#133 ~ The Sister

January 2, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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The Sister by Poppy Adams, read by Juliet Mills

Virginia Stone, a 70 year old spinster, lives alone with her moths at Bulburrow Court, her family’s mansion.  She is an eccentric old woman who grew up during WWII and its aftermath.  She is peculiar, most especially about time and tea.  To say she is set in her ways would be an understatement.  When her younger sister Vivien returns to Bulburrow Court after leaving the family home and her sister for London nearly 50 years earlier, Ginny reflects on her life, from her alcoholic mother  Maud, her lepidopterist father Clive, who mentored her in the study of moths, and her love for her absent sister.  She approaches her history with the same unemotional scientific eye that she uses with her moths and other insects.  It doesn’t take long to start questioning Ginny’s reliability as a daughter, sister, and narrator.  This novel held my interest from the beginning with Vivi’s tragic, near-fatal fall and the numerous mysteries and questions that continued to come up to the surface.

Poppy Adams is an extremely detailed writer.  Her use of entomology and the study of the moth clearly stem from a great deal of research.  While Ginny loves to go into lengthy and often gory detail about her science, the minutia she shares with the reader provides important insights into Ginny’s morality, mental state, and obsessive compulsiveness. There is an interesting passage about a colony of ants taken over by a butterfly larva that still has me thinking about Ginny and what the truth about her family might have been.

This is the first audio book I truly enjoyed.  No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and Savannah by John Jakes (which I couldn’t finish) were complete flops for me – both because of the narration.  In addition to the story itself, The Sister had what the others so far have not – the perfect reader.  Juliet Mills’ voice and reading was such a complement to Ginny that I can’t image there being a more perfect vocal performer for the novel.   The way she enunciated “pupal soup” throughout the novel was both sickening and dead on for Ginny’s character.  She expertly read dialog for the other characters as well.  There was a scene where Maud, drunk, could not hold her tongue to Ginny about her opinions of Albert, Vivi’s boyfriend.  That exchange between Maud and Ginny was wonderful and riveting.  Although I’m tempted to read the physical book the next time around, I can’t imagine reading it without hearing Mills’ voice.

This novel, because it is narrated by Ginny, does not provide answers to all of the questions that are raised.  Who exactly is the sister?  What exactly did the rest of the family and the village of Bulburrow know about Ginny that she did not?  If she has been mentally ill her entire life, why in the world would Vivi and Albert entrust her with their family in the way that they did?  Did she truly carry on Clive’s work after he retired? What exactly went on with Dr. Moyse?  At first, this made the ending fall a little flat for me.  However, upon further reflection, it would be impossible to know what Ginny did not and this is made even that much more difficult as she had a talent for blocking out the unpleasant portions of stories and conversations.  Truly, this novel is open-ended, allowing the reader to discern the truth from the delusion.  The Sister invites additional readings.  It would be very interesting to read this a second time to see what I might have missed the first time.  While under no circumstances would I ever sit down for tea with Ginny Stone, I’d love to study her in more depth.  She is a fascinating character whose voice, like that of Vida Winter from The Thirteenth Tale and many of Patrick McGrath’s narrators, will stay with me for a long time to come.

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To buy book in audio, click here.
To buy this book, click here.

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#122 ~ The Art of Social War

November 17, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 5 Comments
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The Art of Social War by Jodi Wing

Stacy Knight was at the top of her game the evening that her “I HEART New York” campaign was announced toward the end of Rudy Giuliani’s reign has mayor.  She sparkled as a member of his administration and, based upon the reception of her PR campaign, had great prospects after Giuliani left office.  On top of that, she was engaged to James Makepeace, the man of her dreams.  They both were hard working New Yorkers who supported each other in all things.  All things, that is, until Jamey’s skyrocketing career required a transfer to Los Angeles soon after their wedding so that he can take over the helm of Pacificus, a floundering film studio.  Stacy and Jamey need to learn how to navigate the shark invested waters in Hollywood to save Jamey’s career and their new marriage.

What I enjoyed the most about The Art of Social War was what set it apart from most other chick lit novels I’ve read.  While Stacey’s marriage was tested in LA, it was not in the way that most novelists would have chosen.  For me, this was a breath of fresh air.  Wing also shaped the feudal battle between the Makepeaces and the former owners of Pacificus around the 6th century Chinese military treatise The Art of War by Sun Tzu.  I enjoyed the way that Stacey orchestrated Jamey’s counter attack using the enemy’s weapon of choice.  As preparations for the final battle were made, I couldn’t book the book down.

It took me a little while to warm up to Jodi Wing’s first novel full of corporate espionage, intrigue, and Hollywood high jinx.  Her characters are very human and I honestly liked Stacey and Jamey very much.  I found Jamey’s decision to break the news about his career to Stacey at her big party.  Given everything I was to learn about him, it was against his character.  Most noticeably, I had a difficult time believing that Stacey’s 10 to 15 years of experience in New York’s corporate environment, most recently as a member of Rudy Giuliani’s administration, left her so unprepared for corporate life in LA.  While understanding that Stacey’s deep longing for home explains some of her views, I can’t see New York as a warm, welcoming, and fair environment.  From what I’ve heard, Omarosa could give Stacey’s arch nemesis Julia Mallis (the last name says it all) and the rest of her gaggle a run for their money.

I smiled appreciatively as I finished this tasty piece of chick lit.  Although the first half of the book moved somewhat slowly for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the pay off.  Knowing the ultimate outcome did not take away from my delight as the ride took off.  Quite appropriately, The Art of Social War has already been optioned by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas.   I’ll be looking forward to finding out who will be playing Stacey, Jamey, Julia and Simon.  This novel has all the potential needed to become a great chick flick.

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The Art of Social War will be released tomorrow!  To order this book, click here.

#117 ~ Janeology

November 7, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 7 Comments
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Janeology by Karen Harrington

Janeology, Karen Harrington’s first novel, opens after Jane, young mother of toddler twins, who suffers from depression following a miscarriage, turns manic and drowns her son Adam and nearly drowns her daughter Sarah as well.  This novel, however, does not tell this story from Jane’s perspective.  Instead, it is told from her husband Tom’s perspective.  After Jane is found innocent of Adam’s murder by reason of insanity, Tom is indicted for neglect.  The state decides to prosecute him for not recognizing the depth of Jane’s illness and for leaving his children solely under her care while he went to work.  This truly is something that could very easily happen today.

Once the initial shock of what has happened to his family wore off and Jane’s trial came to an end, Tom was eager to be or at least to feel punished for what happened to his family.  He might not have even defended himself at all had his mother not hired an attorney.  Luckily, she did, and Dave Frontella proposes a revolutionary defense strategy.  In it, he holds Jane’s genealogy ultimately responsible for what happened and this was nothing that Tom could have ever known.  Not only is the defense unconventional, his means of determining what it was in Jane’s genes is entirely controversial.  Dave locates Jane’s half-sister Mariah, a clairvoyant.  Mariah knows about a family trunk in the attic.  Inside this trunk are photographs and other heirlooms of which Tom was completely unaware.  She uses those to invite Jane’s ancestors to tell their stories.

Just like Tom, I had to suspend disbelief as Mariah embodies Jane as a young child.  As the stories of her family keep unfolding, I was drawn more and more into the history until I was almost frustrated with Tom for being so stubborn and not admitting that things are making more and more sense.  This mixture of historical fiction within a “ripped from the headlines” story worked very well for me.  Tom is a college literature professor, but like many such men, he comes off as being somewhat removed from his own emotions.  He is numb and could only seem to feel safe experiencing his life was back when things were right – back when he and Jane were young and in love.  Jane’s ancestors, however, are quite the contrary.  They are true to their nature.  They are messy, they are passionate, and they are entirely flawed.  I may not like them all, but I could wrap my arms around them and feel compassion.  I was acutely aware that my feelings toward Jane’s ancestors mirrored those Tom held in his heart for his wife.  He was unable to shake his love for Jane because he could not forget the story of their lives and love before she snapped.

Reading Janeology was a powerful experience for me.  As someone who suffered from post-partum depression, I could relate to Jane very well.  I could also very well understand Tom.  I feel that he very much did his best to make it through Jane’s depression, hoping that one day she would come back to her family.  In that way, he provided insight into what my own husband experienced.  I was also lucky to have read this novel while I was in Boston because some of the most important revelations about Jane’s family centered in that city.  It was thrilling for me to have come back from a three hour walking tour of historic Boston only to read about one of streets I crossed along the way.  It made that section of the novel that much more real for me.

In addition to being compelling, most especially during Mariah’s sessions with Jane and her ancestors, Janeology asks a question that cannot easily be answered: How much of who you are is determined by what your ancestors were?  In some ways this makes me wish I had a Mariah who could tell me the stories of my family.  In other ways, I think I’d rather not know.  Regardless, I enjoyed my time reading Janeology and look forward to reading Karen Harrington’s next novel.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#113 ~ Capote in Kansas

October 28, 2008 at 11:09 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 5 Comments
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Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers

It is my great honor and pleasure to be the host of Kim Powers’ last stop on his absolutely fabulous book tour for Capote in Kansas, which is sponsored by TLC Book Tours.  For more information on this tour, please click on the TLC logo to the left or select the links that interest you from the listing at the end of this review.  I only hope that my review today is only half as good as the stops that went before me.  Now, on to my review…

There are times when fate conspires to bring two people together only to tear them apart.  This is true of Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote.  Truman’s mother, who had no time or interest in her eccentric son, sent him to live with his family in Monroeville, Alabama.  Nelle grew up next door.  She was not blind to his idiosyncrasies.  in fact, she understood and cared for him like no one else.  Nelle was there for him to type up his stories when they were children and to help him connect with people in Kansas while he worked on In Cold Blood.  Their bond, however, was not indestructible.  Although they complement each other in many ways, it is the ways in which they are alike that drives a wedge between them.  It was a distance that might only be bridged by the ghosts from their past.

There is much to love about this novel, but what struck me the most was the impact that writing about another person can have on both the author and the subject.  Truman Capote was most definitely in search of fame when he made the decision to write about the Clutter family after their tragic and brutal murders in Kansas.  He was haunted by their ghosts later in life because they did not want the attention In Cold Blood brought to them, even though they were deceased at the time.  Lee, on the other hand, wrote her neighbor into To Kill a Mockingbird in the form of Boo Radley as a tribute to him.  His family never understood her intentions and blamed her for the disruptions her fans made in his life.  Whether a depiction is fictional or biographical, putting a person down on paper proved to be the equivalent of stealing that person’s soul.  That Lee was sensitive to this from the beginning while Capote didn’t start confronting it until his work became responsible for his being ostracized from New York society – and even then not fully until it was forced upon him as his life was in a downward spiral – that fleshes these characters out fully. By choosing to explore this theme within a novel about two of the most famous and influential American authors in recent time makes this novel fresh, engaging, and memorable.

Although I had read To Kill a Mockingbird prior to reading Capote in Kansas, I knew very little about Lee or Capote when I opened this novel.  I did not know about their friendship or that there was a rift tore them apart.  In the novel, Capote and his actions were responsible for their estrangement, but it wouldn’t have happened at all were it not for the personal and professional insecurities of they both shared.  I found this story fascinating, especially as Powers told it from within the context of the midnight phone calls, the memories, and the ghosts who visited them both in the middle of the night.  Whatever the reality of their friendship may have been, I left this novel hoping that they were able to make peace with each other before Capote’s death.

I read this novel over the course of a single day.  It was interesting and compelling throughout.  It was with satisfaction that I finished the novel and closed the back cover.  It’s clear from his writing that Powers’ respects his characters and is compassionate yet honest when dealing with their flaws.  I found that it was not necessary to have much knowledge of Lee and Capote to be swept up by their star crossed friendship and to experience their pain as life, love, and childhood loyalties do not work out as they had planned.  Despite some potential spoilers about the Clutter family and their killers found within Capote in Kansas, I’m now genuinely interested in reading Capote’s most famous work.  I typically avoid books about real-life murders because they get under my skin and give me nightmares.  Now, I am curious to see what more it might reveal about him.  I have no regrets.

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For more about Capote in Kansas and author Kim Powers, please check out the previous stops on this book tour:

Wednesday, Oct. 1st: Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Friday, Oct. 3rd: Book Room Reviews
Monday, Oct. 6th: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
Wednesday, Oct. 8th: Tripping Toward Lucidity
Friday, Oct. 10th: book-a-rama
Monday, Oct. 13th: Ready When You Are, C.B.
Wednesday, Oct. 15th: Bibliolatry
Friday, Oct. 17th: Books and Movies
Monday, Oct. 20th: Booking Mama
Wednesday, Oct. 22nd: Diary of an Eccentric
Thursday, Oct. 23rd: Maw Books
Friday, Oct. 24th: Book Club Classics
Monday, Oct. 27th: Books and Cooks
Tuesday, Oct. 28th: Devourer of Books

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To buy this novel, click here.

#110 ~ The Other Queen

October 19, 2008 at 9:42 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 8 Comments
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The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

I had been awaiting the publication of The Other Queen since I finished reading The Virgin’s Lover in October of 2007.  As time progressed and got closer to its September 16th release, my anticipation kept growing.  Finding out that I would be seeing Philippa Gregory in person just a couple of short weeks added to my excitement.  When I finally held the book in my hands, it was a happy day indeed.  Although this novel did not displace The Other Boleyn Girl as my favorite of Gregory’s Tudor series, I enjoyed the time I spent with Mary, Queen of Scots, Lord Shrewsberry, and, most especially, Lady Bess of Hardwick.

When writing about Mary, Queen of Scots, Gregory chose to explore her first several years in British captivity.  In what at first seemed like a royal privilege bestowed upon them by Queen Elizabeth, the Lord Shrewsberry and his new wife, Lady Bess, were asked to house the Scots Queen the short time that she would be safeguarded in Great Britain.  What they found quite early on, however, was that holding court for the Queen of Scots was expensive and would quickly rely on them living beyond their means.  What they didn’t realize right away was all that this honor would cost them.

Lady Bess, the first in her kind in the way she accumulated wealth and managed the properties left to her by her husbands, was dreaming of the wealth and favor that would come with performing such a task.  She married her way up to the nobility and was proud of the way she orchestrated her life and was now able to make a place for her children.  She learned how to keep books and it had become her passion.  She took pride in knowing to the penny how much she was worth and what she had spent.  As I got to know her, it became apparent that when things were happening beyond her control that she had her own inner mantra about who she now is and how efficient she is as a landlord.  She is quite the Protestant, but when she’s under stress, all she needs are prayer beads to make this mantra into her own personal rosary.

For all their differences, Mary, Queen of Scots is much like Lady Bess.  She, too, handles stress by telling herself over and over who she is and what her station means.  When she is confident in what she is doing and the plans that are underway on the outside to free her and return her to her throne, her thoughts are fluid and she has a hard time containing her enthusiasm.  There is no need to remind herself that she is a queen of the royal blood.  She is prospering in that role.  When she is not, or when she feels defeated, her thoughts of freedom and who she is become excessive and obsessive.  It is then that she thinks of Bothwell.  When things become dark enough, she admits to what he did.  In her fear she reveals how vulnerable she is, which makes her no different from any other woman.

Philippa Gregory made a bold choice in choosing to tell Mary, Queen of Scots’ story of early imprisonment.  Despite the lack of physical action, it paid off for me.  I understood Mary and Bess both in their perceived triumphs and actual defeats.  I felt their impatience, resentment, and the immense weight of their boredom.  Whether it was intentional or not, Baron Burghley and Queen Elizabeth proved that all torture has to be physical to be effective.  If I were to change one thing about this novel, I might have chosen a different third voice.  Lord Shrewsberry’s last chapter didn’t work well for me.  I would have chosen someone from outside the house.  Thomas Howard or Queen Elizabeth would have added a third distinct layer to the story.

The Other Queen is a novel of internal drama.  As Mary, Queen of Scots is prisoner from start to finish, and her jailers could not be rid of her.  There was a constant battle between the Shrewberry’s and their other queen.  When Lady Bess is up, Mary is down.  When Mary is up, Lady Bess is down.  Lord Shrewsberry was beaten and battered by the storm erupting between the two women.  Still, this novel was not as compelling as The Other Boleyn Girl or The Boleyn Inheritance, but it kept my interest and my interest grew with the characters.  I look forward to reading more about Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick.

Now that my reading of Gregory’s Tudor series is complete, I would rank them in the following order:

1) The Other Boleyn Girl
2) The Boleyn Inheritance
3) The Queen’s Fool
4) The Other Queen
5) The Constant Princess
6) The Virgin’s Lover

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To buy this novel, click here.

#105 ~ Sisters of Misery

October 7, 2008 at 11:33 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 5 Comments
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Sisters of Misery by Megan Kelly Hall

A special thanks to Andi from Andi Lit for sending this to me for review.  Her lack of reading time was truly my gain.

Maddie Crane has everything her mother ever wanted, she has a prestigious New England last name and is a member of the Sisters of Misery.  Unfortunately, the pressure of living up to her mother’s expectations and being in this group led by Kate Endicott made life in Hawthorne feel anything but happy and secure.  With the exception of her grandmother, Maddie can’t be herself with anyone.  She isn’t really sure who she is.  When her grandmother Tess allows her estranged aunt Rebecca and cousin Cordelia to return to Hawthrone and live with them, Maddie is hoping to find the sense of belonging she’s been searching for in this life.

What makes Maddie’s story about discovering who she is within her relationships and finding a home for her heart unique is the involvement of the supernatural in a town haunted by its history with witch trials and its proximity to Salem, Massachusetts.  Although her mother likes to brush the fact that her family is more attuned to other dimensions, Rebecca and Cordelia’s arrival in Hawthorne bring it out into the open, at least superficially.  When Rebecca and Cordelia open a new age store in Hawthorne, the Sisters of Misery quickly hone in on it in part of their campaign to ostracize Cordelia.  When a Sisters of Misery induction ritual goes horribly out of control and Maddie, unaware of the intentions of the rest of the group, does and cannot do anything to stop it, her family is never the same again.  It is only then when Maddie decides to let go of fear, stand up against Kate and her ilk, and embrace her family’s gifts.  Hopefully it won’t be too late and Cordelia will forgive her.

Sisters of Misery is targeted to the Young Adult audience.  The main characters are in high school and are facing some of the standard issues presented to girls as they are finishing high school and preparing for adulthood.  I had no issues with the content, but there were sexual situations, hints of sexual violence, and language that took me by surprise given the intended audience.  Much has changed since I last read a Young Adult novel.  I would not discourage any mature teenager from reading this novel.  At the same time, I feel it bears mentioning that this novel has a sharper edge to it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  The story moved quickly and I cared for Maddie, Rebecca, Cordelia, and Tess.  It brought back some of the darker sides of high school life and, while there were elements of the supernatural, it felt very true.  I also enjoyed how runes were incorporated into each chapter.  The secrets throughout the story were interesting and well revealed.  Still, there is much left unfinished and I am excited that Megan Kelly Hall is writing a sequel.  I feel that there is something more going on with her mother and I’m hoping this comes to light in The Lost Sister.  I will be first in line to read it in August of 2009 to find out what happens to Maddie, Cordelia, and the Sisters of Misery now that they are college age.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#100 ~ House and Home & My 100th Review Contest

September 8, 2008 at 12:00 am | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 50 Comments
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Today I have the great pleasure of hosting Kathleen McCleary on her House and Home book tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours.  I very much appreciate the invitation to participate in this tour as well as the opportunity to read Kathleen’s novel.  Please click on Kathleen’s name below to visit her website.  Click on the TLC Book Tours graphic for more information on this wonderful new book tour program.

House and Home by Kathleen McCleary

By outside appearances, Ellen Flanagan had it all: a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, a house she decorated and maintained with love and dedication, and Coffe@Home, a business that merged her passion for antiques with her interest in coffee and fine tea.  All was not what it seemed.  Sam, her adventurous and creative husband, had a passion for inventing.  When he created a baby beeper he thought would make it big, the couple put a second mortgage on their home.  When the baby beeper didn’t pay off, that second mortgage cost them the home Ellen so dearly loved and her 18 year marriage.  As time got near to vacate the house they sold, Ellen found she couldn’t part with it.  She decided that she’s rather see it burn than to allow another family to call it home.

The opening paragraph to this novel, after explaining Ellen’s attachment to the home, ends by saying that she would burn it down.  I was instantly curious, especially since this seemed pretty hard core for a novel with such a beautiful and inviting cover.  That paragraph brought to mind the song “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin.  I was eager to find out what it was about Ellen or the house that drove her to even think about arson.  When at first I couldn’t find any logical explanation for her planning something so destructive, it was frustrating.  Ellen wasn’t mentally ill, she and Sam were on amicable terms despite the fact that they were divorcing, her business was thriving, and she had the most thoughtful and supportive best friend in the world.  Why?  Then it occurred to me.  As much as she loved that house, her fixation was a protective cover. She believes that burning down her house will keep others out.  Truthfully, if not subconsciously, what she’s doing is making all that she has lost and all that she is losing tangible and visible, especially to Sam.

This is really a novel about relationships, both the good and the bad.  Sometimes there is a cost to starting them.  Sometimes there is a cost to losing them.  There are times when the cost may be too high; but in the end, you can’t live your life fully without them.  Be they with your best friend, your lover, your family, business associates, or even mere acquaintances, your interactions with other people teach you how to play, work, love, hurt, forgive, learn, laugh, cry, hold on, and to let go.  Ellen spent the first 44 years fighting to control her life. House and Home is the story of how she learns that what makes life worth living requires you to constantly take leaps of faith.

Kathleen McCleary is a clear and concise writer and she brought some wonderful characters to life.  You can feel Ellen’s pain and the anxiety brought about by her need to be in control from the start, even if you don’t completely understand it at first.  You can see how it blinds her to what she has.  House and Home is a reminder that when life feels like one crisis after another, the only way not to get lost in it all is to focus on your friends and loved ones.  It is a celebration of friendships, relationships, and family.  If you’re like me, you’ll find this novel every bit as heartwarming as the cover suggests.

Literate Housewife’s 100th Book Review Contest

I am so excited about today because it marks the day I am posting my 100th book review online.  My blog started on Blogspot and it was called “52 Books or Bust.”  I started it in January, 2007 to give me a way to be accountable to my personal goal of reading 52 books that year and to also provide me with a way to remember what I read.  It was from those meager beginnings that The Literate Housewife Review started.  I had no idea that 21months later I would be celebrating today.

In order to mark this day, I wanted to hold a contest to thank you, my readers.  Without your comments and support I can’t say that I would still be doing this today.  In honor of reaching the 100 book mark, I’m going to give one of my lucky readers a copy of House and Home and ten other books I’ve read to date.  Here is a picture of the book and the links to those reviews:

The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson ~ #24
Portrait on an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett ~ #37
Gilding Lily by Tatiana Boncompagni ~ #66
The Lady Elizabeth By Alison Weir ~ #70
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan ~ #78
Mrs. Lieutenant by Phyllis Zimbler Miller ~ #81
Regina’s Closet by Diana M. Raab ~ #84
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson ~ #88
37 by Maria Beaumont ~ #89
Castaway Kid by R.B. Mitchell ~ #94

When Kathleen McCleary read that this was my 100th review and would be holding a contest in its honor, she wanted to get in on the fun, too.  So, to sweeten this contest even further, the winner will also get the opportunity to talk with the author personally!  What a fun and wonderful opportunity!  And that’s not all! The second and third place winners in this contest will also get their own autographed copies of House and Home!

Have I peaked your interest enough?  Are you wondering what you need do to enter?  Here goes:

1. Leave a comment to this post by 11:59 EST on September 9 and you will receive two entries.  Comments left beginning on September 11 at midnight receive one entry.  If you comment includes a question about House and Home, for Kathleen McCleary, or about any of the other books in the contest, you will receive an additional entry (three entries possible).

2. If you have a blog, write a post about this contest by 11:59 EST on September 9 and leave me a message with the link to earn two entries.  If you do not have a blog, you can send an email telling 3 or more friends about this contest (copy me) by 11:59 EST on September 9 for those two entries.

Selecting the winners: I will be out of town starting Friday, so this is going to be a quick contest.  I will be using the List Randomizer on random.org to enter the names and will it will determine the winner at noon on Thursday, September 11 EST.  [I have wised up since my last contest. No more writing names down on sheets of paper, cutting them out, folding them, and putting them in a box and asking my beloved husband or bewildered co-workers to pick them out.]

Posting the results: I will be posting the names of the winners at 1pm EST.  The name of the person in lucky number 1 spot wins the copy of House and Home, the selection of 10 books I’ve previously reviewed, and a phone conversation with Kathleen McCleary!  The names of the people in lucky spots number 2 and 3 (assuming that there aren’t any repeating names – if there are, the second and third unique names) will also receive an autographed copy of House and Home.

Good luck to everyone who enters and a special thanks to Kathleen McCleary for making this contest that much more special!

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To buy this novel, click here.

#85 ~ Aberrations

July 13, 2008 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 8 Comments
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Aberrations by Penelope Przekop

When tragedy strikes during a child’s infancy and childhood, how much should that child’s parent reveal to the child and when? The main character of this novel is Angel, the only daughter of an attorney and a budding art photographer. When Angel’s mother dies while she is an infant, her father chooses to reveal very little about the death. Aberrations tells the story of what can happen to a young woman’s life when the full truth isn’t shared with her, even if things are held back because they seem to be for her own good.

All Angel has of her mother was a series of pictures of clouds whose formations resembled earthly shapes. In addition to hole left in her that can only be filled by “mother,” Angel is also dealing with a rare neurological disorder, narcolepsy. To an extent, Angel has allowed her disease to be an excuse for keeping the status quo. She’s content to live with her father and have an affair with a married doctor.

Angel’s life is turned upside down when Carla, her father’s girlfriend, moves in with them and takes over by redecorating the house. When Carla takes down all of her mother’s cloud pictures Angel is sent over the edge. This upheaval at home is what encourages her to spend more time with her co-workers, Tim and Kimmy. Their friendship, held on to only begrudgingly at first, helps her to open up with others about her life and her disease.  When Tim encourages Kimmy and Angle to come with him to the Blue Flower, the local gay dance club, and try Ecstasy, both of their lives begin to change. When Kimmy becomes the unintentional victim of a hate crime, Angel has to figure out who she wants to be and open her eyes to who she really can trust.

When I was offered the opportunity to read Aberrations, I wasn’t sure. Although I find narcolepsy interesting because it isn’t something that you read about very often, I was unsure of what this novel would be like or whether I would like it. Angel sounded like a misguided young woman who flitted from one sexual relationship to the other regardless of the consequences. It’s not that I have to have protagonists to have it all together (where would the need for a novel be?), but this was a little out of my usual reading choices. In fact, the very first part of the novel started somewhat slow for me. After about 40 pages, however, I was hooked. In the end, I’m so very thankful that I decided to take a chance.

Aberrations, Penelope Przekop’s first novel, was a delight to read and fascinating until the end. It was a pleasure to watch Angel mature, despite the fact that some of what she learns about her parents and herself is quite devastating. While preparing to write this review, I went back over the definition of the word “aberration” provided at the beginning of the book. Next to that was a newspaper article. While reading the book initially, I had forgotten all about it. Finding it again with what I know now gave me much to think about. I know that this is a novel that I will be reading again. Most of all, I’m looking forward to watching Przekop’s career progress.

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To buy this book, click here.

#61 ~ Eleanor vs. Ike

March 17, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Posted in Books, Inspiration, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 6 Comments
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Eleanor vs. Ike: A Novel by Robin Gerber

Robin Gerber was once asked while giving a talk about in conjunction with her book, Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, if Eleanor Roosevelt ever did anything wrong. Ms. Gerber’s response was, “Yes, she should have run for president.” From that question and her own response, Eleanor vs. Ike, an interesting, fun, and fast-paced novel, was born. It imagines what might have happened if Eleanor Roosevelt ran for president in 1952 against Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Gerber’s inaugural novel begins with Eleanor in Europe, finishing work on a United Nations meeting. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away, Eleanor continued to work for our country. While preparing to leave the meeting, she received an obituary for Lucy Rutherford, a woman with whom her husband had had an affair. Opening the novel with this story really worked to peak my interest about Eleanor. Other than what I may have learned about her in school and the glimpse of her in Annie, I do not know much about her or the world that she inhabited. I was drawn in to the novel by the story of her marriage and childhood.

There is also a lot to be learned and thought through along the roller coaster ride of the 1952 presidential election. Not only did Eleanor and Ike have voices in this novel, so did their staff and their supporters. Sometimes having too many narrators can weigh a novel down, but seeing the campaign from the inside and the outside made it a richer experience. In a time of election, especially during a time of political crisis, we all work together – or, in the case of fringe groups like the KKK, against each other – to determine the course of our history.

As a country, we’ve never had a female represent either major party as it’s presidential candidate. While that might change by the end of the summer, Eleanor vs. Ike addressed many of the issues such a race would bring up. In Gerber’s election of 1952, Eleanor’s detractors were men. I was anticipating another woman to rise up and wreak havoc on her campaign, but such a woman never materialized. Women do tend to serve as each other’s worst enemies, but having Eleanor’s vocal and vicious opposition made up by men is appropriate for that time period. Both political parties were run and controlled by men. A woman would have to run through that gauntlet first. If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic candidate for president, it will be interesting to see if that has changed.

If I have no vested interest in the outcome, I tend to root for the underdog. This may be attributed to the fact that I grew up as a Detroit Tiger fan, but it’s a part of me nonetheless. Eleanor’s gender and personal insecurities easily made her seem to be an underdog, but her courage in her convictions and her love for her country made her a strong person and a formidable candidate. Despite the fact that there never really was a runoff between Eleanor and Ike, I got caught up in the campaign. Gerber’s dialog is wonderfully readable and moves the novel forward. I stayed up way past my bed time to find out who won the election of 1952 and it was well worth the loss of sleep. We need more leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt, be they Democrats or Republicans. Although she was never on the ballot, I promise you won’t regret casting your vote for her by reading this book.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#57 ~ The Tea Rose

February 8, 2008 at 10:20 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 5 Comments
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The Tea Rose: A Novel by Jennifer Donnelly

I heard about this book and ended up reading it somewhat by chance. I was reading through the postings on and saw a posting about The Winter Rose coming out. They were excited to get a chance to read it. A few days later, I got a reminder from one of my book clubs reminding me that I had earned a free book in November. The Winter Rose was one of my choices, so I snapped it up. It was only when I reported back to that thread that I discovered that it was a sequel to The Tea Rose. As luck would have it, the local library had a copy. It was an enjoyable romp through working class London during the late 1800s as well as through New York, when it was still pretty new.

It tells the story of Fiona Finnegan, a feisty teenager from a loving working class family. She is working for the tea factory in order to help with the family expenses, but she is also able to put money aside with her neighbor and love of her life, Joe. The two of them are saving money in order to one day marry and own their own vegetable shop. Life in working class London can seem bleak. Money is tight for everyone and Jack the Ripper is on the loose. Still, their shared dream keeps them alive and happy.

There happiness is shattered by life after Joe accepts a job with a wealthy shopkeeper that takes him away from London. At that same time, Fiona’s family suffers several great tragedies. When Fiona discovers the true nature of her father’s death, she is forced to flee to New York, in hopes that her paternal uncle will be able to care for her and Seamus, her brother. What Fiona finds in America is daunting, but through her perseverance, her strong character shines. She makes many friends and becomes a great success in business at a time when women didn’t normally have the opportunity to do so. It is her success in New York that she hopes will provide her with the tools she needs to avenge her father’s death. Still, which Fiona has all the outward signs of success, she lacks the one thing in life she truly wants: the love and companionship of Joe. With an ocean separating them, she can only dream that all of her hard work will eventually provide her with complete happiness.

I really enjoyed The Tea Rose. Although there were parts that seemed a little long, I enjoyed experiencing London in a different period of time. It was a far cry from the usual escapades during the Tudor or Elizabethan eras. I also don’t read much historical fiction taking place in America. I loved the feel of New York on the rise. Most importantly, it was wonderful to read a story about a strong female character who was able to make her own destiny through hard work, determination, and intelligence. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who relishes reading about strong women.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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