Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project
by Gretchen Rubin

Genre: Memoir

Review: A read to start your New Year's Resolutions out right. Rubin combines research from positive psychology, history, philosophy, and many great thinkers to gain insight into happiness. She chooses a focus each month to increase her happiness in areas including energy, eating healthy, parenting, marriage, friendship, money, taking risks, and more. You can learn a lot from her happiness project, from her stumbles to her successes. Also check out her blog--this book had a major snowball effect for Happiness Projects around the world.

Author Blog:

Song to Read By: "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves

My book club's pick for January! Start the new year off with your own set of "ten commandments of happiness!"

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ten Girls to Watch

Ten Girls to Watch
by Charity Shumway

Genre: Women's fiction

Review: This novel is witty and inspiring, with fun dialogue yet a real message and so timely. Looking for a job and the travails of online dating are something so many twenty-somethings are dealing with right now. However, this novel takes the phase from college girl to woman to the next level, touching on mentoring and how women find their ways and their careers. Dawn tracks down women who won a magazine contest's "Ten Girls to Watch" for the past 50 years and learns much from them. You'll find inspiration too!

Author Website:

Song to Read By: "Ladies" by Andy Grammer

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Venezia: Lady Emily is Back!

Death in the Floating City
by Tasha Alexander

Genre: Mystery, series

Review: The next installment in one of my favorite mystery series doesn't disappoint. Lady Emily, elegant wife/sleuth/forward-thinking feminist of the Victorian era goes to Venice to investigate a crime for her childhood rival, Emma.

The handsome Colin accompanies as they traverse the canals and churches of Venice in search of the murderer. Clues found in paintings, gardens, and books abound. Meanwhile, readers are given a glimpse into a 1500s diary that could effect the current events.

Author Website:

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Slow-Paced Mystery?

Every Contact Leaves a Trace
by Elanor Dymott

Genre: Literary Mystery/Psychological Suspense

Review: Alex, the story's narrator, begins by recounting finding his wifes body beside the lake at Worcester College, Oxford, England. As the events leading up to Rachel's murder unfold, Alex realizes the strength of her love anew, while dealing with her secrets and the truth that he didn't really know his wife. The novel is slow-paced, and touches on the precarious nature of narrative, examining the unique perspectives of Harry Gardner, Rachel's academic adviser, her cold godmother, and Alex's own view of his life. This novel is a mystery, not a thriller; the pace is slow and thoughtful as the events of Rachel's life are revealed to Alex.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Coming of Age in Hungary and England

The Book of Summers
by Emylia Hall

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: Beth, aka Erszebet, tells the story of her mother, Marika. When she receives an artistic photo scrapbook in the mail, The Book of Summers, she is forced to reflect on the summers she spent with Marika in Hungary and what they meant to her. The gorgeous Hungarian countryside, the spicy cuisine, the cute boy down the lane, Tamas, the thrill of gallivanting around the forest. Discovering painting and sketching for the first time with resident artist Zoltan...all are lovingly rendered by debut novelist Emylia Hall. If you want to bask in the feeling of summer, even in November, read this novel!

Song to Read by: Enjoy some gypsy music from Putumayo's compilation Gypsy Caravan:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Meryl Streep Movie Club!

The Meryl Streep Movie Club
by Mia March

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: Two sisters and their cousin grew up together and grew apart, but now they are called back to the Three Captains Inn in beautiful Boothbay Harbor, Maine by matriarch Lolly. Isabel is battling her past and uncertain future; single-mom June is searching for Charlie's long lost father; Kat is making decisions about whether to marry her best friend or take her chances in Paris or open her own bakery. Together, they grow closer, gathering together for Movie Night, and Meryl Streep movies become the catalyst for close relationships and resolving the conflicts in their lives.

Sounds corny, but it is really not! A light read with a big heart :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

We Only Know So Much: Quirky, Funny Family Drama

We Only Know So Much
by Elizabeth Crane

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: A dysfunctional family drama in the style of Arrested Development or The Royal Tenenbaums, but even more enjoyable. The novel is narrated in a unique manner, using third person plural, which is not intrusive, but very effective. A self-absorbed daughter who yearns to star on reality television, a crossword-making little brother falling into bittersweet first love the way only a 9 year old can, a mother grieving over her lost love, and a father full of facts but not emotions. They share a home with an ailing grandfather and a spritely, controlling great-grandmother.

 This novel is strikingly original, hilarious at time, and sad at times. You won't want your time with this quirky family to end!

Treasure Island!!! Super Quirky and Fun

Treasure Island!!!
By Sara Levine


Genre: Literary Fiction

 Review: A 25 year old young woman is losing her way in life, and after reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, she decides to emphasize the values she finds in the book, and let these traits guide her life: independence, boldness, resolution, and horn-blowing. As she strives to be more independent, she comes into conflict with her boyfriend Lars, her sister, and her parents. Her boldness leads her to quit her job, and she floats along, holding on to the “boys’ adventure story” for dear life. This book is hilarious, quirky, absurd, and unlike anything you’ve ever read. It encapsulates the way many 25 year olds feel right now, but it is just weird (not too realistic) enough to let the reader experience enjoyably.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kate Morton's New Book U.S. Release Oct 16!

Get excited!

One of my favorite authors, Kate Morton, has a new book coming out VERY soon! I have already pre-ordered from Amazon, so I should receive the book on the 18th.

The release date for the U.S. is Oct 16th!

Please see the cover below and the overview from Kate's website.

The Secret Keeper
1961: On a sweltering summer's day, while her family picnics by the stream on their Suffolk farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out in her childhood tree house dreaming of a boy called Billy, a move to London, and the bright future she can't wait to seize. But before the idyllic afternoon is over, Laurel will have witnessed a shocking crime that changes everything.

2011: Now a much-loved actress, Laurel finds herself overwhelmed by shades of the past. Haunted by memories, and the mystery of what she saw that day, she returns to her family home and begins to piece together a secret history. A tale of three strangers from vastly different worlds--Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy--who are brought together by chance in wartime London and whose lives become fiercely and fatally entwined...

Thriller Set in Ireland! Tana French is Back!

Hi Everyone, I have been on hiatus for this book blog, because I just started a Ph.D. program. However, I will still update, just less often; even with piles of research articles to read, I still can't resist reading novels, even if that means staying up 'til 1 in the morning!
Broken Harbor
by Tana French

Genre: Literary Thriller/Mystery

 I love Tana French's books. The Likeness is my favorite. If you want something creepy to read around Halloween time, Broken Harbor will fit the bill!

Review: Overall, I didn't like this book quite as much as French's others, yet it is worth it to read until the end, because there the characterization fully develops.

A family caught in the despairing throes of the recession find themselves living in a deserted neighborhood. A detective with the best solve rate on the squad, Mick Kennedy, heads to the site of a possible murder-suicide with rookie partner Richie Curran. Two angelic children are gone and the kitchen is a bloody mess. At every turn, something unexpected occurs. You cannot guess the twists and turns of this book. Once again, French raises police prodedural to a higher art.

Song to Read By: Mumford and Sons, "The Cave"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Four Friends, One Yoga Class, Big Life Changes

Balancing Acts
by Zoe Fishman

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: Four college friends reunite after ten years and join a yoga class, which opens them up in more ways than one. Charlie, a former Wall-Streeter turned yoga teacher, is hanging onto a long ago relationship. Single-mom Naomi is dealing with her child's absent father coming back and mixed feelings about her career and photography. Sabine, a romance editor, crushes on Subway Guy and tries to write, while Bess' plan to revive her journalism career might threaten her new friendships.

The metaphor of "balancing acts" will resonate with women, readers who strive to balance what they want with what they need. These characters were inspiring as they pursued their dreams even when its hard.

Sorry if it is over 100 words!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Post-Freshman Year Summer: Saving Ruth

                                        Saving Ruth
                                      by Zoe Fishman

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: Zoe Fishman's second novel follows Ruth, a freshman at the University of Michigan who is returning home to Alabama for the summer. Reunited with old friends, much has changed, including the weight Ruth has lost (too much). As summer passes, Ruth and her brother David's relationship is tested as they lifeguard and coach together at the local pool. 

This novel has everything I look for in an enjoyable yet thoughtful, fun novel: witty dialogue, realistic relationships, true family dynamics, and real issues.

Song to Read by: "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey

Friday, September 14, 2012

Back to Barcelona: the Prisoner of Heaven

The Prisoner of Heaven
By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Genre: Adult Fiction

The third book in the series of related books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. You don’t need to read The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel of Mist first, but it may add to your enjoyment.

Review: Daniel Sempere is back, working in his father’s bookstore and raising his son with the lovely Bea. Then a stranger enters the bookstore, searching for beloved, mischievous rascal Fermin Romero de Torres—his past may be coming back to haunt him. We learn more about Fermin’s backstory as Daniel attempts to solve the mystery and deal with his wife’s possible infidelity.

Once again we are led into the labyrinthine Gothic streets of Barcelona and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, with flashbacks to the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. Finally, Daniel learns more about his mother as well.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Divergent Movie Buzz!

As you may know, Divergent by Veronica Roth, the first book in a YA dystopian trilogy,  has sold the film rights to Summit Entertainment! Filming is planned to begin in March 2013 with a release date in 2014.

Check out some of the buzz on this unofficial fan site:

There is also a released e-book from Harper Teen...Want to read Divergent from Tobias' perspective? The scene from Ch. 13, at least? Check it out here!

Insurgent: Even more action packed!

by Veronica Roth

Genre: YA Fiction

Review: Insurgent is even more action-packed than Divergent. The story begins right where the previous book left off. Tris faces many new challenges and must decide who to trust as the characters move from an Amity safehouse, to faction-less headquarters and later, to the Erudite building. Her relationships with Tobias and her brother Caleb will be tested, all while she struggles to overcome the grief from her parents' deaths and outcomes of violence. She must use her Divergent skills from Dauntless, Abnegation, and Erudite. At the end, we find out what is "outside the fence" and we're left with an awesome cliffhanger!

Can't wait for the third book of the trilogy!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mystery and Mayhem on Shutter Island

Shutter Island
by  Dennis Lehane

Genre: Adult Fiction, Mystery/Thriller

Review: Haunted by memories of the war and his wife's death, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels arrives on Shutter Island. This island on Boston Harbor houses a hospital for the criminally insane. A young woman, a murderer, is at large on the island, with a hurricane on the way. With his partner Chuck, Teddy investigates the missing person, uncovering a bigger conspiracy about the real reason he was brought to the island.

As Teddy begins to doubt everything he once believed, memories of his wife come raging back.

 The suspense is tight, yet setting and characterization are lavishly developed. The writing style is moody and atmospheric.

More info: The movie (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, directed by Martin Scorcese) was also pretty good, although a bit graphic and disturbing for my taste:

Suspenseful and Timely: One Breath Away

One Breath Away
by Heather Gudenkauf

Genre: Popular Adult Fiction

Review: A brother and sister move to a small Iowa town in while their mother recovers from an accident. P.J. and Augie live on the farm with their grandfather. Yet this is no pastoral farm tale.

Amidst a blizzard, a school is taken hostage by an unidentified gunman. The events are seen through the eyes of Augie, Grandpa Will, Augie's mom Holly, a female police officer, and a teacher.

As the suspense tightens, the action and memories/character exposition are woven together expertly. The author takes her time developing characters, while also using short chapters to maintain tension and keep readers turning pages.

Author Website:

Also recommended: The Weight of Silence, her first novel, and These Things Hidden

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Coming of Age in West Virginia

Ugly to Start With
By John Michael Cummings

Genre: YA Fiction

Review: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is a fulfilling setting for this coming-of-age tale. Jason is figuring out where he fits in this strange world. His angry father, brushes with the stark realities of adultery and domestic violence, friendships fraught with conflict, a yearning for the larger world of art and culture—all come together in this collection of related short stories. The writing style is richly descriptive, the small town enlivened for the reader.

Jason struggles to retain his strong sense of self as he navigates the contradictions and hopelessness of the people around him.

Song to read by: "Landslide" live by Fleetwood Mac

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bittersweet Teenage Years--Book to Movie!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
By Stephen Chbosky

Genre: YA Fiction

I read this book in preparation for the film which comes out in September, starring Emma Watson (the smart and lovely Hermione)! Watch the trailer here . And guess what? The author of the book is directing the movie.

Review: This novel, which has become a modern YA classic since its publication in 1999, is written in the epistolary style, as letters from Charlie to an anonymous friend about the ups and downs of his freshmen year of high school. Two Seniors, Sam and Patrick (sister and brother), befriend Charlie and induct him into a world where he can move from being an observer of life to a real participant, who experiences the beauty and pain of life. The voice and style of the novel sound authentic to a teenage boy, but the novel also touches on issues related to Charlie's experience that would be difficult for even an adult to handle. Follow Charlie on the best and worst year of his life.

Song to Read By: "Asleep" by The Smiths, as featured in Charlie's mix tape in the novel

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Disturbing Tale of Rural Sweden

by Therese Bohman

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

Review:  This mystery is different from crime novels readers have come to expect from Scandinavia. In this novel, twenty-year-old art history student Marina visits her older sister, Stella, in the countryside of Sweden. The sensual descriptions of the garden, the pond, and the woods make the novel a delight to read; the setting descriptions are as savory as any poem. However, this tale has a darker layer. Something is not quite right with her sister's relationship with the reclusive author, yet Marina finds herself drawn to him. The novel has wonderful layers and symbolism and foreshadowing, clues given in poems and paintings.

Song to Read by: "Fragile No. 4" by Dustin Halloran

Some Kind of Fairy Tale

Some Kind of Fairy Tale
by Graham Swift

Genre: Adult Fiction, Mystery/Suspense

Review: Tara arrives home on Christmas Day, surprising her family who has not seen her for twenty years. She looks almost the same as when she disappeared when she is sixteen. Most unbelievable of all, she claims to have been spirited away to the land of the fairies. Her brother Peter insists on getting to the bottom of this, and the novel follows the story of his family and children as well as Tara's sessions with a psychiatrist and her ex-boyfriend Richie's life. The reader is taken to a bizarre land of the fairies, a beautiful yet disturbing place.

Overall, this book was strange but an interesting mystery and well-written.

Song to Read by: "Orinoco Flow" by Enya

Monday, August 27, 2012

One of the Best Books I've Read This Year!

The Age of Miracles
by Karen Thompson Walker

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: This is one of the best books I've read this year. The premise and writing are both wonderful, almost breathtaking. This book makes you pause and appreciate the world you live in, while anticipating, "What if?"

We follow eleven-year-old Julia and the unraveling of her family and friendships as "the slowing" of the Earth's rotation affects their daily life. Julia must navigate middle school, "the age of miracles," while dealing with an unprecedented event on Earth. At the same time, she struggles with shifting friendships, her first crush, and the weight of being an only child.

Song to read by: "De Usuahia a la Quiaca" from The Motorcycle Diaries soundtrack

Monday, August 20, 2012

Red, White, and Black: An Enchanted Circus

The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

Genre: Literary Adult Fiction

Review: What is "the game"? The novel of an enchanted circus centers around Marco and Celia, two young people who grow up isolated, groomed to perform real magic with their minds. They become mysterious opponents in a puzzling game with a strange venue: the Night Circus. The descriptions of the circus chronicle this delightful confection of an entertainment, with delightful sensory images and magical creations. 

However, near the end, the plot really began to slow, and there are so many characters, it is hard to feel closely tied to one of them and care what happens. 

Conclusion: The novel is well-written, but was not fully engaging for me personally.

Song to Read By: "A Great Divide" by Dustin O'Halloran

Beachcombers: Three Sisters and Satisfying Resolution

by Nancy Thayer

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: If you can't get enough of light summer reads set on Nantucket, then I recommend this novel. Thayer's tale of three  sisters returning home for a summer sounds familiar, but it is that familiarity that will make you feel at home in your vacation reading. Each sister is still coming to terms with the loss of their mother, growing up, and recent problems in their lives. Emma is reeling from the loss of a career and engagement. Lily must decide between a safe proposal or exploring the world. Abbie must chart her own course after mothering her sisters for years. 

Song to Read by: "Life is Wonderful" by Jason Mraz

The Innocents, Re-telling of a Classic

The Innocents
by Francesca Segal

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

Review: Rediscover Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence

The Innocents takes this classic novel and sets in modern times, in another well-off, insular community--the snug Jewish haven of North West London. Archer is replaced by Aaron, a confident twenty-something newly engaged to the pink-cheeked Rachel. Ellie, the Madame Olenska character, arrives in town with a sordid and tragic past in America trailing her and Aaron is called upon to help her, yet finds himself bewilderingly attracted to Ellie and all she represents, freedom from his secure place in the community. 

Conclusion: The re-telling is an original piece all on its own, but I hope this book will inspire readers to go back to Edith Wharton's classic as well.

Song to Read By: "An Ending, A Beginning" by Dustin O'Halloran

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Epic Saga of Italy and Love

The Shoemaker's Wife
by Adriana Trigiani

Genre: Popular Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

Review: Two hard-working young people from a tiny Alpine village in the Italian Alps must leave their beloved families and travel to America. Their love story is one of just missing each other. When they meet again, it is never the right time for love. They work and they work. 

Little Italy and Industrial Revolution Manhattan are described in beautiful detail. The descriptions of the opera, the great Caruso, and behind-the-scenes at the Metropolitan Opera House were some of my favorite scenes. 

This is a beautifully described and heartfelt love story, which shows a talented author taking her work to the next level.  

Author Website Click to read about some of her other books which I recommend, especially Big Stone Gap and Lucia Lucia. I have also reviewed her YA novel Viola in Reel Life.

Q and A with Author about the Book The story was inspired by her family history!

Song to Read By: "Caruso" as performed by Josh Groban 

Friday, August 10, 2012

An Inspiring Art Book

I am breaking the mold of "100 words or less" to post an Remarkable Women Artists project for my students' art class. 

All quotes from Georgia O’Keeffe, Nature and Abstraction published by the Irish Museum of Modern Art and Vancouver Art Gallery.

Early Work

From the Lake

 New York City Influences

Radiator Building, Night, New York, 1927

The West—Later Years

 book about her New Mexico years

Quotes, Inspiration, Paintings

“Abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint… I found I could say things in color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for.”

“I had been taught to work like others and after careful thinking I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my life doing what had already been done…I decided to start anew—to strip away what I had been taught—to accept as true my own thinking”

About Flower Abstraction—her major early series of flower paintings: “I’m going to paint it big so they will have to look at it…it just amused me, the idea of getting them to see what I saw.”

“Color is one of the great things in the world that makes life worth living to me, and as I have come to think of painting it is my effort to create an equivalent of paint color for the world—life as I see it.”

Life in the West, 1929

“I never feel at home in the East like I do out here—and finally feeling in the right place again…It is just unbelievable—one perfect day after another.”

1955 Green Patio Door

On painting abstraction from nature
“A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and color put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.”

Black Mesa Landscape, 1930

“The unexplained thing in nature that makes me feel the world is big far beyond my understanding—to understand maybe by trying to put it into form. To find the feeling of infinity on the horizon line or over the next hill.”

Ram's Head and White Hollyhock Hills, New Mexico

Finding Inspiration in the World Around Her, In Objects: 
“I have picked flowers where I found them—have picked up sea shells and rocks and pieces of wood where there were sea shells and rocks and pieces of wood that I liked…I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Modern-day Jane Eyre

The Flight of Gemma Hardy
by Margot Livesey

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: Described as a modern-day Jane Eyre, this is the story of Gemma Hardy, an orphan who moved from Iceland to Scotland when her parents died. Her beloved uncle passed away and she was left at the cruel hands of her jealous aunt. Gemma was sent away to a boarding school on scholarship, but she was treated unfairly as an indentured servant. Later she works on the desolate Orkneys as a governess. You keep hoping she will catch a break, but she rarely does, and good things are in disguise. Gemma never gives up and the end was more satisfying than Jane Eyre

My advice: Gemma is a modern heroine, so dig in with a plate of shortbread and a cup of piping hot Earl Grey Tea! 

About the Author: A native Scot, the author has lived in the United States and says the book allowed her to reconnect with her past and that the book is: “infused with my memories of the landscapes where I grew up and of a certain longing for those landscapes.”  

Song to Read By: "We Move Lightly" by Dustin O'Halloran

Monday, July 30, 2012

Summerland: Glimpse into the Real Nantucket

By Elin Hilderbrand

Genre: Women's Fiction, Popular Adult Fiction

Summer isn't summer without the latest Elin Hilderbrand read and a vicarious vacation to Nantucket!

ReviewThe real Nantucket, the year-round islanders are at the center of this novel. Zoe, a chef, and her twins Hobby and Penny are the golden children of their high school. Penny a gifted singer, Hobby a gifted athlete. The whole island is shocked when Penny drives off the road at high speed, three friends in the Jeep, including boyfriend Jake and friend Demeter. The book follows three island families as they deal with the accident and resulting events, told from rotating character's perspectives. This novel was fast-paced yet I felt very connected to the characters and their emotions. 

Song to Read by: "Next in Line" by Walk the Moon