April 29, 2010
Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear
Mystery - Audio Book
2005 Sound Library, Unabridged Edition
Finished on 4/16/10
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
Jacqueline Winspear’s marvelous and inspired debut, Maisie Dobbs, won her fans from coast to coast and raised her intuitive, intelligent, and resourceful heroine to the ranks of literature’s favorite sleuths. Birds of a Feather finds Maisie Dobbs on another dangerously intriguing adventure in London "between the wars." It is the spring of 1930, and Maisie has been hired to find a runaway heiress. But what seems a simple case at the outset soon becomes increasingly complicated when three of the heiress’s old friends are found dead. Is there a connection between the woman’s mysterious disappearance and the murders? Who would want to kill three seemingly respectable young women? As Maisie investigates, she discovers that the answers lie in the unforgettable agony of the Great War.
What a thoroughly enjoyable sequel! I was so entertained, listening in my car over an entire month, that the minute I finished (while out and about, running errands), I made a special trip to the library to get the third installment in the Maisie Dobbs series, Pardonable Lies. The reader for Birds of a Feather (Kim Hicks) is not the same as the reader for Maisie Dobbs (Rita Barrington) and I wasn't sure I was going to like her as much as Barrington. However, after listening to a couple of chapters, I forgot there was a difference in voice and style and wound up enjoying Hicks just as well as Barrington.
Here's a bit more from Winspear's website:
An eventful year has passed for Maisie Dobbs. Since starting a one-woman private investigation agency in 1929 London, she now has a professional office in Fitzroy Square and an assistant, the happy-go-lucky Billy Beale. She has proven herself as a psychologist and investigator, and has even won over Detective Inspector Stratton of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad—an admirable achievement for a woman who worked her way from servant to scholar to sleuth, and who also served as a battlefield nurse in the Great War.
It's now the early Spring of 1930. Stratton is investigating a murder case in Coulsden, while Maisie has been summoned to Dulwich to find a runaway heiress. The woman is the daughter of Joseph Waite, a wealthy self-made man who has lavished her with privilege but kept her in a gilded cage. His domineering ways have driven her off before, and now she's bolted again.
Waite's instructions are to find his daughter and bring her home. When Maisie looks into the disappearance she finds a chilling link to Stratton's murder case, and to the terrible legacy of The Great War.
I love listening to these books! The setting, the time period, the details of clothing and make of vehicles, all come to life as I listen on my drive to and from work. The characters stay with me, invading my thoughts throughout the day. I find that, unlike when I read a printed book, I can recall all of the characters' names (including those in secondary roles) after listening to the audio version. I am completely immersed in Maisie's world. What a treat!
One of the downfalls of listening to an audio book is that it's difficult to share any of my favorite passages. I need to keep a small notepad handy in order to jot down a point of reference in order to look-up a special quote from the book. Until then, here's another quote from the author's website:
Jacqueline's grandfather was severely wounded and shell-shocked at The Battle of the Somme in 1916, and it was as she understood the extent of his suffering that, even in childhood, Jacqueline became deeply interested in the "war to end all wars" and its aftereffects. As an adult her interest deepened to the extent that, though she did not set out to write a "war" novel, it came as no surprise that this part of history formed the backdrop of Maisie Dobbs and other books in the series. The unique and engaging character of Maisie Dobbs is very much a woman of her generation. She has come of age at a time when women took on the toil of men and claimed independence that was difficult to relinquish. It was a time when many women remained unmarried, simply because a generation of men had gone to war and not come home.
"The war and its aftermath provide fertile ground for a mystery. Such great social upheaval allows for the strange and unusual to emerge and a time of intense emotions can, to the writer of fiction, provide ample fodder for a compelling story, especially one concerning criminal acts and issues of guilt and innocence. After all, a generation is said to have lost its innocence in The Great War. The mystery genre provides a wonderful vehicle for exploring such a time," explains Ms. Winspear.
I've already finished Pardonable Lies and I'm anxious to pay the library another visit. I hope they have a copy of Messenger of Truth!
April 28, 2010
April 25, 2010
Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon
2009 Three Rivers Press
Quit on 4/10/10
Lil is an old woman who spends her days shelving rare books in a tiny Manhattan bookstore and lonely nights at home in her apartment. But Lil has an intriguing secret. Tucked and bound behind her back are white feathery wings–the only key to who she once was: the fairy godmother responsible for getting Cinderella to the ball to unite with her Prince Charming.
But on that fateful night, something went terribly and beautifully wrong. Lil allowed herself the unthinkable: to feel the emotions of human beings and fall in love with the prince herself, going to the ball in place of Cinderella in her exquisitely gorgeous human guise. For her unforgivable mistake, she was banished to live among humans, far from her fairy sisters and their magical underwater world. But then one day she meets Veronica–a young, fair-skinned, flame-haired East Village beauty with a love of all things vintage and a penchant for falling in love with the wrong men–and suddenly it becomes clear to Lil that she’s been given a chance at redemption. If she can find a soul mate for Veronica, she may right her wrong and return to the fairy world she so deeply longs for. . . .
I'm not sure I would have ever picked this up on my own accord, but since it was a book club selection, I went ahead and gave it a read. Well, 87 of the 273 pages, that is. I loved the opening scenes, describing Lil's job in the bookstore.
I sat down, pulled the book close to me, against my chest. I loved that each book had its own history. I kept a box under the counter filled with the ephemera I'd found in them, the notes and receipts and lists and bookmarks and bits of feather or plastic that people stuck between pages and forgot to pull out again. Once I'd opened a copy of Middlemarch and found a dried sprig of lavender and one pink rose. Another time a love letter had fallen out as I flipped through the pages of Thérèse Raquin. "I can't see anything but your eyes," the lover had begun, and I would wonder who it was, if the lovers even remembered the fever that had passed over them once.
I loved the scribbles in the margins, the notes in the front of the books that told their stories, the way they passed from one person to another. "To Jennifer, Christmas 1921. May these words stay with you." The stray phrases and numbers jotted on the side of a page—"Indian Taj, 74th Street" emerging from the margins of Utopia, "BUY PUMPKINS" blaring up at me from the back cover of To the Lighthouse. As I sat behind the register, carefully erasing the penciled marks, I felt as if each book had a secret to tell, only to me.
Unfortunately, the pacing was uneven and I found my mind wandering as I read further. The transitions between Lil's life as a human and those of her past as a fairy were clumsy and often confusing. I usually try to read all the books chosen for my book club, but decided to ditch this one as the pressure to read the stack of newly acquired ARCs mounted.
Has anyone read and enjoyed this novel? Can you convince me to pick it up again??
April 20, 2010
The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg
2010 Random House
Finished on 4/10/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)
From the beloved bestselling author of Home Safe and The Year of Pleasures, comes a wonderful new novel about women and men reconnecting with one another—and themselves—at their fortieth high school reunion.
To each of the men and women in The Last Time I Saw You, this reunion means something different—a last opportunity to say something long left unsaid, an escape from the bleaker realities of everyday life, a means to save a marriage on the rocks, or an opportunity to bond with a slightly estranged daughter, if only over what her mother should wear.
As the onetime classmates meet up over the course of a weekend, they discover things that will irrevocably affect the rest of their lives. For newly divorced Dorothy Shauman, the reunion brings with it the possibility of finally attracting the attention of the class heartthrob, Pete Decker. For the ever self-reliant, ever left-out Mary Alice Mayhew, it’s a chance to reexamine a painful past. For Lester Heseenpfeffer, a veterinarian and widower, it is the hope of talking shop with a fellow vet—or at least that’s what he tells himself. For Candy Armstrong, the class beauty, it’s the hope of finding friendship before it is too late.
As Dorothy, Mary Alice, Lester, Candy, and the other classmates converge for the reunion dinner, four decades melt away: Desires and personalities from their youth reemerge, and new discoveries are made. For so much has happened to them all. And so much can still happen.
In this beautiful novel, Elizabeth Berg deftly weaves together stories of roads taken and not taken, choices made and opportunities missed, and the possibilities of second chances.
My 30th high school reunion is this summer and I haven't decided if I'm going to go or not. I've only attended one (the 10th) and, quite honestly, it was a little boring. I've reconnected with a few friends via Facebook, but most of the people I hung around with were a few years ahead of me. I'm sure it'd be fun to catch up with some of my old classmates, and I know I wouldn't hesitate if I still lived in the area, but this would involve more than just hopping in the car and heading out to Del Mar. And yet, what a perfect excuse for a trip to Southern California! :)
In her new novel, Berg peoples the story with shallow and superficial characters, stereotypical situations and silly dialogue ("That's for me to know and you to find out."). I was so pleased with her previous novel (Home Safe) and quickly grabbed a copy of The Last Time I Saw You, hoping for another gem. While lacking substance and peopled with forgettable characters, I still managed to zip through this fluffy read in a day or so. With 20 novels under her belt, perhaps it's time to take a break.
Final thoughts: Beach read!
April 19, 2010
Kris has a new album due out May 11, 2010!!
Take a listen to the sample tracks. Man, oh man, this is the Kristofferson I grew up on! Listening to Kris' music is like a trip down memory lane; I find myself reminiscing about all the California family gatherings in Woodside, Leucadia, and Fallbrook with my great-grandmother (Kris' grandmother), my grandparents, my great aunts and uncles, and distant cousins.
Favorite sample track: Just the Other Side of Nowhere. That's got to be one of the prettiest songs I've ever heard.
Over 5 years in the making, and with the attention to detail and elaborate packaging the label is known for, LITA 050 is none other than the never-before-released 1968-1972 demos of Texas-born Renaissance man and maverick songwriting pioneer, Kris Kristofferson. With the outlaw Highwayman's full blessing, Light In The Attic is proud and honored to present Kristofferson's honest and upfront formative takes on the tunes that would eventually become part of the great American songbook.
Since penning these numbers (many of which were written during the mid-to-late 60s while working as a janitor for Columbia Records in Nashville), over 500 artists including patron saint Johnny Cash, one-time lover Janis Joplin, and co-actor Bob Dylan (to name but three), have covered Kristofferson's material. While we shouldn't forget his vast commercial accomplishments as an award-winning recording artist and actor, it's these soul-stirring demos that laid the groundwork for his rough and tumble creative journey. Drop the needle and be transported into the intimate candle lit studio session like a fly on the wall.
Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends: The Demos 1968-72 features comprehensive liner notes by Michael Simmons (MOJO, LA Weekly), including interviews with Kristofferson, the musicians, and other related-folks from these landmark sessions. Plus, dig into a handful of testimonials from friends Dennis Hopper and Merle Haggard. Includes full lyrics housed in a massive 60 page full color booklet featuring unseen photos and archival material, plus a gloriously mastered audio soundtrack.
With that 60 page color booklet, this is one to own, not download! Pre-order here.
April 18, 2010
Ashes by Kathryn Lasky
Teen Fiction (Historical)
2010 Viking Juvenile
Finished on 4/6/10
Rating: 3.5 (Good)
Berlin, 1932: In many ways thirteen-year-old Gabriella Schramm lives a charmed, carefree life. She loves her parents and her sister, Ulla. She loves her new literature teacher. She loves her family’s summer lake house, next door to Albert Einstein’s. And most of all, Gaby loves books.
But soon she begins losing these things as Hitler unstoppably climbs to power. People Gaby thought she could trust turn out to be Nazis. Many of her friends are fleeing, or, worse, being taken away. And there’s something troubling about Ulla’s boyfriend that Gaby can’t quite figure out. As always, she turns to her books for comfort—but even those are disappearing.
Newbery Honor winner and master of historical fiction Kathryn Lasky once again brings the past to life with this searing portrait of a nation on the brink of war, and a girl whose life is about to change.
I think I should stop looking for another Book Thief and just go ahead and re-read that fantastic novel. Every other young adult book I've read about the Holocaust and World War II pales in comparison. Ashes was, by far, much better than The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, but it still lacked the literary finesse of Markus Zusak's brilliant novel. I enjoyed Gaby's story and read the book in less than 24 hours, and yet the plot felt contrived. Every opportunity to teach the reader a point in history (including placing key figures, such as Goebbels and Einstein within Gaby's world) was utilized. Zusak did the same, but his historical scenes were seamlessly woven into the storyline. Show, don't tell.
April 15, 2010
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalain (3.5/5)
The Empty House by Rosamunde Pilcher (3.5/5)
Lift by Kelly Corrigan (5/5) (Read twice)
Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt (3/5)
Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy (4/5)
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (audio) (4/5)
Click on the titles to read my reviews.
Favorite of the month: Lift by Kelly Corrigan
Books Read 7
Male Authors 2
Female Authors 5
New-To-Me Authors 2
Historical Fiction 4
Graphic Novel 0
Short Stories 0
Religious Fiction 0
Note: Only books completed are counted in the above totals with, of course, the exception of the DNF category.
April 14, 2010
April 13, 2010
I was in such a hurry to post my review for Anna Quindlen's new book, Every Last One, I completely forgot to search for other reviews and interviews.
Yesterday, Quindlen spoke with Diane Rehm on NPR. Click here to listen.
April 12, 2010
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
2010 Random House
Finished on 4/4/10
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)
ARC - On sale April 13, 2010
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC from publisher
In this breathtaking and beautiful novel, #1 New York Times bestselling author Anna Quindlen creates an unforgettable portrait of a mother, a father, a family, and the explosive, violent consequences of what seem like inconsequential actions.
Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother whose three teenage children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener or even her life as the wife of a doctor. Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount. [Spoiler Removed] [...] a testament to the power of a woman's love and determination and to the invisible line of hope and healing that connects one human being to another.
Ultimately, as rendered in Anaa Quindlen's mesmerizing prose, Every Last One is a novel about facing every last one of the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, about living a life we never dreamed we'd have to live but must be brave enough to try.
I love Anna Quindlen's books. I've read her short essays (Being Perfect, Loud and Clear) and most of her novels (Object Lessons, One True Thing, Black and Blue, Blessings) and was thrilled to receive an ARC of her latest book. Quindlen has such a way with words, describing the most mundane and ordinary events of daily life in ways that make these things seem not only interesting, but important and compelling. I always find myself feeling as though she's observed my own life or has eavesdropped on conversations between me and my friends or my husband. Somehow she seems to have her finger on the sometimes erratic pulse of family relationships, and I believe Every Last One is her best effort yet.
As much as I love Quindlen's writing, I've really struggled with this particular review. It is nearly impossible to explain why this book affected me as it did without giving away any spoilers. And yet, I need to say that this novel blew me away like none other I've read. I rarely stay up late reading, but I had come down with a terrible cold and was having a tough time falling asleep, so I grabbed this book and headed down to the couch, fully expecting to fall asleep after 30 minutes or so. Nope. I stayed up until close to 3 a.m., completely swept away by Quindlen's amazing story.
It's a story about a family and the sort of tragedy that one might think "could only happen to other people." The sort of horrific tale that one might hear about on CNN. And as Kate Medina (Random House's executive vice president) states in her letter to the readers of this ARC, I, too, was just "as shocked as Mary Beth is when her carefully managed life explodes."
I didn't just get a lump in my throat or a tear in my eye. I cried as if the members of the Latham family were people I knew personally. It felt as though Quindlen had peeked inside my heart; her descriptions of Mary Beth's shock and disbelief centered around the incident are spot on.
Quindlen's characters are so completely realized and the dialogue so believable, you'll wonder if this is really a work of fiction.
I love the simple details of a familiar life as a wife and mother:
This is my life: The alarm goes off at five-thirty with the murmuring of a public-raadio announcer, telling me that there has been a coup in Chad, a tornado in Texas. My husband stirs briefly next to me, turns over, blinks, and falls back to sleep for another hour. My robe lies at the foot of the bed, printed cotton in the summer, tufted chenille for the cold. The coffeemaker comes on in the kitchen below as I leave the bathroom, go downstairs in bare feet, pause to put away a pair of boots left splayed in the downstairs back hallway and to lift the newspaper from the back step. The umber quarry tiles in the kitchen were a bad choice; they are always cold. I let the dog out of her kennel and put a cup of kibble in her bowl. I hate the early mornings, the suspended animation of the world outside, the veil of black and then the oppressive gray of the horizon along the hills outside the French doors. But it is the only time I can rest without sleeping, think without deciding, speak and hear my own voice. It is the only time I can be alone. Slightly less than an hour each weekday when no one makes demands.
and I love Quindlen's description of spring weather:
Laundry is my life, and meals, and school meetings and games and recitals. I choose a cardigan sweater and put it on the chest at the foot of the bed. It is late April, nominally spring, but the weather is as wild as an adolescent mood, sun into clouds into showers into storms into sun again.
The authenticity of Quindlen's take on motherhood, on family, and on love and loss, is incredibly affecting. You cannot read Quindlen without feeling as though she has peeked into your life—or possibly that you've been allowed to peek into hers.
I have no excuse for my own tears. In the way of women my age, I increasingly count my blessings aloud, as though if other people acknowledge them they'll be enough; three wonderful children, a long and happy marriage, good home, pleasurable work. And if below the surface I sense that one child is poised to flee and another is miserable, that my husband and I trade public pleasantries and private minutiae, that my work depends on the labor of men who think I'm cheating them—none of that is to be dwelled on. Besides, none of that has anything to do with my tears. If I were pressed, I would have to say that they are the symptom of some great loneliness, as free-floating and untethered to everyday life as a tornado is to the usual weather. It whirls through, ripping and tearing, and then I'm in the parking lot of the supermarket, wiping my eyes, replacing my sunglasses, buying fish and greens for that night's dinner. If anyone asks how things are, I say what we all say: fine, good, great, terrific, wonderful.
I have two selves now, too, the one that goes out in the world and says what sounds like the right things and nods and listens and sometimes smiles, and the real woman, who watches her in wonder, who is nothing but a wound, a wound that will not stop throbbing except when it is anesthetized. I know what the world wants: It wants me to heal. But to heal I would have to forget, and if I forget my family truly dies.
Here is one of the worst things about having someone you love die: It happens again every single morning. The soft web of sleep begins to clear and then, in an instant, your mind asks and answers a dreadful question.
I don't know what to do, or what to do next. The memorial service, the will, the insurance: No one tells you what to do after, when things are supposed to go back to normal. I suppose what comes next is pretend-normal. I feel exhausted thinking about it.
"Thank you for everything, Mom. You've been a rock through all of this."
I've taken her by surprise, and she looks down. Finally she says, "I have a great admiration for how you've handled yourself, Mary Beth. You've been very strong."
"Did I have a choice?"
"That's not the point. Lots of people would have fallen apart in this situation." I wonder how falling apart would feel different from this. I can't believe it would be worse.
END OF SPOILERS
Anna Quindlen's authentic voice and compelling narrative create a beautifully rendered story of one family's tragedy, a tragedy that none of us is ever prepared to face. I simply could not put this book down; I read it in less than two days. And now, one week later, I find myself thinking about the characters and all they endured.
Oh, dear. I did not do very well with this Read-A-Thon! I read for most of the morning, but I also spent a lot of time online, working on the mini-challenges and visiting other participants. We met some friends for drinks, mid-afternoon, and wound up being gone for over three hours. We had to walk Annie-Dog when we got home, and then it was time to fix dinner. By the time we'd finished eating, I was starting to feel sleepy. I thought I could read for a few more hours, but it just wasn't in the cards. I was asleep by 9:30!
Here are my final stats:
Total Reading Time: 4 hours and 10 minutes
Total Books Completed: 1 (The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg)
Total Pages Read: 207
Favorite Mini-Challenge: Bart's Book Title Sentence Challenge.
How does this compare to last fall? Well, I read for a total of 9 hours and 621 pages in October. I'm not sure spring is the best time for me to participate in a Read-A-Thon. Far too many distractions, not to mention the gorgeous weather.
I hope everyone had a good time!
April 10, 2010
Kate (from I Just Wanna Sit Here and Read) is hosting an Hour Five Challenge. Here are her directions:
1. Choose a song (sung or instrumental) that represents a chapter that you are currently reading or have read during the read-a-thon thus far. If the book was turned into a movie, and this chapter was shown, what music would you want in the background to convey the emotion or environment.
2. List the book/author/chapter that you choose along with the song(s) you choose.
3. Give a quick synopsis about the chapter (No SPOILERS please!) or the circumstances that take place and why you chose the song to represent it.
Prizes: 2 books of your choice from the Prize list, OR one of the two-book prize packs. Your choices are here.
In your comment please list your email so that the lovely folks at the read-a-thon can contact you for your prize.
Winner will be chosen by random.org
Well, the book I'm currently reading, The Last Time I Saw You, centers around a group of people in their late fifties. They are all getting together for their fortieth high school reunion. This makes it very easy to pick the music for this meme since several songs are mentioned in the chapter I just completed.
The first song is Crimson and Clover, followed by Proud Mary, and Wilson Pickett's In the Midnight Hour. One of the characters wants to hear The Way You Look Tonight, which is one of my all-time favorite songs. If I had more time, I'd love to put together a complete soundtrack for this book. Hmmm, I wonder if Elizabeth Berg has something like this on her blog. I'll check it out after the Read-a-Thon. No time now. Gotta get back to my books!
Bart, of Bart's Bookshelf, is hosting this hour's mini challenge. I had so much fun with this and could have shared a couple of photos! I also had to refrain from using too many book. Great challenge, Bart. Thanks!
Title of book(s) read since last update: The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg
Number of books read since you started: 0
Pages read since last update: 40
Running total of pages read since you started: 40
Amount of time spent reading since last update: 50 minutes
Running total of time spent reading since you started (keep track of this one to be eligible for a prize!): 50 minutes
Mini-challenges completed: 1
Prize you’ve won: 0
Snack: Coffee and a whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter
Mood: I love reading early in the morning when the house and neighborhood is quiet. I started my book yesterday, so I was already a little ways into it when I picked it up this morning. I've always loved Elizabeth Berg's books and this one is proving to be another good one.
Now to partake in the first Mini Challenge:
Where are you reading from today?
I plan to finish my current reads (The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg and Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon). I have a few collections of essays I'd like to read, as well a few short novels I've been wanting to re-read. There are several ARCs calling my name, too. Lots to choose from, so we'll see what appeals to me throughout the day.
3 facts about me …I have the best job in the whole world. I work in a bookstore!
I learned how to read in kindergarten. My teacher had me read to her while the other children were taking their naps. I felt so special and I loved my Dick & Jane books.
I'm married to a man who always says, "You can never have too many books!" What luck, eh? ;)
How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
Hundreds? Pretty much all my unread books that are scattered throughout the house in several bookcases.
Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
The only goal I have is to make it to Midnight -- at least! Last year I quit around 11:30.
If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time?
Take breaks. Don't get too hung up on posting every single hour.
April 8, 2010
Yep. It's that time of year again! I'm all set to participate in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-A-Thon this coming Saturday. I had such a good time last fall and I'm looking forward to spending the entire day and evening curled up with my books. I'm plan to start right at 7 a.m. but don't really know how long I'll last. I hope I can at least make it to midnight this time around. Last year I quit around 11:30.
We've made plans to get together with some friends mid-afternoon, but that should be my only major interruption. Oh, and I'll probably take Annie-Dog for her walks so I can stretch my legs a bit. And, I'll join my husband for our regular weekend meals together. But the housework can wait until Sunday. :)
Check out all the information here. It's not too late to join in the fun!