Saturday, September 26, 2009

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

I discovered Jennifer Weiner's writing sometime in the past year and devoured her books. I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of Best Friends Forever in a relatively short time after publication.
Best Friends Forever tells the story of Addie Downs and Valerie Adler. They had met when they were 9 becoming close as children but then 'breaking up' in their final year of high school. Valerie returns into Addie's life 15 years later, shaking up Addie's quiet life.
We get to know Addie the best of the two. Addie, who was raised by good parents, but not very well liked by others has suffered by low self-esteem and is a victim of circumstance.
Valerie is quite her opposite. At first you wonder why Addie would give Val a second chance, but as more of their back story is revealed you can see how life made Val the way she is (and how Addie's soft heart can take her in again).
What I enjoy most about Weiner's writing is how she gets it right. The characters in this book are one year off my own age so the memories they tell match the time I grew up in. I can see the 80's and 90's very clearly in this tale. Weiner also really writes feelings well. I can relate to Addie, I can hurt along side her and heal with her too. There is a great combination of humour and reality inside this book.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Winners of Cleopatra's Daughter and The Heretic Queen!

I'm pleased to announce the contest winners of Michelle Moran's books! The first winner is Angela from Teaching Here, There and Everywhere!. Angela will be receiving an autographed copy of Cleopatra's Daughter!
The second winner is Natashya of Living in the Kitchen With Puppies! Natashya will be receiving an autographed copy of The Heretic Queen!
Thank you to everyone who entered!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

This was a book that was sent to me by the author. I have to admit that part of me is leary about accepting books to review straight from the author because there is fear that I won't like the book. That happened the first time I reviewed due to author request. My fears were alleviated first by the endorsement of the cover by Margaret George (one of my favorite authors) and then again by the first chapter of the book. Michelle Moran does write well. She is able to put you in a historical place in such a way that you can see where you are understand the times you are in (very important in historical fiction).
The story centres around Kleopatra Selene, Cleopatra's daughter. It tells the story of her life after her mother's death. It is a story and premise that I wasn't previously familliar with. I knew a bit about Cleopatra (but I think a lot of people do). The notion that her daughter would have been taken to live in Rome was new to me and I can see why Moran would have taken this part of history to delve into. It is quite fascinating.
I think she does quite a nice job of telling Selene's tale. Yes, Selene is written as a rather mature pre-teen/teen, but then again she would have been. She would have been raised to learn to rule, among adults. She would have been quite educated. I think Moran does a nice job of balancing her maturity by contrasting her with other characters similar in age who become Selene's friends.
One of Moran's goals with this story was to write for both adults and young adults. As an adult, I enjoyed the read. Would I have enjoyed it as a young adult? I think so. It may be a good book for a mother and daughter to read together and discuss, bookclub style (I'm a big believer in parents knowing what their children are interested in). I'm glad I had the opportunity to read this story and thank Michelle Moran for sending me a copy.
If you would like your own copy (or one of her earlier books, the Heritic Queen), I'm hosting a book giveaway. Click here for details!

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's Monday

While I still have my list that I was sorting out last week, the book fairies have been kind to me and delivered Jennifer Weiner's new book, Best Friends Forever into my lap. That is my next offering to delve into.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm hosting my first contest! - Win Cleopatra's Daughter or The Heritic Queen by Michelle Moran!

I'm very excited to host my very first book giveaway! Michelle Moran has graciously offered to giveaway an autographed copy of her new book, Cleopatra's daughter as well as an autographed copy of The Heritic Queen to a second winner.

The Books:

The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony’s vengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome, but only two—the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander—survive the journey. Delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.

The fateful tale of Selene and Alexander is brought brilliantly to life in Cleopatra’s Daughter. Recounted in Selene’s youthful and engaging voice, it introduces a compelling cast of historical characters:

Octavia: the emperor Octavian’s kind and compassionate sister, abandoned by Marc Antony for Cleopatra
Livia: Octavian’s bitter and jealous wife
Marcellus: Octavian’s handsome, flirtatious nephew and heir-apparent
Tiberius: Livia’s sardonic son and Marcellus’s great rival for power
Juba: Octavian’s ever-watchful aide, whose honored position at court has far-reaching effects on the lives of the young Egyptian royals

Selene’s narrative is animated by the concerns of a young girl in any time and place —the possibility of finding love, the pull of friendship and family, and the pursuit of her unique interests and talents. While coping with the loss of both her family and her ancestral kingdom, Selene must find a path around the dangers of a foreign land. Her accounts of life in Rome are filled with historical details that vividly capture both the glories and horrors of the time. She dines with the empire’s most illustrious poets and politicians, witnesses the creation of the Pantheon, and navigates the colorful, crowded marketplaces of the city where Roman-style justice is meted out with merciless authority.

Based on meticulous research, Cleopatra’s Daughter is a fascinating portrait of Imperial Rome and of the people and events of this glorious and tumultuous period in human history. Emerging from the shadows of history, Selene, a young woman of irresistible charm and preternatural intelligence, will capture your heart.

The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the 18th dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, niece of the reviled former queen Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But all of this changes when she is taken under the wing of pharaoh’s aunt, and brought to the Temple of Hathor where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the crown prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.

How to Enter

You can enter this contest in the following ways (1 entry per each)
1. Comment to this post - don't forget to include your email address so I can contact you!
2. Become a follower of this blog
3. Post this contest on your blog (post the link in the comments)
4. Add this blog to your blog roll on your blog
Let me know all the ways you have entered!
Contest closes one week today - September 23, 2009

BBAW - Reading Habits Meme

The book bloggers appreciation week is hosting the following meme - if you wish to join in check it out here

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack? - Sure do-I'm a muncher, I love crunchy things like popcorn
Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of
writing in books horrify you? - the only book I write in is my bible
How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open? - usually dog-ears, sometimes flat open
Fiction, Non-fiction, or both? Mostly fiction, but I love biographical writing
Hard copy or audiobooks? hard copy
Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you
able to put a book down at any point? - I try to get to the end of the chapter, but late night my eyes don't always cooperate with me
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away? nope
What are you currently reading? Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran
What is the last book you bought? I bought 4 at once: Ginger, my Story by Ginger Rogers, Light on Snow by Anita Shreve, Weight of Water by Anita Shreve and It's not About me by Max Lucado
Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can
you read more than one at a time? I have 3 on the go now - one that's my main read, the Max Lucado which is more of a devotional and Vanity Fair which I've been working my way through this year
Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read? I can read anywhere, anytime, but my favorite time is when my kids are in bed, sleeping, everything is ready in the house for the next day and I can just relax
Do you prefer series books or stand alone books? I read more stand alone books, but I like when characters connect in books, not necessarily series. Sometimes authors will use the same characters in future books (like Jodi Picoult). My current favorite series is the No. Ladies Detective Agency books.
Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over? Sure, I love Francine Rivers and Margaret George. I find Margaret George is a master at historical fiction and I'm always amazed when people haven't heard of her.
How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?) I don't, I keep books by the same author together, but my bookshelves aren't organized alphabetically or anything. I used to be more anal about this when I was a kid.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

I've spent a lot of this year reading through Anita Shreve's books. Some I really love and others I could go either way. Every one of them though is well written. What I like about Shreve's writing is there is an immediate sense of mood to her stories. She can engross you to feelings of happiness, mourning, and uncomfortableness with ease. This story is no exception.
Light on Snow centres on a father and daughter who find a newborn infant left out in the snow, abandoned. Finding this child and saving her life throw a spotlight on the pair who have spent the last two years trying to live in anonymity. They have their own past hurts and mournings. They have lost half of their own family to tragedy, moving from a bustling life in New York to a quiet retreat in New Hampshire. The story switches back and forth to the days following the baby's discovery and the life they once lived in New York. It explores the question of what is a family?.
Personally, this story engrossed me as I am a mother, I'm also currently pregnant. The thought of abandoning a child is so beyond my comprehension. The idea of losing a child terrifies me. Shreve handled these situations with grace. Yes, there are moments of feeling uncomfortable, but you would if you were in this place where these characters are. Very well written!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Contest find

I have just discovered a new to me blog via J. Kaye's Monday reading meme. Jennifer at Rundpinne is hosting a contest to win "The Smart One and the Pretty One" by Clare LaZebnic. You can find out the contest details here.

It's Monday

I continue to read through Max Lucado's "It's Not About Me" and am about halfway through Light on Snow by Anita Shreve. Coming up is Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran, The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve and Ginger, my story by Ginger Rodgers.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jennifer Lancaster

I can thank my old college roomie, Angela for this treat. (thanks Ang!). Jen Lancaster's writing is memoir style. It's her thoughts, her life and I'm glad she has invited us in. She's very funny and she wants to set the record straight about what city life is really like (the anit-Carrie Bradshaw version). Each chapter is a vignette of her life. This was her second book (I believe) written while her first book was waiting to come out and she was working a series of temp jobs avoiding unemployment. She also interspersed emails to her good friends and letters to various people/companies.
I can relate to her. She loves food the way I love food (although I love to cook, she loves to garden). She loves her sanctuary the way I love her sanctuary. She writes well, so you really get a sense of who she is and the people around her. An enjoyable read!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weekly Geeks - What's the Plan?

Here's this week's Geek topic:

It's hard to believe we're approaching the last quarter of 2009. Soon those of us in the northern hemisphere will be curled up in front of the fire (or solar heater) with our favorite wintry reads, and those in the southern will be off to the beaches with their summer books.

Do you have a plan of what you're going to read the rest of the year? Have you had a master plan all along? If so, have you stuck to it? What helps you to decide what you're going to read next? Challenges? Book groups? Or do you have the luxury of closing your eyes and picking any book off your shelf?

I know some of you have spreadsheets and other devices to help you keep track of your books and challenges. (I even succumbed to using a spreadsheet this year after teasing my friends relentlessly about theirs.) If you have online spreadsheets, such as Google, can you give us a peek at them with a link or a screen shot?

The plan is, I have no plan. I read what I want in with no particular rhyme or reason in mind. I hope to finish the 100+ challenge hosted by J. Kaye (I'm about 40 pages away from finishing book #65) but that's about it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Weekly Geeks - All About Reviews

This week's geek challenge gave 3 options to respond to an author's curiosity. Here's the challenge:

Hello Geeks.

Shannon Hale (author of Austenland and The Actor and the Housewife, as well as many other books) recently posted on her blog about reviewing books. Take a moment to go read her post, in which she talks about going beyond saying simply whether or not you liked a book when writing a review.

For this week’s Weekly Geeks, we challenge you to respond to the questions Ms. Hale asks in one of three ways.

1. Find a negative review that you have written. In your post, link to or include the original review and then rewrite it to answer these questions:

* Why did you react negatively to the book?
* What was it about the story or characters or style that hit you so strongly?
* Are you reacting to any fears or insecurities?

2. Write a new review about a book you loved, keeping in mind these questions:

* What was it about the story that resonated?
* Would you have loved this book as much ten years ago? Five years ago?
* Will you keep loving it in the future?
* Where are you in your life that this is the story you wanted and needed?

3. At the end of her post, Ms. Hale posed six questions for those who review books on their blogs or other sites. Write a letter to Ms. Hale explaining your position on each of these questions, then return to her post and leave a comment with a link to your post. And remember her request to speak freely, but kindly and respectfully!

* Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?
* Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?
* Does knowing you'll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?
* Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?
* What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?
* If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?

I'm choosing option number 3 to respond to

* Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?
-No, I started this blog to remember my own experiences in reading, not to influence others in their own reading. I will admit that I struggle in how much I write now knowing that others are reading what I'm writing. I don't want to say too much and give too much away. I would like to participate more in book discussions because of this. There are things I think about the book that I don't write down in respect of not spoiling the book for those who haven't read it yet.

* Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?
-I wouldn't say I'm rating the book as I read it, I would say I'm reacting to it which is different. I want to write down my honest reactions to books.

* Does knowing you'll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?
-I don't think so. I'm pretty honest in what I read (good or bad). There are a couple of books I've read that I wouldn't have picked up had an author not asked me to read and review it, but most of what I write about are books I'm genuinely interested in reading.

* Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?
-No. I write my reviews pretty close to when I've finished reading them to stay true to my memories and experience.

* What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?
-I don't rate books

* If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?
-I'm in no way a professional reviewer, I'm a lover of books. The purpose of this blog was to document my experiences in reading.

It's Monday

I've missed a few of these, I'm glad my life is settling down again to participate. Last night I started "It's Not About Me" by Max Lucado. I've also got a couple of Anita Shreve books on the horizon for the week ahead.

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

At this moment in time I have now officially read all of Jodi Picoult's novels. I know that status will change as she keeps writing and publishing engaging tales such as this one.
This story centres around the O'Keefe's, a New Hampshire family whose youngest child is born with OI, also known as brittle bone disease. Their daughter suffers from the most extreme form of this disease that isn't fatal. She lives a life that will cause her to have hundreds of broken bones in her lifetime. The book asks the question, would it have been better if this child had never been born? Should this have been diagnosed before this child's birth? Should the parent have had the option to abort?
It is a heartbreaking tale. The parents clearly love Willow and each want what they believe to be the best for her. The choices they make and stances they take could break the family apart. Willow's life and the decisions of her parents affect not just their marriage, but Willow, their other daughter Amelia, their relationship with their closest friends and even the lawyer representing them.
The story takes an interesting perspective of multiple 2nd person narrative (each character telling their tale to Willow).
I think I enjoyed this one because it does ask hard questions about raising kids with Special Needs. I teach. I have taught a lot of kids with Special Needs over the past 11 years (more if you count student teaching). I think this has biased me. I love these kids. They are some of the most wonderful children I've ever met. I couldn't imagine what any of my classrooms would have been like had these kids been missing. They deserve the best that we can give them.
As difficult as it was to watch the mother's questions in this book, her character was written in such a way that you could understand her thought process, she was desperate. (Although I do admit to wanting to hit her over the head more than once).
As with most of Picoult's novels, I was riveted. My poor husband loses me into my own world when I get into a book like this. Picoult is a gifted storyteller and I look forward to her next offering.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It was Helen Fielding's first novel, published before Bridget Jones made her a household name. It is a wicked satire paralleling the third world needs and celebrity needs. The needs of the third world are not humorous, the celebrity response is.
The story centres around Rosie Richardson. She is running a refugee camp in Nambula, Africa. In between getting to know the others who work at the camp and their needs, we get flashbacks of Rosie's life pre-Africa, running with the celeb club in London. I found both sections fascinating and haunting.
I will warn those looking for a book like the Bridget Jones books that this is not it. It is nothing of the copycat Brit Chick Lit books either. This has a more serious edge to it. It is enjoyable, but in a completely different manner.