Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ringing in the New Year - End of the 2010 Survey

Jamie over at The Perpetual Pageturner created this awesome end of 2010 Survey about the books we've read and goals and happenings on our blogs for the past year.  Below is my attempt to participate in the survey.  Check out the other bloggers that participated as well!

Best book of 2010? Tough decision but I'm going to say The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Both books were selections by my book club!

Worst book of 2010?  I definitely started a few books (True Confections by Katharine Weber and You Are Not a Gadget by Jason Lanier) and didn't finish them. I picked up an ARC copy of Adam & Eve by Sena Jeter Naslund at an ALA conference and really did not enjoy the book at all.

Most Disappointing Book of 2010? My answer might be a little controversial but I'm going with The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. This book was a book club selection and I had high hopes for it because of the buzz with the series of books.  But this book definitely left me wondering why everyone was raving about it.

Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010? I'm going to go with a recent read and pick A Reliable Wife by Richard Goolrick.  I purchased this book at Politics & Prose (first visit) based on buzz on Twitter and just reading the back of the book. 

Book you recommended to people most in 2010? I definitely recommended my top books of 2010 when asked  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Best series you discovered in 2010? I'm going to go with some historical fiction to answer this question.  I read Barbara Kyle's The King's Daughter & The Queen's Captive as well as Philippa Gregory's new series of books The Red Queen & The White Queen.

Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010?  Sophie Littlefield, Rebecca Skloot, Kathryn Stockett, Daphne Kalotay

Most hilarious read of 2010? I'm going to say Tinsel by Hank Stuever.  I was expecting a book about Christmas celebrations in Texas to have so much humor, but it did.  Definitely stopped to read multiple passages out loud to my fiance.

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010?  Going with a historical fiction book for this question - The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.  It wasn't so much thrilling as I wanted to know how the characters turned out and survived the war and the conditions they were exposed to. Definitely could not put the book down.

Book you most anticipated in 2010? I really hadn't put a specific book on my TBR pile that was coming out in 2010.  Before this year I didn't have certain books that I had to read by a certain time (i.e. book club).  I'm more an organic reader - whatever catches my attention or I hear about.

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? Hands down - Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Most memorable character in 2010? I'm not a character driven reader - meaning I don't have to relate to the character to enjoy the book. Frankie Bard from The Postmistress is one memorable character for me.  I'm not sure if it was because she was a radio journalist (I work for a national radio network) or if it was her courage during the war that makes her memorable for me.

Most beautifully written book in 2010? I read a lot of well written books this year and it's hard to choose one over the other. A lot of the books mentioned already as favorites fit into this category as well.

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010?   A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini because I was finally able to understand the war in Afghanistan and how women are treated there.

Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? Julie & Julia - a more recent book but one that captured folks attention way before me. I liked the book better than the movie.

 Book Blogging in 2010 (optional)

New favorite book blog you discovered in 2010?  I found a lot of new book blogs this year, but a few blogs that stand out for me are Devourer of Books and Medieval Bookworm. Check out my blogroll for other favorites!

Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)? Dewey's Read-A-Thon in the fall was the best event I participated in, especially since I found a lot of new book bloggers to follow. I also started to participate in #fridayreads meme on Twitter which has been a fun way to see what others are reading on a weekly basis.

Best moment of book blogging in 2010? Having authors read your review and thank you for reading their book.  I've had a few authors reach out to me via my blog or Goodreads account.  It's nice to have that interaction with them.

Best bookish discover (book related sites, book stores, etc.) I have to say Politics and Prose bookstore which is literally five blocks from my apartment, but I just went there for the first time a few months ago.  I hope to attend some author events and buy books there more in 2011. 

Review: One Hit Wonder - Charlie Carillo

Full Disclosure: I received this ARC as part of Library Thing's Early Reviewer Giveaway

Eighteen-year-old Mickey DeFalco got dumped by his girlfriend and wrote a plaintive love ballad that became a huge hit. Since then, it's been downhill. Twenty years later, broke and drinking too much, DeFalco moves in with his parents in Queens, toting plenty of baggage: a stash of ill-gotten money and two items busted almost beyond repair, his career and his heart. The onetime teen heartthrob is reduced to mowing lawns for a living; a resurgence of interest in his song, to which he foolishly sold the rights, only rubs salt in his wounds. But when his runaway love resurfaces after a mysterious 20-year absence, secrets and lies come to light, revealing the unpredictability of life. Wry insights and ironic twists of fate mix a bit uneasily with nostalgia in the latest novel from the author of Raising Jake, which scored a more direct hit in exploring the theme of a middle-aged man trying to grow up. This one pounds the same notes a few times too many, but the likable loser hero and old neighborhood vibe make the journey rewarding all the same.  - Publisher's Weekly
All of us wonder what it's like to be a musician with a top song.  At one time or another we've sat around and thought whatever happened to such and such who sang that song?  This book is one take on the life of a singer with one hit.  As a reader you get to know Mickey as a singer and as a person.  He's always got a story for some present day memory.  The author captures small town life well and in a way makes the town Mickey's from another character in the book. 

I do feel the stereotypical pop star was possibly exploited a bit within the book, but overall the book is written well.  Definitely some plot twists I didn't see coming.  Any kid from a small town tries to move on to bigger and better things.  Not everyone is able to and eventually has no choice but to come home and hope life in a small town isn't too bad.  This book highlights how coming back home can help with closure and possibly open up new opportunities.

Review: A Reliable Wife - Richard Goolrick

Set in 1907 Wisconsin, Goolrick's fiction debut (after a memoir, The End of the World as We Know It) gets off to a slow, stylized start, but eventually generates some real suspense. When Catherine Land, who's survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a "reliable wife," she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she's deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway. After the wedding, Catherine helps Ralph search for his estranged son and, despite growing misgivings, begins to poison him with small doses of arsenic. Ralph sickens but doesn't die, and their story unfolds in ways neither they nor the reader expect. This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close. - Publishers Weekly
The back of the book drew me in immediately as well as the first chapters of the book.  I liked the premise - lonely man searches for wife via a classified ad - which isn't as common place today. Although you could say that the classified ad in the local newspaper was the 19th century profile. As I continued to read the book, I was drawn in by the characters and how they interacted with each other.  I guessed one plot twist before it happened, but didn't see how the ending worked out.  The writing definitely transported me to the time period - 19th century Midwest small town and big city. Reading the interview questions with the author afterword helped me understand more of his inspiration and thought process of  bringing together these characters into an intriguing story.  

Review: Don't Sing At the Table - Adriana Trigiani

Full Disclosure: I received an ARC copy of this book from Harper Collins

Fans of novelist Trigiani will be delighted with this guided tour through the author's family history via her grandmothers, Lucia and Viola. She lovingly details the women's lives and recounts the lessons she's learned while offering a fascinating look at U.S. history from the perspective of her Italian-American forebears. Both Lucia and Viola worked hard from an early age, cooking and cleaning among any number of chores, and parlayed their work ethic and expertise into strong careers. Viola started out as a machine operator and, later, co-owned a mill with her husband, while Lucia worked in a factory and then became a seamstress and storefront couturier. Her grandmothers also took pride in passing along wisdom to others; throughout her life, Trigiani benefited from their guidance regarding everything from marriage to money, creativity to religion. She credits them with telling good stories: "I mimicked their work ethic imagining myself in a factory, layering words like tasks until the work was done. I took away more than life lessons from their stories; I made a career out of it." Here, Trigiani combines family and American history, reflections on lives well-lived, and sound advice to excellent effect, as a legacy to her daughter and a remembrance of two inimitable women - Publishers' Weekly
I heard Adriana speak at two library conferences and enjoyed her stories immensely, but I hadn't read any of her books.  Curious to learn more about her and her family, I decided to read this book first.

At first I had a hard time getting into the book and relating to her stories, but as I got further into the book I found a few connections. It turns out her one grandmother grew up & lived 20 minutes north of where I grew up.  Both my grandmothers were at one time in their lives seamstresses just like her grandmothers. Her grandmothers were very independent (in their own way) and strong women.  I can see how Adriana looked up to them and emulates them in her own life.

The first three chapters were written in a different style than the rest of the book.  So much so that I stopped halfway through and went back to the first couple of chapters and made sure I wasn't dreaming it.  I liked the little vignettes around a piece of advice from one of the grandmothers better than just straight prose.  I can see how in order to fill in the reader on her grandmothers' upbringing straight prose worked the best.  Adriana shared how different philosophies she learned from her grandmothers' applied to her own life.  At times I felt the "applications" were forced and didn't flow with the rest of the chapter.  I appreciated the family photos throughout the chapters as well.

The initial story in the afterword was very touching, but I felt the rest of the afterword again didn't "fit" into the tone of the rest of the book. Maybe I had different expectations for this book.  Adriana is a great storyteller, which I knew from the in-person talks I've seen in the past, but I felt the book didn't flow as best as it could have.  I would recommend this book to readers that have looked up to their grandmothers and emulated them in their own life. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review and Giveaway: Room - Emma Donoghue

In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way--he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary. Despite its profoundly disturbing premise, Emma Donoghue's Room is rife with moments of hope and beauty, and the dogged determination to live, even in the most desolate circumstances. A stunning and original novel of survival in captivity, readers who enter Room will leave staggered, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time. - Amazon
Room is another book that I put on my TBR list due to the buzz I saw about it on Twitter.  I initially proposed reading this book as part of my book club, but the parents in the group felt they couldn't handle the subject matter. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the style of the writing.  The capitalization really threw me off.  I thought overall though the book was well written.

I liked how the reader got to see how Jack and his mother adapted within the room where they were kept as well as how they adapted to the real world after escaping.  I felt as a reader I got enough closure about how the characters moved on (or didn't) after their extreme situation was resolved.  

I also liked how the reader got to see how different people, the nurse at the clinic to Jack's grandmother to Jack's uncle, interacted with Jack and his mother after they were released.

Even though this book deals with a sensitive topic, I feel that everyone should read it and have their own reaction.  I'm sure that if I was a parent and reading this book, my reaction would have been different.

I have an extra copy of the book to giveaway.  Fill out the form below for your chance to win a copy of this book! This giveaway is only open to US residents (no P.O. boxes).  I'll pick a winner on January 1, 2011.

Update: Giveaway is closed and a winner has been chosen. Using, Jamie won the book!

Secret Santa Time

I thought it would be fun to participate in some book related Secret Santa activities this year.

I was Secret Santa to Carrie @ nomadreader, a fellow librarian.  I sent her a handcrafted bookmark and History of Love by Nicole Krauss.  I received a wonderful gift package from Julie @ MyBookRetreat which included Room by Emma Donoghue as well a lovely notepad and bookmark.

I'm also participating in LibraryThing's Secret Santa exchange as well.  I haven't received my gifts from that exchange yet, but when I do I will update this post.

2010 Holiday Reading Challenge Wrap Up

All About {n} has been hosting a Holiday Reading Challenge for the past month.  Initially I thought that I would read a few books as a nice break from other reading.

My book club had decided to read Tinsel by Hank Stuever for December, so I knew I would have that book at least.  I thought that I could find a few good choices at my public library, but when I went before Thanksgiving no holiday books were out.  Then I remembered that my mom has read holiday books in the past.  Over Thanksgiving, I borrowed from her 5-6 books that were holiday themed.

I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of holiday books.  I think it is the predictable nature of the plots and sometimes the unrealistic settings.  Even with these misgivings, I was willing to get in the holiday spirit and try to read holiday books again.

The first book I picked up was Santa Cruise by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark.

At the start of the lighthearted fourth yuletide mystery from the bestselling mother-daughter Clarks (after 2004's The Christmas Thief), Randolph Weed, "self-styled commodore," launches his newly refurbished boat, the Royal Mermaid, from Miami with a "Santa Cruise" to raise money for charity and reward 400 "Do-Gooders of the Year." Meanwhile, Weed's greedy nephew, Eric Manchester, has made a secret $2 million deal with escaped felons Bull's-Eye Tony Pinto and Barron Highbridge to keep them hidden aboard the Royal Mermaid until it reaches Fishbowl Island, where they can make trouble out of federal jurisdiction. Fortunately, there are plenty of Do-Gooders to foil the bad guys, notably the mystery mavens of the Oklahoma Readers and Writers group and sleuthing philanthropist Alvirah Meehan. Full of mystery-lite cheer but lacking in style and substance, this collaboration is never quite buoyant enough to really deck the halls for fans of the Clarks' superior solo efforts.- Publishers Weekly
This book was like Love Boat combined with Murder, She Wrote.  The plot was an interesting story but it was easy to see where the authors were going.  A few chapters from the end, the authors told the story from the perspective of a minor character which didn't fit with the tone of the rest of the chapters.

The next book was Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah. 
It's the last day before Christmas vacation, and Joy Faith Candellaro, a Bakersfield, Calif., high school librarian, is still fretting over finding her husband, Thom, in bed with her sister, Stacey. Although divorced nearly three months—and urged by everyone to move on with her life—Joy just isn't joyful. She's trying, though: she buys a Christmas tree and plans to get herself something spectacular to put under it. Too bad that Stacey's waiting in her driveway with a wedding invitation and the news that she's pregnant with Thom's child. Enraged and betrayed, Joy drives off—and ends up at the airport, holding a ticket to Hope, Canada. What will she do when she gets there? Who cares? All she knows is that life has to be better elsewhere. What happens next is Hannah's version of a Christmas ghost story, as Joy encounters a father and son whose own misery gives her a new perspective. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love) fans will enjoy this fare, but from the subtle-as-a-50-pound-fruitcake irony of Joy Faith's name to a plot twist that necessitates hanging disbelief on the mantel alongside the Christmas stockings, it may be a bit too much for the more skeptical to swallow - Publishers Weekly.
What I liked about this book was that the main character was a librarian.  Also there was a decent plot twist between the two parts of the book.  I did think it was a little strange that Joy wasn't hurt more after the initial plane crash.  I felt how Joy found Danny & Bobby at the end was a little far fetched. The ending was good, but the author could have continued the story for a few more chapters to give the reader more feeling of how Joy, Danny & Bobby moved on together.

The final books were two short story collections headlined by Fern Michaels Comfort and Joy and Snow Angels.  I liked the stories by Fern Michaels and Marie Bostwick.  The other stories were okay, but very "fluffy".  I felt at some points that I was reading a Lifetime Movie. 

"Comfort and Joy" by Fern Michaels. Angie and Josh disagree on everything until they face the truth, encouraged by the loving relationship between his father and her mother who have found each other; that they need to look deeper inside each other's heart.

"A High-Kicking Christmas" by Marie Bostwick. Because she broke her foot, Rockettes dancer Kendra agrees to direct a Yuletides play in Maple Grove, Vermont; she never expected to co-star in a personal production with Pastor Andy and his daughter Thea.

"Suzanna's Stockings" by Cathy Lamb. As she lies in a coma, Suzanna's spirit overhears learning things about her family and friends that make her understand what caring truly is.

"Family Blessings" by Deborah J. Wolf. With her mother's mental state rapidly deteriorating from Alzheimer's, Kacey and her family struggle with celebrating Christmas.

"Snow Angels," by Fern Michaels. Following the death of his wife, Olympic skier Max Jorgensen became a recluse; that is until three angels, Grace Landry and her two little girls, seek shelter from a storm.

"The Presents of Angels" by Marie Bostwick. Former Rockettes dancer Kendra Loomis is happy to be pregnant and loves her husband, the town pastor Andy, and her teenage stepdaughter Thea, but she has doubts about Christmas in Maple Grove Vermont rather than Rockefeller Center.

"Decorations" by Jana McMahan. After her husband Randy dumps her, Michelle Duncan starts over caring for her mother in Asheville and working at a Christmas store with no thought of men until she meets her sculptor neighbor Baxter Brow.

"Miracle on Main Street" by Rosalind Noonan. On Christmas Eve NYPD cop Joe Cody works a drug overdose case that depresses him even more than the fact he and his wife Shelia cannot afford much for their kids for the holidays; he wishes for a miracle and gets one as he learns what a true gift is.