting-as the children grow up and scatter to New York, California, and everywhere in between-a panoramic eye on the monumental changes that marked the first half of the twentieth century. Rich with humor and wisdom, twists and surprises, Some Luck takes us through deeply emotional cycles of births and deaths, passions, and betrayals, displaying Smiley's dazzling virtuosity, compassion, and understanding of human nature and the nature of history, never discounting the role of fate and chance. This potent conjuring of many lives across generations is a stunning tour de force.

Publishing October 7, 2014 by Knopf.