Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Auto-Buying Authors

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a toughie for me.  It's all about those authors that we have so much confidence in that we would dash out and buy their books with nary a second thought.  Honestly, I'm not a big "author" person.  I love books, but I very rarely get all fan-girly over the authors themselves.  If I'm standing in a line at say...BEA for an autographed copy of some book, it's a good bet that I'm more interested in the future enjoyment of the book than in the meeting of the author.  This is not to say that I don't like authors, I absolutely do.  I follow some on Twitter.  I get all glowy inside on the off chance one might look lovingly on one of my reviews of his or her book and comment or Tweet the link or Facebook it or whatever.  Glowy, very glowy indeed. 

But when it came to the question of what authors whose work I would automatically buy, I came up with a paltry five, and one is still a maybe as of this writing.  Part of the problem might be that when I'm buying new books, I'm usually buying them for other people.  I have a very well-defined list of authors I will auto-buy as Christmas presents for my parents.  In the interests of actually making my Top Ten a top ten, I'll trot out five of my own and five of my parents' and call it day.  Sound good?

See more at The Broke and the Bookish.

1. Ann Patchett - The first one I read was Bel Canto, and I actually didn't love it as much as everyone else seems to love it.  However, I did like it, and I've since loved The Magician's Assistant and Truth and Beauty.  The rest of her oeuvre is waiting patiently on my neglected bookshelves.

2. Maggie O'Farrell - After I was emotionally destroyed (in a good way) by After You'd Gone which also yielded me a fantastic quote for my blog header (see above - obviously!), and also enjoyed The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O'Farrell became a no-brainer when it comes to buying her books.  I just found out yesterday she's got another book coming out this summer, and I'm beyond excited!

3. Erica Bauermeister - Okay, she would be an auto-buy, but I've had the good fortune to read all three of her fantastic books via ARC.  Should it become necessary, I would gladly fork over my hard earned dollars for an Erica Bauermeister book.  My favorite?  Still The School of Essential Ingredients.

4. Stephen King - This is my oldest auto-buy pick.  I've been gleefully auto-acquiring Stephen King books since I was in high school.  My favorite thus far?  Insomnia.

5. Gin Phillips...maybe -  I loved (LOVED!) The Well and the Mine.  Now I'm reading her sophomore effort, Come In and Cover Me which I am also highly enjoying.  I haven't finished it yet, but if I love this book half as much as I loved The Well and the Mine, Gin Phillips should be a shoo-in for auto-buy status.

And for gifting purposes...

6. Mary McGarry Morris - My mother has been head over heels for Morris ever since Oprah put Songs In Ordinary Time into the spotlight.  I think she's read every single one of Morris's titles since, so when I see a new one of hers on the shelves that's a gimme of a Christmas present.

7. Dean Koontz -  My dad is nuts for the Odd Thomas books especially.  Sadly, Koontz's new books have been coming out just after Christmas (come on people!), so he hasn't made it under the Christmas tree lately, but I'm sure he'll be seen there again sometime soon.

8. Jan Karon - My mom devoured The Mitford Series, and has been after me ever since to read it.  The Mitfords are over but Father Tim's still going strong, so every so often he gets to be a great Christmas gift.

9. Khaled Hosseini - Both of my parents were crazy for The Kite Runner, and every time I'm not sure what to read next, they bop me over the head with it.  I might just be a big contrarian though, not to mention a rotten daughter, because I, uh, still haven't read it.  Happy news, though, this author's new book is already on my Christmas to-buy list.

10. Tom Clancy -  At least, ahem, the ones where his name is bigger on the cover than the co-writer.  My dad usually tows one of Tom Clancy's tomes along on his fishing trips through the summer and claims to still enjoy them, so I keep buying them.  I think it might be time to switch to the e-versions, though.  Holding Clancy's books up is a major workout.

How about you?  What author's books do you buy without a second thought?

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I seem to be far behind on my book reviews.  Okay, not so far behind in terms of books that need reviewing so much as far behind in the chronology of my reviews.  I have lots of books I read many moons ago that are getting neglected in favor of books I read only a few moons ago.  In the interests of not letting those poor books slip into the abyss of the unreviewed, I think it's time to take a stab at some reviewlettes and get the juices flowing.

Let's start with The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (and a slew of other well-known authors).  I picked up a copy of this at BEA in 2011, where I was ecstatic to get the autograph of an author/illustrator whose books shaped my childhood, as they've shaped a bunch of childhoods, I'm sure.  In The Chronicles, a collection of authors take on the pictures and captions from Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and write their own stories for each.  Obviously, the most fun is in kids creating their own stories, but this collection is a fun way for authors to give us theirs.  The collection is, as collections often are, a little uneven, with some authors capturing the picture they've written on, while others totally miss the mark.  Jon Scieszka's quick story, "Under the Rug," about sweeping problems under the rug and Louis Sachar's "Captain Tory," about the benevolent ghost of a sea captain who "haunts" a doughnut shop and a hardware store are my favorites of the lot.  Walter Dean Myers, Lois Lowry, and Jules Feiffer also do a remarkable job of capturing the essence of "their" illustrations.  Gregory Maguire's bizarre tale missed the mark for me, and, I'm sad to say, Stephen King's selection disappointed me a bit.  All in all, though, I would recommend the book.  It's fun to see these classic illustrations fleshed out a bit, and, of course, Van Allsburg's stunning illustrations are always worth seeing. (Thanks to HMH at BEA for my copy)

It's probably safe to give Princess Academy by Shannon Hale a reviewlette, because I've already talked about it so much.  Really, I read this book for last year's fall Readathon, and it was the perfect book.  It's all about Miri who lives on Mount Eskel where all the villagers have to work quarrying valuable linder from the mountain to survive.  Her father won't let her work in the quarry, so Miri always struggles with feeling somehow less than the rest of her townspeople, despite being clever and brave.  When royals arrive from the lowlands with news that the next princess of Danland will hail from Mount Eskel, the girls of the village are taken away to be schooled, polished, and made fit for a prince.  At the academy, Miri struggles at first but then finds her chance to shine. 

I'd heard plenty of great things about Shannon Hale's books, and if Princess Academy is any indication, they're all true.  Princess Academy is tightly plotted, filled with brave, strong-willed girls for characters (most of all Miri!) who make the best of a complicated situation, and has an absolutely fantastic "knowledge is power" message that is never too heavy-handed.  If you're anything like me, you might find yourself initially put off by the notion of a book about princesses in training.  Don't be.  This book and these would-be princesses defy expectations and stereotypes alike!

Lastly, a tiny review of The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories Vol. 2.  Receiving a copy of this for review was a no-brainer after reading the first volume (Thanks, Harper It!).    I'll admit, I didn't like this one quite as much as the first one, but it's still got plenty to recommend it.  The stories are, at most, a sentence long but can make you contemplate for much longer.  Some I related to, some I laughed at, others just confused me.  The illustrations that accompany each story are whimsical, bizarre, clever, most well-suited to the story they represent.  It's a book that can easily be read in a sitting, but one that you might find yourself wanting to spend more time on.  I think, perhaps, that I didn't love this one quite as much as the first because I didn't find so many stories that I felt spoke directly to me, but I'd still recommend grabbing both volumes.  Chances are you'll find at least a little of yourself in each.  (Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Indiscretion by Charles Dubow

Next time I fall into a reading funk, I think I just need somebody to remind me that if I take a few moments to publicly whine about being in a reading funk, maybe, just maybe I'll chase it away.  A few weeks ago, I was starting to think that books were something I only enjoyed acquiring, not so much reading.  Then, I dug into what was an unexpected funk-buster, Indiscretion by Charles Dubow. 

Here, yet again, I said yes to a copy for review, and by the time the book showed up on my doorstep I was second-guessing myself.  Once I read the summary again, I found it sounded much like a book I read last summer and just felt "meh" about, but I cracked it open anyway, still worried about adding another "meh" book to my funk-stricken reading life.

Happily, Indiscretion is nothing like the book I thought it would resemble, and I devoured it with glee, having discovered that I do still like reading books after all! 

There is an innate greediness that is part of the human condition.  It drove Eve to eat the apple; it impelled bonaparte to invade Russia and caused Scott to die in the frozen wastes of the Antarctic.  We have different names for it.  What is curiosity other than greed for experience, for recognition, for glory?  For activity to distract ourselves from ourselves?  We hate the idea that we have come as far as we are going to go.  And we are not content with what we have or how far we have come.  We want more, whether it is food, knowledge respect, power, or love.  And that lack of contentment pushes us to try new things.  To brave the unknown, to alter our lives and risk losing everything we already had.

It's an idyllic summer in the Hamptons when Claire meets the Winslow family: Harry, Maddy, and their young son, Johnny.  Harry is a National Book Award-winning author whose story-telling prowess makes him a favorite in their social circle.  His wife, Maddy, is a beautiful woman from a rich family who has a generous soul despite her family's harshness.   In their cottage near the beach, the family throws parties, plays tennis, and is nearly universally loved by everyone, especially Claire.

Claire met a man in the city who invited her out to his house in the Hamptons for the weekend, where she discovers that the two aren't having a weekend to themselves, but a weekend with a few of Clive's irritating clients.  When the group attends a party at the Winslows' house, Claire quickly becomes enamored of the family and the life that they live.  When things go bad with Clive, Harry and Maddy adopt Claire into their circle of friends for the summer.  The summer passes in a perfect series of cook-outs and tennis matches and parties, but when it ends, and Claire learns that Harry, Maddy, and Johnny will be leaving for Rome for a year, things begin to unravel.  What follows is a slow unfolding of deception and tragedy that will change all of their lives forever.

The first thing I noticed about Indiscretion is that it has tons of great, believable dialogue.  I don't remember that I love good dialogue, and I rarely think to miss it in books that are a little quieter, but when it shows up, I always appreciate how it breathes life into a story and seems to move it along at a quicker pace.  Even better is when dialogue brings out aspects of characters so that readers don't have to be told that Harry tells great stories that draw people into his orbit or that Maddy's innate decency is put into practice as she welcomes Claire into her life.  Dubow's novel is filled with just such excellent dialogue, but just the same it doesn't rely on it too heavily.  Rather, it provides just another window into the house where Walter's narration has opened the door.

Walter is Maddy's best friend from childhood who has only grown closer to Maddy and her family with time.  As such, Walter makes for a great narrator.  Certainly, he might be a little biased, but as the stalwart family friend and perennial bachelor, he has a unique perspective on the events at hand.  He tells the story of his friends' downfall with unique insight and the wisdom of an observer that is both a part of the story, yet not so involved as to lose all perspective.  Drawing together the things he experiences first-hand with the things he learns over time, Walter collects a complete picture of events, and his recollection is vivid and lightly seasoned with, at times, philophical reflection on the tragic events that come to pass in his friends' lives.

Indiscretion is a dark and unnerving story of a seemingly perfect family falling from grace, told with such flare that it's impossible to look away until the last page is turned.

(Thanks to the the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Shy Anne Morrow is just a 21-year-old Smith College graduate, unsure of herself or her future when she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh for the first time.  Anne's father is the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Lindbergh, fresh from his heroic trans-Atlantic flight to Paris, is at work spreading flight diplomacy.  Shy Anne is sure Charles will be taken with her prettier, more outgoing sister, so she's amazed to find the hero that her whole country worships has taken an unexpected interest in her.  Before she knows it, she's flying with the best pilot ever to grace the skies, and he chooses her to share his life. 

Little does Anne suspect that the exciting beginning days of their romance, buoyed by their flights together mapping routes for the future of commercial flight will melt into years where she is stolen away from her children and family to appease her stubborn husband's demands.  The couple's fame means they can't even go to the theatre without a disguise, and eventually marks them for tragedy when their firstborn son is kidnapped.  The Aviator's Wife explores the couple's shared history from Anne's point of view and reveals the lesser known half of the famous couple. 

Let's just cut to the chase.  I loved this book in a way that I haven't loved a book for months.  The Aviator's Wife is a vividly imagined, nuanced portrait of one of America's best loved couples, a pair that was looked to for strength and guidance throughout pivotal parts of American history regardless of how normal or even flawed they might have been.  In Benjamin's hands, Anne Morrow Lindbergh emerges from her famous husband's shadow as a woman who may easily have been stronger than the man himself, despite her often frustrating deference to her husband.  The couple's story comes to life in Benjamin's perfectly-pitched first-person narration.  I loved how Benjamin broke down a complicated relationship between two complicated individuals and made it fairly leap off the page from its uncertain beginnings to its heartrending end. 

Additionally, seeing Charles Lindbergh through his imagined wife's eyes is similarly captivating.  A stoic hero and a difficult man leaps off Benjamin's pages.  He is stubborn and frustrating, better able to maneuver machines than deal with people, but he is also a man fiercely determined from a young age to do right by the American people who made him a hero, who is bent on protecting his wife and family, who believes his wife can do whatever she sets her mind to and urges her to become always more.  Through Anne's eyes we find a man who was terribly flawed, but a man that Anne admired and loved just the same.  Benjamin draws out the human being behind the myth and does it with such flair that we feel just as eager to love or to hate him as Anne herself might have. 

In her author's note, Melanie Benjamin says, "That is what historical fiction does best, I think; it leaves the reader with a desire to know more," and so The Aviator's Wife has.  I went into the book knowing relatively little about the "First Couple of the Air," and came out fully satisfied with Benjamin's beautifully told story, but also with a great curiosity to learn even more about Charles Lindbergh, and his wife who had the courage both to live in and finally to emerge from his shadow. 

The Aviator's Wife will be available on February 19th.  If historical fiction is your thing, or you've ever had a hankering to take a peak behind the scenes at the Lindbergh family, or if you just want to read a powerful book with incredibly vivid characters you absolutely won't want to miss this one. 

Thanks to Pump Up Your Book for my copy.  Click the banner for more stops on the tour!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Memories

I love this week's topic for the Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday:  Best Bookish Memories.  As it turns out, books figure in plenty of my best memories!

1. BEA 2010 - I tell you, the first time I stepped foot into the Javits Center for the first time I ever went to BEA is beyond compare.  It was sickeningly early.  I had gotten next to no sleep.  I just got through doing lots of stuff on my own that I'd never done on my own, and I'll admit, it was a little on the stressful side.  And it cost a hell of a lot of money to get there, but that first moment when I glimpsed the Javits all decked out in bookish finery made it all worth it.  And everything after that just made it ten times better.

2. Getting Chris Van Allsburg's autograph - I'm a book girl, not really an "author" girl, so getting autographs isn't an activity that really lights my fire, but it was pretty awesome to meet an author/illustrator who so shaped my young bookish life.

3. Selling the last Harry Potter - I was working at Borders in Boston when the last Harry Potter book came out.  I can remember working at the register that Saturday and doing nothing but ringing up Harry Potters for hours without flagging.  Even then, the book naysayers were all like "the book is dying, nobody reads any more, wah wah wah."  That day was the perfect antidote.

4. Getting hired at Borders in the first place - I always wanted to work at a bookstore, but never suspected that the opportunity would present itself.  The store was huge and amazing, and I had a hard time believing it even existed, so getting to work there for a few months was priceless.

5. Reading til Midnight - When I was a kid I would always spend New Year's Eve with my grandparents at their cabin.  My grandmother would always fall asleep early, but I insisted on staying up until midnight.  My grandfather would keep me company and more often than not we'd end up reading by the fire until the New Year showed up.

6. Summer reading - (had me a blast?) Getting the whole summer free to gobble up books of my choosing without the hassle of jobs and bills and assorted responsibilities is one of the things I miss the very most about my childhood.  Best of all, though, was when my dad and I would pay my other set of grandparents a visit during the summer.  My dad and pap would go fishing while I hung out with my gram and read book after book with nary a distraction unless you count the toasty warm summer weather and passing wildlife.

7. The summer my mother and I discovered that all the local libraries had used book sales - And on that day, my life truly began.  ;-)

8. Being the Accelerated Reader champion - I guess Accelerated Reader is still a thing now, but it was just starting to be a big deal when I was in middle school.  You'd read books, log on to a computer to take test on it in, like, DOS.  (What's this here Windows crap?)  Pass the test, get points.  For several of my years in middle school I was the champion point getter in my grade, made all the more impressive by the fact that there was a kid in my grade who actually read Moby Dick as a 7th grader just for the ridiculous amount of points on the AR test.  Yeah, I beat that kid (er, but not the year he read Moby Dick.  At the ripe old age of 28, I still have no interest in reading Moby Dick, no matter how many points it might be worth! LOL).  What's more, I think most of my friends actually thought that was cool.  ;-)

9. My first author comment - Okay, maybe this is more of a blogging memory, but look, we're at #9.  Things are getting a little thin here.  For what it's worth, it was Jennifer Donnelly after I was gushing about A Northern Light.  I don't think it occurred to me until then that authors might actually read my blog.  I was surprised and delighted to see that it could be so.

10.  BEA 2011 - No sophomore slump on this one.  By the time 2011 ruled around, I'd become much better at hanging out with bookish people and enjoyed that aspect of things so much more since I wasn't so utterly overwhelmed and exhausted.  Plus, there was the awesome surreality of hanging out in Simon and Schuster's building that one afternoon being served delicious guacamole and pitched delicious books.  It was one of those strange moments where I was thinking, "Hey, wasn't I a bored unemployed chick only three years ago or so who thought writing about books on the internet might fill up the empty hours?  Where am I?  How exactly did I go from being a book nerd holed up at my desk with my not high-functioning laptop to this?"  If you know what I'm saying. 

What are some of your favorite bookish memories?