Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: My Name is Memory

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares
Riverhead, June 1


Daniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Sophia (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together-and he remembers it all. Daniel has "the memory", the ability to recall past lives and recognize souls of those he's previously known. It is a gift and a curse. For all the times that he and Sophia have been drawn together throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart. A love always too short.

Interwoven through Sophia and Daniel's unfolding present day relationship are glimpses of their expansive history together. From 552 Asia Minor to 1918 England and 1972 Virginia, the two souls share a long and sometimes torturous path of seeking each other time and time again. But just when young Sophia (now "Lucy" in the present) finally begins to awaken to the secret of their shared past, to understand the true reason for the strength of their attraction, the mysterious force that has always torn them apart reappears. Ultimately, they must come to understand what stands in the way of their love if they are ever to spend a lifetime together.

A magical, suspenseful, heartbreaking story of true love, My Name is Memory proves the power and endurance of a union that was meant to be.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

And now I present to you, one of my many sources of guilt and self-loathing! Megan, you say, how can a perfectly good book be a source of guilt and self-loathing? Fear not, I am about to tell you. (If you happen to not care about my neuroses, you can probably just go ahead and skip this paragraph and get right to book review!) You may notice the quote in my blog header is from a Maggie O'Farrell book just as is the book that I am speaking of here. Why? Because I loved that book. It had so many quotable quotes and so many well-crafted characters and a brilliantly constructed narrative that made me smile and broke my heart into a million tiny pieces (which I actually consider to be a good thing). After You'd Gone by Maggie O''s just great. Hence the quote, hence also my glee when I was offered a review copy of Maggie O'Farrell's newest book, The Hand That First Held Mine by Bridget at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Immediately, I pledged, in my heart of hearts, that I would clean up my book blogger act and not take a million years to read the book which I considered myself so privileged to receive, and I would post my review before, on, or at the very least near the release date of the book. Believe it or not, I actually succeeded on the first count, on the second, not so much as I might have hoped. I know I probably shouldn't even bother feeling bad about it, it's not as if I had actually committed to certain date, nonetheless, I feel crummy for falling short of my not very lofty goal as I always seem to do. So, that is my sob story about what should have been and ultimately is a good thing, which I have turned into a stumbling block for myself. Ah, it's a tangled web we weave, is it not? I hope, now, if I just write this review, I will somehow magically de-funk myself after this week's dreadfulness, so off we go then.

Lexie felt lightheaded, insubstantial somehow. It was strange to look back into the gloom of her room, then out again at the scene beyond the window. For a prolonged heady moment, she and her room didn't feel real or animate. It was as if she was suspended in a bubble, peering out at Life, which was going along its way, people laughing and talking and living and dying and falling in love and working and eating and meeting and parting, while she sat there mute, motionless, watching.

The Hand That First Held Mine features two main characters. Lexie Sinclair has just left her backwater country home for faster paced London. Soon she is finding love with a dashing older married man and a career as a journalist, reporting on art and artists. We first meet Elina, an artist and another Londoner, as she wakes up to discover she has had a baby. She remembers being pregnant, but the actual giving birth part seems to be missing from her memory. At the outset, London and art seem to be the only things the two women who are generations apart from each other have in common, and O'Farrell uses the city artfully to tell the women's stories in tandem. As Lexie blossoms and falls in love and Elina blunders dazedly through her first weeks of motherhood, there is much more to be revealed about how the two women are connected across the generations.

Maggie O'Farrell has a unique writing style that just works so well. It's not terribly radical, but it's still unlike so much of what I find myself reading. The Hand That First Held Mine is like a present you might unwrap slowly, revealing bit by bit what lies at the center, the captivating characters and how they are connected despite being generations apart. Yet, oddly, even as you peel off layer after layer, you find that as the people and the plot are being exposed, you are the one being wrapped up in it all. O'Farrell captures so well the minutia of being a bewildered first time mother, of being in a new place where you've always wanted to be for the first time, of falling in love, of death, of grief, of healing. She draws out the mundane and the extraordinary in her characters' lives in bit and pieces of nonconsecutive scenes, and somehow, while you're busy being taken in by these individual crisply descriptive scenes, she is enveloping you totally in her tale so that you can hardly separate yourself from it, let alone put it down.

While it didn't pack the same punch for me as After You'd Gone, perhaps due to my never having had a child (a major focus of the story, obviously), Maggie O'Farrell definitely works the same kind of magic that I hoped for in The Hand That First Held Mine. This is an author who is not to be missed. I look forward to reading more of her work, and hope that you will, too!

A few more reviews to check out at...

My Porch
She Is Too Fond of Books

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Twelve Rooms With a View

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Twelve Rooms With a View by Theresa Rebeck
Random House, May 4


How would it feel to go overnight from living in a trailer park to a twelve-room apartment overlooking Central Park in a landmark Victorian building?

This is what happens to housecleaner Tina Finn, who, with her sisters, Alison and Lucy, suddenly comes into possession of the Livingston Mansion Apartment at the Edgewood. The Finn sisters inherit the $11 million property from their estranged alcoholic mother, but they aren’t the only siblings vying for it. Their mother’s wealthy second husband, Bill—who died just three weeks before Tina’s mother—has two sons. And they are furious at the thought of losing the apartment that’s been in their family for generations.

Tina moves into the nearly vacant, palatial space to solidify her claim to it, but she soon discovers that Bill’s sons aren’t the only ones who want her out. The building’s other residents are none too pleased by her presence either. In fact, the co-op board has designs on wresting control of the apartment from both sets of children.

As Tina fends off all the people who want to evict her (or worse), she starts to get involved in her neighbors’ complex lives. There’s the mercurial, eccentric botanist who may be either a friend or an enemy; the self-absorbed, randy son of the co-op board president, whose friendship without benefits Tina tries to curry; the large, chaotic family whose depressed teenage daughter becomes Tina’s ally and spy; the ghost Tina hears crying at night in her apartment’s secret room . . .

In this entertaining yarn by acclaimed playwright, screenwriter, and author Theresa Rebeck, we follow Tina Finn—a woman both comical and compelling, well intentioned and a bit of a thief—as she begins to love her new home, discovers traits to admire in people she’s only just met, and realizes, finally, her place in her family and the world.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Life Comes At You Fast...and So Do Dodge Neons

You can file this post under "many and sundry excuses for blogging failure."

Last week had many highs and one big low.

When I booked a 3 day trip to Washingon DC on one weekend and a trip to New York City to see the Yankees play the weekend directly following, I knew I was setting myself up for a pretty busy stretch, but I figured I could handle it and still maintain a slight presence in blogland. You know, leaving the occasional comment and at least reviewing Maggie O'Farrell's great new book The Hand That First Held Mine. I love going places and had a brilliant time in DC seeing what little I could of its many things to see (the Lincoln Memorial by the moonlight! Cherry blossoms! Smithsonians! the Jefferson Memorial! Et Cetera and so on!) and eating great food and generally appreciating the fabulously incredible weather that graced the entire weekend. As for New York and the Yankees, but for the subway ride back from the stadium, it was nearly all I could have hoped for. I've been holding out hope for seeing a game at Yankee stadium ever since my dad and I took one ill-fated bus trip to a game for my 16th birthday that ended in the game getting rained out, the bus breaking down on the way home, and my ultimately never seeing my favorite baseball team play in person. Though I am a distinctly less rabid Yankee fan than I once was, the experience was thisclose to perfect.

So, my travels aside, I was even on track to accomplish that lofty goal of maintaining a bloggy presence through it all, when, on Thursday of last week, a careless driver pulled out in front of me while I was no less than 10 minutes from home on the "safest" road my hometown has to offer (Hey! It's true about accidents happening close to home!). After a brief second of utter shock, I stomped on the brake and bounced between the bad driver and a parked car and somehow emerged on the other side virtually unscathed for which I am eternally thankful. My car, which I had purchased 3 months ago to the day of the accident, was not so fortunate. It's fixable, it seems, but it's going to cost someone's insurance company a considerable amount of money. Needless to say, most of the rest of my week's plans fell unceremoniously by the wayside while I dedicated most of my free minutes to chatting with cops, giving my story to untold numbers of insurance company personnel, and, um, drinking. ;-)

So, now, I am attempting to catch up with everything I was supposed to have done last week while keeping up with the car situation and taking care of the stuff I have to do this week. With that in mind, please do excuse my absence as I try to get myself back in order. I have not abandoned the book blogosphere - I've just been detoured a bit. Here's hoping I'll have it back together this week, but if I don't, and you don't see much of me until next week, try not to be surprised. Many thanks to those of you who continue to hang around for your longsuffering patience with my unpredictable blogging habits! ;-D

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Map of True Places

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
Harper Collins, May 4 (US)

From the publisher:

Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats—a talent that earned her the nickname Trouble. She's now a respected psychotherapist working with the world-famous Dr. Liz Mattei. She's also about to marry one of Boston's most eligible bachelors. But the suicide of Zee's patient Lilly Braedon throws Zee into emotional chaos and takes her back to places she though she'd left behind.

What starts as a brief visit home to Salem after Lilly's funeral becomes the beginning of a larger journey for Zee. Her father, Finch, long ago diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, has been hiding how sick he really is. His longtime companion, Melville, has moved out, and it now falls to Zee to help her father through this difficult time. Their relationship, marked by half-truths and the untimely death of her mother, is strained and awkward.

Overwhelmed by her new role, and uncertain about her future, Zee destroys the existing map of her life and begins a new journey, one that will take her not only into her future but into her past as well. Like the sailors of old Salem who navigated by looking at the stars, Zee has to learn to find her way through uncharted waters to the place she will ultimately call home.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Like Bees to Honey

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes
The Friday Project Limited, May 27 (US)

From the publisher:

Nina, her son Christopher in tow, flies to Malta for one last visit with her aging parents.

Her previous attempt to see them ended in tears. Disowned for falling pregnant while at university in England, she was not allowed into the house.

This will be her final chance to make her peace with them.

But Malta holds more secrets and surprises than Nina could possibly imagine. What she finds is not the land of her youth, a place full of memories and happiness. Instead she meets dead people. Lots of them.

Malta, it transpires, is a transit lounge for recently deceased spirits and somehow Christopher enables her to see them, speak with them and help them.

And, in return, they help Nina come to terms with her own loss. One so great that she has yet to admit it to herself.

A major new novel from the acclaimed author of In Search of Adam and Black Boxes. In her third novel, Caroline Smailes draws upon her own family history for a remarkable and unforgettable story. Like Bees to Honey is a story of loss, redemption and ghosts. It is a magical tale that will live with you long after you finish reading.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Weekly Geeks: A Love Note for the Library

According to the Weekly Geeks, National Library Week is upcoming. Actually, it's next week, as it so happens. As a result, this week's questions are about libraries, or course.

This brings me to my deep, dark book blogger secret. You see, I saw this week's topic "Checking Out Libraries" and thought..."Guess I'm not Weekly Geeking it this week," because...*gasp* I don't use the local libraries. Here, I'll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor and recover from the shock and horror. That's right, I graduated from college in 2006, and I haven't stepped foot in a library ever since but for those ever-ripe opportunities to buy books, the much beloved Friends of the Library book sales. So, you could say, I support my local libraries, but I don't actually use them.

With little hope, then, I read the first question:

What's your earliest memory of a library? What was it like for you? Were you more likely to hang out in the gym or the library when you were in school?

Then I remembered, hey, I haven't always been totally ambivalent about libraries. In fact, when I was a kid, I loved my school libraries. The first library I can really remember vividly is my elementary school library. I was of the lucky class that was the first to spend all four years of our elementary school education in the newly built elementary school, and the library was the centerpiece of that school. It was at the very top of the center staircase. It had fish tanks and big beautiful windows, and, of course, more books than I'd ever seen in one place in all my young life. Of course, I fell in love, and set the lofty goal that I would read all the books there from A to Z. Okay, I may have fallen a little short on that goal, but it definitely set the pace for my reading future.

One of my favorite memories from elementary school were these Friday night things called "Prime Time," where you could bring a big stack of books and a sleeping bag, and I and many of my elementary school classmates would lay on our sleeping bags in the school auditorium and just read for three hours. Almost like a mini Read-a-thon for kids. I can still remember spending Friday nights there in the company of my classmates and a gargantuan stack of books. How nice to have three hours where you were told to come somewhere and just read. To this day, I love the idea of solitary reading being made into a community activity. Guess that goes a long way in explaining my love for book blogging (not to mention the 24 Hour Read-a-thon!).

The middle school library, while not as aesthetically pleasing as the elementary school one, was again the centerpiece of the school. The 5th and 6th grade wing was on one side and the 7th and 8th grade on the other, and there, right in the middle was the library. If I had to pick a place where I really came into my own as a reader, it was in that middle school library, home of untold treasures waiting to be discovered. I read countless books through my middle school years to the exclusion of most other activities. I read new books and classics. Books for kids my age, and books written for a much older audience. The school had a big Accelerated Reader program where you would read books, take multiple choice tests on the computer, and get points. Several of my middle school years, I came away with the most AR points in my grade because of my voracious reading, and reaped all sorts of extraneous rewards, and yet the reading itself was the biggest reward of all. Imagine getting awards, pizza parties, end of year trips to local amusement parks in exchange for doing something you already love! Man, I wish my job was like that.

Now, I must say, I prefer to own my books. In my adult life I hate deadlines and prefer to read a book when and where I choose, and I much prefer to have my very own library than to borrow books from someone else's, especially considering that going to the library is a little more complex and out of the way now than simply walking to the center of the place I spend my days anyway. Despite my lack of interest in public libraries as an adult, I can safely say that I give a lot of credit to my school library system for making me into the reader I am today.

My school always knew that reading belonged at the center, and it still does.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham

This is one of those books that I read too long ago, that I've meant to review and haven't. Honestly, despite the beautiful cover and the interesting sounding plot, I was a little skeptical about opening the door to middle grade fiction again. As much as I love to dig into some YA on occasion, I worried that getting into books with too young of a target audience would start to leave me a little cold. As it happens, I had nothing to worry about. Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham is a charming historical adventure story with a lot of heart and it turned out to be one of the many contributing books to my amazing streak of awesome reads.

Ten-year-old Ludelphia Bennett has never stepped food out of her tiny hometown of Gee's Bend, Alabama. Honestly, she's never seen a reason to. Her family, her small community of sharecroppers, and her quilting are more than enough to keep her busy and happy right at home. Even though she's only got one working eye, Lu's a natural at stitching, though she doesn't always have the materials she needs for a good quilt. Mama says that every quilt tells a story, and Lu dreams of stitching a quilt that will tell a great story and make her mama smile.

Suddenly, though, things in Ludelphia's life go awry, and she finds her story changing in a big way. When Mama falls ill and is near death and the only advice forthcoming is to wait it out, Lu knows she can't just stand by and watch while her mama slips away. Soon she determines that the only way to save Mama is to leave Gee's Bend and travel to Camden in search of a doctor. Thus begins a journey fraught with danger but also with excitement during which Lu will meet both good and evil people and hopefully emerge on the other side with a better story for her quilt than she could have ever imagined.

Drawing inspiration from the real Gee's Bend's rich quilting history, Irene Latham has crafted a beautiful story of her own. Leaving Gee's Bend is a coming of age story set in a vividly drawn 1930s sharecropping community. In it, readers can find a realistic few of the hardscrabble lives lived by sharecroppers and the fine line between getting by and dire unsurvivable poverty. Ludelphia is a precocious and lovable narrator, always with the best of intentions, but occasionally getting into some scrapes due to her impulsiveness and trusting nature. Seeing her grow through her journey and collect the many experiences and pieces that will go into her quilt makes Leaving Gee's Bend a heartwarming story and a satisfying read.

Thanks to Stacey from Penguin Young Readers Group for providing me with a copy for review.