Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Highs and Low

Good morning, Sunday bloggers!

I spent the first half of my week reading The Garden of Last Days by Andres Dubus III. In short, I was disappointed (you can read my comments here). If you've read it, I'd love to know your thoughts.

But, the week perked up at the end with a fun beach read and the latest installment in a favorite mystery series. Here's what I read & reviewed this week:

* The Beach House by Jane Green (review)

* Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich (review)

Okay, Saloners, help a girl out. I have two books that have been waiting patiently in my pile, only to get repeatedly passed over for other picks. They are How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo and Things I Want My Daughters to Know by Elizabeth Noble.

Does anyone have a suggestion about which one to start with?

Review: Fearless Fourteen

Up until last year, the only mystery series I read with any regularity was Diane Mott Davidson's culinary suspense novels. When I was in the middle of a reading dry spell, and a new co-worker went on and on (and on and on) about Janet Evanovich, I picked up One for the Money and gave it a shot.

After that, I couldn't get my hands on the next number in the series fast enough. I went through all 13 in less than two months. They go down so easy, and I love the perpetually quirky characters. I usually prefer a little block of time to sit down and devote my full attention to a book, but I found myself grabbing these books and reading during tiny pockets of time, like during commercial breaks or while the microwave heats up my lunch.

In short, I adore them.

So, here's the latest installment, and it does not disappoint. It's hard to give a synopsis for these, because the formula is pretty much the same...bounty hunter Stephanie gets in another cat-and-mouse game, complete with her larger than life partner-in-solving-crime and an ongoing love triangle. A few people die along the way, crazy Grandma Mazur gets involved, and it all comes to a head in the final pages.

This one's ending was a little tepid, but with this series, it's the characters that make these so enjoyable. I've heard some murmurs that not everyone would agree with me on this, but in my opinion, it's just as entertaining as the others.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Review: The Beach House

If you're looking for something to throw in your bag alongside your sunscreen, The Beach House is a good fit.

Set in Nantucket, the novel weaves together the lives of characters at various crossroads in their lives.

At this center is Nan, the longtime owner of esteemed estate on the island. She's lonely and cash poor, which leads her to the decision to take in boarders over the summer. Enter Daff and Daniel, both at breaking points in their respective marriages and trying to figure out where they go from here. Nan's grown son also comes back home for his own little break from life.

It takes awhile for everyone's stories to intersect, but once they do, it's interesting reading, as each character learns such classic lessons as "everything happens for a reason" and "it may not always be what you thought/wanted, but it is what it is."

Let me say that I loved Nan from the very first pages. With "her trademark scarlet lipstick the first thing she puts on every morning, before her underwear even, before her bath." With her eccentricity and her sense of self.

There are a couple of surprises along the way...and several "we all saw that coming" moments. The novel has its flaws, but overall, it's a typical summer read...light and breezy and ultimately satisfying.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Thanks to Trish, I discovered Booking Through Thursday, a site that poses a different reading-related question each week.

This week's is:

What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader?” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is? … Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?
Let me get this off my chest. I don't trust people who don't read. I really don't.

I always shocks me when someone declares, “I don’t read.” First, why would you admit that, with any sort of pride? Second, you don’t read…anything?

I don't think that someone who reads the newspaper, and the newspaper alone, can be classified as a “reader”…but I still want to clarify this with these non-readers. You don’t read magazines? You don’t read books to your kids? You don’t read the back of the cereal box? You can just say across the board that you "don’t read"? That’s amazing to me.

Short answer...I think a reader is someone who reads books. Is that just narrow-minded of me?

Late to the Party

I was late to the Eat, Pray, Love party...and regretful, for I skipped Elizabeth Gilbert talking about the experience on Oprah because I hadn't yet read the book. I'm not a huge memoir fan, especially given how many have popped up on the market, so I resisted this book for a long time. Once I finally picked it up, I relished it.

The same goes for Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. The premise didn't appeal to me, even as I watched its rise to the top of every bestseller list in the country. Finally, my mother practically forced it into my hands, and once I read it, I was sorry I had waited so long.

I was determined that this was not to be the case with The Garden of Last Days. It's the long-awaited, much-anticipated latest novel from Andres Dubus III, the author of House of Sand and Fog. Expectations were high everywhere I looked, setting it up as potentially the best "serious read" of the summer.

However, I was very disappointed overall. I can't fault his writing...he was thorough with descriptions and attentive to detail. The storyline, though, just didn't propel me. In a nutshell, it centers around various characters and activities within a Florida strip club mere days before the tragedy of September 11.

It was a monster of a book, which is fine, except for the fact that much of the 535 pages takes place within just one night. It was interesting at first...tiresome in the middle...and flat in the end.

Are there books you wish you hadn't waited so long to read?

And, have you ever read something just because you think it's going to be the next big thing and you don't want to miss out...only to be disappointed?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Sunday Salon: June 22

Happy Sunday, bloggers!

I'm really excited to be a part of The Sunday Salon community.

As a quick scroll through my blog will reveal, I've only been live for a few weeks. So, any tips or suggestions from fellow Saloners are much appreciated.

In the spirit of other posts, I'll start with what I have read/reviewed this past week:

1. Outtakes from a Marriage by Ann Leary (review)

2. The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton (review)

3. The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden (review)

Also, since this is my first Sunday post, here are the links to my Spring Reading list: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

I've just cracked open a much-anticipated book, The Garden of Last Days by Andrew Dubus III. I never read House of Sand and Fog, but I loved the I was excited to hear about his latest release. I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy reading!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Review: The Richest Season

If you're a fan of Dorothea Benton Frank and Anne Rivers Siddons, it's a fairly safe bet that you'll like this new book from debut novelist Maryann McFadden.

With a somewhat familiar premise of a wife/mother leaving home to find her true self, this book held some surprises, as well.

When Joanna, a longtime and long-suffering corporate wife, ups and leaves her New Jersey home in search of a better life, she ends up in South Carolina, living as a caretaker to Grace, an elderly and dying woman who has come to the beach to live out her last days.

That in and of itself is enough of a storyline. But, McFadden also follows the story of Paul, the left-behind husband. In all honesty, at first this irritated me, reading his point of view when he's initially portrayed as a fairly unsavory guy. However, these were the parts of the book that grew to be my favorite, the words devoted to his own journey from high-powered sales executive to an unfamiliar life, one in which he must learn to find his new place.

The descriptions of the life on Pawleys Island are well-written and evocative, and if you're a lover of Southern fiction, you should pick this one up and add it to your summer reading pile.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Review: The Wednesday Sisters

I came home yesterday with an armful of new books, relishing the thought of sitting down and choosing which one to read first. When I opened the cover of The Wednesday Sisters and read the first paragraph of the book jacket, the decision was made.

"Friendship, loyalty, and love lie at the heart of Meg Waite Clayton's beautifully written, poignant, and sweeping novel of five women who, over the course of four decades, come to redefine what it means to be family."

This kind of book is an easy sell for me...women and friendship, told through years and life changes. It's all just right up my alley. It may be a clich├ęd premise...but it's one that I'm unabashedly drawn to again and again.

As the novel opens, five women find themselves drawn together in a neighborhood park, bonds forming as they watch over their children and then strengthening as they develop a weekly writing group. Putting words to paper has different effects on each woman, but the excercise teaches them more about each other than coffee conversation ever could. Years pass, celebration and heartache come and go (such is life), and the writing continues.

I started reading this morning and read straight through the day, finishing the final pages with chill bumps on my legs and tears in my eyes. It's truly a wonderful read.

Note: The author graciously excerpted a bit of my review on her blog. Click here to see what other bloggers had to say about the book.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Review: Outtakes from a Marriage

This new novel, written by the wife of actor Denis Leary, primarily focuses on the idea of "what would you do if you thought your husband was cheating on you?"

Julia Ferraro is a woman married to a popular television star, wondering whether or not he's having an affair, while still trying to balance the cutthroat nature of Manhattan's pre-school society, the complexities of a teenage daughter, and the maintenance involved with keeping up the Hollywood ideal of beauty as time marches on.

I couldn't help but wonder, throughout, how much of this novel was autobiographical, whether in large chunks or bits and pieces here and there. Leary knows whereof she speaks, which lends a great deal of authenticity to her work.

It was a fascinating journey through, roughly, a month in the life of this character, also shown through flashbacks, as you wonder how it will all turn out. I have to admire Leary for her dark humor; there were quite a few one-liners that made me laugh out loud. She certainly knows how to turn a phrase.

Her obvious closeness with the subject matter she chose to undertake in her novel, again, gives this book detail that would be impossible for an outsider to pen. Although the primary subject matter, infidelity, is serious, it's an entertaining read.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Summer Reading Challenge

This falls under the heading of "why didn't I think of that?"

I came across Maggie's Summer Reading Challenge today, and I immediately signed up once I read the concept: three Southern setting books by Southern authors in three months (May 15 until August 15).

I absolutely love this concept...and I set about trying to pick my three books. I wrestled with uncovering some old little-known gems, but I realized that I need to stay true to my "hot off the press" hardcover women's fiction mission with this blog.

That said, I've chosen three new Southern novels to read and review.

1. Time Is a River by Mary Alice Monroe

2. How Perfect Is That by Sarah Bird (review)

3. Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons

Reviews to come!

Review: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

I love coming across a debut novel, particularly if it's good. Janelle Brown may be new to the book publishing scene, but with a list of magazine articles to her credit, she's no new writer, and her book reflects that. Her characters are interesting, well developed, and truly care about each of them, as you're witnessing the lowest points in their lives.

At the heart of this novel is a fractured family in crisis and what, if anything, it will take to mend them. Mother Janice Miller is devastated when her husband leaves her minutes after taking his company's stock public and becoming a millionnaire. Oldest daughter Margaret is struggling with her entrepreneurial magazine venture and mounting credit card debt. Youngest daughter Lizzie is in teenage angst, trying to find her place both in the family and at school.

They come together in their darkest days, and it's a gripping ride to get them to the other side.

Spring Reading: Wrapping Up

Okay, here's the last of my spring reading list.

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs: This was delicious eating a favorite casserole cooked by your mother. In a nutshell: A celebrity chef must come up with a new recipe for her show to keep it on the air, so she enlists family and friends.

Moon Shell Beach by Nancy Thayer: Ever since I spent a long weekend on Martha's Vineyard, I've been fascinated by that part of the country. I'm a sucker for a ties-that-bind friendship novel, and the fact that it's in Nantucket just sweetens the pot for me. In a nutshell: Years after their childhood friendship was fractured, the two meet up again and rebuild their bond.

Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer: Likewise, after living in New York City for a couple of years after graduating from college, I love anything to do with NYC. Reading anything that is set in Manhatten immediately transports me back. In a nutshell: Four educated woman who left the workplace to raise their children examine their choices.

Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin: Bring this one to the pool or's a fun and easy read. In a nutshell: After a surprise encounter on the streets of New York, a newly married woman wonders about "the one that got away."

Okay, now we're up to date and on track. From here on out, I'll be giving in-depth reviews of books as I read them. I just felt like with a spring rich in fiction, I needed to throw a few titles out there.

Spring Reading, Part II

Here's a sampling of what I read in April:

Bulls Island by Dorothea Benton Frank: This gal's just consistent. She can always be counted on for a fun summer Southern read. In a nutshell: A New York bank executive moves back home to South Carolina to oversee a project that involves her ex-fiance.

Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner: I feared this would be a little too chick-lit for my taste, but I enjoyed it. In a nutshell: When a daughter gets her hands on her mother's years-ago-written popular novel, she wonders how much is real and how much is made up.

Belong to Me by Marisa De Los Santos: From a lesser-known author, a great story of friendship and how nothing is ever exactly as it seems. In a nutshell: The interactions between three vastly different suburban women

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: I first came across this author when the galley for her first book, Amy and Isabelle, came across my desk, and I have hung on to her every word since. In a nutshell: A novel told in stories depicting a small-town woman as seen by those around her

Spring Reading

I'm going to keep this site current with what I'm reading at the time, but there were some great books released this spring, so I'm compiling a list to get you started.

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult: Picoult always examines the tough issues, and this one's no exception. In a nutshell: When her daughter's killer wants to donate his organs after his execution to her ailing surviving daughter, a mother wrestles with his offer.

Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews: Another fun and frothy Southern-spiked offering from MK. In a nutshell: To get her own show on the cooking network, a beauty queen turned chef must face off with a rugged outdoor cook.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson: Jackson's previous two novels were more Southern heavy, while this one's a bit more mystical. In a nutshell: After finding the body of her daughter's friend in the backyard pool, a mother searches for answers and must examine her carefully crafted life.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan: I came to this one late, resisting it at first. After so many good reviews, I couldn't ignore it any longer. It will most likely make my "favorite books of the year" list. This is a must read! In a nutshell: A fictionalization of the life of Frank Lloyd Wright's mistress and look inside their tumultuous love story.


Here's how it all started...

I am a hot-off-the press reader, and I'm frequently asked to provide recommendations for friends. The books all start to run together, which is a shame when you've read some really good material, so I decided to start blogging about the great new fiction that's out there. I'm a hardcover girl, so I'll be bringing you reviews of the latest women's fiction hardcover releases.

I got hooked on all of the major review journals when I worked in book publishing, and I'm constantly maintaining a list of what's coming out and when. I have a little obsession with getting my hands on books right when they're released.

So, here goes...let's see how this plays out.