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Monday, December 31, 2012

How You Readin'?


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Monday, December 24, 2012

#BookReview: A Different Kind of Christmas - Alex Haley


Originally posted Dec. 24, 2009

A visit to Philadelphia his sophomore year at Princeton, and an unlikely friendship with three Quaker brothers, starts the young man on the path to question the morality of slavery. Though he's managed to avoid facing his parents, returning home for Christmas can't be avoided. Agreeing to assist with the Underground Railroad proves to be the biggest challenge he's faced in his 19 years, especially when he finds out that his assignment places him in direct conflict with his family. With assistance from an unlikely source, Fletcher works to right the wrongs that his family has perpetuated for generations.

At just 100 pages, this is a very quick read. I received this as a gift in 1991.  The detail given to characters like those that appear in other Haley novels is not as evident here. I suppose if it had been, the story would have been more memorable without re-reading it. Nonetheless, it was fairly enjoyable.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best in Books 2012

With just a few days left to get in your holiday shopping, I thought I'd give you my top picks of the year.  Maybe you'll be inspired to buy them for someone on your list.  Now normally I would list everything I gave five purple armchairs, but that list ended up being lengthy this year, which is good because it means I read a lot of good books.  However, to keep things simple and to stick with the theme of "The Best in 2012," I'm just going to limit it to books published in the U.S. in 2012.  Since all of these received my highest rating, I'm not going to rank them, just list them in the order I read them.
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

#BookReview: Blue Christmas - Mary Kay Andrews


Fans of Mary Kay Andrews are probably familiar with her characters Bebe Loudermilk and her best friend, Weezy Foley.  I first read and reviewed them in Andrews' Savannah Breeze.

Whereas Savannah Breeze really focused on Bebe, Blue Christmas is mostly about Weezy.  The owner of an antique shop in the historical district of Savannah, Weezy is up in arms about the annual window decorating contest.  With her window decorated, she notices the proprietor's of a new business across the square doing things differently.  And you just don't do that in Savannah.  There's the Savannah way of doing things and then there's everything else.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

#BookReview: Loving Donovan - Bernice L. McFadden

When you choose to love someone, you agree to take on all of their baggage, knowingly or not.  The day Campbell chose to love Donovan was the day she took on the voice of ghost in his head, a domineering and ever present grandmother in his ear and a life time of watching his father just exist.  Indeed, Campbell took on much more than she knew.

Growing up, Campbell watched her father cheat on and leave his wife for another family.  As a teen mother, Campbell watched her daughter's father leave her.  As an adult, Campbell watched her best friend give herself away because the man she loved didn't love her enough.  With all those factors working against her, it would be easy to write off men, to write off love altogether.  Yet Campbell still believes in love and, though she's hesitant to seek it for herself, she's willing to take a chance.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Free for All Friday, Dec. 14

I'm winding down my reading schedule for 2012.  This year has flown by and I can't believe there are only there are only two weeks left before we roll into 2013.  I've got to start reading for the Books: Passports to the Word Challenge (this is my gentle reminder for you to sign up if you haven't), write up my top 10 of 2012 post (which is turning out to be 14 or 15), and write reviews for the miscellaneous books I've read and forgot to write about.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#BookReview: The View from Delphi - Jonathon Odell

Set in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, The View from Delphi is the story of Hazel and Vida, women on opposite ends of the spectrum. While one comes from a place of privilege and soon finds herself on the opposite end; the other comes from very humble beginnings, only to find herself surrounded by the material things she always dreamed of.  Unfortunately, she didn't dream beyond acquiring those possessions.

Vida Snow is the daughter of a preacher.  Her father is not just a preacher, he's the Fix It man for the sharecroppers in the area.  Raised with the Senator, Levi Snow has the ear of the biggest landowner in Delphi.  In return for Levi apprising the Senator of any grumblings among the workers, the Senator allows Levi the privilege of preaching, something Levi feels he was called to do.  As a preacher's daughter, Vida Snow has never worked a day in the fields.  Her job is to go to school and wear the pretty dresses her father keeps her in.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

#BookReview: The Cleaner - Paul Cleave

"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."  - Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze, The Usual Suspects

Joe the cleaner is a simple man.  He goes to work, visits his mother on Mondays for dinner and goes home to his two fish, Pickle and Jehovah.  Joe doesn't work just anywhere, he works at the police station, which allows him to monitor open cases, especially his, because Joe is a psychopathic killing machine, but no one knows it just yet.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Tell Me Something Good!

It's hard to believe 2012 is almost over! This has been a fairly decent year for books and I'll be posting my year in review in the following weeks, but in the meantime, I'd love it if you would take three or four minutes to take the survey below.  I'll share the results with you at a later date and use your comments and suggestions to improve Reads4Pleasure.com.

Thanks!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

#BookReview: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie - Ayana Mathis

Is there a limit on the amount of love a parent can have for their child?  If you have more than one child, is it possible to have loved your other children so much that you have nothing left for the others?  Or is it just possible for life to beat you down so much so that you have nothing left to give your children except a place to stay, food to eat and a determination to survive?

I can't find fault with Hattie Shepherd.  Giving birth to your first children at the age of 19 in a new city can be overwhelming.  To find yourself giving birth years later at the age of 46 is surprising.  Then to turn around at 74 and find yourself mothering your grandchildren, is not an easy road.  But how do you explain that to your children who only see you as cold and uncaring?

"Somebody always wants something from me," she said in a near whisper.  "They're eating me alive."

As you read, you'll be caught up in the lives of Lloyd, the musician; Six, the wonder boy preacher; the high strung and insecure Alice, who pretends her brother Billups needs her when, in reality, she's the one that desperately needs him; Bell, who seeks revenge against Hattie when all she really wants is to know the secret joy her mother found once upon a time; and countless others.  Mathis dedicates chapters to the various offspring, but their interactions as children aren't explored as much as they are as adults.  She wants you to see who they've become as a result of living in the house.

I love the set up of the book.  It feels like a compilation of short stories that are loosely tied together, with the only common thread being that Hattie and August have given birth to them.  With the exception of Alice and Billups, we see very little interaction among the siblings once they leave home.  It's as if Hattie's lack of love spread to them and there's nothing that bonds any of them together.

Part of the great migration to the north, I wonder how much of Hattie's coldness is a reflection of her surroundings.  While her husband, August, longs for the Georgia he remembers, minus Jim Crow, Hattie refuses to even speak its name.  Still, you have to wonder if August lamenting over leaving the south is valid.  Would Hattie have been different, would the children have had different lives, had they been surrounded by paper shell pecans, sweet gum trees, gigantic peaches and neighbors whose names they could recite years later? 






256pp
Published: December 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

 

Theme: A Song for Mama by Boyz II Men



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Monday, December 3, 2012

#BookReview: She's the Boss - Lisa Lim

When I reviewed Confessions of A Call Center Gal last year, I mentioned that it would have been nice to get updates on Karsynn, Truong and the rest of the crew.  Well Lisa Lim did me one better and wrote a sequel!  Now while I encourage you to read Confessions first, please know that She's the Boss can be read as a stand alone book.

While Confessions focused mostly on Maddy and her transition to small town Idaho, where she joined her best friend from college, Karsynn, She's the Boss turns the tables and is told from Karsynn's perspective.  Still working at the call center with the hilarious Truong, whose antics remind me of an Alec Mapa character, Kars is working her way up the ladder.  Unfortunately, she's run into a roadblock by the name of Carter Lockwood.

As the new director of Lightning Speed Communications, Carter Lockwood arrives to find a floor full of inappropriately dressed characters who swear like sailors, and Karsynn is the ringleader of this motley crew. Now that there's a new sheriff in town, things are definitely going to change.  And boy, do they change.

She's the Boss is just as delightful and as quick a read as Confessions of A Call Center Gal.  Lim keeps the characters light, even the serious Carter Lockwood.  Truong is still as outrageous as ever and proves to be the most entertaining of all the characters.  Inge is also along for the ride, though her speaking role is kept to a minimum.

With plenty of current pop culture references, it reads as something hot off the presses.  I love that the workplace situation touches on such a relevant issue in today's world.  And lest you think the book may get heavy in parts, know that there's a yodeling stripper rocking lederhosen that is sure to bring tears of laughter to your eyes.






Published: November 2012
Currently available only on  Kindle & Nook


Theme: We Can't Be Friends by Deborah Cox featuring RL


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Friday, November 30, 2012

#BookReview: Miss Julia to the Rescue - Ann B. Ross

Typically, if you run into problems in Abbottsville, NC, J.D. Pickens is the man to call.  But if you're J.D. Pickens, who do you call?  Well his first choice would be Sam Murdock, but if Sam's not available, there's always Miss Julia.

Okay, so J.D. didn't actually ask Miss Julia to rescue him, but since Hazel Marie has the twins and Lloyd to look after, Miss Julia is the logical choice.  Of course, you can't send a card carrying member of the Senior Citizen's Brigade off on her own, so it only makes sense that Etta Mae Wiggins go with her.  And that gives you a May-December Thelma & Louise, which spells big trouble for anyone that get in their way.

When Miss Julia and Etta Mae aren't off in West Virginia battling snake wranglers and a deceptive sheriff, they're dealing with the return of Agnes Whitman.  The eccentric resident is renovating a house on the outskirts of town, making it into a center of worship for her pierced and tattooed flock.  Now you know that doesn't sit well with Miss Julia, especially when her handyman goes missing on Agnes' property and Agnes' crew is being so hush hush about it.

As much as I love listening to the Miss Julia series, this one made me laugh out loud more than usual.  There were so many hysterical scenes.  From Miss Julia and Etta Mae attending church in West Virginia to their rescue of Mr. Pickens, this book was non-stop comedy.  Unlike some series that start to get boring or redundant, Ann B. Ross manages to keep Miss Julia entertaining and interesting.  I can't wait for whatever comes next for Julia Murdock and her crew.






320pp
Listening time: 9 hours, 32 minutes
Published: April 2012


Theme: Don't Lose My Number by Phil Collins

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

#BookReview: Georgia Bottoms - Mark Childress

I swear I kept trying to find a redeeming quality in this woman.  You know how people tell you they're such a good person and you wonder why they have to tell you instead of just letting their actions speak for them?  That would be Georgia Bottoms.

As the prettiest woman in Six Points, Alabama, Georgia uses her feminine wiles against the men of town, allowing them to finance the upkeep on her family's antebellum mansion, as well as taking care of her pre-Alzheimer's mother and her brother, when he's not on a frequent vacation to the jailhouse.  Georgia doesn't apologize for entertaining a steady stream of clients.  She has the most prominent men in town at her beck and call, including her pastor, the sheriff and newspaper editor.  When Pastor Hendrix feels the need to confess his sins (and hers) in front of the congregation, Georgia plots to get rid of him, not realizing that doing so may be her ultimate downfall.

I love southern lit and I love chick lit, so Georgia Bottoms should have been the perfect read for me.  I was hesitant to read it though, because it was written by a male.  It's not often that male writers get women's voices right, in my opinion.  In this instance, I would say Mark Childress got it right with the women's voices, but the low key racism he tossed in really threw me for a loop.

Now I'm not naive enough to believe that in present day Alabama, in a town where the Internet isn't accessible and cell phones are a luxury because of a lack of towers, there is a culture of advanced or modern day thinking.  But Georgia's subtle racism and pre-conceived notions, even as she thinks of herself as forward thinking, coupled with her mother's blatant racism and the assertion that Rosa Parks ruined everything, seem to be the author's thinly veiled thoughts.

There are those who will say that based on the end of the book, my assumptions are false.  I would challenge them to go back and read every interaction involving people of color and then tell me I'm wrong.  At the very least, the author lacks firsthand interactions with people of color in his everyday life, resulting in tired stereotypes and suppositions in his writing about them.  I was, however, happy to see that in the end, Georgia would most likely meet a fate most befitting of her.







288pp
Published: February 2011

Theme: Freak Like Me by Adina Howard
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Monday, November 26, 2012

#BookReview: Shopping with the Enemy - Carmen Reid

For someone who makes her living styling others and keeping her finger on the pulse of the latest fashions, Annie Valentine is not very stylish these days.  She never lost the weight she gained after the twins.  And even worse, her sense of what's hot and what's not has gone missing.  How do you style someone when you can no longer piece together complete outfits?

Luckily, Svetlana has the cure for what ails Annie.  While their daughters, Elena and Lana, are off in New York working on new designs for Perfect Dress, Svetlana is whisking Annie off to a spa in Italy.  Unfortunately for Annie, what Svetlana considers a spa is more like a torture chamber.

Svetlana promises that by the time they leave the spa, Annie will be 15 lbs. lighter.  Though she initially tries to tough it out, Annie is almost ecstatic when she and Svetlana are forced to leave the spa earlier than planned.  Svetlana's ex-husband has kidnapped her sons and she fully expects Annie to help her drive the spa's Bentley through the mountains of Italy to Vienna.  And, as always, hilarity ensues.

Fans of Annie Valentine already know that Annie will come out on top by the end of the book, but I wonder if they're starting to tire of the predictability and lack of growth of the characters as much as I am.  At this point, her husband and son have been relegated to background characters, as have her mother and sister.  I was happy to see more focus on Lana with this book, but I also questioned the feasibility of her story line.  In addition, Svetlana as the selfish, self-centered friend has outgrown its usefulness.

While she initially started off as a demanding, but lovable, client in the first book in the series, Svetlana has turned into someone I just don't care for.  With as much as Annie has going on with home life and work, she constantly drops everything to do Svetlana's bidding, almost always to the detriment of herself or her family.  It's becoming more difficult to believe that Annie would willingly participate in this often one-sided friendship. I'm hoping that if there is another book in the series, Carmen Reid gives Annie more of a backbone so that she can stand up to Svetlana or remove Svetlana altogether.  It's hard to believe that Annie is the strong, determined woman that Reid writes her to be when she also allows her to be a human doormat.






364pp
Published: November 2012

 

Theme: Climb Ev'ry Mountain from The Sound of Music

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful

It's a short week for most of us, so rather than bore you with a review that you probably wouldn't get around to reading until this weekend -- after you've stuffed yourself with turkey, fought your way through Black Friday and mentally prepared yourself for Cyber Monday -- I'll just wish you happy holidays.  Think of me slaving over a hot stove and dancing to my Christmas play list, which I officially break out on Thanksgiving Eve, while you're enjoying time with family and friends.  See you back here next week.



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Friday, November 16, 2012

#BookReview: Please Look After Mom - Kyung-Sook Shin

Would it take your mother's disappearance for you to realize how little you knew of her?

"Do you remember asking me a while ago to tell you something that only I knew about Mom? I told you I didn't know Mom.  All I knew was that Mom was missing.  It's the same now.  I especially don't know where her strength came from."

It's not until your wife goes missing that you even see her as your counterpart.

"Before you lost sight of your wife on the Seoul Station subway platform, she was merely your children's mother to you."

"Before she went missing, you spent your days without thinking about her.  When you did think about her, it was to ask her to do something, or to blame her or ignore her.  Habit can be a frightening thing.  You spoke politely with others, but your words turned sullen toward your wife.  Sometimes you even cursed at her.  You acted as if it had been decreed that you couldn't speak politely to your wife. That's what you did."

When 69 year old Park So-nyo goes missing, her husband and her children come to understand how little they knew of her and how much they took her for granted for so long.  Born into poverty, she married a man that she didn't know, or initially love, yet raised five children to become productive members of society.  Yet, like many adult children, she became an afterthought as they became successful, seen as an annoyance by some.

Still, their successes were all built firmly on the foundation that she set for them.  The eldest son for whom she saved and sacrificed to send to school; a younger daughter that was sent off to live with that same son to receive an even better education; the daughter who tries to manage being both a pharmacist and a mother to three, while wondering how Mom managed to raise five children and make it seem so easy and natural.

"Since she went missing, I often think: Was I a good daughter? Could I do the kind of things for my kids she did for me?  I know one thing.  I can't do it like she did.  Even if I wanted to.  When I'm feeding my kids, I often feel annoyed, burdened, as if they're holding on to my ankles.  I love my kids, and I am moved - wondering, did I really give birth to them?  But I can't give them my entire life like Mom did.  Depending on the situation, I act as if I would give them my eyes if they need them, but I'm not Mom."

Over the course of this short read, each member of the family reflects on the role Mom played in his/her life, realizing that not once did they see as anything other than their mother.  And as mothers sometimes do, she downplayed any problems she had the few times that anyone asked.  Ultimately, it's the inability to express her pain (and her family's willingness to overlook it) that leads to the disappearance of Park.

"So why did we think of Mom as a mom from the very beginning?  She didn't have the opportunity to pursue her dreams and, all by herself, faced everything the era dealt her, poverty and sadness, and she couldn't do anything about her very bad lot in life other than suffer through it and get beyond it and live her life to the very best of her ability, giving her body and her heart to it completely.






256pp
Published: April 2011

Theme: Acknowledgement by John Coltrane
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

#BookReview: Where Did We Go Wrong? - Monica Mathis-Stowe

Ahhh, to be young and dumb.  You couldn't pay me to go back to those days.  Reading Monica Mathis-Stowe's Where Did We Go Wrong? certainly did nothing to make me miss them.

Joy, Maxine and Gabby have been friends since their days at Morgan State University, though I'm unsure as to why Joy and Maxine have tolerated Gabby's foolishness for so long.  If you were to look up the word golddigger in the dictionary, you'd find a perfectly posed picture of Gabby.  And she's not ashamed of it either.

Never mind that she was in a relationship with a good man, when the opportunity to hook up with a pro football player came along, she hopped on it.  The day he signed a $ 75 million dollar contract was the day she stopped taking birth control.  The fact that he was already married with kids was just a small stumbling block.  When Gabby wanted something, nothing stood in her way.

Former teacher and current homemaker Maxine has the perfect family life, if you're on the outside looking in.  But she sees her attorney husband sinking them deeper into debt as he tries to keep up with the Joneses.  They can't afford their home, cars or any of the other luxury items he insists on.  Things would be much more manageable if he would allow her to go back to work, but Trent doesn't want the mother of his children to have to work, like his own mother did after leaving his abusive father.

Joy's fear of her mother has kept her from being truly happy.  Mind you, her mother isn't abusive, but she is very opinionated and, in her opinion, Joy has no business thinking about any man until she's completed her doctoral program.  She and her longtime boyfriend Allen have been sneaking around behind her mother's back since they were teens, but Allen is tired of being her secret.  If she can't be open about their relationship, he'd rather not be with her.

While Joy and Maxine seem to have each other's backs, they also have Gabby's, even though she's undeserving.  Joy and Maxine are likable enough characters, though Joy does make some rash decisions that I really questioned, but Gabby? This chick is the skankiest of all skanks.  The way she schemes and plots against others without any remorse is unconscionable.  Like Mitt Romney, even when it's obvious that she's playing a losing game, she continues to play it.  I don't know how the two of them tolerated her in college and beyond.

I'm eager to read the sequel to the book because I'm interested in finding out what happened with Joy and Maxine.  More than anything, I want to know if Gabby has changed at all and, if she hasn't, has karma finally slapped her in the face.  I can only hope so.





242pp
Published: May 2012


Theme: What About Your Friends by TLC

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Monday, November 12, 2012

#BookReview: The Bridegroom - Ha Jin

In this collection of short stories from Ha Jin, winner of the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, readers are treated to plenty of tongue in cheek humor.  Of the 12 shorts, it would be hard to pick just one favorite.  I'd have to say In the Kindergarten and After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town are tied for first.

In In the Kindergarten, little Shaona hates that she's been sent away to kindergarten, sure that her parents will forget her now that her mother has given birth to a new baby.  Between being bullied by Dabin, the biggest boy in the class, and being tricked by her teacher, Shaona is at her wit's end.  But when she sees a chance to get revenge, she takes it and the results are hilarious.

When a Western fast food place makes its way to Muji City, its presence is met with glee by some and disdain by others.  For the workers at Cowboy Chicken, there's much confusion over traditional Chinese ways and the foreign, western way of doing things.  While "the customer is always right" may be the corporate motto, it doesn't go over well with the employees.  As the employees continue to work at Cowboy Chicken, they become more disgruntled with the actions of their American boss, Mr. Shapiro, and Peter, their Chinese born/American educated manager.  As the employees plot and plan their coup, they have no idea what's in store for them.

Written just over 10 years ago, it seems hard to believe that some of the stories in The Bridegroom are supposed to be set in present day.  In fact, it was only because of references to modern day technology that I was able to tell that the stories weren't set during the reign of Chairman Mao.  Regardless of the time period in which the stories take place, I found them all to be enjoyable.





240pp
Published: October 2000


Theme: That's It, I Quit, I'm Moving On by Adele


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Friday, November 9, 2012

World Book Night 2013

World Book Night isn't until April 2013, but they're accepting sign ups now.  If you've never heard of it, you're not alone.  It gets a lot of publicity in the book community, but not so much outside of that.  Each year, book givers sign up to receive a copy of 20 books that they hand out to light or non-readers.  It's completely up to the giver where they distribute them.  It can be anywhere from a subway station, a school parking lot to the grocery store.

2013 books include Sandra Cisneros The House on Mango Street, Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist, John Grisham's Playing for Pizza, Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress, Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Hillary Jordan's Mudbound and Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones, among others.  I didn't get to participate this year, but I'm definitely signing up for next year.

Care to join me? Sign ups are here.  You'll be asked to choose three books, why you're interested in giving them away and where you plan to do it.

If you could give away any book, not just the ones on the list, what would it be, who would you give it to and why?

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

#BookReview: 40 Love - Madeleine Wickham

With the exception of the Shopaholic series, which has dragged on for far too long in my opinion, I love everything Madeleine Wickham writes as Sophie Kinsella.  I've tried listening to a Wickham book before and didn't get very far with it, but I picked up 40 Love and decided to give it a read.  Though not as chick lit-y as when she writes as Kinsella, the same biting sense of humor comes through.

Patrick and Caroline Chance are hosting a weekend tennis tournament at their home.  For Caroline, it's a chance to reconnect with friends from their old neighborhood, but Patrick sees it as a chance to sign new clients.  Mind you, it's not that Patrick needs any more money.  Their family isn't struggling in the least, he's just aiming for a bigger bonus.

Their weekend guests include Stephen and Annie and their daughter, Nicola.  With Stephen still working on his PhD dissertation and Nicola recovering from a stroke, the family doesn't have much money.  Then there's the wealthy Charles and Cressida Mobyn.  When they all lived on the same block, Charles was married to the mousy Ella, but he left her for the wealthy Cressida, elevating his status in life.  It's unclear if Charles is more enamored with Cressida's money and what it can do for him or her.  Rounding out the group are two of the Chances' new neighbors, the insufferable Don and his equally insufferable daughter, Valerie.

From the beginning, you can tell that no one's marriage or home life is as happy as it seems.  Stephen is tired of being broke all of the time; Cressida has never concerned herself with money, but receives a letter that makes her believe she should; Don has purchased a hotel and has no idea of how to run it; and Patrick's greed stands to ruin his relationship with Caroline.  Before the weekend is over, everyone's secrets will be revealed and the fallout will not be pretty.

With writing and scene setups that seem reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, 40 Love is a perfectly delightful read.  The most clever lines are saved for 11 year old Georgina, Patrick and Caroline's daughter, who provides comic relief like a Shakespearean character.  A Wickham book requires the reader to keep up with more characters than a Kinsella book, but it's as equally entertaining.







288pp
Published: August 2011


 

Theme: You Learn by Alanis Morrisette

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Monday, November 5, 2012

I Didn't Get My Groove Back, But...

Villa Walkway, Grand Palladium Resort
Last year for my birthday, I wanted to go to Savannah.  I made plans with friends and they all fell through.  I didn't go because I didn't want to travel alone.  Instead, I spent the day at a day spa that I hope to never set foot in again, got a hair cut, had lunch with my dad and squealed with glee over gifts from the guy I was dating at the time.  Overall, it was a decent birthday, but it wasn't what I really wanted.

This year I decided that come hell or high water, I was going to Jamaica.  I mentioned it to friends, most of whom wanted to go.  I threw out dates, gave them deadlines, received assurances that they would indeed attend...and I got crickets.  Mentioned it to the guy I had been dating and he asked if I could wait until February to go.  Dude, you do understand that this is for my birthday, right? And my birthday is in October, right? So going in February kind of misses the point, right?  When it came down to deadlines, dates and what not, no one came through.  So what's a woman to do? She rolls solo.

I'll admit that I was hesitant to go by myself.  I've been to Jamaica several times, so I was already familiar with parts of the island, but I've never gone alone.  I wanted to stay some place that would allow me to do as much or as little as I wanted.  I didn't want to stay at a couples resort and stick out like a sore thumb, but I also didn't want to stay at a super family friendly place and be surrounded by kids.  I had to have a spa on site and I had to have a beach.  And I found those things and a little bit more.

Las Brisas Beach, Lucea, Jamaica
Most mornings after breakfast, I set up shop in a shady spot on the beach.  Though I tried to read, I found myself just staring at the water for hours.  Okay, I did pause to grab a drink (or two or three) from the bar.  I chitchatted with those around me.  But mostly I just sat in silence and let the stress in my shoulders slowly melt away.

I did venture off site a few times and was highly amused by first time visitors to the island.  At a local craft market, I watched naive newlyweds get suckered into buying items they'd have no need for later or "one of of kind" wood carvings that they'd surely see in another store at a lower price.  I waved off some vendors and talked with others, while answering the often asked question, "Sis, are you Jamaican?"  I still haven't figured out what triggered that question, but in my week there, I was asked that no less than three times a day.

Sunset at Rick's Cafe, Negril
I laughed at a German woman who kept staring at me at dinner one night trying to figure out where my dinner companion was, all while she looked terribly bored with whatever it was her husband was saying to her.  I gaped at a young couple arguing another night (seriously, who argues in paradise???), which resulted in him leaving the table abruptly and her chasing after him.  You know who wasn't bored and who wasn't arguing with anyone? Me.  I set my own scheduled, changed my mind without needing to run anything by anyone and had the best vacation ever.

On the shuttle back to the airport I met some twentysomethings from Wisconsin who were amazed that I'd traveled alone.  They asked for suggestions on how to do it successfully.  The following is what I shared with them.

  • Now what works for some may not work for others, but first and foremost, you have to be okay with spending time with yourself.  As an emptynester, I'm used to doing things by myself.  If you can't imagine going out to dinner or to the movies alone, a solo trip probably isn't for you.  

  • I'm an introvert by nature.  I can go a whole weekend without actually speaking to anyone.  Social media provides as much of an outlet as I need at times. Whether you're an introvert or extrovert, pick a resort that offers activities that fit your behavior.  

  • Do your research.  These ladies picked a resort based on its website.  A lot of places use stock pictures and that's exactly what their hotel did.  They were disappointed in the hotel and their area of the beach.  As a result, they'd been ready to go home long before their trip was over.  Check out sites like tripadvisor.com, where previous guests post honest reviews and pictures, before booking your hotel.  

  • And lastly, use common sense.  Don't go wandering off with someone you don't know.  You may be in paradise, but anything can happen.


I didn't miss traveling with a companion. The hours I spent on the beach, the time I spent at the spa, the peace of mind I found, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.  The freedom to set my own course was worth every dime I spent.  As far as getting my groove back, I'm no Stella.  It turns out I  never lost it


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Friday, November 2, 2012

2013 Books: Passports to the World Challenge Update


If you've always wanted to travel, but it's just not in the budget, this challenge is for you. The goal of the Books: Passports to the World challenge is to read a book a week set in a different country.

There are just under 200 recognized countries in the world today, my plan is to come up with books set in 52 of those places. Why 52? There are 52 weeks in a year, so each week I'll be posting a review of a book from one of the countries.
The challenge will run from January through December 2013. Read as many or as few books from the group bookshelf.  Suggest books from countries around the world.  Start discussions about books you've really liked or really disliked.  Engage!  The group will pick one book each quarter to discuss in a Google Hangout.  If you're on Goodreads, feel free to join the group.  Prefer Facebook instead?  By all means, join that group.

If you're looking for books to add to your list, please feel free to check out the challenge bookshelf, where I'm tracking what I'm reading, as well as alternative books for those that want to read from a particular country, but may not want to read the book I've picked.  Although the challenge won't officially kick off until 2013, I wanted to go ahead and add books to the shelves so you can start figuring out what you want to read in the upcoming months.

Books have been suggested for several countries, and they're already on the shelves, but feel free to add books for the countries already listed and for any not mentioned.  A complete list of countries can be found here. If you don't see a particular country on the Goodreads shelf, it's because I haven't found a book set in that country and no one has recommended one yet.  If you're looking for a book from a specific country, simply click on the country name and books tagged with that name will pop up.  As you add books, please make sure to tag them with the name of the country so that others can find books by country easily.



 I've picked the following books so far from the list of suggestions submitted: 

Afghanistan: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 
China: Snow Flower and Secret Fan by Lisa See 
India: Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 
Iran: A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri 
Japan: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto 
North Korea: The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson 
Peru: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa 
Zimbabwe: Zenzele: Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire

Ready to sign up for the challenge and start creating your own list? Join the Goodreads group or Facebook page.  Planning to blog about the challenge and the books you read? Leave a link to your blog below so fellow readers can check out your reviews.

Who's in?

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#BookReview: The Floater - Sheryl Sorrentino

At the age of 46, Norma Reyes graduated with her law degree, fully expecting to be offered a spot as a first year associate at Robertson, Levine & Shemke (RLS), the firm where she'd clerked the previous summer and received such high praise.  Twenty years of working her way up to supervisor of phone operators while going to school at night have finally paid off.  And even though her ailing mother ridicules her dreams, Norma is determined to make it.

The partners at RLS have never taken Norma seriously.  Yes, she did good work in her summer position, but they would never hire an associate from a less than prestigious law school.  Norma didn't look like them and certainly wouldn't fit in with their client base, given her ethnic background. Luckily, the recession gives them an excuse when they deny her employment as an attorney. While they won't hire her as an attorney, they will hire her as a floater.  Grudgingly, Norma accepts the job, believing that it will only be temporary and that once she passes the bar, she'll be offered the position she deserves.  Poor, gullible Norma.

Weeks of being belittled by everyone from senior partners to first year associates (a group she should have been a part of) start to wear on Norma.  A chance encounter with Oscar Peterson, the mail room supervisor, makes Norma's life a little more bearable.  But their happily ever after is disrupted when Oscar gets wind of a memo about Norma, drafted by one of the senior partners.  Norma will have the fight of her life on her hand if she can get her courage up enough to do something about it.

I was torn between liking, pitying and hating Norma.  It was obvious from the beginning that dealing with her family and men had bruised her self-esteem, but she had to have guts to go back to law school at night at her age.  So while I loved that she was courageous enough to do that, I was mad that she let the attorneys mistreat and lie to her repeatedly while she accepted it.

I also vacillated between liking and disliking Oscar.  He seemed to have Norma's interests at heart, but he was so overly aggressive and insensitive at times that I kept waiting for him to break her heart like her previous boyfriends.  Even by the end of the book, I wasn't sure that she should be with him and wanted to yell out like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, "You in danger, girl!"  Perhaps the author didn't develop Oscar enough to make him likable or maybe it was her intent to make the reader distrust him.  Either way, I can't say that I was happy to see Norma with him.

Another thing that bothered me was how long Norma stayed with the firm, because surely working there as a floater was not the first time she witnessed the assholeness of the place.  As a clerk during the summer, she had to see the way partners treated the support staff.  Or perhaps it was okay with her then because she saw herself as one of them (attorney) instead of one of them (support staff).  Which lends itself to the question, is the mistreatment of others excusable based on their rank in the company hierarchy?  Apparently it was at RLS.






344pp
Published: August 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.



Theme: Do Something by Macy Grey

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