Showing posts from March, 2010

young adult book review: The Heart Is Not a Size

Beth Kephart has been on my authors I want to read list for years. Even though I this book was the first of hers I've read, I'm often intrigued authors who write in multiple genres.
The Heart is Not a Size is a novel told in two parts. The first half of the novel tells the story of Georgia and her best friend Riley. Georgia sees a flyer promoting a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico, and she convinces Riley to go with her. The second half of the book explores their time in Mexico.
Kephart infuses Georgia with observations and realizations of a somewhat omniscient narrator, but this duality actually works. Kephart's writing is deceptively simple. She writes beautifully, and action occurs in between words and sentences as well as in them. Kephart's writing will enchant readers of all ages. Technically it's young adult fiction, but really it's a novel narrated by a teenage girl. This novel deals with some serious subject matter, but it doesn't dwell on it. It'…

dinner and a movie: Chloe

Welcome to my Monday morning recap of my fabulous Friday night date with myself.

I was looking forward to seeing Chloe, even though I didn't know much about it, because I adore Julianne Moore, really like Liam Neeson and have somewhat recently become a fan of Amanda Seyfried. I'm also a big fan of the director, Atom Egoyan.

Here's Chloe in a nutshell: if you know nothing going in, it's a gripping, intriguing psychological and sexual thriller. Apparently if you watched the trailer, you know the film's climax, and I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it. The joy of this film was its twisted journey. The journey isn't amazing enough to shine through spoilers. Here are the barebones details that won't spoil the film's fun for you: Liam Neeson, a music professor, and Julianne Moore, a gynecologist, are somewhat happily married, but she suspects him of cheating. She hires Amanda Seyfriend (Chloe) to seduce Liam Neeson to see if he would fall for it.

After all…

sunday salon: Read-a-thon

It's time for Dewey's Read-a-thon again! The spring read-a-thon will be Saturday, April 10. It begins at 8 a.m. Eastern time. For all of the details, visit the read-a-thon's blog and sign up!

I had a lot of fun with my first read-a-thon in October, and I'm looking forward to participating again. I won't be reading most of the day this time, however, as the read-a-thon is the same day as the Empire State Book Festival.
It's the first ever Empire State Book Festival, and I'm thrilled to have such a fantastic collection of authors and events right here in Albany. The festival will be 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but I'll try to read a little before I go and read until I fall asleep when I get home.

Have you done the read-a-thon before? Are you doing it this spring? Are you going to the Empire State Book Festival?

young adult book review: Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony

Restoring Harmony, the debut novel by Joelle Anthony, is an immensely readable and accessible young adult dystopian novel. The book is set in 2041, and its dystopian world feels frighteningly close. If this book were an episode of Sliders, it would have been the one with the Azure Gate Bridge and the Giants winning the World Series some year they actually didn't. The set-up is rather simple: reliance on oil sunk the economy of the United States. There are no cars anymore. Goods don't travel between cities. Cities are abandoned since The Collapse. Communities must be self-sustaining. Travel barely exists as even train tracks have fallen under disrepair. Few can afford to pay taxes.
The heroine, Molly McClure, loves her island farming island in Canada. Her family is able to farm for a living and the climate is lovely. She knows her family and her town are fortunate, considering the plight of most in other areas. When her mother suddenly fears for the health of her parents, Molly…

book review: Wedding Season by Katie Fforde

Last April, I had the joy of reading Katie Fforde's novel Wedding Season (thank you, interlibrary loan). Last week, Wedding Season finally made its U.S. debut with a lovely new cover. I'm reposting my review because it's been a year. If you're a fan of British chick lit, you must read Fforde. Enjoy!
I am a huge fan of Katie Fforde, and I'm in the midst of planning a wedding, so I eagerly awaited my copy of Wedding Season to arrive from interlibrary loan. As usual, Katie did not disappoint.
Wedding Season followed three friends: Sarah, a wedding planner whose secretly pregnant sister and a major U.S. movie star have decided to get married on the same day with only a few months notice; Bron, a hairstylist in an unhappy relationship; and Elsa, a talented dressmaker. The three consider themselves friends and co-workers of sorts, as they often work the same weddings.

It was refreshing to have three main characters, and thus three romances going on. Katie Fforde writes cons…

Waiting on Wednesday: City of Veils by Zoë Ferraris

Jill at Breaking the Spine hosts Waiting on Wednesday each week to encourage book bloggers to spotlight an eagerly anticipated upcoming release. My pick this week is City of Veils, a follow-up from Zoë Ferraris, author of Finding Nouf . Here's how the publisher describes this novel: In this riveting sequel to her critically acclaimed debut Finding Nouf, Zoë Ferraris weaves an intricate plot of mystery and suspense, exploring the complexities and contradictions of life in Jeddah, a place caught between its role as the holy gateway to Mecca and a cosmopolitan city in an increasingly liberal world. City of Veils follows Nayir, Katya, and Osama as they unravel the connections between the murder of Leila Nawar and the disappearance of Eric Walker, while coming to terms with their own views of the strictures and tenets of Islam. Zoë Ferraris moved to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War to live with her then husband and his extended family of Saudi-Palestinian Bedouins, …

young adult book review: Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman

I confess: the cover made me want to read it. I adore this cover, but thankfully, I also adored this book. Life, After is a heart-wrenching and heartwarming tale of immigration, friendship, terrorism, young love, Judaism, Argentinian politics, depression and Asperger's syndrome. Sarah Darer Littman manages to deal with all of these themes beautifully and sometimes unexpectedly. 
Part of the joy for me of reading this book was having so little idea what it was about, so I promise not to give away too much. The narrator, Dani, is a young Jewish Argentinian girl. Her aunt, who is eight months pregnant, is killed on July 18, 1994 in the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires. The ensuing fallout of the terrorist attack moved her family (and most Argentinians) from middle class business owners to those in need of charity. Argentina was in crisis, and Littman does a wonderful job succinctly explaining ten years of politics to those who likely don't know any of the story. 
Most of the story t…

From Short Story to First Novel: a guest post by Malena Watrous

Last Thursday, I reviewed If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous. I loved the book, and I've read quite a few interviews with her on blogs, in old media and the one included in the back of the book itself. With most of my questions having already been asked and answered, I asked Malena if she would be willing to write a guest post for this blog instead of doing another interview. I mentioned I was interested in the process of how she turned a short story into a novel, and she quickly and graciously agreed to tell that part of the story here.

One of the questions that I have been asked since my novel came out is what I learned from the process of writing it, and what I would do differently the next time around.The short answer is that I wouldn’t want to turn a short story into a novel ever again.
I wrote “Gomi” (garbage), the story that became If You Follow Me,when I was a student in Marilynne Robinson’s workshop at the University of Iowa.I had gone to Japan to teach English for two year…

Winner: If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

Congratulations to The Little Reader, who won my copy of  If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous!

young adult book review: The Daughters by Joanna Philbin

(The final cover art has not yet been released, and the Web site for this series has not yet gone live.) 

The Daughters, the first novel from Joanna Philbin (daughter of Regis), follows fourteen-year-old Lizzie Summers and her two best friends. Lizzie is the only daughter of Katia Summers, the most beautiful woman in the world. Lizzie takes after her a father, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer for The New York Times. Her two best friends, Carina Jurgensen, whose father is a multimedia magnate and philanthropist, and Hudson Jones, daughter of pop icon Holla Jones, are famous by proxy.

The novel starts rather awkwardly. There is a lot of pseudo name dropping, and I found myself thinking of these characters and their parents as real people. I tried to figure out what real celebrities they were based on. Philbin's writing was also awkward at first as she quickly introduces a slew of characters. Lizzie uses the cringe-worthy metaphor that her friends her like a Brita filter.


book review: If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

I've been eager to read If You Follow Me, the first novel by Malena Watrous since I read an interview with Curtis Sittenfeld, author of my favorite book, American Wife, in Paper Cuts, the New York Times book blog. Needless to say, I had high expectations.

If you read this blog, you know my favorite books are about so much more than their plot. Great literature transcends its characters and plot and brings greater understanding and critical thought, and If You Follow Me is that kind of great literature. It's mostly the story of Marina, who is spending her first year out of college teaching college in rural Japan. She's still dealing with her father's suicide, and her girlfriend, Carolyn, is also teaching in Japan. They're the only foreigners in a small, rural town with a nuclear power plant. They live in the only apartment available for two people.

Watrous did an amazing job of translating the experience of teaching in rural Japan to the reader. She set this novel …

Waiting on Wednesday: The Lovers by Vendela Vida

Jill at Breaking the Spine hosts Waiting on Wednesday each week to encourage book bloggers to spotlight an eagerly anticipated upcoming release.
My pick this week is The Lovers by Vendela Vida, who is perhaps best known for the novel Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Nameand writing the screenplay for Away We Go with her husband, Dave Eggers. I'm a huge fan of her fiction, nonfiction and the film. I couldn't locate a description yet, but I did find two fantastic endorsements from great writers:
"Vendela Vida's The Lovers is a spare and haunting meditation on how travel can bring us full circle back to the place from which we should have started. I read it over two days and dreamed about it the second night." (Francine Prose, author of Goldengrove )

Vendela Vida writes with elegance and economy. In this engrossing novel, she has managed to combine a stingingly acute portrait of grief, a moving meditation on love (both filial and romantic) and a page-turning adve…

dinner and a movie: The Last Station

Welcome to my Monday morning recap of my fabulous Friday night. After journeying to the suburbs for Alice in Wonderland last week, it was wonderful to be back in the neighborhood to enjoy an independent movie at the Spectrum and dinner at my favorite Albany restaurant, New World Bistro Bar.
The Movie: I've been eager to see The Last Station for months, but it only opened in Albany a few weeks ago. The film was nominated for numerous awards, including Best Picture at the IFC Independent Spirit Awards. Helen Mirren was nominated for Best Actress and Christopher Plummer was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Neither won, but seeing two powerhouse performances share so much screen time was a dream. Both displayed raw emotions beautifully. James McAvoy also shined. 
Without giving away too much, the film is based on a novel by Jay Parini and focuses on the last year of Tolstoy's life. Tolstoy is a major celebrity in Russia, and the Tolstoyan Movement has become quite a force. Tol…

book review: Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

I read my first Nora Roberts novel last fall, and I enjoyed it enough to read the next book in the series. I read Vision in White, the first book in the bride quartet, because I found myself enjoying novels about wedding planning immensely while I was planning my wedding. These books each focus on one of four characters who have been best friends since they were children. Now they own and run Vows, a wedding business. Mac, the photographer, is the focus of the first book. Emmaline, the florist, is the focus of the second book. As someone not terribly interested in flowers (I didn't have any at my wedding), I wasn't expecting to enjoy hearing about Emma's work as much as I enjoyed hearing Mac talk about photography.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed Emma's perspective. She and I have little in common, but she was surprisingly more relatable than Mac was, and I found myself rooting for her. It also helped that I didn't feel the need to strangle her for being stupid…

dinner and a movie: Alice in Wonderland & The Melting Pot

Welcome to my recap of last week's fabulous Friday night. Mr. nomadreader and I had a rare venture into suburbia to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D IMAX. I absolutely adored it. I had middling expectations going into it, as I read some bad reviews of it. I also had no emotional attachment to any version of the Alice story. Alice is not a timid little girl in this film; she's a 19-year-old woman with a mind of her own in a time that it's not necessarily in her best interest. 
The film begins as a period piece and introduces us to Alice, her mother and a rather uptight Victorian aristocratic crowd. Faced with a very public marriage proposal to a man she clearly doesn't love, she flees after a well-dressed rabbit and falls into the rabbit hole to a far different world.
From there, the imagery goes haywire in a good way. Burton plays with size, perspective and reality beautifully. The film plays with whether Alice is dreaming or really experiencing this strange land. Is she…

Winner: L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad

Congratulations to Miss Remmers of Miss Remmers' Reviews!

Tuesday Book Day: Hell Gate

Welcome to Tuesday Book Day! Every Tuesday, I'll remind you about the books being released I've already reviewed and those I'm eager to read. I also inform local readers of upcoming literary events around Albany, New York!

New release I loved:
Linda Fairstein's twelfth mystery novel featuring Alexandra Cooper is now available. If you're a fan of this series, I know you'll read it, but this mystery is a fantastic one to begin with even if you haven't read the rest of the series. The topic, political corruption in New York, is even more timely now than when I read it in December. My full review is here. Linda is also currently on a media and book signing tour.

Literary Events:

You already know all about the Empire State Book Festival on April 9 & 10.On March 16, Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Jules Feiffer will be at the University at Albany as part of the New York State Writers' InstituteKnow of other area literary events? Let me know!

the sunday salon: Oscar Sunday

First, as promised, here is a wedding photo. We got married one month ago today in a museum library, and I could not resist a card catalog photo with champagne in hand.  

In other news, the Oscars are finally here! I've reviewed most of the films here over the last few months, but today I'll share my picks (if I were voting) and my predictions, which are rarely the same. The pre-Oscar awards have been rather predictable, and there are clear front runners in almost every category. I'm looking forward to the ceremony itself, as Adam Shankman is producing the show. Also, Steven Martin and Alec Baldwin are co-hosting, so I'm sure it will be funny, even if my favorites won't win. 
Best Picture My pick: An Education My prediction: The Hurt Locker (surprisingly, I think this category is most up for grabs. The voting system is completely different this year, and if supporters of the two front runners--The Hurt Locker and Avatar-- voted strategically and placed the other te…