Friday, September 23, 2011

Appalachia is the new exotic destination

Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.  I just finished Amy Greene's Bloodroot which was set in Appalachia.  The setting in combination with the heartbreaking complexities of this family made for a truly intruiging story.  Bloodroot is narrated by six different people over the course of four generations.  The main character in the story is Myra Odom, a woman who was unlucky in love and family.  Her grandmother, Byrdie, begins the story by giving us the background of Myra's parents and their death, which leads Myra to living with Byrdie.  Their family has a history of untimely deaths, a desperate need to leave Bloodroot Mountain, and a belief in magic.  The other person giving us the background of Myra is her childhood friend, Doug.  His narration seemingly exists to explain the pull that Myra has on the men around her.  She has the ability to entrance nearly every man that she encounters.  Unfortunately, this includes the no-good John Odom.  Shortly after meeting John, Myra hears of a love spell that involves eating the heart of a chicken.  According to the tale, if you do this, the person you love will return the feelings.  Whether due to the spell or not, John and Myra fall in love and get married.  Their relationship turns abusive and awful but Myra believes this is the price she must pay for having employed the love spell.  The rest of the book is told through the point of view of Myra, John, and their twins, Johnny and Laura.  The relationships are tormented, passionate, and full of questions.  They struggle to break free of their family history while still trying to understand it.  Bloodroot Mountain seems to be it's own character in the Odom family saga.  It watches their drama, silently keeps their secrets, and calls to them from afar.  Not only were the relationships, or lack thereof, compelling, but the Appalachian setting lent a feeling of added twists and complexity.  I think if you enjoy intricate family relationships or stories with a gothic setting, you'll be pleasantly surprised with Bloodroot

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ebooks for the Kindle!

The day has finally arrived! We've been waiting a while for Kindle to become compatible with the library's ebook collection and it has finally come. I have to say that this was the quickest, easiest experience I have ever had using Overdrive. I figured the demand for Kindle books would mean that all the good titles would be gone, but I did an advanced search for all Kindle titles that are currently available and found Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie, a brand new title, right away. I selected the option to get for Kindle, checked out the book, was routed through my Kindle account at Amazon, and selected the device that I wanted the book to be sent to (I don't have a Kindle. I'm using the Kindle app on an Android phone). Voila! Less than 2 minutes.

Now I just have to actually read the book. I have downloaded ebooks to my phone and Xoom tablet before to see how it's done, but I've never actually read the book that way. I did buy an e-cookbook, which I like because I can just prop my tablet up on the counter and use the recipe, rather than juggling a big book. But with other books, I've been clinging to print. So, I'm going to try this ebook thing and see how it goes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mrs. Robinson

It would be easy to describe The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman as a literary Mary Kay Letourneou story.  But that doesn't quite describe it.  The main characters are a middle-aged woman named Judy MacFarland and a 16 year old student, Zach Patterson.  They are introduced when Zach's mother offers him as a volunteer to help get ready for Judy's school fundraiser.  Their relationship starts off much like any teacher-student relationship but soon begins to cross a line.  There is a conversation between Zach and Judy that happens near the beginning of their relationship about the song Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel.  Zach believes (as many do) that the song is about a younger man being seduced by an older woman.  Judy explains that she believes it to be about a woman stuck in suburbia going crazy.  While I picked this title up expecting more of a doomed romance, I found myself feeling more like I was reading a psychological thriller.  Their relationship is certainly doomed but will they both mentally unravel first?  Zach is a hormonal teenager with no real concept of the emotions that come with physical relationships.  Judy is suffering from a lack of any emotion besides resentment in her household.  Together, the combine to make a Molotov cocktail of sexual intentions. 
I found myself at the end of this novel feeling negatively about all the characters involved.  I hated what they had done, how they had treated each other, how sloppily they had covered it up, and how self righteous they came across.  But at the same time, I couldn't stop thinking about how this stupid fling had turned into such a deeply emotional car wreck.  I couldn't stop thinking about how immature Zach was and how Judy lost any sense of reality.  I wanted to understand them.  I wanted to shake them.  I wanted to warn them.  Which I think really speaks for my feelings on The Kingdom of Childhood in the end.  I have to admire a book that makes me really feel for the characters and question their decisions for a week after I've finished reading.  Rebecca Coleman may not have written characters that I have affection towards, but she did a fantastic job of writing characters that kept me thinking.  It will be published in paperback at the end of the month and I think it's the perfect fall read.  I definitely recommend it.  A good read to get your mind working while letting the rest of yourself get used to the chill of fall. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hooray for new adventures!

I just read in Publisher's Weekly that Lauren Willig, author of the Pink Carnation series, landed a deal for her first stand-alone novel, to be called Ashford Park. "Ashford Park tells the story of a woman who untangles her family's past and her own future when she stumbles upon a hidden family secret that stretches back in time to Edwardian England and the plains of Kenya."

I love the Pink Carnation series. It's a smart combination of history, romance, and adventure with strong female characters, but truthfully, I'm ready for something new. I will typically read the first few titles in a series, but I find that as a series progresses, it's just the same story wrapped up in a different package. I'm looking forward to seeing something new from this very talented author.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Finally! A use for all those furballs in my house!

Yes, that's right. Crafting With CAT HAIR. This isn't really that surprising to me. I have seen advertisements in the backs of knitting magazines for places that will spin your cat or dog's fur into yarn that you can knit with. Still. I love dogs and cats, but this just seems weird.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been chosen as Deerfield's One Book One Zip Code selection this year, in honor of the 10th anniversary of September 11th. I read this book when it came out a few years ago and remembered that I enjoyed it, but didn't remember too much about the details. Having to read it again for the book discussions I am leading reminded me that this was such a wonderful story and how in love I am with Oskar Schell. For those that aren't familiar with the story, Oskar Schell is a 9-year-old boy whose father died in the towers on September 11th. While looking through his father's closet, he finds a key in an envelope labled "Black." He decides that he will find out what this key is for and goes on a mission throughout New York City to track down its owner. This is such a heart-wrenching, touching, sweet, smart, unique novel and I think Oskar is probably one of my favorite fictional characters of all-time.

Since our morning book discussion group had already done ELAIC, I decided that we would read Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist because it provides another perspective of 9/11. Changez is a young Pakistani man who moves to America to attend Princeton. After he graduates, he accepts a job at a prestigious New York consulting firm. Changez has a bright future ahead of him and has found a girl he cares about. But when 9/11 occurs, something changes for Changez. People begin to look at him with suspicion, and he begins to question America's response to these attacks and whether America is the great country he thought it to be. Some people in the discussion felt very strongly about this novel. Changez makes some very critical remarks about America, which bothered some people. But I found it to be thought-provoking and a unique perspective on this event.

Friday, September 9, 2011

If You Were Here

Best-selling Chicago humor writer Jen Lancaster makes her first foray into fiction with her characteristic wit. Mia and her husband Mac finally have the means to buy their dream house on the North Shore. When Mia finds Jake Ryan’s house (from Sixteen Candles) on the market, she knows this is the house she has to have. But the house hasn’t been touched in twenty years and is in need of much repair. No matter—Mia plans to remodel. Once they move in, they discover the house is a money pit, and their neighbors are less than welcoming. As Mac and Mia attempt to renovate, everything that could go wrong, does: toilets fall through ceilings, Mia gets trapped in the panic room, and their contractor disappears. Their bank account dwindles as Mac makes trip after trip to Home Depot, and their rock-solid marriage is on shaky ground. Will they survive this renovation? If you have ever lived through a home renovation, you will appreciate this humorous and entertaining story.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Jake Marlowe is a 200-year-old werewolf, and the last of his kind. WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomenon) has managed to hunt down and kill all the other werewolves; Jake is the last one on the list. Depressed and haunted by the fact that he killed and ate his beloved wife, Jake is ready to accept his fait and awaits his executors. Just when he thinks it is finally over, he is mysteriously saved. It turns out that the vampires want Jake alive. But why? Duncan delivers a refreshing change from the vampire romances that dominate the publishing industry. Not for the faint of heart, this novel includes explicit sex and violence and dark humor, but rewards the reader with a unique, sophisticated, compelling story and a deeply flawed main character that the reader can't help but root for.