November 30, 2009

Mailbox Monday

It's been a couple of months since my last Mailbox Monday posting. I'd really like to start reading the books that are currently stacked all over my house before bringing more in. I've been trying to ignore the incoming ARCs at work, as well as the offers for review copies from authors & publicists. It's tough to remain firm, though, when I have such generous friends (and customers) who are kind enough to keep me stocked in good reading material. ;)

So, what's new on my shelf?

by Heather Gudenkauf

This one came in a box full of birthday and Christmas gifts from my mom. Since it wasn't wrapped, I assumed (correctly) that I didn't need to wait until December to enjoy it. Since I'm home sick, I might just start in on it today. Thanks, Mom!

Looking After Pigeon
by Maud Carol Markson

I won this from Booklogged a few weeks ago. I've read mixed reviews, but am anxious to give it a read. Thanks, Booklogged!

by Hillary Jordan

From the author's website:

This is storytelling at its most indelible — fierce, unflinching and deeply human. Mudbound won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded biannually to a first literary novel that addresses issues of social justice.

One of my customers brought this in for me to borrow last week. I think she was returning the favor, as I've loaned her a couple of books (no longer available for purchase through B&N) over the past year or so. I've heard very good things about Jordan's novel and since it's on loan, I'll try to get to it sooner than later!

by Ellen Baker

A friend and former co-worker (from Borders in Fort Worth) sent this to me a couple of weeks ago. I've had my eye on it ever since it first came out. I love that cover! Again, I hope to get to this in the coming weeks. Thanks, Janet!

Well, it looks like I have my December reading mapped out. They all sound like winners, so maybe I'll end the year on a high note.

Mailbox Monday is the place for bloggers to share the books that arrived in their homes last week. For more Mailbox Monday posts, visit Marcia at The Printed Page.

Click on the titles for more information.

November 28, 2009

The Mongoose Diaries

The Mongoose Diaries: Excerpts From a Mother's First Year by Erin Noteboom
Nonfiction (Memoir/Parenting)
2007 Wolsak and Wynn
Finished on 11/23/09
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

"The truth is I remember only fragments."

With these words, award-winning poet Erin Noteboom starts the story of her daughter Vivian's birth. In vivid and graceful prose, Noteboom shares jewel-like fragments of her first year as a mother. A year that does not start with a birth, but with the death of her sister and contains not only first words, but the end of remission for a painful medical condition. Whether discussing her libido, which may be lost under the laundry, or how the sea stripped even the rings from her sister's fingers, The Mongoose Diaries is a courageous, funny and captivating work.

Rod and I first met Erin's dad and stepmom four years ago at our grief support group. Like us, they too were grieving, trying to work through the tragic death of their daughter, Wendy. After a couple of years, Rod and I stopped attending the meetings, but we stayed in touch with Wendell and Judy. Several months ago Wendell stopped by B&N with a copy of Erin's book, The Mongoose Diaries, as well as two collections of her poetry. Like a good friend, Rod immediately read the memoir, telling me how much he thought I'd enjoy it. He went on to say that Erin is a wonderful writer and that I'd like the humorous anecdotes about Wendell's granddaughter, Vivian. He also told me that the book has some sadness in it, but not so much that Erin's grief for her only sister overshadowed the joy of her new role as a mother.

I'm embarrassed to say that it took me several months to finally get around to reading this delightful book. In my typical fashion, the book went from my TBR stack on my desk to the one on a bedroom dresser to the one on my nightstand. Book club selections and ARCs kept bumping their way to the front of the line and it wasn't until recently, when I once again saw Wendall at B&N, that I realized how rude I'd been to not set all my other reading aside until I'd read his daughter's book.

Thank goodness for that visit to B&N! As soon as I finished my current read, I immediately picked up The Mongoose Diaries. It was late in the evening and in spite of being completely exhausted after a long day at work, I could not put down Erin's book! I even jumped out of bed, shivering from the chill in the house, as I ran into my office to grab a stack of Post-It notes. I crawled back under the covers and read until I realized my laughter was keeping my husband awake. I read more the following day on my lunch break, again laughing out loud, and I even wound up reading passages to my co-workers. The book could easily be read in an afternoon, but I read it in bits & pieces, savoring the humor and respectfully contemplating Erin's grief.

A sure sign that I've discovered a great book is:

* One that's littered with sticky notes (25 for this one!)
* One that makes me want to read all my favorite passages out loud to anyone who'll listen
* One that makes me want to buy my own copy after reading a loaner
* One that inspires me to buy copies for others
* One that has me composing (in my head) an email to the author
* One that I plan to read again and again

The Mongoose Diaries is a great book. It's one I'd love to buy for all my friends who have recently become mothers, as well as those who still remember what it's like to fall in love with a beautiful and precious, yet squalling and inconsolably demanding, newborn.

I laughed.

On exhaustion:

January 6 [Vivian is 8 weeks old]
Reaching! She gets cross-eyed in her efforts to reach the yellow rattle on her bouncy chair. Cries in delight when her fist makes contact with it. She keeps it up for half an hour. Such focus! Mine is nowhere near that good. Yesterday I got into the shower with my clothes still on.


January 13
It's the timing that gets to me. This morning I'm so tired, craving just an hour's more sleep with an ache I can feel in my knees. I nurse Vivi, James changes her, brings her to me, heads to work. She looks sleepy, thank God. I lie down next to her. She opens her eyes, smiles at me, and fills her pants. Right. I get up and change her. She is all coos and smiles and needs to chat. We chat for an hour or two. She wants to nurse. I nurse her, she falls asleep. Thank God! I lie down next to her. She opens her eyes, smiles at me, and fills her pants.


March 3
Picked up a parenting magazine for free at the doctor's yesterday, and so read today that babies Vivi's age like books of animal sounds. Having no "the cow goes moo" literature to hand, I grab up some of her stuffed animals and set about to improvise one. I settle down on the mat with her and realize I've grabbed a rabbit, a panda, a giraffe, and a deer. Improvisation comes to a bewildered halt.

And, I got a tiny glimpse into what my daughter might be experiencing as she grieves for the loss of her only sister.

I cried.

On grief:

rocking in the darkness and repeating her name

Like a freight train out of Colorado, like two hundred cars of coal,
grief starts slow. With bangs and impossible bendings, with screech
and sparks,
grief comes out of the west, down the long slope of Nebraska, down the long slope
of the year, smoothly and picking up speed, heavy, unstoppable,
with its slow sway and obsessive rattle, down towards Omaha,
sounding its whistle.


Procession of the Equinoxes

My little bird, before you were born,
I took a long walk in the woods
to bring on labour. It was later
than this: the elms were sharper
and more yellow. Still. Today
there is a fullness in the world:
the raspberry leaves, the sumac
starting to turn into the birth season
the season of heaviness and seeds.

It didn't work, the walking. You came
in your own time, and by the time
we made it home, it was November;
a week of sideways rain. Still.
In my heart the year is pinned
on that yellow day - the way the sky
is pinned on the north star,
and turns around her.

Though each turning moves.
It's different from the way July
is fixed, as if in salt. Every year
in stale heat my sister is thirty
and freshly dead. My heart's bird
when you are thirty, she
will be thirty. And who will mourn,
then, when even the pole star
has moved on?

Reminiscent of Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year (yet not as crass and much more humorous), The Mongoose Diaries is a sweet gift from a woman with a true poet's sensibilities.

Thank you for a remarkable memoir, Erin. I hope to meet you some day.

About the Author:

Born in Iowa, Erin Noteboom resides in Kitchener, Ontario, where she works as an editor for The New Quarterly, leads workshops, and writes. Her poetry has appeared in The Malahat Review, PRISM international, and Prairie Fire. She won the CBC Literary Award in 2001, was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award in 2004 and was awarded the Acorn/Plantor Award for People’s Poetry for her debut collection, Ghost Maps: Poems for Carl Hruska.

A Month in Summary - October '09

And now for my October reads. Four more books and another DNF. Not bad. Not great.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (3.5/5)

Growing Girls: The Mother of All Adventures by Jeanne Marie Laskas (3.5/5)

The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom (1/5)

Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (DNF)

The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel (3/5)

Favorite of the month: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Books Read 4
Male Authors 2
Female Authors 2
New-To-Me Authors 3
Epistolary 1
Audio 0
Fiction 3
Nonfiction 1
Historical Fiction 0
Coming-of-Age 0
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Teen 0
Children's 1
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 1
Horror 1
Graphic Novel 0
Romance 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 1
Biography 0
Short Stories 0
Essays 0
Culinary 1
Mystery/Thriller 0
Religious Fiction 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.

A Month in Summary - September '09

December is just around the corner and I've yet to post my monthly summaries for September and October. (November isn't quite over and I might actually finish a book or two in the coming days. Hope springs eternal, eh?)

So, without further rambling, here are the stats.

Abandoned by Cody McFadyen (4.5/5)

Havah: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee (4/5)

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard (4.5/5)

Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti (DNF)

Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities by Elizabeth Edwards (3.5/5)

Favorite of the month: Abandoned by Cody McFadyen

Books Read 4
Male Authors 1
Female Authors 3
New-To-Me Authors 2
Epistolary 0
Audio 0
Fiction 3
Nonfiction 1
Historical Fiction 0
Coming-of-Age 0
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Teen 0
Children's 0
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 0
Horror 0
Graphic Novel 0
Romance 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 1
Biography 0
Short Stories 0
Essays 0
Culinary 0
Mystery/Thriller 1
Religious Fiction 1
Re-read 0
Mine 3
Borrowed 1

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

November 22, 2009

Book Tour and Reviews

Has it really been five months since Rod's book signing at Barnes & Noble?? Well, for those of you who missed out, or those in need of a great gift idea for that sailor in your life, now's your chance. Rod will be joining six authors (including former U.S. Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser) on Black Friday at the SouthPointe Barnes & Noble from 12:00 to 2:00 pm. This event is sponsored by the Southeast Library System.

In addition to this local signing, Rod is going on a book tour, of sorts. Well, let's just say we're combining a Christmas vacation with a couple of signings in Florida. First stop, Barnes & Noble Marketplace SC in Ft. Myers (13751 Tamiami Trail) on Monday, December 28th at 1 pm. If you can't make that event, look for Rod at the Sanibel Island Bookshop (1571 Periwinkle Way) on Tuesday, December 29th from 11:00 to 12:00 pm. If you're in the area for any of these signings, please stop by and say hello. We'd love to see you!

And while I've got you here, check out some of these great reviews:

Midwest Book Review, Bookwatch, October 2009:

"Captain Joshua Slocum's ANNOTATED SAILING ALONE AROUND THE WORLD (9781574092752, #19.95) is annotated by Rod Scher, a teacher/journalist who provides explanations, commentary, and history to make Slocum's saga more accessible to modern readers. This clarification of Slocum's voyage in his wooden Spray packs in side bars of detail and enhances every page. Nautical libraries need this."

Sailing for Southern Africa, September 2009:

"If you are a sailor or a seaman of mature years, the likelihood is that you will have read Slocum`s "Sailing Alone Around the World" perhaps more than once. So why then would anyone want to read it again? Curiosity. I'd never come across a book of this nature with "annotations". What could it mean? How could it possibly add to the original story?

Remember, Slocum's historic circumnavigation in Spray in the 1890s was achieved with nothing more than 'a small wooden boat, some rope, a shelf of books and a broken tin clock'! Remember, too, that the old master mariner came from humble beginnings, and although his original manuscript lacked somewhat in the niceties of spelling and grammar, he had an extraordinary way of holding a reader's attention by relating his adventures in the simplest manner, and that made the book a best seller.

However, between the writing style and some of the nautical terminology of the time, readers of the original books would surely have welcomed, occasionally, a little clarification or explanation of Slocum's observations. And that is where Rod Scher and his annotations come in.

Alongside the text on each page that traces the epic solo voyage, Scher offers insights into what else of import was happening around the world at the same time, and he provides comments and explanations that not only enhance the story, but clarify it for the modern day reader. Even those who have read the tale before, will find that the annotations have breathed more life into it."

Midwest Book Review, Bookwatch, September 2009:

"One man did what many thought was insane - sail around the world. He took it one step further and did it alone. "The Annotated Sailing Alone Around the World" presents Joshua Slocum's epic voyage with notes and research from Rod Scher, giving greater depth to Slocum's writings and logs of his lonely voyage around the planet. "The Annotated Sailing Alone Around the World" is a solid pick for those who enjoy true-life nautical adventures."

Ocean Navigator, October 2009:

"Joshua Slocum's epic solo circumnavigation aboard his 37-foot sloop, Spray, in 1895 stands as one of the most important voyages of all time. His first-person account of the voyage, Sailing Alone Around the World has become a classic in maritime literature. But for many readers, sailor and landlubber alike, there was much to be read between the lines when it came to understanding Slocum, a quirky, somewhat eccentric adventurer.

Rod Scher's new annotated version of Slocum's work is an engaging commentary on the book and this remarkable man. His well-researched sidebars shed new light on Slocum's classic work along with insights into the man. This book demystifies much of the maritime jargon of the time. For the first-time reader or veteran salt whose dog-eared copy of Sailing Alone holds its place in the ship library, Scher's annotated version is a joy to read. I came away with empathy for the lost sailor who for better or for worse fought his demons on the wind."

Living Aboard, July/August 2009:

"This is the book that started it all, the book that first showed us that it was possible for a private citizen of modest means to have a great adventure at sea. In 1895, Captain Joshua Slocum, a sailing master beached by the imminent end of the age of sail, set forth in Spray, a 37 foot sloop, to sail alone around the world. Not only did he achieve this remarkable feat, he wrote a book about the voyage that will be read as long as sailors dream about the sea.

This isn't the first time I've reviewed Slocum's historic and ground-breaking account. The book itself is well worth reading and rereading, but the annotator of this edition has added a massive amount of new and fascinating material. Every page is flanked by a sidebar containing illustrations, footnotes, definitions, elaborations, and anecdotes drawn from Slocum's
time. For those to whom Slocum's salty language is somewhat mysterious, these additions will prove invaluable in understanding his narrative.

And even those more familiar with nautical jargon will find much to enjoy in these notes. On many pages are excerpts from newspapers of the period which help to set the stage for Slocum's stories. For example, at almost the same time as Slocum departed his home port of Boston, a fishing schooner was lost near the Grand Banks with all hands-- an illustration of the dangers of going to sea even in a large and well-crewed vessel.

Slocum acquired the Spray as a wreck stranded in a cow pasture and rebuilt her from the keel up, so that when he was done she was a new boat entirely. He attempted to make her pay by fishing for a time, but found that he 'had not the cunning properly to bait a hook.'

By an entirely unexplained process he decided instead to sail alone around the world, and this he did, encountering a vast number of strange and perilous adventures along the way, from the hallucinogenic effects of plums and bad cheese to the crafty strategies needed to repel bloodthirsty ruffians in lonely places. These sorts of stories form the original substrate to all the adventurers who followed in his wake, and all nautical writers owe an enormous debt to this eccentric but gifted sailor."

WoodenBoat Review, Sept/Oct 2009:

"Scher explains Slocum's text paragraph by paragraph, defining nautical terms, offering news of Slocum's day, and locating geographic points on his journey."

Sailing, September 2009:

"Whether long-time aficionados or new readers discovering him for the first time, fans of Joshua Slocum will rejoice in Rod Scher’s The Annotated Sailing Alone Around the World. Slocum’s account of his three-year voyage, the first circumnavigation by a solo sailor, is a classic of travel literature, and this new annotated edition of the book will give readers a deeper understanding and appreciation of the text.

Sidebars and margin notes provide commentary and explanation; defining terms, citing references and giving background on Slocum’s personal life. Scher also includes headlines from the day, providing additional historical context for Slocum’s tale.

Slocum set out from Boston on April 24, 1895 aboard the 37-foot gaff-rigged sloop Spray, returning to Newport on June 27, 1898. In the intervening three years and two months Slocum sailed the world with little more than tin clock, a simple set of carpenter’s tools, some carpet tacks and a stout little boat. The story of that sail is as thrilling as ever, and Scher has given us a way to enjoy it all the more."

48 North, July 2009:

"Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World is a classic, beloved by sailors the world over who have enjoyed this engrossing tale of a man who sails around the world alone in a small wooden sailboat built with his own hands. This edition is thorough annotated by teacher/journalist Rod Scher, who provides explanation, commentary, clarification, and “In the News” sidebars for historical context that will make Slocum’s masterpiece more accessible to today’s readers, sailor and landlubbers alike."

Lottery author Pat Wood, in Sea History, Summer 2009:

“As an avid sailor and author, I have read Slocum’s book several times, most notably as I was preparing to help crew a 39-ft. Valiant from Honolulu to San Francisco. I’d been anxious to test my mettle on a passage of that length, but fully realized it was only a drop in the bucket compared to Slocum’s achievement. I was privileged to be re-introduced to the wonder of Slocum’s accomplishments when I read Rod Scher’s brilliantly annotated version of Sailing Alone Around the World.

From the very first page I was transfixed. Rod Scher has transformed the material with information about oceanography, geography, sailing explanations, and history so that a reader is transported back to that era. He provides thorough foundation for better understanding exactly what it meant to sail around the world in the late 1800s. He has given the reader both context and depth that greatly enhances one’s enjoyment of the material and makes Slocum’s story accessible to a larger audience.

Who is this book for? Sailors, historians, students, teachers, and anyone who revels in curious facts and fascinating notations will find this gripping tale even more entertaining and compelling.”

Pretty cool, huh?! I can hardly wait for the international book tour. :)

November 21, 2009

These Is My Words

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy E. Turner
Fiction (Historical & Epistolary)
1998 Regan Books (Harper Collins Imprint)
Finished on 11/18/09
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific)

A nice girl should never go anywhere without a loaded gun and a big knife. (Sarah Agnes Prine)

Product Description:

In a compelling fiction debut, Nancy E. Turner's unforgettable These Is My Words melds the sweeping adventures and dramatic landscapes of Lonesome Dove with the heartfelt emotional saga of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.

Inspired by the author's original family memoirs, this absorbing story introduces us to the questioning, indomitable Sarah Prine, one of the most memorable women ever to survive and prevail in the Arizona Territory of the late 1800s. As a child, a fiery young woman, and finally a caring mother, Sarah forges a life as full and fascinating as our deepest needs, our most secret hopes, and our grandest dreams.

Rich in authentic details of daily life and etched with striking character portraits of very different pioneer families, this action-packed novel is also the story of a powerful, enduring love between Sarah and the dashing cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot. While their love grows, the heartbreak and wonder of the frontier experience unfolds in scene after scene.

Sarah's incredible story leads us into a vanished world that comes vividly to life again, while her struggle with work and home, love and responsibility resonate with those ever woman faces today. These Is My Words is a passionate celebration of a remarkable life, exhilarating and gripping from the first page to last.

I was so happy when my book club voted to read These Is My Words for our November selection. I first read this excellent novel six years ago (coincidentally, finishing on November 13th, just five days shy of my finish date this year). Of course I was a bit nervous about the re-read since I'd given it a perfect rating the first time around. What if I didn't like it nearly as well? Worse yet, what if knowing all the climatic plot points spoiled the enjoyment of the story? I guess it's the sign of a great book when it's just as entertaining the second time as the first. Even after just a mere six years, I'd forgotten several major details and found myself completely sucked back into Sarah's world. Unfortunately, the past few weeks have been pretty hectic and I wasn't able to spend more than a few minutes each night reading before falling sound asleep. It took me twice as long to finish the book (17 days!), which explains the minor reduction in my rating this time around. Had it ended up being just as good and compelling as my first reading, I would have made more time to read, even if it meant staying up late at night, just to get another chapter read.

So, are you curious to see what I had to say in my first review? Here you are:

After a lukewarm beginning, I fell in love with this marvelous coming-of-age story of courage, family, love and loss. The epistolary style is always fun to read and I was easily convinced that the diary could really be true. This book has everything. Indian raids, suspense, history, romantic tension, humor and drama (snakes!). I laughed and cried. I didn't want to finish reading this gem and plan to read it again (and give it as gifts this Christmas). Sarah and Jack's story will stay with me always. Rating: A+ (10/10 One of the best books I've ever read.)

And, yes, I gave it to several friends and relatives for Christmas that year. And each and everyone said they loved it (and Captain Jack!).

I have so many favorite passages, but I'll only share a few, so as not to spoil the book for those who wish to read it themselves.

On the love of books:

Being my share of nosey, I climbed up inside and found the dearest treasure I think I have ever seen. The wagon bed was lined with boxes of books. Books and books, stacked and packed in rows with leather covers on them and some had gold and ribboned edges. Some of them were story books, some of them seemed to be school books, and were about things I don't know of, and one is a magical book, with a big D on it, a book of words to learn to spell and what they mean...

This wagon is a treasure chest and I am suddenly struck greedier than ever in my life. I want it so bad I am just beside myself. All those words to read and know is more than my insides can stand and I am trembling all over with excitement.


I have been reading and reading many books. I know if I ever get word who they might belong to I should give them back so I am trying to read as much as possible in case that happens soon, but I would be sad to have to do that. I must never forget to be grateful for the gift of these books.

On love:

That man makes me feel like I have my bonnet on backwards.

On true love:

One thing I know, whispered Savannah, is that if he was quiet, and you were quiet, and neither of you minded it, then you are in love.

What? I never heard such a thing, I said. Why should being quiet mean you're in love?

Because, she said. That means you aren't nervous with each other, or affected, or likely to be hiding intentions behind too much conversation. A friendly silence can speak between two who will walk together a long way, she said.

Is that in the Bible? I asked.

No. My Pa said it, more than once. He liked to be quiet, and sit by the fire with Mama and watch her read or sew, or the both of them would just watch the fire die down before turning in.

On the passing of years:

My life feels like a book left out on the porch and the wind blows the pages faster and faster, turning always toward a new chapter faster than I can stop and read it.

Nancy Turner is such a great storyteller and I'm excited to see what's lies ahead for Sarah and her family. I have a copy of Sarah's Quilt: A Novel of Sarah Agnes Prine and the Arizona Territories, 1906 (the second in what is now a trilogy) and am anxious to start reading it now that I've refreshed my memory of the details in These Is My Words. From what I've heard, the third novel (The Star Garden: A Novel of Sarah Agnes Prine) is equally as enjoyable as the first two. Let's hope this author is busy working on another book!

The real Sarah Prine is third from the left. Young girl is Nancy's mother at age 11. The tallest lady is Nancy's grandmother, teller of stories and baker of pies, and the lady on the far right is Nancy's great- great grandmother, Roxie Virginia Stockman Reed. (Quoted from Nancy Turner's website)

Oh, and what did my book group think of this novel? Unfortunately, we wound up with one of the smallest gatherings to date (which meant more Jalapeno Poppers, Mexican Wedding Cookies, and Adirondack Margaritas for the four us who were able to attend), but from the responses I received, everyone loved it (and Captain Jack, of course!). It'll be interesting to see who goes on to read the sequels (and why others don't).

November 10, 2009

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Young Adult Fiction
2008 Harper Collins
Finished on 10/25/09
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
2009 Newberry Medal

Product Description

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy.

He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy-an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer.

But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family. . . .

Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, the graveyard book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

It seems as though more and more adults are reading teen and juvenile fiction lately. Did this wave of interest begin with Harry Potter, or has it always been around and I'm just now more aware since I work in a bookstore? Marcus Zusak, Stephanie Meyers, and Suzanne Collins (to name just a few) have all generated further interest in the teen section of our store (myself included). I enjoy strong character development and suspenseful plots, as well as the creative originality of teen fiction (although, at times, the teenage angst is a tad bit annoying) and look forward to discovering more talented authors. However, I'm not sure the young reader books (Juvie Fiction) are compelling and complex enough to suit my taste. I liked Harry Potter well enough, but never did read beyond The Goblet of Fire. Earlier this year I read The Penderwicks and was only moderately entertained. It felt simplistic in content and writing style, but then why wouldn't it? Its intended audience is 9-12 year-olds. So when it came time to find a couple of quick reads to add to my stack for the recent Blogger Read-a-Thon, why did I choose Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book? Well, for starters I've never read anything by Gaiman and I thought this might be a good introduction to his works. And, I'd heard a few positive reviews for this particular title from fellow readers. But mainly I chose it because it was this year's recipient for the Newberry Award and, as I've come to know, it never hurts to have first-hand knowledge in order to offer a sincere and informed recommendation (or not) to a frantic customer during the holiday season.

While it didn't knock my socks off like The Book Thief (Zusak) or The Hunger Games (Collins) or Stargirl (Spinelli), it was entertaining and held my attention from start to finish. I came to care about Bod and his friends, and my heartstrings were gently tugged as I read the final pages. And I enjoyed the subtle nods to Harry Potter. Did I love it? Nah. But I liked it enough to want to read more by Gaiman. Maybe next time, though, I'll try something from his adult bibliography. I'm thinking maybe Good Omens (which I hear is very funny) or American Gods. I'm open to suggestions.

Lastly, let me share a favorite author's remarks on this book:

The Graveyard Book is everything everyone loves about Neil Gaiman, only multiplied many times over, a novel that showcases his effortless feel for narrative, his flawless instincts for suspense, and above all, his dark, almost silky sense of humor." -- Joe Hill, author of Heart–Shaped Box.

November 4, 2009

Growing Girls

Growing Girls: The Mother of All Adventures by Jeanne Marie Laskas
Nonfiction - Memoir/Essays
2006 Bantam Books
Finished on 10/24/09
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Product Description

Award-winning author Jeanne Marie Laskas has charmed and delighted readers with her heartwarming and hilarious tales of life on Sweetwater Farm. Now she offers her most personal and most deeply felt memoir yet as she embarks on her greatest, most terrifying, most rewarding endeavor of all….

A good mother, writes Jeanne Marie Laskas in her latest report from Sweetwater Farm, would have bought a house in the suburbs with a cul-de-sac for her kids to ride bikes around instead of a ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere with a rooster. With the wryly observed self-doubt all mothers and mothers-to-be will instantly recognize, Laskas offers a poignant and laugh-out-loud-funny meditation on that greatest–and most impossible–of all life’s journeys: motherhood.

What is it, she muses, that’s so exhausting about being a mom? You’d think raising two little girls would be a breeze compared to dealing with the barely controlled anarchy of “attack” roosters, feuding neighbors, and a scheme to turn sheep into lawn mowers on the fifty-acre farm she runs with her bemused husband Alex. But, as any mother knows, you’d be wrong.

From struggling with the issues of race and identity as she raises two children adopted from China to taking her daughters to the mall for their first manicures, Jeanne Marie captures those magic moments that make motherhood the most important and rewarding job in the world–even if it’s never been done right. For, as she concludes in one of her three a.m. worry sessions, feeling like a bad mother is the only way to know you’re doing your job.

Whether confronting Sasha’s language delay, reflecting on Anna’s devotion to a creepy backwards-running chicken, feeling outclassed by the fabulous homeroom moms, or describing the rich, secret language each family shares, these candid observations from the front lines of parenthood are filled with love and laughter–and radiant with the tough, tender, and timeless wisdom only raising kids can teach us.


It's been three and a half years since I read Jeanne Laskas' The Exact Same Moon: Fifty Acres and a Family and even longer since I read Fifty Acres and a Poodle. I've lost track of how many times I've hand-sold copies of these memoirs, but they've definitely been an easy recommendation for those who enjoy a good laugh about farm life and animal antics.

Growing Girls has been in my stacks for quite some time and I decided to give it a try during the recent blogger Read-A-Thon. Fifty Acres and A Poodle and The Exact Same Moon are marvelous memoirs. I rated each a perfect 5/5 and both made my Top Ten lists the year I read them. Unfortunately, Growing Girls just wasn't quite as entertaining as Laskas' earlier works. I enjoyed the latter half of the book (which deals with life on the farm) much better than the opening chapters, (which focus on the adoption of her second daughter), but the tone of this book was uneven and I felt a little uncomfortable with the author's negative remarks about China and her daughters' birth mothers.

On parental exhaustion:

No, the no-sleep issue is not the meat of the problem, I don't think. Exhaustion as it pertains to motherhood is more specifically related to the fact that that it's so damn constant. As mother, you are the sergeant of an army and most of the time your soldiers don't do what you tell them to, and not only that but they fight, pick at each other, a flick of a pea, a stolen potato chip, and then they want more juice, even though you said no more juice they want more juice, so you offer milk because their teeth are going to fall out from all that juice, and then they cry and the negotiations continue and you dig your heels in because your job is to build character, and the only way to build character is to set boundaries, and enforce them. Then one of them has to go potty, and the other one has you looking under the sofa for a lost teapot that goes with the little mouse tea party set you knew had too many parts, and so you put your hand under the couch and you find a half-eaten Pop-Tart, which enrages you far more than it should. And so you yell and they cry and you would cry, too, if you stopped to think about how the only hope you have for sanity is a Barney video. You put the Barney video in and they ask for more juice.

Anybody can survive a day of this, of course; anyone can survive a week. But the thing about child rearing is, those children who grow up so fast don't really, not when you break it down hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute. They don't stop being children, not even for a day, not even for a weekend, while they are busily growing up so fast, and sooner or later you ask yourself: How is it that I've turned into such a cranky foam-at-the-mouth bitch when I was always the fun one, the fun aunt, the lady who would visit my nieces and nephews and be welcomed like a reprieve from the monster my sister somehow turned into? "You're funny! I wish you were my mom!"

You can find my review for The Exact Same Moon: Fifty Acres and a Family here. Fifty Acres and a Poodle was reviewed prior to my entry into the blogging world, so you'll just have to trust me when I say it's not one to miss.

November 3, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays/These Is My Words

March 14, 1882

We have the beginning of a house put up. We have had a visit from a bear and Albert fired a shot at him but he thinks he missed. Even though there is no roof on top we have pitched our tent on the floor boards and it is good to sleep on something besides rocky ground. At the same time we are trying to build a house, it rained for three days and then cleared and feels like spring.

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy Turner

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read

* Open to a random page

* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!