Public Notes to Myself: A Mid April Reading List

Sometimes I need a written reminder for what it is I have committed to reading for the month, and this is one of those times. How is April getting away so quickly? It is the middle of April already, people! I have book club books to read and Bloggers Recommend Picks to pick. I have to get on it! Let’s take a peek at what I’ve got.

Frog Music, The Fever & AmericanahSo this month I have three book club picks in the works.

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue –  I am late to the game with Donoghue, having missed the much acclaimed Room and her follow up of historically based short stories, Astray. Frog Music is promising to be a rich historical novel via 1876, the smallpox epidemic and an unsolved murder. All things that tickle my reading fancy. I’ll be starting on this (hopefully tonight!) to discuss the first few sections with my Twitter Book Club, The Hashtags, on Friday.

The Fever by Megan Abbot – If my Twitter book club is called The Hashtags, then my regular IRL book club should be called The Publicists, since its members comprise my favorite people scattered at Bloomsbury, Little Brown, Viking, Random House and Riverhead. This month we are reading Megan Abbott’s The Fever, and I have started it and I love it. I have no idea what the hell is going on, but I am totally intrigued. This is my third Abbott and she never fails to bring an almost uncomfortably realistic depth to the inner, troubled, lives of teen-aged girls.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - As if I didn’t have enough book clubs of my own, I am guesting at a friend’s book club this month. She has been trying to get me to join, and I have been resisting because, you know, all the things and all the books. However, this month they are reading Americanah, and I adored Half of A Yellow Sun. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read and discuss it with a group. I also suspect that I will have hard time resisting going back, especially if they keep selecting books that are right up my alley.

A Life Apart and When the Cypress Whispers

My mother has had a lot more time to read this year, so we have been trying to read a book together each month. Way back when, at the beginning of the year, we started with Walter Walker’s Crime of Privilege, but neither of us could really get into. It was strangely light on details despite being a really long book. We went on to Defending Jacob, which we both really enjoyed, me more so than my mom –  she didn’t like the ending. Our favorite joint read has been Rhidian Brook’s The Aftermath.

Two books that we are reading together are:

A Life Apart by L.Y. Marlow - I am looking forward reading Marlow’s latest novel about a navy man whose life is saved during the attacks on Pearl Harbor by a black sailor, who dies in his attempt. He develops a relationship with the sailor’s sister when he travels to visit her, in his own hometown of Boston, pay his respects. My mother has already read it and she thinks that is just fabulous. I read the first chapter and I can attest that it is captivating and has and immediacy that make you want to sink into the story. She made lots of notes during her reading, so I am really looking forward to see where the discussion goes.

When The Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon – Corporon’s novel falls into the “woman returns home to find herself” category. It’s a much used plot device, so while I usually enjoy these types of books, I tend to read them with great care in the choosing. I gravitate toward ones that have an element of surprise for me. In this novel, the heroine does her soul searching while on a rare trip home to visit relative in Greece. That heightened the appeal for me. I also love reading beautiful books – the cover and the luxury of deckle-edge pages is very enticing.

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Happy Spring! And. A book list.

And hopefully to a better spring. With more posting. I did a double take to realized that I have posted a whopping 2x in the last three months. Time does fly when you are having fun. So what have I been up to? Busy job, busy life. I have made headway with quite a few books, though you couldn’t tell that AT ALL from around here. I took a look at the list of books I have read so far and thought I would share it here. 

What I’ve Read

Fog of Dead Souls  by Jill Kelly
The subject matter on this one is disturbing, but I loved that the characters were firmly in their 6os, and still vibrant and complex human beings, with the accompanying expertise in their careers, consideration for their sex lives, and a long list of completed goals and lingering aspirations. Though this is a essentially a whodunnit, the bulk of the narrative examines how Ellie deals with the crimes committed against her, and subsequent attempts to put her life together.

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie

I just discovered Deborah Crombie with No Mark Upon Her, and I adore her smart detectives and equally smart writing style. If time allowed, I would read all of her books in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. If you can start at the beginning, I would highly recommend doing just that.

Defending Jacob  by William Landay
I read this one with my mother and I can tell why book clubs have been so taken with this one. We debated throughout the book the culpability of parents in raising their children, when sullen teenage behavior should be taken as an indication of something more sinister, and what actions are appropriate to take in protecting your child from society or vice versa . Landay packs in the twists. If you can truly guess the end, you are a better person than I am.

Choice of Straws by E.R. Braithwaite

This was first published in the 60s, and was recently re-published by Open Road Media. What stands out most to me is the oddity of this haunting story. A twin loses his brother while they are in the midst of brutal attacks against black citizens in London, and then he starts to consider feelings for the sister of an unwitting victim. This was an emotionally charged read, and while I’m not sure I felt it was entirely plausible, it gave me a lot to think about.

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

I started reading this on the train for a visit to DC and I was enchanted. Let’s see, magic, dragon, and intense alliances and politics, side by side with a romance that by rights should fail. Loved every minute of it.

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Labor Day by Joyce Maynard – Movie/Book Club

Stack of books

Readers react with mixed emotion when they hear that a book they’ve read is being made into a movie, especially a favorite one. I confess that I’m no different. I try to judge by the attached director, approve or seethe over the casting choices, and find either affirmation or more trepidation upon viewing the first trailers and stills from the movie.  When I heard that a movie was being made of Labor Day, Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel about the unlikely romance between an escaped convict and the housewife he takes hostage (along with her son), I was intrigued because I remembered enjoying it when it was initially published.

My book club was fortunate enough to receive copies of the paperback movie tie-in version of the novel and passes for a screening of the film, which we plan to attend next month. I was really taken with Labor Day when I first read it back in 2009. The premise of the novel stretches credulity a bit in terms of whether a romance like this could have occurred, but the love story is a sumptuous one, and I loved these characters. They were rich and real and I loved seeing the way they developed in the aftermath of a weekend that proved a critical turning point in all their lives. I was really excited to hear what my book club would have to say about, and I am especially looking forward to the discussion after we have all seen the movie.

So far, the feedback upon reading the book has been mixed – with a slight majority enjoying the book. I’ve found that this is the sign of a great book club book. There has never been all that much discussion at my clubs over books that are universally adored. Usually with those books we say we loved it and then get on with the good work of drinking wine and eating great food.

Everyone was curious about the pie-making scene and thought it was a pivotal point in the book. So we are all waiting for that. One of the members had a hard time getting through the book but thought that the trailer makes the movies seem a lot more interesting  than the book.  Those of us who loved it were just as interested in the themes of trauma, empowerment and hope. One our member had this high praise for Labor Day: “This story is about coming ALIVE, re-birth; honesty; goodheartedness; going with the flow; following dreams.”

Labor Day opens in wide-release today. I’ll report back when we’ve seen the movie.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Oh, and Happy New Year. -p

In Search of the Perfect Romance: Four Tempting Romances I Wouldn’t Kick Out of Bed

I use Grammarly for proofreading because I’d be loss without it. See, get it? Ha!

(Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Grammarly. I also got to test drive their proofreading software, which offers the basics for checking the grammar of your writing in the style you need for either your business writing (formal) or your blog (casual).)

Moving on, though. Two or three times a year I go through a period where I am all about a good romance novel, and I read through a bunch of them trying to find the right one. A couple of weeks ago I was on vacation, and I would have killed for one such novel. I picked up and discarded a lot of books (in fact, this was where a Nook and a library card came in handy). I mostly read just a chapter or two of each one because I knew pretty quickly what wouldn’t fit the bill.

Reading so many romance novels  in a quick succession gave me an understanding of how difficult it must be to write one that’s both engaging and rewarding for readers. It’s like comedy. People think it’s easier than drama. But that’s just not true, and the same goes for romance. There are so many foregone conclusions in a romance novel (that the characters will end up together, that their love will be tested, that they complement each other, that one person is in trouble and needs help to get through, etc.) that writing something fresh and imaginative can be a daunting task when readers already know how much of the story will go. Kudos to writers who are capable of pulling off such a coup. While that’s not something I want to try anytime  soon, I can lead you in the direction of the novels that held my attention on such an arduous quest.

Gwynneth Ever After by Linda Poitevin_Fotor_Collage

Gwynneth Ever After by Linda Poitevin – Charming and delightful, I easily devoured this in  just a few short hours and passed it along for my aunt to enjoy, as well. It was refreshing to have a heroine with children and to see both her and her children interact with the love interest. What’s so fun about this story is the touch of fairy tale that comes along with the charming actor (read : royalty) in love with our fair lady.

Once She was Tempted by Anne Barton – I was thrilled to see that there were other books in this series because I loved the clever heroine and witty banter in this romantic story line involving a wealthy man wanting to keep his ward from marrying a woman with a less that stellar reputation.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennett by Pamela Mingle_Fotor_Collage

Suddenly Royal by Nichole Chase - I am just waiting for the day when I discover I’m a  lost duchess with land, money and the attention of a handsome prince and other assorted royalty. While I wait for that day, it was great fun to read of Samantha’s playful romps with Prince Alex as she learns about her new home and responsibilities, and opens herself up to the love of a good man.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennett by Pamela Mingle - Though Mingle’s novel strays almost too close to the events of Pride and Prejudice,  I nevertheless enjoyed getting to see some perspective and insight on Mary’s formerly unappealing character. Mingle provides her with the motivation and growth that make you root for Mary finding love and happiness.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

The Book Thief – Screening the Film and Conversations with the Cast


Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a novel that I’ve heard much about since it was  published in 2008. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Though there have been some quibbles here and there, almost every opinion I’ve seen raves about this novel. Despite the many commendations, it’s something I had planned to read, but hadn’t yet read. I was definitely interested in seeing the movie, and it couldn’t have been more perfect when I also got to meet some of the cast and filmmakers after a screening I attended courtesy of Big Honcho Media.

The movie is beautiful. I probably cried on and off through half of it. I was that girl in the screening room with ALL THE TISSUES. Without even having read the book, I felt in my heart that the filmmakers, cast and crew had done an excellent job with adapting this beautiful story, and Alison (Alison’s Bookmarks) was able to confirm that for me right away. Even further confirmation came as I read the novel in the weekend after screening the film and before meeting the cast.

Much has been written about the Holocaust, and continues to be  written about it, so it can be tempting to think that you have covered the gamut of books to be read. It’s a subject where I selectively choose books so that I am learning something new, or uncovering a new aspect I haven’t thought about before. I was particularly interested in what the actors had to say about sources they relied on in creating such a touching experience in the film, and the information they received which informed their views of the book, script, and their won roles.  Here are a few tidbits from the roundtable discussion Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse.

TBT-Graphic - Liesl

Geoffrey Rush (Hans)

On playing Hans:

I thought this would be a real challenge for me.  And in and around that, I just adored the story and the perspective of looking at that horror scenario in Germany during the Second World War through the eyes of a very small country town, the community of a country town and a young girl.

On the changes in Germany during the time in the film:

My starting point was that this is a film about a community on a street.  When I read the book and read the screenplay, it was so intrinsically the culture of Southern Germany.  But it could also be an Outback town in Queensland.  It could be a small town in the Midwest.

And you see incrementally the escalation from Hitler ascending to the chancellorship through a democratic process and within a year declaring himself to be Fuhrer, and we’re dealing with a country at the height of the worst depression, and they lost the First World War, so they were in a state of disrepair there.

A huge amount of people would have been seeking a Messiah, and some people would have really gone along with that because it reinstated their faith in German heritage.  Let’s not forget, it has a huge literary, philosophical, musical, rich background, Jewish and German.  You know what I mean.  And it kind of went really out the window.


Emily Watson (Rosa)

On talking to residents of Berlin during filming:

That moment in history is incredibly current still in Berlin.  They’re still rebuilding and surviving it, because after the war, their city was split, and then it’s still massively in their consciousness that they are recovering from that.

But it’s incredibly honest.  They’re not covering it up.  Everywhere you go, there’s an exhibit about how many people died on this spot, and it was relentless, really.  You can’t get away from it.  But also being surrounded by people whose families all were there. You can’t really say, oh, thanks for the coffee, were your grandparents Nazis? It was a really weird etiquette of not knowing how to talk to people and ask people.

On German attendance at a Hitler rally:

One thing I found really telling was that photograph, and I can’t remember where I saw it, but it was somewhere in an exhibit, of one of the rallies where there were something like 2.5 million people.  And that’s kind of everybody, isn’t it?  It’s just they all went, they all went.  Everybody signed up.  And that just tells you, you bought into it or you had to buy into it.


Sophie Nelisse (Liesl)

On preparing for her role:

I read a book called Hana’s Suitcase when I was in sixth grade, but that’s the only thing I knew.  To know what happened in that period, I had to watch a lot of movies like Schindler’s List, The Reader, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and also The Pianist.  When I was in Berlin, I went to see some bomb shelters or some historical things like the Berlin Wall.

I think it was so fun shooting in Berlin because you could go on set, and all the background was just so amazing and so true.  You could really feel like you were there years ago, and when you were done shooting, you would just get out and be in this completely new city.  It was just so awesome to pass from Berlin to being on set.  It’s a bit weird, but it’s fun at the same time.

On aging from 10 to 16:

I just knew that I could play my character over six years because when you’re old–not when you’re old, but, you know, like Geoffrey, in six years, he won’t really change. I mean, his face and everything.

I could do like these little changes, the hair goes longer, change the dresses.  And he was always dressed the same, had the same hair.  So, that was fun.

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If you are thinking of going to the movies this weekend, I highly recommend catching The Book Thief. You won’t be sorry.

Visit the official website
Like THE BOOK THIEF on Facebook
Follow @BookThiefMovie on Twitter


Sunday Salon: October 20, 2013

Sunday Salon

It is a glorious Sunday morning and I will be spending part of the day at brunch with family in honor of my aunt’s birthday. We’re going to Jane’s Tavern in the West Village, and while the service has always been a little slow there, the brunch is delicious! I have spent a better part of the week ruminating over what I want to order, I love it when the anticipation can be delicious like that.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

Later on today I plan on finishing up  The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook. I’ve been reading it with my mom. It is the perfect book to read for a  book club discussion.

Set in 1946, it’s about an English colonel responsible for reorganizing a section of Germany after World War II. A house is requisitioned for him to live in, and his family is on the way to join him after an absence of almost two years. His son is a virtual stranger to him, and his wife is still heavily grieving the loss of their elder son. While it is standard among the military to evict German families from their home during occupation, the Colonel allows the family to stay and live with his family, since the house is so big. This of course leads to inevitable tensions and clashes as the families try to work out ways to co-exist.

Reading the novel so far has been a very rich experience. We have broken it up into chapters and have been discussing it as we go along. Brook excels in illuminating the complexities of war, and his characters and their feelings and viewpoints are so well considered that it is nearly impossible to take sides – they are all so clearly understood. We have discussed marital discord, the insane politics of war, and how death, absence and grief affect people in different ways – how the failure to bridge the gap when you have the opportunity only makes things worse, and sometimes leads to tragic events.

Transformation is also another solid theme as many of the characters are at a crossroads in their lives, and in their relationships. My mom has said of Brook, “He is out of sight with his themes and characterizations.” I can’t wait to finish up this evening.

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope your reading has been as rewarding as mine has been this week.

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National Boss Day: 4 Fictional Bosses You’re Glad You Don’t Have

The Bone Season by Samantha ShannonThe Purchase by Linda SpaldingSanctus by Simon ToyneNight Film by Marisha Pessl

There’s a day for almost everything but National Boss Day got me thinking about some recent fiction reads, and people I’m glad are not in any position of authority over me. While most bosses aren’t perfect, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to have to work for any of these characters.

The Rephaim (The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon) Alien and often mean, this group of creatures has been siphoning off undesirable humans and putting them to work in their alternate world set up in what was Oxford, England. They’ve also been know to snack on their human employees. Eww.

Daniel Dickinson (The Purchase by Linda Spalding) Quakers are known for generally giving everyone a fair shake, but Daniel’s bumbling naivete makes him an unwitting, and even worse, careless slave owner. His kind of kindness gets you killed. (Read my review)

Brother Abbot (Sanctus by Simon Toyne) Brother Abbot is murderous, power-hungry, and maybe even slightly deranged. Ok, a lot deranged. He’s super into protecting “The Sacrament” and saving humans from their own stupidity. You have a fifty-fifty chance of living through a meeting with this man. (Read my review)

Stanislas Cordoba (Night Film by Marisha Pessl) His films have been rumored to drive people insane or cause them to suddenly stop speaking. Do you really think you would want to work for him?

Have any fictional bosses who give you the creeps? Share them!

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Eye Catching Fall Releases

There are so many new books out all the time, but these have particularly caught my eye. The publisher descriptions are included below, but have been shortened (considerably in some cases) for possible spoilers, and in the interest of brevity. Book covers and titles will take you to full information.

Pullman's fairytalesPullman’s Fairytales by Philip Pullman (November 8, Viking Adult) Pullman retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.

Inherit the Dead by Lee Child (October 8, Touchstone) Pericles “Perry” Christo is a PI with a past—inherit-the-deada former cop, who lost his badge and his family when a corruption scandal left him broke and disgraced. Whenwealthy Upper East Side matron Julia Drusilla summons him one cold February night, he grabs what seems to be a straightforward (and lucrative) case. The socialite is looking for her beautiful, aimless daughter, Angelina, who is about to become a very wealthy young woman. But as Christo digs deeper, he discovers there’s much more to the lovely “Angel” than meets the eye. Her father, her best friend, her boy­friends all have agendas of their own. Angel, he soon realizes, may be in grave danger…and if Christo gets too close, he just might get caught in the crossfire.

you knew me whenYou Knew me When by Emily Liebert (September 3, NAL Trade) When Katherine receives word of an inheritance from former neighbor Luella Hancock, she reluctantly returns home to the people and places she left behind. Hoping for a second chance, she’s met by an unforgiving Laney, her former best friend. And there’s someone else who’s moved on without her—someone she once loved. Tethered to their shared inheritance of Luella’s sprawling Victorian mansion, Katherine and Laney are forced to address their long-standing grudges. Through this, they come to understand that while life has taken them in different directions, ultimately the bonds of friendship and sisterhood still bind them together. But are some wounds too old and deep to mend?

XO Orpheus by Kate Bernheimer (September 24, Penguin Books) Icarus flies once more. Aztec xojaguar gods again stalk the earth. An American soldier designs a new kind of Trojan horse—his cremains in a bullet. Here, in beguiling guise, are your favorite mythological figures alongside characters from Indian, Punjabi, Inuit, and other traditions. If “xo” signals a goodbye, then xo Orpheus is a goodbye to an old way of mythmaking. Featuring talkative goats, a cat lady, a bird woman, a beer-drinking ogre, a squid who falls in love with the sun, and a girl who gives birth to cubs, here are extravagantly imagined, bracingly contemporary stories, heralding a new beginning for one of the world’s oldest literary traditions.

last car over the sagamore bridgeLast Car Over the Sagamore Bridge by Peter Orner (August 6, Little, Brown and Company) Peter Orner zeroes in on the strange ways our memories define us: A woman’s husband dies before their divorce is finalized; a man runs for governor of Illinois and loses much more than an election; two brothers play beneath the infamous bridge at Chappaquiddick. Employing the masterful compression for which he has been widely praised, Orner presents a kaleidoscope of individual lives viewed in startling, intimate close-up. Whether writing of Geraldo Rivera’s attempt to reveal the contents of Al Capone’s vault or of a father and daughter trying to outrun a hurricane, Orner illuminates universal themes. In stories that span considerable geographic ground–from Chicago to Wyoming, from Massachusetts to the Czech Republic–he writes of the past we can’t seem to shake, the losses we can’t make up for, and the power of our stories to help us reclaim what we thought was gone forever.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (August 6, William Morrow) Li Lan,the ghost bride the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price. After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy–including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets–and the truth about her own family–before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

the secrets she carriedThe Secrets She Carried  by Barbara Davis (October 1, NAL Trade) When a young woman returns to North Carolina after a thirty-year absence, she finds that the once grand tobacco plantation she called home holds more secrets than she ever imagined. Though Peak Plantation has been in her family for generations, Leslie Nichols can’t wait to rid herself of the farm left to her by her estranged grandmother Maggie—and with it the disturbing memories of her mother’s death, her father’s disgrace, and her unhappy childhood. But Leslie isn’t the only one with a claim to Peak.

Songs of Three Islands by Millicent Monks (October 8, songsofthreeislandsProspecta Press) Millicent Monks attempts to bring mental illness out of the shadows and comfort those who are suffering from thoughts and feelings they don’t always understand. In her own words “People, they say, are divided into two kinds: those who have known inescapable sorrow and those who have not. Because sorrow cannot be changed, one’s lifestyle and feelings must be changed to accommodate it.” This heartfelt account highlights the struggle and frustration felt as you watch those you love being destroyed by mental illness. It’s easy to presume that having riches beyond your wildest dreams automatically means you have it all, but being blighted by mental illness is something many families, rich and poor alike, struggle to come to terms with.

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Interview Alert: The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales (Book) & Sofia Coppola (Film)

The Bling Ring The-Bling-Ring-Official-Movie-Trailer2

I was searching around for a movie to add to my rental queue this weekend, and stumbled across Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, about a group of Hollywood youths spending time their time robbing the houses of celebrities. In a moment of synchronicity this morning, Caroline Leavitt (author of Is This Tomorrow) posted a fascinating piece where she interviews Nancy Jo Sales about the article that turned into the movie, which Sales then turned into the book, The Bling Ring. Let me know if you have read/watched the book/movie/ article. I mean to get to them all eventually, especially after reading this conversation.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review