Monday, August 31, 2009

(73) A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz

I love puppy dogs. There. I said it. This does not come as a shock to anyone who has been in my presence for more than five minutes. Because you probably heard at least one Bailey-the-Big-Black-Dog story.

I was interested in Dean Koontz's new book, A Big Little Life just because I wanted to see how a big shot author lives his life with a dog. As you may have already figured out from reading my blog, I have not read a lot of Dean Koontz. I have dozens of his books on my shelf, but have not read a single one of them. So I admit, I had some preconceived notions about his writing style and what goes on in his mind.

I was way, way wrong. Dean Koontz has written a tribute to his dog, Trixie, that will have you laughing out loud. Not in a Marley & Me way, not at the antics of his dog, but at his self effacing, somewhat self deprecating humor. It is hysterical.

As the reader must now realize, this is not going to be a memoir about a pillow-destroying, cat-chasing, furniture-chewing miscreant kind of canine.

Mr Koontz goes on to tell us the stories of Trixie's life. She came to them as a retired service dog. Thanks to her training, her manners were impeccable. Her personality allowed her to make friends wherever she went. She had a way about her that endeared her to anyone and everyone. And I think Mr Koontz conveys his awe of dogs with this line.

A dog can be a living work of art, a constant reminder of the exquisite design of breathtaking detail of nature, beauty on four paws.

I learned a lot about the man, Dean Koontz, and I have to admit that with every page I turned, my admiration for the man grew. Not only is he a one of the most successful writers of his time, of all time actually, but he is a man who is totally and completely devoted to his wife, his friends, and most of all, his fur-kids. It is an admirable trait.

I was really skeptical about reading a memoir by Dean Koontz, my judgment clouded by what I *thought* I knew about the author. In A Big Little Life I found a man with a kind heart, a gentle soul, and a wicked sense of humor. It sounds so cliche, but I laughed & I cried. Of course I cried, as one of my booksellers says "NO, dog book is going to have a happy ending!", but it is such a poignant memoir, I would hate for you to miss out on Trixie's story.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recycle Your Books!

Bibliophiles are just as obsessive about their books as sports fans are about their teams. There is all sorts of paraphernalia that can be purchased to decorate their house with to show the world their love for books. And I am not just talking about the obvious, books and bookshelves.

The more creative displays out there include a bar, a chair, a safe, and a bookshelf. They are fascinating to see and I admit to be jealous of their creativity. I could SOOOO do this in my house, Lord knows that I have plenty of books.

What do you think? Would you decorate your house with one of these items?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

(72) The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

It has been a while since I have read a book where the title of the book really made a statement about the story told within it's pages. The Weight of Silence is very, very descriptive of the story the the author tells. Selective mute, Calli Clark has the weight of that silence on her little seven year old shoulders.

Callie has chosen to remain silent since she was four and she witnessed a tragic event that took place in her home. But make no mistake, just because she chooses not to speak, does not mean that she can not communicate. Calli has found a voice in her best friend, Petra. When the two of them come up missing their small community takes to the woods of eastern Iowa to try to find them.

The Weight Of Silence was a good book. I won't say it was a great book or one of the best books of the year, but it was just okay. The author, Heather Gudenkauf, wrote her book in the style of Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain. Each chapter represents a different character's viewpoint. There is a Readers Guide included in the book for Book Club's, but honestly it is not a book I would choose for a selection. I just can't see much conversation being generated from what happens in the book.

The Weight of Silence was a fast read, but it wasn't a real engaging read. It doesn't generate a lot of emotion in the reader. I liked that the book was set in Iowa and I caught a few references to Iowa "landmarks" hidden in the story. It was an okay read, not a great read. Passable for a lazy afternoon read.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Day The Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

I tried.

But I just could not get into it. The book is the new selection for B&N Recommends. It is not the first B&N Rec book that I didn't finish, but I was really hoping to finish this one.

It is set in Niagara Falls around the time of World War I. And it is about a woman, well a girl really, Bess. Bess's family was once very hoity-toity people in Niagara Falls, but that all changes when her father loses his job.

Her life and her family's life drastically changes and they are about to force her into marriage with a man she doesn't love when I started skipping paragraphs, hoping it would get more interesting. Then I started skipping pages. I caught the tragic twist to the story, but then even that didn't really "hook"me.

So around page 172 I decided to stop reading and find something that would hook me to read on my day off.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Evil At Heart

You may have missed my review of Evil At Heart because I posted it the same weekend of my giveaway. It is a terrifying book that hits shelves on Tuesday. Check out the trailer.

OH! And for you True Blood fans, a few weeks ago, Maryanne was reading the first book in the series, Heartsick, while sitting at the kitchen table waiting for Tara to come home. Very fitting as the book is about a female serial killer!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

(71) After You by Julie Buxbaum

With her new book, After You, Julie Buxbaum has solidified her position as the new voice of women's literature. She has written characters that will find their way into your heart and touch you in ways you never thought possible.

Ellie risks losing everything when she receives word that her best friend, Lucy, was brutally murdered walking her daughter to school on the quiet streets of Notting Hill. Ellie takes her duties as Godmother very seriously and takes on the role as surrogate mother, forsaking her husband and her job to help Sophie heal. But are her motives as pure as they sound or is Ellie using her friend's tragedy to escape the tragedies of her own life?

After You is a resonating story of a healing love. The relationship between Ellie and Sophie is based on pure love. They rely heavily upon each other, and The Secret Garden to get through the darkest days after Lucy's death. When the haze of grief starts to lift, Ellie is forced to take a hard look at her life and how her actions have impacted those she cares about the most.

It is easy for me to say critics and readers to dismiss Julie Buxbaum as just another "Chick Lit" author, but I strongly disagree. There is nothing "fluffy" about her intelligently written book about a woman struggling to do what is right.

I had the great pleasure to ask Ms. Buxbaum a few questions about her new book, in my very first author interview.

1. You currently reside in London. Did you move to London to research your book or did your book evolve after your move? Do you find yourself staying in London permanently or returning to the States?

Oddly enough, the book being set in London and my moving to London were two completely independent events. I decided to set the book in Notting Hill long before I knew I was moving. Sometime after I started working on AFTER YOU, my husband got a great job opportunity here that he couldn't pass up. Though I do love living in London, I hope to return to the States in a few years. I have to admit to being a little homesick.

2 In After You, you write about best friends. Two women that have been friends since they were four years old. Ellie risks everything when she goes to go to London for Lucy's family. What is the most extreme thing you have done for a best friend?

What a great question! Fortunately, I have never found myself in the sort of catch-22 Ellie faces. I've definitely dropped everything and flown to visit friends during some tough times--I can think of one instance in particular when a very close friend was going through an unexpected divorce--but in my mind that doesn't qualify as extreme. I think that's just what friends do for each other.

3. Ellie discovers some of Lucy's secrets after she passed. How do you think a secret of that magnitude would have impacted their friendship?

I like to think that Ellie and Lucy's friendship would have recovered from any secrets they held back from each other, but I do think it would have taken time and a lot of healing. Without giving too much away to those who haven't read the book yet, the impact of Lucy's revelation would have been greater because of how Ellie was struggling in her own life at the time. I do believe, though, that the kind of bond Ellie and Lucy had could have withstood greater honesty, and that their friendship, ultimately, would have been stronger for it.

Ellie measures the milestones of her life by the books she was reading. Do you do the same? What books mark the milestone events in your life?
Surprisingly, I don't measure my life in books, which is odd because they are, of course, such a big part of my life. (Maybe it's because I read so much that it's too difficult to keep track?) I think I'm more like Lucy in that I have lots of song associations. I have an entire movie score in my head that matches all of my big milestones. Come to think of it, I should make an iTunes playlist!

What are some of the songs on the Soundtrack to your life?
As for actual songs, there are almost too many to name. But here are a few: Bob Dylan's Tangled Up in Blue takes me back to cozy and lazy afternoons in college. When I hear Blues Traveler's The Mountains Win Again I am back in high school, right around graduation time, driving to the Jersey Shore with a bunch of friends. And I'll forever associate Colors by Amos Lee with writing AFTER YOU.

The Secret Garden plays an integral part in Ellie & Sophie's healing process. What other books were on your childhood shelves? What are the "healing" books that sit on your shelves now?

No doubt The Secret Garden still gets number one pride of place for "healing books" for me. Other than that, I loved Shel Silverstein as a kid, and still have a bunch of my childhood copies of his work. And I'm also a big fan of Francis Hodgson Burnett's other classic, The Little Princess, which is almost as beautiful and magical as The Secret Garden.

After You is a story that really touches the heart. What message do you most want your readers to take away from reading After You?
I am not sure there is an absolute message, but every writer hopes they get their readers thinking about their own lives and relationships. After You was my attempt to look at the question of how well we really know the people we love, and what happens when we lose those who most define us.

Forgive me for this fluff question, but I am curious. Ellie watches a lot of Big Brother UK . Why did you choose that show to be a source of escape for Ellie? Do you watch the show yourself? Are you following Big Brother USA this summer and if so, who are you rooting for?

So funny that you noticed that! Yes, since moving to the UK I've become fully and one hundred percent addicted to Big Brother UK. (Fortunately, we don't get the US version here, or otherwise, I'd be wasting even more time watching.) I absolutely love the fish bowl element to it all, and of course the pure awkwardness that sometimes comes out of human interaction. For the purposes of the book, I felt the show in some ways mirrored Ellie's experiences of living with Greg and Sophie, how her life suddenly became all about this very real, and at the same time artificially created temporary family. If there happen to be any Big Brother UK fans reading this: Go Siavash!

Thank you, so much Julie for answering my questions. I absolutely adored the book and can not wait for the rest of the world to discover the story of Ellie and Sophie.

Readers, don't forget to enter to win the Win A Book Weekend. for a chance to win an autographed copy of Julie's first book, The Opposite Of Love. The contest ends tonight at midnight. You can pick up After You in bookstores this week.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Win A Book Weekend!!

If you have followed my blog with any sort of regularity, you will know that I am a huge advocate for Julie Buxbaum and her book, The Opposite of Love. I am absolutely DELIGHTED to give my readers the opportunity to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Julie Buxbaum's The Opposite of Love.

The rules work like this. Every comment on this post is an entry. Please be sure to include your email address in the post. I will use to generate the winning comment. This contest is open to readers all over the world. The contest will run through the end of day Monday for those of us who do not have the typical weekend.

(70) Evil At Heart by Chelsea Cain (On Sale September 1st)

How weird is it that I am a big ole chicken when it comes to watching scary movies, yet I absolutely LOVE books that scare the snot right out of me?

Chelsea Cain has done it once again. With Evil At Heart she continues the story of Gretchen Lowell and Archie Sheridan. In the last book, Sweetheart, Gretchen has escaped prison. Now she is on the hunt again. And when bodies start showing up with her signature, Archie checks himself out of the psych ward and tries to find the serial killer.

I am a huge advocate for Chelsea Cain's books. The series is gritty and just downright scary. And when the King of Scream says this about a book:

We've been down Hannibal Lecter Avenue many times, and these two books shouldn't work...but they do. Chalk it up to excellent writing and Cain's ferocious sense of humor."
--Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly | Top 10 Books of 2008

Then you know that you have stumbled upon something wonderful. So many "scary" books have the middle aged white man with mommy issues as the villain. Chelsea Cain has done the complete opposite. Gretchen Lowell is the most beautiful women many have ever seen. But she is a twisted psychopath who will always have a hold over the man who put her in prison.

If you have not read Chelsea Cain before, check your local B&N. Heartsick is currently on our bargain shelves for dirt cheap. Sweatheart will be in paperback by the time you are done reading the first one. Trust me, you will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

(69) The Penny Pinchers Club by Sarah Strohmeyer

Calling all Grocery Gamers, CVS'ers, Dave Ramsey Fans, and Cupon Clippers! This is the book for you!

Sarah Strohmeyer has taken this economic crisis to heart and has written a book that all of you cheapskates will love to read!

Kat Griffiths is the typical New Jersey housewife right down to her Starbucks Venti Latte addiction. She spends the money and lets her husband pays the bills. On the night of her 20th Wedding Anniversary she discovers the email evidence that her husband is having an affair and is planning to leave her once their daughter graduates high school.

With the help of her former housekeeper, Kat joins The Penny Pinchers Club. A group of financial misfits who show Kat that there is hope. There is light at the end of her $37,000 worth of debt. And she WILL be able to afford the divorce lawyer that she fears is in her future. Or is it? Their relationship seems stronger than ever. Does her beloved husband really plan on leaving her for his research assistant? Read the book and find out!

At first glance, Kat looks like a spoiled brat. She is irresponsible with money and I was ready to shut the book and be done with her. But as the Penny Pinchers do their audit of their finances, you can almost see Kat's backbone mysteriously grow right into her spine. She becomes strong in her resolve to get out of debt and it is admirable. As we read about Kat's hi jinx in saving money and getting out of debt, the reader gets to pick up a few money saving tips along the way. Do I advocate Sarah Strohmeyer as a financial adviser, no of course not. But she writes a book relevant to the lives of millions of women in this country trying to get out of debt. And she does it in a fun, light hearted way. The Penny Pinchers Club is a fun, fluffy book to help you put your financial woes into perspective.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Happy Tuesday!!

Yay! FINALLY one of Terry's books that I may actually read! No offense to Sword of Truth fans. If anyone in the family has already read it, please let me know how it was! I will be reading it in the very near future, but I would love to hear reviews.

New in Paperback

Sunday, August 16, 2009

(68) Henry's Sisters by Cathy Lamb

Henry's Sisters are three very messed up individuals. Isabelle has relationship issues and would rather have a one night stand than a second date. Her twin, Cecilia is morbidly obese with rage issues. And Janie has extreme OCD. They bear the scars of a childhood with a father that left them with their mentally ill mother. The only light in their life is Henry. Their mentally disabled little brother.

When their mother calls them home to care for Henry while she has open heart surgery, the three women come face to face with their memories and their nightmarish past. And they remember what it is like to be in the presence of their happy-go-lucky brother. He lights up the world around him. When they receive devastating news, the entire town rallies around them, all because of Henry. It is because of Henry that all three sisters finally start to heal.

Cathy Lamb wrote Henry's Sisters as if it were Isabelle's memoir. So you see and feel everything through Isabelle's eyes. Which can be extremely brutal to read at some parts. The Bommarito family did not have it easy. And there are parts of their history that are violently graphic. And Ms. Lamb does not hold back. So, be forewarned if you have a weak stomach or a fair heart. This book will rip you apart, but Oh My Goodness, it is a masterpiece work of storytelling.

I know it sounds cliche, but I laughed & I cried. I felt my chest tighten with the bad stuff and my heart sang when Henry was smiling. I look forward to hand selling this books to customers. The Readers Guide in the back of the book will make it the perfect selection for Book Clubs, but really it is a book that can be read by anybody looking for a good read.

Recycled Books

These are by far the coolest thing I have ever seen. I will probably have one custom made, I just need to figure out what book I will choose. I am kind of leaning towards The Time Travelers Wife or Little Women, two of my favorite books. Or maybe even a leather bound classic from B&N. The jury is still out, but in any case, I guarantee you that I will be doing business with Make It and Take It in the very near future.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Lovely Bones - Will you watch?

I wasn't a big fan of The Lovely Bones. But that could be because I read it so very long ago & frankly don't remember much besides the basic premise. I may have to pull it off the shelf and read it again.

What do you think? Did you like the book? Do you think they did a good job with casting? Will you watch the movie? It hits the screen in December.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

(67) Summer Kitchen by Karen Weinreb

This book was so not what I expected it to be. I was expecting a lighthearted, "fluff" book about a chick struggling to get by after her husband gets sent to the clink.

Boy was I wrong. Yes, the book is about Nora Banks, whose husband gets sent to prison for a white collar crime. But there is nothing "fluffy" about what Nora goes through. Her confusion and pain radiate through the pages. After watching the feds take every worldly possession she owns to pay for her husband's crime, she decides that she has to pull herself up by her bootstraps and figure out a way to provide for her three sons.

Being ostracized by her once close friends and struggling to pay the bills, Nora does what she has to do to survive. With the help of the beloved and fiercely loyal nanny, Beatriz, Nora finds a job as a baker in a local cafe just to pay the bills. It is there that Nora shocks not only the women of Bedford, but her own self with the culinary talent that she has kept a secret for so long. With Beatriz's financial and emotional support, the two become partners and open their own cafe.

Summer Kitchen is a story about survival. It is about a woman who discovers that with the right people in her life, not only can she survive dire circumstances, but she can thrive! Summer Kitchen was not what I expected, but I was thrilled with what I read. Well written with strong character development, I cheered with Nora & Beatriz's success. Wonderful book!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

(66) Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (Audio book)

There are some people in this world who just have twisted minds. Would it be wrong of me to request that they all write fiction books like Gillian Flynn?

Not only has Gillian Flynn written the most superb, the most gritty novel that I have read in a long time, she has chosen to set the book in the city where I live. Ms Flynn is originally from the Kansas City area. She has gone back to the KC area in her book. Making Kansas City the present day home of her heroine, Libby Day.

Libby Day is the cult hero for many fans of the True Crime genre. She is the only living survivor of the grisly murder of her family when she was a small child, twenty-five years ago. Libby's testimony put her older brother, Ben in prison for the rest of his life for the crime. Now here it is is, twenty-five years later and Libby has finally spent the last of her "Donations" fund. She is out of money and has resorted to making appearances at conferences for money to live on.

It is at a conference in the Kansas City West Bottoms where Libby is first confronted with the possibility that her brother is innocent. Desperate for money, as well for the truth, Libby starts a journey that may end with consequences beyond her comprehension. Will the truth really set Libby free, or will it push her further down into the black hole that has been her life?

Gillian Flynn has written the most superb horror book. Written in alternating chapters of past and present, you see the events leading up to that gruesome night that ruined Libby Day's family. Forget scary movies, listen to Dark Places on Audio Book and you will have a hard time sleeping at night. The book is dark and twisted. Dark Places hits really close to home with, not only, the graphic and accurate depictions of present day Kansas City, but the farm crisis that plagued the Midwest during the 80's. I must give mad props to Ms Flynn. It is a rare treat to find an author that can have me coming to the wrong conclusion about a book.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My Favorite Things.

Just like any other hobby, readers can find a wide variety of items to fuel their addiction. It is my job as a book blogger, to enable you in your addiction.

Let me introduce you to the Floating Bookshelf. It is by far one of my favorite little inventions ever. I personally use the bookshelves to house my classics collection. I also take great joy in mystifying my guests, as they have no clue how these little creations work.

Nifty, aren't they? I also admit to having one in each of my bathrooms. The one in the master bath houses my more recent TBR books. And the one in the main bath houses an array of "Helpful, Humorous, & Odd" books that one might find entertaining while in the "library".

While they are not the most practical bookshelf, for those of use with hundreds and hundreds of books, they do work suitably for someone with very limited space. With the floating bookshelves, who needs art?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

(65) Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti

Loneliness can be the worst thing in the world. I know from experience that days can go by before you talk to another living soul. It can be soul crushing.

Loneliness is the motivation behind the meeting of Benny & Shrimp. They first lay eyes on each other at the cemetery. Shrimp, known to the rest of the world as Desiree, is there visiting her late husband and Benny is there visiting his parents. Two thirty-somethings alone in the world.

Several visits go by before Benny breaks the ice. Soon, the farmer and the librarian start a relationship where the only thing they have in common is the loneliness that darkens their world. Can a relationship survive and thrive when they have nothing in common?

Benny & Shrimp is a touching little novel. It is set in Europe, yet the message of loneliness, love and acceptance is universal. Reading about the struggles of these two human beings is so heartwarming. I found myself becoming emotionally invested in the happiness of these two people. Having recently reconnected with my own "Benny", I want to see everyone, fictional or otherwise, have the same "happy ever after" ending that I have been blessed with.

Benny & Shrimp is a little novel, barely 200 pages. But the story of Benny & Shrimp will make a huge impact on your heart.

Monday, August 3, 2009

(64) Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

I liked Addie Downs from the first moment I met her. She reminds me a little bit of me. Her homebody tendencies, her success at massive weight loss, her devotion to her brother. She is the kind of woman that I WOULD be best friends with.

So I was a little bit surprised when I met her childhood best friend, Valerie. They are complete opposites, as many best friends are, but even fifteen years later, their differences are still so great it is almost incomprehensible that they ever had anything in common.

On the night of their class reunion, Addie is shocked to open her door to find Valerie there, covered in blood. It has been fifteen years since they saw each other, yet Addie is the one Valerie turns to when she finds herself in trouble. Addie soon finds herself sucked back into the chaos that surrounds her once best friend. Will she allow Valerie to disrupt her life once again? Will Valerie be able to make up for all of the hurt she caused all of those years ago? And will Addie be able to forgive her?

While the book is called Best Friends Forever, I really question the title. Long lost friends, maybe. But fifteen years and a whole lot of pain makes the phrase "Best Friends Forever" really questionable. The book flashes around a bit, giving the back story of all of the key characters. Including the chief of police, Jordan Novick. The back story is crucial to understanding how all of the pieces fit together. And it really just makes me like Addie even more. I am thrilled with how the book ended. Thrilled. It gives me hope that "happy ever afters" may really happen.

I almost didn't read Best Friends Forever because I was not all that thrilled with Certain Girls. But I am so glad that I didn't let this sit on the shelf. I really enjoyed meeting Addie, and I think you will too, I hope that we get to see her again in the future.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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