Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You can't buy happiness...

(Credit to Belcastro Agency)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Giveaways in Blogworld (02-27-12 edition)

NOTE: A reminder that you are free to email me about any giveaways that you are having, if you want me to blog them, and I'll be happy to try to post them even if I am not entering them. Just include a link to the giveaway, what you are giving away, how many copies are being given away, and the deadline in order to assure being included. Email me at nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com.

Here is a list of some giveaways going on in Blogworld*. Please note that new giveaways that were added this week are indented in Blockquotes:
Mike Draper in Guilford is giving away Oath of Office. Deadline is February 29th. US/Canada only.
Rex Robot Reviews is giving away a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card, and as a second gift two surprise books! Deadline is March 5th. US only.
Fodor's is giving away your choice out of five beach bag reads. Deadline is (I think) March 6th. US only.
Mike Draper in Guilford is giving away Bleed for Me. Deadline is March 12th. US/Canada only.
Berkley-Jove gives away a selection of their previously released books every month!

After Midnight Fantasies has regular monthly romance giveaways!

Bookbitch has regular monthly thriller giveaways!

Elizabeth Lowell has a monthly giveaway!

Bookreporter has monthly giveaways!

Author Carla Neggers has a monthly giveaway!

Author James Patterson has regular giveaways!
*Courtesy Note: Please keep in mind the many, many hours of work that goes into me compiling this list each week (when I'm on top of it). Please be courteous and thoughtful, and do not steal my text. Either recreate your own list, or link to this list and direct your readers here for giveaway information. Thank you so much for your consideration!

Mailbox Monday (02-27-12 edition)

 Image licensed from bigstockphoto.com
Copyright stands

Mailbox Monday is now hosted monthly by a different blog. Here is the official blog of Mailbox Monday.  Here's what I've gotten over the last few weeks:

The Art of Devotion by Samanth Bruce-Benjamin
Won from Wall-to-Wall Books

In the tradition of bestselling authors Kate Morton and Daphne Du Maurier, Samantha Bruce-Benjamin’s brilliant and timeless debut unveils the dark side of human nature as four women share the poignant tale of love, obsession, and ultimate betrayal that binds them forever. 

Have we all not wished to keep forever the one person we love the most?
The secluded beaches of a sun-drenched Mediterranean island are the perfect playground for young Sebastian and Adora. Emotionally adrift from their mother, Adora shelters her sensitive older brother from the cruelties of the world. Sophie does not question her children’s intense need for one another until it’s too late. Her beloved son’s affections belong to Adora, and when he drowns in the sea, she has no one else to blame. 

Still heartbroken years later, Adora fills her emptiness with Genevieve, the precocious young daughter of her husband’s business associate and his jealous wife, Miranda. Thrilled to be invited into the beautiful and enigmatic Adora’s world, the child idolizes her during their summers together. Yet, as the years progress, Genevieve begins to suspect their charmed existence is nothing more than a carefully crafted illusion. Soon, she too is ensnared in a web of lies. 

Stunningly told in the tragic voices of four women whose lives are fatefully entangled, The Art of Devotion is evocative and haunting, a story of deceit, jealousy, and the heartbreaking reality of love’s true power.

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen
Won through Goodreads "First Reads"

When a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds' heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can't, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who've brought them. These spinster sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.

But back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn't change. It was the summer their priest, Father Rice, announced that God didn't exist and ran off to Mexico, and a boy named Asa finally caught Milly's eye. And, most unforgettably, it was the summer their cousin Bett came down from a town called Deadwater and changed the course of their lives forever.

Rebecca Rasmussen's masterfully written debut novel is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, and offers wonderful surprises at every turn.

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
Received through TLC Book Tours for review

When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to purchase Les Genevriers, an abandoned house in a rural hamlet in the south of France. As the beautiful Provence summer turns to autumn, Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lover and the run-down old house, in particular the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful first wife, Rachel. Whilst Eve tries to untangle the secrets surrounding Rachel's last recorded days, Les Genevriers itself seems to come alive. As strange events begin to occur with frightening regularity, Eve's voice becomes intertwined with that of Benedicte Lincel, a girl who lived in the house decades before. As the tangled skeins of the house's history begin to unravel, the tension grows between Dom and Eve. In a page-turning race, Eve must fight to discover the fates of both Benedicte and Rachel, before Les Genevriers' dark history has a chance to repeat itself.

Cover yet to be released
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
ARC received from Random House for review

 It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to young woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone, and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again.
It turned out I wasn’t alone in that particular progression.
From Anna Quindlen, #1 New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, comes this irresistible memoir about her life and the lives of women today. Candid, funny, moving, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is filled with the sharp insights and revealing observations that have long confirmed Quindlen’s status as America’s laureate of real life.

As she did in her beloved New York Times columns, and in A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Quindlen says for us here what we may wish we could have said ourselves. Using her past, present, and future to explore what matters most to women at different ages, Quindlen talks about
Marriage: “A safety net of small white lies can be the bedrock of a successful marriage. You wouldn’t believe how cheaply I can do a kitchen renovation.”

Girlfriends: “Real friends offer both hard truths and soft landings and realize that it’s sometimes more important to be nice than to be honest.”

Our bodies: “I’ve finally recognized my body for what it is, a personality-delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in the years to come. It’s like a car, and while I like a red convertible or even a Bentley as well as the next person, what I really need are four tires and an engine.”

Parenting: “Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward: We are good parents, not so they will be loving enough to stay with us, but so they will be strong enough to leave us.”

From childhood memories to manic motherhood to middle age, Quindlen uses the events of her own life to illuminate our own. Along with the downsides of age, she says, can come wisdom, a perspective on life that makes it both satisfying and even joyful. So here’s to lots of candles, plenty of cake.

The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry
Received from author for review

The Earthquake Machine tells the story of 14 year-old Rhonda. On the outside, everything looks perfect in Rhonda's world but at home Rhonda has to deal with a manipulative father who keeps her mentally ill mother hooked on pharmaceuticals. The only reliable person in Rhonda's life is her family's Mexican yardman, Jes s. But when the INS deports Jes?'s back to his home state of Oaxaca, Rhonda is left alone with her increasingly painful family situation. Determined to find her friend Jes s, Rhonda seizes an opportunity to run away during a camping trip with friends. She swims to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and makes her way to the border town of Boquillas, Mexico. There a peyote-addled bartender convinces her she won't be safe traveling alone into the country's interior. So with the bartender's help, Rhonda cuts her hair and assumes the identity of a Mexican boy named Angel. She then sets off on a burro across the desert to look for Jes s. Thus begins a wild adventure that explores the borders between the United States and Mexico, adolescence and adulthood, male and female, English and Spanish, and adult coming-of-age and Young Adult novels.
(I chose to get The Earthquake Machine in e-book form, since I just purchased my first e-reader, and expect it to be delivered this week! Yay!)

These books were purchased from Barnes and Noble, in anticipation of our upcoming annual reading festival and book signings with the authors:

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Ninety-five days, and then I'll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It's hard to be patient. It's hard not to be afraid while I'm still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn't touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.

Lauren Oliver astonished readers with her stunning debut, "Before I Fall." In a starred review, "Publishers Weekly" called it "raw, emotional, and, at times, beautiful. An end as brave as it is heartbreaking." Her much-awaited second novel fulfills her promise as an exceptionally talented and versatile writer.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that 'The Devil in the White City' is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.

Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison.

The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims.

 The Space Between Us by Thrifty Urmrigar

Poignant, evocative, and unforgettable, The Space Between Us is an intimate portrait of a distant yet familiar world. Set in modern-day India, it is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years. A powerful and perceptive literary masterwork, author Thrity Umrigar's extraordinary novel demonstrates how the lives of the rich and poor are intrinsically connected yet vastly removed from each other, and how the strong bonds of womanhood are eternally opposed by the divisions of class and culture.

What an awesome collection of books!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Take the Plunge! New low prices on B&N Nook!

Well, I finally took the plunge and ordered myself a Nook Tablet today after learning yesterday of their new lower prices.

Get an 8 GB Nook Tablet now for $199, or a 16 GB Nook Tablet for $50 more.

Or grab a Nook Color, now at the very affordable price of $169.

If you have a Barnes and Noble membership, you can save an additional $25 when ordering online, with free expedited shipping! You just can't beat it!

Check out the Barnes and Noble website for more information about all of their Nook products.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

CHALLENGE: 2012 Books Won Challenge

I've been wary of committing to too many challenges this year, as I tend to do so poorly on them. However this is one that I can't pass up! The 2012 Books Won Challenge is hosted by Teddy of So Many Precious Books, So Little Time.

This challenge is intended to motivate us to read some of those books that we've been lucky enough to have won. I know I am in dire need of such motivation!

The Levels are:

Honorable Mention: Read 1-3 book you won.
Bronze: Read 4-6 books you won.
Silver: Read 7-9 Books you won.
Gold: Read 10 or more books you won.

The Rules: 
     1. You must write a review for each book that you read for it to count.  If you do not have a blog you can write your reviews on a place like Amazon, Powell's, Chapters, Goodreads, etc.

     2.Crossovers with other challenges are okay and you can join this challenge anytime throughout the year.

     3. Audiobooks and ebooks count, as long as you won them. 

     4. You can change up levels but cannot go back down a level.  

     5. You don't have to make a list ahead of time for this challenge but you can if you want to.
I am going for Bronze. Here are some of the books on my list to read...
  1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  3. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  4. Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
  5. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  6. All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann
So let's get to them! 

  1. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  2. Divergent by Veronica Roth 
  3. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh 
  4. The Warmest December by Bernice McFadden 
  5. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian 
  6. The Names of Things by John Colmon Wood

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays (02-21-12 edition)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Today's Teaser:

He said nothing, but dug his long thumbnails into the flesh of my bare leg with the kind of gleeful ferocity he usually reserved for killing and skinning small animals.

"You don't ever tell," he hissed. A warm, acrid trail of smoke escaped from the side of his mouth, the nails embedded sharper. "If you don't want this every day."

-- The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, pg. 71

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book Giveaways in Blogworld (02-18-12 edition)

NOTE: A reminder that you are free to email me about any giveaways that you are having, if you want me to blog them, and I'll be happy to try to post them even if I am not entering them. Just include a link to the giveaway, what you are giving away, how many copies are being given away, and the deadline in order to assure being included. Email me at nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com.

Here is a list of some giveaways going on in Blogworld*. Please note that new giveaways that were added this week are indented in Blockquotes:
I Am a Reader, Not a Writer is celebrating her 1,000,000th page view, and giving away $50 in books! Deadline is March 6th. International!
*Courtesy Note: Please keep in mind the many, many hours of work that goes into me compiling this list each week (when I'm on top of it). Please be courteous and thoughtful, and do not steal my text. Either recreate your own list, or link to this list and direct your readers here for giveaway information. Thank you so much for your consideration!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

VOTE! for Zook

My dog Zook is in a pet photo contest, and trying to raise money for spay/neuter while he's at it. We'd love it if anyone who has a spare few dollars to donate would swing by and vote at the same time! The contest runs through 2/29/12. Just click the button located top-right column to go there. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book Bloggers and Publishers Online Conference 2012

It's almost time once again for the Book Bloggers and Publishers Online Conference (BBOPC). This conference brings together bloggers, publishers, and authors, in order to "help us advance communication" between them.

I attended this conference last year, and I found it highly informative. One of the things that I loved was the fact that the discussions remain posted for about a month, so you can come back and listen to them later.

Attendees can also request some free books provided by the publishers. I see there aren't too many this year to interest me, as the majority of them are paranormal and romance, neither of which hold much interest for me. However I found the conference informative enough last year to justify attending, even if I wind up finding only a couple of books of interest.

Some of the topics that will be covered:
  • Where do Books Come From: Review Copy Distribution
  • What Authors look for in Reviews
  • What PR Departments do
  • Building a Relationship with Publishers
  • To Review or Not to Review Self-Pub
  • Book Blogging as a Business?
The fee to attend is $45, with a $7-10 fee for shipping books (shipping costs to be determined later). Sign up today!

REVIEW: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Lutrell with Patrick Robinson


Four US Navy SEALS departed one clear night in early July, 2005 for the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border for a reconnaissance mission. Their task was to document the activity of an al Qaeda leader rumored to have a small army in a Taliban stronghold. Five days later, only one of those Navy SEALS made it out alive. This is the story of the only survivor of Operation Redwing, SEAL team leader Marcus Luttrell, and the extraordinary firefight that led to the largest loss of life in American Navy SEAL history. His squadmates fought valiantly beside him until he was the only one left alive, blasted by an RPG into a place where his pursuers could not find him. Over the next four days, terribly injured and presumed dead, Luttrell crawled for miles through the mountains and was taken in by sympathetic villagers who risked their lives to keep him safe from surrounding Taliban warriors. A born and raised Texan, Marcus Luttrell takes us from the rigors of SEAL training, where he and his fellow SEALs discovered what it took to join the most elite of the American special forces, to a fight in the desolate hills of Afghanistan for which they never could have been prepared. His account of his squadmates' heroism and mutual support renders an experience for which two of his squadmates were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for combat heroism that is both heartrending and life-affirming. In this rich chronicle of courage and sacrifice, honor and patriotism, Marcus Luttrell delivers a powerful narrative of modern war.
  • ISBN-13: 9780316067591
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
  • Publication date: 6/12/2007
  • Pages: 400

About the Author

Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell joined the United States Navy in March 1999, became a combat-trained Navy SEAL in January 2002, and has served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He lives in Texas. Patrick Robinson is known for his best-selling US Navy-based novels and his autobiography of Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, One Hundred Days, was an international bestseller. He lives in England and spends his summers in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he and Luttrell wrote Lone Survivor.

My Thoughts

Good-byes tend to be curt among Navy SEALs. A quick backslap, a friendly bear hug, no one uttering what we're all thinking: Here we go again, guys, going to war, to another trouble spot, another half-assed enemy willing to try their luck against us...they must be out of their minds.
This book crosses many countries and cultures, but the heart of it takes place in the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan.

Marcus Lutrell is a Texas-boy through and through. Texans are a unique breed. Often arrogant and self-confident, yet warm and generous, Lutrell fits the bill. "Don't mess with Texas!"

Lutrell is raised in Texas by a tough father who pushes his boys to be their best-- and I mean pushes! They are pushed to give both their mental and physical best through constant training and drills, and at a young age Lutrell and his twin brother Morgan know that they want to become SEALs when they grow up. And both of them do just that. Lutrell joins the US Navy in 1999, and becomes a Navy SEAL in 2002.

On June 28, 2005, Lutrell and SEAL Team 10 are sent on a mission into Afghanistan to capture or kill whom he refers in the book to as Taliban leader Ben Sharmak, who the military had been tracking. However Wikipedia identifies the target as Mohammad Ismail alias Ahmad Shah, who survived the operation, but was later killed in 2008.

SEAL Team 10 consisted of Lutrell, Matthew Axelson, Michael Murphy (all visible in the image below) and Danny Dietz.

From left to right, STG2 Matthew G. Axelson; ITCS Daniel R. Healy, QM2 James Suh, HM2 Marcus Luttrell, MM2 Eric S. Patton, and Lt. Michael P. Murphy.
This mission was named Operation Redwing, and was carried out with absolute stealth. Hence the reason the SEALs were called in. With Murphy in command and Danny the prime communications guy, Lutrell and Axelson were assigned to be the snipers. Lutrell was also a trained medic.

The SEALs moved through the Hindu Kush mountains, eventually positioning themselves to watch the village where "Sharmack" was supposed to be located. While on surveillance, they are discovered by some goatherders. Everything in their guts tells them that the goatherders are friendly with the Taliban, and though unarmed, as soon as they are released they will run to inform the Taliban of the location of the SEAL team. A debate then follows between the team members as they must decide whether to let the herders leave, or execute them in order to secure their mission. There are issues either way. They hold a vote, and it is decided to let the herders go, almost certain that they will send the Taliban to kill the team.

Within 45 minutes or so, the Taliban has surrounded the team and they are engaged in a firefight. Over the next few hours the team is outnumbered probably 35 to 1, caught in a vicious firefight, wounded and pushed further and further down the mountain. There are great moments of heroism and bravery as one-by-one they are picked off. In the end, only Lutrell is still alive and on the run with the Taliban chasing him through the mountains.

Eventually he is found and taken in by a Pashtun tribe, and carried to their village where his wounds are treated and he is cared for. The tribe has an ancient tradition called lokhay. When they decide to extend their hospitality to a guest, they are bound to protect and care for that guest to the death. This pits them against the Taliban in securing the safety of Lutrell, and in their determination to return him to the Americans. Eventually they do just that.

The writing style was a little too relaxed for me. It was like I was sitting in a bar and listening to him talk over a beer. It was a little scattered and lacked very much structure. Additionally there is so much arrogance in the beginning that it could be a bit of a turnoff. But eventually I got used to the writing style and began to see the arrogance more as "confidence", and by the middle of the book I'd hit my groove.

However the one thing that kept bothering me was the continual derogatory attitude towards "liberals". I know Texans are staunchly conservative, but it would have been nice to see a little less bias and derogatory tone. It is quite evident that the author views liberals an enemy nearly paramount to the Taliban.

The details of the firefight are brutal. Movies portray people being shot and incapacitated quickly. You learn in this book that is not always the case. These guys were shot repeatedly, serious head, neck, back and stomach wounds, sometimes mortally shot, and they kept going. They kept fighting- for themselves, for their buddies, for their mission and their country.

The one thing that I missed in this book was the chance to really get to know these guys that died out on that mountain. However that didn't stop me from crying as I read of their bravery in the face of terror and pain.

There is a fair amount of vulgarity throughout this book. After all, there is a reason we refer to people as "talking like a sailor"!

Overall I would recommend this story-- for the middle. The beginning is a little too arrogant and brash, like a boy boasting of his conquests. The end a little too quiet as he recuperates and tours the US to visit with the family members of those who died in Operation Redwing. The middle, the heart of the story, is heart-wrenching and brutal and will have you in tears as you read what these boys went through and what they did for one another. Their love for one another is evident. Beautiful.

If you are intrigued by the Navy SEALs, if you don't shy away from brutality, if you can take the vulgarity and brashness, pick this one up. It will move you.


My Rating: 8 out of 10

Thursday, February 9, 2012

AUTHOR NEWS: Announcing new release by author Mary Burton and her recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies

Author Mary Burton is sharing one of her favorite cookie recipes. Fans of Mary Burton will also be excited to note that her latest book Before She Dies has just been released. Read more about it on her website and check out the great reviews on Goodreads.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Giveaways in Blogworld (02-07-12 edition)

NOTE: A reminder that you are free to email me about any giveaways that you are having, if you want me to blog them, and I'll be happy to try to post them even if I am not entering them. Just include a link to the giveaway, what you are giving away, how many copies are being given away, and the deadline in order to assure being included. Email me at nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com.

Here is a list of some giveaways going on in Blogworld*. Please note that new giveaways that were added this week are indented in Blockquotes:
Dr. Stravagante's Traveling Book Circus is giving away a book valued up to $25 from The Book Depository. Ends 2/14/12. International!
*Courtesy Note: Please keep in mind the many, many hours of work that goes into me compiling this list each week. Please be courteous and thoughtful, and do not steal my text. Either recreate your own list, or link to this list and direct your readers here for giveaway information. Thank you so much for your consideration.

Monday, February 6, 2012

GIVEAWAY: Follower Love Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Follower Love Giveaway Hop! This hop is co-hosted by Kathy at I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and Rachael Renee Anderson.

The object of this hop is to thank our followers for being there and...well...following! I know that I certainly appreciate you stopping by every now and then to say "hi"! If you are new here, take a quick look around and, if you like what you see, feel free to follow by one of the available means and come back again!

There will be two winners of this giveaway. The first winner will get their choice of book for $15 or less from The Book Depository. This giveaway is international as long TBD delivers to your area.

The second winner will get their choice of book from my own giveaway list. Most of the books on this list are brand new and unread. This giveaway is US/Canada only.

Just use the Rafflecopter form below to enter.

After you enter here, hop back over to Kathy's to continue on the hop. Thanks for stopping by!

Mailbox Monday (02-06-12 edition)

 Image licensed from bigstockphoto.com
Copyright stands

Mailbox Monday is now hosted monthly by a different blog. Here is the official blog of Mailbox Monday.  Here's what I've gotten over the last few weeks:

all different kinds of free by Jessica McCann
Won through LibraryThings Early Reviewers

A free woman of color in the 1830s, Margaret Morgan lived a life full of promise. One frigid night in Pennsylvania, that changed forever. They tore her family apart. They put her in chains. They never expected her to fight back. 

In 1837, Margaret Morgan was kidnapped from her home in Pennsylvania and sold into slavery. The state of Pennsylvania charged her kidnapper with the crime, but the conviction was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the first time a major branch of the federal government had made a pro-slavery stand, and the ruling in Prigg v. Pennsylvania sewed the bitter seeds of the states' rights battle that eventually would lead to the Civil War.

Yet, the heart of this story is not a historic Supreme Court ruling. It is the remarkable, unforgettable Margaret Morgan. Her life would never be the same. Her family had been torn apart. Uncaring forces abused her body and her heart. But she refused to give up, refused to stop fighting, refused to allow her soul to be enslaved.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisbarger
Won from Man of la Book

Praised by Alice Walker and many other bestselling writers, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is an award-winning debut novel with incredible heart about life on the prairie as it's rarely been seen. Reminiscent of The Color Purple, as well as the frontier novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather, it opens a window on the little-known history of African American homesteaders and gives voice to an extraordinary heroine who embodies the spirit that built America.

Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett
Won from Reviews from the Heart

A mother's faith, a child's courage, a doctor's dedication--a moving and thought-provoking tale of hope, love, and family.

He might be young, but Colm already recognizes the truth: that he's sick and not getting better. His mother, Cathleen, fiercely believes her faith will protect her ailing son, but Colm is not so sure. With a wisdom far beyond his years, Colm has come to terms with his probable fate, but he does have one special wish. He wants to meet his father who abandoned his beloved mother before Colm was born.

But the quest to find the dying boy's missing parent soon becomes a powerful journey of emotional discovery--a test of belief and an anxious search for proof of heaven.

A magnificent debut novel, Mary Curran Hackett's "Proof of Heaven" is a beautiful and unforgettable exploration of the power of love and the monumental questions of life, death, and the afterlife.

Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family's Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom by Yangzom Brauen
Won from Luxury Reading

A powerful, emotional memoir and an extraordinary portrait of three generations of Tibetan women whose lives are forever changed when Chairman Mao’s Red Army crushes Tibetan independence, sending a young mother and her six-year-old daughter on a treacherous journey across the snowy Himalayas toward freedom.

Kunsang thought she would never leave Tibet. One of the country's youngest Buddhist nuns, she grew up in a remote mountain village where, as a teenager, she entered the local nunnery. Though simple, Kunsang's life gave her all she needed: a oneness with nature and a sense of the spiritual in all things. She married a monk, had two children, and lived in peace and prayer. But not for long. There was a saying in Tibet: "When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth." The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 changed everything. When soldiers arrived at her mountain monastery, destroying everything in their path, Kunsang and her family fled across the Himalayas only to spend years in Indian refugee camps. She lost both her husband and her youngest child on that journey, but the future held an extraordinary turn of events that would forever change her life--the arrival in the refugee camps of a cultured young Swiss man long fascinated with Tibet. Martin Brauen will fall instantly in love with Kunsang's young daughter, Sonam, eventually winning her heart and hand, and taking mother and daughter with him to Switzerland, where Yangzom will be born.

Many stories lie hidden until the right person arrives to tell them. In rescuing the story of her now 90-year-old inspirational grandmother and her mother, Yangzom Brauen has given us a book full of love, courage, and triumph,as well as allowing us a rare and vivid glimpse of life in rural Tibet before the arrival of the Chinese. Most importantly, though, ACROSS MANY MOUNTAINS is a testament to three strong, determined women who are linked by an unbreakable family bond.

Then Again by Diane Keaton
Won from NY Journal of Books

Mom loved adages, quotes, slogans. There were always little reminders pasted on the kitchen wall. For example, the word THINK. I found THINK thumbtacked on a bulletin board in her darkroom. I saw it Scotch-taped on a pencil box she’d collaged. I even found a pamphlet titled THINK on her bedside table. Mom liked to THINK.

So begins Diane Keaton’s unforgettable memoir about her mother and herself. In it you will meet the woman known to tens of millions as Annie Hall, but you will also meet, and fall in love with, her mother, the loving, complicated, always-thinking Dorothy Hall. To write about herself, Diane realized she had to write about her mother, too, and how their bond came to define both their lives. In a remarkable act of creation, Diane not only reveals herself to us, she also lets us meet in intimate detail her mother. Over the course of her life, Dorothy kept eighty-five journals—literally thousands of pages—in which she wrote about her marriage, her children, and, most probingly, herself. Dorothy also recorded memorable stories about Diane’s grandparents. Diane has sorted through these pages to paint an unflinching portrait of her mother—a woman restless with intellectual and creative energy, struggling to find an outlet for her talents—as well as her entire family, recounting a story that spans four generations and nearly a hundred years.

More than the autobiography of a legendary actress, Then Again is a book about a very American family with very American dreams. Diane will remind you of yourself, and her bonds with her family will remind you of your own relationships with those you love the most.

The Expats by Chris Pavone
(Received from Random House. I don't know how I came to have it.)

Kate Moore is a working mother, struggling to make ends meet, to raise children, to keep a spark in her marriage . . . and to maintain an increasingly unbearable life-defining secret. So when her husband is offered a lucrative job in Luxembourg, she jumps at the chance to leave behind her double-life, to start anew.

She begins to reinvent herself as an expat, finding her way in a language she doesn’t speak, doing the housewifely things she’s never before done—play-dates and coffee mornings, daily cooking and unending laundry. Meanwhile, her husband works incessantly, doing a job Kate has never understood, for a banking client she’s not allowed to know. He’s becoming distant and evasive; she’s getting lonely and bored.

Then another American couple arrives. Kate soon becomes suspicious that these people are not who they claim to be, and terrified that her own past is catching up to her. So Kate begins to dig, to peel back the layers of deception that surround her. She discovers fake offices and shell corporations and a hidden gun; a mysterious farmhouse and numbered accounts with bewildering sums of money; a complex web of intrigue where no one is who they claim to be, and the most profound deceptions lurk beneath the most normal-looking of relationships; and a mind-boggling long-play con threatens her family, her marriage, and her life.

I also won a pack of 15 copies of Swamplandia! for my book club, as well as a Skype chat with the author Karen Russell:

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Won from Reading Group Center

A New York Times Best Book of the YearOne of Granta's Best Young American NovelistsSelected for the New Yorker's 20 Under 40Nominated for the Orange Prize Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness. As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality.
Thanks to everyone!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

DNF (Did Not Finish): The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips


The Tragedy of Arthur is an emotional and elaborately constructed tour de force from bestselling and critically acclaimed novelist Arthur Phillips, “one of the best writers in America” (The Washington Post).

Its doomed hero is Arthur Phillips, a young man struggling with a larger-than-life father, a con artist who works wonders of deception but is a most unreliable parent. Arthur is raised in an enchanted world of smoke and mirrors where the only unshifting truth is his father’s and his beloved twin sister’s deep and abiding love for the works of William Shakespeare—a love so pervasive that Arthur becomes a writer in a misguided bid for their approval and affection.

Years later, Arthur’s father, imprisoned for decades and nearing the end of his life, shares with Arthur a treasure he’s kept secret for half a century: a previously unknown play by Shakespeare, titled The Tragedy of Arthur. But Arthur and his sister also inherit their father’s mission: to see the play published and acknowledged as the Bard’s last great gift to humanity. . . .

Unless it’s their father’s last great con.

By turns hilarious and haunting, this virtuosic novel—which includes Shakespeare’s (?) lost King Arthur play in its five-act entirety—captures the very essence of romantic and familial love and betrayal. The Tragedy of Arthur explores the tension between storytelling and truth-telling, the thirst for originality in all our lives, and the act of literary mythmaking, both now and four centuries ago, as the two Arthurs—Arthur the novelist and Arthur the ancient king—play out their individual but strangely intertwined fates.

About the Author

Arthur Phillips was born in Minneapolis and educated at Harvard. He has been a child actor, a jazz musician, a speechwriter, a dismally failed entrepreneur, and a five-time Jeopardy! champion.

His first novel, Prague, was named a New York Times Notable Book, and received The Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Award for best first novel. His second novel, The Egyptologist, was an international bestseller, and was on more than a dozen “Best of 2004” lists. Angelica, his third novel, made The Washington Post best fiction of 2007 and led that paper to call him "One of the best writers in America."  The Song Is You was a New York Times Notable Book, on the Post's best of 2009 list, and inspired Kirkus to write, "Phillips still looks like the best American novelist to have emerged in the present decade."

His fifth book, The Tragedy of Arthur, was published April, 2011, to critical acclaim, including being named a New York Times Notable Book.

The play taken from that book received its world premiere reading at New York's Public Theater in 2011 and is being developed for a full stage production.

His work has been published in twenty-seven languages, and is the source of three films currently in development with Endgame Entertainment, Focus Films, and Cinetic.

He is also creating a series for HBO/Pretty Matches Productions, and has two other television pilots in development.

He lives in New York with his wife and two sons.

Check out his website here
Check out his profile on Jeopardy here
Find him on Twitter

My Thoughts

I have never much liked Shakespeare. I find the plays more pleasant to read than to watch, but I could do without him, up to and including this unstoppable and unfortunate book. I know that is not a very literary or learned thing to confess, but there it is.
Normally "My Thoughts" would consist of my review of the book read. However I could not finish this one. I only made it about 47 pages into this book. And, just to lend more strangeness to this story, at 47 pages in I was still reading the "introduction" to the book. This book is almost 370 pages long, of which 250+ pages is an "Introduction" by the author, and the remaining 120 pages is the "lost play" of Shakespeare. 

The "introduction" is...I don't know. I couldn't get through it. It is a self-absorbed man's ramblings of his childhood and past, and everything leading up to...well, like I said, I couldn't get through it. I'm still not sure what it led up to. The book ends with a play that is supposed to have been written by Shakespeare, but there seemed to be confusion among the book club members whether the play even really existed. This is like watching one of those movies about a movie about a movie. It's hard to sort out what is reality and what is fiction. What is the actual past of the author, and what is the fictional life of a character lost in his own head?

One good thing that came from this book was that our book club had a very interesting and lively discussion of the book and author. Here are a few things that came out of our discussion:
  • Some said they felt as if the author was making fun of the reader, seeing how much he could lure people into this farce that was a parody of a memoir.
  • The line between reality and fantasy is totally blurred in this book. You simply don't know how much is real, how much of it is truly a memoir of the author's life, and how much is complete fantasy.
  • He has a creepy and almost incestuous relationship with his twin sister. (In an attempt to explain their relationship, he states on page 47: "And all along I dreamt of being Dana's...what? Not her lover-- this is not a report of rank incest-- but I dreamt of being something indescribably close, perfectly joined, soulmated beyond the possibility of any rupture or misunderstanding.")
  • Someone said that the book is being made into a play.
  • Many said that they aren't stupid, but they felt stupid reading this book, because they just didn't get it. This book made it onto the bestseller's list, had fantastic reviews, and everyone in our club found themselves reading it and thinking, "Am I just stupid? Because I just don't get it!"
  • One woman said that throughout the book she kept thinking that each of us, if you were to break down our lives into our triumphs and tragedies, would be worthy of a Shakespearean play.
  • One girl said that she read the book at work, and she finally put the book down and said she'd rather work!
So the book didn't go over well with our book club, but we all really loved the discussion regarding the book and the author. Many in the club felt that someone may enjoy this book more if they really love Shakespeare. I was doubtful of this, as I do actually like some Shakespeare, until one of the members (the same one who made the remark about all of us being worthy of being in a Shakespearean play) explained to everyone a lot of background on Shakespeare, his life, and the way he used names in his plays (i.e. Juliet being a "jewel", while Rosalind was "beautiful yet thorny"). It made you kind of wish you knew these details about Shakespeare going into this book, and realizing that you may have picked up on little details if you had.

A couple of our book club members enjoyed the book. No one really loved it, but I think a couple rated it a "B". Most of the members didn't finish the book. One girl said that she absolutely hated it and thought it was the worst book she'd ever tried to read (she made it through page 51).

My personal take on this book? When I was trying to think of how to describe this book, what immediately came to mind was "tedious". Trudging through the minutia of his childhood, having to reside in his brain, as he (Is "he" just a character? Or the actual author? We don't know!) is self-absorbed and lives in his head. He is the main player and everyone is in his life is secondary and tertiary characters, or as someone in the club said, "They are all just living on the periphery of his world." In his world, all the other characters are inconsequential.

The other words that came to my mind when describing this book were languid, rambling, and just plain boring.

But don't let this stop you! This book had a lot of great reviews. The critics loved it! Particularly if you love Shakespeare, go ahead and give this one a shot. You may love it!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

CHALLENGE: Books on the Brain Perpetual Challenge

This is another perpetual challenge that I have created for myself. In an attempt to remind myself of why I read ("for fun", "for an escape", "for entertainment", "to lose myself in something"), I want to re-read some of my favorite books.

This is my list of books that I've already read, and hope to read again. Some I may have already read numerous times (like The Stand and Swan Song), and others I may have read once and want to read again (like Wuthering Heights):

  1. Swan Song by Robert McCammon
  2. The Stand by Stephen King
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  4. Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
  5. The Valley of Horses by Jean Auel
  6. The Mammoth Hunters by Jean Auel
  7. The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
  8. Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell
  9. Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
  10. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  11. 1984 by George Orwell
  12. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  13. The Taking by Dean Koontz
  14. Cell by Stephen King
  15. The Long Walk by Stephen King
  16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  17. In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall
  18. Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
  19. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  20. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  21. Smonk by Tom Franklin
  22. Born Under a Million Shadows by Andrea Busfield