Thursday, July 31, 2008
Susannah Prue signed on to a be a surrogate to matter to someone, to get attention for doing a noble thing, to feel a part of something after a life of many nothings. In the weeks before the birth, in a moment of panic, Susannah leaves Chicago (and the baby's parents), heading on an impromptu road trip to see the desert, to see the ocean, to find herself.
When her car breaks down in the vast stretch of land linking Texas and New Mexico, she settles in at the Thunder Lodge as its only resident, hoping to buy herself some time to think. It is at this decrepit, sad motel that the motley cast of characters comes together. There are Char and Marlon Garland, proprietors of the lodge, and their mentally disabled son, Tim, to whom Susannah is immediately drawn. When Dicey joins them, as a respite on her way to deliver her niece, Frankie, to her father in Arizona, a family of sorts is formed.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, the couple waiting for Susannah to deliver them a child, Julian and Kit, enter a new stage of waiting...and wondering how to get back the baby that belongs to them.
In the desert, time seems suspended, as the endless, dry days play out, repeating themselves over and over. But Susannah knows her due date looms, and that every day brings Julian and Kit closer to finding her. Again in a panic, she makes another rash decision that will alter the lives of everyone, with both disastrous and heart-warming results.
Have you ever read a book and imagined the movie version in your head?
That's how this book was for me from the very beginning. Perhaps it was the vivid descriptions of the desert landscape and the little motel in the middle of nowhere, or the peculiarity of the characters who could very easily come to life on a screen, or the relationships that were powerful and real enough to survive off of the page.
In her debut novel, Shearn paints with a unique brush a story that kept me wondering how it was all going to turn out, invested in every line.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
What? There's a specific word that relates to one of my biggest pet peeves, and I just now learned it?
I can't stand it when I see y'all spelled ya'll. In my opinion, y'all is the combination of the phrase, typically Northern, "you all." When you take away the "ou" the apostrophe replaces it.
I'm constantly seeing references that use ya'll, and I just don't think it's grammatically correct...I think people just like the way it looks, for some reason, and don't think about the placement of the apostrophe as being a technical issue.
Just to tie this in to a book blog...Paula Deen's autobiography, edited and produced in the North, used ya'll throughout (I could barely make it through it). However, her magazine, edited and produced in the South, consistently uses y'all.
However, I recently got into a debate with a friend of my parents about this. He maintained:
The word ya'll isn't a contraction of the words "you all" as many people think. It is a word of other distinct origin, indigenous to the rural South: ye aw. This evolved in a modern-day variation of y'all, where some put the apostrophe after the "a" (ya'll). So, ya'll could be a contraction for ya all.
Also, I was raised also using ya'll as a contraction of the words "ya will" in which case the apostrophe would replace the "wi"...thus, ya'll.
I'm not at all convinced by his argument, but I'm opening this up for debate. Thoughts?
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
From Publishers Weekly:
When Brunonia Barry’s debut The Lace Reader was self-published last year, a starred PW review and a bookseller buzz campaign helped it pop in the market--and land a $2 million republication deal with Morrow.
My first job in book publishing was as the editorial assistant to the editorial director of Pocket Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). While I was there, she signed a contract with now-bestselling author Vince Flynn, who had self-published his first novel, Term Limits, in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area. Pocket re-published it, and he's since become a wildly successful author. So, I have a soft spot for self-published writers.
Here's the premise of The Lace Reader, courtesy of PW:
Towner Whitney, a dazed young woman descended from a long line of mind readers and fortune tellers, has survived numerous traumas and returned to her hometown of Salem, Mass., to recover. Any tranquility in her life is short-lived when her beloved great-aunt Eva drowns under circumstances suggesting foul play. Towner's suspicions are taken with a grain of salt given her history of hallucinatory visions and self-harm. The mystery enmeshes local cop John Rafferty, who had left the pressures of big city police work for a quieter life in Salem and now finds himself falling for the enigmatic Towner as he mourns Eva and delves into the history of the eccentric Whitney clan.
I've got this in my hands, and as soon as I finish How Far Is the Ocean From Here, I'm on it. Review to follow...
Sunday, July 27, 2008
"She had conceived children in that house, suffered a miscarriage in that house, brought her babies home there, argued with her husband there, made love, rejoiced, despaired, sipped tea, and gossiped and sobbed and counseled and blessed her friends there, walked the halls with sick children there, and scrubbed the worn brick of the kitchen floor there at least a thousand times on her hands and knees. And it was because of all this history with the house, all the parts of her life unfolding there day after day for so many years, that Ellen decided to burn it down."
After an early married life of moving around frequently, Ellen Flanagan is quite comfortable in her Portland home of 12 years. And, for her two girls, it's the only home they've ever known. The house has been the scene for the pivotal moments in her life, but when her entrepreneur husband puts them in financial straights for yet another invention, Ellen believes she has no other option but to sell the house...and divorce her husband. However, is she really prepared to leave? It doesn't help that Ellen has strong feelings about the new owners and their plans to change her home completely once she's gone.
That said, this was an enjoyable debut novel, and Kathleen McCleary is certainly an author to keep your eye on. This was a quick and easy read, ideal for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
It's hard to believe I'm saying this, as a newspaper junkie, but in the few weeks I've been a part of the Sunday Salon community, I have been leaving the thick Sunday paper languishing in the yard until I've had my fill of book reviews with my morning coffee. It's incredibly relaxing to read about what other people are reading...I think it's a perfect way to begin the day.
Here's what I read this week:
1. Time Is a River by Mary Alice Monroe (review here)
2. The Condition by Jennifer Haigh (review here)
I'm almost done with House and Home by Kathleen McCleary...I have heard so much about this book, and I'm eager to throw my thoughts in the ring.
Up next: How Far Is the Ocean From Here by Amy Shearn
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Such describes Gwen, the middle child (and only daughter) in the McKotch family, sentenced to live her life as an adult forever stuck in a child's body.
At first glance, it appears that this is the condition for which the book is named...yet, when it comes down to it, "the condition" really describes the state of a fractured family, one torn apart by a physical condition yet remaining broken by emotional ones.
As the story begins, in 1976, the seed of "there's something wrong with Gwen" has just been planted, as the girl's smallness, at age 12, is suddenly painfully obvious. Life changes as the family knows it...this would be the last summer at the family's Cape Cod summer home, the last summer Paulette and Frank McKotch would be married, the last summer that everything would be normal.
Fast forward 20 years, where the bulk of the book takes place...Frank and Paulette McKotch are divorced, having not been able to weather the storm over their daughter's diagnosis and how to treat her. Oldest brother Billy is a doctor in New York, estranged from his father and carefully close to his mother. Youngest brother Scotty is the family's disappointment, long since relegated to the role as underachiever.
Gwen is living in her carefully constructed world, working in the dark basement of a Pittsburgh museum, where her size goes unnoticed. She's guarded and emotionally stunted, until a fateful and unexpected scuba diving trip shows her that she is capable of living large, despite her body.
This is a compelling book about how the condition of one child can forever alter the course of the family as a whole. Told from each family member's perspective, this engaging novel charts a family's journey toward understanding one another for who they are. I'm always a fan of family-related dramas, and this one didn't disappoint.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?
My first thought was, I have no idea. Nothing comes to mind. Curious, I pulled a dozen or so of my favorite books from the shelves to read the first line...nope. Nothing. They were certainly books that I love, but (apparently) it wasn't because of their first sentences.
However, I keep a quote book, and I do have favorite lines in general from books. I love that feeling when I read a line and I think, "This has to go in the book. Immediately."
In no particular order, here are five favorites:
"Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes.
Take their love."
(She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb)
"Bread was what you wanted over the long haul, when you got right down to it. When you got right down to it, you wouldn't want a lifetime of cake."
(Charming Billy by Alice McDermott)
"Take the green bowl. Take all the green bowls. Love what you love without apology."
(The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg)
"I want to inhabit my life like a porch."
(Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells)
"I was remembering the way it feels at just that moment when you begin to turn, when you're poised exactly between the things in life you want to do and those you need to do, and it seems for a few blessed seconds that they are going to be the same."
(While I Was Gone by Sue Miller)
So, faithful readers, I'd love to hear one of yours!
Monday, July 21, 2008
I have no good reason why I haven't read anything by this author before. She seems very much along the same lines as Anne Rivers Siddons and Dorothea Benton Frank, both of whom I like very much, so I'm surprised that I haven't picked up one of her 10 previous novels, all set in the South.
Her latest is a captivating read, rich in details and full of small-town "Southern-ness."
Belle's family is legendary in the small town, and as Mia settles into the cabin, restoring it to a liveable condition, she learns more and more about Kate Watkins, the previous inhabitant of the cabin and Belle's grandmother (and the subject of many long-held rumors).
In her journey back to herself, Mia develops independence, a love of fly fishing, and an understanding of (and kinship with) the woman many residents vilified and speculated about for years.
I really enjoyed Monroe's writing style. I felt very connected to her thorough descriptions...I could really visualize the cabin going from shabby to sparkling, I could smell the woods, and I could hear the river. Her words brought the book to life off of the paper.
I think this should make your TBR list, particularly if you are a Southerner. I will definitely check out her other books.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I spent last weekend in Nashville working a trade show, so I missed the Salon. Being gone for four days, especially over a weekend, seriously cut into my reading time, but I managed to sneak a little time in at the Opryland Hotel pool.
So, here's what I have reviewed since my last SS post.
- How Perfect Is That by Sarah Bird (review here)
- So Long at the Fair by Christina Schwarz (review here)
- Cost by Roxana Robinson (review here)
I have just started my second book in the Southern Summer Reading Challenge, Time Is a River by Mary Alice Monroe. It looks like an easy read, so expect a review by the end of the day.
I hope everyone has a great Sunday. I'm looking forward to seeing what you all are reading. If you get a chance, let me know if you have a good addition to my TBR pile.
Update: I ended up going to see Mamma Mia! with my mom (so good!) this afternoon, so I got off my reading for awhile, but I'm almost done with Time Is a River, so expect a review tomorrow.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Reading Cost, by Roxana Robinson, was like reading a transcript of an episode of this show.
It is the story of a young man with a life-threatening addition to heroin and his family's desperate measures to save him.
Artist and professor Julia Lambert is enjoying the last few weeks of vacation at her summer home in Maine with her aging parents. She is awaiting the arrival of her older son, Steven, who is traveling across the country from Seattle. However, when Steven arrives, having stopped to visit his younger brother in Brooklyn on the way, he brings with him disturbing news...that he believes Jack is a heroin addict.
The family, including the boys' father (and Julia's ex-husband), must rally together to fight for Jack's life. But, is it too late?
Told from each family member's perspective, the book is powerful, gritty, and emotional. I found myself as anxious as the characters themselves, with a knot in my stomach as they struggled not only with Jack's addition, but also the fractured relationships among them.
My favorite part of watching Intervention is the black screen that comes up at the end, updating viewers on where the addict is now (thankfully, it's far more often positive than not). As I neared the end of Cost, I was holding my breath to see what the book's black screen would say.
I highly recommend this book.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday? Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip? What/Where are they?
One of my favorite vacation spots is the Gulf Coast, and I'd much rather be reading on the beach than spending time traipsing through a bookstore trying to find something to read on the beach.
That said, another one of my favorite vacation spots is New Orleans, and I have a bookstore that I visit every single time I'm there. My husband and I took several trips to the Big Easy when we were dating, and we got married there six years ago. With the exception of the year Katrina hit, we've been back on our anniversary.
There is a cookbook-only bookstore in the French Quarter, right off of Bourbon Street, called The Kitchen Witch. It is a foodie paradise. I'm a cookbook fanatic, and I collect, in particular, old Southern Junior League cookbooks. This store, featuring the owner's personal collection, has options beyond options, so I always stop in to select the new addition to my stash.
Come to think about it, I typically always arrive home with a cookbook (and a Christmas tree ornament) from any city that I'm visiting, if it's for the first time.
What about you?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Told in flashbacks between the present and 1963, So Long at the Fair by Christina Schwarz (author of the acclaimed Drowning Ruth), follows the story of two generations of several families in a small Midwestern town.
At the heart of it, though, is the examination of a marriage over the course of one day, as a husband wrestles with adultery, a wife comes face to face with her past, and a mistress struggles with the future of her affair, while also being pursued by another man.
I found the flashback part of the storyline a little hard to follow, but that could very well be because I read the majority of it while sitting beside an indoor pool at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville (imagine children's voices reverberating off the walls and you'll get the picture).
The past, and how it completely intersects with the present characters, takes the whole book to come together, but the pieces finally do fall into place. And, even though I wasn't always sold throughout, I was engaged enough and able to see that we were headed for a very dramatic conclusion, so I stuck with it. It wasn't my favorite book of the year, but it was a short read that did keep me curious, albeit sometimes confused.
Friday, July 11, 2008
She was gracious to respond, and we sent a few e-mails back and forth about the book and how readers, particularly women, read. She mentioned that several readers were finding the main character "unlikeable," to which she responded, "Me? I loves me a bad girl." (I love her for this answer.)
She presented an interesting issue:
"I'm intrigued by the standards that some readers apply to protagonists. The big question for many readers--invariably female--is, "Would I do what this character does?" Then the whole "likeability" question seems to hinge upon that answer."
So, I'm curious. Do you favor characters who act as you would act? And, if they don't, does that make them unlikeable to you?
Thursday, July 10, 2008
What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?
But, I'm a library girl through and through. And I always have been, ever since I was little. I remember leaving with a huge stack of books, my heart racing with excitement.
In fact, when my husband and I moved to another suburb, we moved outside of the main library system. I took one look inside my new library, drove to my former library, and asked them if I could pay to keep my record there (I could, and I did). My new library leaves a lot to be desired (too much money spent on the building, not enough on the collection).
Don't get me wrong, I have tons of books, and I always buy my favorite authors. But, my favorite format is just-released hardcover fiction, and with the way I read, I'd be in the poorhouse without the library.
Right when I read about a book that sounds interesting, usually in one of the trade review journals, I put it on my list online, well before its publication date, and it usually pops up with my name on it right when it's released. Love it, love it, love it.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
So Long at the Fair by Christina Schwarz: "The bestselling author of Drowning Ruth returns to the small-town Wisconsin she so brilliantly evoked with this gripping novel about love, marriage, and adultery." (Amazon)
Cost by Roxana Robinson: "Roxana Robinson's novel artfully portrays a family transformed by the far-reaching consequences of a son's heroin addiction." (Vanity Fair)
Sleeping Arrangements by Madeleine Wickham: "Wickham spins a delightful story of British families forced to spend their vacation together after a mutual friend promises them the same week in his Spanish villa." (Publishers Weekly)
The Condition by Jennifer Haigh: "A dysfunctional New England family struggles toward normalcy in this poignant novel from PEN/Hemingway-winner Haigh, who follows the children of resentful, controlling Paulette and distracted, needy Frank." (Publishers Weekly)
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Following her divorce from the son of one of Austin's finest families, Blythe Young is cast out of the very society that paraded her around on their shoulders during her marriage. Thanks to a prenup, she's also out on the street, with nothing left but an out-of-gas minivan and the couture on her back. To add insult to injury, her career as an upscale event coordinator is over, with no money to buy food or pay her employees.
Luckily, she's able to wash all these troubles down with her "proprietary blend of Red Bull, Stoli, Ativan, just the tiniest smidge of OxyContin, and one thirty-milligram, timed-release spansule of Dexedrine."
Resources depleted, Blythe ends up at the only place that will take her in, her college boardinghouse, now overseen by her former roommate. And, she's got to eat some crow to go back to both to the house and her long-abandoned friend. However, it may be just what she needs to get her life back on track.
This book is hysterically quirky. It's Southern, it's eccentric, it's witty. I love the specificity of the characters...the author has a knack for including details that really make these characters come alive off the page. I haven't read anything by Sarah Bird before, but I'm sure going to check out her others.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Hope everyone has a great Sunday...I'd love to hear what you're reading!
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Here's the basic storyline: When glassblower Claire Danner Crispin, wife and mom to four children, is approached to co-chair the island's annual charity Summer Gala, she doesn't expect to fall for the head of the foundation. However, fall she does, and the gala (and the affair) take over her life. She's asked to create a one-of-a-kind glass piece for the auction, as well as recruit her high school boyfriend, now a major rock star, as the talent. Claire is a "yes" woman, so she tries to be everything to everyone...and her chief motivation is guilt. As you can imagine, mayhem ensues.
Okay, this book was a little different for me. It was definitely engaging, and I sped through the 400+ pages, sometimes finding myself scanning a few paragraphs ahead because I was so interested to see what happens.
However, I just had a hard time liking Claire. I didn't relate to her, and I didn't understand her. I got to the point where I thought, she either needs to start making some good decisions or get her just desserts. I felt sorry for her husband, her children, her best friend, and I had a hard time justifying her actions and reconciling her behavior. I kept thinking, this is just headed for disaster, which kind of bummed me out.
This wasn't my favorite of hers, but I still think this will be a pretty successful novel, given the author's track record and the fact that it's on every summer beach bag list out there. I also think it probably would be a good book club choice, raising many questions and provoking a lively discussion.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
"Someone dared me."
"No one you know."
This early scene in the latest novel from Michelle Richmond lends itself to the title of the book, a gripping, emotional, and surprising drama.
For 20 years, Ellie Enderlin has been living in the aftermath of the brutal murder of her older sister, a math genius. Shortly after the incident, Ellie's college professor and close friend pens a best-selling account of the crime, naming his own opinion of the most likely killer, a supposition that everyone takes at face value.
Years later, Ellie runs into the man accused of the crime on a coffee-buying trip to Nicaragua, where he has long since taken refuge from the book's publicity. They talk at length, leaving her with the distinct impression that he was not her sister's killer. The chance encounter opens up the investigation in her mind, and she embarks on a mission to find out what really happened that fateful night.
The one stumbling block for me during the book was the strong math element, presented in theorems, which, while integral into getting inside her sister's head, are riddles for those of us not so mathematically inclined. I found myself reading them over and over again, trying to make them make sense to me. However, their inclusion lends credibility to the work and adds to character development, so they do serve a purpose.
Even though it sounds like a mystery, I wouldn't necessarily classify it that way...or at least not exclusively. More than the murder, this book is about the relationship between two sisters...what existed, and what could have been.
It particularly hit home for me, from the sister angle. As in the book, my sister is my only sibling, and it made me think about the aftermath of this type of tragedy. How would it change the dynamics of a family? The relationship between the surviving daughter and her parents? What would it be like to always wonder what your sister would have become, given more time?
All in all, I highly recommend this for your TBR pile.
It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today’s question simple–What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading?
I'm anticipating some serious pool time this weekend, and I'm excited that I have Elin Hilderbrand's latest, A Summer Affair, in my stack, a guaranteed fun summer read.
Also in my maybe-to-be-read stack for the weekend: This Charming Man by Marian Keyes and More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss.
I'm a little wary of the Marian Keyes book...I loved her first few, but I haven't been able to get into her last couple of novels. We'll see.