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Archive for August, 2008

  • The Smart One by Ellen Meister
  • Publisher: Avon A (August 5, 2008 )
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0061129623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061129629
  • Have you ever read a contemporary novel and so connected with one of the characters that you could imagine him/her as a friend?  That’s the way I feel about Bev, the main character in Ellen Meister’s The Smart One.  Bev is the middle of three sisters – the Smart One, eldest is Clare – the Pretty One, youngest is Joey – the Wild One.

    Meister writes in Bev’s voice; we read all the self-deprecating and self-doubting asides that are in Bev’s head, as well as share her outward joys and struggles.  She is smart, cynical and ironic – just the kind of girlfriend I’d like to have over for a cup of coffee, to wit:

    I never really understood the whole sitting-on-the-lap thing.  To me, it was about as sexy as getting weighed, and made me nearly as self-conscious … the more I tried to get comfortable perched on [his] thighs, the more I realized how undignified I felt.  It made me wonder if other women felt as I did.  Would Clare and Joey feel infantilized on a man’s lap?  Or would they throw their arms around his shoulders and snuggle into his neck?  I cursed the roll of the DNA dice that bestowed my sisters the flirting gene and not me.  Granted, I had gifts they lacked.  But what good was a talent for getting the fifty-point bonus in Scrabble when you were trying to score in a different way entirely?

    The novel opens as Bev returns to her parents’ Long Island home at a pivotal point in her life – she has divorced her cheating husband, decided to change careers to elementary eduction (after spending more than a decade in a series of entry-level jobs related vaguely to her graphic arts eduction), and is interested in relocating to Las Vegas in order to put as much distance as possible between herself and the shambles her life has become.  Clearly, her self-esteem is low.

    Bev’s parents have been visiting their next-door-neighbors, the Waxmans, at the Waxman’s “snowbird” residence, and have extended their trip to Florida due to her father’s broken ankle.  Bev is asked to assist with some maintenance issues at the Waxman’s home, as their son Kenny is unavailable, busy with his job as a comedy writer in Los Angeles.  In Kenny, Ellen Meister has created a character who is the perfect vehicle for the delivery of her best puns and wordplay.

    The novel centers around Bev and her sisters, but the extended cast of characters interact with the three women in a way that adds compassion, excitement and romance to the mix.  The discovery of a body stuffed inside an old industrial barrel is the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” in the long list of mysteries and conflicts to be sorted out.

    I have to confess that when I saw the bright “girly” cover and read the synopsis I thought, “oh, good, this will be a quick light read … I’ll dash off the review in no time!”.  Well, The Smart One turns out to be a deeper read with real/true personalities dealing with real/true situations.  Yes, there are light moments of over-the-top humor and some situations that seem less than realistic, but these lighter moments temper the tough decisions that Bev has to make as she finds her path to the next steps in her life – career, romance and family relationships.  Despite the cupcakes on the cover, this novel packs more “meat” than “sweet”, confronting such issues as infidelity, love versus lust, aging/ailing parents, the power of addiction, and the strength of the stereotypical roles we play in our own families.

    I was pleased to be invited to review this novel as part of the author tour on Blog Stop Book Tours; many thanks to Mary Lewis for introducing me to the work of Ellen Meister, a talented and clever writer!  I’m going to add her debut novel, Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, to my wish list.  If you’d like to learn more, visit the author’s website or check out other stops on the blog tour:   Mom Is Just A NicknameVirtual Wordsmith, Musings From The MittenThe Book Faery ReviewsMaw BooksFighting With WritingBook Room ReviewsPresenting Lenore and Anything That Pays… A Freelance Writer’s Blog.

    I promised a small surprise for one lucky reader – here it is!  I think that we have a bit of the pretty one, the smart one and the wild one in each of us.  I have a little gift package with a cosmetic bag (with mirror, perfect for corralling lipstick, a comb and hair ties in your handbag), a brain-teaser puzzle (should be a cinch for the smart one in you!), and some rub-on tattoos (that rebel phase isn’t permanent, is it?).  Just leave a comment about The Smart One (your take on sibling “labelling”, perhaps?); enter by midnight on Thursday September 4, I’ll announce the winner next Friday!

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    Last week during the weekly Tuesday Thingers question, the Boston Bibliophile asked us who our LibraryThing authors are.  What is a LibraryThing author?  Simply put, “an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.”

    I wasn’t even sure how to find out the answer to this question (I learn more about LT each week with these questions!), but it’s straightforward, just go to your LibraryThing profile (here’s mine) and look in the right-hand column.  In the Member Connections box your LibraryThing Authors are listed underneath Friends and Interesting Libraries.

    After reading several dozen responses to the Tuesday Thingers question, I realized that my paltry two authors paled in comparison to some of your lists!  I decided to start a Challenge to increase my author listings, and invite you to join me.  Here are the guidelines:

    1. The LibraryThing Author Challenge runs from September 1 – November 30, 2008 (a full three months!)
    2. Make a list of LT Authors and books that you’d like to read (keeping in mind that the list of possible authors is always growing, so your wish list may change)
    3. Crossovers with other Challenges are allowed
    4. Post your reviews on your blog and on LibraryThing
    5. Leave a comment on this post with a link to your blog post about this Challenge

    Now, a few housekeeping items:

    1. This is the first Challenge I’ve put together – please let me know if I’ve left out any details!
    2. At the end of the Challenge I’ll give a $20 gift card (your choice: IndieBound, Borders, Barnes & Noble or Amazon) to one random winner; one entry per LT Author book completed according to the above guidelines
    3. I’m not heavily technical – if one of you is willing to create a logo that we can all use for the LibraryThing Author Challenge I’ll give you 5 entries into the gift card drawing as a “thank you!”  *** update 9/2/08 – we have a graphic (see above) … thanks, Lenore and Daniel! ***

    I jotted down a quick list, and will add to it over the next week as I review all the great postings from this past week:

    • The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
    • Aberrations by Penelope Przekop
    • Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

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    Dear Diary …

     

    Each Monday the New York Times runs a column called “Metropolitan Diary”, comprised of reader-submitted vignettes about life in New York.  These short pieces are usually humorous, and often include mention of tourists, cab rides and people-watching in Central Park.

    This Monday, August 25, two items caught my eye, as they mention bookstores and libraries.  I quote them here for your enjoyment:

    Dear Diary,

    The other day I was looking for crime novels by two Brooklyn writers and thought I’d check out the used-book store in Brooklyn Heights.  A approached the bookseller behind the counter and asked, “Where are mysteries?”

    He smiled beatifically and replied, “All around us.”

    (submitted by Harry Kaplan)

    Dear Diary,

    A Monday afternoon in the crowded Children’s Room of the Brooklyn Public Library.

    One girl, 5 or 6 years old, has presumably lost her playmate.  She marches purposefully along the center aisle, peering down all the rows.

    Finally she begins to holler, frowning with impatience:

    “Stella! STELLA!”

    Marlon Brando would be proud.

    (submitted by Jessica Max Stein)

    Do you have any real-life bookish anecdotes to share?

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    The following Spotlight on Bookstores post is written by Lori at Lori’s Reading Corner.  Lori is a prolific reader, who reviews about 3-4 books a week on her blog, which also features book giveaways, weekly memes and reading challenge updates.  She is a LibraryThing Early Reviewer, a chapter leader for PaperBackSwap, and a member of Book Blogs.

    The New England Mobile Book Fair is where all good bibliophiles want to go when they die! 

    The first time I walked in there I was beyond overwhelmed.  Located on the Needham/Newton line, the NEMBF is a GIGANTIC warehouse filled with – what else but BOOKS.  It’s impossible to walk in there and not come out with at least one book.  But most likely you’ll end up with a lot more than that.  Be prepared to set aside a good chunk of time when you plan to visit.  This is not the type of place to just “run in and pick up a book.”  Grab a basket and start roaming.

    The warehouse is divided into three sections ~ Hardcovers, Paperbacks and Discount.  

    The hardcover section is amazing.  You can find anything your heart desires.  They carry everything from brand new releases to travel to cookbook to kids books.  The shelves are loaded with just about any author you can hope to find.  The new releases are proudly displayed towards the front of the store.  While there are some loaded onto the shelves – the uniqueness of the book fair is that they’re also placed in boxes along the floor.  Each one loaded with those books you’re dying to get your hands on.

    The discount room is fantastic for those looking for that extra bargain.  Thousands of titles line the walls.  The discount section is really the gem of the store just because there are a million cheap books in there that you never knew you needed but you cannot live without.  The set-up in here is a little looser than the other rooms, so you’ll need to have the time and patience to walk up and down row after row, looking for that perfect book.  But trust me, the hunting is well worth it!

    Now on to my most favorite room – – the paperback room.  It’s a bibliophile’s dream come true.  Rows upon rows, boxes upon boxes of books.  Lining the walls, the floors, in racks and in every nook and cranny you can find.  You’ll find the newer paperback releases right at the entrance to this gold mine, making it easier if you’re looking for something that just came out.  It’s a great place to stock up on those authors you’ve been dying to try – or to find that book or two in a series you just don’t have yet.

    One of the best things about the place is that all books at NEMBF are discounted.  All NY Times Bestsellers are 30% off the hardcover price.  All other hardcovers and paperbacks are 20% off — EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!!  They even have their own buyer loyalty program.  For every $30 that you spend at the book fair, you receive a stamp.  Once you receive 12 stamps you receive a complimentary $20 gift certificate to use to shop at your hearts content!  They do accept all major credit cards, checks and of course, cash!

    The book fair is about 2 miles off of Route 128, not far from the junction of Route 9.  While its physical location is not ideal (trying to turn left back out on Highland Ave is little like taking your life into your own hands and good luck finding parking on the weekend) these small hassles are well worth it.  Also, if you’re looking for the “homey” feel of a Barnes & Noble or other chain store, you won’t find that here.  There is no area to sit and check out a book, the floors are concrete and the rows narrow.  The goal of the NEMBF is not to have you sit, relax and read – but to buy, buy, buy!

    My only real issue with the NEMBF (and something I didn’t realize the first time I went) is that everything is arranged by publisher, and then alphabetical by title.  Without knowing the publisher it’s sort of like finding a needle in a hay stack.  There are a few computers scattered around for you to look up the information on, and there is always a staff member near by to help.  What I have learned is to find the publishers of the books I like to read most (Berkley Crime – row 10A) and continue to visit those specific aisles.  Also, if there are books I’m just dying to get, I’ll spend some time on Amazon looking up the publishers and making myself a list.  It will save some time mindlessly wandering from row to row.  Unless of course time is not an issue J INSERT SMILEY

    One of my favorite things about the NEMBF is introducing some new friends to it.  As the chapter leader for the MA group on PBS (www.paperbackswap.com) I am responsible for organizing our group get-togethers.  We have had several meetings now where we meet for lunch, chit chat, do a book swap and then head over for the real fun – shopping for books!!  I don’t think that anyone’s walked away from our meetings unhappy (or at least not that I know of).

    If you’ve got an afternoon to kill or a rain/snow day where you just don’t want to stay home – take a ride over to the NEMBF and spend some time book shopping.  I can guarantee you, you won’t be disappointed.

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    Earlier in the week I posted about time travel in books, and introduced it with a reference to the WABAC machine in Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History.  Several people commented that they enjoyed the reminder of innocent Saturday mornings spent watching cartoons; several others said that they weren’t familiar with Mr. Peabody and his friends.

    Whether you’d like a blast from the past, or you’re seeing the WABAC machine for the first time, you might enjoy this YouTube clip from the show itself.

    One of the time travel books I mentioned is Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (my review).  This book really appealed to me, someone who doesn’t consider herself a fan of science fiction.  Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict focuses on the situation the protagonist is in (going to sleep in her studio apartment in present-day L.A. and waking up as part of the upper class in 1813 England), instead of the nuts and bolts of how she got there.  The result is a thoughtful novel about the main character, Courtney Stone, how she manages in her new surroundings, and what she learns about herself and the relationships she left back in Los Angeles.

    Author Laurie Viera Rigler has generously offered personally inscribed paperback copies of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict to two of my readers!

    How can you get in on the fun?!?  Simply leave a comment mentioning what you would find most appealing and most challenging about living in Jane Austen’s world.  Here’s my answer:  most appealing (assuming I landed, like Courtney, in a well-to-do family) would be not having to do the mundane household chores – cooking, cleaning and laundry – that take up a good part of my day now.  Most challenging would be carrying myself at a formal party or ball; with my two left feet I’d be an embarrassment to myself and my partner!

    Now it’s your turn!  Enter by midnight on Friday September 5; a random drawing will be held, and the winner announced on September 6.  I’ll look forward to reading your ideas!

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    Courtesy of the Boston Bibliophile, here’s this week’s Tuesday Thingers … Today’s topic: LibraryThing authors. Who are your LibraryThing authors? What books of theirs do you have? Do you ever comment on an author’s LT page? Have you received any comments from an author on your LT account?

    There are only two LT authors that I’ve read:  Phyllis Zimbler Miller (Mrs. Lieutenant) and Emmett James (Admit One).  Both of these were for blog tours, and we e-mailed and commented on blogs and LT accounts as part of the communication process before and after reviewing.

    I’ll be doing an author tour with David Ebershoff (The 19th Wife) in November for TLC Book Tours, so he’ll be added.  I’d love to say I have Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Sisters), but her novel is still on my wish list, not yet in my library!

    I have heard from several (non-LT) authors after my review of their books have posted on my blog.  So many of them use “Google Alerts” or other notification services that they know right away when their name is mentioned in the blogosphere!  Since I usually e-mail a copy of my review (or a short note with a link to the review) to the author/publicist/publisher, I’m always surprised when an author “beats me to it” by contacting me shortly after my review has posted.

    I’ve suggested LT Authors to someone whose work I recently reviewed.  I like the features available, such as author chat, and think it would make the author more accessible and more connected with his readers.  Here’s an idea for a new LT feature – a button/form/link that we could use to invite an author to join (does this already exist?).

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    There’s still time to join us in planning “the week ahead”, and to enter to win a Page-A-Day Book Lover’s Calendar.  I picked up the calendar from our local bookstore, so I’m ready to send it out to the winner at the end of September.  Find the details here.

    A snapshot of what may, or may not, happen in my life this week:

    Monday 8/25/08 – To the Post Office to mail The Gargoyle to cheesygiraffe, the winner of the giveaway.  I’m sending my second (personal) copy to Kimberly at Fit at Forty Plus; Kimberly is unable to run (her passion) while she recovers from outpatient surgery, and really, really, really wants to read this book.  She has agreed to write a guest review for my blog and to mail back the book so I can read it … a win-win situation!

    Tuesday 8/26/08 –If it’s Tuesday, it must be time for Tuesday Thingers … I wonder what the Boston Bibliophile has in store for us this week!?

    Wednesday 8/27/08 – Whether you call it mid-week, hump day, or just plain ol’ Wednesday, in Boston it’s “Prince Spaghetti Day!” (Does anyone else remember those ads?!).  Wednesday means it’s time for an SOB – Spotlight on Bookstores.  Today Lori from Lori’s Reading Corner offers a guest post about the New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton.

    Thursday 8/28/08 – The Upsilamba book group, my friends in Connecticut, are meeting tonight to discuss Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank.  I was hoping to arrange a “field trip” down to see them, but it doesn’t look like it will work out.  The library has a copy that I requested, so I’ll try to read the book before Thursday, and maybe call in to chat about the book and catch up with those that weren’t in Boston for our “girls’ night out” last Friday.

    Friday 8/29/08 – On Friday I’ll post my review of Ellen Meister’s The Smart One.  I’m doing this review as part of an author tour for Blog Stop Book Tours, the first time I’ve worked with this group.  Click on the link to see a list of other blogs that have reviewed The Smart One as part of this tour.  Along with the review I have a surprise for one lucky reader, to be announced with the review!

    The Weekend – Best wishes to all for a happy and safe Labor Day Weekend.  Enjoy this unofficial last weekend of summer!

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    Who remembers the WABAC Machine?  This was from Peabody’s Improbable History, a show-within-a show during the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons of the 1960s (disclaimer:  I watched the re-runs!).  Peabody would set the WABAC machine to a date in the past, and give unsuspecting viewers a history lesson!  For a blast from the past, read the Wikipedia article on the subject.

    A few weeks ago I bought the July/August 2008 issue of Bookmarks magazine, which had an extensive article on Time Travel in a cover-grabbing article called “Great Science Fiction”.  Science fiction, moi?  Apparently, oui, as several books on my bookcase involve the subject of time-travel.

    In the past few months I’ve reviewed Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, a fun novel about a present-day Los Angelean who wakes up in Regency-period England, and Miss Alcott’s E-Mail (here), a clever biography of Louisa May Alcott.

    Other time-travel books on Bookmarks’ list include:

    • Time and Again by Jack Finney (I’ve read this one, too!)
    • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
    • “A Sound of Thunder” a short story by Ray Bradbury
    • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
    • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger

    What other time travel books have you read?  Are there other suggestions for a non-science-fiction reader like me?  I enjoyed the three that I’ve read because they focus on the result of the time-travel, not the technical process of getting there …

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    I know you’ve been waiting for it, thanks for your patience!  I was away for the night last night – a great “girls’ night out” with great friends from out-of-state.  After relaxing with a few cocktails at the Marriott Long Wharf, we had a late dinner at Villa Francesca in Boston’s North End, then walked around Faneuil Hall (which closes a lot earlier than I remember it used to!).  Breakfast this morning was at Anthony’s Cafe, followed by shopping and more people-watching … we helped reunite a lost little girl with her family (the funky hat made of balloons made it easier to identify her in the throngs of people).  After a quick lunch at Tia’s on the waterfront, my friends dropped me at home on their way back to Connecticut.

    So, back at my laptop I visited random.org to pick the winner in my giveaway for Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle… (drumroll please) …

    Random Integer Generator

    Here are your random numbers:

    38

    Timestamp: 2008-08-23 20:12:45 UTC

    cheesygiraffe, I’ve sent you an e-mail, please respond with your mailing address so I can get the book in the mail to you.  Everyone else — stayed tuned for another giveaway announcement next week!

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  • Months and Seasons by Christopher Meeks
  • Publisher: White Whisker Books (April 7, 2008 )
  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0615188702
  • ISBN-13: 978-0615188706
  • I connected with Christopher Meeks when he responded to a post I wrote about the difficulty my book group has had discussing short stories; he wrote an excellent guest post which offered several suggestions on how to approach a short fiction collection, including the proposal that there might be a theme of sorts running through the stories.  He says that “short story collections as a whole should be thought of as concept rock albums … some stories are lighter than others, and, as in a good album or concert, the reader’s emotions should be like [a] roller coaster … ups and downs, and the loop is a surprise.” 

    Christopher offered me a review copy of his latest collection, Months and Seasons.  I gladly accepted, eager to approach short stories with an enlightened eye!  This is a group of eleven short fiction pieces “about time – narratives of different people at different ages.” 

    His simile to a roller coaster is apt here; some of the stories gently unfold, others surprise with their twists and turns.  The work is quite varied in style, but consistent in its high quality.  I was reminded of Roald Dahl’s short pieces when I read “The Farms at 93rd and Broadway”, about an older couple who unexpectedly attend a hypnosis demonstration instead of the Broadway show they had set out to see; by the end of the piece I was wondering which character was showing signs of senility and which was bluffing.

    Some pieces are heavy on dialogue, others rely more on detailed narration.  “The Holes in My Door” begins as a piece about a man suffering from depression more than a year after his wife has left him.  Meeks deftly tells the tale in the first person, as the unnamed narrator slips deeper and deeper into paranoia:  “I heard noises outside each night, things I had never noticed from my room before – an odd, loud cawing for instance.  Couldn’t be a bird – few birds are active at night.  Must be a robber calling to his cohort …” 

    At the young end of the age spectrum is a 7-year-old girl at camp, afraid of getting in the lake for swim lessons.  At the opposite end is a 78-year old man and his experience of “The Old Topanga Incident.”  This story is based on a ravaging fire that consumed over 16,000 acres in November 1993; it is gripping not only because of the way Meeks tells of the force of nature that is the Santa Ana winds fueling the fire, but also because of the urgency expressed by the point of view Meeks chooses.  “The Old Topanga Incident” is told as if the narrator is telling it to you, not you-the-reader, but you-the-protagonist, as you watch all your worldly, and highly-prized, possessions, burn to ash:

    You open the door and you see a number of things simultaneously:  two firemen in bright yellow rubberized coats stand before you, shouting, “You’ve got to get out now!”  Two hundred yards up the hill is a wall of flame, and the house of the svelte woman with the dog burns brightly as if it were made of gasoline.  Flames shoot high.  Embers the size of your fist land in the juniper and cypress trees in your yard, on your car, in the driveway.

    The end of Months and Seasons offers a “bonus track”, a story from his upcoming collection The Brightest Moon of the Century.  Each of the stories in the book center around the character Edward, parceling out bits and pieces of his life over a thirty-year period.  “The Hand” is the first story in this upcoming group, which will culminate as a “novel-in-stories” a la Melissa Bank’s The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

    For a sneak peek at the “ups and downs,” written about in Months and Seasons, watch this YouTube video of an actor-read excerpt from the story “Whiskers”, introduced by Meeks.  His work has appeared in Rosebud and Clackamas Literary Review as well as other literary journals.  A previous collection, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea was published in 2005.  Learn more by visiting the author’s website or subscribing to his blog.  Climb aboard the roller coaster that is Months and Seasons; the ride will stay with you for a while!

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