Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chat Love

Chat Love, by Justine Faeth.

When I get home, I walk into my apartment and head straight for my room. Without bothering to take off my coat or shoes, I grab my laptop and sit on the edge of my bed. I go to the Chat Love homepage and as soon as I log in, I see that I've received several messages from interested men. I take a deep breath and click on the first one; it's time to give this site a chance. After all, what do I have to lose, besides the lonely feeling I get when I see couples walking hand in hand on the street or looking at each other lovingly while having dinner? I'm sick of sitting on the sidelines, watching everybody else's happiness. I want to experience that for myself, and from now on, I'm counting on Chat Love to help me get there.

Chat Love Justine Faeth online dating
Chat Love is a dating site, similar to OKCupid or, and in this novel, a lot of Lucia's friends have been using it as both a matchmaking site and a hookup site. Lucia's family, who is Italian, has been pressuring her to get married now for a long time, and she's approaching the "old maid" age of 28; her sister, 24, is married and expecting her first child. Lucia's hasn't had much luck with men lately, and her friends finally cajole her into trying Chat Love. This book is about her experiences on the site and also her feelings for one of her coworkers, technically her boss.

Official synopsis, from Amazon:
City girl Lucia is having trouble finding a man. With a few nudges from her friends, she decides to try out Chat Love, an online dating service for New Yorkers. Hilarity ensues with one disastrous date after another…where do these men come from? Mars? Certainly not Manhattan! She finally meets someone from work who is almost perfect, but decides to move on as he’s still seeing other women. She keeps in contact with a man named Jack on the Chat Love site. Could he be the one? What about her love interest at work? Just like the lovable cast of characters from Sex and the City, Lucia is Carrie, a stylish woman who has found her “Mr. Big” but can’t seem to get him to commit. Danni is Samantha, who loves to have fun and is wild and promiscuous. Autumn is Charlotte, desperate to meet the right man and settle down. Skyler is Miranda, level-headed and quick to offer advice. Will these ladies ever find love? Will Lucia find her man? Chat Love will give you something to talk about!

I'm a big Sex and the City fan and I actually would not have even made these comparisons in the description, although they do technically fit. I could definitely identify with Lucia in this novel, because I am 26 and single; her family cracked me up a few times, because they were hassling her so much to get married. One of her friends, Skyler, met her fiance on Chat Love, and Skyler urges Lucia to try it out; however, Lucia is not really a fan of online dating. Meanwhile, one of her coworkers, an adorable Brit named Jackson, is interested in her, even though they used to be "enemies" of sorts, and she starts to have feelings back for him; the only issue is, he's kind of a player, and isn't interested in settling down just yet like she wants to.

Some of the writing in this book was a little awkward. I both could identify with Lucia and at some points disliked her, because she was SO obsessed with finding a guy. I liked her core group of friends a lot; they definitely all had different personalities, and they helped to round out the novel. Parts of the book were very predictable, including who she ends up with, and about halfway into the narrative, a You've Got Mail theme started to emerge, when Lucia starts talking with someone named "Jack" on Chat Love - who is an American Brit looking for love. (you can probably figure out just from that description who he is)

Overall, I would recommend Chat Love as a quick "beach read," but I have to say that it didn't draw me in as much as other romance/fiction books have in the past.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided with an e-copy of this book to review from the author. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Guest Post: Tracy Beckerman, author of Lost in Suburbia

Tracy Beckerman's new book, Lost in Suburbia, will be in bookstores on April 2nd - check back on April 3rd for my review. Tracy has been kind enough to write a guest post for this blog.

Tracy Beckerman, Lost in Suburbia
Tracy Beckerman
For a dozen years while I was writing my newspaper column, I had to tell a story and be funny in 550 words or less. This was some years before Twitter when you had to find a way to be funny in 140 characters or less. Fortunately, it wasn’t actually that much of a challenge for me. In my prior life before kids I had been a promo producer for television, and since the average promo was only 30 seconds I was used to short formats. For someone with a short attention span, these were both ideal jobs to have. The promo assignment or the column changed every week so I could get in, get out, badda bing, badda boom, onto the next thing.

Had I thought hard about it, I might have suspected that I was classic ADHD. But since I was able to make a career out of my short attention span, I decided not to worry too much about it. Plus, I was able to sustain interest in my husband long enough to marry him and stay interested in my kids long enough to remember to feed them everyday. So as far as I was concerned, it was all good.

But then I got a book deal. Not only got it, but actively pursued it, which would seem like a strange objective for someone with long term commitment issues. Surprisingly, after a lifetime of changing gears often, I suddenly had a need to do something bigger and more involved. Had I been smart, I would have tried something simpler first, like a major home renovation or solving the debt crisis. But instead I decided to write a book.

Sadly, I was never one of those disciplined writers who sat down at a specific time of day to write. I usually waited for an idea to hit me, which typically happened at the most inopportune times such as when I was in the shower, or driving, or sleeping. Not knowing when I would get these flashes of inspiration, I tried to stay about 3 weeks ahead on my deadlines, just in case I went through a dry spell or one of the kids got sick, or worse yet, the coffee machine broke.

This worked well for my weekly 550-word column. But when I suddenly had a 60,000-word commitment hanging over my head, I realized I was going to have to do things differently. Or at the very least, get a spare coffee machine.
Since I knew I was really going to have to get my head into the book for a prolonged period of time, I figured the best thing to do was clear my plate of all my other writing obligations This meant writing three months of columns and blog posts ahead of time. If this doesn’t sound daunting on paper, just realize that equaled one column and three blogs for 12 weeks, or 12 columns and 36 blog posts of original, funny, inspired content. Ha!

The good news was, doing all this short format writing in a compressed time period was actually the perfect way for me to build up my creative muscle. So by the time I was ready to sit down and write the book, 60,000 words didn’t seem quite so scary anymore.

Miraculously, I did, in fact, get it done in three months.

And I only forgot to feed the kids once.

Tracy Beckerman writes the syndicated humor column “Lost in Suburbia,” which is carried by over 400 newspapers nationally. She is the author of the book, “Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir. How I got pregnant, lost myself, and got my cool back in the New Jersey Suburbs.” (2013, Perigee).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Walking Disaster

Walking Disaster, by Jamie McGuire.

"It's not like that," Shepley said, exasperated. It's different with Mare. She's the one."

"You know that after a couple of months?" I asked, dubious.

"I knew it when I saw her."

I shook my head. I hated it when he was like this. Unicorns and butterflies flying out of his ass and hearts floating up int he air. He always ended up getting his heart broken, and then I had to make sure he didn't drink himself to death for six months solid. America seemed to like it, though.

Whatever. No woman could make me blubber and get slobbering drunk over losing her. If they didn't stick around, they weren't worth it anyway.

Back at the end of September 2012, I reviewed Beautiful Disaster, and loved it. I gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Walking Disaster is that same story, but retold from the male main character's point-of-view (Travis). Weirdly enough, even though it was the same story, I ended up not liking it as much, although the ending was definitely interesting as it was different from Beautiful Disaster's.
Walking Disaster Jamie McGuire Travis POV

Official synopsis:
How much is too much to love? Travis Maddox learned two things from his mother before she died: Love hard. Fight harder.

In Walking Disaster, the life of Travis is full of fast women, underground gambling, and violence. Just when he thought he was invincible, Abby Abernathy brings him to his knees.

Every story has two sides. In Jamie McGuire's New York Times bestseller Beautiful Disaster, Abby had her say. Now it's time to see the story through Travis's eyes.

I think part of the reason I liked Beautiful Disaster better was that it was from Abby's point-of-view, and was more expressive. In Walking Disaster, the author sometimes skips over parts or almost makes them less significant, because she is assuming that her readers have read the previous book; however, it can also be a "standalone" novel too, if you haven't read it - reading the previous one just enhances the experience.

I warmed up to the book a little more throughout it, though, and of course I didn't altogether dislike it - it's the same story as Beautiful Disaster, after all, just told through a different set of eyes.

I'd like to re-do my "fantasy casting" from the previous post, as well. I had chosen Amanda Seyfried for Abby, but I think she would be better suited as Mare; Mare is blonde. I think Abby is brunette but I'm not sure. I could see Lucy Hale (Aria from Pretty Little Liars) as Abby, but there are probably a lot of other choices too.

I still stand by my choice of Michael Trevino (Tyler from Vampire Diaries) for Travis, but I pictured someone a bit more wiry/skinny for the role, although muscular as well since he fights a lot. I believe Travis is 20-22 in the book and his best friend, roommate, and cousin, Shepley, is 18 and a freshman; America and Abby are sophomores, around 19.

Walking Disaster will be in stores on April 2nd. 3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a NetGalley of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Someday, Someday, Maybe

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham.

I give the driver my address and though he grumbles about the distance to Brooklyn, he finally agrees to take me, and we race down Ninth Avenue. The neon signs that sometimes glare too loud and lonely seem somehow warm and friendly tonight. Tonight, they blink cheerfully at me, almost in unison, as if in celebration, letting me know they're glad I decided to stay.

Lauren Graham
This book is written by Lauren Graham, the actress from Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, among other shows, and so I wasn't sure what to expect from it. I never watched Gilmore Girls, although I've seen her in the movie Bad Santa and a few others. What I did not know is that she has a BA in English from Barnard College, and it makes sense, because I was highly impressed by this book.

Official synopsis:
It’s January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left of the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing “important” work. But all she has to show for her efforts so far is a part in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters, and a gig waiting tables at a comedy club. Her roommates―her best friend Jane, and Dan, an aspiring sci-fi writer―are supportive, yet Franny knows a two-person fan club doesn’t exactly count as success. Everyone tells her she needs a backup plan, and though she can almost picture moving back home and settling down with her perfectly nice ex-boyfriend, she’s not ready to give up on her goal of having a career like her idols Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep. Not just yet. But while she dreams of filling their shoes, in the meantime, she’d happily settle for a speaking part in almost anything—and finding a hair product combination that works.

Everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she’ll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her. And she can’t let herself be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class, even though he’s suddenly started paying attention. Meanwhile, her bank account is rapidly dwindling, her father wants her to come home, and her agent doesn’t return her calls. But for some reason, she keeps believing that she just might get what she came for.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a story about hopes and dreams, being young in a city, and wanting something deeply, madly, desperately. It’s about finding love, finding yourself, and perhaps most difficult of all in New York City, finding an acting job.

So I knew finding an acting job was tough, especially at the beginning, but I didn't know how tough until I read this novel! Franny gives herself three years to "make it" in NYC, and she's beginning to panic because her deadline is fast approaching. She waitresses to earn money, but when she has to start balancing that with going out for auditions, she eventually gets fired for missing too many shifts. The novel has datebook entries scattered throughout, and a few of them say things like "ASK DAD FOR MONEY???" or "Do NOT ask Dad for money," etcetera.

I loved all the references to NYC in the '90s, as well - the subway had tokens to use, rather than swipe cards, and of course if she wanted to call home and check her email, she had to use a pay phone (remember those?). Parts of the book were a little predictable, like which guy she would end up with, but the journey to getting there, and the mistakes made in between, were fun to read.

My only issue with this novel is the ending; it was far too abrupt for my taste. Graham definitely leaves it open for a sequel, and although I don't know if she has any plans on writing one, I would read it if it was made. I would also read any other books she decides to pen, because the writing was excellent and so were the characters - they felt like real people, which is often hard to accomplish in these types of novels.

The book was based on Graham's real life experiences with acting and getting jobs, as well, which is probably part of why it feels so realistic; she moved to L.A. in 1995 to start her acting career.

Someday, Someday, Maybe will be in stores on April 30th. 4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a NetGalley of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Dream Merchant

The Dream Merchant, by Fred Waitzkin.

Sometimes he implored her pitifully. Mara, I love you. I need you. She nodded his way but with an expression so coarse that she might have been a junkie or a whore. He shivered.

He pushed back in the only way he knew. He tried to close the deal. He was sure that he could win her back with money, with glistening mahogany speedboats from forty years earlier. I sat in the tattered chair with my notebook while he gave her imported furniture from the Canada house, piece by piece. He watched her become more frustrated by what she could not have. He saw it, but he couldn't stop talking money.

Fred Waitzkin is the author of Searching for Bobby Fischer, a nonfiction book about his son, a chess prodigy, that was later made into a movie. The Dream Merchant is his first piece of fiction.

I found this story to be interesting. It wasn't really the "type" of story that I normally like, yet each part was so different from each other that it drew me in. I think this would make a great movie as well, although you would have to either cast a young man as Jim and then put on prosthetics/age makeup, or cast an older man as Jim and then somehow make him look younger - at the beginning of the story, Jim is around 75 years old, but when he tells of his youth and later years, he ranges from a child to about 55 years old.

Official synopsis:
Jim can sell anything to anyone. He uses street smarts and irresistible charms to lure in countless people who invest in his financial scams hoping to realize their dreams. But with every venture, just as quickly as Jim's fortunes rise, he loses everything, leaving disillusioned customers broke and ruined in his wake. To escape his past, he leaves the country to become a modern Lord Jim, operating a lawless and violent gold mining operation in the Brazilian rainforest. As an old man, he falls head over heels for Mara, a beautiful and ambitious Israeli woman fifty years his junior. In their unlikely life together, the girl finds herself erotically charged by the aged and financially ruined Jim, as if his past glory and big money might be recovered through her sexual attentions and dogged devotion.

Narrated by a writer who is equally mesmerized and, at times, repulsed by this larger-than-life character, THE DREAM MERCHANT is an irresistible mix of adventure and intrigue with ruthless and passionate characters. At its core, the novel is an unwavering look at the price of ambition and success, the indissoluble bonds of male friendship, and the unsettling nature of love and sexuality between a man and much younger woman.

It was an intriguing choice for Waitzkin to use a 3rd person narrator - that is to say, not "Jim did this" and "Jim did that," but an actual other person telling the story - a friend, of sorts, to Jim, who meets him when Jim was 55. This narrator, who is never named, wants to write a book about Jim, and he's been friends with him for the past 20 years. He definitely thinks Jim's life is exciting, but at the same time, he doesn't know what Mara - a 26-year-old woman - sees in Jim, and he wonders how long their relationship will last. It's inferred that he's around the same age as Jim, too, and sometimes he desires Mara as well, although he knows that it's an improbable desire.

The ending of this book, too, is something out of a fairy tale: all of the pieces end up clicking together. The way Waitzkin sets this up, it's not so unlikely; but it's definitely convenient for all involved.

The Dream Merchant will be on sale this Tuesday, March 26th. 3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Spring 2013 appearances for Fred Waitzkin:
Florida, NYC, San Francisco, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont

  • TODAY, March 23, Books & Books, 5pm, Coral Gables
  • Sunday, March 24, Palm Beach Bookstore, 4:30pm, Palm Beach
  • Monday, March 25, Vero Beach Book Center, 6pm, Vero Beach
  • Thursday, March 28, Barnes & Noble, 7pm, Fort Myers, FL (13751 Tamiami Trail)
  • Tuesday, April 2, The Strand, 7pm, NYC (828 Broadway)
San Francisco:
  • Wednesday, April 17, Book Passage, 7pm, Corte Madera
  • Thursday, May 2, Porter Square Books, 7pm, Cambridge
  • Tuesday, May 7, Broadside Bookshop, 7pm, Northampton
New Hampshire:
  • Thursday, May 9, Water Street Bookstore, 7pm, Exeter
  • Friday, May 10, Northshire Books, 7pm, Manchester Center

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review and CONTEST: Home Run

Home Run, by Travis Thrasher.

The question is: the love or the dream.

Cory knows they're a world apart.

The dream of playing professional baseball isn't just an idea that's never going to happen. It's there. It's reality in his hands. It feels as real as holding a bat and belting a home run. It's as real as hearing and seeing the world applauding around you. Of cracking that bat and knowing. Just knowing.

But what about love?

Love can conquer all, right?

Home Run baseball book

The movie Home Run will be in theaters on April 19th, and this book is the novelization of that. I was surprised by how much I ended up liking the book - although it's faith-based, the themes in it are universal.

Official synopsis:
The story is centered around the life of Major League baseball player Cory Brand. After years of self indulgent behavior and reckless living, a DUI and team suspension land Cory back in the Oklahoma town where he started. Forced to coach the local Little League team and spend eight weeks in Celebrate Recovery©, the only twelve-step program in town, Cory must face the memories that contributed to his life becoming so destructive as well as honestly confront the love he left behind.

Ten years ago, when Cory was starting to make it big, his high school sweetheart Emma told him that she was pregnant. He eventually left their small town in Oklahoma, leaving her with the baby; but now that he's back in town, Emma learns that there were other forces at work during that time, such as Cory's verbally abusive father.

Now Cory is back in town and no one knows what to expect from him; however, they soon learn that "Cory Brand, Baseball Player" is not the only side of him, and that deep down he's a good person overall.

I really liked how the author sprinkled flashbacks from Cory and his brother's childhood in Oklahoma throughout the book. We learn why Cory is the way he is now, and how his father was a drunk and now he is becoming a drunk as well. Cory gets a mandated eight weeks of a 12-step program, and it ends up being Celebrate Recovery, which I learned later is a real program that's actually helped many people - it's like AA or any of those groups, except it's more faith-based.

I'd like to see the movie version of Home Run now, too - see below for the trailer, which looks great.

4 stars out of 5.

Thanks to FlyBy Promotions, I have a copy of the novel Home Run to give to one lucky Books I Think You Should Win reader! Enter below in the Rafflecopter form. The contest ends on Saturday, March 30th at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted on Sunday, March 31st and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Shade of Vampire

A Shade of Vampire, by Bella Forrest.

There was no way to predict what would happen to me after that night.

During her better days, my mother already warned me about this. She said that I should expect life to dish out my own fair share of surprises.

But Derek Novak was a surprise that was far from fair ...

A Shade of Vampire is the first in a new series by Bella Forrest, the second of which will be titled A Shade of Blood. I received an e-copy of this book to review, and it's only about 150 pages; I whipped through it in about one to two hours.

ASOV is pretty much like the Twilight series on crack, if that makes any sense. Same types of situations, but the human girl is with the vampire against her will, at least at first.

This (official) synopsis might make more sense:
On the evening of Sofia Claremont's seventeenth birthday, she is sucked into a nightmare from which she cannot wake. A quiet evening walk along a beach brings her face to face with a dangerous pale creature that craves much more than her blood. 

She is kidnapped to an island where the sun is eternally forbidden to shine. An island uncharted by any map and ruled by the most powerful vampire coven on the planet. She wakes here as a slave, a captive in chains. Sofia's life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn when she is the one selected out of hundreds of girls to join the harem of Derek Novak, the dark royal Prince. Despite his addiction to power and obsessive thirst for her blood, Sofia soon realizes that the safest place on the island is within his quarters, and she must do all within her power to win him over if she is to survive even one more night. Will she succeed? Or is she destined to the same fate that all other girls have met at the hands of the Novaks?

So at the beginning of the story, like any normal person, Sofia wants to escape. Derek's brother Lucas almost rapes/takes advantage of her, except that his sister intervenes, saying that Sofia is to be a part of Derek's harem.

("Derek Novak," by the way, sounds more like a basketball player's name than a vampire's!)

Derek has been asleep for many years - 400-500, actually - and he wakes up and ends up having a connection of sorts to Sofia, declaring she is to be his personal slave. What happens after that, though, is kind of surprising: he ends up truly liking her, actually falling in love with her, and (like Edward in Twilight), has to control himself every night so as to not to drink her blood. Sofia appreciates these kindnesses and in turn begins falling for him as well. At the end of this novella, she has to choose whether she wants to leave the island and go back to her old life, or stay there with Derek.

This book kind of reminded me of the Abandon series by Meg Cabot, especially in the second book, where the main character (SEMI-SPOILER) has to stay in the Underworld with John; she doesn't have a choice. What's interesting here, though, is that at first Sofia is considered a "human slave," but near the end of the book, Derek is treating her pretty much like an equal.

The morals and whatnot in this book are a bit crazy - staying with Derek probably means Sofia has Stockholm Syndrome or something - but I can't help wanting to know what happens next in their story.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel from the author to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.
*The author has requested I share these links:
Buy A Shade of Vampire from Amazon:

  • Add on Goodreads 

  • Thursday, March 14, 2013

    If You Find Me

    If You Find Me, by Emily Murdoch.

    Mama says no matter how poor folks are, whether you're a have, a have-not, or break your mama's back on the cracks in between, the world gives away the best stuff on the cheap. Like, the way the white-hot mornin' light dances in diamonds across the surface of our creek. Or the creek itself, babblin' music all day long like Nessa when she was a baby. Happiness is free, Mama says, as sure as the blinkin' stars, the withered arms the trees throw down for our fires, the waterproofin' on our skin, and the tongues of wind curlin' the walnut leaves before slidin' down our ears.

    It might just be the meth pipe talkin'. But I like how
    free sounds all poetic-like."

    Emily Murdoch
    If You Find Me is the story of two girls, 14-year-old Carey (the narrator above) and her 6-year-old sister Jenessa (Nessa, for short), who live in the Obed Wild and Scenic River National Park, nicknamed "the Hundred Acre Wood." They live with their mother, a former concert violinist who is now a meth addict, in a trailer in the middle of the park. Their mother sometimes leaves them to get supplies, but always comes back. When "the man" and a social worker find the girls, though, it's been two months since their mother left, and they have been surviving solely on beans for food. "The man" ends up being Carey's father, whom she barely remembers, and they tell her and Nessa that their mother has abandoned them, this time for good.

    Official synopsis:
    A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen-year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey's younger sister, Jenessa. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

    Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won't let her go.

    I found Carey and Nessa's story to be an interesting one. It is Nessa who actually has less trouble adjusting to the "real world," because she has never known a life outside of their camper trailer; Carey starts remembering things in bits and pieces once she's back. Their mother, while a meth addict, used to be a brilliant concert violinist, and she taught Carey all that she knew; in other words, there are shades of gray in this novel, because their mother, although an addict, taught her this skill. They were also homeschooled, although Carey mostly taught Nessa, and when they are tested to see what grades they should be put in, they actually test above their ages: Carey becomes a sophomore in high school, and Nessa goes into the 2nd grade.

    The story itself was heartbreaking. Many children are abducted each year, but it's crazy to think that it could take so long - ten years, in Carey's case - to be found. When I started reading this novel, Carey's narration was a little "backwoods," as she would call it (see the excerpt above) and I wasn't sure I would be able to get through the entire text. However, the story itself is captivating, and will definitely hold your attention throughout; the fact that it's told from Carey's point-of-view undoubtedly contributes to this.

    If You Find Me will be in stores on March 26th. 4 stars out of 5.

    *Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

    Saturday, March 9, 2013

    The Storyteller

    The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult.

    I move around the kitchen, weaving from cabinet to shelf to pantry. I chop and mix bittersweet chocolate and ground cinnamon; I add a hint of vanilla. I create a small cavern as deep as my thumb in the knot of dough, and twist its limbs into an ornate crown. I let it proof, and in the meantime, instead of hiding in the back room, I go into the cafe and talk with Rocco. I work the cash register. I chat with customers about the heat and the Red Sox, about how pretty Westerbrook is in the summer, not once trying to cover my face with my bangs. And I marvel at how all these people can go about their lives as if they are not sitting on a powder keg; as if they don't know that when you pull back the curtain of an ordinary life, there might be something terrible hidden behind it.

    Holocaust, World War II, Germany
    I am a huge fan of Jodi Picoult's books - indeed, I've certainly reviewed enough of them - and there are a few reasons why her stories are so good. She always does a ton of research, and this one was no exception; the topic is a sensitive one, and the way the novel is set up is interesting as well. Although most of her books are told from the points of view of alternating narrators, depending on the chapter, The Storyteller, while following this pattern, starts off focusing on one character's back story  and then delves into one of her family members' stories and stays there for quite a while, which is a bit of an anomaly from Picoult's past novels.

    Sage has two sisters she doesn't talk to - the appropriately named Pepper and Saffron - and both of her parents have passed away. Her grandmother, Minka, is the only family she speaks to on a regular basis. She's involved with Adam, a married man, and she's extremely self-conscious about a scar she has that runs down her face, which she received in a car accident. Sage attends a support group for those who are grieving their losses, and it's there that she meets Josef Weber, a 95-year-old man who is prominent in their community; he used to teach German at the high school. If you ask anyone, they would tell you Josef is a model citizen; until, that is, he confides in Sage that he used to be an S.S. officer at Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

    The Storyteller starts off telling us a story, although we don't know it at the time; it ends up being a fictional story that Sage's grandmother, Minka, made up, although it mirrors the characters' actual lives as well. The first 1/4 of the story is told by Sage, for the most part, and then Minka takes over for the next half. This was an unusual choice by Picoult, but when you read this novel you will see why she did it: Minka's story is all-consuming and needs more than a few chapters to pan out. Minka is a Holocaust survivor, and Sage and a Dept. of Justice employee, Leo Stein, want her to eventually be able to identify Josef Weber so that they can have him extradited back to Germany, and maybe even be brought to justice one day.

    I am Jewish, and although none of my family was in the Holocaust, the subject has always struck close to home for me. Picoult is a masterful writer and really makes you feel like you are at Auschwitz, experiencing what Minka experienced, and how she ended up being the only one in her family to make it out of Germany alive.

    There were a few predictable parts, mostly with Sage and Leo, the man she meets who works to send Holocaust war criminals to jail, but Sage's story was interesting as well, and added much to the story - she had never heard her grandmother talk about the Holocaust, even though she knew she was a survivor, and she was shocked when she heard Minka's entire story from start to finish.

    4.5 stars out of 5.

    *Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    Let's Pretend This Never Happened

    Let's Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess).

    I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have a childhood that was not like mine. I have no real frame of reference, but when I question strangers I've found that their childhood generally had much less blood in it, and also that strangers seem uncomfortable when you question them about their childhood. But really, what else are you going to talk about in line at the liquor store? Childhood trauma seems like the natural choice, since it's the reason why most of us are in line there to begin with.

    Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess
    I had heard of The Bloggess before reading this book, but had only read a few of her blog posts. People talked about her at last year's BlogHer convention - she wasn't there, but had been at a few of the previous ones; she has anxiety sometimes, and tends to "hide out in bathrooms during social events," as she confesses in this book, and she did that at one of the BlogHers. The next year, they made a fake bathroom just for her to hang out with people! So she has an intriguing reputation, to say the least.

    The book started with her childhood, where we learn her dad was into dead animals - he's a taxidermist of sorts - and a lot of the anecdotes she recalls were hilarious. I read this book at work during my breaks and had to be careful to not laugh out loud hysterically for a lot of it, because parts are hilarious.

    The book follows her throughout where she is now, married for fifteen years with a daughter, and living life in Texas.

    Like I said, parts of this book were hilarious and I could.not.stop.reading. However, as time wore on, it became that I kind of just wanted to finish the book - nuggets here and there were still funny, but it became similar to spending too much time with a crazy relative; aka, time to move on and hit the road (or, in this case, finish the book).

    3.5 stars out of 5.

    *Disclosure: I was compensated for writing this review for the BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

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