Saturday, December 14, 2013

After Her

After Her
by Joyce Maynard

Genre: Fiction: Mystery/Thriller

New release!

Review:  After Her is a mystery about two sisters' coming of age in Marin County, with the "Sunset Strangler" haunting the mountain in their backyard. After admiring this well-written novel with compelling characters, a mix of sadness, humor, and tension, I had to read Maynard's other books. 

Rachel is navigating adolescence and changing relationships while trying to help her father, the detective on the case, who is deteriorating from the stress and publicity. The setting on Mt. Tamalpais, stark and beautiful, is almost a character in the novel. Overall, a bit disturbing, but highly recommended. 

Note: It has been awhile since I read much of an author's ouevre all together, and this is a satisfying experience, especially for writers who are interested in how an author's work changes throughout the life and work/life balance. See reviews for The Good Daughters and At Home in the World

At Home in the World

At Home in the World
by Joyce Maynard

Readers of her novels will enjoy learning about her  personal journey!

Genre: Memoir

Review: Follow Maynard's journey from eager daughter to precocious young writer to her affair J.D. Salinger. As a college student, she published a piece in New York Times magazine. Salinger approached her through letters, and eventually she lived with him in New Hampshire. Even more compelling than the story of her affair--the struggle Maynard faces as she balances acting as the "voice of her generation" with finding her true voice as a writer and later, as a mother.  Through the process, readers witness Maynard coming-of-age as a person and as a writer. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Still Writing

Still Writing: 
The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
by Dani Shapiro

Genre: Non-fiction

Review: Dani Shapiro, memoirist and novelist, shares a little book full of wisdom about writing and life. The title is true to the content of the book. If you plan to live a writing life, you should learn about both the perils and the pleasures. The solitude, uncertainty, and anxiety, as well as the joy of flow, discovery, and delving deeper into yourself and your stories. This is honestly the best writing book I have read since Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I have a feeling I will keep coming back to many of these quotes...

My favorite quotes from the book:

Act as if…
“Act as if you’re a writer. Sit down and begin. Act as if you might just create something beautiful, and by beautiful I mean something authentic and universal. Don’t wait for anyone to tell you its okay. Take that shimmer and show us our humanity. That’s your job.” p.32

About Reading:
“Fill your ears with the music of good sentences, and when you finally approach the page yourself, that music will carry you. It will remind you that you are part of a vast symphony of writers, that you are not alone in your quest to lay down words…” p. 34

 “It allows the greatest consolation of literature, which is to pierce our separateness, to show us that, in this business of being human, we are not alone.” p.124 

On practice
 “If we are patient, if we place ourselves in the path of possibility, we might just find our own rushing current…Lives are made up of days. Days made up of hours, of minutes, of seconds during which we make choices, and those choices become practice.” p.131

“Why are we writing about this moment, and no other?” p.137

“It is the truest lesson I know about writing—and life—that we must always move in the direction of our own true calling, not anyone else’s.” p.192

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Good Daughters

The Good Daughters
by Joyce Maynard

Two "birthday" sisters grow up in rural New Hampshire, both of their lives tied to the Plank farm in indelible ways

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: Dana Dickerson, daughter of a painter mother, secretly longs to work the land someday, and Ruth Plank longs to be a painter. Life on a farm in the harshly beautiful landscape of New Hampshire is evoked. Dana and Ruth grow up beside each other in a sense, yet far apart; both feel out of place in their respective families. The story hurtles toward a conclusion that you know is coming, but still shocks, like a Greek tragedy. Maynard weaves the symbolism of strawberry vines, called daughters, throughout the story. The writing is honest, sensory, and emotionally evocative. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Divergent Trailer!

Who is excited for the film adaptation of Divergent?

Shailene Woodley and Theo James star as Tris and Four.

Watch the movie trailer here:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Virgin of Small Plains: Mystery on the Prairie

The Virgin of Small Plains
by Nancy Pickard

Genre: Mystery 

Review: This mystery set in Small Plains, Kansas switches back and forth between the present and past. In 1987, Abby and Mitch are two 17-year-olds in love, but when Mitch witnesses something appalling, he leaves town without warning. 

Almost 20 years later, Abby finds Mitch's mom wandering in a farm field, near the grave of the Virgin of Small Plains, a young woman who was lost on the night of the blizzard in 1987.  Abby becomes determined to find out the truth about the Virgin's true identity. The characters are realistic and compelling, and the setting is richly drawn.

Now I am reading her latest book!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Husband's Secret

The Husband's Secret
by Liane Moriarty

Immensely satisfying, not predictable, 
wonderful writing style!

: Women's Fiction, Popular

Review: When Cecilia finds a letter from her husband, addressed to her, to be opened only upon the event of his death, she is curious. She tries to go about her daily life, caring for her three daughters, throwing Tupperware parties, acting as PTA President in her small town in Australia. When she opens the letter, she is in for a shock, and it is not what you'd expect. The novel also follows Tess, an ad exec whose husband is in love with her bff/cousin, and Rachel, an elderly woman who lives in Cecilia's town. Their lives will intertwine in unexpected ways. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Lumineers on the Catching Fire Soundtrack!

My favorite band has a song on the Catching Fire soundtrack!

The Lumineers' "Gale Song"

And don't you love this album cover art of Jennifer Lawrence at Katniss Everdeen?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

From the Shores of Scotland to Imperial Russia

The Firebird
by Susanna Kearsley

An intriguing tale set in past and present, Russia and England and more....

Genre: Historical Fiction/Contemporary Fiction

Review: Nicola is an art expert who is fluent in Russian and when she touches an object, she can see the past. An elderly woman brings a carved wooden box emblazoned with a Firebird; as Nicola touches the object, she sees a flash of a young girl named Anna and Empress Catherine of Russia. Tracing the story of this artwork brings Nicola closer to a man from her past. The book includes recurring characters from The Winter Sea (in the historical portion of the book) and Rob, the clairvoyant child from The Shadowy Horses, is now all grown up and good-looking! He uses his mind to look into the past and to tempt Nicola to develop her psychic powers.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A writer on writing

Something to Declare
by Julia Alvarez

Genre: Essays

Review: I first read this book years ago, and returned to it when I needed inspiration as a writer. Alvarez describes her journey developing as a writer, teacher, and person. She traces her storytelling roots back to the oral storytelling culture of her childhood and the Dominican Republic, and her experience learning English when she first moved to the United States, to "Nueva York." She shares the rhythms of her writing days, the development of her identity as a Latina, writer, and woman, and her writing doubts and challenges. If you are an aspiring writer or a fan of Julia Alvarez's books, you will enjoy this essay collection. 

More info: Author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Yo! among others!

Her website talks about her latest book about true story, about a friend's wedding in Haiti. She also writes middle grades and YA novels.

See my review of two of her YA books, Finding Miracles and Before We Were Free.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

From Paris to Tahiti: All Good Things

The elegant yet down-to-earth writing style
 is present yet again in Turnbull's second 
memoir after Almost French! 

All Good Things
From Paris to Tahiti:
Life and Longing
by Sarah Turnbull

Genre: Memoir

Review: Sarah moves to Tahiti with her French husband, Frederic. Her hopes are quiet yet vast: "a book and a baby." The memoir begins with a sublime description of swimming in the Tahitian sea, then follows her struggles as a writer, adjusting to life in French Polynesia, wondering whether to dash her hopes for a child after several rounds of IVF.  Her writing is honest, never self-pitying.  Sprinkled with contemplation, of what it means to live on an island and to find inspiration there, like Matisse and Gauguin, through light and sea and poetic beauty of atolls.

Song to Read by: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by IZ

Almost French: Memoir, Comedy, Love Story

Almost French
by Sarah Turnbull

Genre: Memoir

Review: If you have any illusions about falling in love with a Frenchman and moving to Paris, this memoir will cure you. Sarah Turnbull, an Australian TV journalist, backpacked across Europe, and found love in Bucharest, Romania. She finished her trip and settled in Paris to give a relationship with Frederic a chance. 

Along the way, she learns to love meat and French cheeses and the countryside, navigate strange French friendships and dinner parties, and try to make new friends in a new culture. Her writing style is beautiful, and I love her sense of humor. 

Song to Read by: "Dance Me to the End of Love" by Madeline Peyroux

Turnbull comments on her writing in an article by the Sydney Morning Herald: ''There are two things about writing that give me a high,'' she says. ''One is the visual aspect: I see something so clearly and want to capture it and I feel fabulous when I've conveyed it - it might be just a line. And when I feel I have captured some sort of truth in a very ordinary experience. The backgrounds might be exotic but the experiences are just human, ordinary life, and I find that quite exciting.''

Read more:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Me Before You Book Review and Movie News

Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: Me Before You is an amazing, sublime, endearing, and sad novel. What literature should always be. It is well-written, humorous, compelling, with characters who you truly know, and want to know. Louisa Clark is a small-town girl in her twenties who has lived most of her life in one place.  A steady boyfriend but no career, she lives with her parents. Meet Will, a quadriplegic who used to lead a glamorous life, who dares Lou to step out of her comfort zone, while she tries to save him from himself. The unlikeliest love story you will ever read.

Film news: The book will be made into a movie. Read the announcement on Entertainment Weekly. No casting news yet as far as I can tell. 

If you loved the French movie, The Intouchables, read this book. 

Author website:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Silver Star

The Silver Star
By Jeannette Walls

One of those rare books that will become a classic!

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: Bean is the smart, spunky heroine you've been waiting for. When their mother disappears to "find herself," Liz and Bean ride a bus from California to a mountain town in Virginia to live in a rambling old farmhouse with their uncle. Bean finds out the truth about her father and befriends new family, enjoying small-town life.  The bond with her sister Liz resonated most for me. When tragedy strikes her sister, Bean is brave and tells it like is. Most of all, this is the story of sisters, the unbreakable bonds of siblings. 

The conclusion: Sharp-eyed yet emotionally resonant writing--you'd expect no less from thee author of the best-selling memoir The Glass Castle.

Song to Read by: "Down in the Valley" by the Head and the Heart

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Banned Books Week

Earlier today, I read an insightful post written by a colleague from the field of gifted education, Stephanie. In honor of Banned Books Week, she wrote about the power of books, bibliotherapy, and shared interesting links. 

Check out her post here:

Later in the day, thinking about the power of books, I was reminded of this quote by Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers on writing...

 “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” 

My current bedside books

Today I am grateful for the amazing libraries I have access to today, and the libraries where I grew up. I read many books that were banned in some places, and I will never be the same for these books, whether it was The Giver or The Bell Jar or The Catcher in the Rye or some other book that continues to inspire me, as a writer, as a reader, as a person. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Eat, Pray, Love Author Elizabeth Gilbert's New Novel

I just read an article in Oprah's Book Club 2.0 online newsletter that I thought you would enjoy. It describes Elizabeth Gilbert's new novel, which is quite a departure from her two recent memoirs. As you may know, originally she wrote a collection of short stories Pilgrims, a novel Stern Men, and a non-fiction book The Last American Man,  before hitting it big with Eat, Pray, Love. 

Set in the Victorian Era of Darwin and Dickens, her new novel The Signature of All Things follows Alma, whose budding interest in moss takes her farther from her Pennsylvania farm than she ever thought possible. The article gives you a sneak peek into the novel, its inspiration, and Gilbert's rambling Victorian home in New Jersey, her gardens, and her "skybrary."

Fans were given the chance to vote for the book cover. Which one do you think they chose? Visit her website to find out. The new novel will be released in 6 days!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ghosts of Women Writers Mystery

The Butterfly Sister
by Amy Gail Hansen

I spotted this book at the airport. A great read for a plane trip!

Genre: Women's Fiction, Thriller

Review: This mystery is a fast-paced read. After receiving a lost suitcase, an English literature student returns to her alma mater in search of the truth about a missing friend. She must also face her troubled past, which involves the ghosts of her favorite women writers. Some of the plot twists toward the end were more contrived than surprising-- a late-introduced character plays a central role. Don't skip it though. 

I enjoyed reading the book in one day and enjoyed the plot thread about Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Plath, and Woolf, and both the New Orleans and women's college settings are evoked vividly.

Author website

Song to Read By: "Sylvia Plath" by Ryan Adams, live

For all of you literature lovers out there: Go back to the sources and read The Bell Jar, A Room of One's Own, and "The Yellow Wallpaper."

Epistolary Love Story

Letters from Skye
By Jessica Brockmole

Genre: Historical Fiction

Review: A nostalgic, cozy read. A novel told through letters.  Young Scottish poet Elspeth lives a quiet, isolated, peaceful yet happy existence on the Isle of Skye. Letters from her first fan, American college student Davey, turn into something more. Clandestine meetings in Edinburgh and London open the world up to Elspeth, who'd never left Skye. Everything you'd expect from wartime romance, heartbreak, etc. A bit slow two-thirds of the way through, but still worth reading if you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Author website

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Night Film: The Best Thriller You'll Read this Year

Night Film
 by Marisha Pessl

Genre: Literary Thriller

Review: Reading this book was like diving down into deep, dark water. It takes a long time to swim back up. The surface seems far away, but eventually you reach the top.

Disgraced journalist Scott McGrath investigates enigmatic film director Stanislas Cordova, piecing together the last days of Ashley Cordova, along with sidekicks Hopper and Nora. The text is interspersed with articles, transcripts, screenshots, and other unconventional choices are made. As they search for the truth about Ashley, they encounter black magic, unreliable witnesses, and at last, The Peak. Night Film is an astonishing literary thriller.


Very cool author website

The book has an app and interactive content. NPR story about this.

Apparently there is going to be some content on her YouTube account as well.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Last Camellia

The Last Camellia
by Sarah Jio

Genre: Women's fiction

This is her best novel yet! I liked it better than two of her previous novels, so definitely, pick up this novel! As good as Violets of March! If you are missing Downton Abbey, this manor-set mystery with upstairs/downstairs drama will tide you over. 

Review:  Sarah Jio's latest novel is set at Livingston Manor, a fictional countryside estate in England, with a rare Camellia tree. In modern times, Addison and Rex visit the manor and begin to uncover a mystery involving Lady Anna, a Middlebury Pink camellia, and the housekeeper; in the meantime, the past is haunting Addison, creeping closer. 

In the 1940s, Flora, an American amateur botanist, finds her way to Livingston Manor. Hired as a flower thief, she acts as a nanny, where she falls in love with the family, and she, too, tries to solve the mystery surrounding Lady Anna.  Read it!

Song to Read by: "Snow Angel" from The Place Beyond the Pines soundtrack

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fault in Our set photos!

Earlier, I wrote a post about the excellent, sarcastic, sad yet funny novel The Fault in Our Stars. Nobody does biting, acerbic wit and captures the mind of intelligent teenagers like John Green. I am presenting at a conference in his home state of Indiana in November, so I was excited to find out that he is giving a talk there! Then, lo and behold, I found some pics posted by the author from the Fault in Our Stars movie set!

Shailene Woodley plays Hazel Grace

Ansel Elgort plays Augustus Wonders (both also star in Divergent)

Nat Wolff plays Isaac (he is the weird kid from Admission)

That's some of the most serious talent in young Hollywood right there! Looking forward to this movie.

No release date yet, later than summer 2014 predicts the buzz on the Net. Too bad, we will just have to wait for the trailer and re-read the book again.

Stunning promo pic...found on tumblr, do not know if it is official...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Catching Fire Soundtrack--Coldplay

Have you heard the newly released track from the Catching Fire film soundtrack? If you, like me, love Coldplay, love the Hunger Games trilogy, and can't wait to see Catching Fire in theaters, then check out this official lyric video for "Atlas" by Coldplay.


Pretty soon it will be time to re-read Catching Fire before the film hits theaters! 

Check out the trailer if you haven't seen it already! Or if you have, just watch it again :) 


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Way better than Twilight...

A Discovery of Witches
by Deborah Harkness

 This is the October selection for our book club!

Genre: Popular Fiction

Review: Diana is a witch who doesn't practice magic. Or at least that's what she thinks. During her year on sabbatical studying alchemy in Oxford, strange things begin to happen in the Bodleian library. A bewitched manuscript and lurking vampires and demons are just the start. Action, adventure, mystery, romance...this story has it all and turns everything you thought you knew about witches and vampires on its head. 

The next book in the trilogy is Shadow of Night. I am reading it right now. Review coming soon!

Author website

Info about the film adaptation
An award-winning playwright will write the script

Song to Read by: "Royals" by Lorde

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Descendants

 The Descendants
by Kaui Hart Hemmings

I just went to Kauai on my honeymoon (YAY!) When I returned home, I was so excited to read The Descendants, which is set on both Oahu and Kauai.

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: "Paradise can go f*** itself," says the narrator of The Descendants as he sits beside his wife in a hospital room. Life continues outside while he counts down the days with his comatose wife and daughter Scottie. In this novel, the back-up parent must learn how to be a parent and compelling moments occur as he gets to know his two daughters, Scottie and Alex. Bizarre, dysfunctional, realistic family drama ensues set across the verdant backdrop of Hawaii. The descriptions of setting and relationships, as well as the growth of the main characters, all make for a satisfying, powerful read. 

 Interesting Fact: At the end, the book mentioned that this book was an extension of her short story "The Minor Wars" which was part of her previously published short story collection, House of Thieves.

Check out the movie trailer: I love reading the book then watching the movie and comparing.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Alafair Burke's Latest Novel...

If You Were Here
by Alafair Burke

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Review: In Burke's second stand-alone thriller book, readers follow former public prosecutor turned reporter McKenna Jordan. The opening scene occurs on the subway as a boy steals an iPod, and is chased by a woman who later lifts him off the subway tracks. McKenna is hot on the trail when this video footage goes missing; however, she tracks the video because the woman in the photo reminds her of long-lost best friend Susan. Is Susan really alive? Is it safer for McKenna not to find out the truth about Susan.

Sorry, but my short review doesn't do the book justice; let's just say that after reading I rushed to the library to check out two more of Burke's novels, Long Gone and an Ellie Hatcher series novel, Never Tell.

**Burke says this is her most autobiographical novel with a character like her husband, a graduate of West Point. The novel uses Susan's character to delve into elite military culture.

Author website: Her website is pretty cool, with frequently updated blogs, tweets, and videos of her TV appearances. She also posts works in progress and asks fans for advice on scenes and character names, etc. which I think is cool.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Family Pictures

Family Pictures
by Jane Green

Genre: Popular chick lit

Review: Sylvie is a creative soon-to-be empty-nester. She is coming to terms with her daughter Eve's departure for college and potential eating disorder while caring for an aging, imperious mother and wishing her husband were home more. Sylvie starts wondering how Mark spends his time during the two weeks of the month he works on the East Coast. Her daughter Eve wants to attend college in NYC, but her stepdad is dead-set against it. The book alternates between Eve and Sylvie's perspectives in Part I, then moves among two other characters, Grace, another college-bound girl, and her mother, the reigning queen of the New Salem, CT social set. The second part of the book has a lot of "real housewives of Connecticut" type of drama if you like that kind of thing. 

Word of advice: Don't rush out and buy this book or anything, but it will entertain you if you pick it up at the library or bookstore. 

Funny. Quirky. Sad. Real

My American Unhappiness
by Dean Bakopoulos

Genre: Literary Fiction

As I noted in the subject line, I could write this review in four words: Funny, Quirky, Sad, Real. But I won't.

Review: We meet our protagonist at Starbucks, where he goes often to entertain his crush, an adorable barista girl. He has the uncanny ability to guess which drink people will order. Call it an insight into human nature.  At first glance, the main character is skating smoothly across the surface his life. Then his dying mother gives him an ultimatum--get married before she dies or he will lose custody of the nieces he loves. The dry wit, quirky characters, and dead-on descriptions of the Midwest kept me savoring this novel on each page.

The Best of Us

The Best of Us
by Sarah Pekkanen

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: A birthday party on a fabulous tropical island goes awry when emotional storms and even a hurricane threaten the tranquility of the poolside paradise. Each female character is believable with a compelling backstory. The descriptions of the island are lush and vivid; perfect for a summer getaway, even if you are only sitting on your front porch. Ultimately though, this novel was a tad generic, and not my favorite of this author's work.

I recommend her other novels as well--you can read my reviews of These Girls and Skipping a Beat. This book was not quite as good as These Girls, so I would recommend reading that one first. 

Author website:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

Genre: YA fiction

Review: Okay, so admittedly the premise of this book sounds depressing. A cancer survivor, Hazel, isn't living her life. Her life has a clear sell-by date, but her mom forces her to go to a corny cancer support group. There she meets Augustus. They bond over discussing favorite books and they are there for their mutual friend when he's going through a hard time. Together, they set out on a quest to meet Hazel's favorite author. Despite my summary that in now way captures the essence of the novel, I hope you'll read it. The voice is unique, the writing is biting, witty, and fast-paced. 

This book will also be a movie starring Shailene Woodley!

Check out this article:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The best of Marian Keyes

The Mystery of Mercy Close
by Marian Keyes

Genre: Women's fiction

Review: I picked up this book because it looked funny, and I was in Ireland; I'd enjoyed Keyes work before, and looked forward to being transported on train rides with a light, funny novel. It turned out to be so much more. Hilarious, yes, but following private detective Helen Walsh as she tracks down a missing member of a washed-up boy band on the eve of their reunion concert proved to have unanticipated depth. Humorous and well-plotted, this novel also explores Helen's current and past episodes of depression. I have never read a better description of the reality of depression, and I found the novel hugely inspiring! As a writer, Keyes keeps getting better. 

Song to read by: "Bad Girls" by MIA, in honor of Helen being a pretty badass private detective

Just One Paris!

Just One Day
by Gayle Forman

Author of If I Stay
and Where She Went

Genre: YA fiction

Review: A teenage girl sets out on a tour of Europe with her best friend, the summer after senior year. Her best friend is trying out new identities in preparation for college, but she isn't quite ready to break out of her routine, organized lifestyle. Until she meets a beguiling Dutch actor, Willem, and follows him to Paris on a whim. Just one day there will change her life. This isn't a story about being swept away by a boy; it is a story about finding herself and who she wants to be. 

**There will be a follow-up novel that tells Willem's story