Sunday, July 31, 2011

In My Mailbox (21)

Hello Reader Friends!  Welcome to this week's In My Mailbox.  This is actually two or three weeks worth of my mailbox, since I've been trying to limit myself to only posting when I've got a stack saved up.  It's more exciting that way, don't you think?  Also I've got some super cute Chief pictures for the end, because I know you are all dying to see him.

These two are for review from Lauren at Turner Publishing.  Before you freak out, no, no babies here...but the titles were too cute and so are the covers and well, we're thinking this year, could I say no?
Rattled and Pacifi(her) by Hogan Hilling

These two came for review from Tanya at Wunderkind PR

Ok, now this one I'm not 100% for sure on who sent, but it's a Plume title, which is an imprint of Penguin

I won this one from Carrie K at Books and Movies
The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell

Trish at TLC Tours sent this one, which I am super excited to read

This one is for review from Zondervan

This is another TLC book from Trish - and it came all wrapped up in pretty paper - LOVE it!

And now for the Chiefey pictures.  Chief's new favorite toy is a little handheld laser pointer that he will chase until he is ready to pass out.  It's a great way to wear him out and it's the cutest ever.  I need to get a video of it soon.

Big old happy pup.  I love this dog.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Confessions of a Prep-School Mommy Handler

First of all, Wade Rouse is hilarious.  I actually didn't realize he was the author of this book until I finally picked it up off the shelf (around two or three years after I got it).  But I was thrilled to see it was by him because I've read him and love him before (At Least In The City Someone Would Hear Me Scream).  In this memoir, Wade is facing a team of Mean Girl mommies whose leader is determined to make him, as the publicity director for a high end prep school, her own personal assistant. 
Not anything especially spectacular for the memoir genre, but very very funny.  I think Wade Rouse and I could be friends - we have a similar sense of humor.  Overall, the writing was good but not exceptional for the genre. 

Entertainment Value
Excellent!  Especially if you can at all identify with the prep-school setting (I didn't go anywhere as ritzy as this, but I did go to a private school on scholarship) or working with people for whom "entitlement" is an understatement (again, I work at the opposite end of the financial spectrum, but you'd never know it from my students' sense of entitlement).  So while Rouse deals with mommies who demand that their alumni event invitations match Louis Vuitton's latest color scheme, I'm dealing with students who are asking me why I don't have a cell phone that students can use to make free long distance personal calls on.  Wade, call me up, we'll compare horror stories.

This is a definite recommend for when you're needing something lighthearted and funny.  I read it in just a few hours.  I'd say it's a great beach, poolside, or airplane book or for anytime you need a laugh or want to read something quick and upbeat. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is about two men, Larry Ott and Silas Jones, who grew up together in a small town in Mississippi during the integration of schools.  Although they were separated by race and economic situations, the two became friends.  However, when Larry takes a girl on a date during his senior year of high school, she disappears.  Years later, Larry and Silas encounter each other again when Silas returns to town and a young girl disappears.  Larry is the assumed culprit, and together he and Silas must uncover the secrets hiding in the small town and revisit their shared history.

I'd heard basically everyone and their mother compare the writing in this book to Flannery O'Connor.  Let me just start by saying bless his little heart but no.  This is not the new Flannery O'Connor.  I kept waiting and waiting for Franklin to bring out the grittiness of the South with the same charm that O'Connor has, but he doesn't even come close.  His South is gritty, no doubt, but is completely devoid of any charm or interest as well.   It's not that I don't think he captures portions of the South accurately either.  I could very clearly picture the trailer parks and poverty.  But the lack of any redemptive aspects in the book - whether through characters or setting, makes the book bleak and dreary.  It's missing the personality that I think O'Connor pulled off even in her darkest stories. 

Entertainment Value
I was also really disappointed by the entertainment value of this one.  Maybe it's another example of the hype machine at work, since SO many people loved this book and have written about the suspence and engrossing nature of the story, but this was not my experience.  My experience was that the story was similar to the writing - dull.  I kept thinking that soon I would care about the characters or soon something interesting would happen but it never really did.  I'm not sure if the ending is supposed to have a "twist" or not, but it was incredibly predictable.  Predictable ending + not really caring about the characters = me wishing the book would just end already.

This was another audiobook choice.  I wasn't blown away by the narration, but that may have more to do with not being blown away by the book as a whole.  The narrator wasn't bad, but he did a sing-songy thing at times that really got on my nerves.  Other than that, no issues with the narration.

I don't recommend this one, Reader Friends.  I think there are better mystery/thrillers and much better literary mystery/thrillers out there.  AND, the comparisons to O'Connor do an injustice to O'Connor.  So don't say that anymore ok?  And if you really want to read it, you can - I mean after all this is just my opinion.  Lots of people loved it, so check it out on Goodreads if you're intrigued and you can see lots of different opinions.  Just please don't tell me that this belongs with A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Goo Gone - My package came!

Reader Friends, I know I have talked to you about Goo Gone before, but I think I have neglected to mention the fact that they recognized my devotion to the product by asking me to be a Goo Gone GooRu.  No, this does not mean I will be pasting Goo Gone ads all over my blog and spamming you.  It DOES mean that they saw my fanatic product devotion and sent me a package of goodies! 

If you haven't heard me say it yet, Reader Friends, Goo Gone is something I think every book owner ought to have.  It's my secret weapon for removing even the stickiest of stickers from book covers.  You know how when you buy a book from the university book store or from a used book store and it has that obnoxious yellow USED tag on the spine?  I know you guys know what I'm talking about because I see them all over.  OR the really awful humongous used book stickers that cover like half of the back of a book.  And you think it'll take napalm or something to remove them?  Put the Goo Gone on, leave it for 5 minutes and come back - the stickers peel right off.  I kid you not. 

I first got the recommendation from a Nestie about three years ago and I've kept a constant supply of it in my home and at my school library since then.  There are a million other uses too, but I'll limit myself to the book related ones here.  Oh and it's safe for paperbacks and hardbacks and is also great for removing ink smears, sticky substances and general grunge from books (I clean all my used books with Goo Gone and rubbing alcohol as soon as I bring them home).

Ok so on to the goodies.  Here's what the wonderful Mary Jo at Goo Gone sent me:

Several bottles of Goo Gone in different strengths and formulas (the jackpot!)

T-shirt, tote bag, cute little hand towels, a Goo Gone bumper sticker, and a folding file thing to hold all of my crafting ideas (super cute fuzz ball in the right hand corner was not included).

Even Sly loves Goo Gone, Reader Friends.  He snuggled right up to all my awesome swag.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Decatur Book Festival Highlight: Joshilyn Jackson

It's time for another DBF feature!  In case you were not already aware, the schedule for Decatur Book Festival was posted this week.   This meant a good two hours spent making meticulous notes and planning my every move at DBF.  I only exaggerate a little.  I did take notes and I do have my own festival schedule planned out.  Thankfully I will have Luke with me this year as my pack mule dedicated and loving spouse, and he can go to signings I'll miss.  One author I will be sure to see, after missing her last year, is Joshilyn Jackson. 

Jackson is one of my all time favorite contemporary Southern authors.  She writes about Georgia and Alabama and small town life in a way that brings out all my bittersweet Southern nostalgia.  Jackson's South is full of small towns and people who know everything about you - except the few skeletons you and your family have hiding in the closets.  Her themes revolve around those secrets and around growing up and leaving and growing up and staying.  I would also say that Jackson's most successful theme, and the theme that draws me back to her books again and again is home: particularly the roots and connections that come with home - both good and bad.  I don't think you need to love the small-town South the way I do to enjoy her books, though.  Everyone can identify with what it means to be home, how we are always connected to our families, and the things in the past that can come back to haunt us or help us as we grow up.

As you can probably guess, Between, Georgia is my personal favorite, but I highly recommend all of Jackson's other books as well.  She's scheduled to appear Saturday morning at 10:00 and I will be there with bells on (I'll be the one who is grinning like a maniac standing next to a grouchy-but-incredibly-gorgeous man with wild hair who just rolled out of bed).  Oh wait, unless you are a crazy stalker and in that case, I'll be in Delaware and you should look for me there.

If you want to follow Joshilyn Jackson or check out any of her social media sites they are as follows:

Website and Blog (that I can personal certify as hilarious)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Mr. Chartwell, like Little Bee, is a book that I found irresistable because of the cover.  I love damask (just ask my dining room) and I love big black dogs.  This big black dog is a little bit less lovable than my little boys though.  The titular Mr. Chartwell is the big black dog of depression that Winston Churchill wrote of.  Throughout the book, he troubles both Mr. Churchill and Esther Hammerhans, a young librarian.  

Beautiful.  The author does an amazing job of personifying depression, without overstating the allegorical aspects of the story.  Esther and Churchill both experience Mr. Chartwell in very different ways, but I found that i recognized aspects of depression in both cases.  As someone who has dealt with depression, or I suppose you could say deals with depression, I thought the author did an amazing job of capturing how it sneaks into your life with the story of Esther and Mr. Chartwell.  I also thought that Churchill's relationship with Mr. Chartwell as an old acquaintence was well portrayed.  

Entertainment Value:
This is a great example of a book that is beautifully written that isn't necessarily that much fun to read.  It is slow.  Not much happens in the way of plot, which actually makes sense because it's hard to do anything at all when you're depressed.  There's a lot of thinking and interior monologue.  At times it's, well, depressing, but despite that I enjoyed reading it.  I would describe it as a slow, thoughtful read.  

I recommend it to anyone who has had or currently has depression as well as anyone who knows someone dealing with depression.  Whether it's a one-time occurence brought on by a traumatic event or a chronic struggle, this book provides great insight into what it's like to deal with sadness on a daily basis.  There are some great descriptions of the physical feelings that come with depression.  In my favorite passage, Mrs. Churchill confronts Mr. Chartwell with how he has affected her husband's life and, through her husband, her own life.  I'm not sure it will appeal as much to those who haven't ever struggled with this personally or known someone closely who has. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Isn't the cover of this book amazing?  It's one of my favorites - and one of the few books I've chosen based on the cover alone.  I've actually owned it for a while, but didn't get around to "reading" it until it was available on audio from the library.  It's too bad I waited so long, because I LOVED it.  I don't usually just copy and past the publisher's summary, but I'm going to do so here because the publisher asks that we don't spoil anything for future readers:

We don't want to tell you what happens in this book.
It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it.
nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this:
           This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again - the story starts there ...
           Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.

It's much harder for me to evaluate the actual writing in an audiobook than it is when I'm reading it - I'm a very visual person and I don't catch things on audio that would bother me to see.  That said, I had no issues with the writing.  The one complaint I've seen in other reviews is that the characters aren't always likable - but to me that just makes the story more real.  No one is likable all the time.  I think the author did a great job of capturing the voice of two women from very different backgrounds. 

Entertainment Value:
I was intrigued from the beginning.  A few moments became slow, but were necessary for character development.  It was interesting because the one part that I think of as being slow was a part Luke also happened to listen to.  When he pointed out that it seemed dull and pointless, I was able to tell him how it gave us more insight into the characters as a whole, which also reminded me how the "slow" parts can be most important in developing character.

This wasn't my favorite to listen to.  It's not that the reader did a poor job, it's just that I didn't think it was exceptional either.  The narrator used an accent for Little Bee's voice that didn't really ring true for me.  I'd rather a reader not use an accent at all than use a fakey sounding accent.  But, also, I have never met anyone in real life from Nigeria, so who knows?  Maybe it was very realistic and I'm wrong.  I just didn't love it.

I read several reviews that talked about the violence in this book and also stated that the book was depressing or grim.  I have to mention those because I so strongly disagree.  There is a scene of shocking violence in the book.  That being said, I didn't find it to be in any way graphic or sensational.  It was real.  This is how wars are being fought and the author leaves out a good deal of description that I think could have swayed the scene towards sensationalism.  As far as the book being depressing, I have no idea how you could read the entire thing and come away with that.  It doesn't end with everyone falling in love and getting married under rainbows, and it's not neatly wrapped up and presented in pretty paper with a bow, but how it can be anything other than hopeful I don't know.  We see true change happen in both women's lives and the prospect of a better future, even if that future isn't happening immediately. 

All of that to say, I highly recommend it.  It deals with a lot of timely issues in a non-partisan way and brings to light the disparity between life in the Western world and life in third world countries that are not so very far away.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock

I love a good unreliable narrator, don't you?  The Book of Lies, by Mary Horlock, is going down on the list for me as one of the best unreliable narrator books.  The book tells the story of Cat, a teenager girl in 1984, who confesses on the first page to murdering her best friend.  Interspersed with Cat's story of how she came to murder this friend, we also read transcripts of a taped confession by Charlie, the brother of Cat's father, who has recently died.  Cat's father was obsessed with the German occupation of the small island of Guernsey, where the book is set, and passes that obsession on to his daughter. Charlie, Cat's uncle, experienced a situation that mirrors Cat's own during the German occupation and through his story we see the secret history of the family.  We also become increasingly aware of Cat's own lies, as well as what may or may not be true regarding the family's history. 

Love it!  Like I mentioned above, I love unreliable narrators and Cat is nothing if unreliable.  Her voice as a teenage girl in the 1980's is perfect and she is a wonderfully flawed character.  I also love the way we see her father and his transcripts of Charlie's "confessions" evolve.  We are introduced to the father, Emile, by Cat, and told he is the island's foremost historian.  It is only as we continue to read Cat's story as well as the Emile's notes that we see that Emile may not have been regarded as a legitimate historian by the rest of the world.  Trying to figure out what is truth and what is the product of Emile's obsessions and Cat's interpretation of those obsessions makes for an incredible read.

Entertainment Value:
I was hooked.  As I mentioned in the writing section, in addition to being an intriguing story (a contemporary girl is bullied by classmates which leads to a murder/the Nazi occupation of a small island during WWII), not knowing how much truth we are being told makes the book even more intriguing.

Obviously the book has gotten a lot of comparisons to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, since it deals with the German occupation of the same small island.  Not having read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, I can't really speak to two compared to each other, but I do highly recommend The Book of Lies, especially if you have an appreciation for unreliable narrators and books where you never really know if what you're being told is the truth.

Thank you to TLC tours for including me in the tour for this book.  If you want to see what others have had to say about the book, you can find a list of the entire tour schedule here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Really exciting news...

I just got an email from Book Sneeze letting me know that I've been selected to blog the Atlanta Women of Faith Conference in August!  I applied a while back and kind of assumed that since I'm a fairly small time blogger I didn't have much of a chance, but lo and behold, this morning the email came!  I am so excited - I've never been to a Women of Faith Conference, but I have heard all about how amazing they are.  I'll be blogging before, after, and hopefully a little bit during the conference and I'll also be live tweeting during the conference.  Some of the guests/speakers: Shelia Walsh, Luci Swindoll, Mary Mary, and Natalie Grant.  I'm so thrilled to get to attend this and can't wait to share the experience with you guys.  I'm going to post this again before the conference, but if you're wanting to follow along, the social media links are as follows:

Twitter: @womenoffaith and #wofimage


The website itself if you are interested in attenting or seeing if conferences are in your area.

If any of you plan to attend the Atlanta conference, please let me know as I would love to meet up with you!

Finally, here's a video preview of the amazing performers and speakers who will be at the conference:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review: The Girl Who Was On Fire

Reader Friends, I am so sorry that I've been neglecting you this week.  Do you want to know why I have been unable to blog?  Are you curious?  Did you miss me?  Here it is:

Yep, A Dance With Dragons came out Monday at midnight and I have spent every single spare second I have since then reading it.  I'm approaching the halfway point and so far it is fabulous.  But I'm catching up today and you can expect more regular posts - I'm going to write a few days ahead so I can spend the weekend finishing the book.  Anyway, on to the book I'm reviewing today:

This is a collection of authors' thought on Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy.  Each author focuses on a particular aspect of the book: the love triangle between Peeta, Gale, and Katniss; the use of reality tv as a theme in the series; the fashion of the Capitol; how the tributes suffer from post-traumatic stress; the relationship of Panem to other hedonistic societies of the past; etc. 

No problems with any of the writing.  Short, essay format, all the author use examples from the book to back up their theories.  I liked the analytical and at times academic looks at the book in conjunction with the series as a fun read.  This book requires the reader to think critically about the series, which I always appreciate.  It's also a fairly easy read, intended for a YA audience, so it's not dry or difficult.

Entertainment Value
This is a no-brainer.  If you loved the series, you'll enjoy this book.  Some essays are not as interesting as others, depending on which parts of the books you enjoyed most, but overall it's a great tool for analyzing the series.  I read it in small portions along with some other books and that worked perfectly for me.  I could read an essay or two at a time, ten to fifteen pages each, and then focus on something else, which I like.  Lots of clearly defined stopping points.

If you haven't read the Hunger Games Trilogy, don't read this book - it does have spoilers and you probably won't find it very interesting.  If you read the Hunger Games books and you didn't like them, again, this probably won't interest you all that much.  But if you LOVED the books and you can't get enough, this is perfect for you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Presidential Challenge: Thomas Jefferson

Reader Friends, you may have noticed that I'm losing the Presidential Challenge hosted by Jackie at Lovely Little Shelf.  I'm trying not to force it and make it an assignment instead of being fun, so stick with me even though these reviews are few and far between.  If I can do 6 this year, I'll feel good about it.  I'm on our third president now, Thomas Jefferson. 

The last book I read for the challenge, John Adams, included a lot of history on Thomas Jefferson as well.  Unfortunately, Jefferson doesn't come off as a very nice person in the John Adams story.  So, after hearing that Jackie had felt like the biography that she read of Jefferson was also a pretty negative portrait of the man, I decided to try something different.  I really wanted to read a book that would give me Jefferson's side of the story, since from what I'd read in John Adams, he seemed like a real jerk.  That's what led me to choose Jefferson's Demons by Michael Knox Beran.  I was also intrigued because the subtitle of the book (Portrait of a Restless Mind) and it's cover copy indicate that the book has a psychological focus, exploring Jefferson's bouts with depression and his family history of mental illness.

I have to say Reader Friends, there is a reason this book took me over two months to read.  After reading over 700 pages on John Adams, I felt like I was giving myself a little breat with 280-something pages on Jefferson.  Oh no.  It took me twice as long to read and here is why: it was so very very boring. 

Ugh.  The author tries really hard to make this academic and literary by including "big" words and fancy terms when others would work just as well.  The word "ennui" is used about 8 bazillion times throughout the book.  It's also a pet peeve of mine for an author to write as if he's using a thesaurus. 

In just  one example, Beran describes "sanguinary violence" when he very well could have said "bloody violence" or just "violence".  When you're describing the French Revolution, we can pretty much assume that it was bloody.  Forcing readers to a dictionary doesn't make an author seem smarter, it just aggravates the reader.  And look, I'm not advocating that readers never have vocabulary challenges.  But my problem is with authors who use those words repeatedly and unnecessarily.  If your big word is the best word for the passage, then use it and I'll gladly look its meaning up in a dictionary.  But don't write as though you're using a thesaurus to find all of your adjectives. 

No problems with the research itself, everything is documented appropriately, it's just written in a stuffy manner.

Entertainment Value:
None.  This book actually probably would have been best used as a back up for having forgotten my Ambien, because I couldn't make it through more than 5 or 10 pages without passing out.  Through the first 100 pages, Jefferson actually doesn't do very much at all.  He goes to Europe, a part I was particularly anxious to hear about from his point of view, but instead of seeing his political interactions in France, particularly with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, we get 100 pages of Jefferson taking a road trip to look at architecture and taste wines.  Actually, we get more like 95 pages about the architecture and wines of the day and 5 pages of Jefferson doing anything at all.  That's an exaggeration, but not by far.  I will grant the author that it is interesting to note how the architectural styles of the period, particularly the ruins being uncovered, influenced Jefferson's decisions in building his home, but that can be said in a sentence. 

What really really bothered me is that we get no sense of Jefferson's "demons" at all.  We see some vague references to a family history of mental illness, we see Jefferson being melancholy at times, but the descriptions of his depression and how they impacted him politically are really barely present at all.  Overall, I learned more about Thomas Jefferson as a person and as a president from reading a biography of John Adams and I learned it in a much more entertaining way.  I was also really disappointed that I still know nothing about Jefferson's motivations for some of the more slimy things he did.

In short, I do not recommend giving this one a try, unless maybe you're dealing with some terrible insomnia.  I know there has got to be a better Jefferson biography out there, but for now I'm moving on to James Madison.

Monday, July 11, 2011

In My Mailbox (20) with extra lots of pictures

Hello Reader Friends!  I've finally downloaded some super cute puppy pictures, as well as pictures of me and my new haircut, but first, the books...Sly helped me out while I was taking pictures, so you can see it took a few tries...

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography by Roger Shattuck

The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
One Nation Under Dog by Michael Schaffer (this one is going to tell me what a crazy dog lady I've become)

My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

These are for review:
The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock (from TLC tours)
Small Town Sinners (for Faith and Fiction Roundtable, provided by the publisher)

Ok, now that you've seen what's keeping me and Sly occupied, here's what the little boys have been doing lately

Me and Chief, on the way out the door to take the puppies to have their neuters and stomach tacks.  Blissfully unaware.

Dexter, just home from surgery.

Both puppies recovering on the couch (ignore my dirty basement please, my only excuse is that I've given it completely over to the dogs now)

Closeup of poor Chiefey recovering

Of course Sly had to investigate - he hadn't ever seen the little boys so still before.

Finally got a haircut and some updated pictures of me and the children.

If you can believe it, they are actually still not grown.

We expect at least another 30 pounds or so, and maybe another inch or two.

Chief is in red and Dexter is in blue.

Chief - my little snuggler.

Puppy pile on daddy!  They are just like children - one can't stand to see other to be getting attention.