Monday, August 30, 2010

Mailbox Monday: August 30, 2010

Mailbox Monday  is usually hosted by Marcia at the Printed Page; the meme will be doing a blog tour over the next few months - in August it is hosted by Chick Loves Lit Mailbox Monday gives us a chance to feature the books that came into our homes over the past week (and of course to check out what came in to everyone else's!)

I received a mix of books over the past two weeks - YA, Memoir, Travel, Fiction - I love having so much variety in my mailbox!

The Hunger Games  and Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)by Suzanne Collins: with all frenzy about the Mockingjay release last week, I thought it was time to finally see what it was all about

Unexpectedly, Milo: A Novel by Matthew Dicks: this is my bookclub choice for September

For Review:
My Maasai Life: From Suburbia to Savannah by Robin Wiszowaty - this memoir arrived from Little Bird Publicity

Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour by Rachel Shukert arrived thanks to Erica at Harper Perennial

From PBS:
The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah - I heard about this book on BookNAround and was excited to be able to get it from PBS

Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Kate Kerrigan - this author is currently living in a town in Ireland very close to where my Mom is from (Killala, Co Mayo) and her newest book (not yet out in the US) was featured in the TV Book Club which is where I discovered her

Contest Win:
The Piano Teacher: A Novel - this was a win from Booking Mama (thank you!)

What came into your home this week?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Salon: August 29, 2010

The Sunday

We got a brief taste of fall here in the city this weekend as the temperatures and humidity finally came down for a few days - the Fall is my favorite season but it is sad to realize summer will be over in just one short week. I feel like I have to wring all the summer I can out of this final week!

Fracas over Franzen

Freedom: A Novel The upcoming release of Jonathan Franzen's newest book, Freedom: A Novel, has caused all sorts of buzz but also questions about the literature we value and that which gets the most critical acclaim.  With a glowing NYTBR write up and the cover of Time Magazine, Franzen has been the recipient of high praise of late.  "Everything that goes up must come down" - the backlash against all the praise has started!  Most notably, Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult started tossing jabs at Franzen via Twitter and aired their feelings in a Huffington Post article this week.  I have read books by all three authors and while I agree that there should be room for all of them in the coverage offered to books in the media, the caliber of writing is not equal in all three books.  If NYTBR is celebrating literary talent with its choice of coverage, I can see why they have made the choice they have made.   This article in the New York Times nicely sums up the "Frazen Fracas" and in the book blogging world, I think this post by Teresa of Shelf Love does an excellent of examining the issue at the core of the "fracas".

What do you think about the fervor surrounding Freedom: A Novel?

This Week on the Blog:

This has been a banner week for me - 3 posts and 2 reviews!  Pathetic, I know, but the best I have done in awhile.  The week sometimes gets away from me and I just can't get my posts written so I am trying a new model - I write and schedule my posts on the weekends.  Let's see how this turns out  . . . .

Last week I reviewed:
Leaving Before It's Over: A Novel review here

The Girl Next Door: A Novel (audiobook review here)

Hope you all have a great week!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: August 25, 2010

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T.R. Reid



Washington Post correspondent Reid (The United States of Europe) explores health-care systems around the world in an effort to understand why the U.S. remains the only first world nation to refuse its citizens universal health care. Neither financial prudence nor concern for the commonweal explains the American position, according to Reid, whose findings divulge that the U.S. not only spends more money on health care than any other nation but also leaves 45 million residents uninsured, allowing about 22,000 to die from easily treatable diseases. Seeking treatment for the flareup of an old shoulder injury, he visits doctors in the U.S., France, Germany, Japan and England—with a stint in an Ayurvedic clinic in India—in a quest for treatment that dovetails with his search for a cure for America's health-care crisis, a narrative device that sometimes feels contrived, but allows him valuable firsthand experience. For all the scope of his research and his ability to mint neat rebuttals to the common American misconception that universal health care is socialized medicine, Reid neglects to address the elephant in the room: just how are we to sell these changes to the mighty providers and insurers?

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care Although much of the furor that surrounded the health care debate earlier this year has settled down, we have yet to address many of the tough choices and decisions about health care in this country.  I think the author's approach of trying to access treatment for a shoulder injury in 6 countries is an interesting approach to this dialogue.  I had put this book onto my TBR when it first released in HB and am excited to see that is now out in paperback (Paperback releases on Aug 31, 2010)

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Audiobook Review: Girl Next Door by Elizabeth Noble

Noble charts the intertwining lives of the residents of a New York City apartment building in her charming love letter to Manhattan. After banker Ed Gallagher's promotion necessitates a move from the U.K. to New York, he and his wife, Eve, are thrilled to find the perfect Upper East Side apartment, though Eve struggles to meet people until she befriends Violet Wallace, an 82-year-old fellow Englishwoman in her building who enchants her with the story of her path to Manhattan. Elsewhere in the building, shiftless trust fund baby Jackson Grayling III has fallen in love with Emily Mikanowski, a stunner living downstairs, while Emily's downstairs neighbor and friend, frumpy librarian Charlotte, works up the nerve to speak to Che, the Cuban doorman. And on the sixth floor, the Kramers and Schulmans, married couples with young children, struggle with two sets of very different marital problems.

My Thoughts:
As the resident of a Manhattan apartment building, the concept of a building in which everyone knows each other and romances bud between residents is appealing, however unrealistic it may be!  I have lived in my current building for 5 years and I know about 3 people well enough to greet them when I see them in the elevator but that is it! There are times the anonymity of apartment living really appeals but I harbor a secret wish that the building would be like Melrose Place or  Friends with everyone stopping by each others places for a chat and cup of coffee.  In The Girl Next Door: A Novel, Noble creates a community in which its members share more than just romance - they share their fears and look for antidotes to their loneliness. 

As she did in The Reading Group (review here), Noble presents an ensemble cast of characters each with different personal struggles.  The group is led, however, by Eve whose husband's job has recently moved the couple from the UK to the US.  As Eve struggles to fit in to NY society, she meets Violet, an elderly Englishwoman who has lived in the building for many years.  We learn about Violet's story as she guides Eve through the trials and tribulations of adjusting to a new home and a new city.  Eve, her husband Ed and Violet's storyline was my favorite while that of Charlotte was my least favorite.  Charlotte is a quiet homely sort who quietly suffers through her lack of a social life while pining away for Che, the doorman.  Her storyline seemed trite and unrealistic.  All the storylines are connected in some way even if just by the fact that the characters live in the same building.


As we all know, narration can make or break an audiobook and Lorelei King certainly makes this one!  An ensemble cast can be challenging in audio with a single narrator but Lorelei King did a fabulous job of changing accents and tone for the characters so that I recognized who was speaking immediately.  If not for that, I would have been lost with so many characters coming in and out on the audio.  I will definitely look for more audiobooks narrated by Lorelei King.

I quite enjoyed this story by audiobook (and probably would have in print as well) and recommend it to those looking for a light, if unrealistic, peek into apartment living in the city!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review: Leaving Before It's Over by Jean Reynolds Page

Leaving Before It's Over: A Novel  Leaving Before It's Over by Jean Reynolds Page tells the story of Roy Vines and his family - both old and new.  Roy Vines, a mechanic in a small North Carolina town, decided to leave his parents, twin brother and all claims to inheritance behind when he married his wife, Rosalind, and built a life with her and their two girls.  For fifteen years, he had no contact with his family and had reconciled himself to the fact that he found in his new family what he never got from his birth family - love, acceptance and support.  When his wife becomes ill with a blood disorder, however, and Roy needs money for her treatment, he decides to swallow his pride and return to his parents home to ask for financial assistance.  On that trip back to Virginia, his birth and new families collide and Roy faces the many definitions of family.

As Roy goes to his parents home in Virginia to ask for money, he is forced to face his feelings about his parents and brother.
"... Taylor was right, he knew, but with no present to draw on, past hurts made up the bulk of Roy's feelings about his extended family.  He couldn't make something out of nothing."
To further complicate a difficult family "reunion", there is the issue of 17 year old Luke.  Luke is presented as Roy's son whom he left behind in Virginia when he left to marry Rosalind.  Luke has been raised by Roy's parents and brother.  In Luke, Roy can see many of the hurts of his own childhood suffered at the hands of his family.  Although they provided shelter and structure for the boy, Roy can see that the boy has never received any support or encouragement.  He senses he has never felt truly wanted but cared for out of obligation. 

Although there is the family drama of secrets from years past and hurts by parents, the story is surprisingly comforting.  As we return with Roy to North Carolina, we observe the love he has for Rosalind and she for him and their shared love for their two girls, Lola and Janie Ray.  Lola, age sixteen, is beginning to explore dating and four year old Janie Ray is the loveable little sister always asking for someone to take her fishing.  There is an innocence about the lives of the Vine family in North Carolina and a purity about their love for the family they have built which is refreshing.  The cynical part of me kept waiting, chapter after chapter, for a tragedy to befall these characters.

Against the backdrop of the stern and manipulative Vines of Virginia, the family Roy has built in North Carolina is all the more triumphant - there is a hope in his ability to start fresh and provide for his children what he did not have as a child and build a partnership with his wife that he surely did not see modeled while growing up.  When he is forced to face those past hurts, his present life becomes all the more valuable.  I warmed to Roy's character and was consistently impressed by his "stand up" values and his ability to see good in people and do good for them.  All in all, this is an uplifting story with the meaning of family - especially the family you find and build - at its core.

Jean Reynolds Page is a new author for me but she has written three previous novels which also focus on the theme of family relationships  - conventional and unconventional. 

To read other perspectives on this book, stop in on some of the other bloggers hosting the tour of Leaving Before It's Over: A Novel.  Here are the hosts and dates:

Wednesday, August 25th: Scraps of Life
Tuesday, August 31st: Rundpinne
Thursday, September 2nd: Colloquium
Friday, September 3rd: Reading at the Beach
Tuesday, September 7th: Lisa’s Yarns
Thursday, September 9th: Shhh I’m Reading
Monday, September 13th: Café of Dreams
Tuesday, September 14th: Bookstack
Wednesday, September 15th: Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, September 22nd: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Thank you to Trish of TLC for the review copy of this book. This books meets the criteria of the "who are you?" category of the Twenty Ten Challenge.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mailbox Monday: Aug 16 2010

Mailbox Monday  is usually hosted by Marcia at the Printed Page; the meme will be doing a blog tour over the next few months - in August it is hosted by Chick Loves Lit Mailbox Monday gives us a chance to feature the books that came into our homes over the past week (and of course to check out what came in to everyone else's!)

It has been a few weeks since I have done a Monday Mailbox  so there is a lot to report on!

For Review:

Leaving Before It's Over: A Novel by Jean Reynolds Page
I Remember You by Harriet Evans
The White House Doctor: My Patients Were Presidents - A Memoir by Connie Mariano
I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

From PaperbackSwap:

O Come Ye Back to Ireland: Our First Year in County Clare by Niall Williams and Christine Breen
The Luck of the Irish : Our Life in County Clare by Niall Williams and Christine Breen
Cost: A Novel by Roxana Robinson
Bombay Time: A Novel  by Thirty Urmigar

Have you read any of these books?  What came into your home this week?

Sunday Salon: Aug 15, 2010

The Sunday

This time last week I was writing my Sunday Salon post from the balcony of my hotel room in Mexico - I took a 5 day mini break vacation and it was wonderful (if a bit short).  Even though I returned Monday night and therefore only had a 4 day work week, the week seemed long!  Fortunately, I had very little planned this weekend so I have been able to take it easy, read and catch up on blogs.

 Have you noticed that people love to label literature?  I do my fair share of labeling - I think it is human nature to try to group things.  It makes it easier to take information on board when it is categorized.  Things can go awry, however, when judgments get applied to the labels and categories. Or when books don't fit easily into a particular category and get labeled or judged based on arbitrary attributes such as cover art.  Diane Meier, author of The Season of Second Chances (read my review here) wrote an excellent piece on this topic in the Huffington Post (check it out here).  An excerpt:

My early reviews were gratifying and the consumer reviews from the Amazon Vine (pre-publication) readers were all five star.

Except one: "My Chick Lit Loving Wife Hated This Book," read the headline.

Okay, I wanted to respond, I'm sorry that you're disappointed, but it's like trying to blame a hot dog for not being ice cream.

What I didn't see was that the chick-lit argument had landed squarely on my doorstep.

Was "The Season of Second Chances" Chick Lit or not? That, in itself, became the general theme of most reviews, professional and consumer.

"Five stars because it is NOT Chick Lit."

"Zero stars because it is NOT Chick Lit."
What? Who asked for this as a mark of critical analysis?

It is a great piece and addresses this topic much better than I can so please read it

What are your thoughts on judging what others read?  A post on Dead White Guys Blog examines that topic as it discusses Book Snobs.  Are you a Book Snob?  I have to admit, I do catch myself judging what others read but I remind myself that I read very eclectically and no single book that I read captures my entire taste in books and I shouldn't assume that it does for others either.  And even if it does, who I am to judge what others read? 

Hope you are all having a great Sunday!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

Heart of the MatterTessa, a young mother of two, is married to Nick, a surgeon.  From the outside, their life together looks perfect - two beautiful children, lovely house in Wellesley, MA and Nick's successful career.  However, when Nick cares for a local boy injured in an accident and begins to have feelings for the boy's mother, Valerie, the cracks in their marriage begin to become evident. 

Heart of the Matter is told alternately from the perspective of Tessa and Valerie.  Tessa has what appears to be a "perfect life" with her two young children and successful husband but underneath she is struggling with her recent decision to leave work and stay home with her kids.  She tries to settle in to the stay at home lifestyle but finds many of her fellow Moms catty and worries that her husband will become bored or think less of her now that she does not have a career.  Valerie, on the other hand, is a single mother with a young son. Valerie is an attorney and works long hours to provide for herself and her son, Charlie.  There is little else in her life and she seems to be a bit of an outsider in the upscale Wellesley neighborhood.  When an accident during a sleepover leaves Charlie with serious burns and Nick is the surgeon who treats him Tessa and Valerie's lives collide.

Heart of the Matter is essentially a tale of infidelity.  As Nick spends time with Valerie in his treatment of Charlie, he develops feelings for both of them and starts an affair with Valerie.  Tessa can sense something has changed in her relationship with her husband but isn't exactly sure what is going on.  Giffin does a very good job of creating two sympathetic characters in Tess and Valerie - it would have been much easier if one were clearly the villian and the other a saint.  But life is not that simple and I appreciate that the author took this more difficult approach.

Nick, however, is not a sympathetic character.  Perhaps because he has no voice in the novel,  I could not understand his motivation for cheating on his wife and complicating the lives of a single mother and her vulnerable son.  While understanding his backstory would not excuse his transgressions, it would have provided context.  What really bothered me about Nick's affair was his relationship with Charlie - it almost felt as if he was captivated by Charlie and then fell into a relationship with Valerie.  In addition to cheating on his wife, Nick was cheating on his own children with Charlie.  While Charlie was a loveable little boy and deserved the father figure he so desperately wanted, I did feel badly for Nick's own children who saw so little of their Dad due to his busy schedule as a surgeon.  They saw even less of him as Nick spent his precious little free time with Charlie.

Despite my strong "anti-Nick" feelings, I did enjoy this book.  Giffin's storylines have matured along with her and I related to the characters and their struggles. Fans of her earlier novels will enjoy this one (there is even a cameo by a few characters from her other novels) but for those new to Giffin, this is a great start!