Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blog Awards

I would like to thank two wonderful fellow book bloggers for honoring my blog with two awards recently. I'm a bit behind in acknowledging these, but that's no reflection on my gratitude!

Thanks to Harvee at Book Bird Dog for giving me the Friendship/Let's Be Friends Award:
Blogs that receive the Let’s Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and befriends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers.

And another big thanks to Laura at I'm Booking It for giving me the Humane Award:
The Humane Award is to honor certain bloggers that I feel are kindhearted individuals. They regularly take part in my blog and always leave the sweetest comments. If it wasn’t for them, my site would just be an ordinary blog. Their blogs are also amazing and are tastefully done on a regular basis. I thank them and look forward to our growing friendships through the blog world.

Both of these blogs feature well-written reviews and lots of extras, so be sure to check them out!

And now it's my turn to bestow these two awards on other deserving bloggers (who I don't think have received it yet). This was a tough choice because I've "met" so many wonderful book bloggers this year.

So, the Friendship/Let's Be Friends Award goes to:
And, the Humane Award (thanks for all those great comments!) goes to:
Be sure to check out these fabulous book blogs!

Monday, July 27, 2009

It's Monday, 7/27! What Are You Reading?

I had a good reading week, filled with lots of audio books because we took a couple of short trips in the car:
  • The book I'm currently reading is Building a House With My Husband, a memoir by Rachel Simon. I enjoyed her previous book, Riding the Bus With My Sister, and this one is very good so far, too.
  • I listened to a teen audio book, Prism, by the mother-daughter team of Faye and Aliza Kellerman. All I can say is WOW! This book was so good that when I returned home, I immediately stuck the CD into our home stereo and kept listening. I don't think I've ever listened to an audio book in such a short time before. I'll post a review later this week at Great Books for Kids and Teens (though adults will enjoy this one, too).
  • We drove our kids to Connecticut to spend a week sailing with their grandparents, and on the way, we all enjoyed listening to Freaky Monday by Mary Rodgers and Heather Hach. This is a sequel to the classic Freaky Friday, and so far, it's great.
  • On the way home, my husband and I started a thriller, Black Water Rising, by first-time novelist Attica Locke. We got a little confused when I inserted disk 6 instead of disk 2, but once we got that straightened out, it was much easier to follow! So far, it's a very good story, with elements of murder interwoven with a backstory from the Civil Rights movement.
So, we have a lot of listening to do to finish these last two!

What are YOU reading this week?

(What Are You Reading Mondays is sponsored by

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fiction Review: Firefly Lane

I just finished Firefly Lane, a novel by Kristin Hannah, and I couldn’t wait to write about it. This was one of those books that I carried everywhere with me, sneaking in a few paragraphs whenever I could. The story pulled me in so thoroughly that I felt like I knew the characters personally.

Firefly Lane is the story of a lifelong friendship between two women, Kate and Tully, who meet when they are both lonely fourteen-year old girls:

Kate stood outside the drugstore looking up and down the street for someone who might know her mom. “Are you sure about this?”


The answer was slim comfort, actually. In the day they’d officially been friends, Kate had learned one thing about Tully: she was a girl who made Plans.

And today’s plan was to make Kate beautiful.

“Don’t you trust me?”

There it was, the big question. It was like rolling a Yahtzee: once Tully said it, Kate lost the game. She had to trust her new friend. “Of course I do. It’s just that I’m not allowed to wear make-up.”

“Believe me, I’m such an expert your mom will never know. Come on.”

Tully walked boldly though the drugstore, choosing eye shadow and blush colors that were “right” for Kate, and then – amazingly – she paid for everything. When Kate said something, Tully said airily, “We’re friends, aren’t we?”

From then on, Kate and Tully are inseparable, and the novel follows their friendship and their lives for decades, through school, college, careers, and relationships. I especially enjoyed all of the details of the times (fashions, haircuts, music, etc.) as the girls grew up in the 70's and became women in the 80's.

Someone had told me that this book was too sad for her, but I loved every minute of it. Yes, I did actually cry – not once but three different times! – while reading it, but I love a novel that can make me cry. To me, the best fiction is the kind that mirrors real life, populated with characters who act like real people, and real life is full of both sorrow and joy, good times and bad. I did cry while reading certain parts of this book, but I also smiled and laughed at other parts. That’s life. Besides, it’s so cleansing to have a good cry over a great piece of fiction (either book or movie) – much better than crying over your own life!

Besides the events in the book mirroring real life, I loved that the characters were real, flawed people. They made mistakes, they didn’t always treat each other well, they did stupid things – there were times when I wanted to shake each of them – but they also had triumphs and good times, too. I’ve read novels about idealized female friendships before that just left me feeling inadequate, like what’s wrong with me that I’ve never had a fairy-tale friendship like this? But no relationship is perfect in real life, which is why this novel and these characters grabbed me so completely.

Despite the fact that the book is almost 500 pages long, I never wanted it to end. When I finished it last night, I immediately began to read the extra stuff at the end – author interview, discussion questions, etc. One thing I learned is that this novel was somewhat autobiographical for the author – not the complete storyline, but the time and place and some of the events. I think that explains why the book elicits such genuine emotions. Maybe I’ll get in touch with some old friends today...

St. Martin’s Griffin, 479 pages.

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's Monday, 7/20! What Are You Reading?

I had a great reading week...
  • I read Everlost by Neal Shusterman, a wonderful teen/YA book about kids who are killed in a car crash and end up in Everlost, a sort of way station between life and death. My 14-year old son has been telling me how great this book is for awhile now - I'm glad I finally had a chance to read it!
  • I started Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, lent to me by my neighbor last week. It's a novel that follows the friendship of two women, starting when they meet at 14. It's one of those books that pulls you in so much that you think about the characters all the time! I've been carrying it around with me and reading it every chance I get.
What are YOU reading this week?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fiction Review: Breakfast with Buddha

There’s nothing better for a 3-week long road trip than a book about a road trip! So, on our recent vacation out to Colorado, I brought along Roland Merullo’s novel, Breakfast with Buddha, about a man who takes a cross-country road trip from NYC to North Dakota (many summers we’ve driven from the East Coast to South Dakota). The catch? His companion on this trip is a red-robed monk-type guru.

The road trip details in this novel are so accurate (Merullo says they’re based on an actual trip) that I mistakenly thought this was a memoir at first. At some point (I’m not saying how far in!), I figured out that the main character’s name was different than the author’s and it was a novel. Once I had that figured out, I absolutely loved this book! Its combination of travelogue, humor, and philosophy were perfect.

Otto Ringling is an ordinary kind of guy – a middle-aged husband, father of two teens, and editor of food-related books who lives in New Jersey and commutes into NYC. He has lots of friends, a nice house, and is happy with his life. Recently, though, his parents were both killed in a car accident, and Otto has to go back to North Dakota, where he grew up, to settle their estate and sell the family farm. He thinks he’s making the trip with his sweet but wacky sister, but she has other plans, as he finds out when he goes to pick her up and she somehow convinces him to instead travel with her guru, Volyo Rinpoche, to whom she wants to give her part of the estate:

Which is basically the story of how, after another half hour of pleading, on my sister’s part, and attempting to resist, on mine, I ended up agreeing to drive Volvo Rinpoche from NJ to ND. When we went outside to give him the news, the Rinpoche seemed interested, mildly curious, amused, but not in any discernable way grateful. His luggage consisted of one cloth bag that looked like an oversized, well-worn pocketbook with leather handles. He accepted a minute-long embrace from my sister, bowed to her in a tender way, and settled himself into the front seat as calmly as if he’d been making the insurance payments for the past six months. My sister hugged me double-long, a double-long spinal massage included.

I was behind the wheel, seatbelt on, without knowing quite how it had happened. I lowered the window. “You said you had a dream about Rinpoche and me,” I said to Cecilia. “What were we doing?”

A gorgeous smile lit my sister’s face. She leaned toward me, happy as a child, and said, “Bowling!”

The rest of the novel chronicles their trip across the U.S. Otto tries to show Rinpoche the essence of America, with stops at Hershey, a baseball game, various restaurants (he is a foodie, after all), and, yes, a bowling alley. Rinpoche, in a quiet, no-pressure sort of way, engages Otto in some very thought-provoking discussions about nothing less than the meaning of life.

I loved everything about this book. Of course, the details of the road trip entranced me, since we make similar journeys every summer; I even tried to find a restaurant they stopped at in Pennsylvania (no luck – we ended up at a Long John Silver’s – as the author correctly states in the book, there are few good dining options off the Pennsylvania Turnpike). I also very much enjoyed the author’s sense of humor and found myself frequently reading amusing passages out loud to my husband.

But besides the fact that this is just a fun novel to read, it is also very thought provoking. I loved the philosophical discussions about everything from religion to anger to sex. The author successfully introduces all sorts of sometimes controversial topics as simply food for thought in a gentle, non-intrusive way. The novel is never contentious or preachy, just fun and thoughtful. I came home dying to lend it to my friends and my mom. While I can’t think of a better accompaniment for a summer trip, this would also make an excellent book club pick.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's Monday 7/13! What Are You Reading?

Wow, is it really July 13 already? Where's the summer going? We have piles of books taking over our house, so this morning my sons and I did a quick bookcase clean-out in their rooms. We now have a big box of books to donate, a big bag to give to younger cousins, and a lot more room on the bookcases!

Mostly this week, I (and our family) finished books I described in last week's post:
  • Pendragon, Book 8: The Pilgrims of Rayne by DJ MacHale - I LOVE this series! As soon as I finished it, I said to my son, "We have to get Book 9!"
  • Ordinary Boy Book 2: The Return of Meteor Boy? by William Boniface - very funny - see a review at my kids' book blog.
  • Audio book Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins - we all loved it!
And I started a new memoir that is absolutely amazing so far:
  • Jantsen's Gift by Pam Cope - an incredible story of a woman who devoted herself to helping poor, orphaned kids around the world after her son died. I'll post a review when I finish it.
So, what are YOU reading this week?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Places I've Visited in Books

Thanks to Kim at Page After Page for this very cool idea (that she heard through Weekly Geeks)!

The map below shows places I've visited through reading - settings of various books I've read (at least those I could remember!). I've read about a lot of different places in the past few years especially and learned so much about the world, but making this map made me realize how many more places are out there. For instance, I've read lots of wonderful books about India - so many that I even have a Category Label for it! - but there are so many other countries in Asia I haven't read about. Since I don't have the means to travel the world in person, I'm glad I can go to these places in books!

create your own visited country map

Visit World66 to make your own reading map!

Monday, July 06, 2009

It's Monday, 7/6! What Are You Reading?

I didn't fall off face of the earth or give up on blogging - I've just been on a 3-week cross-country road trip. We had a wonderful time (you can check out our trip blog for pictures). I didn't do a whole lot of reading, mainly because I can't read books in the car. We listened to some great kids'/teens' audio books, though, and I read a few books during the trip. Here's what I read over the past three weeks:
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - an absolutely amazing teen/YA book that I'd recommend to anyone of any age (teens and older) - see review at my kids' book blog.
  • Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo. I bought this one before the trip in part because it's a novel about a cross-country road trip! I really loved it and will post a review later this week (first I need to get through 423 e-mails).
  • I'm currently reading Pendragon Book 8: The Pilgrims of Rayne by D.J. MacHale. I've raved here before about the Pendragon series for kids and teens, and this one is no exception.
  • With our kids, we've been taking turns reading aloud from Ordinary Boy 2: The Return of Meteor Boy by William Boniface, a very fun and funny sequel to one of our favorites about a city called Superopolis where every citizen (except the title character, Ordinary Boy) has superpowers. Lots of laughs.
We also listened to the following kids'/teens' audio books during our trip:
  • Simon Bloom and the Gravity Keeper and Simon Bloom and the Octopus Effect by Michael Reisman, a great series that combines science and magic in fast-paced, suspenseful stories.
  • Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins is the first entry into the children's market by a best-selling adult author (though I haven't read any of his grown-up books before). We're most of the way through this one and enjoying its exciting suspense and, like the Simon Bloom books, combination of science and magic plus history.
So, what have YOU been reading so far this summer?