Thursday, January 31, 2008

And The Winner is...

Congratulations "Julie P"! You've won a shiny new copy of The Monsters of Templeton.

Want to know how I did it?
I listed each commentor sequentially, with the second entry being the next in the sequence. Then I visited the handy dandy and voila!

Thank you all for participating in our first giveaway! Surely there'll be more books to giveaway, so please keep your eyes peeled to this blog.

Julie, just send us an email and we'll sort out getting your book over to you ASAP!

Win A Copy of "The Monsters Of Templeton"

You can win a copy of the book the Booklist calls "a fantastically fun read". I have a copy of The Monsters of Templeton to give away. Please leave a comment here by midnight EST time January 30, 2008 to be automaticaly entered.

For an even better chance to win, post about this contest on your own blog (linking back to this post) and your name will be entered twice! The winner will be announced on January 31, 2008.

I will also be posting a short interview we did with the author Lauren Groff and a schedule of her public appearances very soon. Stay tuned....

Julie's "Monsters" Review
Lisa's "Monsters" Review

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Got a Question for John Grisham?

I moved past my John Grisham obsession sometime ago, although I still find myself compelled to pick up his legal thrillers, which means I'll likely be purchasing The Appeal (his new book) to read on one of my many plane rides this year.

He's being interviewed by the TODAY show on Tuesday, January 29, and plans to answer viewer questions, so if you have one, go ahead and send it in - link here. I'm pretty sure I have a question, but I dont' know what it is yet.
Also, here is a link to an interview that Borders did with him. It's a short one, with the plan for the full interview to be posted on Wednesday, January 30.

By the way, I highly recommend The Innocent Man. It was well-written, heartwrenching and shed some light on how easily injustice happens.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lisa's Review: The House At Riverton

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they-and Grace-know the truth.

In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace's youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties, and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever. ~ B&N

The House at Riverton is a house full of secrets. Some big, some small - all with devastating consequences. At 98, Grace Bradley has finally decided to share the secrets she'd been keeping for over 70 years, when a filmmaker comes to her to provide insight into the lives of the two sisters she served in her youth.

Kate Morton's prose was very easy to get engrossed in. I particularly enjoyed the no fuss, no muss way she had of revealing answers, almost as if they were no big deal. I was quite impressed with the way she, a young woman, precisely captured the essence and insights of an older woman. Grace, is a fully formed protagonist but not without her flaws. I personally, found it difficult to forgive her for her part in the broken relationship with her daughter.

Each and every character is rich and very vividly drawn - Hannah's fierce feminism and longing for freedom; Emmeline's wide-eyed innocence and later her wild partying; the stoic and ever dutiful staff of the house. Ah the house - equally vivid and as much a character and keeper of secrets. I found myself rather infatuated with the House and the grounds, I wanted to spend time in that library, though I didn't much envy Grace's having to clean it.

Though there were a few predictabilities, they only served to enhance the plot and the surprises were always unexpected. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Grace and was sad to see her secret revealed, because that meant the end of her story.

I strongly recommend that you pick this one up on April 22.

Final Take: 4.5/5

Friday, January 25, 2008

Julie's Review: Firefly Lane

Summary: In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all---beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable. So begins Kristin Hannah’s magnificent new novel. Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives. From the beginning, Tully is desperate to prove her worth to the world. Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she longs to be loved unconditionally. In the glittering, big-hair era of the eighties, she looks to men to fill the void in her soul. But in the buttoned-down nineties, it is television news that captivates her. She will follow her own blind ambition to New York and around the globe, finding fame and success . . . and loneliness. Kate knows early on that her life will be nothing special. Throughout college, she pretends to be driven by a need for success, but all she really wants is to fall in love and have children and live an ordinary life. In her own quiet way, Kate is as driven as Tully. What she doesn’t know is how being a wife and mother will change her . . . how she’ll lose sight of who she once was, and what she once wanted. And how much she’ll envy her famous best friend. . . .For thirty years, Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship---jealousy, anger, hurt, resentment. They think they’ve survived it all until a single act of betrayal tears them apart . . . and puts their courage and friendship to the ultimate test.Firefly Lane is for anyone who ever drank Boone’s Farm apple wine while listening to Abba or Fleetwood Mac. More than a coming-of-age novel, it’s the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices. It’s about promises and secrets and betrayals. And ultimately, about the one person who really, truly knows you---and knows what has the power to hurt you . . . and heal you. Firefly Lane is a story you’ll never forget . . . one you’ll want to pass on to your best friend.

Review: Firefly Lane spans the 30 year friendship of TullyandKate, best friends since their younger years when an unlikely friendship was formed and a quick bond ignited. While overall I enjoyed the book and the format that it was written in, I found the characters to be completely sterotypical and 2-dimensional. Kate was the good girl who was not career driven and just wanted a family and ended up being a stay at home mom. Tully was the career driven one who wanted to be successful more than anything and at any cost. I find that most of my friends and myself included are some of both of these characters.

I loved the fact that the book was set throughout the 70s,80s,90s and 2000s. There were so mnay things I could identify with and recognized. The music references and fashions were some of my favorite things about the book and it took me back to my childhood and adolesence. I thought the instance that separated Tully and Kate for a while was a bit contrived but yet it fit into the characters personas.

I enjoyed the relationship between Kate and her mom, Mrs. M; Kate and her daughter Marah. It wasn't only a book about friendships but a book about all personal relationship. And while I don't think all girls hate their moms throughout all of their adolesence, I do think that the book acurately portrays the struggles of those relationships. We all think that our moms don't understand or went through what we are, the truth of the matter is they did to some point. And while some of the issues change the need for independence during the teen years never does.

To me this book about friendship was no different than others I've read in the past. I would read Kristin Hannah again but probably not for a while.

Final Take: 3/5

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Julie's Review: Promise Me

Summary: Last seen in bestseller Coben's Darkest Fear (2000), Myron Bolitar, former basketball star (Boston Celtics) turned sports and entertainment agent and occasional knight in shining armor, is back in fighting form in his action-packed eighth thriller. For the past six years Myron has been leading a quiet life, much of it at his parents' old house in Livingston, N.J. A new girlfriend, Ali Wilder, a 9/11 widow, is helping to bring him out of his shell. Concerned that Ali's teenage daughter, Erin, and Erin's friend, Aimee Biel, might fall in with the wrong crowd, Myron gives them his contact information in case either of them feels she needs help. Aimee later calls him in the middle of the night for a lift to a friend's house, on condition that her request remain a secret. When Aimee turns up missing in circumstances mirroring those surrounding another vanished girl, Bolitar himself becomes a suspect in her disappearance and must use his wits and martial arts skills to uncover the truth. Coben fans will find much to enjoy in this well-crafted suspense novel, which has a startling final twist.'s Weekly

Review: This is my first Harlan Coben novel, both my dad and step-dad enjoy his books. So I didn't know that Myron Bolitar had been in any other novels and sometimes this is a hinderance in understanding the character but not in this case. You get the idea that Myron is a pretty stand up guy and that he's played "hero" a few times before during his life. You also know that he's a former athlete that never really made it "big" but that his life went in a different direction. In Promise Me (Myron Bolitar Mysteries) he tries to protect two teenage girls by making them promise him that if they are in trouble they'll call him. One of the two girls is the daughter of his life long friend Claire Biel and the other one is ErinWilder, the daughter of Ali whom Myron has just started dating.

Aimee does call Myron late one evening and that is where the plot takes off. Did Aimee run away? Was she kidnapped? Who was involved? Of course Myron is the first suspect but because Aimee was 18 there is no case to be pursued by police. There are many twists and turns in the book to make it more than what it might seem. I'm always a fan of a book that takes you in a direction that is so different than you would even have thought. I did figure out one of the twists, but I do think that the plot was set up to take you in that direction. What I really enjoyed was that the pieces of the puzzle didn't come together until the very last pages. So if you are one of those readers who goes to the end and reads the last few pages, don't because you'll ruin it for yourself.

I have another Harlan Coben book on my shelf to read, The Woods,but I like a little bit of a break before I read an author again. Given how good this book was I'll definitely anticipate reading the next one.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Monday, January 14, 2008

Memoirs vs. Autobiographies

Since I've recently read three memoirs recently (Running with Scissors: A Memoir, The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life, Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found)it begged me to think "What is the difference between an autobiography and a memoir?" So I decided to do some research on the subject (gotta love Google).

According to one website,, the main difference is that an autobiography tends to be on the whole life of the subject in chronological order; whereas a memoir is about one specific point in time in the life of said subject.

My own thoughts on the subject are, isn't it easier to fact check an autobiography than a memoir? To me a memoir is one person's recollection of certain events or a period of time in their life seen through their eyes, which can be skewed. The other people experiencing the same events might perceive it differently. This is why I think there has been such rumblings around memoirs ever since the James Frey A Million Little Pieces fiasco. I think there needs to be some kind of fact finding or some type of collaboration of the story and maybe there is and obviously I'm not privy to that information. It might be perceived differently by others, but the events in the books should have at least happened. I'm not saying that people flat out lie (OK maybe I am but not necessarily in the one's I've read) in their memoirs but I do think it's a bit harder to fact check on some one's emotional state during their life, unless it's medically documented, than real documented events they participated in.

I think autobiographies also tend to be about more "famous" people in society than an everyday person; whereas memoirs anyone can write (or think they can write).

Just think about the things you have been through and your thoughts and emotions looking back on an event in your life. When you've discussed it with other people who were there, is their perception the same or different? Can history distort the truth?

I guess this is why I have stayed away from memoirs for the most part and probably won't read another one for a while.

Julie's Review: Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found

Summary: Writing from the viewpoint of the child, rather than as an adult looking back with a mature perspective, Lauck's memoir recounts a childhood troubled by an unending string of upheavals and heartbreaks. Lauck's loving mother was chronically ill and absent for long periods of hospitalization. When she was home, she was frequently bedridden, and young Lauck, her brother and her father took turns attending to her catheter. After her mother's death, the father uprooted the family and, in an attempt to give his children a stable family, quickly remarried to an emotionally abusive woman with kids of her own. More losses followed, including the death of her father. Lauck's poignant narration matches the tone of the text: her youthful voice sounds innocent, bewildered and wounded as she tries to understand the devastations going on outside her control. At the same time, there's a core of defiance in her voice, a refusal to be beaten down by life's adversity. It's impossible not to be moved by the young girl's plight; it's equally impossible not to admire the adult's strength and courage in surviving it's Weekly

Review: A co-worker lent me this book,Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found and it's definitely not something I would normally read. I'm pretty adverse to memoirs for some reason, maybe it's because there's not a whole lot of "fact" checking as it is one person's recollection of their life. That being the case, I did enjoy the book, but I wouldn't read it again nor go out and buy the subsequent sequels. I felt for young Jenny and her rough childhood and her lack of stability. Unfortunately she's probably not alone in her plight. What was interesting was the fact that the author decided to write the book as if she was that age (5 when the book started, 11 when it ended). While this is an interesting voice to write a book in, I also felt that there were things that Jennifer figured out as an adult that she possibly couldn't have known at 5, i.e. the names of all the medication her mom was on. That being said I do feel that kids at that age are astute enough to know what is going on around them and the fact that her and BJ figured out their dad had a "friend" isn't unrealistic to me.

This memoir didn't disturb me as much as Running with Scissors: A Memoir did but maybe stuff doesn't shock me anymore and maybe that is what should disturb me. What I found most troubling is that none of Jenny and BJ's family came to "rescue" them from Deb, the step mom after tragedy strikes again. Where was the extended family? Why did they wait so long to find them? Jenny was and probably still is resilient. I guess when you are living through hell you can either chose to give up or resolve to be strong and she chose to be strong. I find that kids in general are a lot stronger and more resilient than us adults credit them with. That being said, any kind of abuse, emotional or physical, on someone, especially children is heinous.

Final Take: 3/5

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Julie's Review: the River King

Summary: Set in and around an exclusive private school in fictional Haddan, Mass., bestselling author Hoffman's (Practical Magic; Here on Earth) latest novel flows as swiftly and limpidly as the Haddan River, the town's mystical waterway. As one expects in a Hoffman novel, strange things have always happened in HaddanDa combination of Mother Nature gone awry and human nature following suit. In 1858, the year the school was completed, a devastating flood almost destroyed it and the town. The esteemed headmaster, Dr. Howe, married a pretty local girl who hung herself from the rafters "one mild evening in March." Local superstitions prove true more often than not, and twice in recent history a black, algae-laden rain has covered people and buildings with a dark sludge. An uneasy peace has always existed between the locals and the Haddan School, based on the latter's financial benefit to the community and the local authorities' willingness to look the other way when necessary to maintain the school's reputation. But when student August Pierce is found drowned in the Haddan River, detective Abel Grey is flooded with memories of his own teenage brother's suicide, and refuses to look away. Supporting characters are richly textured: new photography instructor Betsy Chase feels unsafe in Haddan, yet somehow finds herself engaged to a mysterious young history professor Eric Herman; Carlin Leander, a poor, strikingly beautiful young girl, comes to Haddan to recreate herself and escape her neglectful mother, and becomes misfit August's only friend while dating the most popular boy on campus; Helen Davis, chair of the history department, is haunted by a long-ago affair she had with Dr. Howe, which she believes had something to do with his young wife's suicide. As ever, Hoffman mixes myth, magic and reality, addressing issues of town and gown, enchanting her readers with a many-layered morality tale and proving herself once again an inventive author with a distinctive touch.'s Weekly

Review: I love books and movies that take place at a private school. I think it has to do with the fact that those kinds of schools have an air of mystery and history to them. My friend lent me this book and I have to say I'm quite happy she did. I've only read one other Alice Hoffman book,Here on Earth (Oprah's Book Club), and enjoyed it. But unlike that book this one had some magic and a definite sense of mystery. I will say that the Haddan School is not a happy place nor is the town that it is set it. It seems like the weather is always miserable, either snowing or raining, and that nothing good ever really happens to anyone either in the town of Haddan or at the school.

At one point or another all of us has dealt with feeling like an outsider and that can occur even when you are an "insider". I liked the character of Gus and felt for him at times and at other times I felt that he was just making his life more miserable on purpose. Maybe he wanted it like that, maybe he's one of those people who would be constantly miserable in life. I liked how he had the guts to approach Carlin and I enjoyed how their friendship blossomed and then slowly withered away. Being a teenager isn't fun and trying to maintain friendships while finding out who you are and where you belong is even more troublesome and this is what happened to Carlin and Gus. He snubbed her when she started dating the "most popular and handsome guy" at Haddan.

Tragedy strikes the school and this is where the magic and mystery enter the story. Enter the characters of Betsy and Abe. Abe is the local town detective and quite the ladies man. Betsy is engaged to a history teacher at the school and quite the photographer. Abe knows that there is something not quite right with the way the tragedy happens and it haunts him and spurs him on to look further into the case, which is not his norm style. Abe asks Betsy to assist him with a part of the investigation and there is an attraction on both sides. (That's all I'm going to say about that).

I liked the way Alice Hoffman wrote all the characters and how they were dealing with the tragedy. How they were haunted by what happened and what it means to let go but not to forget. Alice Hoffman is unique in her ability to weave magic and mystery into a story and have it be totally believable. I believe her and Jodi Picoult to be similar in their writing styles but they use it in different ways and for different genres.

Final Take: 4.5/5

ETA: I was just reading Jodi Picoult's website and came across this quote:
What would the title of your biography be and who would you want to write it?
The Stories of My Life – that’s catchy, isn’t it, LOL? I would probably love to have Alice Hoffman write it, if only because I’d read ANYTHING she writes.

How cool is that?! Turns out Alice Hoffman is one of her favorite authors.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What Makes a Book Good?

We've been blogging since August and this post from me is a little overdue. LOL I was reading Tiny Little Librarian's blog (see link on left hand side of blog under "Website's We Like") and it has spurred me on to post my own system to rating the books I read and to explain what those numbers mean in my "Final Take" area.

These are a few things I consider and ask myself when I'm making a rating/writing a review (In order of importance to me):

How did it make me feel? Did I not want the book to end? Did I find anything redeeming about any of the characters? Could I understand where the characters were coming from? Did I have emotional reactions to the storyline?

How does the book open? Did the first few lines or pages hook me? Was I intrigued by the initial plot presented? Did it make me want to read more?

How does the book end? Was I satisfied with the ending? Did it wrap up the plot? Did it close too quickly or end just in time? If I didn't like the ending did it still make sense in the context of the story?

How developed are the characters? Did they mature/grow during the course of the plot? Did they change at all? Can I identify with some characteristic of the main character or can I put myself in their shoes? Were how they changed/developed realistic or far-fetched?

How does it compare to some other books in the same genre? I try to look at other books I've read that are similar in nature and see how they compare good or bad to those others. If it's the same author I also take that into consideration, especially if it's a series.

How's the writing? Bad grammar? Plot holes? Research errors? Typos? I'm not as much of a stickler about this as Lisa is but grammar is huge for me. I think that things such as bad grammar and typos are up to the editor to find. Plot holes and research errors are author issues but also should be raised by the editor. I think if the book is a memoir than it really is up to the publishing house to do their due diligence to verify facts.

Did I learn something? It doesn't have to be anything earth shattering but maybe it caused me to think about a subject matter differently.

What do those numbered ratings mean?

5 - Can't imagine not having read it. It was pure enjoyment and I wouldn't change a thing. Will pressure others into reading it. Will probably read it again at somepoint.

4 - Loved it but probably would have changed a few things whether it be the ending or some of the characters.

3 - Wasn't bad/liked it. Not sorry I read it but definitely wouldn't read it again and depending on the author might or might not read another one of their's. Some significant plot or character issues.

2 - Who the heck told me to read this? Or what was I thinking when I picked this book up? Wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Major plot and/or character issues.

1 - Probably will never happen because I won't waste my time on it past the first 50 pages if it doesn't hook me. If it's an author I love, I might come back to it wondering if my life is getting in the way of enjoying a good book. (i.e. Jodi Picoult's Songs of the Humpback Whale)

You can also count on 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 from me because sometimes it's just necessary.

I hope this helps all of you who read our blog understand how I rate the books I read.

Related: What Makes A Book Good - Lisa
What Makes A Book Good - Jenn

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Julie's Review: The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club

Summary: This collection of columns, originally written for the Arizona Republic, details Notaro's daring exploits and comical mishaps as she matures from wild teenager to disheveled adult. Her vignettes are humorous if unoriginal. "The Useless Black Bra and the Stinkin'-drunk Twelve-step Program" is a classic drinking story, complete with the lost friend who is eventually found in a neighbor's front yard wearing only a bra. This hard-drinking, chain-smoking approach to partying inevitably leads to some punishing hangovers; in one extreme case, Notaro is mistaken for a homeless person while en route to jury duty in "Going Courtin'." Not surprisingly, disregard for her appearance diminishes her chances of fulfilling her mother's dream and bringing home from the trial a "balding, sexually repressed twenty-seven-year-old attorney strangled in a Perry Ellis necktie." Notaro's QVC-addicted mother is predictably in opposition to and embarrassed by her daughter's bad-girl antics. In "Waking Angela Up," Notaro compares herself to Janeane Garofalo, and there indeed are clear similarities in the blunt self-deprecation that fuels both women's humor. Notaro, however, lacks the biting originality of her more famous counterpart. In "This Is a Public Service Announcement," Notaro rails against public restroom users, including "the hoverer" and "the talker." Her existing fans will agree with these sentiments, while new readers might simply shrug, thinking, "Who doesn't hate those characters?" weekly

Review: A friend recommended this book to me after she purchased another one of Ms. Notaro's books and I commented that I had never heard of her. Well now I have and she's pretty funny. If I lived in Arizona and read the paper, I would look forward to her column on a regular basis. This was the perfect book to start out 2008 with, it was short and an easy read and funny. I started it earlier today and finished it a little bit ago with breaks in between reading sessions due to having a 2 year old, but when I was reading it I was laughing out loud. My husband even commented that it must be funny because I don't normally laugh out loud while reading books, Stephanie Plum books aside.

I think almost anyone can identify with some of the stories in the book especially anyone who went through the "what the hell did I do last night" phase during and/or after college. Some stories were more funny than others but that's to be expected. What I might find hilarious, some one else won't and vice versa, I guess that's why it's a collection of her column, something for everyone. Will I run out and buy another one of her books, probably not, but I would read her again by getting it at the library or having it loaned to me.

Final Take: 3.75/5