May in Review

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May in Review

Well, this month of blogging has been quite sparse!
I posted reviews for:

I Totally Meant To Do That by Jane Borden
The Night Season by Chelsea Cain
Tangled Webs by James B. Stewart

Tangled Webs was a wonderful non-fiction! Definitely one of my favorites this year. It is actually the only book I finished reading in the month of May. (!!!) I rarely read so little but I guess I've had a lot going on! I actually made the decision recently to go down to working one job instead of the two I've been working. I will be focusing solely on therapy. At this point I don't know what effect that will have on my reading, though. You'd think with cutting one job out I'd open up more free time, but I foresee this one job taking a lot of time still - at least until I get into a good routine. So hopefully my reading/blogging will pick up in June but it might not realistically be until July.

I am still taking entries for my giveaway (2 books) of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott which is accompanied by a great guest post by the author, Kelly O'Connor McNees. There aren't too many entries yet so your chances are good!!

Guest Post & Giveaway: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I am very excited to have Kelly O'Connor McNees stopping by Take Me Away today! She wrote The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott which I reviewed last year. (Click on the title to go to the review). Her book recently came out in paperback. Kelly has stopped by to talk about Little Women. I also have TWO copies of her book to give away (U.S. winners only).

Every year around Thanksgiving I get the urge to reread Little Women. The story begins, of course, in December, with Jo March lying on the rug, declaring that “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” The four March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—and their mother, Marmee, are missing Mr. March, an army chaplain who has been called to the Civil War battlefields to minister to the injured and dying soldiers. Things just aren’t the same without their father there to guide them. Over the course of the story, the March sisters must learn to overcome their individual weaknesses: pride, anger, timidity, and vanity. In the end we see that they are no longer little girls but grown women.

Sounds cheesy, right? And hopelessly quaint, not to mention a celebration of calcified nineteenth-century gender roles. It is all those things. But every year I yearn to read it just the same. There’s something deeply soothing about the simplicity of its moral universe, where the purpose of life is improvement. Good people should try, always, to be better: more generous, more contemplative, more committed.

And, to be totally honest, there’s just one more tiny reason I reread this book: Ever year I hope against hope that Jo and Teddy “Laurie” Lawrence, the next-door neighbor and Jo’s kindred spirit, will end up together. Alas, in all these years it has never turned out differently. Why, I wondered countless times, did Louisa end Little Women the way she did?

The direct answer is the one Louisa herself gave when asked this question by readers. Little Women was a huge bestseller right out of the gate, and Louisa received hundreds of letters asking about Jo and Laurie. The pair could not marry, Louisa explained, because Jo would no longer be Jo if she chose to live a conventional life. Even when Jo marries Professor Bhaer at the end—a plot twist Louisa was forced to tack on at her publisher’s request—it is not the sort of passionate love affair one might hope to see. The professor is much older than Jo and their relationship is mainly an intellectual alliance. Bo-ring!

Louisa’s defense of Jo’s choice never satisfied me. A few years ago, on a whim, I picked up a biography on Louisa and found myself utterly surprised and fascinated by this woman I knew so little about. Her most famous novel represented only a small part of who she was—and, it turns out, Louisa never even wanted to write it. Though she never had a love affair, late in life Louisa burned letters and journals, a fact I found intriguing. The more I learned about who Louisa was, her triumphs and disappointments, I realized there was a great deal about her life I wanted to, for lack of a better word, examine. I had never felt that way about any historical figure before.

But I had more questions than answers. Much of what I wanted to know couldn’t be known. And that’s when I realized that, counterintuitively, fiction was probably the only avenue that might lead me to some answers. By writing about Louisa—creating a fictional episode for the Louisa in my imagination, that is—I could come to see her more clearly, see what was inside her heart and mind as a young woman starting out in the world. Perhaps this story could explain the origin of the character of Laurie and why Louisa would want to save Jo, her fictional alter ego, from heartbreak.

The result is The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, a novel set in 1855 when Louisa was just twenty-two, yearning for independence in Boston and recognition as a writer, but stuck for the summer in sleepy Walpole, New Hampshire, with her family and one irritatingly charming young man named Joseph Singer.

Writing this novel has satisfied my questions—for now. Although I can’t be sure until November rolls around if I won’t start wondering all over again.

Kelly O’Connor McNees lives with her husband in Chicago. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is her first novel. To learn more, visit

To enter the giveaway please leave a comment with your e-mail address. Only ONE entry per person!

Thank you Kelly for stopping by!!!

Armchair BEA: Day 3

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

This week is Book Expo America in New York City, the biggest publishing industry event in the country. I was very fortunate in being able to attend last year and am pretty devastated I can't attend this year. So in the meantime, I am participating in "Armchair BEA" which is an event for those of us bloggers who couldn't make it to the event in person!

Today we are doing interviews! I was fortunate to interview Bea from Bea's Book Nook.

1. Tell us a little about your reading life biography (have you always enjoyed reading, where do you read, what do you like to read, etc.)

I have always loved and can usually be found with a book or my kindle, if not on me, then very close by. I always put my kindle in the purse in case I have time for reading during the kids naptime (I teach pre-school). I'll read anywhere - in the bathroom, in the subway, at work, at home, inside, outside, anywhere there is reading material. :D If I'm really bored and nothing else is available, I'll read the ingredients list on a bottle of detergent while I'm in line at the grocery store.

As for what I like to read, these days I mostly read paranormal fantasies, mysteries, and romances, but I also read childrens books, educational research and theory, some psychology and sociology (related to my teaching), general fiction, and anything else that catches my eye. If it catches my eye, I look it over; if I'm intrigued, I read it.

2. What brought you to blogging?

I enjoy talking about books, sharing my excitement and discussing them with others. I belong to several author discussion boards and one of the things that I loved about them is being able to discuss them. No one else in my "real" world enjoyed fantasy books or felt as strongly about reading as I did. Blogging and reviewing seemed a natural extension. Some acquaintances of mine were, and still are, blogger/reviewers and they helped me get started.

3. What's the best thing about blogging? The worst?

I'll answer in reverse order, lol. The worst, for me, is actually a tie between writing, and making deadlines. I love reading, but I don't actually like writing. Deadlines, in all areas of my life, are the bane of my existence. I am SUCH a procrastinator, I'm my own worst enemy. The best thing would probably be the people I've met - readers, authors, other bloggers, etc. I'm not a social butterfly by any means but I've really enjoyed talking to everyone and getter better acquainted with some of them.

4. What has been your favorite read this year?
Only one? LOL Really, I can't pick just one. Hmmm, I've really enjoyed "The Gathering" by Kelley Armstrong, "Undertow" by Moira Rogers, "Dark Descendant" by Jenna Black, "How to Flirt with A Naked Werewolf" by Molly Harper, and "Range Feud" by JA Campbell.

5. If for some reason you weren't allowed to read for an entire year, what would you do with your free time?
Find a way to read, No, seriously, I would. In between, I'd be watching tv, hanging with friends, making soaps and bath salts (another hobby of mine), volunteering more often with Habitat for Humanity, and playing with my cat,

6. What's your favorite book of all time?

You ask hard questions! I think it would be one of these three: "The Tiger's Woman" by Celeste de Blasis, "The Hobbit" by JRR Tolkien, and "The Unlikely Ones" by Mary Brown. They are well-written, imaginative, emotional but not tear jerkers (ok, maybe "The Hobbit" isn't a tear jerker :D) grab you from the first page.

7. Have you been to any memorable author/literary events? Do tell!

Yes! :D :D In January I went to Arisia in Boston where I got to have dinner with Kelley Armstrong. I'd actually met her a couple of times before at get-togethers with members of her board (I'm a mod on there) up in Canada. I actually drove 8 hours up there to meet her and some of the board members that I'd gotten friendly with. She's a fun, smart, awesome person and easy to be with, very down to earth. I also had the chance to chat briefly with Laura Anne Gilman.

I've also met Patty Briggs several times; for many years she was a regular guest at a fantasy and sci fi con near me, ConBust. I had the pleasure of spending time with her in between workshops several years in a row and also got to spend time with her and her husband last summer at a board camping trip (I mod on her board too :D) At that same con, in different years, I met Lynn Flewelling and Cat Valente.

I've also had the pleasure of meeting Seleste deLaney and Morgan Ashbury, both at the Kelley board get-together and recently I met PJ Schnyder at an anime con in Boston. I've been fortunate in meeting authors, but I've also grabbed every available opportunity. :)

Thanks for stopping by, Bea! :)

Armchair BEA: Day 1

Monday, May 23, 2011

This week is Book Expo America in New York City, the biggest publishing industry event in the country. I was very fortunate in being able to attend last year and am pretty devastated I can't attend this year. So in the meantime, I am participating in "Armchair BEA" which is an event for those of us bloggers who couldn't make it to the event in person!

Today's topic:

Who are you, and how do you Armchair?

My name is Jenny and I've had this book blog for almost three years. The first year my posts were pretty sparse because I realized as much as I wanted to talk about my reading, I couldn't figure out what to say and how! But since then I have worked on my writing and am proof that effort and time can lead to great improvement! I love processing my thoughts about what I've read and sharing those thoughts here with anyone willing to listen!

I read a variety of genres. My favorites tend to be literary fiction, contemporary fiction, women's fiction, and mystery/thrillers. My reading tastes have definitely evolved over time! I recently have started to get into reading non-fiction too!

How do I Armchair? The majority of my reading and blogging is done right here on my couch. Nothing special there!

Sunday Salon: When Things Don't Go Quite as Planned

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I started to realize my reading was slowing down. I'm not sure what to attribute it to exactly except maybe some type of burnout and the fact that I have felt like my work has been overwhelming me lately and I haven't been able to keep up. So I had this great plan that I would space out my reviews a little more than usual this month and by doing so I could use only the reviews I already had written. Then I could just read, read, read this month and have tons more reviews to choose from in the coming months. What I didn't anticipate was that my reading would slow even more! I haven't finished a book since May 1st which makes it now two weeks officially. I never go that long without finishing one! Normally I'd have read four to six by now! So that sort of spoils the plan of having tons to choose from for next month. So now I need to come up with a back up plan.

Part of the reason I haven't accomplished much of anything in the past week or so is I randomly became sick this past week, but worse than usual. I had a fever and was practically immobile a couple days. But instead of listening to my body, I tried to push myself to work. Well, even when I did stay home, I wasn't doing anything even remotely using my brain because I was too tired even for that. And like I said, the week prior to that I felt overwhelmed with work.

So, hopefully things will pick up this week. I keep getting amazing books in the mail that I'm so excited to read! OH! And because I haven't been reading or using my brain much, I also haven't been online much and that means not commenting as much as I've wanted. No worries, though. While I'm a little behind, I still plan on catching up on some blogs!

Hope everyone's getting more reading done than I am! ;)

Tangled Webs

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Title: Tangled Webs
Subtitle: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff
Author: James B. Stewart
Pages: 441
Genre: Non-Fiction; Current Events
Publisher: The Penguin Press (Penguin)
Pub. Date: April 19, 2011

The dedication for this book appropriately reads, "To those who seek the truth". In astounding and detailed fashion, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Stewart chronicles the true events of the scandals of Martha Stewart (insider trading), "Scooter" Libby (leaking the name of a CIA agent), Barry Bonds (using steroids), and Bernie Madoff (running a Ponzi scheme). What these individuals have in common, however, is not just that they were involved in criminal investigations, but that each of them committed perjury, lying under oath. The theme that weaves throughout Tangled Webs is that of the epidemic of perjury that has overcome America, which is, sadly, a broader reflection of the loss of values in our culture.

Tangled Webs was a riveting, cerebral, white collar true crime story. I struggle with trying to describe the writing style because it had a narrative quality but wasn't completely a narrative non-fiction. Rather, it had these elements combined with plain ol' great, journalistic "storytelling". Though this book does have a density that may be intimidating (it's long and there's a ton of information), it was an unexpectedly easy and engaging read. I was truly enthralled with the book, with the detailed information, with the points made by Stewart, with everything. I implore any of you who have the slightest interest in the topic to read this! I was so thoroughly impressed with this book, I can't even explain... I just constantly talk about it and all the things I learned from it. I want to share everything I learned!

Stewart organized each section superbly. Through interviews and reviews of grand jury transcripts, Stewart pieced together all the chronological detail of each story including the grand jury testimonies that occurred at the culmination of each scandal. He followed that up with what happened at the actual trial. Each section then ended with what each of the main "characters" is doing now. As I read, I found myself fascinated at times and saddened at times by people's lack of scruples. Each presented story illustrated the very sad fact that these successful role models, of sorts, were dishonest and/or tried to hide their wrongdoings. Sometimes they were completely brazen in their actions. I will say that I lost a lot of respect for the main characters in the book (well, at least of what little I may have had) but also for others that were involved. While there are "main characters" and, yes, they did lie, there were so many accomplices. There were also people who plain didn't do their jobs by following up where they should have. Of course, I acknowledge that I don't have their whole stories, but, for instance, Bernie Madoff could easily have been caught two years before he was which would have saved the public $45 billion in losses. And when I say easily, I mean, several people dropped the ball when only slightly more follow up would have busted the scheme right open.

Another thing I liked about Tangled Webs was the underlying point being that regardless of the actual crimes committed by these people, the act of perjury in itself was a crime; yet, there tends to be a high tolerance and lack of gravitas contributed to this issue. (Some of the issues presented were the thoughts of some individuals that criminally prosecuting someone for perjury was a waste and not important). In my short adult life as of yet, I have seen lying by people, including respected professionals, that so frustrates and discourages me. AND, the irony is that for these individuals, lying only made things worse! For instance, Martha Stewart may never have had any issues had she not lied. In fact, had she just left well enough alone, she would have lost monetarily what to the average middle-class person might be equal to $500 (this is relatively speaking based on the amount of money she makes). Scooter Libby may have had some serious repercussions, but nothing near what he could have had to endure (except for some rather lucky exceptions). In one part, Stewart quoted U.S. Attorney for Chicago, Patrick Fitzgerald's, responses about perjury as a crime.

...we brought those cases because we realized that the truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost. (p. 224)

If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it's a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly. (p. 224)

If nothing else, Tangled Webs, gives one a lot of thinking points when it comes to thoughts on treating lying and perjury in and of itself a crime as serious as the other alleged crimes (insider trading, etc.)

I also feel that through the descriptions of each of the aforementioned scenarios, I learned a lot about the stock market and the dynamics of the white house. Stewart did an excellent job of providing as much documented information as was relevant while still providing his own commentary, explanation, and summarization. I stayed up to speed with mostly everything, though the quoted parts of the Bernie Madoff section often read like gibberish to me. I was never good at economics or understanding stocks and bonds, and individuals in that arena speak their own language! But even so, Stewart explained everything well. Another commendation: he maintained a neutral stance politically. He pointed out wrongs of both political parties, when relevant, and didn't appear to side with any people over another except for as it related to who was truthful and who was not.

Have you gotten a feel for my thoughts about this book? Because if you didn't, I loved it! It was fantastic! I'm new to Stewart as an author, but he apparently has quite the impressive, best-selling back list. I will absolutely be checking out his previous books and hope you decide to read this one.

The Night Season

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Title: The Night Season
Author: Chelsea Cain
Pages: 320
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Publisher: Minotaur Books (Macmillan)
Pub. Date: March 1, 2011

This is the fourth book in the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series. Those who have read the first three, Heartsick, Sweetheart, and Evil at Heart know how sick and twisted (but addicting) this series is! My husband and I love this series and looked forward to the latest addition. Just as the pattern in the titles changed (no heart!), the focus of the story changed too, which left my husband and me a little perplexed. The first three books dealt with serial killer, Gretchen Lowell, who had a psychological grasp on Archie after almost killing him. Though he hates her, he has a twisted attraction to her at the same time. This was the first in the series that didn't involve Gretchen Lowell. Of course, her presence is always there to a certain degree in that her impact on Archie has affected him forever to the core of his being; but, physically, Gretchen does not appear in this book.

That being said, one of the main reasons series work is that readers enjoy the main characters and, even though Gretchen sits this one out, Archie and his journalist buddy, Susan, are endeared to readers. Archie is one of those detectives who's a little hardened and cynical because of his experiences. He turns to medications for escape whenever one of his Gretchen-induced anxieties encroaches upon him. Susan's the sweet girl whose hair is always a different color. She's managed to become involved in all the danger associated with Archie, and Archie has sort of a soft spot for her.

The Night Season starts with a short flashback to a natural disaster in 1948 that has a connection to the current day mystery not only because a similar natural disaster is about to happen. What appears to be a new serial killer is on the loose. This time one of Archie's team is even affected. The mystery in this fourth book does resemble elements of a campy horror movie at times. But I have to admit that made it fun and definitely different than a lot of the books I've read in this genre.

So, while this was a fun enough addition, I'm thinking most readers of this series will miss the inclusion of Gretchen. I'm curious to see if she comes back to the series and/or what affect she'll have on any more of the books. Was this just a break from the norm, or is the series moving in a new direction with Gretchen being merely the catalyst to the character development of Archie? For now I'll keep reading!

I Totally Meant To Do That

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Title: I Totally Meant to Do That
Author: Jane Borden
Pages: 227
Genre: Humor; Memoir
Publisher: Broadway/Crown (Random House)
Pub. Date: March 1, 2011

Jane Borden is a southern Debutante who moved to New York City after college and eventually ended up living there for over ten years. Her family members back in North Carolina, and her upbringing there, are the ultimate stereotype of genteel southerners. I Totally Meant To Do That is Borden's part memoir part commentary on her experiences straddling these two very different cultures and as she contemplates, after a decade of living in NYC, if 1) she can officially be considered a New Yorker (after all, what is a New Yorker, really?) and 2) if she should stay in the big city or return to her roots in North Carolina.

Based on the plethora of positive blurbs from the likes of Amy Poehler, Ed Helms, and other funny folks, plus the fact that Borden has worked as a contributor for Saturday Night Live, I expected this book to be laugh-out-loud, belly rollicking, hilarious. I was engrossed in the first chapter right away, laughing as she described the illegal knockoffs industry in Chinatown and how she worked as a spy to find fakes of her clients' knockoffs so the authorities could be alerted. I was amused by the chapter in which she described her naivete and the way she obviously stuck out -- trying to make eye contact with everyone she passed on the street so she could smile at them. And I loved the chapter where she compared finding a roommate in NYC to rushing for sororities. I've never done either, but I could still relate it to my own life and I thought "so true!" I also found interesting the chapter where she tries to define what makes one a New Yorker. (I don't agree with what she was told). I thought this following quote was an interesting way to describe New York. Though she's comparing it to purgatory, which is sort of different, the point she ultimately makes is one I can relate to regarding my thoughts about the city.
At home, I would either be a member of a congregation or not, in an exclusive club or not, at a political fund-raiser or not. Inaction is still an action. Not so in New York, where I don't have to be one thing or the other. Living in purgatory is not about being free to make whatever choice you want; the city offers something more profound, a third option: immunity from making choices at all, and therefore from the judgments accompanying them. Purgatory is Paradise. (p. 131)
After about the first third of the book, though, I sort of lost interest. This book really started to seem more about a reflection of her southern roots and the southern lifestyle. The big city really could have been any big city. For those looking for a read about NYC, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this. While Borden continued to make some references to the city and to the comparisons, I felt that was more of a springboard to discuss, in depth, the southern counterpart which I couldn't relate to. And by the end, I felt a disconnect from the book as Borden tried to figure things out for herself.
So now I'm all confused again. Here or there -- which is home? Or, rather, the true task is to discern which of the two is more of a home than the other. I'm Southerner by default. But I'm also a New Yorker. Right? I love this city... don't I? Sorry. Why am I asking you? I'm all mixed up, so much so that I sought counseling from a chintzy etiquette paperback. (p. 215)
I will say, though, that part of that disconnect likely stems from the fact that I am so far removed from her southern background; my life experiences and outlook are so different that I'm sure that hindered what turned out to be a different aspect of the book than I was expecting.

If you're a southern, country girl who has moved to a big city, or really if you're a southerner in general, you may enjoy this book. But, unfortunately, it wasn't the belly rollicking NYC story that I was hoping for.