Doin' the Hop...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Jennifer at Crazy-For-Books says

In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!

This week's question is Who is your favorite new-to-you author so far this year?
I have had the pleasure of reading a lot of new authors, though I don't know if I can judge from just one book or not... plus I have some to-be-read who I think I'll love but whose book(s) I haven't read yet. So for now I'll go with Jennifer McMahan who wrote Dismantled, Lauren Oliver who wrote Before I Fall and coming in February, Delirium, and Malena Watrous who wrote If You Follow Me.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by!

75th Anniversary of Penguin Books!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Today marks the 75th Anniversary of Penguin Books!!

Penguin Group is made up of many successful publishing imprints -- I can't list them all here but some of my favorites are Berkley, New American Library, Viking (and Pamela Dorman/Viking), G.P. Putnam's Sons, Amy Einhorn/Putnam, Dutton, and many more. And the publicists I've worked with at Penguin have been incredibly friendly and easy to work with. The majority of specific "review" books that have been reviewed here at Take Me Away have been from Penguin.

You can explore the site dedicated to the celebration of Penguin's anniversary here. Some of the highlights include the first 10 authors/books published by Penguin in 1935 including Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway, a timeline of Penguin's history, as well as a gallery of pictures, and much more!

In honor of their anniversary, Penguin has allowed me to choose from 75 books that represent Penguin's 75 years of publishing for a giveaway here at Take Me Away. I have chosen a modern classic that I haven't read yet but will be adding to my collection soon. The book I've chosen will certainly "take you away" in its story to a place that you know I adore....

The giveaway will be:

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

I'm looking forward to reading this book and hopefully you are too! If you would like to enter the giveaway, please fill out the form below... Entries in the comments section will not be counted!!

  • Must be a follower of this blog to enter
  • Addresses in the United States Only please
  • Entries must be using the form below
  • Reply to my e-mail within 48 hours with your address
  • Winner will be announced August 7, 2010

Throwback Thursday

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Throwback Thursday – this is an event hosted by me! It used to take place weekly, but is now once a month on this blog. It is the time to recognize those older books… an older book you’ve always wanted to read, or one that you have read and love; maybe one from your childhood; or review an older book -- how about even a classic! Leave a comment here and feel free to take an icon and use it on your blog! Also feel free to do this on as many Thursdays as you like. =)

This week's throwback is:

Liar's Game by Eric Jerome Dickey
Publish Date: 2000 (paperback 6/12/01)

Last week, Doret over at Color Online posted about how black authors are singled out and given their own section in bookstores rather than having their books integrated with the rest of the store. She posted a hilarious video by Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint and Honey, in which she tries to welcome people to the African American section of the bookstore. It's a funny but sarcastic video and the topic is sort of frustrating. Anyway, it reminded me of a book that I loved back in the day. I don't even remember now what it was about, but I read it more than once and recommended it to everyone! And they're probably right that the authors of those books are missing out on a lot of readers due to being shelved separately like that.

Dana left New York to escape a roller-coaster relationship. Vincent is living in Los Angeles, trying to forget his own shattered marriage. They want to plan a future together-but first they have to stop running from their pasts. Eric Jerome Dickey, a rising star on the bestseller lists, delivers a boldly honest novel-about love that starts with a lie.

I don't even know that this would be my genre of book anymore, but I do remember loving it at the time!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Title: Stash
Author: David Klein
Pages: 365
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Broadway Books (Random House)
Release Date: July 27, 2010

I am happy to announce for his first "appearance" at Take Me Away my husband, Jason, who has offered to help me out by providing a review every now and then! It's funny to read his review because his voice is definitely different from mine. But this is him for sure!

David Klein’s 1st novel Stash is about the Raine family who live in the quaint town of Morrissey which is somewhere in upstate New York. The story starts off with the devoted housewife Gwen who scores some marijuana from an old acquaintance for herself and her friend, Marlene and husband, Roger. Everything seems innocent enough until Gwen is caught in a car accident and the police find the marijuana in her car while surveying the wreck.

What I liked about the book

Basis of the story. I’m a fan of the show Weeds on Showtime, which we do not have, but it is available for instant on Netflix (shameless plug), which I love. Much to my dismay it is not exactly like Weeds but more Desperate Housewives. What I took away from the book was what happens when you innocently self indulge in something that you know is wrong. No I’m not talking about eating that cookie after you’ve already brushed your teeth for the night but you get the idea.

Jude. I feel like I know a ton of Jude’s. Jude is the old acquaintance that Gwen meets up with out of the blue to get her fix. Jude is a restaurant owner/manager and having worked in the restaurants for several years I feel like I know this type very well. No I’m not saying all restaurant managers are dealers. Okay maybe only in New York.

What I didn’t like about the book

I enjoy it when an author puts forth the effort to research a topic well, but I felt like the book dragged on in certain parts. Brian who is Gwen’s husband is a pharmaceutical rep and his company is taking heat on a new drug they just introduced to the market. I enjoyed the work drama but I get my fill of that at my own job and all the drug/FDA insight to me just fell flat. What intrigued me the most was what was going to happen to Gwen? What about the nagging police investigation that just won’t go away and what’s up with this guy Jude?

Character development. I felt like some characters were under and over developed. Jude has a daughter named Dana who we find out about in spurts and at one point I didn’t know if it was going to go anywhere and I lost interest in her for a little bit. Another character is Aaron whom Jude is a business partner with. He seems shady and interesting but it doesn’t get beyond that. I felt that some chapters existed just to increase the page count. Then again this might just be because I could not enjoy the pace of the book as much as I would have liked (see above).

Overall the book was okay. I found parts of it enjoyable and I did like some of the characters, which to me is what keeps you interested in a book/series. Once you are hooked to the character you feel like you are in their world and you want to know or even help them make decisions!

New Winners..... Again

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Announcing the NEW winner for STILL MISSING by Chevy Stevens and the 2 new winner(s) for THE BLIND CONTESSA'S NEW MACHINE by Carey Wallace (1 of the 3 people replied)

Winner of STILL MISSING is....... Karen K.
Karen, please e-mail your address within 48 hours at jennala(at)cfl(dot)rr(com) so I can have the publisher send you the book.

The 2 new winners for:

Andrea V.

Please e-mail your address within 48 hours at jennala(at)cfl(dot)rr(com) so I can have the publisher send you the book.

Bright Lights, Big CIty

Monday, July 26, 2010

Title: Bright Lights, Big City
Author: Jay McInerney
Pages: 182
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries (Random House)
Release Date: September 1984

In the mood to read another New York book, I picked up Bright Lights, Big City the modern classic published in 1984 about a young man, lost in life, trying to find himself in NYC. This book has been lauded by the likes of authors Jonathan Tropper and Jen Lancaster (who titled her book after, Bright Lights, Big Ass, in reference to it). Time magazine also named it one of its nine generation-defining novels.

Therefore, I had big expectations for this novel. For the most part it met my expectations. The author, Jay McInerney, described the 1980's New York nightlife where everyone snorts cocaine mindlessly on the regular. His wife, who works as a model, calls from France to tell him she's staying there and basically hopes his life goes well for him. He works for a fact department in an agency where he reads through other people's fiction to correct any incorrect "facts" but it hasn't helped him rise to the fiction department which was his goal in the first place. His friend, Ted Allagash, calls him up every night to party at random clubs.

While I found the 182 page romp through 1980's New York interesting, I'm fairly certain I read it much too superficially. The significance of most of it probably slipped through my fingers. Just from the little I've read written about it on various websites, I see that I didn't "get it". I wonder if some of what was so loved about this book was that it was innovative and enlightening for its time. (?) Anyway, even though it was an "easy" read, I feel like some cliff notes might help me out a little. Unless any of you have read it and can explain to me what I was supposed to have gotten from it?

Oh! I almost forgot to mention this book is written in second person. It might be the first book I've read like this, and while I normally wouldn't like it, it worked for this book, and I still felt like I was reading about another person rather than feeling like I was him. It's almost like I'm reading something he wrote to himself. Sounds strange but it actually worked out fine, lol.

Anyway, I'm way behind the times on this because apparently there was a movie based on this book with Michael J. Fox and Keifer Sutherland from 1988, an off-broadway musical for a little bit in 1999, and was performed on stage in the UK in 2009 (just last year!) I guess that's how out of the loop you can get when you're only 2-years-old when the book is published, lol. But apparently they are also re-making the movie, set to release in 2013. So... I will be watching the original movie soon and will return here to review it!

Sunday Salon

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday again! Well, I posted a couple reviews this week, Catching Fire and The Last Block in Harlem. Unfortunately I haven't done much reading in the past week (those two I read before this past week). I think I've just been so stressed out with work and school and everything. My school tightened up the internship program even more so now I have to seriously bust my butt to get my direct clinical hours finished up by August 13th at the very latest just to get my 1.5 credits for the first half of my second internship (of 3). Yeah it's complicated and frustrating and having my school make it even more strict is making me that much more stressed out. I'm no longer going to be able to get away for a couple days for my birthday like I'd planned because I need every day of hours I can get. =( Suffice it to say, I've had a lot of difficulty concentrating on reading, even though I've got some great books started. And, tragically, every time I've started reading lately... I FALL ASLEEP!! I feel like those non-readers who say they read only for purposes of getting to sleep. It's awful.

As for what I'm reading now, I'm not really committed enough to any book to say that is the ONE I'm reading, though I've started reading several. I promise I am still working on The Little Giant of Aberdeen County which is good, but with my difficulty concentrating lately, it's going slow. That and it hit on a (common) topic/issue that has just randomly become sort of sensitive for me so I just couldn't keep reading it. Pretty soon, though, I will be cracking open (metaphorically since it'll be on my nook) The Passage by Justin Cronin. It's the biggest thing in new releases apparently. I'd say that I regret not standing in line for an hour at 4:00 pm on the last day of BEA to get a copy of this book signed by the author... but then we all know what happened to all the books I got at BEA, so maybe I should be thankful I didn't waste my time as well as a copy of the book from the author. Anyway, my husband just bought a nook the other day so he can have his own, and he and I both bought The Passage for our nooks so that we can read it together at the same time. =) That should be fun. But we're waiting until this school term is over to start that!

Since I've been having difficulty staying on top of my reading lately, reading review books has definitely gotten way behind. It's really making me re-think what I want to be doing here on my blog. I love networking with publishers and having the privilege of receiving and reviewing books before their release date. And I don't necessarily want to stop, but in all honesty I have waaaaay too many review books alone. And I don't want my entire reading repertoire to be made up of random newly released books. I'd love for my blog to consist of a bigger variety of books; I'd like to just decide which of the hundreds of already published books on my shelves I would like to read next rather than having to meet reading deadlines. I took this all upon myself so it's my own fault, but I need to figure out a way to balance both. Mainly it is going to mean I need to cut down on review books. =( Ultimately, though, I think the quality of my blog will improve if I'm reading purely what I am actually in the mood to read at the time, and if the books I review are more "unique" choices. I find that it sort of gets old when I see blogs all reviewing all the same books. And there are soooo many more books out there for us to be sharing with others. So that's what I think I'm going to focus on. I have many many books still to review, and I will continue to try to get to them when I can, but I can't feel pressured to read them all right away.

Winners: Still Missing & The Blind Contessa's New Machine

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Announcing the winner for STILL MISSING by Chevy Stevens and a new winner(s) for THE BLIND CONTESSA'S NEW MACHINE by Carey Wallace

Winner of STILL MISSING is....... new winner chosen
new winner, please e-mail your address within 48 hours at jennala(at)cfl(dot)rr(com) so I can have the publisher send you the book.

As for this book, I completely forgot I could choose THREE winners instead of one. And I needed to pick a replacement winner anyway since our first did not reply... so the three winners are.....

Nancye Davis

plus new winners chosen

Please e-mail your address within 48 hours at jennala(at)cfl(dot)rr(com) so I can have the publisher send you the book.

Catching Fire

Friday, July 23, 2010

Title: Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
Pages: 391
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: September 1, 2009

With the release of the final book in the trilogy right around the corner in August, I figured now would be a good time to read Catching Fire, the second in the Hunger Games trilogy. You can check out my "mini-review" of The Hunger Games here.

As you can tell from that review, or in case you didn't read it, I had mediocre feelings about the first book after reading it. It was okay once I got into it, but I didn't exude the passion for the book that so many did. But I have to say maybe because of that Catching Fire exceeded my expectations and was a fun and thrilling read. I have tried my best to keep this review spoiler-free... you can at least rest assured that I include less information than what you'll find in a synopsis online.

Rebellion. Uprising. Defiance. All words that the government of Panem doesn't want to hear. After all, wasn't that the point of the Hunger Games in the first place? To show who's in charge and let the citizens of Panem know who has all the power?

Catching Fire
starts off after the Hunger Games has ended. The victors and families are living in the Victor's Village, and they embark on the traditional victor tour to all 12 districts and to the Capital. Without necessarily meaning to, Katniss has incited the start of a rebellion. Her actions during the games sparked some thoughts in the citizens of some of the districts and now they're starting to rebel. President Snow has to stop this, of course, so he makes a visit to Katniss to impart some "advice" to her. But Katniss doesn't realize the significance her role, or that of "the mockingjay", has played in the different districts.

On top of that, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games. Each "quarter quell" has a new twist to it, and this year's twist shocks everyone and sets forth an entirely new set of dynamics. The love triangle between Katniss with Peeta and Gale continues as well, and some new characters are introduced that you might love or might hate.

For me, The Hunger Games was almost about getting your feet wet -- just testing out the water to see how cold it is. Maybe slowly easing yourself in as your body temperature adjusts to the shocking cold of the water. While it was a novel in itself, The Hunger Games, turned out to be merely an introduction to the story of Panem. Following this example, Catching Fire, is about immersing yourself in the water, swimming and throwing around a beach ball and timing how long you can tread water just for fun (Jackie, Jessica.... if you're reading this.... ) and gasping for breath when after 15 minutes no one has dropped out yet.... I felt the story in Catching Fire was more sophisticated and involved -- and will make you grasp for breath as well. ;) The pace was fast because it seemed there was so much more to fit into this story. There were random twists (or simple cliff hangers) that shocked me. And as for this love triangle... in The Hunger Games I couldn't decide if I was Team Peeta or Team Gale because I didn't really care -- I lacked a connection to most of the characters. But this time I felt more invested -- this time my decision wavered between the two because I want to be both! (Though I think I'm leaning towards Team Gale). I thought this was a great sequel for all these reasons. It had more social and political themes. Action. Twists. And yet maintained the important parts of the first book.

Now, I know people have mentioned they were glad Mockingjay comes out in August and they can read it soon, but I don't recall reading any reviews that warned readers that we should hold out on reading this one until closer to August if at all possible... because while The Hunger Games does end on its own, Catching Fire doesn't so much; instead it stops at what might be a good stop to put the book down if you need to check on dinner real quick. It's not really an ending and THIS IS WHY you will want to go out and buy Mockingay right away!

Winner: The Blind Contessa's New Machine

Thursday, July 22, 2010

We have a winner.....!!!

Winner is.... (new winner chosen)

new winner, please e-mail me at jennala(at)cfl(dot)rr(dot)com within 48 hours with your address so I can send you this book!

Thanks to everyone for entering!

When a Good Thing Becomes Too Much

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Don't you love when one of your favorite authors has a new book coming out? And it's so awful when you close one of their books and know it's going to be another year before you can read another by them, right? The same thing with sequels.

But do you ever feel like maybe some authors release books too often? There have been some authors whose books I lost interest in after a while because they just weren't as good anymore. It felt like once the author started having to meet frequent deadlines for a book (instead of finishing a book when they felt truly good and done) that maybe the heart and passion in the story was missing so it wasn't as good anymore. And I've noticed some authors have multiple books coming out in the same year and it makes me wonder how they can possibly keep up! Or maybe if an author releases a new book constantly then there's no more excitement or anticipation and that affects a readers' thoughts on the book?

Alternately, I look forward to new blog posts by authors and love reading their new material in this form. Same with authors who write regular columns somewhere. But these aren't nearly the same as entire novels. I really think I'd rather wait a while for an author to release a new book and know it's going to be absolutely fantastic, then to wait moderately long for their next book and have it be just mediocre. But there are definitely exceptions to both side of this argument. What are your thoughts?

The Last Block in Harlem

Monday, July 19, 2010

Title: The Last Block in Harlem
Author: Christopher Herz
Pages: 215
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Amazon Encore
Release Date: July 13, 2010

Unless you're new to reading this blog, you're probably aware of my love for all things New York City. There is something so real about the city, and it's full of such history. And the variety in culture and people in New York is something that continues to draw me to it. My family makes fun of me for a remark I made after returning from my first trip to NYC when I said that I felt like I "belonged" in NYC more than I do here in Florida where I grew up. (But it's true). On my most recent trip to the city, I was able to spend some time with a good friend of mine in Queens. She took us on a tour of the borough she absolutely loves and calls home. Her passion for this part of New York was contagious. I could have walked around the streets of Queens all day just taking in the world around me. I feel this way about all the parts of the city I've visited so far. So it only seemed natural that I would feel the need to read The Last Block in Harlem by Christopher Herz -- his own love story for yet another part of New York City. Coincidentally, the same friend from Queens (Sarah) and I had a conversation that day about the gentrification of Harlem. Say the world, Harlem, and look at the automatic thoughts that run through your mind. It's probably thought of as a rough kind of place and dangerous. So for some, the thought of beautifying the city and transforming it into a new safe place to live might be desirable. But then what happens to the culture, the history? Or the people who have spent their entire lives in Harlem and can no longer afford the lofty rent payments, increased by the said gentrification of the city?

The Last Block in Harlem explores this topic, the connection a group of people has to their neighborhood, which is an extension of their lives. This book is narrated in first person and is about a man who takes it upon himself to start cleaning up the streets of his block in Harlem. He doesn't do it for payment or rewards of any kind. It's merely for him and his home. This contemporary novel has some existentialist themes running through it reminding me in parts of the main characters from The Unnamed and The Financial Lives of the Poets. Our main character is tired of his meaningless life as a copywriter for an advertising agency and decides to leave his job to focus on finding meaning in his life; and it just so starts with his cleaning up his block. But these actions lead to media attention and ultimately real estate agencies start looking into Harlem and its real estate potential. This man then has to turn things around and find a way to bring the block's inhabitants together to protect their homes from being taken over.

Though short, at only 215 pages, The Last Block in Harlem is thorough and complex and can't necessarily be considered a light read. There isn't a large amount of action at any given time; in fact, much of the mentioned plot doesn't occur until halfway through the book. In the way that many books are character studies, this one is, in a sense, a "neighborhood study", with snapshots of the people that make up the neighborhood. Alongside this storyline and complementing the character's period of enlightenment is that of the man's relationship with his wife, Namuna. That he is absolutely in love with his wife is never in question -- but how he shows his love for her while going through this part of his life is. The storyline between the two of them did confuse me at times, and the place where their relationship ultimately goes was strange to me. Because there's so much to contemplate in this book, it's possible I didn't catch on to the significance of this part, so for me it's the only part I would have maybe preferred to be different.

I was certainly taken away to the streets of Harlem while reading this book and could feel Herz's love for the city. The descriptions painted for me a clear picture of the neighborhood, and the dialogue between all the characters contributed to the atmosphere of the novel. And I can't fail to mention how much I love the cover of this book! I also can't finish this review without mentioning a little about the author. I had the opportunity to meet him at the book blogger convention this past May. He talked about how when he first wrote this book, he walked the streets of New York City every day selling it individually to anyone who was willing to listen to him. He was even featured in an article in Publishers Weekly and shortly after was offered a publishing deal from Amazon's new publishing house, Amazon Encore. On his blog, Herz Words, the author has placed pictures with a short caption of all those individuals who bought the copies of the book that he hand sold individually. It's sort of fun, so check it out.

The Last Block in Harlem exuded for me a passion for that block in New York City. It was a deep, thoughtful read that I feel could really use a second read through to truly grasp everything the author intended. Those who love this city or can relate to the passion for one's own neighborhood will likely enjoy this book. Same for those who enjoy reading about a person's search for their true identity and meaning in their life. Great debut.

Sunday Salon

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I definitely did not get a lot of reading done this week. My days have all been busy with work and then appointments for my internship after that. Then I've come home, had a quick dinner, and continued doing work until about midnight. And I'm still not caught up! So you can imagine I didn't read much. =( Hopefully I'll still have a couple reviews up this week though. I have one ready to go, and I'm currently reading a somewhat short book that I may have finished tonight.

My husband has decided he'd like to help me out a little so he picked up one of my review books last week and read it and wrote the review for me! It made me laugh because I can just hear him talking in his review. You will definitely be able to tell the difference from mine because the voice is way different! Anyway, that review will be up the last week of this month near that book's release date.

I currently have a giveaway still going for Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. It's going only through this Friday, so if you're interested make sure you enter. The giveaway for The Blind Contessa's New Machine is also open still but only through Wednesday. I'm still working out how to do giveaways the best. I like just using a simple form and not requiring anything else except to check back, but I feel like a couple times I've had people enter multiple times under different names since I state that I'm going to post the winner here rather than e-mail and then if I pick one of the 5 names they entered they can send me the one e-mail they use. I don't necessarily want to require that people be followers or subscribers, but at the same time I think that giveaways should be for people who actually read the blog or who are new to it and plan to. I know this is sort of a hot topic and people definitely have different thoughts about it. Curious what you all think about it.

Giveaway: Still Missing

Friday, July 16, 2010

Last week, I reviewed Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. If you missed the review, you can read it here.

Thanks to the publisher, I am hosting a giveaway for a copy of this book to one lucky winner. This contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out the form below with your name/screen name (that you don't mind posted here on my blog). You do not have to be a follower to enter; however, I will not e-mail the winner -- the winner's name will be posted here and they will have 48 hours to e-mail me their address.
The contest will run for one week, and the winner will be announced on July 24, 2010.

American Born Chinese

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Title: American Born Chinese
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Lark Pien
Pages: 233
Genre: Graphic Novel
Publisher: Roaring Book Press (Macmillan), First Second
Release Date: September 5, 2006

American Born Chinese won the Michael L. Printz award for young adult literature in 2007. I was intrigued by Trisha's review at Eclectic/Eccentric and thought I'd give it a try for my second graphic novel ever. ;)

Three seemingly separate stories make up this graphic novel and come together in a surprisingly clever way at the end. The stories are all told a little at a time, rotating through all three each time. The first story (my least favorite) was a supposed folk tale about a monkey king who is offended when he isn't allowed into a party because he is a... monkey. He then starts his own journey to master different disciplines to prove himself. The second story is about a Chinese American boy, Jin, trying to fit in at school and be known for anything other than his Asian heritage. He purposely denigrates the other Chinese boy in his class and avoids the Chinese girl so no one will think they're a couple.

The third story in the novel is about a Caucasian boy, Danny, who is horribly embarrassed by his Chinese cousin -- the ultimate Asian stereotype. He enters his first scene shouting "HARRO AMELLICA!!" He attends school with Danny and causes even Danny to be somewhat of an outcast because of his outrageous behaviors. I wondered how Danny was related to a Chinese boy when neither Danny nor the cousin were obviously half of either ethnicity or biracial. I was afraid this wouldn't be answered, but naive me... it was answered in the end in a powerful way.

These last two stories really provided some insight into the Asian American experience. For instance, the story with Jin exemplified the inner conflict that occurs when children of another ethnicity (or even those who are just different in general) try to fit in as opposed to support those with whom they can relate. The stories were fun, but you would have to have a sense of humor regarding stereotypes and be able to make fun of a situation, even where real issues are concerned. Anyone who might be easily offended should probably stay away from this. As you can see, the pictures were simply drawn and colorful. While the stories were interesting, I found them all to be fairly average after a while -- but that's because I didn't know what was to come; the best part was the clever culmination of all the stories in the end. Even now thinking about it (and I read this a while ago) I feel the same sense of wonderment that I did when I first read it. If I ever wondered how the three stories would converge (which I did), I was given an amazingly fun and smart answer that made the entire read worth it!

The Nobodies Album

Monday, July 12, 2010

Title: The Nobodies Album
Author: Carolyn Parkhurst
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (Random House)
Release Date: June 15, 2010

I thoroughly enjoyed Carolyn Parkhurst's first 2 books, Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, which were both fast paced, light, and intriguing reads, so I was excited when I heard she had a new book coming out. The idea was certainly unique; the different nature took a bit to get used to but was engaging after that.

Octavia Frost is the best-selling author of 7 novels who has just traveled to New York City to personally hand in the manuscript for what she hopes will be her next novel. In an unprecedented twist, Octavia has changed the endings to all of her novels and compiled them in her new book she's entitled The Nobodies Album in reference to a conversation she once had with her famous rock star son, Milo Frost; the book is also an indirect attempt to re-initiate a relationship with her son with whom she has been estranged for the past 4 years for reasons that are cleverly intertwined with the other plot points.

Upon walking through Times Square, Octavia is gobsmacked when she reads on the news ticker (I assume above the Good Morning America studio -- go GMA! check out my love for GMA and all things New York here) that her son has just been arrested for the murder (MURDER?!) of his girlfriend, Bettina Moffett. Octavia quickly drops her manuscript with her agent, canceling lunch, and rushes out to California where she hopes for the chance to support her son and prove what must be his innocense.

Mingled within the story of Octavia and her son, are the original and revised endings to her previous novels. Each novel is introduced with the title and year of publishing followed by the synopsis from the jacket cover. We then read the entire original ending, and, after that, the parts she changed. This was initially difficult to get used to because of its choppy nature in the narrative and also because I didn't find most of the first featured novel that interesting. After that, though, I was surprisingly entranced within the endings of the other stories, finding that I almost forgot I was reading a slice of a novel within another novel.

The story of Octavia and her son, however, was even more interesting than those endings and was the driving force that kept me hooked. Parkhurst evoked such genuine emotion in her character, Octavia, that I felt as though I were reading the deeply personal reflections of a mother's struggles to reconnect with her son combined with her regrets over her actions that led to their estrangement; the emotions were so genuine that for the majority of the novel I confused myself on more than one occasion, feeling as though I were reading non-fiction. She describes, without necessarily stating bluntly, the way in which she walks on thin ice around her son for fear that if she says or does something wrong she'll be alienated from him again. In addition to the strained nuances of the mother/son relationship, Octavia delves deeply into the life of a writer and cogitates on what it's like to be a writer and how each book is and is not an extension of the authors themselves.

The Nobodies Album was an interesting and satisfying read. While reading it I felt like though I enjoyed it, it wasn't as much as I did with her previous novels. But the more I've thought about it since completing this book, the more I realized how well-done this novel was and how it deserves it's own consideration rather than being compared to the other novels. The one thing I didn't quite catch on to was what each of the stories had to do, if anything, with the primary storyline. They all related in some way to the author's life, but I feel like maybe I missed some of the significance.

Regardless, a good read -- Carolyn Parkhurst has a part of her site dedicated to this book... it's set up like the website for Octavia Frost, and they even have covers to some of the novels we read about in The Nobodies Album. It's sort of fun... check it out!

Sunday Salon

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I completely forgot to have my Sunday Salon post ready today!
Anyway, I'm at Barnes and Noble getting some work done while I wait to go to my next therapy appointment since my first one this morning canceled. So I thought I'd post one real quick.
I finished reading The Nobodies Album which I sort of snuck in and I'm still working on The Little Giant of Aberdeen County and one other book, lol. I can't seem to pick just one lately. My reading was sort of slow this week though with so much else going on "in real life", haha.
I still have a giveaway going for The Blind Contessa's New Machine if you're interested.
I don't have much else to update. I plan on reading To Kill a Mockingbird sometime this month to celebrate its 50th anniversary! I read part of it in 7th grade, I know, (if not all of it) and then we saw the play. But I really don't remember much about it.
That's all. I'll have a couple reviews up this week most likely. So, everyone have a great week!

Winner: The Scent of Rain and Lightning Audiobook

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I have randomly selected a winner using for everyone who entered the contest for this audiobook!

And that winner is......

Sandy Jay!!!!

Sandy, please e-mail me at jennala(at)cfl(dot)rr(dot)com by Monday at 5:00 pm with your address!!

Thanks everyone for entering!

The Blind Contessa's New Machine (Review & Giveaway)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Title: The Blind Contessa's New Machine
Author: Carey Wallace
Pages: 207
Genre: Fiction (literary)
Publisher: Viking/Pamela Dorman (Penguin)
Release Date: July 8, 2010

I'd like to set the tone for this review by quoting the (perfect) first paragraph of this book which immediately hooked me for it's beauty and its appeal. (You can read the entire first page at the author's website as well).

"On the day Contess Carolina Fantoni was married, only one other living person knew that she was going blind, and he was not her groom. This was not because she had failed to warn them. 'I am going blind,' she had blurted to her mother, in the welcome dimness of the family coach, her eyes still bright with tears from the searing winter sun. By this time, her peripheral vision was already gone. Carolina could feel her mother take her hand, but she had to turn to see her face. When she did, her mother kissed her, her own eyes full of pity. 'I have been in love, too,' she said, and looked away." (pg. 1)

The Blind Contessa's New Machine
is a charming and elegantly told novel about a young woman, Carolina Fantoni, in 1800's Italy who realizes she is going blind. She exemplifies strong human spirit and courage despite virtually lacking the support most people would find essential to make it through something so drastically life-changing. She tries to tell her loved ones (including her fiance, Pietro), but they're all sadly dismissive of her and think she's making something out of nothing. Only one person really believes and understands her -- her childhood friend, Turri, from whom her mother has warned her against since he is married and it wouldn't be good to start any rumors. Years later Turri, with his predilection for invention and in an act of love, provides Carolina with a writing machine he's created so that she can write and communicate with the world.

This story is based on the true history of one of the first typewriters that was, indeed, made for an Italian woman who was going blind. This unique and compact story is full of such beautiful and lyrical prose that, if for no other reason, it should be savored for the writing alone. And Carey Wallace has such an enchanting style of storytelling with subtle humor (from Pietro's clueless-ness to the widespread jealousy over Carolina's writing machine) and alluring descriptions which are used increasingly as Carolina's sight fades more and more and her memories and dreams take on new significance. Here's an example:

"Silk whispered as it rose from her floor and sighed faintly when put to rest in her wardrobe. Cut-glass bottles of perfumes and cream clanked gently. The panels of her curtains brushed the floor as they were drawn open. Wind poured through the window, bringing with it the memory of the long green slope of the yard. The wind was bitingly cold; Carolina's mind instantly stripped the summer trees of their leaves and blanketed the gardens with snow." (pg. 82)

And in another example of her writing, this is a description of how enamored the girls are over a young Pietro.

"A girl could live for weeks on a single glance from him. His small compliments and offhand remarks formed a new scripture, and in breathless conversations and lonely, dream-drunk nights they built whole theologies from them. Any real attention paid to one girl -- two dances in an evening, a flower broken from a bush to decorate her dress -- was liable to elicit tears or bitter jealousy from the others, and in one case, a fit of fainting, although Pietro seemed blissfully unaware of the reason for the scuffle even as the unfortunate girl's father and brother carried her from the party. He thereby revealed a lack of self-consciousness about his own powers that only further endeared him to both the ladies and his friends." (pg. 25)

Throughout the course of The Blind Contessa's New Machine, the reader is taken on a journey with Carolina. In addition to being blind, Carolina deals with romance and a love triangle involving a passionate affair and a love that is, over time, unrequited on her part. The storytelling was intelligent and there was more to the story than what was on the surface -- though I have to admit there were moments when it went over my head... but that's due to fault of my own and not any of the author, and at least I recognized that. =)

The Blind Contessa's New Machine is a beautiful example of literary fiction that will find a place in your heart from the first paragraph. Check out this page on the author's website to see a copy of one of the first letters written on this real life typewriter as well as other information about herself and the book.

The publisher has generally provided 3 copies of this book for giveaway! If you would like to enter for a copy of The Blind Contessa's New Machine please enter your name in the form below. You do not have to be a follower of the blog... however, the winner will be announced here on the blog (not through e-mail) so at least keep an eye out. ;) The winner will have 48 hours to contact me with their address.
U.S. Addresses only please for this giveaway. The winner will be announced on July 22, 2010.

Review: Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Title: Still Missing
Author: Chevy Stevens
Genre: Mystery/Thriller; Psychological
Publisher: St. Martin's (Macmillan)
Release Date: July 6, 2010

The pre-release buzz for this book has been astounding! The author even went on a pre-publication tour already for this book. It has been featured in magazines already and is on everyone's must-read list. And what do I think? Well, when I first started reading it, I thought "no, I don't even know if I want to read the rest"; then later I thought "yes, definitely, it's a MUST read, it's so good! Can't wait to finish reading it!"; and now that I'm done, I'm somewhere in the middle... it is good so if you like the genre, definitely read it and that way you'll at least be in the know. If you don't like this genre already, this may not be the book for you.

It starts out with Realtor Annie O'Sullivan finishing up an open house she was working that day. One last straggler comes to check out the house; he is handsome and charming, and Annie agrees to show him around. The next thing she knows this man has abducted her and is holding her captive in a small cabin in the middle of nowhere. He wants her to submit to him like a "good wife". "The Freak", which is how Annie refers to him, holds her captive for a year while messing with her psyche -- he creates a routine for her, bathes her himself, only allows her to pee on schedule, etc.

The reader knows from the outset that Annie has escaped this situation. In a creative manner, each chapter is a new session for Annie with her therapist (or "shrink" as she refers to her). She begins by speaking to her therapist about present day issues and how she is adjusting, and then she returns to telling the history of her entire captivity. The therapist does not have a voice in this novel which works well since it's Annie's story that we're interested in; nevertheless, the reader has an idea what the therapist tells Annie based on her reactions and thoughts.

My initial thoughts after the first 20-40 pages was to question why I even chose to read this. I feared that the entire book would be a graphic description of what "The Freak" did to her during that year. The tone of the novel was so angry, too, that I didn't think this would be an enjoyable read in any way, and I almost set it down. I figured out shortly after that I needed to separate myself from the character rather than empathizing with her like I would most characters because otherwise what she endured felt too personal and difficult to read. Once I did that, I was able to return to the reading (but with some trepidation).

It was easier to read after that and I became HOOKED! I HAD to know what else happened, how and when did she escape, and then what happened after that?? There were moments that I still think some readers will have intense difficulty reading about, but it wasn't as horrific as I'd imagined; I continued to feel anxious reading on, though, because I was afraid of what was to come next and whether it would be too graphic or creepy for me to read. This novel certainly had a unique premise, and it kept me engaged and wanting to learn more. Even after her release (which surprised me even though I knew it was coming) the story kept moving as the motivations behind the kidnapping were investigated.

But then the ending.... The way the mystery wrapped up and the reasons behind it.... I just didn't buy it (or like it, for that matter). It felt too random, despite the explanation; even though I usually don't guess the endings, this was certainly not expected, and it didn't seem to connect to anything else to give me an "ah-ha" moment. It just was. And why?! (Why?? I'd like to discuss this with others so let me know when you've read it!) I was thoroughly engrossed in this book until the moment the mystery was solved -- and then I felt confusion which was followed shortly thereafter by disappointment.

Despite my utter disappointment at the ending, I would still recommend this book because it was one of those that (after the first 40 pages anyway) I looked forward to reading, and I wanted to sneak in as much time as I could during every free moment to read more -- not because I needed to finish it for review, or because I felt obligated to read it, but because I was genuinely absorbed in the story. In that sense, Still Missing, was a true thriller, and fans of the genre will enjoy this thrilling read.

The Starlet

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Title: The Starlet
Author: Mary McNamara
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: June 8, 2010

The Starlet was a somewhat intriguing, but ultimately lackluster, novel about the scandalous "Hollywood" life. It started out with a promising premise when Juliette Greyson, on vacation in Italy, suddenly sees a young woman climbing to the top of a fountain and preparing to jump while a crowd of paparazzi gather around encouraging her. She quickly realizes this woman is world-famous actress, Mercy Talbot. Everyone knows this actress not only for her absolutely fantastic acting skills, but possibly more for her drug addictions and dysfunctional life.

Juliette is all too familiar with these types, as she works at The Pinnacle in Los Angeles, the hotel where all the famous flock to. After quickly questioning herself, she rescues Mercy by taking her to the Italian estate she owns with her cousin, Gabe. Before they know it, Gabe's and Juliette's peaceful retreat in the Italian countryside has been turned into a manic site of mayhem as the film Mercy was in Italy to shoot in the first place is moved to their location.

The fun parts of this book were the cast of characters, many whom represent the humorous stereotypes of Hollywood; Mercy's mother, Angie, cares for nothing but manipulating her daughter to make her more money; Steve Usher runs a drug rehabilitation center for the rich and famous, and he follows the star around to try and ensure she's not using; Michael O'Connor plays the arrogant leading man who has had too many women to count but may or may not be interested in a relationship with Juliette; and there are more! I enjoyed the characters overall, and found the thought of the setting to be peaceful... how fun to imagine being at a movie shoot in the Italian countryside.

But then the potentially engaging subplots sort of fizzled out and, despite a couple happenings here or there, I felt there wasn't much more to the story. While the first half of the book was an entertaining behind-the-scenes peek at the movie industry, and while the writing style was engaging, I eventually lost interest in the characters and the story. I needed something more to connect to and anticipate from the beginning throughout the rest of the book, rather than a bit here and a bit there. I kept expecting certain subplots to dominate a little more and was disappointed when they didn't. I think some might enjoy the book more than I did, though, based on the positive aspects I mentioned, so don't necessarily count this one out!

FTC Disclosure: By posting this review I have been entered into a contest by Regal Literary. However, this review is my honest opinion, and the contest rules specify that the review can be negative or positive.

Sunday Salon

Happy 4th of July!!

I don't have "recreational" plans today since my hubby works, and I do too. I have some therapy clients scheduled today since none of them seemed to have any issues with having our session on a holiday! Works out though because I really just wanted to have Monday off since I have it off from my regular job. We opted out of the fireworks yesterday... the past few years we've been pretty lazy about them because it gets so crowded and crazy out. We did go out earlier in the day though and grabbed lunch and saw Eclipse! This is my favorite of the Twilight saga... the movie was definitely cheesy in parts, but in all I enjoyed it. If I were a young'un I would love Jacob for sure... but he's a child so I can't look at him like that, lol!

I feel like I've had reading ADD lately. I'll have a few books going at a time because I have so much to read and can't decide on just one, lol. I posted the review for The Scent of Rain and Lightning earlier this week, and then I finished Still Missing -- the review for that will be up this week. I thought it didn't come out until Tuesday but I saw it on the shelf yesterday! I will also have the review up for The Starlet today... I normally wouldn't double post in a day but I need to have that one posted by the 4th to be eligible for a contest.... LOL. My main read going right now is The Little Giant of Aberdeen County since I've been promising to review this one for a while!

The only other real blog thing I've got going on is I finally made a button!! So if you "collect" buttons and you follow my blog, please take my button! (using the code in the scroll box). I just started adding a couple to my blog so if you add mine let me know so I can reciprocate!

Take Me Away

I think that's about it! Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, and be safe!!

Mr. Rosenfield Dreams in English

Friday, July 2, 2010

Title: Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English
Author: Natasha Solomons
Pages: 355
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Reagan Arthur (Little, Brown/Hachette)
Release Date:
June 21, 2010

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English (originally a bestseller in the UK where it was titled Mr. Rosenblum's List) is a whimsical and somewhat charming tale about a couple trying to build a life for themselves in England. Despite these qualities, however, which some readers will certainly find endearing, I felt a personal lack of connection to this book.

It begins with Jack and Sadie Rosenblum escape to England from Germany around the start of World War II. Jack immediately tries to assimilate with the new culture by becoming the perfect "Englishman". Upon arriving in England, Jack is given a pamphlet with some rules about how to be an Englishman. Jack intensely adheres to this list and adds to it as he learns about the world in which he is now living. His wife, Sadie, on the other hand is not so excited to be in England and misses her family. She certainly doesn't want to "deliberately assimilate" with the culture, and can't understand her husband's resolve. Years pass and Jack decides that in order to truly be an Englishman he must obtain membership to a golf club. He seeks out golf club after golf club only to find that no one wants him because of his background (for which they refer to him as a "kraut" -- a derogatory term for a German soldier). So he decides to build his own. The rest of this novel revolves around him reaching this goal and further assimilating into his new community.

Like I mentioned, some readers will find this story adorable and endearing (and did according to other reviews I've read). But I found this, overall, to be anticlimactic. I felt conflicted for much of the book with wanting Jack to reach his goal but, ultimately, feeling annoyed that he was trying so hard to be someone else. In that respect I related more to Sadie, but I even felt a lack of connection to her. The characters weren't as fully fleshed out as I would have preferred. The plot is slow moving and focuses almost completely on the plot points that have already been mentioned here. The author has a talent for writing, however, and I enjoyed her easy but well worded narrative style.

Originally published at Luxury Reading