March 30, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
Nonfiction - Memoir/Spirituality
2006 Penguin Books
Finished on 3/28/08
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want -- husband, country home, successful career -- but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she felt consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place. Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.

Yay! This is one of those over-hyped books that turned out to be a big winner! Eat, Pray, Love has received so much attention since Elizabeth Gilbert first appeared on Oprah last October. I rarely watch Oprah, but happened to see an ad for this particular show and decided to tune in. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to "Liz" tell the story of her quest to find herself in a year of travel after her divorce. Her anecdotes were a mix of sadness, humor, and ultimately peace and she struck me as one of those women I'd like to know; someone I could sit and talk to for hours, laughing over a couple of glasses of wine, nodding my head in agreement, feeling pangs of envy about all the places she'd traveled to, yet also understanding the pain and confusion that comes when one's marriage falls apart. I knew I had to read this book and was thrilled when my husband included it in my stack of Christmas books. Of course, the book remained in a stack on the living room table while other books called out to me. I knew when the time was right, I'd pick it up. I just didn't want to rush into it while the hype was still swirling. At work, customers continued to ask for it ("You know, that 'eating prayer' book of Oprah's?"). Book group members were buying multiple copies. Mothers were buying it for their grown daughters. Daughters were buying it for their mothers. We couldn't keep it in stock! (I believe it's still on the New York Times Best Seller list.) And yet, I waited. I didn't want this to be another disappointment simply because I'd heard too much about it.

I'm glad I held off, as my book group voted to read it for our April selection. (Surprisingly, only one member has already read it!) It's a fairly quick read and I wound up with over three dozen Post-It flags marking various passages. Yep, it definitely lived up to all the hype. I loved it. I would have given it a perfect 5/5, but it took me a little while to get into the author's writing style and I found a couple of spots that could've used a little more editorial attention. (The use of "also" four times in two sentences seemed a bit sloppy, as did the phrase, "me and my lover" - although, she does write in a very conversational tone and perhaps "my lover and I" seemed too formal given the context.)

I have to admit that I was a bit envious of Gilbert's ability to take a year off and spend four months in each country. There were even a couple of times when she sounded like a spoiled, whiny child and I couldn't help but think, Hey! You have no idea how many women would love to be able to do what you've done. Get over it! And get over yourself while you're at it. But then I remembered how very long it took me to get over the heartbreak of my first marriage and decided to cut her some slack. Just because Gilbert was able to go to Italy and eat pasta and gelato every single day does not mean her heart wasn't hurting. And, yes, she's the one who chose to end her marriage, but that doesn't mean she didn't feel a sense of loss and sadness over the demise of the marriage into which she entered with the same hopes and dreams we all bring to our marriages. And yet, I still couldn't help but compare Gilbert's financial freedom to that of Joan Anderson's. In her memoir, A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman, Anderson shares the story of her own self-discovery after she decides not to relocate with husband, choosing instead to spend a year in retreat at her family cottage on Cape Cod. In Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert writes:

I don't want to be married anymore.

In daylight hours, I refused that thought, but at night it would consume me. What a catastrophe. How could I be such a criminal jerk as to proceed this deep into a marriage, only to leave it? We'd only just bought this house a year ago. Hadn't I wanted this nice house? Hadn't I loved it? So why was I haunting its halls every night now, howling like Medea? Wasn't I proud of all we'd accumulated--the prestigious home in the Hudson Valley, the apartment in Manhattan, the eight phone lines, the friends and the picnics and the parties, the weekends spent roaming the aisles of some box-shaped superstore of our choice, buying ever more appliances on credit? I had actively participated in every moment of the creation of this life--so why did I feel like none of it resembled me? Why did I feel so overwhelmed with duty, tired of being the primary breadwinner and the housekeeper and the social coordinator and the dog-walker and the wife and the soon-to-be mother, and--somewhere in my stolen moments--a writer...?

My first reaction to this rant was disbelief: Eight phone lines?! Who needs eight phone lines?? If you can afford eight phone lines, a prestigious house and a Manhattan apartment, you can afford a housekeeper and dog-walker! What woman at some point in her marriage hasn't felt the same sense of overwhelming fatigue? And most women who make the heartbreaking decision to leave their husbands and that life more than likely can't afford to jump on a plane and spend a year in search of inner peace and balance. So stop whining, Elizabeth.

And then there were the "miraculous" events that seemed a bit too pat or contrived. Call me a cynic, but I had a hard time believing that immediately following the act of writing a petition to God, complete with imaginary signatures from everyone known (and unknown), including rock stars, dead actors and a plethora of political figures, Gilbert receives an immediate response. We're not talking days or weeks, but mere moments! I just question the timing. I also have a hard time believing that 20 mosquito bites can disappear after half an hour! (I'm lucky if they're gone in a week.) I'm just not big on miracles or coincidences. Just because an article about meditation and spiritual classes at a Hindu Temple appeared in our local paper the day after I finished this book does not mean it was a sign directed at me. As my husband says, you can find miracles in just about anything if you look hard enough. And also beauty, ugliness, kindness, and evil. It's kind of like when you start shopping for a new Jeep Wrangler. You never noticed them before, but now it seems like everywhere you turn, someone's driving one. I don't really think "the universe" is telling me, Yes! You should buy a Jeep! Look, here are some samples; go ahead, pick one! It's just the world as it is, Elizabeth; the fact that you're seeing it differently doesn't mean that the world itself has changed, nor does it mean that God has stopped what he's doing just to answer your prayer. (Ahem. Well, there you have my own little rant.)

And yet, in spite of these quibbles (there turned out to be a few more than I thought!), I still enjoyed the book. A lot! Gilbert is a likeable author with a conversational, chatty voice. There were some great lines that made me laugh out loud, tantalizing descriptions of Italian food, travelogue tidbits from all three countries, and enough information about Hinduism and meditation that piqued my curiosity, and I plan to do some further reading (perhaps something by Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama). I found myself warming up to the author, overlooking her questionable credibility, happy that in the end, not only did she find what she was seeking, but also that she befriended and helped several people along the way.

Favorite Passage:

I keep remembering one of my Guru's teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you're fortunate enough. But that's not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don't, you will leak away your innate contentment. It's easy enough to pray when you're in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments.

I do hope that in the time to come, we don't come to learn that any portion of this book was an embellishment or a complete fabrication by the author. There have been too many memoirs in recent months that have turned out to be more fiction than truth and as I read, I couldn't help but wonder if a particular person (or event) really exists or if Gilbert was relying on poetic license at the expense of a truthful story. Remember? I'm a cynic. I hope I'm wrong. Especially since I plan to read her new book, Weddings and Evictions (due out in 2009).

March 23, 2008

I Am the Messenger

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Young Adult Fiction
2006 Knopf
Originally published in Australia in 2002 as The Messenger
Finished on 3/21/08
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

WINNER 2006 - Michael L. Printz Honor
WINNER 2006 - Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
WINNER 2005 - Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year - Children
Winner 2003 - Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia

Book Description:

protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That's when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That's when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?

Timing is everything. We've all had the experience of reading a book that has garnered rave reviews, only to discover it lacked that certain magic that would make it a personal favorite. It could be a matter of personal preference or simply the case of the wrong book at the wrong time. There is no rhyme or reason. With that said, I am so glad I read I Am the Messenger after reading The Book Thief (Zusak's phenomenal story that may well be the best book I've ever read) rather than before. Had I read it first, I may not have ever tried anything else by this author. It's not that I didn't like I Am the Messenger. I just didn't think it was anything special. I enjoyed seeing how Ed dealt with the challenges presented by the arrival of each new set of playing cards. Receiving no instructions other than a name or address, he was able to figure out what each person needed and his acts of kindness were both touching and inspiring. Yet in spite of this feel-good sentiment, the story failed to move me in the same manner as The Book Thief. I'm not sorry I read it, but it's not one I'll hang on to (or recommend to others). Of course now the dilemma will be whether I want to try something else by Zusak or allow The Book Thief to remain unsurpassable.

In spite of my lackluster reaction to the novel, I did mark a few passages. Most reveal too much of the story, so I'll leave you with just this one:

It kind of depressed me to think a human could be so lonely that she would comfort herself with the company of appliances that whistle, and sit alone to eat.

Not that I'm much better, mind you.

Let's face it--I eat my meals with a seventeen-year-old dog. We drink coffee together. You'd think we were husband and wife, the way we carry on. But still...

The old lady did something to my heart.

When her hands reached out and poured the tea, it was as if she also poured something into me while I sat there sweating in my cab. It was like she held a string and pulled on it just slightly to open me up. She got in, put a piece of herself inside me, and left again.

In there, somewhere, I still feel it.

March 16, 2008

Belong to Me

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos
Contemporary Fiction
2008 HarperCollins Publishers
Finished on 3/13/08
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
ARC - Due out on April 1, 2008

Book Description

Everyone has secrets. Some we keep to protect ourselves, others we keep to protect those we love.

A devoted city dweller, Cornelia Brown surprised no one more than herself when she was gripped by the sudden, inescapable desire to leave urban life behind and head for an idyllic suburb. Though she knows she and her beloved husband, Teo, have made the right move, she approaches her new life with trepidation and struggles to forge friendships in her new home. Cornelia's mettle is quickly tested by judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt. Perfectly manicured, impeccably dressed, and possessing impossible standards, Piper is the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she would find in suburbia. A saving grace soon appears in the form of Lake. Over a shared love of literature and old movies, Cornelia develops an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman who has also recently arrived in town, ostensibly to send her perceptive and brilliant son, Dev, to a school for the gifted.

Marisa de los Santos's literary talents shine in the complex interactions she creates between these three women. She deftly explores the life-altering roller coaster of emotions Piper faces as she cares for two households, her own and that of her cancer-stricken best friend, Elizabeth. Skillfully, de los Santos creates an enigmatic and beguiling character in Lake, who draws Cornelia closer even as she harbors a shocking secret. And from the first page until the exhilarating conclusion, de los Santos engages readers with Cornelia, who, while trying to adapt to her new surroundings, must remain true to herself. As their individual stories unfold, the women become entangled in a web of trust, betrayal, love, and loss that challenges them in ways they never imagined, and that ultimately teaches them what it means for one human being to belong to another.

I loved this book. I loved the vividly depicted characters and how the author slowly allows the reader to get close to them. Even the prickly ones. I love the unique, quirky names de los Santos has chosen: Cornelia, Teo (Mateo), Deveroux, Aidan, Piper, Lake, Rafferty, and Kyle. Each name fits its respective character perfectly, and as I think back on the story, I can quickly envision each and every one.

And to think I almost gave up, sure that it was going to be nothing more than another book about women's friendships. Not that there's anything wrong with that sort of book, but I just finished Elizabeth Noble's Things I Want My Daughters to Know and felt I needed something a bit more substantial. Well, I wound up getting it. Sure, Belong to Me borders on fluffy chick-lit, but the writing is oh, so beautiful. Not lyrical in the sense of Pat Conroy or Rick Bragg, but beautiful, descriptive phrases that force you to pause and go back for a second reading. And no wonder: It turns out that Marisa is also an award-winning poet.

This is a book about love & friendship, trust & loyalty, and ultimately the strength of family ties. The subplot dealing with Elizabeth's cancer is realistic and tender, yet doesn't dominate the entire story. The blossoming friendship between Piper and Cornelia reminded me just ever-so-slightly of Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts' characters in the movie Step Mom. I found myself getting teary-eyed on several occasions, yet this isn't a depressing read. More than a guilty pleasure, this intimate and engaging read is the perfect book to curl up with on a rainy, spring afternoon and one you'll want to share with all your girlfriends. I'd love to read a sequel, as I'm already missing Cornelia, Piper, Dev and Clare, but it may be another year or two before the author publishes another book. (And who knows if she plans to continue with Cornelia's story.) But as luck would have it, I missed her debut title (Love Walked In), which just happens to be the prequel to Belong to Me. I know what I'm buying tomorrow at work!

March 15, 2008

Things I Want My Daughters to Know

Things I Want My Daughters to Know by Elizabeth Noble
Contemporary Fiction
2008 HarperCollins Publishers
Finished on 3/7/08
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
ARC - Due out on April 8th

Publisher's Blurb:

Barbara had always been the backbone of her family. Warm, funny, and loving, her four daughters adored her and relied on her. Faced with the reality of leaving them before any of them are ready, Barbara writes letters to each of them, and a journal about the things she wants them to know.

Facing their first year without her, drawing on the wisdom in the legacy she has left behind, her girls might just find a way to cope with their loss. And in coming to terms with their bereavement, can they also set themselves free to enjoy their lives with all the passion and love each deserves?

As she did in The Reading Group, The Friendship Test, and Alphabet Weekends, Elizabeth Noble pairs humor and poignancy in a tale about love, loss, and family.

Book Description:

How do you cope in a world without your mother?

When Barbara realizes time is running out, she writes letters to her four daughters, aware that they'll be facing the trials and triumphs of life without her at their side. But how can she leave them when they still have so much growing up to do?

Take Lisa, in her midthirties but incapable of making a commitment; or Jennifer, trapped in a stale marriage and buttoned up so tight she could burst. Twentysomething Amanda, the traveler, has always distanced herself from the rest of the family; and then there's Hannah, a teenage girl on the verge of womanhood about to be parted from the mother she adores.

But by drawing on the wisdom in Barbara's letters, the girls might just find a way to cope with their loss. And in coming to terms with their bereavement, can they also set themselves free to enjoy their lives with all the passion and love each deserves?

This heartfelt novel by bestselling author Elizabeth Noble celebrates family, friends . . . and the glorious, endless possibilities of life.

It's been over two years since I read Elizabeth Noble's The Reading Group and I wound up giving this new release the same rating. Now I'm wondering why I never got around to reading her other books (Alphabet Weekends: Love on the Road from A to Z and The Friendship Test). While her books aren't great works of literature, and the characters are easily forgotten after a few days, they're likable people cast in believable situations. Things I Want My Daughters to Know is an enjoyable story (not too terribly sad or maudlin, given the subject matter) that I looked forward to settling back into after a busy day at work. I enjoyed the contemporary British setting and would almost compare Noble's writing to that of Robin or Rosamunde Pilcher's, although it lacks their lyrical descriptions of the landscape and home life. Nonetheless, this is an entertaining comfy, fluffy read. Fans of Patricia Gaffney, Kristen Hannah, Joanna Trollope, Debbie Macomber, and Marcia Willet won't be disappointed!

March 12, 2008

Was A Sunny Day...

...not a cloud was in the sky. Not a negative word was heard, from the people passing by.

Yesterday's high was 71 degrees.

The sun didn't set until 7:30!

On Weatherbug, Windchill was replaced with Heat Index.

Annie-Dog and I took a long walk in the park.

I can't stop smiling.

I love this weather!

Only one more week of winter. :)

March 10, 2008


Inheritance by Natalie Danford
Contemporary Fiction
2007 St. Martin's Press
Finished on 3/2/08
Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)

Book Description

This exquisitely written novel asks a simple question: how well do we know our parents? One half of the story begins after the death of Luigi Bonocchio, an Italian immigrant whose daughter Olivia discovers a mysterious deed among his possessions. The deed is to a house in Urbino, Italy---the hometown he barely spoke of. Intrigued, Olivia travels there. At first she is charmed by the historic city, the relatives she’s not met before, and the young lawyer she’s hired to help her investigate the claim. But when Olivia tries to sort out the deed, she is met with a puzzling silence. Everyone in the town remembers her father, but they are not eager to tell his story. However, Luigi tells his part of the tale directly to the reader as the chapters alternate between Olivia’s search for the truth and Luigi’s account of his history. By the end of this skillfully constructed book, the reader understands both sides of a heartbreaking, yet ultimately satisfying love story.

It's been over a week since I finished this novel and I'm not too excited about writing a review. I didn't hate the book, but it sure didn't do much for me. I doubt I would've finished, had I not been reading it for a book group discussion. (A discussion in which I'm the moderator!) I certainly didn't find it to be an "exquisitely written novel" or a "compelling" read, as one reviewer noted. Meh. Fortunately, it wasn't terribly long and I zipped through it in just a few days.

March 4, 2008

Author Interview - Mary Doria Russell

I am so excited! My review of Dreamers of the Day and the following interview both appear in this month's issue of Estella's Revenge! Be sure to check out all the wonderful reviews and articles in the March issue. This month's door prize is an autographed copy of Cathleen Schine's latest novel, The New Yorkers. Enjoy!

I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Doria Russell in Cleveland at a small book conference in 1998. I was thrilled to receive an uncorrected proof of her new novel, Dreamers of the Day, and even more thrilled to spend a bit of time (albeit via email) chatting with her about the book.

LS: You obviously know your Middle East history, yet near as I can tell, all your degrees are in Anthropology. You must love all the research that goes into a novel such as this (and A Thread of Grace).

MDR: Research is what I like best about being a writer -- it's Anthropology without Portfolio. I love finding some new topic that pulls me deeper and deeper into the background of the world and time I'm writing about.

So far A Thread of Grace has taken the most effort and time -- seven years -- because it was such an important topic and so many people had entrusted me with their memories. Dreamers of the Day was a lot easier -- much more restricted in time and place, fewer characters, one point of view. Still fun, though. I learned a lot, writing it.

LS: How long did you work on Dreamers of the Day?

MDR: Two years to a complete first draft, and then about six months of editing.

LS: Did you make a similar journey to that of Agnes'? The details were deliciously descriptive, reading like a travel essay.

MDR: Thanks! I'm glad they seemed that way. This book was all library research. I considered traveling but it turned out there's not much to see in Cairo that dates to 1921. Cairo is like Chicago with earthquakes -- lots of fires and it's constantly rebuilding itself. I relied on a shelf full of period travel memoirs for the incidents and detail that make the novel seem real. There's a list of them in the acknowledgments. I also used modern studies of Nile flora and fauna and asked two recent travelers to check my details to correct errors.

LS: Was any of Agnes' story based on your own family history? Was your mother the basis for Agnes’ "Mumma"?

MDR: In part, this book was a thought experiment: what would I be like if I'd been raised by my mother's mother? I don't know that I really learned very much about my mother's psychology, but I did learn a lot about childrearing ideas at the turn of the last century. Baby Boomers were raised by people born in the 1920s who were raised by people born in the 1890s. I suspect a lot of my readers in their 50s will recognize attitudes and techniques their parents used to raise them.

By the way, the Boomers weren't really Dr. Spock babies. That was more the Gen Xers, who are now in their 40s, being raised by the Silent Generation that came of age after World War II... Whole different world...

LS: I was going to ask you if Rosie was based on a family pet, but I answered my own question by reading the "About the Author" page on your website.

MDR: YES! Annie is definitely the model for Rosie, and I must say that I believe my portrait of Rosie is the finest portrayal of a 15-pound long-haired black and tan dachshund in modern American literature.

LS: I noticed that Agnes liked to say, "You see" quite a bit. Just as I began to notice her "verbal tick," it suddenly disappeared. Was this intentional?

MDR: Agnes becomes less apologetic as her story progresses. Her personality emerges more strongly as her experience goes on. She no longer has to explain herself to her mother and as that need for Mumma's (rare) understanding fades, Agnes is more direct in her opinions. She stops asking you to confirm to her that you see, that you understand. She's more sure that she is being clear and that you will understand, once Mumma has stopped undermining her confidence.

LS: I loved all the tidbits of information/trivia. I had no idea Bob Hope's real name was Lesley Hope.

MDR: True! And he really did date a Cleveland girl named Mildred!

LS: Or that the apex of the Great Pyramid is a flat square and not a point!

MDR: You can see it, once you know to look.

LS: Or that the shortening of skirts (and thus, a significant change in fashion design) was due to the lack of available fabric during the war.

MDR: Similar things happened in World War II. The Andrews Sister look -- pencil skirts, no lapels -- lasted until the war ended, when Dior's New Look -- big, billowy, full skirts -- replaced it.

LS: Not only did I enjoy learning about the outcome of the Cairo Conference, but I found all the personal details about T. E. Lawrence (Neddy!), Gertrude Bell and Winston all quite entertaining and enlightening.

MDR: Glad to hear it. Fascinating folks, but of course, I liked Neddy best.

LS: If the movie rights are purchased for Dreamers of the Day, who would you like to see play Agnes?

MDR: Well, there is a movie rights agent shopping the manuscript already. Her first thought was to approach Nicole Kidman for the role.

Now Nicole Kidman is not the last person I'd have imagined to play Agnes Shanklin. Probably David Spade would be the last person who'd come to mind... but even with an unattractive fake nose, Miss Kidman seems a little glamorous for Agnes.

Not sure who I'd cast in the role. When I was writing the book, I could hear Betty White's voice, but she's not the right age!

LS: Do you have a favorite scene in Dreamers of the Day?

MDR: Had to think for a minute, but yes, I love the scene where Churchill gets Agnes drunk on gin and tonics, and when she gets sick on the way back to her hotel, Lawrence tells her, "I was an undergraduate at Oxford. I've seen worse."

LS: I see that you have another novel in the works! Sounds like a fun project (and quite a departure from your previous four!). Where do your story ideas come from?

MDR: Not enough data points to form a statistically significant pattern, but for three of the five? Movies.

The Sparrow was, in part, a response to the disappointment I felt upon seeing Black Robe. I thought, "Nobody involved with this movie gets the main character. None of them understand why he does what he does, why he suffers all this... He isn't psychotic and he's not a masochist. So what's driving him?"

And for Dreamers of the Day, of course, there was Lawrence of Arabia, which changed my 12-year-old life and gave real direction to my studies as an adult.

For my fifth novel (no title for that one yet -- I keep changing my mind), the movie Tombstone got me thinking about how contemporary the issues of the Old West still are. Illegal immigration, conflicting commercial and legal interests, gun control, vice laws, etc. Lots of other things will be going on in the novel, but Tombstone got me started.

LS: Which authors have most influenced your work?

MDR: Dorothy Dunnett and Robert Ludlum. How bizarre is THAT combo? Dunnett was a superb Scottish historical writer whose Lymond Chronicles were like a graduate degree in writing fiction: layered, complex plots; the slow peeling back of the characters' motives and psychological drives; gorgeous prose.

Robert Ludlum's thrillers written back in the 1980s taught me that trick of having two or three braided storylines that keep readers turning the pages.

LS: What books are currently on your nightstand? Do you find time to read for pleasure every day?

MDR: Oh, dear. You're going to be disappointed in this list. I have a stack of books about Dodge City in the 1870s:

The Merchant Prince of Dodge City by C. Robert Haywood

Dodge City, Queen of the Cowtowns by Stanley Vestal

Cowboy Capital of the World by Samuel Carter

I'm doing research for my 5th novel, which is a murder mystery set in Dodge in 1878. A genre two-fer!

LS: What were some of your favorite books as a child?

MDR: Interestingly, I'm rereading a lot of them right now because they're good sources about horses: Black Beauty, King of the Wind, Black Gold. I loved all those horse stories written for pre-adolescent girls!

LS: Of the novels you've written, do you have a personal favorite?

MDR: You know, I like Dreamers a lot. I miss Agnes! She was such a good companion to write for, and I enjoyed her company. I guess, though, that The Sparrow is probably my favorite overall. First child, you know. Always special.

LS: Finally, I read that you wrote the introduction for the reissue of A Canticle for Leibowitz. I have a very old copy of the book in my stacks and was planning to read it this month for an online Sci-Fi Challenge. I just finished Alas, Babylon, which I absolutely loved, and I hope to read several more post-apocalyptic works. I'll have to buy a new copy of A Canticle for Leibowitz so I can read your intro!

MDR: And what a huge thrill that was -- being asked to introduce a book that had such an impact on me! That was the first present my future husband gave me -- we were in high school in the mid-sixties at the time.

I'd like to thank Mary for taking time out from her busy schedule to chat with me about her new book and life as a writer. I'll be counting the days 'til the next one is published!

March 2, 2008

A Month in Review - February ('08)

I had quite an enjoyable month of reading. However, due to the enormous size of my most recent read, I only managed to finish three books in February!

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

River by Lowen Clausen (4/5)

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult (4.75/5)

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly (3.5/5)

Favorite of the month: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

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

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

March 1, 2008

The Winter Rose

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Fiction/Historical Romance
2008 Hyperion
Finished on 2/27/08
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
What's In A Name Challenge

Publisher's Blurb:

Every now and again, a storyteller comes along who can take us completely into her world and make us wish we never had to leave it. Jennifer Donnelly is such a writer.

When India Selwyn Jones, a young woman from a noble family, graduates from the London School of Medicine for Women in 1900, her professors advise her to set up her practice in London's esteemed Harley Street. Driven and idealistic, India chooses to work in the city's East End instead, serving the desperately poor.

In these grim streets, India meets--and saves the life of--London's most notorious gangster, Sid Malone. A hard, wounded man, Malone is the opposite of India's aristocratic fiancé, Freddie Lytton, a rising star in the House of Commons. Though Malone represents all she despises, India finds herself unwillingly drawn ever closer to him, intrigued by his hidden, mysterious past.

Though they fight hard against their feelings, India and Sid fall in love, and their unpredictable, passionate and bittersweet affair causes destruction they could never have imagined. Sweeping from London to Kenya to the wild, remote coast of California, The Winter Rose is a breathtaking return to the epic historical novel, from a masterful writer with a fresh, richly vivid, and utterly electrifying voice.

It was with great anticipation that I finally sat down and read Jennifer Donnelly's second installment in The Tea Rose trilogy. And settle down I did. This book weighs in at a hefty 720 pages (hardcover); it took me nearly three weeks to read. As with The Tea Rose, this sequel also has a large cast of characters whose paths continually cross, almost to the point of unbelievable coincidence. There are several "near misses" and occurrences to which the reader is privy, yet which remain unknown to the characters involved. One must be willing to suspend quite a bit of disbelief in order to enjoy this romantic romp saga. While it never felt plodding or dull, I did find myself a little impatient to reach the end of the story. I loved The Tea Rose; it made my 2004 Top Ten list. I wasn't disappointed in this sequel, but it doesn't rate as high as its predecessor. (As I read, though, I couldn't help but think it would make a wonderful movie. Clive Owen would be my choice for Sid Malone. Not sure about any of the other characters. Maybe Helena Bonham Carter as India. But I digress.)

The Winter Rose is certainly an entertaining read, with its vivid settings and memorable characters; perfect for a long flight or a week at a beach resort! Be sure to read Heather's review, as well as her excellent interview with the author at Estella's Revenge.