Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: September 22, 2012

Alyce of At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot and asks participants to post any photo (just no random photos you found online). Stop by and see what others have posted!

Sunset at Canyon Ranch (Tucson)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky

In Bad Marie, author Marcy Dermansky presents us with a difficult to like main character, Marie. Marie has recently left prison after serving time for being an accomplice to a crime with her boyfriend and is hired by her childhood friend, Ellen, to nanny her young daughter Caitlin. Marie is not your typical nanny - she drinks and smokes while caring for her young charge and generally seems to have a pathological detachment from those around her. Amid her self-centered drive to serve her own needs, however, is a kernel of selflessness in how she cares for Caitlin - she may not relate well to adults but her unadulterated love for this child is indisputable.

Ellen and Marie have a complicated relationship - they were friends as children but while Ellen had many privileges and a normal home life, Marie's home life was tumultuous and her Mom seemed to be indifferent to her. When Marie arrives at Ellen's looking for a job post prison, Ellen feels compelled to help her and gives her a job as a nanny to her and her husband's young daughter, Caitlin. Marie bonds with Caitlin but steals from Ellen and generally has no regard for her rules. Ellen is portrayed as an uptight rule follower; needless to say, Marie is the antithesis of that. Marie does whatever makes Marie feel better whether it be drinking and then taking a bath with Caitlin or pursuing Ellen's husband. She crosses many lines including sleeping with Ellen's husband in their bed and wearing Ellen's silk robe as she seduces her husband. There is no doubt that Marie is "bad" but she is not all bad. Her relationship with Caitlin is touching and she truly cares for her. She dotes on the young girl and has difficulty leaving her every night. Whereas Marie has trouble with all the adults in her life, the unconditional love provided by Caitlin is something she cannot resist and to which she really responds. This provides a little insight into Marie and humanizes her - you wonder how disappointed she must have been throughout her life by those that were supposed to love her that she cannot trust anyone with her emotions but a child who loves unconditionally.

 My Thoughts
I found Marie fascinating - it is rare to find a character that is so uncomplicated. Marie just seems "bad" - she commits transgressions without remorse. By offering only glimpses of Marie's past, the author does not allow the reader to develop much sympathy for Marie or gain an understanding of what has brought her to commit these acts. The only kernel you receive is her love and care for Caitlin.

Although I found Marie fascinating, I couldn't relate to either Marie or Ellen. I think it would be difficult for most to relate to Marie but I found Ellen hard because I questioned some of her decisions. She knows about Marie's problems and she offers her a job on the heels of Marie's departure from prison. This is not just any job - this is the job of taking care of her child while neither Ellen nor her husband is home. I am all for giving someone a second chance but I don't think putting a child at risk in the process is unnecessary - couldn't she have started her with running a few errands, doing some light housekeeping? My comments are a little tongue in cheek but I did have a hard time understanding why Ellen would do this and was angry on behalf of her young daughter.

 Bad Marie offers a compelling character study in Marie which makes the novel very readable - it hooks you early and keeps you reading.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook

Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook tells the story of Deirdre Griffin who is trapped in an unsatisfying life as assistant to her new age guru brother, Tag. She is completely eclipsed by his fame and even other members of their family overlook her as they scramble to meet Tag's needs. Things come to a head at one of Tag's events and Deirdre reaches a breaking point; she drowns her sorrows in vodka and makes a desperate social media plea to get voted on to Dancing With the Stars. With that, her life is transformed - the wallflower begins to bloom.

Deirdre Griffin is a very likeable character - she has a complicated relationship with her eccentric family made all the worse by the fact that their lives are intertwined in support of Tag. Deirdre lives in a converted sheep shed on Tag's property and her two sisters and parents all work for Tag in some way. Deirdre feels invisible within her family even though the work she does for Tag is integral to his success - they all take her for granted and she has reached her limit. When her on-again, off-again boyfriend comes to tell her his new girlfriend is pregnant and they are getting married, it puts Deirdre over the edge and convinces her something needs to change in her life.

Dancing with the Stars is looking for a replacement for a star that has to leave unexpectedly one season and they put the choice out to the people - the public is encouraged to nominate and then vote for who they next want on the show. In a drunken, emotional haze, Deirdre uses her social media savvy and her brother's fame to get herself voted on to the show. She ignores any regret she feels when she sobers up and heads to LA, cutting ties with her crazy family. While in LA, Deirdre is transformed physically and she works through her complicated relationship with her family.  

My Thoughts
 This is a fun, entertaining book with a likeable main character and a vivid cast of secondary characters. Like the author's Life's a Beach (my review), the dialogue in this novel is witty and I can see it translating to the screen very well. While it doesn't go very deep, the story is well developed and I did feel like I really got to know Deirdre. I think many of us can relate to feeling insecure and trapped in the background so you cheer for her success. Throw in the popular Dancing with the Stars and the result is a light, quick read with a lot of appeal.

I linked this post to the Weekend Bloggy Reading event at Serenity Now

I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher via netgalley

Friday, September 14, 2012

Audiobook Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants is the hugely successful memoir by comedian Tina Fey and, like her, it is intelligent and witty. The author reads the audio herself and it is like listening to one of her monologues on Saturday Night Live - I caught myself laughing out loud on my walk home from work and smiling to myself while listening on the subway (fortunately, this really doesn't stand out much in NYC!). In addition to laughs, however, Tina Fey delivers commentary on how women can succeed in the workplace - even though her workplace is very different from the one most of us go to every day - and a peek into the family that made her who she is and the family she has created with her husband.

 I use the word "peek" intentionally because while Tina Fey has an amazing ability to laugh at herself and therefore can be quite revealing I was impressed by how she held some parts of her story to herself. I certainly got a well drawn picture of her family growing up - from her frugal Dad to her Mom who had Tina as a "change of life" baby. Tina's love and respect for her parents and how they have shaped her also shines through but there is nothing voyeuristic about this memoir - I get the feeling Tina could easily sit at a family dinner after writing this memoir and not look sheepishly around at the family she exposed in her book. In much the same way, Tina shares funny anecdotes about her husband - their courtship and their honeymoon (more about that later) but she doesn't slavishly reveal their entire relationship. It is almost as if she recognizes that she has decided to live a public life but doesn't want to subject her family to the exposure that accompanies that public life.

Now - on to the laughs. Tina's dry, sarcastic wit is evident throughout this book as she tells anecdotes from her personal and professional life. The one I found funniest and the one which still brings a smile to my face is the story of her and her husband's honeymoon cruise. The couple decided on cruising because her husband is afraid of flying. After enjoying a few days of extravagant buffets and formal nights, Tina and her husband are enjoying a day on the ship when they hear one of the cabin maids desperately bleating into the intercom "Bravo, Bravo . . . ". They later learn this is code for a serious emergency aboard and discover their cruise ship is on fire! Something about her breathless delivery of the maid's alert over the intercom still makes me laugh.

On the professional front, Tina recounts her time at Second City in Chicago, her early days on SNL and her success on 30 Rock. She also takes us through her period of playing Sarah Palin during the 2008 election season Tina tells many self-deprecating anecdotes about her professional gaffes and occasional humiliations. However, in the midst of those, a theme emerges - Tina has worked very hard in a male dominated field to achieve what she has and it was by no means arrived at through pure luck.

If you are looking for intelligent, witty and laugh out loud funny, pick up Bossypants (preferably in audio!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

In The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, the hum drum of daily life is played out against the backdrop of a fantastical change - the earth's rotation has slowed and days are gradually extending. It happens slowly at first with darkness persisting just a little longer each morning. Eleven year old Julia and her family try to cope with the effects of this change but also cope with those "hum drum" daily trials and it soon becomes obvious that life's daily trials might be as earth shattering as an apocalyptic-like change to the time continuum.

Julia is a precocious middle-schooler who keenly observes the world around her. Like any adolescent, she has a series of close girlfriends and an interest in a boy in her class. She also closely watches her parents' relationship and notices unspoken grievances and disappointments. In this quote, Julia reflects on her parent's history and the effects of the passage of time:
 When I think now of that moment in the kitchen, an almost unbelievable thought comes to mind: These was a time when those two people - that man hunched at the table and that women shouting in a bathrobe - were young. The proof was in the pictures that hung on the living room walls, a pretty girl and a bookish guy, a studio apartment in a crumbling Hollywood building overlooking a courtyard and a kidney shaped pool. This was the mythical period before I was born, when my mother was not a mother and was instead an actress who might make it someday, any day, maybe soon, a serious girl with a lovely face. How much sweeter life would be if it all happened in reverse, if, after decades of disappointments, you finally arrived at an age when you had conceded nothing, when everything was possible.
Her observation on the passage of time and the compromises (with their associated regrets) made over a lifetime is astute and dovetails with the dramatic change to time happening around her.

When the earth starts slowing, Julia, of course, notices all the resulting changes in the environment and her community. She notes the extra gravitational pull and the impact of lengthening days on crops and animals. She sees her community divided between those that follow the government's edict to stay on "clock time" ignoring the lengthening days and those that follow "real time" and live their lives according to the altered sunrise and sunset. Julia sees paranoia begin to set in as people suspect the government is withholding information about the natural disaster and even her mother stockpiles non perishables as she worries about the diminishing food supply.

All the drama going on outside does little to mitigate the trials of adolescence. Julia watches her best friend become close with another girl in school and subtly (and eventually not so subtly) is shunned by her. She is taunted by boys while waiting for the bus one morning and  is perplexed by one boy, Seth, who is a loner but occasionally shows a fleeting interest in her.  Julia begins to feel those first confusing feelings for Seth and her struggle to understand them so perfectly captures the confusion and turmoil of adolescence.

My Thoughts
I thought this book was brilliant - the perfect mix of coming of age with science fiction/dystopia.  I am not generally a fan of science fiction and the premise gave me pause as I considered picking up the book but the ability to see the cataclysmic change through the eyes of precocious Julia absorbed me so the science fiction became an interesting background.  In fact, I was surprised by how interested I actually was in those components of the novel. 

The writing is excellent - I knew we were off to a good start with this opening sentence:
 We did not sense at first the extra time bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath the skin.
The author's finely wrought sentences perfectly describe a scene or an emotion with just enough well selected words.

I finished this book over two months ago but had difficulty writing this review because I liked the book so much. I doubt I can give it justice in this review so I will just endorse it with the fact that it will definitely be on my Top 12 Books of 2012 list!

Thank you to Karen at Random House for bringing this book to my attention and sending me an ARC.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Appreciate

September 10-14 is Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Day one's topic is appreciation and participants are asked to share some of the blogs they read daily and why. It is always hard to choose but here are some of my favorites:

 BookNAround: Kristen has posted about many books which make their way onto my TBR and I find I like a disproportionately high number of the books she spotlights during her "Waiting on Wednesday" posts. In addition, her reviews are well-written and witty.

BookChickDi: Diane is a fellow NYC blogger and we have been able to attend some NYC book events together (although not nearly enough!). We have very similar tastes in books - I check her blog often to see what I need to read next because if she liked it the odds are very high that I will like it too!

Bermuda Onion: Kathy is one of the first book bloggers that I followed when I started book blogging and I will never forget how welcoming she was - for many weeks, she was responsible for the few comments I received on my early posts. I have had the pleasure of meeting her in person and she is just as nice as I would have expected from her comments! She is an avid and diverse reader so check out her blog to see what is new each week.

  Unabridged Chick I discovered Audra's blog because she is a participant in my Immigrant Stories Challenge - she posts smart reviews with great insights into each book.

  Kristen's Book Nook Kristen's blog is new to me but I have fast become a fan. She posts reviews most days (something I envy these days!) and features books right in my sweet spot.

 I feel like this list just scratches the surface - there are so many excellent blogs that I read each week but the post can't go on forever so there you have a sample of my favorite blogs. I am looking forward to seeing who the other participants feature so I can freshen up my reader!