Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A true story teller

Not long ago, some friends who read my blog emailed me to ask if I only read serious stuff based on what I have been posting about. The answer is no and this book is proof of that! I pretty much read anything that doesn't get out of my way and the only thing I don't read on a regular basis are sci-fi and westerns. Lately I've been reading a lot of fantasy/paranormal type romantic suspense/mystery paperbacks that I get through Books Free. I love this service because it saves me a ton of money and lets me try lots of different authors and genres and I can send the book back if I don't like it - without feeling guilty about how much money I spent and that I didn't read it!

I love reading series and one I've been reading is by Marjorie M. Liu. I just finished the third book in the series, Red Heart of Jade, and it was excellent. Ms. Liu is an amazing storyteller and she seems to be getting better with every book in this series. I know there are some out there who consider mass market paperbacks and romance type authors as inferior but they should get outside their boxes more! This was a very well crafted tale with great characterization, an exciting storyline and a very well crafted plot that did not fall down in the middle or end too quickly. I am finding so many of today's romance lacking a good plot/story line and authoers are filling in with lots of sex in the hopes that we readers won't notice. Now I don't mind a good sex scene but never at the expense of a good plot, fully formed characters and a quality product. Ms. Liu definitely delivers for me! Maybe you should get out of your box and try one of her books too!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

SRC - Book Two

gods in Alabama was my second book for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Oh did I love this book. This is a first book as well but I found it much better written than my previous choice. It too is a story about going home and reconnecting with family. It is the story of a woman who fled her home town in Alabama as soon as she graduated high school, believing she had killed someone. She promised never to have sex and never to tell a lie again if God would just make everything okay.

She has created a new life in Chicago and only had contact with her family by phone over the last 10 years. She is content with her life, having fallen in love with a good man . Into her life drops an old high school peer and everything changes. In order to head off what she believes will be a catastrophe in the discovery of her secret, she heads home to Alabama with her boyfriend in tow. She is justifiably anxious about her return, fearful her secret is going to be exposed and what will happen when her relatives find out her boyfriend is black.

By alternating chapters, the author provides the backstory to Arlene's life as well as what happens when she returns home. I loved the use of this technique and was just amazed at this author's talent and voice. I truly felt the "southerness" through the quirkly family characters, sayings and descriptions. An amazing book with a great ending, showing that no matter what, family is the most important thing in life. I can't wait to read this author's additional books.

I've got one more to go with this challenge so stay tuned!

Souther Reading Challenge Progess

Well, I've finally managed to finish two of my three selections for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge. I enjoyed both but the second one (see post above!) is my favorite so far!

The first book I read was Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen and it was chosen by me as my book group's July discussion book before I even signed up for the challenge. Very convenient!
When I think about describing this book to someone, the words "light and fluffy" come to mine. It is the story of the Waverly women who live in Bascom, North Carolina. They are all gifted with a special talent and have a magical apple tree that grows in the garden of their ancestral home. If you eat an apple from the tree, it shows you your future - good or bad - so the Waverly's have done their best to prevent anyone from eating the apples.
Sydney Waverly comes home to Bascom after being away for a number of years, bringing her daughter Bay. She and her sister Claire have been estranged and the story focus on the gradual rebuilding of their relationship as well as the blossoming of both of their lives into something more. It explores the sense of place you have within both a family and a place.

While I enjoyed the book, I felt there were too many character lines to follow to give the book meatyness. I think it would have been much better if the author and narrowed her focus a bit and more fully developed just a few of the characters. And I just didn't find this book very Southern feeling to me. All in all, it was an enjoyable read by a first time author. I plan to get the author's latest book out of the library as I've been told her writing is much better developed with this.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sense of Place Contest

Maggie is running another contest for the Southern Reading Challenge involving a sense of place. I knew immediately what passage I would choose - from gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson.

Arlene is talking about a local "make out" place at the start of the book:

The woods, mostly scrub and loblolly pine with a few sycamore and oak trees, ended on the hilltop. There was a little grassy clearing where you could spread a blanket and get on with it. The clearing ended in a track of gravel at the lip, and where the hill started its descent on the other side, the heaps began.

"Heaps" was our name for kudzu, a fast-spreading vine that climbed anything it could find and turned it into a shaggy, amorphous mound. The heaps had eaten the woods in the pit at the center of the ring of hills, creeping over the ground, coating the trees. They formed piles and climbed up themselves when nothing else was offered. In some places they loomed up higher than the hilltops. Roach Country, Clarice called it. Roaches love to nest in kudzu.

I found the photo at this website - kudzu is a really scary plant! Be sure to check out the photos in the Kud - Zoo!

Southern Reading Challenge Update

Well, I'm not exactly on track but I am doing some Southern reading. It seems once I made my list, all these other southern books have been popping up in my library stack. While I have started gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson, I've not gotten that far because I was sidetracked by Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews and Flabbergasted by Ray Blackston.

Deep Dish is the lastest book by Mary Kay Andrews and I guess I'd call it a cooking romance. The two main characters both have small regional cooking shows in Atlanta and are pitted against each other in a "cook off" for a national cooking show similar to the reality shows you can see on the Food Network and Bravo. Regina Foxton takes traditional Southern cuisine and makes it healthier while Tate Moody catches whatever he cooks. In a fairly traditional story, boy and girl end up together and cook up their own show. The book includes some traditional southern eccentrics and some pretty tasty sounding recipes. A great summer each read for sure but not necessarily my favorite Andrews book. I think I like her first two the best.

Flabbergasted was an audio book that I chose for the cover colors and the title with the intent of having something to "read" while I was knitting. The back cover blurb on the CD case really didn't provide much info and for a number of CDs, I wasn't sure I was liking the story as it dragged on a bit. It is written by Ray Blackston and tells the story of a young stockbroker who moves from Dallas to South Carolina.

In order to meet some singles in Greensboro, his real estate agent suggests he join a church singles group. He ends up at a Presbyterian church where he falls for a young church missionary in the singles group. Over the course of a beach trip to Myrtle Beach during Labor Day weekend, Jay gets to know Allie better and forms a more solid friendship with the other singles in the group. It's a humours piece of Christian fiction that turned out to be quite entertaining, giving a good message without being preachy. I loved the author's ability to bring me back to Myrtle Beach and Pawley's Island as well as paint a small slice of missionary life in an Ecuadorian village in the rain forest through his descriptions. My library doesn't have the next book in this series (I think there may be three?) but I will see if it can be ordered. I feel the need to know the rest of the story....

Monday, May 26, 2008

Playing Catch Up

I've been trying to grow grass and scrape my porch stairs this week - two very laborious processes. While I move my sprinkler around every 1o minues, I've managed to squeeze in brief bits of reading that have resulted in the completion of two books . Neither of them were one of my Southern Reading Challenge books but I hope to start that this week. Gotta finish my book group book first though! I'm a lousy book reviewer but I will do my best.

Last Sunday I finished Garrison Keilor's Pontoon. As usual he manages to create a varied collection of "unique" individuals from Lake Woebegon and weave together a very entertaining story. The conclusion had my laughing so hard I was in tears which doesn't happen to me very often. I could so picture the complete chaos he was describing it was incredible.

I also read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. This was an extremely interesting book and I think I will have to see if my library has his other book The Omnivore's Dilemma. The premise of the book is that as a result of "nutritionism", the FDA, the marketing industry and other scientific entities (just to name a few) we've gotten away from eating "food" as a result of focusing on nutrients - antioxidants, omega-3s, etc. In our quest to eat "healthy", we've gotten so confused by all the various claims and counterclaims of assorted diet fads and nutrition recommendations that have not really resulted in making us healthier. Pollan's premise is that the "western" diet most of us eat is actually worse for our health than if we ate traditional diets our ancestors did - a Mediterranean, Asian or other ethnic culture. I found the book very thought provoking.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Name Your Homeplace - Casapearl

Maggie has a contest going related to naming your homeplace. This is Casapearl. She is a 1920 California Craftsman bungalow on Pearl Street. I bought this house three years ago and almost immediately named her Casapearl and that's how I always think of her.

She is my refuge in a town I don't always like living in but I love my neighborhood. No matter how bad a day I've had, there is a relief to pulling into the driveway and knowing I'm home. She has windows in every room which means tons of light and gorgeous hardwood floors throughout. Not a huge yard but enough to keep me busy. The kitchen is short on countertops and electrical outlets but funky isn't always a bad thing!

And the porch.... what can I say? I fell in love with the house just walking up onto that old porch. Even when the house looked like this! I knew she had to be mine. I plant the window boxes every spring and sit out on the porch knitting or reading when it gets warm. I decorate her for fall and for winter. She's a jewel box and probably the most perfect house I will ever own.

She's allowed me to feel at home in my town and to get to know my neighbors all along my street - a very unusual thing in today's world. Last year the woman who grew up in her stopped to take a little tour. She left me with the original architectural blueprints for which I am extremely grateful. I will leave them with her next owner and take a copy to someday maybe build another just like her. She is my dream home - Casapearl.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Library at Night

One of my strongest childhood memories is going to the library and it's a pleasure that has never really grown old. The anticipation of what you might find on the shelves continually lures readers in. I recently picked up The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel. I used to have a copy of his book The History of Reading but it's either been donated or lost - I never got around to reading it but would like to someday.
I was lured into this book by both the title and the photo on the dust jacket - isn't it neat? This book is an exploration of various libraries throughout history including ones the author encountered in his own life as well as the one he created at his home in the south of France. It was a pleasurable read and I enjoyed learning about the histories of the various libraries around the world. Many no longer exist but the writing allows you to imagine what they might have been like. The author is formidably well read -a bit intimidating in a sense but the bibliography allows me hope that I might expand my horizons a bit by tracking down some of the books he mentions. A worthwhile read if you're a library fan.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Southern Reading Challenge Choices

Well, I've decided on what my three books will be for the Southern Reading Challenge which starts on Thursday.

1. Gods in Alabama -Joshilyn Jackson
2. Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen -this is actually my book pick for my book group in July
3. Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes - Cathy Holton

I got Gods in Alabama in the mail yesterday from Booksfree so I'm all set to start reading on Thursday.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Y'all its summer southern reading time!

I've been hoping that Maggie was going to host another Southern Reading Challenge as I really enjoyed participating last year. I did read three southern books but didn't finish my final one until after the time frame had passed. I plan to do much better this year!

So far I know my first book will be Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson. Now I've got to find two more to add to my summer reading. Maggie has provided several excellent suggestions so I'll have to see if my library has any of them.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Instead of starting my next book group book, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin, I picked up Queen of the Turtle Derby and Other Southern Phenomena by Julia Reed. This was one of my selections for the Southern Readers Challenge that I did not finish in time but still wanted to read. It's a collection of essays celebrating all that is the uniqueness of the South. I'm really enjoying the selections but it makes me miss living in the South. I hope there's another Challenge this year!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Finished The Ha-Ha

Well, tonight I finished The Ha-Ha by Dave King. I am looking forward to our book group discussion on Monday evening - everyone always has something to say. I loved this book! Dave, if you stop again, I do hope you're working on another!

This was a book where I got hooked on the main character right away and it was a bit bittersweet and a bit funny sweet but very satisfying all the way. I loved the author's style and felt like so much thought had gone into crafting it. This was a book that made me think of some of the unconventional "families" we form in our lives as well as how easy it is to turn away from those things that keep us going everyday and potentially make some bad decisions. It is a reminder to me of how open and expansive life can be if you stay open to possibility and remember what a gift life truly is. This is a book to savor and I highly recommend it. I will be passing my copy along to my sister as a recommendation for her book group.

Next up is Three Cups of Tea by Greg Morgansen.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

2007 Book Tally

I keep a notebook list of all of the books I read throughout the year and this year's total read was 54 - a pretty respectable total compared to last year's 37. In looking back at the list, I read some really good books, some not so great and some that were just fun.

Good ones - Highest Tide by Jim Lynch, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides

Not So Great ones - A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipul, Sons & Lovers by DH Lawrence and Lunch at the Picadilly by Clyde Edgerton

Just Fun - the JR Ward vamp series, the Mercy Thomson series by Patricia Briggs and Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai.

These are completely subjective categories of course because the VS Naipul & Lawrence books are from the Modern Library List so they're not really "not so great books" it's just ones I didn't enjoy as much.

I'm trying to finish up my next book group book before Monday's discussion. We're reading The Ha-Ha by Dave King which so far is going on the "good ones" list for 2008.