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September 27, 2008

Thursday at Eight


Thursdays at Eight by Debbie Macomber
Contemporary Fiction
2001 MIRA
298 pages
Finished on 9/24/08
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)




Publisher's Blurb:

Thursday, 8:00 a.m.:
Mocha Moments Cafe, Breakfast Club!

These words appear in the calendars of four women. Four very different women. Every week they meet for breakfast—and to talk, to share the truths they've discovered about their lives. To tell their stories, recount their sorrows and their joys. To offer each other encouragement and unstinting support.

Clare has just been through a devastating and unexpected divorce. She's driven by anger and revenge... until she learns something about her ex-husband that forces her to look deep inside for the forgiveness and compassion she's rejected—and for the person she used to be.

Elizabeth is widowed, in her late fifties, a successful professional—a woman who's determined not to waste another second of her life. And if that life should include romantic possibilities—well, why not?

Karen is in her twenties, and she believes those should be the years for taking risks, testing your dreams. Her dream is to be an actor. So what if her parents think she should be more like her sister, the very respectable Victoria?

Julia is turning forty this year. Her husband's career is established, her kids are finally in their teens and she's just started her own business. Everything's going according to plan—until she gets pregnant! That's not in the plan.

I can just picture my husband reading the above blurb and rolling his eyes as he mutters, "Blech!" Ok, so it's definitely fluffy chick-lit. But I enjoyed it! It was especially nice to get sucked into something touching and romantic after my previous read (not to mention the turmoil of the economy and the upcoming election!).

I finally got around to setting up my women's friendship endcap at work, but wound up short by a couple of titles. I've had this book on my shelves for quite some time and decided to go ahead and include it, hoping to get it read before a customer cornered me with specific questions about the book. I've only read a couple of Debbie Macomber's books (The Shop on Blossom Street and Between Friends), but knew I could zip through this book fairly quickly. In spite of the predictable clich├ęs, I wound up enjoying it just as much as several of my favorites within this genre.

If you're in the mood for something light and entertaining (read: brain candy), this is just the book!

September 25, 2008

The Brief History of the Dead


The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
Contemporary Fiction/Post-Apocalyptic
2007 Vintage Contemporaries
252 pages
Finished on 9/19/08
Rating: 4.75/5 (Fabulous!)
R.I.P. III Challenge #2


Publisher's Blurb:

The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City's only newspaper, are wondering what exactly is going on. Others, like Coleman Kinzler, believe it is the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, her supplies are running low, her radio finds only static, and the power is failing. With little choice, Laura sets out across the ice to look for help, but time is running out. Kevin Brockmeier alternates these two story lines to create a lyrical and haunting tale about love, loss, and the power of memory.

Wow! What a fantastically unique story. I was intrigued when I first read about this book on Carl's blog and I'm glad his R.I.P. III Challenge inspired me to move it up in my stacks. I haven't read such a thought-provoking and imaginative story since Jose Saramago's Blindness.

Brockmeier's novel originally appeared as a short story in The New Yorker (2004). I just finished skimming through the story and have to say (with one caveat) I'm glad he decided to re-work it into a novel. My quibble lies in the last two chapters. The surreal finale was a bit too mystical for my taste, thus my less-than-perfect rating. Nonetheless, I firmly believe this compelling story will stay with me for a long time. I was completely engrossed, not wanting to finish, yet not wanting to put it down. This is definitely going on my Top Ten list for the year. Thank you, Carl, for bringing this marvelous book to my attention.

Some thought-provoking passages:

Occasionally one of the dead, someone who had just completed the crossing, would mistake the city for heaven. It was a misunderstanding that never persisted for long. What kind of heaven had the blasting sound of garbage trucks in the morning, and chewing gum on the pavement, and the smell of fish rotting by the river? What kind of hell, for that matter, had bakeries and dogwood trees and perfect blue days that made the hairs on the back of your neck rise on end? No, the city was not heaven, and it was not hell, and it certainly was not the world. It stood to reason, then, that it had to be something else.

and

Dying had changed Marion Byrd. She had been so weary back when she was alive: weary of talking and weary of eating; wear of thinking, remembering, desiring, anticipating; weary, most of all, of the prospect of seeing her life out to its natural end. She felt as though she had spent the last ten years of her life carrying a tremendous unshaped stone on her shoulders. The effort of keeping her legs upright and simply walking underneath it had nearly crippled her. She didn't know how to cast it off, or even where it had come from, only that she had to carry it.

But then the virus had appeared and she had died, and suddenly everything was different.

On people you've known during your life:

How many people was any one human being likely to remember? A thousand? Maybe if you were cursed with a particularly slipshod memory. So then—ten thousand? A hundred thousand? A million? Of course, if you ran out your life in some small village deep in the Himalayas, the number would be greatly diminished, but Michael Puckett wasn't thinking about Himalayan villagers. Or monks, or nuns, or kids who never lived past that falling-down-drunk stage of toddlerhood. He was thinking about himself, his own life, and by extension, he was thinking about Laura. She was the common element, after all, the link or what have you. After all the discussion he had heard in the city, that much was obvious.

He had spent the better part of a week trying to come up with a good solid number, one that took his entire forty-three years of life into account. At first he tried to make the calculations mentally, sorting through the great crowd of people in his head as he listened to the stereo or rested in bed at night. But when he realized how complicated the whole matter was turning out to be, he pulled out his #2 pencil and a blank pad of paper and settled down to work.

This one really got me thinking. I didn't go so far as compiling a written list of everyone I could remember ever meeting, but I did find myself thinking about people from my past: that cute boy (Matthew?) in my first grade class, my third grade teacher (Mrs. Bauer), a family I used to babysit for who had the BEST junk food (!), former co-workers... the list is endless! How many people have you known in your lifetime?

Now I'm even more inspired me to continue with this genre, tossing around an idea for a new endcap, one that concentrates on novels with post-apocalyptic themes. So far, I have On the Beach, Wastelands, A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Lucifer's Hammer to add to my TBR stack. Any other recommendations? I've already read The Road, Alas, Babylon, Earth Abides, Swan Song, The Stand, and I Am Legend. Any favorites I'm missing?

Be sure to check out Carl's fabulous review here. This is such a gripping story and I look forward to hand-selling several copies this holiday season.


September 22, 2008

Books For Barack


From her website:

BOOKS FOR BARACK is the brainchild of novelist Ayelet Waldman, whose empassioned — and expletive-laden — e-mail to politically like-minded writers went, as she put it, "viral." Ayelet's solicitation for signed copies of their books for a fundraiser for Barack Obama's campaign has touched a literary nerve, yielding an outpouring of over 750 books from across the country.

This incredible collection — including rare, first-edition, and highly collectible copies — continues to grow every day. Here are just a very few examples of the remarkable volumes available through this fundraiser:

* Madeleine Albright, Memo to the President Elect (hardcover, first ed, $140 est. value),
* Russell Banks, Cloudsplitter (hardcover, first ed)
* Judy Blume, Wifey (hardcover, first ed, $95 est. value)
* Michael Chabon, Yiddish Policeman's Union (hardcover, first ed, $85 est. value)
* Marisa de los Santos, Belong to Me (hardcover, first ed, $100 est. value)
* Dave Eggers, What is the What (hardcover, $120 est. value)
* Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Book Club (hardcover, first ed, $85 est. value)
* Alan Furst, The Spies of Warsaw (hardcover, first ed, $100 est. value)
* Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha (hardcover, $35 est. value)
* Oscar Hijuelos, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (hardcover, first ed)
* Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner (hardcover, $75 est. value)
* Stephen King, Hearts in Atlantis (hardcover, $1379 est. value)
* Stephen King, Duma Key (hardcover, $375 est. value)
* Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth (hardcover, first ed)
* Ursula LeGuin, Tehanu (hardcover, leatherbound limited ed)
* Dennis Lehane, The Given Day (hardcover, first ed)
* Greil Marcus, Dead Elvis (hardcover, first ed, $100 est value)
* Steve Martin, Born Standing Up (hardcover, first ed)
* Terry McMillan, How Stella Got Her Groove Back (hardcover, first ed)
* Lorrie Moore, The Collected Stories (hardcover, first ed)
* Ann Patchett, Bel Canto (hardcover, first ed, $200 est value)
* Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart (hardcover, first ed, $100 est value)
* Richard Price, Lush Life (hardcover, first ed, $100 est value)
* Alice Sebold, Lovely Bones (hardcover, first ed, $500 est value)
* Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin (hardcover, first ed, $125 est value)
* Lemony Snicket, Complete Set (hardcover, box ed)
* Amy Tan, The Bonesetter's Daughter (hardcover, limited ed)
* Anne Tyler, Digging to America (hardcover, first ed, $125 est value)
* Tobias Wolff, Our Story Begins: New & Selected Stories (hardcover, first ed)


So how do I get one of these books and help Obama at the same time?

It's really quite simple. If you donate $250 or more to Barack Obama's campaign through Ayelet's MyBarackObama website, you will receive a mystery bag of 10 books, all in a canvas tote printed with the BOOKS FOR BARACK logo. The bags will be assembled randomly and tied closed so that no one — not even Ayelet — will know the contents of any specific bag. Your bag could contain a signed first edition copy of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, a signed first edition copy of Stephen King's Hearts of Atlantis or a fine collection of poetry by a writer you've been waiting to discover.

Books will be mailed out starting Friday, September 26.

HOW IT'S DONE: 1. Donate $250 or more to Barack Obama's Campaign through Ayelet's MyBarackObama page. 2. Forward your e-mailed receipt to Ayelet (ayeletwaldman@gmail.com), be sure to include your mailing address, and your books will be on their way!

Go here for all details and a list of the generous authors who have contributed to this cause.

September 15, 2008

The Namesake


The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Contemporary Fiction
2003 Mariner Books
291 pages
Finished on 9/12/08
Rating: 3/5 (Above Average)




Product Description

Jhumpa Lahiri's debut story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, took the literary world by storm when it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. Fans who flocked to her stories will be captivated by her best-selling first novel, now in paperback for the first time. The Namesake is a finely wrought, deeply moving family drama that illuminates this acclaimed author's signature themes: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the tangled ties between generations.

The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of an arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Ashoke does his best to adapt while his wife pines for home. When their son, Gogol, is born, the task of naming him betrays their hope of respecting old ways in a new world. And we watch as Gogol stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.

With empathy and penetrating insight, Lahiri explores the expectations bestowed on us by our parents and the means by which we come to define who we are.

I was immediately captivated by this book, falling easily into Lahiri's marvelous storytelling with its vivid, cinemagraphic detail and sense of place. Yet, in spite of the ease of readability, the novel falls flat. It's a story of a life very much like everyone's: birth, childhood, college, career, dating, marriage, and death. Nothing remarkable occurs during the narrative. There is no suspense. No tension. No conflict. No resolution. The prose isn't even remarkable. And yet, Lahiri has the ability to draw her reader into Gogol's life; she makes us eager to see where it leads, eager to learn about Bengali customs.

I don't mind a quiet, contemplative novel; The Samurai's Garden comes to mind (although it is far superior to Lahiri's debut novel, with its evocative and lyrical prose). I enjoy learning about other cultures; Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance is a superb example, with its fabulous characterization and richly drawn plot. However, The Namesake plods along, laboring under the weight of boring piles of insignificant, tiresome minutia. There's nothing to drive the story forward other than the all too-predictable sequence of events. I would've liked to have learned more about how the characters felt and their insights into love and life, rather than where they lived and what they ate. I wanted to known more about Ashima (Gogol's mother) and how she felt about her life in the United States instead of following Gogol, who, let's face it, is a pretty boring protagonist. Fortunately, Lahiri managed to maintain my interest enough so I could finish the book for my book club. I wonder if I would've completed it without that commitment. If anything, I'm inspired to re-read A Fine Balance. Now that's a great book!

September 8, 2008

And the winners are...

Lee wins a copy of
Cody McFadyen's latest book,
The Darker Side.
Congratulations, Lee!




and...

Booklogged (from A Reader's Journal)
wins a copy of
The Face of Death
(second in the series).

Congratulations, Booklogged!



Drop me an email with your mailing addresses and I'll get your books off to you in a couple of days. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

September 7, 2008

Rises the Night

Rises the Night: The Gardella Vampire Chronicles by Colleen Gleason
Romance/Paranormal
2007 Signet
352 pages
Finished on 9/6/08
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)
R.I.P. III Challenge #1



Publisher's Blurb:

The Gardella Vampire Chronicles continue as the glorious nineteenth-century city of Rome gives rise to a new threat from the immortal undead....

Lady Victoria Gardella Grantworth de Lacy has been a vampire slayer for just over a year, balancing her life as a peer of Society with the dangerous role that takes her out on moonlit streets, stake in hand. She has learned brutal and heartbreaking lessons about the sacrifices that must be made in order to save humanity from the evil that secretly preys upon it, but she has not wavered in her vow to fight on.

Now, in Italy, a powerful vampire is amassing the power to control the souls of the dead. As Victoria races across Europe to stop what could be the most deadly army the Gardellas have ever faced, her unlikely companion is Sebastian Vioget, a man as tempting as he is untrustworthy. But when Victoria discovers that she has been betrayed by one of her most trusted allies, the truth will challenge all her powers as a Venator—and as a woman....

Vampire novels are quite the rage these days. Teens (as well as adults) who devoured Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series are looking for more of this genre to satisfying their bloodthirsty cravings. At work, the science fiction and romance shelves are brimming with all sorts of paranormal series, making it easy for this bookseller to handsell books such as Colleen Gleason's Gardella series to those who have finished the Twilight Saga (and, perhaps, who are looking for something a bit more sophisticated and less permeated with teenage angst).

I thoroughly enjoyed Gleason's The Rest Falls Away and was eager to pick up the second in the series (a signed copy, nonetheless!) to kick-off the start of Carl's R.I.P. III Challenge. Unfortunately, I find myself in the minority when it comes to adoring praise for this sophomore entry into the series. It took me quite a long time to get interested in the storyline. It wasn't until the last 100 pages or so that I became completely engrossed in Victoria's dilemma and began to enjoy the swashbuckling feel of the battle between Venators and Vampires. Until that point, I felt the narrative focused more on the romance (read: steamy lust) between the characters and less on the slaying of vampires.

Having said that, the historical setting, strong character development, absence of predictability, and simple curiosity have convinced me to continue on and see how the series progresses with The Bleeding Dusk and When Twilight Burns. And, yes, this is a series that most definitely should be read in order. The opening pages of Rises the Night reveal a significant spoiler--something that should only be discovered for the first time in the final pages of The Rest Falls Away.

Read what others have to say about this book:
(Click on their blog for their full review)


A Reader's Journal (Rises the Night is a gripping, page-turning, nail-biting read.)

Stainless Steel Droppings (I experienced an honest-to-goodness Wow! moment in chapter one of Rises the Night and was engrossed in the story from that time on.)

Bookfoolery and Babble (Colleen has a tremendous skill for blending adventure with subtle romance, fun dialogue and historical detail. The book is absolutely gripping and I have to admit that I particularly love the way Sebastian's character continues to come into question.)

In Spring it is the Dawn (The fact that I’m getting hooked on a vampire romance series when I’d previously avoided all things relating to vampires or books labelled romance [I have read my share of chicklit but I never usually even visit the romance section of the bookstore] is not lost on me!)

Dolce Bellezza (You are looking at the first book I ever bought from the Romance section of Borders. Normally, I go for the New York Times Bestsellers, or mystery, or anything but a cover with an airbrushed man's chest on it.)


September 5, 2008

Summer's Almost Over

Summer's Almost Over

Summer's almost over and I'm crying but I don't know why
Sentimental old fool, weeping for this blue, blue sky
And the way the cat is sleeping and the way the garden grew
Wagging dogs who lick my face and the way I feel for you

Paddling in the kayaks, with my sister, through the quiet creek
Moon upon the water and the river breeze upon my cheek
And the way my Father shuffles with his courage and his cane
And the way September bluffs and feints till autumn falls again
Oh summer's almost over and I'm crying but I don't know why

A party for my birthday and a tractor for my 50 years
Swallows at their bird play spin and dive above the new mown fields
And a week in Colorado reading books with my best friend
And the thing I knew I couldn't do and now I know I can

Who could help but welcome autumn and the promise of the winter snow?
Still there's something sweet and wistful
as I watch this lovely summer go

But the sun is sinking sooner and the weeds have won at last
With the berries on the bushes and the crickets in the grass
Oh summer's almost over and I'm crying but I don't know why

Words and music by Cheryl Wheeler

Go here to listen or here to purchase.

September 2, 2008

A Month In Review - August ('08)

I hope everyone had an safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend. I grew up in Southern California and school always began the day after Labor Day. Here in Nebraska, school has been back in session for a couple of weeks now. However, we still have three weeks before the official start of autumn. I hope to get the kayak out on the lake a few more times before it gets chilly. It won't be long before it's too cold for that or to float in the pool! I suspect my reading will begin to pick up in the coming weeks, although there's always a month or so of raking leaves and tidying up the flower beds before the first snow.

I only read three books in August, but they were all pretty good.


Click on the titles to read my reviews.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (4/5)

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs (3/5)

The Darker Side by Cody McFadyen (4.5/5)

Favorite of the month: The Darker Side by Cody McFadyen

Books Read 3
DNF 0
Male Authors 1
Female Authors 2
New-To-Me Authors 2
Epistolary 0
Current Affairs 0
Japanese 0
Audio 0
Fiction 3
Nonfiction 0
Historical Fiction 1
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Teen 0
Children's 0
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 0
Horror 0
Romance 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 0
Culinary 0
Mystery/Thriller 1
Series 1
Re-read 0
Challenge 0
Mine 3
Borrowed 0
ARC 1
Gift 1

Note: Only books completed are counted in the above totals with, of course, the exception of the DNF category.