If I Tell by Janet Gurtler – Book Review

Jasmine is carrying around a big secret, and it’s threatening to destroy her life and friendships in Janet Gurtler’s If I Tell. Her relationship with her mom has always been tense. Jaz is the result of her mother’s teenage interracial relationship with a talented high school football player. Jaz’s father and his family abandoned her to protect his future as a professional athlete, and she is raised by her maternal grandparents when her mother abdicates responsibility for the child she feels too young to handle. Jasmine is full of angst about many things – her biracial appearance and identity in a mostly white town, her abandonment by her father, and the recent death of her beloved grandfather- and they figure largely in her inner turmoil. She had been relying on her mom’s boyfriend Simon, for balance and a way to connect with being black, but when she sees him kissing her best friend at a party, betrayal and anger threaten the closeness they once shared.

If I Tell is one of those books that sucks you right in. It deals with hosts of issues relevant to both teenagers and adults – teenage pregnancy, identity (racial identity in particular), keeping secrets to protect a loved ones, post-partum depression- but I never felt like I was reading a book to address those things, only deeply immersed in the life of an angry teenaged girl. Jaz doesn’t think that she has much in her life that can be relied upon, and her anger toward Simon and her best friend Lacey are thoroughly explored, as well as Jaz’s almost crippling identity issues. Further complicating her life at a the time when Lacey is no longer available to her, Jackson enters the picture with his determination to break into her heart, but he has a mysterious past of his own. There were times I wanted Jaz to chill out, but she definitely had a lot going on in her life and I liked that she struggled with the big questions she was facing and didn’t have easy answers, or always make the right choices. If you like you stories full of realistic angst, drama and a dash of romance, then give this one a try. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: ReviewsbyLola’s Blog

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Wolf Hall Readalong

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Wolf Hall Readalong

Over the last few months I have been enjoying casually chatting back and forth on Twitter with Natalie from Coffee And A Book Chick about Joyce Carol Oates, short stories and other literature we like, so when she mentioned that she was going to be reading Wolf Hall, I jumped at the chance to read it with her. And we’re feeling just a wee bit intimidated by it, so we’re hoping that some of you might want to join us in a readalong of Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, the 2009 Man Booker Prize winner! It’s a beast of a read, so we thought we’d split it up into a 3-week schedule. Participants can do a progress post each week instead of answering a list of questions.
Book to Television News
The recent announcement from HBO and the BBC’s collaboration to create a four-part miniseries with UK indie Company Pictures should motivate you to pick this one up of your shelf!
How to Participate?
  1. Feel free to write an announcement post on your blog
  2. Feel free to post the above button on your blog
  3. The above isn’t required, but definitely don’t forget to enter your blog site with Mr. Linky below. (If you don’t have a blog, no worries. Add a comment instead to this post and feel free to read with us!)

Schedule (refers to the paperback)

  1. November 28: Reading commences on or before
  2. December 4: Progress post for Parts 1 & 2 (pages 3 to 148 = 146 pages to read)
  3. December 11: Progress post for Parts 3 & 4 (pages 149 to 388 = 240 pages to read)
  4. December 18: Final Progress post for Parts 5 & 6 (pages 389 to 604 = 216 pages to read)
  5. Audiobook fans, please join!
Description from Indiebound

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power.

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.


1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Hunger Games   Movie Trailer


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The Hunger Games – Movie Trailer

You have probably been living under a pretty well insulated rock if you haven’t already seen the trailer for The Hunger Games (based on the book and trilogy of the same name by best-selling author Suzanne Collins).

So, I know, you already saw it. But…look again. Isn’t it fabulous? Have your emotions been stirred? Have your tears welled up? I will be the first to admit that I thought all the young’uns were a little too long in the tooth to play their middle teens, but from what I saw in the trailer, all look perfect in their roles. I guess it’s the magic of Hollywood. And Lenny Kravitz! Perfectly cast. Has just the right cockiness and swagger for the role he’s playing. So far  it looks like it will be a pretty stellar adaptation!

Haven’t read the books yet? What are you waiting for? You have until March 23, 2012. On your mark, get set, go!

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Defensive Wounds by Lisa Black   Book Review

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The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn – Book Review

I  loved reading about Kathleen Flinn‘s teaching adventures in The Kitchen Counter  Cooking School. I can’t recommend it highly enough for those who want, very simply, to master their kitchen domain. Flinn had the idea to start the “school” after she sneakily followed a mother and daughter around the supermarket pondering their choices, which all seemed to be heavily processed and straight out of the box. These days food and related choices are sensitive issues – that Flinn had the nerve to approach a total stranger to inquire about her purchasing decisions is amazing, that the woman confessed her concerns regarding preparing meals from fresh food is even more so. Flinn, wondering if others felt similarly, and if she could help,  decided to find participants with cooking fears, looked into their habits – seeing how they are eating and what they are making- and then created a class to address common fears and issues.

Flinn found women who were less than confident in their cooking skills and spent time with them, going over what was in the cupboards and having them prepare a meal in front of her. This part of the book was interesting but became tedious because of the amount of women she had to visit. It was hard to distinguish between them after awhile, and I appreciated it a lot more when she related their situations  later on in the lessons. It became apparent that many have similar collections of food in our refrigerators and cabinets. The real meat of the book is when Flinn and her co-chefs teach the women the basics of cutting up meat and vegetables, using a knife, preparing fresh salad dressings and marinades, and clearing ingredients in the fridge to make meals and stocks. Her tips and tricks gave the women confidence to make fast and healthy meals for themselves (perceptions of lack time and confidence in ability seem to be the reason that most opt for processed over fresh meals).

I already feel comfortable cooking, but I was happy to be shown a few new and simple dishes, and was grateful for the reminder that it can be really easy and quick to make healthful dishes- without a great expenditure of time, and without breaking the bank. I also like that Flinn takes the time to “debunk” some kitchen terms like braising and deglazing, etc. I saw cooking terms that I realize I perform all the time. I just don’t think of them as anything quite so fancy.

Since picking up The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, I have ventured back into making stocks and homemade soups, and have reacquainted myself with the omelette, a toasty piece of bread and a nice glass of wine as a delicious and easy meal. This is a great book for those who need to boost their kitchen self-esteem or those who are comfortable in the kitchen, but in need of a reminder of the basics. Flinn writes with an immediacy and warmth that is accessible and inviting to readers. I really enjoyed her voice and reading her stories, as will the fledgling chef in your life. Highly Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Devourer of Books – Bookworm With A View

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 In Malice, Quite Close by Brandi Lynn Ryder

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Defensive Wounds by Lisa Black – Book Review

A version of this review first appeared at Reader Unboxed on 11/10/11.

In Lisa Black‘s Defensive Wounds, the fourth in her series on the adventures of forensic scientist and crime scene investigator Theresa McLean, Theresa continues working cases and raising her teen aged daughter in Cleveland, Ohio. Her work often overlaps with that of her cousin Frank, who is a detective on Cleveland’s police force. When successful but hated attorney Marie Corrigan is found murdered at a conference for defense attorneys, held at the swanky Ritz Hotel, Theresa’s workplace suddenly becomes the same as her daughter Rachel’s – who is an attendant at the hotel’s front desk. Before Marie’s murder can be solved, others also take place at the Ritz, and Marie begins to think that the danger is closer and more directly linked to her daughter than she would like for it to be.

This was my first book in the series and I found that it was easy to get into and to pick up the flow of the character’s lives. I empathized with Theresa as a working mom, busy with a challenging career and yet worried about her daughter Rachael, who is very independent. She’s trying hard to be as hands off as possible. In that sense the storyline was engaging, and I enjoyed how well documented Theresa’s work is in the book. Each step in the forensics and the reasoning behind it is carefully laid out. Theresa is a professional and thorough in her work. In the course of the book two mysteries emerge as the body count rises, and I guessed different combinations of if and how they might be connected as I was reading.

I had some issues with the structure of the novel. Seemingly this series is about Theresa and how she manages to balance her grisly work life and its required long days and heavy absences with being there for her daughter. I was thrown for a loop when the narrative switches suddenly to her cousin Frank’s perspective. It first happens without much warning, and their chapters alternated in some places more than in others. My guess is that he serves to show the other side of the case – interviews with witnesses and such. Theresa as an investigator is only going to be so involved, but it was very strange because she interacted with other officers who could have potentially filled that role without so abruptly changing the POV. The misogyny also ran high. I get that defense attorneys are not popular, defend people for heinous crimes, and are indeed much maligned, but poor Marie seemed  to get the worst of it. I got weary of hearing referred to in pretty vile terms. Realistic? Maybe. But the frequency seemed abusive to this reader after awhile. When I put Defensive Wounds down, there were many times when I was in no hurry to pick it back up.

Mystery readers who enjoy getting into the nitty gritty of the forensic science books will likely find a lot to appreciate in Defensive Wounds. The mystery wraps up neatly in the end, with some aspects of the storyline more easily guessed than others, and the next mystery potentially set up in the last pages. I think it’s a bit hard to be fresh in a genre that relies so heavily on formula, and while it’s a solid murder mystery read, there isn’t much here that was a surprise.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate – Book Review

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The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate – Book Review

In the Taste of Salt, Martha Southgate explores the world of Josie Henderson, a successful black scientist living in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, doing the work with marine life that she has always dreamed of doing. She is also about as far away from her Cleveland, Ohio upbringing as she can get. The world she lives in now is largely a white one, and though it includes a man who loves her very much, he finds he can’t reach her emotionally. There also  isn’t a place for her recovering alcoholic father, alcoholic brother, and overwhelmed mother. Josie’s mother asks that she make a trip home to accompany her brother from rehab, and she connects unexpectedly with a new co-worker – two things which serve as a catalyst for the walls she has carefully constructed to start  slowly tumbling down.

The Taste of Salt is a captivating read, and the more I learned about Josie and her family, the harder it was for me to put the book down without knowing what would happen to them. Southgate takes a fresh narrative approach, with Josie admitting that in order to have some understanding of what has happened in her life she has to imagine her family’s story from their perspective. The reader gets to hear these other voices directly, even though they are only as Josie imagines them. The technique subtly heightens the poignancy of the read as you realize how much a usually disconnected Josie is trying to make sense of the events of her life.

Southgate also balances a line that can be difficult for authors – writing characters who are  remote and at a remove from people and events in their lives. Josie was very closed off- and I’m not even sure how much I really liked her- but her story was always compelling for me to read. I understood how she could see some things so clearly as a scientist, but get it so wrong as a human being. Her relationships with her boyfriend and co-worker are prime examples of reaching for comfort based on the superficial and instinctual, rather than what is tried and true. Classifications that Josie would probably have rejected in science make sense to the fragile and emotionally damaged woman she has never dealt with. The need to isolate herself from her family, especially the brother whom she loves so much, dominates her life, but is also the source of deep guilt.

The Taste of Salt is a finely woven story with notes of tragedy and hope. Southgate delicately limns a family in trouble, and a daughter who has run as far from the devastating effects of alcoholism as she can get, only to realize that it isn’t as easy to run from herself or to escape her own destructive tendencies. Highly Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Rhapsody In Books CaribousmomDevourer of Books – 1330v – The Feminist Texican – That’s What She Read – Beth Fish Reads

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Recipes For Life: My Memories by Linda Evans – Book Review

Review copies of The Taste of Salt were provided by Algonquin Books for discussion in BOOK CLUB. Discuss it today at Devourer of Books.

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Recipes For Life: My Memories by Linda Evans – Book Review

When I accepted Recipes For Life: My Memories by Linda Evans for review, I had no idea just how much I would love this book. Prior to reading it, I didn’t know that much about Linda Evans. I knew vaguely that she had been in a television soap opera (now in reruns on Soapnet) called Dynasty, that my mother may or may not have watched, and that Linda may or may not have been in a few made-for-tv movies I have seen. As you can see, my knowledge of her was not very firm. I was mainly interested in the book because there were recipes, and I love browsing recipes, but as I began, I discovered that I was in for a much richer experience than I had previously imagined.

Linda Evans was born Linda Evenstad, and I loved reading about her charmed life. Though she had stage fright in high school, she was able to overcome her fear to have a career in acting that has spanned several decades. She has traveled all around the world and has had love relationships and marriages with fascinating and wealthy men – most notably John Derek and Yanni. For a famous Hollywood actress, this is all par for the course, but it’s the way Linda tells her stories and the love, warmth and humbleness that shines through about her, which make these so fabulous and inspiring. Each story she chooses to tell will have you laughing, whether it is about her horrible singing voice, being pulled over by the police or some of the hijinks that ensued in the company of her best friend Bunky. I love that her stories concentrate on the wonderful life she has had and don’t dwell in negativity or gossip. It made me think a lot about my life and the way I would like to remember my past and frame my stories.

Linda connects each happy time with recipes so rich that they are not to be believed. Some are favorites from childhood that she remembers her mother making, and others are variations on recipes created by celebrity chefs, and famous actors and their wives whom Linda befriended. Some are Linda’s own creation. She didn’t start out as much of a cook but was always willing to learn, try new recipes and cook meals for her family and friends. Most of the recipes heavily feature meat, cream, butter, milk and cheese, so fans of richness and dairy will love these recipes. There isn’t much I found that I would cook without modifying – heavily – but this is one book where I was more into the memories than the recipes. None of the food is pictured, instead there are pictures of Linda with family and friends throughout her career.

Recipes for Life is a beautiful book that should have wide appeal whether people are familiar with Linda Evans or not. The stories that she tells are a little like chicken soup for the soul, and she is never anything less than charming, gracious and respectful of the people in her life. The recipes are rich, but for the most part are easy to make and to pair with other dishes for a meal. Highly Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Booking Mama

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick   Book Review

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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Movie Trailer

I have to say that the fact that this movie is coming out baffles me a little. I know that we tend to re-make movies and bring them here. That list is long and varied, but usually they don’t have uber-popular international record-breakers like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/Millennium Trilogy attached. A lot of people who have read these books have probably had the opportunity to see the movie if they wanted to see it. I’ve seen it. But now I will go again? And why? To compare versions? The movies have received lots of acclaim, Lisbeth Salander has a fairly recognizable face, and they have all been out pretty recently.

I can only guess maybe this is for the people who have heard of the books but have not seen them, like this type of movie in general, aren’t into sub-titles? Comparative literature majors? Thoughts? Have you seen the older movies? Will you see this new one?

Also, days before Christmas is interesting timing for a big movie with this subject matter. The books were pretty dark and so was the movie. I can’t imagine having Christmas breakfast or dinner and following it up with this film.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham   Book Review

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Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick – Book Review

From the moment I started reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s latest book, Why Read Moby-Dick?, I felt as if I had met Herman Melville’s biggest fan and he proceeded to whisper in my ear for one hundred-twenty-seven exciting and thought-provoking pages. There were fights with whales, comparisons to current and present political situations, analysis of Melvilles’s letters and contemplations of his relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne – who served as reluctant friend to Melville and unwitting mentor for Moby-Dick. The result? Philbrick doesn’t quite convince me to pick up what he calls a “dangerously digressive, sometimes bombastic novel”.

Philbrick’s screed works to get you to appreciate Moby-Dick and may even get you to wish you wanted to read Moby-Dick – that’s how I felt – but he fails to provide more than his opinions, albeit fascinating ones, on the meaning of the novel. This is a man who has written an award-winning book, In the Heart of the Sea, on the real shipwrecked Essex (one of the inspirations for Melville’s great work). By his own admission he is fascinated by the sea, and has always been. His approach to this book comes with a breadth of knowledge that few readers could hope to match. I was more enthralled with his ability to provide history and analysis for the text than I was in reading the actual text. I already know that I won’t get from it what he did, and I liked reading what he had to say, but never imagined that I would begin to respond in the same way.  The one piece of Philbrick’s advice I might follow is to read and savor a sentence or two from Moby-Dick. He’s not picky ya’ll, a sentence will do.

If you have ever read Moby-Dick, then I urge you to pick up this book. It’s short and offers fantastic insight that can only further enjoyment of the novel. If you are a big Melville fan, or like classics in general, then you may well need to pick this one up too – it illuminates two intriguing literary giants. Physically, Why Read Moby-Dick? is a gorgeous book -prettily bound in red with thick creamy scalloped pages- that makes a great gift. I love my history, literature and sneak peek into author’s lives, so I really enjoyed this one. I just didn’t want to read Moby-Dick. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Devourer of Books

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Night Circus, by Erin Morganstern – Book Review

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The Night Circus, by Erin Morganstern – Book Review

Purportedly a love story of epic proportions, the circus is arguably the main event in The Night Circus, Erin Morganstern’s whimsical and wildly descriptive debut novel. Le Circque de Rêves (as it is called) is a mysterious traveling circus which never announces its arrival, but instead appears suddenly, opening its doors at nightfall and closing them at dawn. A mystical place, designed completely in black and white and run by magic and illusion, it is entrancing to visitors who know little about the way it is run. They know even less about the gentle, elegant battle for supremacy taking place between Celia and Marco, two talented young magicians who are trained in different schools of magical ideology. The challenge continues over the course of many years, and as the stakes become clear it is increasingly difficult for either magician to take the necessary steps to win. Each is troubled by the sacrifices involved, and, the little fact that they have fallen in love.

The Night Circus did not prove to be an easy read for me. My book club selected it over the summer, long before its September release date. Though half of them had read advanced copies and loved it, and the other half eagerly looked forward to it, it wasn’t a book that I was excited about. The last book I read about a circus was Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. Descriptions of final showdowns between good and evil in Bradbury’s novel, which I  wanted to enjoy but had issues with, had already put me in the mind of (and put me off) The Night Circus, which was similarly described though it turned out to be different in execution.

The Night Circus develops slowly and initially I thought I was going to enjoy reading it immensely. Celia and Marco are essentially orphans, one of them possessing extraordinary natural magical talent, and the other taken from their only known home to be schooled in the illusive arts. As the circus develops to showcase to their abilities, readers are treated to delicious descriptions of different tents, performers and acts involved. Chapters alternate erratically through the years, and are interspersed with second person perspectives designed to make vivid and life like walk-throughs of the circus possible. Unfortunately, characterization of the young lovers and others involved with the creation and running of the circus pales in comparison. I just didn’t find there was enough meat or motivations in their stories to keep me interested. Their paths were only outlined, but not fully explored. The magicians seem to fall in love mainly because they have had such stunted upbringings, and magic is the only way they connect with the world. They take great comfort in knowing that each understands the others creations. I could see how they would be enamored with each other, but with nothing more than a handful of meetings over the years, their relationship lacked urgency for me.

Morganstern’s book is constructed much like the circus of her imagination. There are beautiful passages to read, clever constructions of changing narrative points of view, alternating time periods, and bursts of color and intensity, but no real depth. Usually I would say that a novel like this was plot driven, but oddly that’s not that case here. The plot just advances really slowly(the time displacement accentuates that, I think), but without enough heat to bring it all together. When I finally got to the bottom of some of the book’s mysteries, the reveal was anticlimactic. That said, I enjoyed the writing quite a lot. Morganstern has a way with words, and there were times that I was absorbed in, and delighted by, her depictions. More fully realized characters would have made this a hit for me, but without them The Night Circus failed to thrive.

Read More Reviews At: At Home With BooksLiterature and a LensI Write In BooksBook Journey1330vAmused By Books  Book Chatternomadreader – Raging Bibliomania – Fizzy ThoughtsChrisbookaramaHelp! I Have My Nose Stuck in a BookMy Books. My Life. – Necromancy Never Pays

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB Giveaway   Mamans Homesick Pie, by Donia Bijan

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