#78 ~ Songs for the Missing

June 17, 2008 at 10:03 pm | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, Family, First Look Book Club, Parenting Dilemmas | 17 Comments
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Cover for Songs of the Missing

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan

This novel tells the story of a family, a group of friends, and a small town that comes to grips with the disappearance of Kim Larsen, a vivacious and popular recent graduate preparing to leave her home in the Midwest for college. One evening she disappears on the way to work without a clue as to what happened other than that her car, a beloved Chevette, is missing as well. With very little to go on, the Larsens, Kim’s friends and the entire community pull together to find her, but without leads, it’s her past and what she left behind that threatens to break the bonds that were created or solidified by Kim’s life. Songs of the Missing is well written novel an engaging novel that proves how powerful reading can be when an author stays true to his or her characters.

There are many other good and engrossing novels, such as The Lovely Bones, that deal with lost and murdered children. What makes this book different is the way that the story’s narration shifts between characters from chapter to chapter and sometimes even within the same chapter. Over the course of her last days and the events after her disappearance, we hear from Kim, her parents, Ed and Fran Larsen, her sister Lindsey, her best friend Nina and her boyfriend J.P. With a lesser author this could have been disastrous, but O’Nan’s storytelling is as authentic as the voice of each of his narrators. As a result, there is an almost complete feeling of how the disappearance of a loved one eats at people at every stage. We see how terror drives Ed and Fran work around the clock when Kim is first missing while it is guilt that drives J.P. to do the same. We see how having no leads can cause a group of people to move from supporting each other to blaming and punishing each other. We see how fickle a community can be when a missing daughter is no longer the lead story on the news. A child’s disappearance is heartbreaking on so many levels.

What makes this novel most interesting is that the reader never learns those things that the narrators can not or will not admit to themselves. We get glimpses of what J.P. and Nina were hiding, but never all the details. When that part of Kim’s disappearance is revealed, Fran and Ed cut J.P. and Nina almost completely out of their lives as if doing so will cut those deeply unsettling things about their daughter from their minds just as sharply. I find as a reader it makes me feel uncomfortable not knowing what every little detail. I kept wondering if I had read a section too fast and missed something, and I would go back to check and find that I hadn’t. What a perfect way to create a connection between the reader and the characters. Everyone is desperately searching for Kim, fearing that if they only looked harder or if they only looked smarter that they would find what they looking for.

In preparation for reading Songs of the Missing, the third novel I have read as part of Barnes and Noble’s First Look Book Club, I picked up Last Night at the Lobster after Lisa from Books on the Brain suggested it. I am thankful to have now read both, because I can sense and appreciate O’Nan’s range. Unlike other prolific authors, he does not recycle story lines or continuously use the same hook or edge to write his novels. He is a talented man who clearly challenges himself with his work. I would recommend O’Nan over most modern authors and I look forward to reading many more of his novels.

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To buy this book, click here.

Smoky Mountain Vacation

May 12, 2008 at 8:43 am | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, entertainment, Family, Historical Fiction, LibraryThing, My Life with Books, Reading | 5 Comments
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Greetings from Gatlinburg, TN, located in heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s beautiful here despite the rain and I’ve enjoyed seeing my parents (I haven’t see my mother on Mother’s Day for at least 10 years), siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews. The kids did a great job on the drive. Even if they hadn’t, it’s just nice being out of the Roanoke Valley.

Although we’ll be away from home for 9 days, I’m planning on getting some good reading in:

  • Taking Lisa’s advice from Books on the Brain, I rented Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan from the library.
  • I snagged the latest book by Patrick McGrath, Trauma on the way to the checkout desk I was at the library.
  • The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block, which I received through a trade with another Early Reviewer on LibraryThing.
  • I picked up The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani for under $5 at Barnes and Noble last week. I’ve been wanting to read this since I read a review by Divia on HistoricalFiction.org.
  • Finally, I’m finishing up The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. I’d love to say that I’m loving it, but it’s just okay. No offense to Last Night at the Lobster, but I shouldn’t be looking forward to my next book. I should be savoring this one. Sigh…

Book Lust

May 1, 2008 at 12:13 pm | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Philippa Gregory, Reading, What's Up | 12 Comments
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When Tracy left a comment that she had a copy of The Lady Elizabeth, the latest novel written by Alison Weir, book lust set in to my reader’s heart fast and furious. Were I the Incredible Hulk, I would have ripped through my clothes and turned green within minutes of reading Tracy’s comment (which wouldn’t really be so bad – green is my favorite color). I read Innocent Traitor last May while I was vacationing at the beach and absolutely loved it. So, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and how wonderful I am hoping it will be. Thankfully, a merciful 15% coupon arrived in my email from Barnes & Noble and I immediately put it to good use. My very own copy of The Lady Elizabeth will be arriving today. Although I’m about a third of the way through Mistaken Identity, I don’t think I’m going to be able to wait. I’m afraid thoughts of any other book are going to be lost the second I see that package on my door step.

Cover to The Lady Elizabeth

One of the main reason’s I’m curious about this book is to see how I feel about Elizabeth I as a result. Although I love Philippa Gregory, The Virgin’s Lover was not my favorite book in her Tudor series. I also had really been looking forward to Elizabeth: The Golden Age and was sadly disappointed by how boring it was. So much so that I was never able to muster up the motivation to write my review of the movie afterwards. Yet, I’ve enjoyed novels where Elizabeth is not the main character. I’m wondering if this is because I didn’t find Elizabeth that interesting or was it the treatment she received in the book and movie? I’m hoping it’s the later. How can Elizabeth not be an intriguing character?

#56 ~ The House at Riverton

February 7, 2008 at 11:16 am | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, Culture, Family, First Look Book Club, Historical Fiction, Secrets and Lies | 7 Comments
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The House at Riverton: A Novel by Kate Morton

When Barnes and Noble announced their second offering to the First Look Book Club I was ecstatic. Just reading the brief descriptions of the novel and its author made me excited to receive a copy of this book. When it arrived, I found that it even smelled good. The novel matched the smell and that is always a brilliant combination. B&N certainly picked a winner to follow up The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.

The House of Riverton tells the story of Grace, a 90-year-old woman who is jolted back to the memories of her past service to the household of Lord Ashbury when she receives a letter from a woman making a film about the tragedy that happened there in her youth. Grace may be elderly, but she is a sharp and insightful woman. Her story is entertaining and somewhat sad. The fate of the Ashbury family dramatically impacts her life in so many ways; but, her personal sacrifices, like her service itself, were left seemingly unnoticed until it was too late. Still, Grace regrets nothing except that which hurt her daughter. Woven within the story of her youth is the story of her own family. Part of what makes this novel so poignant is that she retells the story of her life at Riverton and the truth of what happened the night of the poet’s suicide as a love letter to her grandson.

Although this novel has widespread appeal, it will be most especially enjoyed by those who enjoy reading about Edwardian England and about the lives of those who served British aristocracy. As much as I loved The Remains of the Day, there was little warmth within it. The people at Riverton, both upstairs and downstairs, live as their status dictated, but they are very human and complex. What makes this novel so special and delightful is its heart.

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To buy this novel, click here.

It’s Almost Here!

January 31, 2008 at 10:39 am | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, First Look Book Club, Gothic Fiction, The Monsters of Templeton | 2 Comments
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The Monsters of Templeton, the first novel written by Lauren Groff, will be released on Tuesday, February 5. For those of you who did not get an opportunity to read this as part of Barnes and Noble‘s First Look Book Club, I highly suggest that you go out and get yourself a copy. You won’t be disappointed!  If you have read this book as part of the program, I received an email from Lauren and they’ve added some cool stuff to the hardcover based upon what they learned from the book club readers.  Go and get yourself a hardcover!

Life Has Interfered With My Blog

January 11, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Posted in Barnes & Noble, First Look Book Club, LIfe, What's Up | Leave a comment
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I’m sorry I haven’t posted much since the New Year. Life has been extremely busy on all fronts. Added to my commitments and responsibilities at home and work, I’m taking two courses at the local community college this semester. The first class is on using Dreamweaver and the second is an introductory course on software programming. Both are going well so far, but they’re just getting ramped up. We’re using Alice for the programming course and I think that’s going to be a lot of fun to work with.

I have done some non-academic reading this year. I’ve finished Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen. I will write a review and post it as soon as I can. Right now I’m reading the House at Riverton by Kate Morton. It is the second book in Barnes and Noble’s First Look Book Club. I’m about half way through and am enjoying it so far.

I hope that the New Year has been wonderful to everyone!

An Honor

November 7, 2007 at 5:59 am | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, First Look Book Club, LibraryThing, Literary Criticism, My Life with Books, Pre-Release Sneak Peak, Reading, The Monsters of Templeton | 2 Comments
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An article about the latest trend in providing ARC (Advance Reading Copy) to the general public has been published in this month’s issue of PublishingTrends.com, a marketing newsletter for the publishing industry.  Over the past year, publishers have been increasingly providing free copies of books in an attempt to increase overall book sales.  The author of the article found this site.  Of the thousands of people who have received and reviewed ARC, she chose my review of The Monsters of Templeton to quote in the last paragraph in her article:

Perhaps best summing up the enthusiasm of “chosen” readers is Literate Housewife (www.literatehousewife.wordpress.com), a blogger who was selected for both LibraryThing’s ERG and Barnes & Noble’s First Look Book Club. “Today, my free advanced reading copy arrived! I cannot tell you how excited I am!” she writes. After receiving her ARC of Lauren Goff’s Monsters of Templeton from BN, she posted a 983 word review on her personal blog, a link to buy the book at BN, and a link to Goff’s site as well as this note to BN at the end of the post: “Thank you Barnes and Noble for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this book. Your First Look Book Club is an incredible opportunity.”

I was in the offices of a new client when I noticed that a few people had come to my site from the article’s URL.  I had to blink back some tears when I read it.  I am honored by being singled out and feel proud of what I’ve accomplished here at 52 Books or Bust.  I never imagined that just being myself and writing about what I’ve discovered would have gotten this type of attention.  I hope that my enthusiasm encourages others to seek out books they might not have otherwise read.  I hope that the publishing industry continues to provide ARC to those people like myself who love to read and share our experiences with others.  I can tell you it feels like Christmas morning.

Porn a la Literate Housewife

November 1, 2007 at 2:16 pm | Posted in Barnes & Noble, LIfe | 1 Comment
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My best friends in the whole world, Mark and Trista, gave me a Barnes and Noble gift card for my birthday this year. That gift card ever so gently has been burning a hole in my wallet ever since. Yesterday I finally made it to the store – and I used it buy pornography!

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What, you don’t think that U2 By U2 qualifies as such? If you have loved and adored this band for the past 22 years, this is a no brainer. For those of you who are still scratching your heads, here are so more pictures to titillate you:

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Oh yeah… Gimme a little more…

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It’s pretty addictive, isn’t it?

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This is getting really sleazy…  very good…

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I want to Rattle n Hum!

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I can type no more. My fingers are just too darn shaky.  Ahhh….

#41 ~ The Monsters of Templeton

October 16, 2007 at 12:49 am | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Barnes & Noble, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Exercise, First Look Book Club, Free, Gothic Fiction, LIfe, Margaret Mitchell, My Life with Books, Parenting Dilemmas, Pre-Release Sneak Peak, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, The Monsters of Templeton | 13 Comments
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The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

There is something spectacular about a book whose first line lures you into its spell like a siphon and never lets you go. In my 36 years of reading, there has only been two books whose first lines I’ve memorized and cannot forget:

“Call me Ishmael.” ~ Moby Dick (who hasn’t had that beaten into their skulls with an ice pick?)

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” ~ Gone with the Wind

With that line, I fell in love with Scarlett and couldn’t wait to find out just what it was about her that had men panting like exercised puppies. There was no way I could not read the book after just that first sentence – and I never thought to. With the noted exception of Moby Dick, I’ve found that a compelling first sentence isn’t a fluke. It’s a sign of a gifted author and a book worthy of reading.

The fact of the matter is that most books I’ve read and even those I’ve enjoyed immensely begin forgettably. This is the 41st book I’ve read this year and prior to picking up this book, not a single first sentence has struck me this year – and I’ve read some great novels. So, when I read, re-read, and then could not stop thinking about:

“The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”

I knew that this would be a book I would love. I finished this book as satisfied as I was with the first sentence. This is a novel that I will keep forever and re-read several times.

The Monsters of Templeton is the story of Willie Sunshine Upton, a young graduate student who unexpectedly returns to her ancestral home “steeped in disgrace” just as her home town is overcome with media upon the discovery of an as-of-yet undiscovered mammalian creature. The existence – or actually previous existence – of the monster gives this novel a Gothic feel. This along with the mystery of Willie’s famous family prove to work together well.

Willie returned to her mother, Vi, in hopes of finding a safe place to lick her wounds before facing the responsibilities and consequences of the choices she’d recently made. Vi, a single mother and former hippy, refuses to let her daughter settle, even if it is into shame. As a result of her recent radical religious conversion, Vi feels the need to come clean to Willie. She tells her that she is not the product of an orgy-istic time in San Francisco. In fact, Willie’s father is alive and well in Templeton. He never knew of her existence. When Willie asks who he is, Vi refuses to tell her. She provides only a single clue: he, just like Willie and Vi, is related to Marmaduke Temple, the father of Templeton. It was as if Vi through down the gauntlet. Willie, no matter how down her current circumstances have made her, cannot sit still having this mystery hanging around her. Her archaeological dig through her family’s past proves to be an enchanting and humorous adventure.

I don’t want to give away many details in this review. I enjoyed uncovering things along the way with Willie. I will say (that just about everything else recently in my life) that there was a strong connection for me between Vi and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Both characters hold an important truth that could very easily be given to the young woman in need: Willie needs to know who her father is and Dorothy needs to know how to get back to Kansas. If this information was simply handed over, what would have happened? Neither Willie nor Dorothy would never grasped or appreciated the importance of family in their souls. In that way, what both characters needed was the discovery as much as the truth. Given that Glinda is traditionally played by the same actress as Auntie Em, it seems that teaching a child to learn for herself is the mark of the best mother/mother figure.

The Monsters of Templeton is mainly narrated by Willie, but there are also sections narrated by The Running Buds, Templeton’s jogging protectors, and several of Willie’s ancestors. I found myself drawn into the genealogical research myself. The pictures, portraits, and family trees along the way also made me feel included. Just as with Special Topics in Calamity Physics, they enhance the experience and do not feel out of place.

One of the best things about reading this book was the humor. There were several times I found myself chuckling out loud while I was reading. I don’t do that very often. It was this humor that endeared the book and its characters to me. Perhaps it was because I am of a similar age to Willie’s character that I found the sarcasm and smack talk genuine. It is such a pleasure to read a book that is both interesting and fun.

** Thank you Barnes and Noble for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this book. Your First Look Book Club is an incredible opportunity. **

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To buy this novel, click here.

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