Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Salon: Labor Day Weekend

I hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend! What are you currently reading?

Not only do we get an extra day off work, but this weekend also kicked off the start of college football season. It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Don't forget that this is the last day to place your vote for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week Blog Awards. Details here.

Also, this past week, I posted another "Waiting On" Wednesday preview (here) and a review of Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons (here).

With Hurricane Gustav looming in the Gulf, it's a little strange that I'm starting City of Refuge by Tom Piazza today, given its premise:

"From the award-winning novelist and author of "Why New Orleans Matters" comes a breathtaking novel of two families, one white and one black, whose lives are torn apart by Hurricane Katrina, and then pieced back together again in ways they couldn't have imagined."

Readers of this blog will know how strongly I feel about New Orleans, and memories of watching the Katrina aftermath are rushing through my head. Prayers abound for these residents...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Review: Off Season

Let me preface this review by saying that I'm a huge Anne Rivers Siddons fan. A few years ago, I set about tracking down first editions of all of her novels, and I cherish them.

I think her early work (Outer Banks, Peachtree Road, Colony, Hill Towns) is her best...and I'm not afraid to say so. Anytime I see someone reading one of her recent books, I can't help but say, "If you like her writing, please be sure to go back and read her first few novels."

Her storytelling talent is undenied, and she has paved the way for many of today's female Southern novelists. She has a certain knack for creating consuming family dramas, weaving the tapestry of generations of secrets and quirky personalities, told through the backdrop of the particular uniqueness of the setting and delectable combinations of words (many a paragraph have made it into my quote book over the years).

I have had mixed feelings delving into her latest releases over the past decade or so, and I went into Off Season the same way. However, I was quickly sucked in to the rhythm and lyricism of Siddons' prose and had higher hopes.

When 60-something Lilly loses her spouse, Cam, she heads to familiar territory to grieve...her family's Maine summer retreat, Edgewater. The house has been the scene for many memories through Lilly's years, both tragic and redemptive.

The ocean there has always helped her breathe, and she looks to its restorative power to help her through the process. Her arrival there at once takes her back in her head to a pivotal summer, her 11th, and what transpired in her life both then and afterwards.

Having relived those years in her mind, she must then live out the summer of her retreat from her Washington, D.C., life following her widowhood. While there, she uncovers surprises and revelations about her marriage, along with a voice other than her own whispering encouragement and providing company to her vast solitude.

(Note: I don't like books about ghosts. But, this seemed innocuous enough early on.)

I absolutely will not spoil the ending for you except to say that I really enjoyed this book up until the last 30 or so pages. I'm really interested in reading what others have to say about this novel, especially longtime ARS fans.

Closing the cover still convinced me that the books of hers I loved the most are still the ones I love the most. I may just have to pick up one and re-read it to remind me why.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

My Friend Amy is hosting an upcoming Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and it includes awards!

From her site:
It's time to open nominations for Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards 2008!

Listed below are the categories of awards.

Nominate up to two blogs per category and send an email with your choices to:


You DO NOT have to have a blog to make nominations.

Nominations will close on August 31st.

And the categories for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards 2008 are:

Best General Book Blog
Best Kidlit Blog
Best Christian/Inspirational Fiction Blog
Best Literary Fiction Blog
Best Book Club Blog
Best Romance Blog
Best Thrillers/Mystery/Suspense Blog
Best Non-fiction Blog
Best Young Adult Lit Blog
Best Book/Publishing Industry Blog
Best Challenge Host
Best Community Builder
Best Cookbook Blog
Best History/Historical Fiction Blog
Best Design
Most Chatty
Most Concise
Most Eclectic Taste
Best Name for a Blog
Best Published Author Blog
Best Book published in 2008
Best Meme/Carnival/Event
Most Extravagant Giveaways
Best Book Community site

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Testimony

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

By Anita Shreve
Publication Date: October 21


"At a New England boarding school, a sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape. A Pandora's box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voices--those of the men, women, teenagers, and parents involved in the scandal--that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment."

Shreve is one of the most consistent authors I know, and I'm always anxious to get my hands on her latest. The subject matter here sounds like a darker departure for her, so it will be interesting to see how it compares to her previous work.

What are you looking forward to reading?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Salon: Back From Vacation

I missed last week's Salon, as I was at the beach. I thought I wouldn't get much reading done, with three little nieces running around, but I got in a couple of books:

Somebody Else's Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage (review here)

Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden (review here)

I've also started "Waiting On" Wednesday, which profiles a soon-to-be-released book that I'm much anticipating. I'd love to have book bloggers participate each week. It's another great way to build our TBR lists.

It's a rainy Sunday here in Birmingham, as we're feeling the effects of Tropical Storm Fay. I desperately need an "at home" day, so I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with Off Season, the latest from Anne Rivers Siddons, one of my all-time favorite Southern writers.

Hope everyone has had a great week! I'm looking forward to reading what you've all been reading.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Libraries

This week's question is right up my alley:

"Whether you usually read off of your own book pile or from the library shelves NOW, chances are you started off with trips to the library. (There’s no way my parents could otherwise have kept up with my book habit when I was 10.) So …What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have you any funny/odd memories of the library?"

I remember everything about going to the library when I was a child. I can still see my little brown plastic card, with my own name on it...I was so proud. I remember the smell of the building, the names and faces of the librarians, the exact layout. It's not there anymore, but it's frozen in my mind.

Our city's library used to be right by the pool, and my strongest memories are of my mother taking us by there on the way home from swimming during the summer. I remember going down the aisles in my coverup and flip flops, with damp hair and chlorine-scented skin, as I made my selections, savoring the thought of being home soon, in dry clothes and surrounded by books.

Can you tell I loved the library just a little bit? :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Waiting On" Wednesday: I See You Everywhere

I have decided to start a weekly post spotlighting a soon-to-be-released book that I'm much anticipating. Hopefully, this will be another opportunity to share ideas for our TBR lists.

This week's selection is:

I See You Everywhere
By Julia Glass

Publication Date: October 14

From Publishers Weekly:

"The fictional palate of Julia Glass, bestselling author of 2002's Three Junes, is one of dog-breeding women and foxhunts, tony Manhattan galleries and boutiques, European travel and haute-cuisine chefs. In common with Rebecca Wells's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood franchise, Glass's third novel, I See You Everywhere, has female bonding among the landed gentry, a focus on relationships, and devil-may-care, enigmatically charming women of great romantic allure."

I loved the author's second novel, The Whole World Over, so I'm really looking forward to her latest.

What upcoming book are you looking forward to reading?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Review: Somebody Else's Daughter

What if you could go back and check in on a decision you made to see if it was the right one?

That's the heart of Somebody Else's Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage, a novel that explores one man's desire to make sure that the choice he made to give his daughter up for adoption 17 years ago was indeed the best decision.

In 1998, after their daughter's birth, Nate and Cat drive from San Francisco to Massachusetts to give their daughter a better life. Suffering from AIDS, Cat dies in the driveway just after handing Willa over to a wealthy couple sure to raise her in better conditions.

Years later, having turned his life around, Nate decides to take a teaching job at the very school his daughter attends, hoping just for an anonymous glimpse to reaffirm his decision to place her in more capable hands.

The Berkshires is a haven for new lives and for burying secrets. Willa's adoptive parents, the wealthy Goldings, have a fortune built on a secret profession. The school's headmaster, Jack Heath, is also there under a cloud of a hidden and dangerous past. Rounding out the main players is Claire Squire, an artist who has come home to inherit her father's estate, starting over for herself and her teenage son.

As the characters' lives come together in this small town, the novel builds to an anxious ending, as all of the secrets are revealed, some with positive outcomes and others disastrous.

Brundage is a skilled storyteller, and she weaves the players together in a breathtaking manner, forming an intersection of characters that points certainly toward a dramatic conclusion.

I read this book in one sitting, ignoring pretty much everything around me and holding my place in the book when I needed to take my breath for one minute before continuing on.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Review: Babylon Rolling

"We choose New Orleans. We love a place that cannot be saved by levees. We are brilliant losers. But, of course, those of us living Uptown on Orchid Street do not know this yet. Katrina is a year away."

I'm a frequent visitor to New Orleans...I love the history, the language, the food, the diversity of the residents, the sense of being in a place unlike any other. Many people can't get past the debauchery and think that's all the city has to offer, but they're wrong. Such is my love affair with the city that when I see a book about it, especially a novel, I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden examines the lives of a melting pot of families on one street in uptown New Orleans. The novel brings together a mix of races and origins, all forming their own community within their own little square of the Big Easy. The book examines the lives of residents beyond the parade route, beyond the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, beyond the tourist havens...those getting up and going to work and living normal lives in an anything-but-normal city.

Five families form the narrative, ranging from a transplanted family from Minnesota, a new-to-the-neighborhood Indian family, a couple in the midst of a cancer battle, a large family with a host of troubled children, and long-time residents just trying to keep the peace.

Despite their proximity to one another, they're all living largely separate lives, until one accident changes the landscape of the street forever. With it, both physical and psychological damage is inflicted, and the neighbors must come together like never before.

The title of the book refers to a Mardi Gras parade: "Babylon rolling, the marching bands drumming..." although Mardi Gras is the least of this book's focus. It's an in-depth look into the uniqueness of the culture of this Southern city, and what happens when relationships cross lines of demarcation.

Let me say that this book is not for the faint of heart. It's a gritty and tragic story...a collision course headed to no good end, but the story line is so engaging that it pulls you through to see how these characters will fare. It's no surprise that it's written by one of the city's outsider could capture the personalities and the area so precisely.

It's by no means a beach read, but if you're looking for a character-rich drama set in this famed Southern city, don't pass this one up.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Salon: Calling for Vacation Suggestions

I spent my reading time this week finishing America America (review here), which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I'm currently reading What Happened to Anna K., and it's off to a good start. It's looks like a quick read, so expect a review (probably) tomorrow.

Okay, now to the heart of the post. I'm leaving later this week for a long-weekend beach vacation, and I need help with my reading material. Here's what I have on hand:

Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Review: America America

"When you've been involved in something like this, no matter how long ago it happened, no matter how long it's been absent from the news, you're fated, nonetheless, to always search it out. To be on alert for it, somehow, every day of your life."

So begins America America by Ethan Canin, a drama that takes readers behind the scenes of an influential New England family, a presidential campaign, and the secrets that are inevitable when ambition, money, and vanity combine.

In Saline, New York, the power lies squarely with one family, the Metareys, who own the most land, run nearly all of the town's businesses, and employ the majority of its citizens. When Corey Sifter, whose family lives on Metarey land and whose father works on Metarey projects, gets called over to the main estate to work on the land himself as a teenager, it's a pivotal point in his young life.

As time progresses and Corey forms relationships with members of the Metarey clan, he finds himself immersed in their inner circle. It's at a critical time, too, for the family becomes involved in a powerful senator's bid against President Nixon that will change everything...and everyone.

The family's generosity paves the way for Corey's future, including his schooling, but that generosity also comes with a debt, one that will inevitably have to be paid. That debt is called in one night, in the form of a single, split-second event that Corey Sifter will reflect on for the rest of his life.

This is a powerful story, told in flashbacks from the early seventies to the present, between Corey as a young man and Corey as an adult, now a father. It's a dichotomy between the upper class and the working class, and what happens when someone moves from one world to the other, if in location only. It's a novel of loyalty and fierce admiration for someone outside of one's own family, a benefactor generous beyond imagination. And, it's a cautionary tale of what happens when power trumps the truth.

There was a lot of this book, in its style, that reminded me of Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. If you like Russo's work, it's a pretty safe bet you'll like Ethan Canin. It's the kind of book I'm immediately drawn to, a sweeping family drama spanning years and exposing secrets, and it did not disappoint.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday Finds: August 8

I usually have several additions to my TBR when I read Publisher's Weekly every Monday morning, but this week yielded just one new find.

By Nicholas Coleridge
Publication Date: September 2
From PW: In this sweeping drama, Coleridge zeroes in on a charismatic tycoon whose desires and drive know no bounds. Told through his godchildren's eyes over the course of three decades, his illicit passions and activities come to startling life, as well as the extraordinary impact he has on his charges, despite the paucity of their interactions. Coleridge's latest family epic will hold readers spellbound.

It was a good library week, as four new books came my way:

First was What Happened to Anna K., which was the subject of last week's Friday Finds entry (here). I'm glad I didn't have to wait long for it...looks like a great read.


The Romantics b
y Galt Niederhoffer
"A wry observer of cultural and social mores, Galt Niederhoffer creates a pitch-perfect group of characters and a winning novel about friendship, class, and love." (book jacket)

Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden
"A glittering, gritty, and unflinching story of five families--black, white, and Indian--living along one block of Uptown, New Orleans" (book jacket)

My House on First Street by Julia Reed
Another New Orleans story, this one a memoir. The author also just released another memoir (within two weeks of each other): Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialities, which my mom just passed along to me.

What came on your radar and/or into your home this week?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Author Interview: Amy Shearn

I reviewed How Far Is the Ocean from Here (here) last week, and author Amy Shearn graciously agreed to answer a few questions for the blog.

What was your motivation behind the story?
When I started writing the book I really only had an image in mind -- this pregnant woman driving through the desert. (It now seems like an obvious metaphor, though it didn't to me at the time!) And I knew that somehow the baby wasn't hers, whatever that meant. So the first draft was all about me figuring out this puzzle I'd set up for myself.

But I'd also been thinking a lot about why people make bad, self-destructive decisions. It's a great mystery, when you think about it -- why do we do things we know are wrong? So in Susannah I was trying to explore this idea. And at the same time, I'd been writing all these short stories about people trying and failing to care for each other, and this is obviously one of the book's preocupations, too. How can people really care for each other? Do they, ever?

What do you want readers to take from the book? What's the "lesson learned," so to speak, in your mind?
Hm. What a good question. I don't know! I guess I don't think of writing in that way -- I didn't really have a lesson or moral or anything in mind. I like the idea that people might have sympathy for all these damaged weirdos in the book. Most of all I just hope people find something in the book they enjoy. A wise professor once told me to write the book I wanted to read, and that's really all I was trying to do.

What are you currently reading?
I've been making my way through the Collected Short Stories of Flannery O'Connor. She's someone I'd always been told to read and hadn't really, and I'm really in awe of her stories and characters and sly way with language. I'm also reading Charles Baxter's wonderful and sensitive novel Shadow Play,which is one of his only books I hadn't read yet (he was a professor of mine in grad school), and Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances, an immensely smart, funny, enjoyable read.

What books inspired you?
This is going to sound funny, but Moby Dick was a big inspiration. I had a copy on my writing desk and would open it up when I felt myself losing my nerve. Some of the passages in the book are even patterned after the language in Moby Dick. I just love how fearless and big-hearted and messy that novel is. The same goes for Virginia Woolf's very funny novel Orlando. I've always been a big Woolf fan and a lot of the dipping in and out of persepctives in my book owes a debt to her brilliant Mrs. Dalloway. But I'm also inspired by contemporary novels that play with language in interesting ways -- I'm a big fan of writers like Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Samantha Hunt, and Kathryn Davis.

What's ahead for you?
I'm working on another novel. I'm a bit supersitious about discussing current projects -- I'm afraid I'll lose interest if I talk about them -- but I will say that I think it's very different from HFITOFH. It's a whole other puzzle I've set up for myself.

Thanks so much, Amy!

You can visit her on her Web site here.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Salon: August 3

Good morning, Saloners! I've had a full week of reading and blogging.

Here's a recap:

Two new books came my way this week, so reviews will be forthcoming:

America, America by Ethan Canin
"A stunning novel, set in a small town during the Nixon era and today, about America and family, politics and tragedy, and the impact of fate on a young man’s life." (Amazon)

Good-bye and Amen by Beth Gutcheon
"In a summer cottage on the coast of Maine, an unlikely love was nurtured, a marriage endured, and a family survived. Now it is time for the children of that marriage to make peace with the wounds and the treasures left to them. And to sort out which is which." (Amazon)

What books came your way this week?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday Finds: August 1

Should Be Reading has started a new weekly event called Friday Finds:
The weekly FRIDAY FINDS event asks you to share about the new-to-you books you found during the week — books you either want to add to your TBR (to be read) list, or that you just heard about that sounded interesting.

I'm going to narrow this to my "favorite" new find of the week, and that is:

By Irina Reyn
Publication Date: August 12

A mesmerizing debut novel that reimagines Tolstoy's classic tragedy, Anna Karenina, for our time

What new books did you add to your TBR list this week?