April 30, 2009

Thank You, Amazon Shoppers!

As most of you know, I'm an Amazon Associate. When you, my readers, click on a hyperlinked book title, cd, image of a book cover, etc. and then proceed to purchase that item, I earn a small bit of pocket change. I also earn a referral fee when someone clicks through to Amazon and places an order for something even if I haven't linked to it. Last year I earned a whopping $150. Most of the earnings average somewhere under a dollar, but occasionally, someone will order a large ticket item (all of which I can view under my earnings/order reports). For example, last year I had orders for these items:

Kindle ($39.90*)
iPod ($9.56*)
A History of Byzantine Literature ($7.08*)

Today, I discovered that someone has purchased a beautiful Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP Full Frame CMOS Digital SLR Camera (Body Only). This is not an inexpensive camera! My earnings amount to $107.56 for this single item!

I never know the identity of those who place orders through my blog, but I'd like to send out a huge thank you to the buyer of this camera. You've made my day! And, I hope you get great enjoyment out of your new camera!

*my earnings

April 24, 2009

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Young Adult Fiction
2008 Scholastic Press
Finished on 4/15/09
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Product Description:

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.

Wow! It's been a while since I've read such a good teen novel. While not quite as good as The Book Thief, it sure comes a lot closer than Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series. It may even be as good as the Harry Potter books.

The Hunger Games was my book club's choice for this month's discussion. We had a fantastic meeting, and yes, we all loved it. I've gotten to where I don't read any reviews or even the dust cover blurbs prior to reading a book, as I prefer to go in completely unaware of what might take place between the covers. And since this was a book club choice, I just assumed I'd give it a try without really knowing what it was about. As I began reading, I immediately wondered what I was getting into. I'd heard very good comments about the book, but wasn't aware of the premise of the "games." I had an uneasy feeling that it would be a bleak, depressing story about killing and death, but I continued on and quickly became engrossed in the characters and story. I think the author did a very good job of keeping the story interesting and suspenseful without resorting to gratuitous violence and gore. There was no lingering detailed description of the actual killings and I never felt uneasy or disturbed by the acts of violence.

On life in Panem:

When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts. Do my work quietly in school. Make only polite small talk in the public market. Discuss little more than trades in the Hob, which is the black market where I make most of my money. Even at home, where I am less pleasant, I avoid discussing tricky topics. Like the reaping, or food shortages, or the Hunger Games. Prim might begin to repeat my words and then where would we be?

On the Hunger Games:

The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.

Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch — this is the Capitol's way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. "Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen."

To make it humiliating as well as torturous, the Capitol requires us to treat the Hunger Games as a festivity, a sporting event pitting every district against the other. The last tribute alive receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes, largely consisting of food. All year, the Capitol will show the winning district gifts of grain and oil and even delicacies like sugar while the rest of us battle starvation.

Fans of The Giver (Lois Lowry), Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card), Lord of the Flies (William Golding), The Most Dangerous Game (short story by Richard Connell) and, yes, the Twilight series (Stephenie Meyers) will not be disappointed. I know I'm not alone when I say I'm anxiously awaiting the release of Catching Fire, the second in the trilogy, which is due out on September 1st. Until then, I may have to check out the first in Collins' young reader series, Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles).

Further praise from fellow bloggers:

What an exciting YA book! I saw this when it first came out and didn't give it a second glance when I discovered it was science fiction (I am so not a fan), but then I started seeing it getting very popular on Amazon and decided to give it another look-see. I'm so happy I did because I was always eager to learn what was going to happen next. (Joy, from Thoughts of Joy)

What more can I say about a book that received rave reviews from Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer and Rick Riordan? Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games is the best young adult novel I've read in over a year. It's an addictive, fast-paced story with a feisty teen heroine. (Lesa, from Lesa's Book Critiques)

Go here to read Stephen King's wonderful review on The Hunger Games.

Final words: Highly addictive!!

April 22, 2009


I finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins a week ago today. I haven't read anything since! I've picked up and set back down four books, but nothing has grabbed my attention. I've had over three fantastic months of reading, so I'm not too concerned, but I am getting a little impatient and want to settle into something soon!

These are the four books I've attempted to read:

The Travelling Hornplayer
by Barbara Trapido

My mom passed this one on to me. I may try it again at a later date.

Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska
by Miranda Weiss

I snagged this ARC at work. After a dozen pages, I decided it wasn't for me. However, I know a book fool who would love to read it, so off it goes!

The Musician's Daughter
by Susanne Dunlap

I received a beautiful (signed) copy of this from the author. I definitely plan to give it another try at a later date.

The Last Child
by John Hart

Another ARC from work. Read several pages and decided it wasn't appealing to me. Back to work it went.

I'm not going to review these, nor give them DNF ratings. I basically perused them as I would in a bookstore and don't feel the need to give them a write-up. However, I plan to get my review for The Hunger Games posted in the next day or two. And, yes, I loved it!!!

April 19, 2009

Little Bee

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
2009 Simon & Schuster
Finished on 4/9/09
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Product Description

From the author of the international bestseller Incendiary comes a haunting novel about the tenuous friendship that blooms between two disparate strangers — one an illegal Nigerian refugee, the other a recent widow from suburban London.

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again—the story starts there…

I went into this book completely blind. Although I'd seen it at work (who could miss that brilliantly colored cover art?!), I had no idea what it was about and hadn't heard any buzz (no pun intended) about the details of the story. Then I came across Marcia's enticing review and decided I had to give it a read. Picked up a copy and devoured it in just a couple of days. Unputdownable! I fell in love with Little Bee and Sarah's son, Charlie (the latter of whom provides a touch of much needed humor in this distressing, yet powerful novel), and know they will join my ever-growing list of memorable characters.

Cleave is a marvelous storyteller. The main characters are fully realized and the dialogue is well executed and realistic. I loved the author's device for explaining cultural differences by having Little Bee explain how she would describe a particular situation to "the girls from back home."

I wait for a gap in the traffic and then I ran across to the center of the road. I climbed over the metal barrier. This time a great many car horns were blown at me. I ran across, and up the green grass bank at the other side of the road. I sat down. I was out of breath. I watched the traffic racing past below me, three lines in one direction and three lines in the other. If I was telling this story to the girls from back home they would be saying, Okay, it was the morning, so the people were traveling to work in the fields. But why do the people who are driving from right to left not exchange their fields with the people who are driving from left to right? That way everyone could work in the fields near to their homes. And then I would just shrug because there are no answers that would not lead to more foolish questions, like What is an office and what crops can you grow in it?

Cleave paints a vivid portrait of the harsh realities in an immigration detention center:

Me, I was a woman under white fluorescent strip lights, in an underground room in an immigration detention center forty miles east of London. There were no seasons there. It was cold, cold, cold, and I did not have anyone to smile at. Those cold years are frozen inside me. The African girl they locked up in the immigration detention center, poor child, she never really escaped. In my soul she is still locked up in there, forever, under the fluorescent lights, curled up on the green linoleum floor with her knees tucked up underneath her chin. And this woman they released from the immigration detention center, this creature that I am, she is a new breed of human. There is nothing natural about me. I was born—no, I was reborn—in captivity. I learned my language from your newspapers, my clothes are your castoffs, and it is your pound that makes my pockets ache with its absence. Imagine a young woman cut from a smiling Save the Children magazine advertisement, who dresses herself in threadbare pink clothes from the recycling bin in your local supermarket car park and speaks English like the leader column of The Times, if you please. I would cross the street to avoid me. Truly, this is the one thing that people from your country and people from my country agree on. They say, That refugee girl is not one of us. That girl does not belong. That girl is a halfling, a child of an unnatural mating, an unfamiliar face in the moon.

On an asylum seeker's newly found freedom:

Outside, the fresh air smelled of wet grass. It blew in my face. The smell made me panic. For two years I had smelled only bleach, and my nail varnish, and the other detainees' cigarettes. Nothing natural. Nothing like this. I felt that if I took one step forward, the earth itself would rise up and reject me. There was nothing natural about me now. I stood there in my heavy boots with my breasts strapped down, neither a woman nor a girl, a creature who had forgotten her language and learned yours, whose past had crumbled to dust.

On desperation and loneliness:

Three weeks and five thousand miles on a tea ship—maybe if you scratched me you would still find that my skin smells of it. When they put me in the immigration detention center, they gave me a brown blanket and a white plastic cup of tea. And when I tasted it, all I wanted to do was to get back into the boat and go home again, to my country. Tea is the taste of my land: it is bitter and warm, strong, and sharp with memory. It tastes of longing. It tastes of the distance between where you are and where you come from. And it vanishes—the taste of it vanishes from your tongue when your lips are still hot from the cup. It disappears, like plantations stretching up into the mist. I have heard that your country drinks more tea than any other. How sad that must make you—like children who long for absent mothers. I am sorry.

Little Bee on the sad irony of rock music's popularity:

"Everyone in my village liked U2," I said. "Everyone in my country, maybe. Wouldn't that be funny, if the oil rebels were playing U2 in their jungle camps, and the government soldiers were playing U2 in their trucks. I think everyone was killing everyone else and listening to the same music. Do you know what? The first week I was in the detention center, U2 were number one here too. That is a good trick about this world, Sarah. No one likes each other, but everyone likes U2."

As I sit here composing this review, I find myself thinking back to The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver's excellent novel about a missionary family's experience in an African village in the 1960s. Both Little Bee and The Poisonwood Bible deal with tragic violence and political unrest experienced in Nigeria and the Belgian Congo, respectively, and yet Cleve's compelling story of loss and survival never feels preachy or pedantic. Little Bee is an excellent choice for a book club discussion, perhaps even combined with Kingsolver's novel for comparison.

Further praise from fellow bloggers:

My husband does not drive; therefore, I am always happy when I have to drop him off where there’s bookstore and cup of coffee nearby. Such was my happiness on Saturday, February 21, and I had almost an hour to spend in Barnes & Noble. On my way in, a cover caught my eye: Bright, almost neon orange with two heads in silhouette, and the title in an old script type style. I picked it up, ordered my coffee, and started reading…and stopped just long enough to pay for the book, pick up my husband, and head home to finish the book that same day. (Marcia, from Owl's Feathers)

Wow – this book impressed me a lot. The writing is the kind where I could have easily marked a sentence or paragraph on nearly every page. I really think that at some point I want to go back and re-read this one slowly just to be able to appreciate the many gems. (SuziQ, from Whimpulsive)

In the news: Kidman vying for film rights

Final word? Can I say I loved this before Oprah smacks her logo on the cover and claims it for her book club?! ;)

April 15, 2009

Mortal Prey

Mortal Prey by John Sandford
#13 in Prey series
2002 G. P. Putnam's Sons
Finished on 4/4/09
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Product Description

Years ago, Davenport almost died at the hands of Clara Rinker, a pleasant, soft-spoken, low-key southerner, and the best hit woman in the business. Now retired and living in Mexico, she herself nearly dies when a sniper kills her boyfriend, the son of a local druglord, and while the boy's father vows vengeance, Rinker knows something he doesn't: The boy wasn't the target—she was—and now she is going to have to disappear to find the killer herself.

The FBI drafts Davenport to help track Rinker down, and his fiancĂ©e, deep in wedding preparations, is really just as happy to get him out of her hair—but he has no idea what he's getting into. For Rinker is as unpredictable as ever, and between her, her old bosses in the St. Louis mob, the Mexican druglord, and the combined, sometimes warring, forces of U.S. law enforcement, this is one case that will get more dangerous as it goes along. And when the crossfire comes, anyone caught in the middle won't stand a chance...

Meh. Definitely not one of Sandford's best. As with most of the books in this series, the killer is revealed at the beginning of the novel. I enjoy a good thriller, but prefer to work the clues of an intricate mystery, eager to figure out the identity of the killer before it's revealed by the author. Maybe I've grown tired of Lucas Davenport. But knowing me, I'll continue with the series. #19 (Wicked Prey) is due out on May 12th.

April 14, 2009

A Month in Review - March '09

March was definitely a great month of reading! I can't remember the last time I read so many wonderful books. And, in spite of the low rating for Revolutionary Road, my book club had one of our best discussions ever, so that made it worthwhile.

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (3/5)

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (2/5)

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (5/5)

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (5/5)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (5/5)

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (DNF)

Favorite of the month: Tied between The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, Still Alice by Lisa Genova and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Books Read 5
Male Authors 1
Female Authors 4
New-To-Me Authors 5
Epistolary 0
Audio 0
Fiction 5
Nonfiction 0
Historical Fiction 1
Coming-of-Age 0
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Teen 0
Children's 1
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 0
Horror 0
Romance 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 0
Short Stories 0
Essays 0
Culinary 1
Mystery/Thriller 0
Re-read 0
Mine 2
Borrowed 2

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

April 8, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - Historical Fiction

Part Two

Apologies to those of you who came back last Thursday, hoping to find my second list of historical fiction favorites. The day came and went before I knew it. I still have a few more to share after today, but I won't promise to have a list up next Thursday!

From Bookmarks Magazine:

Bookstores, libraries—even this magazine—all seek to help readers by categorizing books into generally accepted genres: literary fiction, crime, romance, inspirational, and all the rest. Fans of historical fiction know that there are other ways of categorizing the world of books, but they are forced to sort through tales of modern suburban angst, lurid contemporary thrillers, or generic bodice rippers to find the works that match a compelling story with an informed view of the past. However, once a reader is on the trail of historical fiction, the genre’s diversity has some real benefits: regardless of one’s mood or temperament, there’s always a mystery, a western, a romance, or a sweeping epic that can be found to fit one’s tastes.

If finding historical fiction can be tricky, defining it is even trickier. The Historical Novel Society’s definition, for example, includes novels written at least 50 years after the events described or novels written by people approaching the subject only via research. Others may use a different cut-off date. Still, for the most part, readers recognize historical fiction when they see it.

The genre also has unofficial rules that authors are expected to follow. To persuade readers that the story could really have happened (and perhaps some of it did), authors should portray the time period as accurately as possible and avoid obvious anachronisms. The fiction and the history should be well balanced, with neither one overwhelming the other. It’s a tough genre to write, but a fascinating one to read. (Masters of the Past, Twenty Classic Historical Novels and Their Legacy by Sarah L. Johnson)

by Gary Jennings

The Good Earth
by Pearl S. Buck

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

The Tea Rose
by Jennifer Donnelly

by Alan Brennert

Dreamers of the Day
by Mary Doria Russell

by Sandra Dallas

The Year of Wonders
by Geraldine Brooks

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

The Last Days of Summer
by Steve Kluger

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford

Click on the titles for plot summaries and purchasing information.

My favorites, you ask? Well, The Book Thief is definitely my #1 pick, but The Help, The Tea Rose, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Dreamers of the Day are excellent, as well.

Click here if you missed the first list of historical fiction favorites.

April 5, 2009

The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
2009 Atria Books
Quit on 3/29/09
Rating: DNF
ARC - Due out on April 7, 2009

Product Description

With The House at Riverton, Australian author Kate Morton became an international bestseller, selling more than half a million copies in the UK alone and garnering translations into twenty-three languages. Now, with The Forgotten Garden, she delivers a novel that even surpasses her first tour de force. In 1913 London, a little girl plays hide-and-seek on the deck of a ship while waiting for the woman who left her there to return. But as darkness comes, the girl is still alone when the ship pulls out from the dock and steams away on a long, grueling journey to Australia. There, the dockmaster and his wife take in the castaway who is carrying nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a book of fairy tales. They name her Nell and raise her as their own. It's not until her twenty-first birthday that they tell her she is not who she thinks she is. Nell returns to England in search of her identity and that of the mysterious woman who abandoned her. But her quest is not fulfilled until after her death, when her granddaughter, Cassandra, travels to the cottage on the cliffs of Cornwall that Nell has left her and discovers the secrets of the forgotten garden of the novel's title. A story of outer and inner journeys, and an homage to the power of storytelling, The Forgotten Garden is filled with unforgettable characters who weave their way through its intricate plot to astounding effect.

I've heard very good things about Morton's debut novel, The House at Riverton, but haven't yet had a chance to give it a read. When I came upon an ARC of The Forgotten Garden (with its attractive cover art!), I decided to not wait any longer to read something by this popular new author. Unfortunately, after reading over 160 pages, I realized this just wasn't calling out to me, and I wasn't eager to spend another week or so reading the remaining 387 pages.

The story is told from three points of view and jumps back and forth in setting and time between 1907, 1913, 1930, 1976, and 2005. And, to add to my confusion, there's also a story within a story. I'm not one who needs a linear timeline, nor do multiple narrative voices frustrate me, but for whatever reason, this book became more of a challenge to finish than I would normally like, so I decided to call it quits. However, I still managed to find a couple of passages that might tempt someone else into reading this mysterious novel. Don't we all love to read about a character's love of reading?

It was too hot to go back outside. What she really felt like doing was reading. Escaping into the Enchanted Wood, up the Faraway Tree, or with the Famous Five into Smuggler's Top. She could picture her book, lying on her bed where she'd left it that morning, right near the pillow. Stupid of her not to bring it; she heard Len's voice, as she always did when she'd done something dumb.


Cassandra turned from the aircraft window and pulled the book of fairy tales from her carry-on, laid it across her lap. She didn't know what had made her so certain that she wanted to bring the book on board with her. It was the bond with Nell, she supposed, for this was the book from the suitcase, the link with Nell's past, one of the few possessions that had accompanied the little girl across the seas to Australia. And it was something about the book itself. It exercised the same compulsion over Cassandra that it had when she was ten years old and had first discovered it downstairs in Nell's flat. The title, the illustrations, even the author's name, Eliza Makepeace. Whispering it now, Cassandra felt the strangest shiver tiptoe along her spine.

I think I'm going to be in the minority on this multi-generational story. I have a strong feeling that fans of The Thirteenth Tale, The Shadow of the Wind and The Tea Rose (the latter of which I adored) might love it and give it rave reviews. I'll certainly be anxious to hear what others think. Meanwhile, I still intend to give The House at Riverton a try. If you've read either, please feel free to share your thoughts!