Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Salon: Book Blogging

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

There is something that I have been meaning to address on the blog, so I'm going to take TSS to do so. There has been lots of buzz recently in the book blogging community over the issue of Advance Review Copies and whether the acceptance of them obligates one to a positive review (my brief opinion: it doesn't).

I have never gotten into the ARC process, simply because my reading list is full enough as it is, and I didn't want the responsibility of moving these to the top of my list to ensure a timely review. I was concerned that it could be a Pandora's Box for me...that once I opened that door, it would dominate my TBR list.

That said, with my experience in the book publishing industry, I completely understand the importance of ARCs in the reviewing process. I just have chosen to stay out of this particular arena.

This brings up another point. You will notice that my site features predominantly positive reviews. That is by design. When I launched this site, it was primarily as a means to provide recommendations to friends. I was reading so many books that they were starting to run together, so I started the blog to keep up with the great fiction I was reading and pass it along.

I quickly found that when I finished a book I didn't like, when I sat down to write the review, I questioned myself. If this is a book that I wouldn't recommend, why am I spending time writing a less-than-favorable review? (And, because I don't accept ARCs, I'm under no pressure to review every book I read, favorably or not.)

I address this because I have realized that the positive reviews could potentially discredit the site in a reader's in, "She couldn't possibly enjoy every book she's reading." I'm not...there are many books that I read and don't like, and many that I don't even finish. I'm just posting about the ones I want to recommend to others.

This is purely a personal decision, and I don't fault blogs with a mix of good and bad reviews at all. That is what makes this community so vibrant and diverse, that we have the freedom to craft our blogs as we choose to reflect our own personalities and objectives.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of other bloggers out there...good or bad! :)

Review: Kissing Games of the World

"You know what freedom is? It's something people say they want when they're afraid they can't have what we all really crave: somebody to love. You think love is just these little, these little kissing games of the world you play..."

In Kissing Games of the World, author Sandi Kahn Shelton details an unconventional family, making their way through life, without the typical parameters of what defines a household.

Jamie, an artist and a single mom, is raising her five-year-old son, Arley, in the same house as Harris, a 60-something construction worker raising his five-year-old grandson, Christopher, on his family's Connecticut farm.

The group came together in the most unlikely of ways, but despite the unusual conditions, their situation works...and there's nothing physical to it, despite what everyone in town speculates. Arley and Christopher are best friends, raised like brothers, with the four coming as close to a family as any of them has ever known.

The two have complicated pasts, with Jamie having moved to Connecticut to escape a relationship with an unpredictable graffiti artist who is unfit to parent their child, and Harris having taken on his grandson when his equally unpredictable son, Nate, is unable to raise him after his wife's sudden death. For Harris, it's a way to make right his past, having left his wife and young son years earlier.

But, when Harris up and dies one day from a heart attack, Jamie's carefully constructed world is thrown up in the air. Her permission to stay on in the house is questioned, especially when Nate returns to (somewhat reluctantly) collect his son and settle his father's estate. Nate is estranged from the family, having spent the past five years on the road as a successful salesman, but with no stability and no knowledge of how to reacquaint himself with his son and raise him in his chaotic lifestyle.

Nate takes Christopher on the road with him, and Jamie and Arley move back into her sister's condo...and they try to navigate in their new worlds, with hits and misses along the way.

This book is both heart-breaking and heart-warming, and Shelton's writing is immediately engaging and sustains itself throughout. She makes us care about all of these characters...and keep caring about them even through questionable decisions and actions.

There is a lot of emotion here, with the breakup of the two close-knit boys, each having already experienced a fair amount of loss in their short lifetimes. At its heart, though, are the journeys and evolutions of Jamie and Nate, as they struggle to find out who they really are and what they really want, and need, from life.

I'm going to have to go back and read Shelton's earlier work, What Comes After Crazy and A Piece of Normal now that she is on my radar. Highly recommended...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Waiting On" Wednesday: True Colors

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

True Colors
By Kristin Hannah
Publication Date: February 3

From Books a Million:

"The Grey sisters had only each other when their mother died years ago. Their father provided for them physically on Water's Edge, the ranch that had been in their family for three generations, each of them however, longed for their father's love. Winona, the oldest, knew early on that she could never get it. An overweight dreamer and reader, she didn't exhibit the kinds of talents and strengths her father valued. Vivi Anne, the youngest, had those things. And it was Vivi Anne who only ever saw a glimmer of their father's approval. When Vivi Anne makes a fateful decision to follow her heart, rather than take the route of a dutiful daughter, events are set in motion that will test the love and loyalties of the Grey sisters. With breathtaking pace and penetrating insight, this is a novel about sisters, vengeance, rivalry, betrayal and, ultimately, what it truly means to be a family."

This is a little "lighter" type of read for me, but I read Hannah's Firefly Lane earlier this year and really enjoyed it, so I have her latest on my list.

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Leave a comment with either the link to your own "Waiting On" Wednesday post or just your answer (if you don't have a blog).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: The Hour I First Believed

"Some explosion--as local as rifle fire, as worldwide as war--can set things reeling in a whole different direction, can cause a fork in the road. And one path may lead to disintegration, the other to a reordered world."

In The Hour I First Believed, author Wally Lamb anchors his plot in the reality of the Columbine High School tragedy, with in-depth details of the day itself and the back story of the events. However, from there, this book is all his own.

In the days before the shooting, narrator Caelum Quirk, an English teacher at the school, returns home to Connecticut to be by the side of his beloved aunt, the woman who helped raise him, after a stroke, from which she won't recover. While he is away, that fateful day occurs, and his wife, Maureen, a school nurse, is trapped in the library, hidden in a cabinet to escape the killers.

The aftermath of the incident is too much for Maureen to bear, and she develops a powerful addiction to medication as a coping mechanism. With their marriage faltering, Caelum, hoping to break the cycle, decides to move them to his family's farm, now his own, to start their life anew. However, they still have more tragedy ahead.

With this move, back in his childhood home, Caelum begins to discover more about his family, what his ancestry represented in history, far beyond what he already knew. Through detailed files within the house, he uncovers some startling and painful revelations.

This book is large in volume...and large in scope. I struggled about three-quarters of the way through, when the details of the past started to overwhelm the current storyline, as it spans several generations and goes into what I considered borderline-overkill detail. However, just when I started to fade, it kicked back in. Honestly, there is almost no way to summarize the plot justly...there are so many elements involved.

Lamb does a remarkable job at portraying the events at Columbine. The research that went into this book is both evident and impressive.

It is a heartbreaking look at what a survivor of such an incident must endure. At its heart, though, is the story of a man who realizes that his life wasn't what he thought and his journey to find both the truth and himself.

While this book lags in places, I still think it should be on everyone's must-read list. Lamb is one of those novelists whose quality begs you to read what he has written...even if if it took the better part of a decade for his latest release.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The School of Essential Ingredients

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The School of Essential Ingredients
By Erica Bauermeister
Publication Date: January 22

From Publishers Weekly:

"In this remarkable debut, Bauermeister creates a captivating world where the pleasures and particulars of sophisticated food come to mean much more than simple epicurean indulgence. Respected chef and restaurateur Lillian has spent much of her 30-something years in the kitchen, looking for meaning and satisfaction in evocative, delicious combinations of ingredients. Endeavoring to instill that love and know-how in others, Lillian holds a season of Monday evening cooking classes in her restaurant. The novel takes up the story of each of her students, navigating readers through the personal dramas, memories and musings stirred up as the characters handle, slice, chop, blend, smell and taste. Delivering memorable story lines and characters while seducing the senses, Bauermeister's tale of food and hope is certain to satisfy."

As a foodie, I'm definitely intrigued. I love it when the two things I love, reading and cooking, come together.

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Leave a comment with either the link to your own "Waiting On" Wednesday post or just your answer (if you don't have a blog).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Salon: 11-16

Another trade show trip this week, to Baltimore, but before I left, I got the much-anticipated new Wally Lamb novel, The Hour I First Believed.

I'm about 200 pages in (of 700+), and I feel like I have something great in my hands. Now that I'm back home and have some time in front of me, I can tell that reading this book is going to own my day.

After reading some good, better-than-good, and not-so-good novels lately, I had a "this book is going to be one to remember" feeling before I even read the first page, and it's not disappointing so far.

Ever had that feeling about a book before you've even started it?

Hope everyone is having a great Sunday!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Eat, Drink, and Be From Mississippi

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Eat, Drink, and Be From Mississippi
By Nanci Kincaid
Publication Date: January 6

From Amazon:

"Truely Noonan is the quintessential Southern boy made good. Like his older sister, Courtney, Truely left behind the slow, sweet life of Mississippi for jet-set San Francisco, where he earned a fortune as an Internet entrepreneur. Courtney and Truely each find happy marriages--until, as if cursed by success, those marriages start to crumble. Then their lives are interrupted by an unexpected stranger--a troubled teenager named Arnold, garrulous, charming, thuggishly dressed, and determined to move in to their world. Arnold turns their lives upside down--and in the process this unlikely trio becomes the family that each had been searching for. In the best Southern fiction tradition, Kincaid has brought us an inspiring story about finding the way home."

I read Kincaid's novel Balls, about the life of a wife of a Southern football coach, several years ago, and I'm looking forward to her latest. She absolutely captured the essence and intensity of SEC football, from a unique perspective. (And, I love the title of this one.)

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Leave a comment with either the link to your own "Waiting On" Wednesday post or just your answer (if you don't have a blog).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Salon: Cookbooks

I spent last week at a trade show in Houston, arriving home to find the new Barefoot Contessa cookbook waiting on me (Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics). I am a cookbook junkie, primarily those of a Southern variety, and I collect old Junior League cookbooks from the South. Sitting down with a good cookbook is just as satisfying to me as a good novel. This year was a good one for cookbooks, so I thought I'd share my six favorites from 2008:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Very Valentine

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Very Valentine
By Adriana Trigiani
Publication Date: February 3

From Publishers Weekly:

"This first-in-a-trilogy is a valentine to Manhattan's picturesque West Village, starring a boisterous and charmingly contentious Italian-American family. Valentine Roncalli, adrift after a failed relationship and an aborted teaching career, becomes an apprentice to her 80-year-old grandmother, Teodora Angelini, at the tiny family shoe business. While Valentine struggles to come up with a financial plan—and shoe design—to bring the Old World operation into the 21st century, her brother, Alfred, is pushing Gram to retire and sell her building for $6 million. It's not all business for Valentine, of course: handsome and sophisticated Roman Falconi, owner and chef at a posh restaurant, is vying for her heart. This genteel and lush tale of soles and souls has loads of charm and will leave readers eager for the sequel."

As a huge fan of the Big Stone Gap books, I am thrilled that she's coming back with another series.

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Leave a comment with either the link to your own "Waiting On" Wednesday post or just your answer (if you don't have a blog).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Review: I See You Everywhere

In I See You Everywhere, author Julia Glass takes readers on the journeys of two sisters, as different as possible, over 25 years, from their early 20s to middle age.

Older sister Louisa Jardine is the smart one, the practical one, neurotic, an artist who dreams of a stable life and family.

Clem Jardine, on the other hand, is a rebel, a nomad, an animal lover, the favorite of her parents, daring, reckless with hearts, scornful of a conventional existence.

Told in alternating voices, the story carries the sisters over multitudes of cities, men (and more men), jobs, and crises. Neither one wants the life the other one has, and they struggle to find common ground. Theirs is a fractured relationship, but just as easily as they are pulled apart, they are drawn back together again.

Louisa finally settles in New York, Clem in Wyoming, but their lives are far from stable. Each has more struggles ahead of them, more adversity to face, and they will need each other more than ever.

I wondered how the book would end, as their lives continued to change over time, and it came to a dramatic conclusion that took my breath away.

I love novels about sisters and the ever-evolving nature of the relationship. The parameters are constantly changing, responding to the various stages in life. Roles reverse, leadership shifts.

When I was in college and my sister in high school, we had one relationship. When she got married and I was still dating, we had another. She became a mother and I became a wife within two months of each other, and with those two big changes, our relationship changed yet again.

Accurately characterizing the relationships between women, particularly family members, without being trite is no small feat, and Glass is adept at this portrayal. She does a brilliant job at breaking down the complexities of sisters and how the dynamic between them changes over the years.