Monday, February 28, 2011

Sing You Home; Jodi Picoult

Title: Sing You Home
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Atria
Edition: ARC
Source: Publisher (ARC)
Date Completed: 2/27/2011
Setting: Rhode Island
Rating: 5/5 stars
Recommend: Yes

Jodi Picoult is one author well known for writing about controversial issues. Her latest novel, Sing You Home, is sure to evoke strong emotions among some of her readers. The novel encompasses such diverse issues as, gay rights, evangelical Christian beliefs, in vitro fertilization, suicidal teens, divorce, discrimination and even music therapy. The essence of the story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of three primary characters.

Zoe Baxter, has longed to be a mother. She's approaching 40 years of age, has been married to Max for nearly 10 years, and the couple has been unsuccessful at bringing a child of their own into the world. Zoe has had several miscarriages, and her last pregnancy resulted in a stillborn birth. After undergoing IVF (in vitro fertilization), spending thousands of dollars, and experiencing one disappointment after another, Zoe still has not given up hope. Her husband Max, on the other hand, is through.

Max is a recovering alcoholic. He cannot endure the thought of more attempts at conception, and he wants out. Max files for divorce and he slowly slides back into drinking once again.  When he is involved in an automobile crash while under the influence, he soon realizes he needs to change his life.  He moves in with his brother Reid and his wife. Reid suggests that he come to their church, The Eternal Glory Church, and listen to their pastor, Clive Lincoln speak.  The pastor happens to be a radical fundamentalist with an anti-gay agenda.

Meanwhile, Zoe throws her emotionally wounded self into her work as a Music Therapist, working with hard to reach individuals. She is asked by Vanessa, a school counselor, to work with a suicidal teen girl. Zoe agrees, and before long a relationship which began as colleagues then friends between Zoe and Vanessa, develops into romantic love.

The couple, from Rhode Island, get married in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal, since Rhode Island does not yet recognize such unions.  The lesbian couple, very much in love, wish to complete their union by having a family. Zoe tells Vanessa about the fertilized embryos which she and Max have stored, and Vanessa is more than willing to try to become pregnant using these embryos so that the couple can experience parenthood.

Unfortunately when Zoe approaches Max, now born again Christian, he is vehemently opposed to the idea and a vicious court battle ensues, over who has rights to the embryos when a couple divorces.

MY THOUGHTS - Having read all of Picoult's  novels, this one --her 18th,  is probably her most controversial yet. The author presents a powerful story about what constitutes a family, and why committed gay couples should be seen no differently from straight couples when it comes to marriage and  raising a family.  It is a timely story told in voices that are real and heartfelt. The message is one of acceptance and tolerance, and it is certainly a story which will provide for lively discussion among readers and book clubs everywhere.  Included with this book was a music cd which includes (10) soundtracks inspired by Zoe's work as a music therapist, and the songs are reflective of her feelings throughout the novel. The lyrics were written by Picoult, and the music was sung by Ellen Wilbur -- the music was lovely.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough -- a must read.

February Reading Wrap Up

Well the shortest month of the year is all but behind us, leaving behind loads of snow and extra time for reading for me.  I seemed to be able to focus better month, and read a few more books as a result.  Here's what my month looked like:
  1. Silverlicious; Victoria Kann - 5/5 (review copy)
  2. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - 4.5/5 (audio) (library)
  3. Matterhorn; Karl Marlantes - 4.5/5 (audio) (library)
  4. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter; Tom Franklin - 4.5/5 (review copy)
  5. A Northern Light; Jennifer Donnelly - 5/5 (audio)
  6. Children Make Terrible Pets; Peter Brown - 4/5 (library)
  7. The Memory Palace; Mira Bartok - 4.5/5 (review copy)
  8. Of Mice and Men; John Steinbeck - 5/5 
  9. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day ; Winifred Watson - 4.5/5 (audio) (library)
  10. Ethan Frome; Edith Wharton - 3.5/5 (eBook)
  11. The Red Garden; Alice Hoffman - 4/5 (Library) 
  12. Caribou Island; David Vann - 4/5 (audio and review copy) 
  13. Sing You Home; Jodi Picoult - 5/5 (review copy)
February Stats
  • Favorite Fiction Book - Of Mice and Men; John Steinbeck and Sing You Home; Jodi Picoult
  • Favorite Non Fiction Book - The Memory Palace; Mira Bartok
  • Favorite Audio Book - A Northern Light; Jennifer Donnelly
  • New authors - 8/13 -   YTD - 15/23
  • Review Books - 4/13- YTD - 8/23
  • 5 star books - 4/13 -    YTD - 6/23
  • 4 star books - 8/13 -    YTD - 15/23
  • 3 star books - 1/13 -    YTD - 2/23
Challenge Progress
  • 100+ Reading Challenge - 23/100
  • Reading From My Shelves Project - 10/50
  • Audio Book Challenge - 8/20
  • eBook Challenge - 2/20
  • Prepare to Be Shocked (Books Purchased and Cost in 2011) - 8 books - $72.10
Did you have a good February in books?

Mailbox Monday ~ February 28th

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that that arrived during the previous week.  Created by Marcia @ The Printed Page, this month's host is:  Laura @ Library of Clean ReadsHere is what arrived last week:

Three new books came my way last week (2) from the publishers and (1) from a paperback swap member.

  • Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic; Robert Burleigh  and Wendell Minor-
    • Gr 2-5-On a May evening in 1932, Amelia Earhart climbed into her single-engine, red Lockheed Vega and flew across the ocean, departing from Newfoundland and landing on a farm in Northern Ireland. Burleigh's suspenseful text and Minor's shifting perspectives work in tandem to pull readers into the drama as they experience the anxiety and exhilaration that accompanied this historic flight. Earhart's skill, stamina, and courage are put to the test when a thunderstorm erupts, her altimeter breaks, and icy wings cause the plane to plummet. She faces the "Hour of white knuckles....Hour of maybe-and maybe not." The third-person narrative is arranged in two-line stanzas of free verse; the language is fresh and evocative, morphing to match the mood-by turns terse, lyrical, relentless. Minor's gouache and watercolor scenes pull back from intense close-ups and cockpit perspectives to sweeping panoramic vistas, his fluid brushwork a perfect match for a tale of sea and sky. This book will encourage children to consider the inner resources required to undertake such a feat when pilots had only themselves to rely on-in this case, traversing 2000 miles without the security of land. Back matter includes a technical note, bibliography, and inspirational quotes from Earhart's writings. Endpapers depict a map of the flight and a rendering of the plane. Pair this with Nikki Grimes's Talkin' About Bessie (Scholastic, 2002) to present another female aviator who experienced the pleasures and perils of being a pioneer.
    • Joy for Beginners; Erica Bauermeister -
      At an intimate, festive dinner party in Seattle, six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate's recovery from cancer. Wineglass in hand, Kate strikes a bargain with them. To celebrate her new lease on life, she'll do the one thing that's always terrified her: white-water rafting. But if she goes, all of them will also do something they always swore they'd never do-and Kate is going to choose their adventures.

      Shimmering with warmth, wit, and insight, Joy for Beginners is a celebration of life: unexpected, lyrical, and deeply satisfying. 
    • Amazing Disgrace;  James Hamilton-Patterson - (Europa Edition)
      *Starred Review* Gerald Samper, an irrepressible middle-aged Brit, divides his time between London and a Tuscan villa, where he sips wine, savors his own curious culinary creations (like "Badger Wellington" and "Death Roe"), and pens biographies of sports and media personalities. The subjects of his offerings are often insufferable, such as one-armed fiftysomething yachtswoman Millie Cleat, more concerned with her own notoriety than her nautical achievements. In this sequel to the wonderfully wry Cooking with Fernet Branca, Samper experiments with an herbal potion for penile enlargement and pines for his Tuscan neighbor, Marta, a composer from an Eastern Bloc country who has mysteriously disappeared. Fortuitous circumstances bring Samper into the company of famous German conductor Max Christ. This turn of events is sure to please his nicotine-addicted agent, Frankie, who's forever pestering Samper to find more substantial subjects for his tomes. Amazing Disgrace is written as if Samper is chatting with the reader over a bottle of Prosecco, and it offers endless (often laugh-out-loud) musings from the scatological to the sartorial. Upon the pleasures of a corduroy suit, he opines: "Discretion is the better part of velour." Samper is the consummate conversationalist, though one might think twice about sampling his cuisine.
      Hope your mailbox was full of nice surprises this week.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Caribou Island; David Vann

Title: Caribou Island
Author: David Vann
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Blackstone Audio and Harper Collins
Edition: audio book and ARC 
Reader: Bronson Pinchot
Source: Library (audio) and Publisher (ARC)
Date Completed: 2/23/2011
Setting: Alaska
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommend: Yes

Gary and Irene are a unhappily married couple of 30 plus years. Their marriage in unraveling, now that their two children, Rhoda and Mark, are grown.  Gary, is obsessed about building a cabin from scratch on a remote island  in Alaska, believing that living off the land will bring him the joy that he has long searched for.  Gary is a bitter, angry man with unfulfilled dreams, all of which he blames on his wife Irene. He claims she is the reason he never completed his dissertation in Medieval Studies, and never became a professor. Instead he went along with her idea of a family, and spent much of their marriage supporting the family by fishing and boat building.

Irene, a former teacher knows better. She sees Gary's latest project as just another one of many that will end in failure. She thinks of this idea as "his idiot project -- a 16x12 unheated cabin in the woods".  Irene goes along with the idea grudgingly. She even helps him haul supplies to take over by boat, and haul logs for the cabin in the pouring rain. Irene even suspects that the cabin is Gary's first step to leaving her.

The first paragraph of this debut novel sets the bleak tone for the entire book, and it packs a wallop, as Irene is speaking to her daughter Rhoda.
"My mother was not real. She was an early dream, a hope. She was a place. Snowy, like here, and cold. A wooden house on a hill above a river. An overcast day, the old white paint of the buildings made brighter somehow by the trapped light, and I was coming home from school. Ten years old, walking by myself, walking through dirty patches of snow in the yard, walking up to the narrow porch. I can't remember how my thoughts went then, can't remember who I was or what I felt like. All of that is gone, erased. I opened our front door and found my mother hanging from the rafters. I'm sorry, I said, and I stepped back and closed the door. I was outside on the porch again".
As winter approaches, the cabin is incomplete, Irene becomes ill with severe headaches and other unspecified ailments, and the couple's dislike for one another seems to intensify. Their adult children Rhoda and Mark have their own issues as well. From the very first paragraph, I was confident that this book would end in disaster, and it did. The men are intensely unlikeable in this novel. Gary takes responsibility for nothing. He blames all of his misery on his wife, and their son is a lazy misfit. The women in this novel made me angry as well; they are weak and pathetic. No one learns a thing about themselves after all that has happened to them either.  I had a love/hate relationship with this book. The writing was very very good, and the sense of place was chilling and well established. I loved the way that suspense was building throughout.  Yet, I disliked all of the characters -- they were their own worst enemies.

The audio book was read by Bronson Pinchot who did a great job, but because the tone of the novel was so depressing, listening to the audio got to be a bit much at times, so I switched to the print version after a while.  Do I recommend this book? Yes, but with reservations -- not a book to read if you are feeling a bit depressed.

The Red Garden; Alice Hoffman

Title: The Red Garden
Author: Alice Hoffman
Publication Year: 2011
Edition: Hardcover
Source: Library
Date Completed: 2/21/2011
Setting: fictional New England
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommend: Yes

The Red Garden is delightful collection of (14) interrelated stories, each story builds to set the stage for stories that follow. Set in the fictional, New England town of Blackwell, MA, the town, founded in 1750, by settlers William and Hallie Brady. It was formerly called "Bearsville", but was renamed in 1786 to encourage newcomers to the area. Located somewhere in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts,  the "red garden", is the place where only red plants can grow, and where passions run high. It is the place where those who seek the truth can find the answer.

Each of the stories progress chronologically, and involve such events as the Civil War, World War, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars, as well as the Great Depression. Other more commonplace themes such as marriage, life struggles, loss, and even ghosts can be found in this collection.  My favorite story was The Principals of Devotion, where a loyal dog protects the grave of his former owner.

The characters were believable, most of the stories were enjoyable and the stories were a mixture of heartwarming and tragic. Some of the stories seemed a bit short, and, in my opinion, either should have been eliminated or expanded upon. Readers who enjoy a book where magical realism has the ability to sweep you away, should enjoy this book.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday - The Girl in the Garden; Kamala Nair

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we are eagerly anticipating! Want to participate? Post your own WOW entry on your blog, and leave your link at Breaking the Spine. Here is my pick for the week:

(June 15, 2011 - Grand Central Publishing)

The redemptive journey of a young woman unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mailbox Monday ~ February 21st

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that that arrived during the previous week.  Created by Marcia @ The Printed Page, this month's host is:  Laura @ Library of Clean ReadsHere is what arrived last week:
I realized that I really had only purchased a couple of books in 2011 (running list - HERE), so I decided to remedy that a bit. Many of these were suggested by ALL of YOU book enablers out there.

 These arrived from various publishers:

Hope that you had a great week in books!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guessing Game Follow-Up and the Giveaway Winner

(under my apple tree)

So some of you read about my Guessing Game, where I shared five things about myself, with four of them partially true and partially fictitious, and (1) is totally true, and I asked you to select the TRUE statement.  

Here is where the truth get's revealed:
  1. Meryl (Mary Louise) Streep was a camp counselor at the summer camp I attended one summer in New Jersey. (sorry - not true, but I was pretty proud I thought of this one)
  2. A good friend was killed in a jeep accident when we were in high school. (it happened sadly, but she was not in high school. She was 27 at the time and married)
  3. I received some shocking news last week, so shocking I kept it to myself. (I did learn some shocking news, but I shared it with my husband and my SIL).
  4. My husband was mistaken for a famous movie actor by a limo driver in Florida. (YES, YES, YES--TRUE, TRUE, TRUE). 
  5. Most of the people who work at my library do not enjoy reading. ( I'm actually not too sure about this one, but feel like it might be true, as I almost never see anyone with a book, and (5) coworkers have mentioned they were not readers....sad).
and the movie actor, you ask???

 My husband, although considerably younger, does resemble movie actor, Leslie Nielsen, who passed away in 2010.  Like Nielsen, my husband's hair turned completely white by age 50, both are of similar height, weight, same thick, white hair and hair style, and both have those piercing blue eyes.

About 7 years ago, my husband was on business in Florida, and the limo driver was so persistent about getting his autograph, that finally my husband took the pen and paper from the driver, and he said to the driver ..."How do you spell Nielsen"? The driver just stared at him, so he scribbled a name, handed it back to the driver and got out of the limo at a Marco Island hotel.

This wasn't the first time something like this least (2) other times, in New York City, and at an airport in CA, he's been mistaken for Leslie Nielsen....LOL.

Thanks for taking the time to play along and congrats to LESLIE.

I wanted to post a side by side picture of Nielsen and my husband, but my husband NO. He did not want his photo know those celebrities, paranoid about stalkers, paparazzi and all that stuff ! LOL

Ethan Frome; Edith Wharton

Title: Ethan Frome
Author: Edith Wharton
Publication Year: 1911 / 2008 (eBook)
Edition: EBook-Kindle
Source: Purchase
Date Completed: 2/16/2011
Setting: New England
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Recommend: Yes, but (depressing story)

Ethan Frome is a tragic story which takes place in 19th century New England. The setting for the novel is a town called Starkfield, a name which says it all.  Starkfield is a cold, isolated, farm town where Ethan Frome has lived all of his life. Ethan is a quiet and secretive man who was injured in an accident some 25 years earlier.  He married an older woman, actually a cousin, named Zeena who had cared for his mother prior to her death. For Ethan, the marriage was not based on love, but more out of his fear of being alone.

Ethan would have liked to move away from Starkfield, but Zeena would not hear of it. She turns out to be a domineering woman ,a sickly woman or perhaps a hypochondriac that is used to her advantage. Yet her whiny ways still manage to have a powerful hold on Ethan. Before long Zeena's cousin, 20-something Mattie Silver, joins the Frome household to help out and to care for Zeena.  Mattie is the total opposite of Zeena. Her personality is cheery, and she seems to bring a little joy into Ethan's bleak existence. He looks forward to seeing her, having his dinner with her, and it is obvious that Ethan is attracted to Mattie.  Even though nothing romantic occur, Ethan becomes jealous when Mattie ha seven themost innocent interactions with other men. When Zeena decides that Mattie must leave their home, Ethan cannot bear to see this happen.

Throughout this very short novel, under 140 pages ,the reader gets the sense that Ethan's mysterious accident when he was in his 20's will not be the only tragedy that will occur in this story. Doom and gloom are almost a constant presence. Without giving away significant details, for those who have not read the book, I'll just say that I was disappointed by Ethan, and I detested Zeena.  I realize that this story was set in the 19th century, but I just could not imagine living day in and day out in a hopeless, loveless marriage, even if that was what many people in that situation did back then.

My overall impression was that the writing was very good in this novel, but I did not love the story. I was glad I read it, but was also glad that it wasn't a longer story. It was just too depressing for me.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An award, a guessing game, and a Giveaway - The Midwife's Confession; Diane Chamberlain

Laurel Rain-Snow was kind enough to choose me for this award, and although I usually will just say "thank you" for thinking of me, and not follow through with a post, this one sounded fun.

I made it into a guessing game that could involve my readers.  I am to share five things about myself, with four of them partially true and partially fictitious, and is totally true.

Try to guess which one is completely true, by leaving a comment, and then come back to the post (ON SUNDAY - 2/20) in which the truth is revealed!

All those who guess the TRUE statement will be entered in a drawing (on 2/20) for a copy of:

Midwife's Confession; Diane Chamberlain
 April 26, 2011 - Mira
(I'll ship world wide for this one)
So here goes:
  1. Meryl (Mary Louise) Streep was a camp counselor at the summer camp I attended one summer in New Jersey.
  2. A good friend was killed in a jeep accident when we were in high school.
  3. I received some shocking news last week, so shocking I kept it to myself.
  4. My husband was mistaken for a famous movie actor by a limo driver in Florida.
  5. Most of the people who work at my library do not enjoy reading.
Your Turn....For a chance at the giveaway, please leave a comment with the (1) statement you believe is "totally, 100% true"......GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!  (thanks again Laurel)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day; Winifred Watson

 Title: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Author: Winifred Watson
Publication Year: 1938/2008-audio book 
Publisher: Persephone
Edition: audio book and softcover
Reader: Frances McDormand (excellent)
Source: Library
Date Completed: 2/14/2011
Setting: London
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Recommend: Yes 

Miss Pettigrew is a plain Jane, 40-something woman,  who can't seem to keep a job as a governess once she finds one. Probably because she doesn't exactly love little children.  Her life is boring, she's lonely,she  has never even been kissed, and to make matters worst, she can't seem to hold onto a job, so once again she finds herself  out of work.

When a misunderstanding leads her to the home of Delysia LaFosse, a gorgeous night-club singer, her life is about to be transformed. Miss LaFosse could not be more different from Miss Pettigrew. Miss LaFosse is attractive, polished and worldly, and has numerous suitors close by, each more than willing to keep her entertained.  Miss Pettigrew's reserved nature,has her curious about LaFosse's lifestyle.
 "....Oh, if only for once the Lord would be good and cause some miracle to happen to keep her here, to see you one day how life could be lived, so that for all the rest of her dull, uneventful days, when things grew bad, she could look back in her mind and dwell on the time when for one perfect day she, Miss Pettigrew, lived."
Pettigrew, shy and shocked at first, by the skimpy clothes people parade around in, the wild parties which include cocaine, alcohol, and smoke filled rooms, soon begins to feel more comfortable around Miss LaFosse and her friends.  It isn't long she gets a feel for what Cinderella must have experienced on her special day.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a tale of self discovery; a charming fairy-tale like story that is easy to fall in love with. She is a heroine you will root for. I loved the way relationship between Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse developed into friendship. It was so great to see her blossom from her dowdy clothes, and no make-up appearance to a lady who could turn a head or two herself.

The audio book was excellent, narrated by Frances McDormand. She did a terrific job, skillfully portraying each character, and giving you a sense of the lifestyle Miss Pettigrew was experiencing.  Certain parts of this audio book were laugh out loud funny. I ended up returning to the library to get a copy of the print version, when a friend mentioned the great illustrations in the print version -- I was glad I did.  I liked the way that the chapters were set up, each representing a specific period of time throughout the day. It made me anxious to keep listening, hoping that I would find Miss Pettigrew fully transformed. If you are looking for a fun, fast read, that is a bit different from anything else you've probably read lately, give this book a try. This book was first published in 1938, and reissued in 2000 with the original drawings. The audio book was released in 2008. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday - Mice; Gordon Reece

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we are eagerly anticipating! Want to participate? Post your own WOW entry on your blog, and leave your link at Breaking the Spine. Here is one that just has enough of the creepy factor to get my attention:

Viking - August 2011

An electrifying psychological thriller about a mother and daughter pushed to their limits. — Shelley and her mom have been menaced long enough. Excused from high school where a trio of bullies nearly killed her, and still reeling from her parents' humiliating divorce, Shelley has retreated with her mother to the quiet of Honeysuckle Cottage in the countryside. Thinking their troubles are over, they revel in their cozy, secure life of gardening and books, hot chocolate and Brahms by the fire. But on the eve of Shelley's sixteenth birthday, an unwelcome guest disturbs their peace and something inside Shelley snaps. What happens next will shatter all their certainties-about their safety, their moral convictions, the limits of what they are willing to accept, and what they're capable of.

Debut novelist Gordon Reece has written a taut tale of gripping suspense, packed with action both comic and terrifying. Shelley is a spellbinding narrator, and her delectable mix of wit, irony, and innocence transforms the major current issue of bullying into an edge- of-your-seat story of fear, violence, family loyalty, and the outer reaches of right and wrong.