Friday, June 29, 2012

Book Review: Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle, narrated by Barrett Whitener

June is National Audiobook Month so I thought I needed to hurry up and finish this audio, which is always a good idea. They don't work as well strung out over weeks and months as when you listen to them in a shorter period of time.

This book was pretty good, but not great. I really liked the middle third that was about the actual fire. The first third, talking about the various workers' rights movements and protests and unionizing was just not as interesting to me. I suppose I should have expected it as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is "the Fire That Changed America," but I don't read books like this to find out the political and social outcomes of disasters. I read them for the disasters themselves. But Triangle was different in that way. As a result of this fire, laws were changed, the enforcement of laws were changed, politics changed, and not just in New York but everywhere. Before this, owners thought doing fire drills would scare the workers and make them anxious. They didn't want to install sprinklers because they cost money, and then they'd have no more excuse for middle-of-the-night, end-of-the-season, overstock fires that hurt no one and paid out insurance money. The insurance industry was able to charge ridiculous amounts and the agents got a cut of those policies so the bigger the better for them. Everyone who could have made changes had a stake in the current way of doing business not changing. That's a classic situation for the government to step in and make people do the right thing. (Also changes to the way insurance policies worked would have eventually done it in a free-market way, but not soon enough apparently, and it's doubtful without additional loss of life.)

But what I enjoyed was the stories of the people. The poor, immigrant workers who were waiting to meet a fiance or chatting with a girlfriend when the fire broke out. I liked hearing their backstories, which there weren't enough of, how they often were the sole support of their families here and also sent money back to family in Europe. Some families lost more than one member in that fire. I wish this had been more extensive. But I geuss there's not as much reason for that level of detailed and painstaking research when you have a trial and reams of sociological data to discuss. Bummer. I think I will stick to tragedies with no good outcomes and also ones less well-known, as those seem to be much more personal and story-driven, which is what I read them for. (If you're looking for some of these, check out The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan, The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, Ship Ablaze by Edward T. O'Donnell, or The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin.) I was glad to have some of the rumors dismissed, such as only 1 door was locked, the the elevators each made 3 trips up to rescue people before the fire so damaged them that they couldn't move anymore. It's a neat story and I think someone more interested in sociology would love this.

This book is a part of the Audiosynced roundup of audio book reviews at Stacked and at Abby the Librarian. They alternate hosting the monthly post.

I bought this book from Audible.com.

I am interviewed!

Please check out Holly Hughes's blog, Holly's Narrative Dream, as today she posted a Q&A with yours truly. It's mostly about editing, so if you're curious about that side of books, be sure to read it. Yay!

Book Beginnings on Friday: Bad Land

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme originally hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages but now 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.

Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban

"Breasting the regular swells of land, on a red dirt road as true as a line of longitude, the car was like a boat at sea."

I like how he overtly uses the usual metaphor of the plains being like the ocean, but subtly also hints at the (hoped for) fertility in "breasting" and "swells" to remind us of breasts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Say Nice Things about Detroit

“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:

Say Nice Things about Detroit by Scott Lasser

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Twenty-five years after his high school graduation, David Halpert returns to a place that most people flee. But David is making his own escape from his divorce and the death of his son. In Detroit, David learns about the double shooting of his high school girlfriend Natalie and her black half-brother, Dirk. As David becomes involved with Natalie s sister, he will discover that both he and his hometown have reasons to hope.

As compelling an urban portrait as The Wire, and a touching love story, Say Nice Things About Detroit takes place in a racially polarized, economically collapsing city that doesn't seem like a place for rebirth. But as David tries to make sense of the mystery behind Natalie s death and puts back the pieces of his own life, he is forced to answer a simple question: if you want to go home again, what do you do if home is Detroit?

Publishing July 2, 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Bad Land

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

Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban p. 56

"The cattle ranchers, who had lorded it over the plains, like the wealthy foxhunters with their parks and fake castles in Goldsmith's poem, were being fenced out by the laboring swains. The ideal village was being reborn, the land restored to the virtuous cultivators of the earth."

Does it perhaps sound too good to be true? Especially if you know that he's talking about Montana and South Dakota?

Monday, June 25, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books

Books completed last week:
The Fatal Shore: The Epic Of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes
Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle (audio)

Up Next:
Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine
One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Book Review: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

When this book first came out, a kid being forced - and enjoying - to enjoy Shakespeare, I was intrigued. And when I started reading it, I was very happy to find it was also quite funny!

Holling Hoodhood is the only kid in his seventh grade class who doesn't go either to Hebrew School nor to the Catholic church for Catechism on Wednesday afternoons. That means he has to spend the afternoon with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, and he's convinced she hates him. She proves it by assigning him to read Shakespeare plays, although after reading The Tempest, Holling thinks her evil plan has backfired because she can't have known about all the cursing and violence in the play, and Holling liked it. Over the course of the year, Holling gets to like Shakespeare, acts in a play, and deals with multiple complications of being in seventh grade (escaped classroom rats, death threats from a friend's older brother, and diagramming sentences.) Meanwhile at home his ambitious father's architectural business comes ahead of everything else, his older sister's liberal politics are causing dinnertime to be tense, and he's not sure if Meryl Lee likes him or not.

I loved the relationship between Holling and Mrs. Baker. The year is 1967 and her husband is off fighting in Vietnam. In fact from some clues in the book, I think she's about 31 years old. She's always proper, no one really knows how stressed and worried she is although there are clues to that regard, too. I loved that Mrs Baker is a very three-dimensional. In fact, I couldn't think of any other children's book with such a well-drawn teacher character. Mrs. Baker obviously sees potential in Holling, and she also sees some of the issues he's facing (a self-absorbed father, no one at home particularly paying attention to him) and she steps in from time to time to help out. But not in a way that makes him feel badly or makes him open to ridicule.

Throughout the school year Holling grows and starts to understand himself and the world a little more. The Shakespeare plays help him with understand everything from love to power to magic. Mrs. Baker actually becomes a friend although he doesn't quite realize it. It one point, he was shocked to realize that teachers have lives outside of the classroom. In fact, the lunch room lady, janitor, and principal all become characters in Holling's life, and all help him with growing up. Holling is a good kid, smart, well-meaning, and funny. I really enjoyed spending time with him. I'm going to keep an eye out for Okay for Now too, about one of Holling's friends.

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

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Beginnings on Friday: Triangle

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme originally hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages but now 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.

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle

"Burglary was the usual occupation of Lawrence Ferrone, also known as Charles Rose."

This is an odd beginning for a book about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, but the author is setting up the background about the conditions of work at the time, including that the factory owners would hire gangsters to beat up strikers, in this instance a particular instigator and organizer named Clara Lemlich.

Book Review: The Fatal Shore: The Epic Of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes

On my first attempt at reading this book, I made it to p. 185. This really isn't a beach read, I discovered. Luckily on this, my second try, I did finish. I did enjoy it and learned a lot, but I can't be quite as effusive with my praise as the quotes on the cover. It is fascinating and well-researched but it's also dry and academic.

Everyone probably knows that Australia was founded as a penal colony. I didn't realize (although the timing should have been a clue) that it was largely because America revolted and thanks to declaring ourselves our own country, England couldn't ship convicts here anymore. (Did you know they used to do that? Some were sold to Southern states as slaves!) So, starting in 1787, they began to ship felons to Australia. While Australia had been discovered by Cook almost 20 years earlier, no one had made the long and daunting trip back in the meantime, so there was completely nothing there when the prisoners arrived, aside from the Aboriginals and bizarre native animals. The first groups had a very tough go at it, nearly starving to death while trying to eke out some crops and build shelter in a particularly inhospitable land. Later shipments went to Norfolk Island, which is a few thousand miles off the Eastern coast, and Tasmania (then called Van Diemen's Land) as well as to Sydney itself. The majority of the prisoners were basically rented out to settlers for very cheap labor (only had to provide room and board), without which it's not all that likely that Australia would have been settled. Many different magistrates and governors had different theories of punishment and rehabilitation which ran the gamut from daily torture to coddling, with  predictable results (the nice guys had much better outcomes than the martinets.)

This heritage has let Australia, and particularly Tasmania, with an unusual heritage and social strata. Descendants of convicts were in fact very, very law abiding (combo of rebelling against their parents and wanting to prove that genetics aren't a factor in criminality), but they were shunned nonetheless by immigrants who came freely, and looked down upon. There was no history of Australia that included the penal aspects until the mid-20th century. At the same time, today there are parts of Australia that are proud of their rough and tumble background, perhaps having learned that if you take pride in what others consider a flaw, it's harder to be made to feel badly.

The book goes into the relationship between the British people and the aboriginals (bad), what happened when criminals tried to escape (they died), how an economy did form (sheep), and how the settlers started to rebel against England sending their criminals there. Reformers like Jeremy Bentham had railed for decades against transportation and in favor of modern prisons, and eventually they were heard (also when it became more cost effective.) There were economics issues when transportation ended, due to the drop-off in free labor, but Australians dealt with it (after all, that didn't mean there suddenly were no more prisoners in Australia - many men had to serve out sentences of 7-14 years if not life, so there remained convict labor for decades, if dwindling.)

There was a tad too much research for me - I didn't need to see a quote from every known letter from the penal colony and the songs really didn't make much of an impression on me. But it was certainly thorough and therefore you believe everything Mr. Hughes wrote, even if it's a little overwhelming at times. I was more interested in stories of individual convicts (or prison wardens) than the more sweeping sociological implications, but you do get both. I am going to South Australia which is one of the few states that never had convicts (Victoria also didn't but was the closest land to Tasmania so ended up with a lot of recently-released convicts.) Sadly, there are few historical remnants of that era, even though it wasn't that long ago. It's understandable that no one saw a reason to preserve a heritage they saw as a blemish on society, but it is the history, and no amount of denial will change that, so it's excellent that Mr. Hughes did such a great job preserving the knowledge of this misguided plan. And it's amazing that Australians turned out to be such an incredibly nice bunch of people.

I have no idea where I got this book, having owned it for more than 10 years. It's possible my father gave it to me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Bellwether Revivals

“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:

Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Part Secret History, part Brideshead Revisited for the 21st century, The Bellwether Revivals is a page-turning, romantic, eerie tale of genius and, possibly, madness; a stunning debut for fans of Sarah Waters, Donna Tartt, and Lauren Goff.

The Bellwether Revivals opens and closes with bodies. The story of whose bodies and how they come to be spread about an elegant house on the river near Cambridge is told by Oscar, a young, bright working class man who has fallen in love with an upper-class Cambridge student, Iris, and thereby become entangled with a group of close friends, led by Iris's charismatic, brilliant, possibly dangerous brother. For Eden Bellwether believes he can heal -- and perhaps more -- through the power of music.

In this masterful debut, we too are seduced by this gilded group of young people, entranced by Eden's powerful personality and his obvious talent as a musician, and caught off guard by the strangeness of Iris and Eden's parents. And we find ourselves utterly unsure as to whether Eden Bellweather is a saviour or a villain, and whether Oscar will be able to solve this mystery in time to save himself, if not everyone else.

Publishing June 28, 2012 by Viking.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Book Review: Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

I really don't read celebrity bios very often at all. In fact the last one I read was Mary Tyler Moore's Growing Up Again in 2009. But I've really enjoyed Rob Lowe on Parks & Recreation and I loved him way back when in St. Elmo's Fire, and I heard really great things about the book. My BF wanted to read it too so it was the perfect thing to bring on a recent trip as we didn't need to both bring a book to read - the one would work for us both.

Did he write it himself? Well no ghostwriter appears on the book, and if that's true, kudos to Mr. Lowe! I really enjoyed it and think he's an excellent writer. That said, he does have one writing tic (everyone does, it's not necessarily a flaw), which is when he meets someone and it's going to be a big, famous name now, but at the time it wasn't or in the way they met it wasn't expected, he'll often give you the whole entire scene before he tells you, "that was Darryl Hannah" or whoever it turns out to be. It's actually a good way to build anticipation and keep readers turning pages, and in any other book I likely wouldn't have noticed it because it only would have happened once or twice. But if you're Rob Lowe, you don't meet people like Tom Cruise, JFK Jr., and Princess Stephanie of Monaco once in a lifetime - you meet these sorts of people all the time and you play baseball with them, hit on girls with them, or date them (respectively.) The name-dropping didn't at all feel gratuitous though - Rob seems to truly be awed by many of these people (at least the ones who were already famous when he met them) and constantly, to this day, surprised by his own good fortune and the circles he runs in. His self-deprecation and humility suit him very well.

Yes, he does talk about the videotape and about drinking and partying to much and about getting sober, but he doesn't dwell on any of that (especially the video - he assumes you already now about it.) He's very positive, while also being honest about a not-great upbringing with a multiple-divorced mother who became a hypochondriac and a bit paranoiac, although her loves her dearly and thinks she was a great mom. But that doesn't mean he doesn't tell you about the bad things. But he moves on. Being a people-pleaser, and a generally upbeat midwesterner, he's never been one to wallow. And somewhat ironically, a lot of those same traits are what led to his alcoholism. He doesn't get into the details there either, and although he tells you it's largely due to suppressing feeling about things like his parents' divorce, he doesn't give you the nitty-gritty details. While some people might feel miffed that he's glossed over a lot of the juicy gossip, I admire him for not laying it all out on the table as so many in Hollywood do these days. Lowe is certainly not in the TMI camp.

He's led an interesting life filled with fascinating people and he writes very well about it. I've been lucky that the handful of celebrity bios I've read have been great so it's a little surprising that I don't read more, but I don't think most celebrities have interesting lives, aside from self-inflicted drama which I don't find remotely interesting. Rob Lowe is a wonderful exception.

I borrowed this book from my boyfriend.

Teaser Tuesdays: Stories I Only Tell My Friends

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!

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe p. 28

"The effect famous people can have on other people's lives is not to be underestimated. They can inspire us with their talent; make us feel like kings with their kindness, with a hello, a handshake, or an autograph."

Well that's certainly a great lesson for a future famous person to learn at a young age!  Can you guess which celebrity inspired this gushing remembrance? None other than Liza Minelli! He just went to her hotel room door and knocked on it, and she let him in and talked to him! He was eleven years old.

Monday, June 18, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed:
All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Story of Surprising Second Chances by Amy Dickinson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Fatal Shore: The Epic Of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle (audio)

Up next:
Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler
Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol

Friday, June 15, 2012

Liking Authors and Liking Books?

A few days ago my BF and I were discussing books, and the topic came up: can you like a book by an author you don't like? We were discussing finding out the political leanings of an author you liked, but who you now disagree with. I said I can for the most part, with a couple of exceptions. And the exceptions are authors who I haven't read (and plan not to), but I find them in the media to be pompous, arrogant jerks (and actually one of them I found to be this way in person more than once, so it's not necessarily media spin that creates that impression.) Actually, I suspect the two authors I don't like for their personality, I would agree with their politics. Unless an author's distasteful politics infuse their books, I don't think it would affect me. (Should I tell you who they are?)

I told him that a friend of mine, E, can't like an author anymore if she finds out what he/she looks like and he/she doesn't look like what E thought they should. It's not even if she finds them physically unattractive - just if they don't match her mental picture. Therefore (as you can imagine) she avoids author events and interviews like the plague. Several of once-favorite authors, she now can't tolerate.

He thinks he wouldn't like an author anymore if he heard them saying stupid things on The Daily Show, and it would color his reading of their books too much for them to be enjoyable. I wonder if everyone who reads Newt Gingrich's civil war novels agrees with his politics? What do you think? Does an author's personal (or political) life affect if you like his/her novels? (Obviously it would matter for nonfiction.) Can you ignore the author as a person and simply like the book?

Jonathan Franzen and Zadie Smith are the two authors I can't stand personally.

Book Beginnings: All Roads Lead to Austen

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme originally hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages but now 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.

All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith

"Jane Austen just won't stay on the page."

Which is good for Amy, because she's traveling all around South and Central America with Jane!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Book review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

I'd been seeing this series mentioned a lot in the last year or so, but I'm not a big mystery reader, so it didn't make it on my list until I saw it mentioned on a list of books that "Downton Abbey" fans ought to read, as it's set in the same era (partly, it's actually largely set in 1929 with flashbacks to the early 1910s). That, combined by a personal recommendation, put it on my radar.

Maisie is a great character. Excessively smart, she gets up very early before the rest of the household, to read in the library for a couple of hours, before she has to start her day as a maid in the house. One day she is busted by the Lord and Lady who actually hadn't yet come home from their evening out, and Lady Rowan takes Maisie's education in hand, partnering with her friend Maurice Blanche to be sure Maisie's learning properly. By 16, she takes the entrance exam for Cambridge and passes. While at school, she makes an eccentric friend, Priscilla, who introduces her to a handsome young doctor, Simon, and inspires her to do something for the Great War.

In 1929, Maisie has finished her apprenticeship with Maurice and embarks on her own, setting up shop as a private investigator. A gentleman suspects his wife of an affair, and Maisie discovers it isn't at all what he thinks but the investigation opens a door to a suspect home for crippled veterans. Lady Rowan's son wants to join this unusual and mysterious group, including signing over all his money to them, so Maisie has two reasons to find out more about The Retreat. Along the way she recalls images and feelings from the past that bring her affair with Simon back to her, and we learn some of the privations and horrors Maisie experienced as a field nurse in France.

Maisie solves the mystery with help from Maurice and Billy, a friendly neighbor and fellow vet, and all is well. Except that you know all isn't well with Maisie. She's not fully recovered from France, from the loss of Simon, and she's investigating in order to be able to put things right, since there are important things in her own life which cannot be righted.

Maisie is from the lower classes (her father is a vegetable seller, turned into a horse groom), but with her smarts and education she manages both to fit in everywhere, and no where. She has a distinctive voice, and in the scenes when she is much younger, the voice very believably is more naive. Maisie's common sense and her devotion to Maurice's lessons, as well as to her beloved Dad, make her an endearing and well-rounded character. I truly enjoyed spending time with her, and looked for the sequel at the library today (checked out.) I hope to be spending more time with Miss Maisie Dobbs in the future.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Story of Surprising Second Chances by Amy Dickinson

I have thoroughly enjoyed Amy Dickinson for years on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and I do read her advice column, so I've had my eye on her memoir since it came out, and it was a lovely little diversion.

The book is pitched as how, after Amy's divorce, her hometown of Freeville, NY helped her recover and helped her raise her daughter. I think that's not quite right. Yes, Amy and Emily frequently go to Freeville for the summer, especially after Amy buys a tiny house there, very near the rest of her family, but it's really about how Amy herself gets over the trauma and gets on with her life and bringing up Emily. And that's nothing to dismiss. Yes, Amy has a lot of familial support, and yes, she would have had a very rough time without them to lean on, but I always feel that Amy is strong enough that she could have gone it on her own if she had to. She's very much a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of gal. In fact, I think Amy doesn't give herself enough credit.

Not only does she manage to move overseas sans husband, with a baby and without a job, she then relocates to D.C. and gets by until she gets a great job. She talks about "failing up," such as when she was offered a great job and turned it down - and then they turned around and offered her an even better job. I don't see that as that she failed at something and then lucked into an even better thing - I think she showed that she had a backbone, that she had values (the first job didn't suit her needs with her daughter), and that she had worth. And I think that's why the got the better job, because she showed that she deserved it, not because she failed and then had good luck. That is self-deprecating to a point where it's turning a positive into a negative, which makes me a little sad. Amy's always very nice and kind, and I think she gives others perhaps too much credit, and herself not too much. Which likely is one reason so many people like her.

The book is charming, Emily is adorable and turns out well, Amy's family is wonderfully supportive, and her father adds some quirk and meeting him helps explain a bit about her upbringing (boy, were her parents an odd match! I wish she'd explain how they got together.) It's uplifting, positive, and was a fun read.

I bought this at a Borders GOOB sale.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Good Dream

“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 Good Dream by Donna VanLiere

synopsis from Goodreads:
From the New York Times bestselling author comes a poignant, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting novel about an unlikely path to motherhood, and of two lost souls healing each other

1950 Tennessee, a time and place that straddles the past and present. Ivorie Walker is considered an old maid by the town (though she’s only in her early thirties) and she takes that label with good humor and a grain of salt. Ever since her parents passed away, she has hidden her loneliness behind a fierce independence and a claim of not needing anyone. But her mother’s death hit her harder than anyone suspects and Ivorie wonders if she will be alone forever.

When she realizes that someone has been stealing vegetables from her garden—a feral, dirty-faced boy who disappears into the hills—something about him haunts Ivorie. She can’t imagine what would make him desperate enough to steal and eat from her garden. But what she truly can’t imagine is what the boy faces, each day and night, in the filthy lean-to hut miles up in the hills. Who is he? How did he come to live in the hills? Where did he come from? And, more importantly, can she save him? As Ivorie steps out of her comfort zone to uncover the answers, she unleashes a firestorm in the town—a community that would rather let secrets stay secret.

Publishing July 3, 2012 by St. Martin's Press.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review: All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith

I admit I am a card-carrying member of JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America) and as an avowed memoir addict, this book just screamed at me! Not to mention, I am starting my summer travels, so a book about extensive traveling also was super-appealing. Luckily, Ms. Smith totally came through.

Amy is an English professor in California, interested in South and Central America, and a lover of Jane Austen. She has a sabbatical year and decides to spend it traveling south of the border, toting America's favorite Austen novels, with the goal to get discussion groups going in all six countries to see if Latina/os will feel the same connection to Jane's heroines that we do. She goes to Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina, and brings along Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility, discussing each book in two countries. Along the way she drastically improves her Spanish-language skills, meets many varied and interesting people, gets a wide variety of opinions on Austen, and in true Austen fashion, falls in love.

This book really spoke to the English major in me, bringing up topics about Austen's books (feminism, class, is Marianne and Colonel Brandon's marriage a cop-out? is Jane Fairfax the real heroine of Emma? is Mr. Bingley too much of a boring dolt, even for Jane?) that I'd never thought of, and while I'd already been planning to reread an Austen this year, this book really inspires me to do that. I really want to reread, not just one but all (well, maybe not Mansfield Park) which probably won't happen all this year but I can get started!

I wasn't sure how the travelling around Latin America would go for me - while I do love to travel, being mono-lingual, Latin America scares me. But Amy has all great experiences! In fact, I'm tempted to move Latin America up on my itinerary, although not in the immersive sort of way Amy did it (still monolingual after all, and not likely to change.) I thoroughly enjoyed it!

I got this book for free from the publisher, although not with the expectation that I would review it.

Teaser Tuesdays: Triangle

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!

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle p. 4

So-called detective agencies were constantly looking for strikebreaking contracts from worried bosses in shops where there was unrest. One typical firm, the Greater New York Detective Agency, sent letters to the leading shirtwaist factory owners in the summer of 1909, promising to "furnish trained detectives to guard life and property, and, if necessary, furnish help of all kinds, both male and female, for all trades." 

It was a dangerous time to be a striker, but the working conditions were so dangerous, it was also dangerous not to strike for better conditions and pay.

Monday, June 11, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
True North: A Memoir by Jill Ker Conway
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle (audio)
The Fatal Shore: The Epic Of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes

Up next:
Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time by Michael Perry
All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith
The Group by Mary McCarthy

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Book Review: The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

This is one children's classic that I remember seeing on various summer reading lists as a child... and skipping. I don't know why exactly, but Egypt just didn't appeal to me. Now, I have filled this gap in my children's lit knowledge!

April has moved in with her grandmother Caroline, after her mother in Hollywood has gone on tour. April is convinced she'll be rejoining her mother soon, but she does make friends with Melanie in Caroline's apartment building. April and Melanie, along with Melanie's little brother Marshall, find an abandoned backyard with a storage shed, behind an antique store, where they start to play their "Egypt game." Later they are joined by Elizabeth, another new neighbor in the building and eventually two boys, Ken and Toby. Making costumes and alters and rituals, the kids actually did a lot of research at the library for their game, and learned a lot without exactly realizing it. April comes to accept that she's going to stay with Caroline and this motley group of 6 multicultural children (African-American, white, Korean, Chinese) has a great deal of fun. Naturally, that can't be all to the story and there's a very scary climax which I saw coming from miles away. I don't necessarily think kids will find the foreshadowing quite as blatant as they'll likely be more engrossed in the other storylines.

The characters are well drawn, especially April and Marshall, who by far have the most personality. I love the idea of a book showing kids how much fun simply using your imagination can be. And while the book was written in the '60s, I noticed nothing at all to date it, except perhaps a lack of cell phones, but I don't know if written today if cell phones would have come up in the story either, so it's very much a non-issue. The climax might be terrifying for particularly delicate and scaredy-cat kids, but otherwise I'd recommend it for all middle readers as a fun and exciting book.

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

I bought this book at a used bookstore.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Beginnings on Friday: True North

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme originally hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages but now 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.

 True North: A Memoir by Jill Ker Conway

"Within hours of my arrival in September 1960, New York astonished and delighted me."

I'd say that's a pretty universal feeling about New York, but Jill in particular was greeted by a hurricane, which she'd never experienced before in Australia.

Yay, the Oprah Book Club lives!

Are you as excited about the return of the Oprah Book Club as I am? I know that among the literary, it's cool to hate on Oprah (I'm looking at you,Jonathan Franzen) but I think it's one of the very best things (if not THE best) that's happened to book publishing in the last twenty years.

When she started back in 1997, I was working at Bookstar (a B&N), and the first month we had no idea what was going on when suddenly dozens of dazed-looking people started wandering in and asking about a hardcover novel that was almost a year old. Even two and three books later, it was still startling each month (this was before the pre-shipping) when the mob of people would all start asking about the same book. But the best thing about it (and the reason these people looked so dazed) was that at least half of them would say things like "I haven't been in a bookstore in twenty years," or "I haven't read a book in thirty years." Those of us who were working for peanuts just for the privilege of spending our days and nights surrounded by books (and the employee discount!) choked back our sobs and thanked Oprah vociferously for getting people reading again!

Some of these people truly got hooked.  They'd read one, then the next, then they'd read one just right after she'd announced it... and they'd have a month to wait for the next assignment. And sometimes they'd come in the store and say, "I really liked Stones from the River, can you tel me what else I can read that's like that?" And we'd start talking to them. Ursula Hegi has several other books, we'd mention, were you looking for something particularly related to the holocaust? Did you also like the Ruth Hamilton book? And we'd direct our new reader to other books we thought she'd like, and we might have just helped make an entirely new reader. Oprah didn't just get people reading better books - she completely and single-handedly expanded the book-buying populace dramatically!

When snooty people scoff at Oprah books as being lightweight or fluffy, I usually start off my asking, "Well, have you read The Reader by Berndard Schlink? Well, it's translated from the German..." and I wouldn't even usually have to finish my sentence as that clause alone will make most snob's jaw drop in shock. Although that completely undeserved reputation continued for years, even as she assigned Dickens and Faukner (in my opinion, it was Faulkner, not Franzen, who killed the first iteration of the book club. Faulkner is barely understood by academics - and not because of his brilliance in my opinion but his opaqueness - and really shouldn't be foisted on anyone at all, including unwilling college students.)

Later, when I worked at Ingram Book Group, every month when we found out which publisher had the new Oprah book, my coworker Jason would try to figure out what the book was. When it was my month, it was pretty easy since Avon Books didn't publish many books that were of the right type (most of them WERE fluffy), but he had a remarkable track record for at least two years. (All we knew was the price, if it was hardcover or paperback, and the publisher.) We all appreciated the Oprah book club for the phenomenon that it was. At St. Martin's, when my department had a book that came very, very close to being picked but wasn't, it was heartbreaking (that's when I found out that with each selection, Oprah would actually pick 2-3 books as possibilities and her people would notify the publishers so they'd have enough time to get everything in place, but then we got the call that went "Sorry..." instead of "Start the presses!" Sad day.)

I am thrilled she's starting the book club back! I already has Wild on my to read list after a childhood friend had given it a raving review on Facebook a few weeks ago, and now I'll be sure to read it to help show the success of the 2.0 book club, so she'll keep doing it. I might even finally figure out if I get the OWN channel on my cable lineup!

Thank you Oprah. I'm glad you're back.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Review: True North: A Memoir by Jill Ker Conway

At first I was disappointed that this book didn't take place in Australia.  Ms. Conway's  first memoir, The Road from Coorain, is one of the truly classic, essentials of Australian literature and takes us from Jill's childhood growing up on a station (ranch) in the bush (outback), to her move to Sydney and her struggles in the 1950s to get the education she so desperately craves. I knew this book started with her heading to Boston for graduate school, but I didn't realize she's only return to Australia once, 8 years later, to show the country to her husband. Alas.

But an interesting thing is that I still learned a lot about Australia, reading this book. Because Ms. Conway is constantly comparing America to Australia, we learn about Australia by default. She starts by being quite surprised at how nice Americans are (not just Americans, but a New York cabdriver no less!) and then is impressed by our quick decisiveness, and how America is more openminded than Australia (although it is still the '60s.) The rigid gender lines she tired of fighting in Sydney are already starting to loosen in Boston, although they still chafed (one woman friend won an award for the best dissertation in the English department. Three of her male colleagues were asked to stay on at Harvard as instructors but she was not.)  Also in Australia, a high premium is put on being proper and polite - to the extent that if one is smart, one does everything possible to hide that so as to not make anyone else uncomfortable. But in America, where we all are constantly striving to better ourselves, no one is ashamed of their intellect. She can never quite wrap her mind around our "pursuit of happiness," and I was very amused by how she found buildings in Boston "so old" (only an Australian could get away with that description!)

Then she moves to Canada with her husband (his home country) and gets tenure at the University of Toronto. The second half of this book is very, very much about academia, and not even in the David Lodge/Richard Russo sort of way , but about sexual discrimination, the petty jealousy of professors with lesser enrollments, and the responsibilities that come with being appointed the first female Vice-President at the school. Having grown up practically on a college campus with a professor for a father, it all rang very true, but none of that is terribly interesting except to the people directly involved. So the second half of the book bogged down a bit.  At the very end it gets interesting again as she's offered the job of President of Smith College and has to decide if she'll take it (you already know the answer if you read even the briefest bio of the author.) But meanwhile there's a lot of talk of meetings, graduate students, and whether they have to leave Canada to get a good education. Oh, and how winters in Canada really aren't that bad (I didn't believe her.)

Ms. Conway has a very interesting style in which the entire book is passive and she tells, not shows, us everything. It's written in the opposite styles of what everyone recommends today, but it works for her. The parts where more was going on were certainly more interesting, I think proving that passivity isn't the way to go, but it was fascinating to see that in the hands of a master writer, even the most basic rules of writing can be tossed out the window. I did enjoy the book but it had its flaws and I think people less interested in academia would have a harder go at it.

I acquired this book around ten years ago in New York, but I don't remember how. From the yellow color of the pages, I suspect I bought it used but I truly don't know.

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Receptionist by Janet Groth

“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 Receptionist by Janet Groth

synopsis from the publisher's website:

Thanks to a successful interview with the painfully shy E.B. White, a beautiful, 19-year-old, blue-eyed blonde from the cornfields of Iowa lands a job as a receptionist at "The New Yorker" magazine. There she stays two decades, becoming general all-around factotum--watching and registering the comings and goings, marriages and divorces, scandalous affairs, failures, triumphs, and tragedies of the eccentric inhabitants of the 18th floor.

Though she dreamed of becoming a writer, she never advanced at the magazine. This memoir of a particular time and place is as much about why that was so as it is about Groth's fascinating relationships with John Berryman, Joseph Mitchell, Muriel Spark, as well as E.J. Kahn, Calvin Trillin, Renata Adler, Peter DeVries, Charles Addams, and many other "New Yorker" contributors and bohemian denizens of Greenwich Village in its heyday. Eventually, Groth would have to leave "The New Yorker" in order to find herself.

Publishing June 26, 2012 by Algonquin Books.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: True North

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!
True North: A Memoir by Jill Ker Conway p. 17

"They were all so curious about me, asking direct yet compassionate questions about who I was and what I was looking for in life. I was accustomed to my mask and obliged for the first time to ask myself the same questions before I could answer my new companions."

It's nice for once to read a book about a foreigner (Australian) coming to the United States and actually finding Americans nice instead of crass and boorish, our usual reputation. 

Interview with YA author Mariah Fredericks

As regular readers of my blog may have noticed, I don't host author interviews, however, I have made an exception for Mariah Fredericks, the wonderful author of young adult novel, The Girl in the Park, which I reviewed here. I didn't ask a lot of questions about her inspiration for the story as she has covered that well on her own blog here (it has a very cool backstory as it's inspired by a real murder and by an issue Mariah herself grew up with and has dealt with personally.)

Caroline Bookbinder: As an author of Young Adult novels, do you feel any pressure these days to add supernatural elements to your novel?
Mariah Fredericks: Certainly between paranormal and dystopia, it seems like readers are in the mood for grand stories with high stakes. My natural bent is towards realistic fiction. I don't have the gifts of physical description I think you need to pull off paranormal or alternate worlds. And if you follow a trend, it's pretty much guaranteed that the trend will have passed by the time you try to jump on the bandwagon. Interestingly, my next book is Season of the Witch, the story of two girls who decide to combat a bullying situation by casting spells. But the "witchcraft" is all psychological. It's really a look at a time in your life when emotions get out of control and do serious damage.

CB: What do you think about that trend?
MF: Before paranormal, it was all about best friends and relationships. Now readers have moved on to more dramatic stories. The potential for forbidden romance is greater with paranormal and I think that's a big part of its appeal.

CB: Murder mystery isn't a genre we see tackled very often in YA - what inspired you to go that route?
MF: I think it's not often tackled in YA because we don't like to think about young people dying—or killing. But sadly, with school shootings, we see that homicide is a part of the teen experience in America. But there have been so many teen shooting novels, I didn't think I had anything to add to that story.

CB: Your past books haven't been inspired by real events but this one was - why did you decide to go that route? Did you find yourself restrained by the facts of the original murder at all?
MF: The Jennifer Levin murder has stayed in my mind for many reasons. We were about the same age, lived in the same city, and we both went to private schools. Since I wrote the book, I've been amazed at the number of people I know who have told me they have some connection to Jennifer or Robert Chambers. At the time, I had a very definite view of Jennifer as this rich spoiled party girl. I didn't realize until later that that was exactly the image I'd been given by Chambers's lawyers through the media. I always remember that I got that story very wrong. I didn't feel constrained by the facts of the murder, so much as I felt it was really important that everyone, even the murderer, was seen as a full, complex human being. To the best of my ability, anyway.

CB: Do you have a basset hound in every one of your books?
MF: No! Sadly. Ziggy, the basset hound who is in my author photo, passed away last November.

CB: We've probably all had a friendship go south, like Rain's and Wendy's. Why do you think that topic isn't tackled more in YA literature?
MF: I wrote about a troubled friendship in The True Meaning of Cleavage. By the end of that book, I was very tempted to not have the friendship survive. I felt it would be more realistic. But in the end, they're still best friends. I'm still friends with the woman who was my best friend in high school. They're very important relationships, which is maybe why we don't like to see them go down the tubes.

CB: Are you working on another book? Can you tell us anything about it?
MF: I'm currently revising my next book for Schwartz and Wade. It's tentatively called Season of the Witch and it's about—yep!—two friends who fight back against bullies by using a form of psychological warfare they call witchcraft. But evil energy, once released, is very hard to control, and all sorts of problems arise.

CB: You started off by writing books for adults but have switched to teens - what is it about YA novels that appeals to you so much?
MF: I find the teen situation so sympathetic. I really feel for kids. They don't have full control over their lives. They're at the mercy of so many powers—parents, emotions, school. By the time you're an adult, you've figured out what situations are safe and which are not good for you. Kids engage with everything. That makes them very compelling subjects.

CB: Who are some of your favorite authors? What books have shaped you as a reader and writer, from childhood to the present?
MF: Oh, boy. Big question! I loved Eloise and Harriet the Spy as a kid—very different role models, but both city kids. Like nearly every YA author, I was heavily influenced by Judy Blume. Also Paula Danziger, Norma Klein, and Paul Zindel. I still think The Chocolate War is one of the best books ever written. I also went to a lot of theater as a kid; dialogue plays a strong part in my stories. Now I love writers like Margaret Atwood, Fay Weldon, and Tony Horowitz. I'm reading the new Hilary Mantel and loving it.

CB: What is the best part about being a published author? The worst?
MF: The best part is that I get to do something I truly love—write and think about human problems—for a living. There is no real "worst" except that publishing is always an uncertain business, so you don't necessarily have a whole lot of security.

CB: What does a typical writing day look like for you?
MF: I get my son to school, come back, have coffee, read the paper and get to work. My best work is usually done by about one. I try to work an hour in for keeping in touch with readers online.

CB: If you weren't a writer what would you do?
MF: I used to work for Book of the Month Club, writing articles about other people's books. I worked with terrific people and got to read books for a living. That was the second best job I ever had.

The Girl in the Park is in stores now (hardcover). Mariah Fredericks's other YA novels include:

In the Cards : Life
In the Cards: Fame
In the Cards: Love
Crunch Time
Head Games
The True Meaning of Cleavage