Tuesday, January 31, 2012

CBR4 #6 Save Me - Lisa Scottoline

Rose McKenna volunteers as a lunch mom in her daughter Melly’s school in order to keep an eye on Amanda, a mean girl who’s been bullying her daughter. Her fears come true when the bullying begins, sending Melly to the bathroom in tears. Just as Rose is about to follow after her daughter, a massive explosion goes off in the kitchen, sending the room into chaos. Rose finds herself faced with the horrifying decision of whether or not to run to the bathroom to rescue her daughter or usher Amanda to safety. She believes she has accomplished both, only to discover that Amanda, for an unknown reason, ran back into the school once out of Rose's sight. In an instance, Rose goes from hero to villain as the small community blames Amanda’s injuries on her. In the days that follow, Rose's life starts to fall to pieces, Amanda’s mother decides to sue, her marriage is put to the test, and worse, when her daughter returns to school, the bullying only intensifies. Rose must take matters into her own hands and get down to the truth of what really happened that fateful day in order to save herself, her marriage and her family
I've been a big fan of Lisa Scottoline since she writes her books in the Philadelphia area where I grew up.  I had a chance to hear her speak at a library conference a few years ago and I was entranced by her easy going manner and humor.

While I'm not a mother of any children, I have taken care of children in different capacities over the years.  Lisa tackles everyone's worst nightmare of having to decide whom to save in an emergency - someone you love or someone else.  I was intrigued by the book's premise from the first chapter and as the mystery continued to unwind I couldn't wait to figure out what happened.

I felt the backstory of Rose's past was not needed and seemed to just fit into the expected mold of an innocent mom having a dark past.  Some of the plot twists at the end were a little far fetched and it was a tad hard to believe that Rose could put together all the pieces herself.  I was touched to see the relationship between Melly and her gifted teacher.  It was also nice to see Melly and Amanda becoming closer friends at the end of the book. 

CBR4 #5 The Innocent - Taylor Stevens

Eight years ago, a man walked five-year-old Hannah out the front doors of her school and spirited her over the Mexican border, taking her into the world of a cult known as The Chosen. For eight years, followers of The Prophet have hidden the child, moving her from country to country, shielding the man who stole her. Now, those who’ve searched the longest know where to find her. They are childhood survivors of The Chosen, thirty-somethings born and raised inside the cult who’ve managed to make lives for themselves on the outside. They understand the mindset, the culture within that world, and turn to Vanessa Michael Munroe for help, knowing that the only possibility of stealing Hannah back and getting her safely out of Argentina is to trust someone who doesn’t trust them, and get Munroe on the inside.

Tautly written, brilliantly paced, and with the same evocation of the exotic combined with chilling violence that made The Informationist such a success, The Innocent confirms Taylor Stevens’ reputation as a thriller writer of the first rank.
 I received an ARC from Random House at ALA Midwinter in Dallas.

This book was on my list of most anticipated to read this year.  I simply fell in love with Vanessa Michael Monroe reading Stevens' first book The Informationist.  This book was just as well written as the first.  I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.  I cannot recommend these books enough.   

There were some interesting parallels between the plot of this book and The 19th Wife which I read in December. I appreciated that the characters from the first book had more of their background explored in this book.  It was also good to see Munroe fight through her demons in her own way of course.  I'm not sure the Gideon & Heidi characters added much to the story after being introduced as the funders of the mission. 

CBR4 #4 The Devil In The White City - Erik Larson

Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that The Devil in the White City is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison. The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works. The magical appeal and horrifying dark side of 19th-century Chicago are both revealed through Larson's skillful writing.
 January Book Club Selection

I had tried to read this book right after it came out and I had a hard time trying to get past the first couple of chapters.  Reading it this time, I still struggled to get past the first couple of chapters, but the different tidbits & trivia about the fair kept me reading further.

Overall, I felt this book was more historical fiction like than non-fiction.  I could have lived without the H.H. Holmes story.  The story about the fair was interesting enough.

At book club, we reviewed some virtual reproductions of the fair that were done by a team from UCLA.  Check them out to visualize how massive the buildings really were.


CBR4 #3 The Broken Teaglass - Emily Arsenault

In the maze of cubicles at Samuelson Company, editorial assistant Billy Webb struggles to focus while helping to prepare the next edition of a dictionary. But there are distractions. He senses that something suspicious is going on beneath this company’s academic fa├žade. What’s more, his (possibly) flirtatious co-worker Mona Minot has just made a startling discovery: a trove of puzzling citations, all taken from the same book, The Broken Teaglass. Billy and Mona soon learn that no such book exists. And the quotations read like a confession, coyly hinting at a hidden identity, a secret liaison, a crime. As Billy and Mona try to unearth the truth, the puzzle begins to take on bigger meaning for both of them, compelling them to redefine their notions of themselves and each other.
I bought this book based on a recommendation in a year-end best books read list.  Overall I thought this book was cute and an interesting look into the lexicographer world.  The author captured the essence of a small company office environment.  The discovery of different citations definitely kept the mystery flowing and captured my attention.  When the citations weren't the main focus, I got distracted and a tad bored following the "relationship" between Mona and Billy.

I felt the mention of Billy's cancer was more an after thought and not necessarily a plot twist. I appreciated the author putting the citations in order (actually having the characters put them in order).  I thought reading the final listing would be like rereading a section, but ultimately I caught more nuisances on the reread. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

ALA Midwinter Reflections

I spent the past 5 days in Dallas, Texas attending ALA's 2012 Midwinter Conference. This trip was my first visit to Texas and I wasn't sure what to expect.

After arriving in town and checking into my hotel on Thursday afternoon, I walked around downtown to get a sense of how long it would take to walk to the convention center. Downtown Dallas is eerily quiet with pedestrians. I found out later that there are underground tunnels between some of the buildings.  I walked by the spot where JFK was shot.  The West End part of town has some Texas and cowboy gift shops which were amusing to explore.  Thursday night I had dinner with the fabulous Courtney Young and Michael Porter at the Dallas Fish Market.

Friday was split between a pre-conference on the Drupal platform and meeting the NMRT Emerging Leaders Project group. I've been curious about Drupal as I've seen the Library community embrace that platform as well as NPR's Argo, StateImpact and Digital Services have embraced the platform as well. While my Drupal skills are very limited right now, I'm excited to build out a sample site over the next couple of months.  At lunch, I met with the 2012 Emerging Leaders Project Group M who are going to be working on translating the Spectrum Scholarship Professional Fair to a broader ALA Professional Fair.  As an Emerging Leader alum, I'm very excited to be mentoring this group over the next six months.  Friday afternoon I walked around the exhibit hall with fellow librarian Danielle Johnson whom I've just recently connected with on Twitter.  We forged our way through the book publishers to find ARCs and totebags to bring home with us.  Afterwards we had a lovely dinner at The Owner's Box at the Omni hotel.

Saturday was full of NMRT activities starting with our conference orientation session.  We had a nice crowd of conference attendees who were experiencing their first conference.  Next up was the NMRT Board meeting. After a quick lunch and drop off of my laptop, I went to the NMRT Membership and Committee Interest meeting.  NMRT President, Linda Crook, NMRT Secretary Rebecca Miller, NMRT Member Services Director Coral Sheldon-Hess and I shared our experiences with NMRT and answered questions about ALA and volunteering for NMRT.  Next up was a shift greeting folks at the NMRT Resume Review Service.  The last NMRT event of the day was our social, which was very well attended by our roundtable and even some alumni. Saturday ended with dinner and drinks with fellow 2010 Emerging Leaders Leo Lo, Elizabeth Moreau and Kirby McCurtis.

Sunday's activities started mid-morning which was a welcomed change from the past couple of days.  NMRT and LLAMA partnered together to create a New Leaders Discussion Group. The three discussion starters were very inspiring and the discussions afterwards where very interesting.  Next I attended a session explaining what World Book Night is and how to get involved.  If you are interested in giving books to non-readers, check out their website. In the afternoon, I attended part of LLAMA's Leadership Development Seminar and did another greeter shift at the NMRT Resume Review Service.

Monday's conference sessions were both sponsored by ALCTS. First was the Heads of Cataloging Departments Interest Group meeting which focused on cataloging as a public service.  We heard 4 presentations on how different cataloging and metadata service departments are reinventing and repositioning themselves to provide cataloging as a public service. It was interesting to hear the concerns, struggles and successes of other libraries in regards to cataloging their resources.  The second session was author Steve Berry talking about preservation and his latest books.  Steve was a delight to listen to and had the crowd laughing.    In the afternoon, I walked up to Arts district and took the M-Line Trolley to uptown Dallas.

While I didn't get to attend many author talks or other programs, I do feel that this conference was successful and I learned more about NMRT and our members. Other noteworthy sessions that I wasn't able to attend personally include the Occupy Wall Street Librarians, the director of the Dallas Public Library, a sing-along with Lisa Loeb and a whole lot more which is captured on American Libraries website.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CBR4 #2: The Orphan Master's Son - Adam Johnson

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book as part of Random House's Early Bird Read program

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers.
I picked up this book as my second book of the year because the location of North Korea seemed very timely with the recent passing of Kim Jong Il.   At first I wasn't sure what time period this book was set in, but during the visit to Texas one of the characters mentioned "the hurricane" which I took to reference Hurricane Katrina and placed this book in modern day.

Both Pak Jun Do and Sun Moon were likeable characters and I found myself cheering them on as they explored their relationship.  Pak Jun Do was able to adapt to any situation put before him, which really was an asset for him.  Sun Moon was portrayed like any modern diva/actress, but it was nice to see her relax and enjoy moments with her children. The description of the US delegation and how they put on a show for the North Koreans was an interesting take of taking an outsider's view of our culture.

I like the setup of the book and the plot moved forward and back at the right tempo.  The one subplot that I could have lived without was the integrator/biography collector and his parents. It does seem a little surreal that an average citizen could take the place of a high ranking general within North Korea. But this idea of who the leader of a country - such as North Korea - surrounds themselves with is no different than an American President picking friends and past colleagues for high ranking jobs in their cabinet and/or government agencies. 

Even though the last 40-50 pages resolved to a predictable ending, I was still riveted in my seat to know how everything worked out. This book is a great read and definitely one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I'm looking forward to hearing Adam Johnson speak at my local indie bookstore later in the month.  Also he was interviewed on Weekend Edition Sunday this past weekend.

Monday, January 2, 2012

CBR4 #1: The Love Goddess' Cooking School - Melissa Senate

Holly Maguire's grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine--a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can't make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that's why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla's Cucinotta, she's determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother's legacy. But Holly's four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla's chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter's heart. Juliet, Holly's childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can't find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla's essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed--and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam . . . and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.
I received this book as part of the Book Blogger Holiday Swap.  It has been on my to-read shelf for a while.  Holly Maguire is a loveable character and you are immediately pulling for her as the opening chapters show us how under appreciated she is within her current relationship.  While the plot line (a misfit young woman unsure what to do with her life until she is left something by a dead relative and finds her purpose in life) is not a new concept, I thought that Melissa made the plot her own.

I liked how Melissa incorporated history about Holly's grandmother by incorporating the grandmother's diary entries. Those entries also helped set up some parallel themes with the modern day story (i.e. jealousy and snobbery of residents in Blue Crab Island).

The romance between Liam and Holly is sweet and complicated just like any good romantic comedy movie. I appreciated how the cooking students became friends and supported each other throughout all their life experiences.

I had to chuckle when the bride to be decided to hire Holly as her caterer after her mother and future mother-in-law "failed" her in the tasting.  While that tasting motivated Holly to perfect and hone her cooking skills, it also allowed her to become more comfortable in her own skin as a "real" cook.

I would be curious if Melissa would write a sequel to this book, because I'm sure there are others like me that would be interested in reading more about Holly and Liam and the other residents of Blue Crab Island.

2011 End of the Year Book Survey, Reading Challenges, Secret Santas and Looking Forward to 2012

This post is a combination of a whole lot of things - so I apologize in advance.  Happy New Year!

Secret Santas
I participated in three Secret Santa swaps this holiday season.  First was with the folks over at The Broke And The BookishJennifer at Jen Reads was my Secret Santa and sent me In The Shadow of Gotham by Stephanie Pintoff and some lovely chocolates.

Second was the Book Blogger Holiday Swap where Mary from Bookfan sent me the following

Finally, I participated in LibraryThing's Secret Santa.  Jennifer sent me The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton and The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn.

Challenge Wrap-up
Unfortunately I was a little too ambitious with my reading challenges last year and trying to plan a wedding and moving into a new house.  Here is a summary of where I ended up with my reading challenges last year.

Reading Challenges Status

Cannonball Read III: 52 of 52 complete plus 4 more books

Off the Shelf: 2 of 15 complete plus a few of the books got purged from my shelf in the multiple moves

Heroines Bookshelf: none

Outdo Yourself: 56 of 70 (Not sure why I thought I could read 70 books during a busy year)

2011 End of the Year Book Survey
Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner hosted an end of the year book survey again this year. Here are my answers to that survey.

1. Best Book You Read In 2011
I would say it was a three-way tie between:

2. Most Disappointing Book/Book You Wish You Loved More Than You Did
The Paris Wife - Paula McLean because I wanted more.  I think the cover was really what attracted me to this book more than the plot.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011
I'd Know You Anywhere - Laura Lippman more because of a local author living up to the reviews I had heard about her. 

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2011
The Tiger's Wife was the most recommended book.  

5. Best series you discovered in 2011?
I'm not a big series reader, but I did read One Was a Solider by Julia Spencer-Fleming which is part of series.
6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011
Taylor Stevens, Eleanor Brown, and Nicolle Wallace

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you
Too Big To Fail was definitely more of a financial non-fiction book than I would have read if it hadn't been on our book club list.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?
I did read multiple books in one day due to sports watching or being sick, but I would go with The Informationist for this question.

9. Book you most anticipated in 2011
The new Bill Bryson book Home which my husband read, but I haven't yet.  With the wedding planning and a huge project launching at work, I lost a little buzz of what the most anticipated books were in 2011.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011
My colleague's book All Facts Considered - just perfect!

11. Most memorable character in 2011
Mike Smith from The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2011
The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh because she captured the characters inner thoughts so well as well as moved the plot alot and captured the reader.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011
Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen just because it made me stop and think more about what I'm eating.

14. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read
The Red Tent and The Lost Symbol are my two oldies this year.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2011
Hmm.. this question is tough... I'm going to think about this question more and update the post.

16. Book That You Read In 2011 That Would Be Most Likely To Reread In 2012
I'm not a big rereader, but probably a little of The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan since it is the my book selection for my book club.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It
My husband is probably a better person to answer this question, since usually he was the person who got to hear my reaction to a book first.  

Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2011

I'm going to skip this part of the survey since my blogging was so sporadic and unpredictable.  Life became priority too many times and I missed some of my favorite read-a-thons and blogging events.  

Looking Ahead...

1. One Book You Didn't Get To In 2011 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2012
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2012
The Innocent by Taylor Stevens even though it just released at the end of December =)

3. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2012

Participate in more blogging meme's and continue to read and post comments on other book blogs.  I also would like to get my own posting of reviews and events on a more regular schedule.

Reading Goals in 2012
I signed up for the fourth round of Cannonball Read and I've set a goal of reading 70 books. I'm always looking for suggestions for historical fiction, mystery, and biographies.  

CBR3 #56 - MWF seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code, let alone an apartment, with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, Bertsche realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs—in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: She’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

In her thought-provoking, uproarious memoir, Bertsche blends the story of her girl-dates (whom she meets everywhere from improv class to friend rental websites) with the latest social research to examine how difficult—and hilariously awkward—it is to make new friends as an adult. In a time when women will happily announce they need a man but are embarrassed to admit they need a BFF, Bertsche uncovers the reality that no matter how great your love life is, you’ve gotta have friends. - Amazon.com
I found a copy of this book on the giveaway shelf at work.  It caught my attention because of being a recently married woman as well and I was curious to see how Rachel's "experiment" turned out. 

It was interesting to read how she was able to make connections with new people and how they related or didn't relate to each other.  I was a little tired of hearing about the "dates" by the end of the book, but Rachel's stories were funny and entertaining. 

I would compare this book to Julie & Julia and The Washingtonienne which also went from a healthy read blog into a book.  Very entertaining read that we call can relate to.