Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Review: There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, And He Hanged Himself by Lyudmila Petrushevskaya

I've had Petrushevskaya on my TBR list since her first US-published work (There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby) gained press in the US as NY Times Book Review best seller and won some fantasy awards.  When I got a chance to review this book, her second US-published collection of short stories, I jumped on it.  Petrushevskaya is a well known author of literary fiction and short stories in Russia and is gaining prominence in the US.  This collection includes stories written throughout her career, each of which focuses on love in some shape or form and which are generally set in post-revolutionary Russia.

I feel totally unqualified to evaluate the writing in this book, since my experience with Russian literature is limited almost exclusively to Crime and Punishment.  I was largely motivated to read the book because of my lack of knowledge of Russian literature, but I think that also really limits my ability to critique the writing.  So bear in mind that I am far, far from an expert.

That said, I wasn't really blown away by the writing like it seems many reviewers were.  This could largely be due to my ignorance of Russian writing and what is lost in translation, but I just didn't see anything particularly appealing in the writing.  It was very simplistic and at many point dreary.  I felt like there was something there, but I wasn't fully grasping it.  There was a disconnect for me that kept me from fully grasping WHY this is exceptional writing.

Entertainment Value
All of the stories were interesting and easy to read, but as with the writing, I felt like there was something I was missing.  I liked them, but I didn't love them the way I usually love short stories.

I wasn't compelled to keep reading the way I was with Tenth of December or Shout Her Lovely Name, but I did find the book interesting.  Also, I plan on continuing to explore Russian literature and see if my understanding changes any.  I have the author's collection of fairy tale style stories on my TBR and definitely plan on trying them as soon as I get a copy of the book.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum

No introduction or summary required here, I'd guess.  Although, I have to admit, I went into the story with only the knowledge of the story I've gained from pop culture and, of course, the musical Wicked.  I have never seen the movie.  Not even once.  We weren't allowed to as kids, I can't remember why, either because of witches or because it was too scary.  And not having seen it as a child, I've just never gotten around to watching it.  So my review won't have any comparisons to the movie adaptation, which I'd guess is what most people are familiar with.

There's a reason this is a children's literature classic.  I thought the writing really transcended the time during which it was written (first published in 1900), which is always impressive to me.  It doesn't read like an "old" book.  It does, however, read like an amazing book.  I fell in love immediately, especially with the Scarecrow.  The characters are just incredible and I think their ability to exist in 1900 just as well as 2013 is remarkable characterization on Baum's part.

Entertainment Value
Again, the ability to transcend eras as far as writing style is concerned makes a big difference here.  It doesn't read like an "old" book, which I think will increase its appeal to children.  It's certainly one I plan on reading aloud if I have kids one day (and of course I always have George).  Also, I think it makes an entertaining read for an adult audience.  I'm glad I read it, not just for the cultural awareness I was lacking, but because it was a fun book.

And I would be absolutely remiss if I didn't mention the amazing illustrations in this particular edition.  It is chock full of these and they are all gorgeous.  This one has the Cowardly Lion meeting the Scarecrow. 

A huge thanks to Harper Collins for providing this beautiful copy for me to review.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Review: Why Can't We Just Get Along by Shelley Hendrix

This topic (dealing with difficult people) is something I've been looking for a good book on for quite some time.  I've even gone to the Christian bookstore just to look for a book on how to deal with difficult people.  Naturally, I requested it when I saw it available on NetGalley.  You can tell from the cover that it's a book intended for women and focuses largely on women's relationships with other women, typically in social  and familial settings, although it could also be applied to work settings.

Self-help type books tend to really defy my usual rating system, so I'm just going to write one review for both writing and entertainment value this time.

I think the writing will definitely have an appeal to a certain type of reader.  Unfortunately, I don't think I'm the reader this book needed.  And I hate to judge a book by its cover, but I feel like in this case I probably should have for both my sake and the author's.  It's not a  I hate to say it that way, but what I mean is, there was no new information or insight.  I wasn't really challenged and I felt like it was all information I have from various sermons, women's conferences, and Bible studies.

The focus of the book is also largely on dealing with social and familial relationships.  I was hoping for less of a social, mean girls, woman to woman friendship vibe and more of a practical tips for dealing with both men and women in difficult situations across the board, as opposed to the social-familial atmosphere.  My most difficult relationships are not with other women and are not confined to social or home-based settings.  It's largely in my work life and, honestly, the most difficult people I work with are men.

Again, I don't think this is necessarily an indication of poor writing or shallow thinking on the author's part.  I think the fact that the focus was so centered on women's relationships with other women in the home and in social situations kept it from addressing what I was hoping for.  And as far as the deepness goes, I think the level of the book will appeal to a lot of people, especially those who haven't heard the message before.

As far as good qualities go, the book is easy to read, has a conversational tone that I found appealing, and contains lots of anecdotes and stories that keep the book moving.  It would probably make for a great young women's Bible study, as it's full of discussion questions that I think would keep a conversation lively and interesting.

Also, if any of you have any suggestions for books on dealing with difficult people in the workplace with less of a focus on woman to woman issues and more of a focus on professional relationships, I am totally in the market and would love to hear them!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Review: A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

This is so shameful, Reader Friends.  I am officially the worst guest poster ever.  Almost two weeks ago, I had a guest post over at Lost In Books during Becca's Women's Lit Event and I totally forgot to post about it over here.  All I can say is, go back and read all the posts from the event, because they're all great, and if you want to read my review of A Room Of One's Own, click here!  Big thanks to Becca for including me, even though I totally dropped the ball on promoting the event.  Seriously go back and check it out though, there are some really great discussions.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: Dark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes

Genevieve has always dreamed of owning a houseboat, and her increasing dissatisfaction with her job and life in the city drives her to make some quick cash as a dancer at a high-end gentleman's club.  Things go according to plan until the night her boss shows up and recognizes her.  She agrees to hide a mysterious package for a bouncer at the club in exchange for fast cash - her ticket out of London.  But just a few weeks after she has settled into a quiet life on her houseboat, a body washes up at her dock - a face from the past - and her newly found peaceful life turns into a nightmare.

I chose to review this one based on my love for Haynes' debut novel, Into The Darkest Corner.  I was really impressed with her first novel, but I wasn't as blown away by this one.  I liked the characters fine and I really liked the plot, but nothing jumped out at me as being above average for the genre.  Also, I was bothered by Genevieve's love interest and the way their story developed.  I didn't feel like their back story justified her level of devotion to him.  I would have liked to see more of a basis for their intense feelings.

Entertainment Value
While I wasn't as impressed with the writing in this one, I definitely thought the suspense and plot were as entertaining.  I was into the story, liked all of the characters, and cared about the outcome.  It kept me up late at night and I found myself thinking about it when I wasn't reading, which are two ways I know I'm reading a good thriller.

If you like the thriller genre or if you enjoyed Into The Darkest Corner, I recommend it.  As much as I liked the story, I had a few qualms about the way the sex industry is portrayed.  It's nothing that I haven't seen in many other books, but it's kind of a trend I've noticed in fiction and don't really like - the sex industry portrayed as a lucrative and empowering choice for women.  I think I'm going to do a full post on my feelings on it in the future, but for now I'll just say that I think the percentage of women involved in the sex industry who are making lots of money and are participating in it by choice despite the wide range of opportunities they have is minuscule compared to the number of books that depict it that way.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

Another juicy evil child book-  just my type of read!  Daniel Hunter is a lawyer who has taken on a young client, Sebastian, accused of murdering another child in cold blood.  Sebastian brings up Daniel's own unresolved issues from the past - a troubled childhood and a broken relationship with his adoptive mother, Minnie.  As Daniel grapples with the issue of guilt, he must decide whether or not his sympathy for Sebastian is misplaced and how his decisions revolve around his inability to face his past.

The story is told in alternating timelines - Daniel's past and Daniel's present.  Each timeline has its own story and its own mystery/element of suspense.  I'm always a fan of a well-written stand-alone mystery/thriller and this one certainly fit that description.  It's genre fiction, so by definition it doesn't deviate too far from the typical thriller outline, but I think the author does a fine job of establishing interesting and appealing characters and keeping the plot moving at a good pace.

Entertainment Value
Above average for the genre.  I liked the two separate story lines - I felt like that added an extra dimension to the plot.  I was interested and intrigued and the suspense kept me reading.  It kept me up past my usual bedtime, which is exactly what I'm looking for in a thriller.

If you're a fan of the genre or if you are a fan of psychotic child books, this is a good one to read.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: The Happiness Project

Between this book, a book given to me by my friend Jacki, titled 7, and the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home, I am GETTING THINGS DONE this year.  Seriously, this is one of my favorite reads so far and added so much to my motivation to get things accomplished and to take charge of life and get organized.  It follows Rubin and her family for 12 months as she focuses on a different area of life each month and works to improve her happiness in that area.  Some ideas I've implemented:

  • If a task needs to be done and will take less than one minute, do it RIGHT NOW
  • Make a list of nagging tasks and start crossing them off on a regular basis - I'm trying to get one nagging task done each week that I don't have a major project in the 52 Weeks plan.
  • Quit nagging
  • Cut people slack
  • Get rid of things that don't work
  • Don't stockpile, but purchase enough of things I need that I'm not constantly running out
  • Act like I want to feel
The joy of the book for me was more focused on the experience of reading Rubin's ideas and applying them to my own life than on the actual writing of the book.  I think she did a fine job with the writing - it's typical of its genre in that it's witty and fun and light-hearted and easy to read.  

Entertainment Value
The perfect mix of entertaining and inspiring.  I simultaneously wanted to quit reading to put her ideas into action and to neglect everything I needed to be doing so I could read more.  The minute I finished I rushed to the Sony Reader Store to get a copy of Happiness At Home, the author's other book on happiness.

I highly recommend reading this one.  I think it has a lot of practical ideas that are easy to put into practice and truly make life, well, happier.  I'm not typically the kind of person who thinks that my greatest priority in life is making myself happy, but I found that Rubin's book really doesn't dwell on personal happiness so much as cultivating a life that makes others happy.  It was very generous and others-focused, which I appreciated.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Haul (9)

I feel like I've been away from the blog forever, but in actuality it's really only been a few days.  Less than a week, I think.  Work has been crazy - we remodeled, which meant moving from space to space as things were painted and refloored and all that.  But I'm finally settled back in my little library and should be back on track with my blogging.  It's been a while since I've posted a book haul because I've been doing a really good job of limiting my review commitments and avoiding buying new books (mostly).  Here's what I've picked up in the past few weeks:

Deconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Review copy for a TLC Tour

Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer
Review copy for a TLC tour

Gulp by Mary Roach (I am SO excited about this one)
For review from WW Norton

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
This is a GORGEOUS illustrated hardback that I received from Harper Collins for review.

I had really planned on avoiding the library sale this spring.  I'm trying to make some big changes in the way I spend my money and the excesses in my life.  Unfortunately, the number of unread books I own is certainly excessive.  So I was going to avoid the library sale.  But then we started this remodel and I had nowhere to sit and the sale was happening just down the hall from my office.  So I went.  And this is what I picked up:

School Girls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap by Peggy Orenstein (you'll recognize her as the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter)

The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives by Cheryl Jarvis

Slaying the Mermaid: Women and the Culture of Sacrifice by Stephanie Golden

How Sex Works: Why We Look, Smell, Taste, Feel, and Act The Way We Do by Dr. Sharon Moalem

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons

Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood by Naomi Wolf

You may notice a bit of a theme in the books I bought.  By the time I went to the sale, most of it was picked over, but they had a great selection of feminist/women's studies books, several of which were already on my TBR list, that no one had touched.  I was pretty pleased with what I was able to get for only $14.  

How about you, Reader Friends?  Picked up anything good lately?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So Very Proud

I got this in the mail today!  (Please don't look at my atrocious laminate).  Instead, note that this is the February edition of one of my all-time favorite literary publications, The Believer.  If you were to open it, you'd find a poem, Safari, written by my own big brother, George David Clark (you will know him best as my nephew's daddy).  I'm basically bursting with pride and, yes, sibling jealousy.  He's in THE BELIEVER.  It's pretty much the biggest deal to me ever.  So I'm sending you, Reader Friends, to the Believer website, where you can read and excerpt of David's poem OR listen to him read it in its entirety, which I think is pretty cool.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Audiobook Review: Long Gone by Alafair Burke

Alice Humphrey has lived a privileged life as the daughter of a world-famous filmmaker.  However, when she asks her father to stop supporting her and allow her to live on her own, she realizes that real life is harder than she imagines.  So when she is approached with an offer to manage a brand-new art gallery, she overlooks the concerns of friends and family and eagerly accepts.  It seems like a dream job until one morning when she unlocks the doors to discover the body of her benefactor and an otherwise empty art gallery.  She  becomes the number one suspect when the police discover that not only is the man's identity not who Alice claims, but the artist who art had been hanging in the gallery seems non-existent.  Alice knows it's all a set up and sets out to prove her innocence.

Fine.  Not exceptionally good or exceptionally poor.  Much more coincidence than I like in a thriller.  Also, I felt like it was longer than necessary.  I could have done with less detail and fewer plot trails and irrelevant story lines.

Entertainment Value
This made up for the problems I had with the writing to some degree.  Even though I felt like the coincidences were distracting, they still made for an interesting story.  It did all fit together like a puzzle in the end and there were some moments that shocked me.  The main problem is that I didn't really care about the characters.  The story itself was interesting enough and kept me going even though the slower portions of the story.

Ok.  Nothing to write home (or on my blog) about.  Not bad though.

If you're really into the genre, I'd give it a try.  Otherwise, I think there are better books for dipping your toes into the thriller pool.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Belated Book Birthday: A Shot of Sultry by Macy Beckett

I'm not going to review this one because the author is actually a friend of mine - a Nestie in fact.  My policy in regards to Nestie authors is that I don't do critical reviews.  I'd be biased, obviously, because I love them, and I'd never critique a friend's work unasked or in public.  So that explains the lack of critical review on this one and also gives you a heads up that I may be a bit biased in my love for this book.

With that said, you must read A Shot of Sultry!  Ok, so you probably remember when I raved about Macy's first book, Sultry With A Twist, and that I raved about it endlessly.  And I have to say that I think A Shot of Sultry is even better.  This time we're taking a look at Luke Gallagher's best friend Trey and his romance with Luke's long-lost sister Bobbi.  I love that we got to know characters introduced in the first book in a new way and that Luke and Mae June had cameos, but mainly Trey just killed me.  

These books are the perfect blend of sweet and, well, sultry, and the characters are the icing on the cake.  I'm so privileged to know the author and I'm thrilled that I do because, as I've mentioned before, I'm not the typical romance reader.  This series wouldn't normally be on my radar, but they are seriously delightful reads.  They're not your  stereotypical bodice-ripper romance - they're sweet and heartfelt and character-driven.  I highly recommend picking the series up - and I am waiting anxiously for the third book!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review: Not Less Than Everything by Catherine Wolff

I've had a pretty extensive religious education, I think, compared to most people.  I grew up in church, my parents were missionaries, I did Sunday School, GA's, Bible Drill, youth group, VBS, and then went on to Christian high school and got my undergraduate degree from a Christian college.  So I'm well-versed in the heroes of the faith with one major caveat - they're all Protestant heroes of the faith.  I think in my very Protestant education I missed out on learning a lot of the valuable lessons that can be taken from the lives of Catholic heroes.  So I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to review this book, edited by Catherine Wolff, featuring prominent Catholic writers (including one of my very favorite living authors Ann Patchett) describing their heroes of faith.

In terms of writing, we are talking the cream of the crop.  Ann Patchett, Tobias Wolff, Alice McDermott, Mary Gordon, etc.  Every essay is impeccably written.  The essay subjects ranged from, as the title states, Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero.  If you're wanting historical information, it's there.  If you're looking for spiritual insight or inspiration, it's also there.

Entertainment Value
In terms of entertainment value, I tended to prefer the essays that were more personal and related to spiritual growth than those that were academic in tone, but what the really means is that there is something in here for everyone.  There are deeply philosophical, historical, and academic essays, and there are personal anecdotes and musings.  The variety kept it interesting and I learned something significant from every essay.  I read it over the course of several evenings, a few essays at a time, but it could all be read at once as well.

I highly recommend reading this.  I think if you're interested in matters of faith, whether Protestant or Catholic, or of any religion, there is something to gain from reading this.  It's also an example of beautiful essays from current authors on what they believe and their personal opinions on faith, which I think will appeal to any reader who is interested in the lives of authors.

Thank you to TLC for providing me with a copy to review!  Click here for the complete tour list.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What I Read in February

So February.  It was a big month for me, with my trip to LA, and I also did quite a bit of reading.  Here's what happened in books this month:

Long Gone by Alafair Burke
The Demi-Monde: Winter by Rod Reese
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Driving Alone: A Love Story by Kevin Lynn Barnes
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres
Bossypants byTina Fey
Why Can't We Just Get Along by Shelley Hendrix
When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough by Lillian Daniel
Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun
No Mark Upon Her ny Deborah Crombie
The Black Box by Michael Connelly
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Total read in February: 14
Total read in 2013: 26
Pages read in 2013: 7849
Amount saved: $316.25

In terms of what's going on with us, the month has really flown by quickly.  Preparing for and taking my trip to LA took up a lot of the beginning of the month.  The trip itself was wonderful and really challenging in many ways, which you can read about here.  During the second half of the month we both got some kind of nasty winter bug.  Mine turned in to bronchitis which stuck around for a good week and a half.

I mentioned last month that this was a slower month in terms of 52 Weeks to an Organized Home and that proved true.  My main achievements for that challenge were cleaning out over 5 years of email and archiving everything so that only emails that need me to take some kind of action remain in my inbox and organizing my contacts.  I now have everyone I frequently email, send mail to, or call listed and organized in my iphone for easy access, as well as all emergency numbers and doctor information.

I also started (and haven't yet finished) a book that was given to me by my friend Jacki called Seven.  It's about dramatically changing consumption patterns and excess in our daily lives.  Based on my reading in the book, I did an initial closet purge and wound up getting rid of six bags of clothing.  I still have more to do, but it's so refreshing to get rid of stuff.