Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Nonfiction Files


The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

Starting a new book this week - The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine

Synopsis from publisher:

In the first major literary biography of L. Frank Baum, Rebecca Loncraine tells the story of Oz as you've never heard it, with a look behind the curtain at the vivid life and eccentric imagination of its creator.

The Real Wizard of Oz is an imaginatively written work that stretches the genre of biography and enriches our understanding of modern fairytales. L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its thirteen sequels, lived during eventful times in American history-- from 1856 to 1919-- that influenced nearly every aspect of his writing, from the Civil War to Hollywood, which was emerging as a modern Emerald City full of broken dreams and humbug wizards, to the gulf between America's prairie heartland, with its wild tornadoes, and its cities teeming with "Tin Man" factory workers. This is a colorful portrait of one man's vivid and eccentric imagination and the world that shaped it. Baum's famous fairytale is filled with the pain of the economic uncertainties of the Gilded Age and with a yearning for real change, ideas which many contemporary Americans will recognize. The Wizard of Oz continues to fascinate and influence us because it explores universal themes of longing for a better world, homesickness and finding inner strength amid the storms.



My thoughts so far:

This is a very well-written biography. I've just finished part 1, which details Baum's life from birth until he gets the idea to move from upstate New York, where his family lives, to South Dakota, with his wife and two young sons. Here's why I say this is well-written - nothing happens. And by nothing, I mean a whole bunch of little things, but nothing big to grab your attention or force you to take notice. This is, so far, just the story of a family struggling to make ends meet, weathering the ups and downs of their fortunes, celebrating life and mourning death. No astonishing tragedy - just the normal small sorrows of life in the 1800s in America. And while they certainly had their share of sorrows, the family didn't disintigrate or splinter, but stayed a close knit, loving group. It's just so refreshingly NORMAL. I'm loving it.

That's not to say that Baum was a normal young man. He and his brother created their own newspaper as teens, he traveled the country with an acting troupe as a young man, and married an intelligent, college educated woman who didn't promise to obey her husband in their wedding vows. (His mother-in-law was Mathilda Joslyn Gage, one of the prominant forces behind the women's suffrage movement.) It's pretty clear that this guy is not going to have a "normal" life, and the author has been intentional about giving glimpses into the factors that influenced Baum's stories - the unusual yellow pavement in the city he lived in as a young man, the balloning craze that swept the country, the horrible tornados reported in the west. She is building the groundwork for Baum's fantastic world, drawn from the mundane details of his life. It's fascinating.

Early in the book, she makes a statement that surprised me - "Before Baum wrote the tale of Dorothy's journey from Kansas to Oz and back again, it didn't exist, and America had no modern fairy tale of its own." That hadn't occured to me before, but it's certainly true. The Wizard of Oz is America's first, great fairy tale. I've realized that I have never read the book myself, so I'm planning a read to coincide with my reading of this biography. I think it will be an interesting study.


I mentioned this last week, but after the fact - The Nonfiction Files has a friend! Jehara is going to be posting a weekly Nonfiction Files at her blog, as well. Make sure you stop by - she's currently reading what I think would be a pretty interesting biography of poet Anne Sexton. And, of course, the more the merrier - feel free to play along with us if you'd like. Just let me know, and I'll link to your post, as well.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review - The Sandman: The Dream Hunters

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
published 2009
4-part series

Synopsis from publisher:

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS is a comics adaptation of Gaiman's original prose novella by the same name illustrated by Yoshitako Amano.

A humble young monk and a magical, shape-changing fox find themselves romantically drawn together. As their love blooms, the fox learns of a devilish plot by a group of demons and a Japanese emperor to steal the monk's life. With the aid of Morpheus, the fox must use all of her cunning and creative thinking to foil this evil scheme and save the man that she loves.



My thoughts:

This is a must-read for Sandman fans. Based on one of the (fictional) tales Gaiman references in his Sandman series, The Dream Hunters is the story of a fox, and a monk, and an evil man, and the Dream King. It's a fairly simple tale, really, and like most

stories in the Sandman world, much is left to the imagination. This 4-book comic series is a quick read, and at only $3 per book, definitely worth the investment - the GORGEOUS illustrations by P. Craig Russell would be worth the price alone. I've included the covers of all four books in the post - aren't they beautiful?

This is a lovely fable, and would be a great introduction to the Sandman world for someone who hasn't read the series. If you are thinking about dipping your toes into this magical world, I highly recommend this as a place to start. I think once you've been introduced to Morpheus, you will be hooked! Of course, if you are already a Sandman fan, you MUST read these books! If you don't want the individual comics, the 4-part series will be released in hardcover in November.

Finished: 9/7/09
Source: my shelves
Rating: 10/10


***Personal Note***

Things might be a little quieter around here for the next few months. Fall and winter are the seasons when my husband's work schedule slows down, so we might actually BOTH have a night off of work at the same time before long! So I'm cutting back to writing posts a couple of days a week, which might mean I don't have as much to share with you - but it's for a good cause! =)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

TSS - I read banned books

Banned Books Week - September 26-October 3, 2009


The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion. ~Henry Steele Commager


I don't believe in banning books. I understand the reasons books are challenged or banned - they are considered dangerous to a political party, or they violate a moral or religious belief, or contain some other, more nebulous threat to whomever is doing the challenging. But I disagree with the idea that they way to combat a book that is objectionable is to ban it. Don't get me wrong - I have
NO problem with people objecting to books. I've read books I object to, for some of the same reasons I listed above. I just don't think banning those books will ever do any good.

Let's be realistic - banning a book doesn't ever make it go away. In fact, it usually makes it MORE appealing - "Hmmm, they told me I can't read this book. I wonder why? I want to go read it!" When I was a kid, it was the TV shows my parents didn't want me to watch that I was most curious about. Banning ideas don't make them less interesting. They just add a cloud of glamour to
them. Inquiring minds are going to seek out those ideas, banned or not - banning them just makes them seem more mysterious.

On second thought, maybe banning books isn't such a bad idea after all. Maybe we should ban them all - maybe taking books away would spark such a desire for them to return that we could, once again, be a reading n
ation. It's sure a nice thought!



Here's a partial list of books that have been banned, and where, and why.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - Banned in the province of Hunan, China, for the portrayal of anthropomorphized animals acting on the same level as humans.


All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque - Banned in Nazi Germany for demoralizing and insulting the Wehrmacht.


Black Beauty by Anna Sewell - Banned in South Africa during Apartheid.


Brave New World by Aldous Huxley - Banned in Ireland in 1932.


The Call of the Wild by Jack London - Banned in Italy for being "too radical".


The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank - Banned in Lebanon for portraying Jews, Israel, or Zionism favorably.


Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak - Banned within the USSR until 1998 for its criticism of the Bolshevik Party.


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Banned in many places in the US. In the region of California where it is partially set, it was banned because it made the residents of this region look bad.


Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain - Banned in many school districts over objections of its use of the "n" word.


The Lottery by Shirley Jackson - Banned in South Africa during Apartheid.


Rights of Man by Thomas Paine - Banned in the UK and author charged with treason for supporting the French Revolution.


Silas Marner by George Eliot - Banned in Anaheim, California school districts.


Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare - Banned in schools in New Hampshire under its "prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction" act.


Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - Banned in the southern US due to its anti-slavery content, and Tsarist Russia since the government expected people to see similarities between the treatment of slaves in the US and the treatment of Russian serfs.


Read any of those? I did, and amusingly, I seem to have managed to become a fairly well-adjusted, functioning member of society, albiet one with pretty radical ideas. *grin*





Here's the manifesto that has been adopted by the Banned Books Week organization:


Manifesto

To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.

You say you’re afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion or sorcery on the page.
But sticks and stones do break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.

You say you’re afraid for America,
the red, white and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
different seas.

You say you’re afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all.

A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.

— Ellen Hopkins,
bestselling author of Crank and newly published Tricks


So this week, I'm going to read a banned book. I'm going to revel in the thought that no one can tell me what I can or cannot read. And I'm going to celebrate the ideas of those who, throughout history, have been brave enough to write. Care to join me?


Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. ~Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, 24 February 1959

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)


This week's short story is The Premature Burial - basically, our narrator describes a few stories about people who have been buried alive and then, after describing his own condition in which he falls into near-catatonic states, relates his own fears about being buried alive.

I can't say this was my favorite of Poe's stories, but I can imagine at the time it was originally published it would have been horrifying. Apparently, there was a serious fear of being buried alive in the 19th century, and Poe was just capitalizing on it's popularity - there was even a Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive. Seriously? Did it happen enough that there needed to be a society to prevent it? Thank goodness for modern medical science, I suppose.

I'm finding that Poe seems to have a couple of different "types" of stories - the ones with actual plot, and the ones that are more designed to "explain" something. I'm much more of a fan of the plot stories, which this unfortunately was not. But I have a sneaking suspicion these types of stories probably made him more money - funny how things end up working out that way.

Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at We Be Reading.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Six Degrees to Humpty Dumpty

When I was discussing reviewing Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed with publicist Lisa Roe, she mentioned that the author's publisher's father (are you still with me?) represented Ray Bradbury in his early career. Of course, I have a bit of a Bradbury connection (see 451 Fridays), so when she asked if I would be interested in a guest post from the publisher, I said of course!

So, for your reading pleasure, the twisty road that led one publisher to a book. Enjoy!


SIX DEGREES TO HUMPTY DUMPTY

(or How a Small Press in Tucson, Arizona became the Publisher for “the First Truly Wonderful Hip-Hop Noir,” the Genre-Busting First Novel by Marc Blatte, HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED)

The story behind the story begins many years ago when, in 1948, my father John Schaffner set up shop as a literary agent in New York City in a walkup on Third Avenue and 55th street above a seafood shop. At forty-five, he had previously worked as fiction editor at Good Housekeeping, and before that Collier’s—a publication, which along, with the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly was known for promoting new writers, among whom was Ray Bradbury. Later, my dad was to represent him in placing some of his early stories to magazines.

Over the years, my father went on to a lively and successful career as a literary agent, and was particularly known for ushering forth the new breed of cookbook writers, among them James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Richard Olney and Helen Evans Brown, the author of the West Coast Cookbook and friend of Julia Child. (And, speaking of Julia Child, you can find a mention of my father in her memoir, “My Life in France,” on p. 232: “While in Washington, I had met with John Valentine Schaffner, a New York literary agent who represented James Beard and Mrs. Brown of ‘the Browns,’ among others.”)

I began work at my father’s agency at the tender age of twenty-three, recently graduated from college, with a degree in English, and somewhat clueless as to what I was going to do with it. I had a vague idea of becoming an editor; I first worked as a summer intern for New Directions, a small press that has published a kaleidoscopic array of brilliant writers from Tennessee Williams, to Dylan Thomas, Thomas Merton, Djuna Barnes, Ezra Pound—you name it, and then found myself working as a galley slave in the accounting department at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, for the next few months, the less said of that experience the bette. At this point, my dad invited me aboard, saying that I could come work for him, or take a slow boat to China.

I figured the slow boat would have to wait; and, looking back, as it turned out, my father was extremely ill at that time, and had only a few months left to live; so, I would have no doubt turned back somewhere in the middle of the Pacific anyway. Long story short, I began work assisting agent Barney Karpfinger (who worked at the agency then, and who has since gone on to be a successful agent), and helped to pick up the pieces after the sudden death of my father’s business partner, Victor Chapin, a literary agent who was also, as it happens, my godfather. Victor, a former actor, was also a novelist and music critic, among his clients was an author of noir fiction named Andrew Vachss. When the manuscript of Andrew’s first novel fell in my lap, titled then FLOOD’S FLOWER, later amended to simply FLOOD, I knew that here was a writer delving into something different. However, it did not befall to me to finally get his work published; there was a curious resistance to his work among the editors to whom I submitted the novel, who it deemed it too dark and violent. But, it opened my eyes to the genre that until then had been dominated by earlier titans, like Ed McBain and Elmore Leonard but which had yet been tested by new blood. Nevertheless, this early venture into the genre fostered a love of noir fiction, both as publisher and as a reader.

Another client of my father’s who stayed on through the transition that followed after he passed away in 1983, was Maxine Hong Kingston, the author of the National Book Award winner CHINA MEN, and the American Book Award winner, THE WOMAN WARRIOR: A Memoir of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. These books have been a mainstay of contemporary literature, not only for their portrayal of the immigrant experience, but also for their category-defying blend of autobiography and jaw-droppingly beautiful poetic prose. My father had submitted her first work, THE WOMAN WARRIOR, to over a dozen publishers before finally finding her a home with Knopf. I remember how proud he was of her, and how he staunchly defended her crossover style: when people asked him if it were fiction or non-fiction, he would retort: What difference does it make?

This brings me to where I am now, having worked as an agent for a dozen years, and then as a classroom teacher in public and charter schools, and now, back in books with my own publishing company, Schaffner Press, which I founded in 2001. I first starting reprinting works of non-fiction, some of which had been out of print. Among these titles was an astounding memoir titled THE LOST CHILDHOOD by Yehuda Nir, an account of his experiences as a Jewish boy in Warsaw, living in hiding from the Germans during WWII. This book, originally published in the late 80’s is a classic of Holocaust literature as well as a first-rate memoir; I have had the privilege of reprinting it and seeing it take on a new life as it continues to sell over the years. And, it was thanks to Dr. Yehuda Nir that HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED came to me, or more specifically, the friendship that developed between Yehuda’s daughter and Marc’s daughter at a weekend riding stable, and the bond that formed between these two “dressage” dads, which occasioned Yehuda’s recommendation to Marc that he send his novel to me.

Tim Schaffner/September, 2009

451 Fridays


451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

I'm so excited to welcome author Marc Blatte to As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves today for 451 Fridays! I reviewed Marc's book, Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed yesterday (read my review here), and later today I have a special post from the publisher of that book. But now, here's storyteller Marc Blatte, with his take on 451 Fridays. Welcome, Marc!


Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

These books are all fabulously written, infused with humor and impart timeless wisdom with great empathy and compassion. Indomitable non-conformists, who are perfect for inspiration and empowerment in an age of repression, inhabit them. Multiple examples of the redemptive power of love are throughout all, which I believe might be the perfect antidote to the pessimism and hate of a dark age.

The book I would like to become is Catch-22. It makes me laugh out loud and I can never get enough of funny. I consider Joseph Heller’s narrative to be hilariously subversive. What could be better than to confound totalitarian systems? Especially when in this case it is the military? I can’t imagine becoming anything more elevating than delighting people with Heller’s zany characters and absurdist situations.

I met Joseph Heller at a restaurant once, in Bridgehampton, NY, while I was with my wife‘s family waiting for our table to be ready. It was around Christmastime. At first I couldn’t put a name on the face of the literary master. Fortunately I was with my sister-in-law, who is a well-known broadcast journalist and has interviewed many authors.

“Hey, look at that guy over there. He‘s so familiar. Who is he?”

She says without pausing, “Joseph Heller”.

“I‘ve got to talk to him. I’ve got something he will want to hear.”

“He‘s famous for his reticence, Marc,” she says with appropriate concern for a bad outcome in the season of goodwill.

I nod indicating I understand, and to offer a sign of appreciation for the sentiment. However, tonight, reticence is not on my menu.

In the middle of our dinner I see Mr. Heller‘s guests have gone. He is sitting alone. Fate has blessed me with the opportunity I have waited for. I excuse myself and pounce.

“Joseph Heller,” I say, super-friendly, hand extended. “I’m Marc Blatte.”

He looks at me as if he knows who I am- although he doesn’t, I assure you. He takes my hand enthusiastically.

“Marc Blatte, what can I do you for?” He smiles. Or am I projecting…is he actually beaming?

“I was introduced to Henry Kissinger,” I say, “and as I shook his hand, all I could think of was your quote in Good as Gold: “Mine is not a Jewish accent, it is a German accent.”

The great writer bursts out laughing and keeps at it for a while.

“You know Marc Blatte,” he says, once he‘s recovered, “I just saw Henry’s brother on CNBC. He was asked why is it that he has no accent and his brother does?” Mr. Heller pauses before the punch line. “Because,” he says, “I am a business man. When people talk, I listen!”

We both laugh. He’s charming and funny.

After a few pleasantries I excuse myself and join the family. On his way out of the restaurant, to my disbelief, he comes over to our large group, introduces himself with great bonhomie, and tells my in-laws what a great guy I am. Our jaws dropped to the floor.

So if becoming Catch-22 is what is needed to keep his spirit alive, no problem. Call me Joe, or Catch. Or, if you’d like to be formal: Catch-22. I’ll be sure to respond to any one of them.




Marc, I'm honored to have you share your choices for the book YOU would become. If you are reading this and think you'd like to participate, let me know - I'd love to have you join us!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review - Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed


Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed by Marc Blatte
published 3/09
283 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Ride shotgun with Detective Black Sallie Blue Eyes on his quest to solve a murder at a downtown hip-hop club, and encounter a host of characters that run the gamut of NYC high and lowlife society from the projects of Far Rockaway to the mansions and manicured lawns of Westchester and the Hamptons--rapstar wannabes, hipster tweakers, Wittgenstein-spouting impresarios, fetishists, billionaires, and one Eastern European refugee dead-set on revenge old-school style.

My thoughts:

The first thing I did when I received this novel was look on Wikipedia to see what exactly a noir detective novel was - after all, this was pitched as "the first wonderful hip-hop noir novel", so I wanted to know what I was getting myself into.

Here's what I found:

Hardboiled detective fiction is a literary style which portrays crime and violence in an unsentimental way.

and

Noir fiction is the name sometimes given to a mode of crime fiction regarded as a subset of the hardboiled style. According to noir aficionado George Tuttle,

In this sub-genre, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the situation. Other common characteristics...are the emphasis on sexual relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-destructive qualities of the lead characters. This type of fiction also has the lean, direct writing style and the gritty realism commonly associated with hardboiled fiction.

Okay, so now that I know what to expect, do I agree with the statement that this is a great hip-hop noir novel?

I think I do.

I will admit that I'm quite possibly not the target audience for this novel. I don't know that I've ever read another example of this style of detective story. (Though I'd be interested - anyone have any recommendations?) I don't really think that hindered my enjoyment of the novel, however - who knows, since I had nothing to compare it to, maybe it helped.

And I have definitely not read anything quite like this novel. From the first page, the author catapults his readers into the language and style of New York - from rappers to immigrants to pseudo-intellectuals, this is the story of New York and its inhabitants. Using a series of narrators, the author gives each character his own voice, and does so with authenticity and accuracy. It took me a while to get into the flow of the story, because the narration is SO stylized, but once the story itself had grabbed me, I stopped having trouble with the voice and started becoming immersed in the plot.

This is a gritty, action-packed novel, with action taking place on every page. Definitely plot-based, which was a nice change from what I had been reading, HDWP certainly lives up to the promise of viewing crime and violence in an unsentimental way. There are a lot of bad people in this novel, doing a lot of bad things, and you have to be able to stomach strong language and situations in order to make it through this novel.

There are also moments, however, that were quite beautiful - the immigrant from Kosovo discovering the beauty of America that exists outside the big city, and the detective taking a moment to remember his friends who perished in 9/11. These sections kept the novel from feeling overwhelming grim, and I appreciated them.

"The magnificent old trees, with their newly sprouted soft green leaves, lining both sides of the road were awesome. So were the graceful swans gliding in the pond he was passing. The old churches, the cemetery, and the stone buildings he saw were older than anything he'd seen yet in this new-fangled country of his. The whole thing looked authentic, solid, like you could make a real life for yourself here. When he came up to the pretty brick library with the American flag in front of it, he actually got a lump in his throat. Goosebumps, yo. He was feeling all mushy like when Ray Charles sang that song "Oh beautiful for spacious skies" on the Superbowl or some shit. He was believing in freedom and tolerance and other high-minded things that he'd heard this country was all about. Word, he had been living in the US of A for fourteen years and finally he had discovered America!"

I have to say I enjoyed this novel. It was very much out of my comfort zone, and I was a little bit worried at the start. But once I let the story get ahold of me, I found myself grinning, and rooting for the characters, and having quite a bit of fun. It made me interested in a new genre of books, and gave me a new author to look for in the future. (Also, I'm finding myself using "Word, yo!" in my internal dialogue - because I'm so gangsta.)

Finished: 9/19/09
Source: the publisher, via Lisa Roe
Rating: 7/10



This book counts toward -

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Nonfiction Files


The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.


My current read: Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews. You can read my first post about this book here, and my second post here.

Synopsis from publisher:

On a midsummer day in 1937, a black car pulled up to a house in Chernigov, in the heart of the Ukraine. Boris Bibikov-Owen Matthews's grandfather-kissed his wife and two young daughters good-bye and disappeared inside the car. His family never saw him again. His wife would soon vanish as well, leaving Lyudmila and Lenina alone to drift across the vast Russian landscape during World War II . Separated as the Germans advanced in 1941, they were miraculously reunited against all odds at the war's end.

Some twenty-five years later, in the early 1960s, Mervyn Matthews-Owen's father-followed a lifelong passion for Russia and moved to Moscow to work for the British embassy. He fell in and out with the KGB, and despite having fallen in love with Lyudmila, he was summarily deported. For the next six years, Mervyn worked day and night to get Lyudmila out of Russia, and when he finally succeeded, they married.

Decades on from these events, Owen Matthews-then a young journalist himself in Russia-came upon his grandfather's KGB file recording his "progress from life to death at the hands of Stalin's secret police." Excited by its revelations, he has pieced together the tangled and dramatic threads of his family's past and present, making sense of the magnetic pull that has drawn him back to his mother's homeland. Stalin's Children is an indelible portrait of Russia over seven decades and an unforgettable memoir about how we struggle to define ourselves in opposition to our ancestry only to find ourselves aligning with it.


My thoughts:


I hate to say this, but the end of this book really lost me. I felt like it lost most of the momentum it had built up until this point. It was interesting to read about Mila and Mervyn meeting, and their whirlwind romance was awfully sweet, but the majority of this section dealt with the politics of getting the two of them together, and that just wasn't that interesting to me.

I realize it's importance to the structure of the story, but I'm not sure the author needed to include so much Russian statesmanship for the readers to wade through. I think part of the reason I felt so disappointed in this part of the book was that I was finally expecting to get to the love story - it's what I'd been waiting for this whole time! And I just didn't think I got as much of that as I'd hoped.

I haven't mentioned yet that throughout the entire book, the author also describes his own experiences in Russia, which have offered quite a unique counterpoint to that of his parents. The book describes itself as "...one family's always passionate, sometimes tragic connection to Russia", and I did find those connections interesting. This family certainly does seem drawn to Russia, despite the horrible experiences they have there. I think it's an interesting perspective on the way that the land can call to a person.

Ultimately, I'd hoped for a bit more from this book. The author's family has quite a story, and I did learn quite a bit about Russian history. I'd say this would be a book to look for at the library, but don't know I'd recommend making the purchase.

Finished: 9/20/09
Source: the publisher
Rating: 6/10


UPDATE!! The Nonfiction Files has a playmate!! The incredibly smart and interesting Jehara is joining me in The Nonfiction Files - I'm so excited to have someone posting along with me each week! Make sure you visit her blog, Jehara, as she's reading an extremely interesting book. And, you know, the more the merrier - if you'd like to join us, we'd love to have you! =)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review - Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline

Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline
published 8/09
275 pages


I've been dreading this particular entry in Jenners' Take A Change Challenge - I was never really that good at "creative" writing. But as I was reading this novel, the haiku just popped into my head, so I figured this would be as good a choice as any to complete this challenge.


Poetic Review. Write a book review in three different forms of verse: haiku, limerick and free verse. (You can pick any book you want to write about.)

Here goes -

A tragic mistake.
Friendships teeter on the brink -
Is the grass greener?

-------------------------------------

Four friends - two girls and two boys -
Get married to experience life's joys.
But when two members stray,
Hiding their love away,
Their happiness becomes so much noise.


------------------------------


What happens when a boy and a girl and a boy fall in love?
They promise each other forever, the boy and the girl,
And the second boy and the second girl, conveniently best friend
to the first girl, mentioned above.
They plan their lives, piece by piece,
Overlooking nothing,
except the love of the first girl and the second boy,
Which no one mentions.

Until one day, unbeknownst to the second girl and the first boy,
the first girl and the second boy remember,
Rekindle,
Betray.

A falling-out, a tragedy, a book tour -
events conspire to uncover the truth.
And soon all the boys, and all the girls
watch their carefully constructed lives slip away.
Was safety really such a good thing?

In the end, it's all about love.

------------------------------


Well. Not as painful as I'd anticipated, but definitely out of my comfort zone. Great challenge, Jenners! In case you're wondering, Bird in Hand was an excellent novel, and I'll be looking for more by this author.

Finished: 9/19/09
Source: the publisher
Rating: 8/10

This book counts toward -

Monday, September 21, 2009

Top 5 things you need to know before you ask me to review your book


Hi there! Thanks for stopping by my blog, and for considering my as a potential reviewer for your book. Here are a few things you should know about me before you send that email -

1. I have a life outside this blog. While I would love to make this my sole profession, as of yet it doesn't pay the bills. This means I have a full-time job, as well as a family, that demands attention. In fact, I have TWO young children who demand a whole lot of it! I ONLY accept books on a "for review consideration" basis - this means that even if I accept your book, I cannot guarantee a review. It is always my intention to review each book I receive - however, sometimes life happens, and my plans have to be set aside to take care of reality.


2. I want to love your book. I really, really do. However, if I don't, I will be upfront about that in my review. While the tone of my reviews is generally positive, and I feel very strongly that all authors deserve the same level of respect I would wish for myself, I won't represent my feelings about a book as any different than they really are.

3. There are some books I just don't want to read. I don't enjoy the following content:
- extreme, graphic depictions of war or battle (they bore me, and then I start to skim, and once I've started to skim you've lost me)
- copious, gratuitous sexual content (again, I'll be skimming, and you don't want me to skim)
- graphic depictions of violence against women, children, or animals (these actions hurt me to my core, and it is rare I find a book I believe can justify their inclusion)
- self-help books (I've married into a family of mental health professionals. My self has all the help it needs, thanks.)



4. Have you heard I need more shelves? In addition to the book you want me to read, I have a significant number of my own books I have acquired because they sound fabulous. Accordingly, I have to limit the number of books for review I accept each month. If I have to say no to your request, it doesn't mean I don't think your book sounds great - it probably just means I've reached my limit for that month. I would love to hear from you again in the future, when I will probably have less on my plate.

Additionally, I have recently discovered a new love for the AUDIOBOOK format! I am happy to accept requests for audiobook reviews, and as I have a daily commute to work and a LOT of laundry to do, you can expect that I will review your work promptly.


5. I love discovering new authors! Some of my favorite books in the past couple of years have been from authors I'd never heard of before. I have had mixed results with self-published work, and do occasionally accept those books for review. However, I maintain the same review standards for ALL books I read, and will not lower my expectations for a book simply because it has been self-published. I do have a Kindle, so if your work is available in that format I am willing to consider it.






If you think I might be a good fit for your book, I'd love to have you contact me at elischulenburg(AT)gmail(dot)com. If you have questions not answered above, you are welcome to send an email to the above address. Thanks again for considering me as a potential reviewer for your book! I wish you all the best.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

TSS - Review - Watchmen

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
published 1986
334 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

It all begins with the paranoid delusions of a half-insane hero called Rorschach. But is Rorschach really insane or has he in fact uncovered a plot to murder super-heroes and, even worse, millions of innocent civilians? On the run from the law, Rorschach reunites with his former teammates in a desperate attempt to save the world and their lives, but what they uncover will shock them to their very core and change the face of the planet! Following two generations of masked superheroes from the close of World War II to the icy shadow of the Cold War comes this groundbreaking comic story — the story of The Watchmen.


My thoughts:

Well. There is almost too much to say about this bleak, beautiful piece of fiction. I think I'm going to arrange my thoughts in list form, to try not to forget anything.

1 - The Story. One of the most famous graphic novels of all time, on numerous "Best Of" lists, the story of the Watchmen is a modern classic. I completely understand why it was so groundbreaking when it was first introduced in the 1980s - these are not the movie superheroes America was used to up until then. These heroes are flawed - greedy, malicious, vain, superheroes for kicks and for hire. It's the characters that make the story so compelling, the structure of the novel allows each to have his or her moment to tell their tale. The plot itself is dense and packed with deep moral and political questions, but I found the characters to be the best part of the novel.

2 - The Writing. There is a perception that graphic novels, or "comics", are somehow not for serious readers - they're light, less challenging, than "real" novels. Or at least that's the impression I had before I started reading them. Watchmen blows this theory out of the water. Each character's voice is so incredible distinct, and the writing is intense, precise, and in many places beautiful. I often found myself so caught up in the words on the page that I realized I hadn't looked at the pictures for some time - so I would backtrack, put the two together, and find even more layers to the story.

3 - The Graphics. I don't know that I would call the pictures beautiful - they seemed very traditionally "comic-y" to me, which isn't a style I'm necessarily drawn to. But they had such detail, and depth of meaning, that I quickly learned to appreciate the complexity they added to the story. Watchmen so completely integrates its words and pictures - I don't think it would be half as great an experience if it lacked one of its components.

4 - The Ending. I won't spoil it for you, but it's pretty love-it-or-hate-it. My husband thought the entire novel was great, until the ending, which he hated. I actually thought it was just the right ending for the story - and I can't say more than that, but I didn't share his dislike at all.


This is definitely a story for adults - I would not give this to kids thinking it's just another comic, as it has seriously adult themes and language. However, I can certainly understand why it garnered all the praise it has received, and it is a reading experience I will surely savor again, as it is the kind of work that will only grow richer with subsequent readings.

Finished: 9/7/09
Source: my shelves
Rating: 8/10


Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Fyrefly's Book Blog
Medieval Bookworm
S. Krishna's Books
Literary Feline
Ready When You Are, CB
Things Mean A Lot
eclectic/eccentric


This book counts toward:











Saturday, September 19, 2009

BBAW - Winners, Winners!!


So, here it is - my last post for this year's Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I'm sad that it's over! But I have to admit, it will be a little bit nice to get back to my normal reading schedule.

AND! This post is about WINNERS! YAY!!

So without further ado -

The winner of BBAW Giveaway #1 - 2 Fantasy paperbacks - is...

Ladytink_534



The winner of BBAW Giveaway #2 - 2 women's fiction paperbacks - is....

Ruth from New Zealand



The winner of BBAW Giveaway #3 - 3 YA paperback ARCs - is....

Trisha



And the winner of BBAW Giveaway #4 - 3 random fiction paperback ARCs - is.....

ibeeg


Congratulations to all the winners! I'm sending you all an email - if I don't hear back from you by tomorrow (Sunday) evening at 6 PM CST I will choose another winner.

Thanks to you all for visiting here at As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves - hope to see you again!

Friday, September 18, 2009

451 Fridays - re-run edition


451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?



In case you missed it, earlier this week I had the pleasure of interviewing Margot, from Joyfully Retired, for the BBAW interview swap. She graciously agreed to participate in a special edition of 451, so I'm re-posting her response in case you didn't see it earlier in the week. Once again, Welcome, Margot!



The whole idea of absolutely no books in the world is too grim for me to comprehend. I've lived a wonderful life surrounded by books. I honestly can say that, in my sixty-something years of living, I've spent some part of every day with a book or two.

For me part of the pleasure of books is in talking about what I'm reading. One of the joy of motherhood and now being Nana was/is sharing with my children the stories and books I love. In turn they share with me their new discoveries. If there was any possibility of future generations being denied books that have given all of us so much joy, I'd better start memorizing, or "becoming a book" right now.

Based on this fear of a world without children's books, the first three books of my 451 Fahrenheit assignment are for future children. I know that children who are exposed early to good stories, ones that fire their imaginations, are the children who go on to love reading and thinking and learning. But first, books have to be associated with pleasure. These three have certainly done that for me.

1. Nursery Rhymes by Mother Goose. (There are a number of editions but my favorite is Richard Scarry's.) I don't have to start memorizing this one and I bet you know them too. We can't let them die. These are the rhymes many of us remember from our childhood. It was thirty years between reading this book to my children and then to my grandchildren but the rhymes came back easily. See if you can finish these:
"There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children . . ."
"Three little kittens lost their mittens and they began to . . ."
"Elsie Marley's grown so fine she won't get up to feed the swine but . . . "

2. Charlotte's Web by E.B.White.
This is a charming tale of Wilbur (the pig), Charlotte (the spider),Tempelton (the rat) and other animal and human characters. The story revolves around the goal of keeping Wilbur from becoming bacon. Charlotte spins words in her web and the humans are astonished. The ploy works as they all believe Wilbur to be an outstanding pig. No one catches on that it's really Charlotte who is amazing, except, of course, the reader. I love that the author does not talk down to children and in fact uses some big words that are defined in an easy to understand manner. If at all possible, read the book way before seeing the movie. I have yet to read this book to a child whose eyes do not grow big. I know they are "seeing" their own version of the pictures.

3. Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott. This classic tale of girls coming into their own and family togetherness has rung true for generations even after 140 years. Who doesn't want to be like the spirited Jo or one of the other girls? I reread this book again earlier this year and it still brings out the same emotions as it did all the other times I've read it.

The next two books are just for my own, adult pleasure. They are great stories with great characters and I want to make sure they are not forgotten.

4. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. (You should read the sequel, Pigs in Heaven, while you're at it.)
The is Barbara Kingsolver's debut novel. It's the story of Taylor Greer who has left her home in Kentucky and is heading west in her VW bug. She has no particular destination, she's just enjoying her independence. At a stop in Oklahoma, someone thrusts a small child through her open car window and begs her to take her away. Something about the child causes Taylor to take her. She continues on her way and only stops when her tires wear out in Tucson. The book is filled with wonderfully quirky people that I still think about. I loved the character of Alice, Taylor's mother. As Taylor gradually learns to become a mother, she draws on the example Alice set in raising her. Here's an example from the book:

"There were two things about Mama. One is she always expected the best out of me. And the other is that no matter what I did, whatever I came home with, she acted like it was the moon I had just hung up in the sky and plugged in all the stars. Like I was that good."

5. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
I would just hate for the world to lose out on great food writing. I'll bet a world without books would probably also be a world without good food. This true story of Ruth Reichl's experience as a the restaurant critic for the New York Times is such good fun. Because her picture was hanging up in the backrooms of all the New York City restaurants, she had to disguise herself. Rather than get special treatment and the best food, she chose to become an ordinary person and see how the restaurant would treat her then. Ms. Reichl didn't just put on a wig and glasses. She "became" the new person starting with the life story of that person. She chose where the person lived, what they did for a living, how they dressed, and why they were in New York. She found that when she was in disguise she talked and behaved differently. It had quite an impact on her. This book is also a treat when Ruth Reichl describes food. The reader knows exactly how it smells, looks, feels on the tongue, against your mouth and going down your throat. You can get very hungry reading this book.

Which one of these five books should I choose as my book-people book? Tough to choose. I've read the first four numerous times and it wouldn't take much work to have every word memorized. So - I'm going for the challenge of "becoming" Garlic and Sapphires. I could tell you about the time she dressed like her mother and began speaking like her. Or the time she became an out-of-town woman and some guy tried to pick her up. Or the woman she saw on a bus and followed her home to see how she walked and what kind of life she led. And, did I mention recipes? I've made a couple of the recipes in the book. Her New York Cheesecake is so smooth and creamy. And then those perfect potato hashbrowns . . . m-m-m-m, I'm already working on it. Becoming Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires will be pure pleasure.




If you enjoy reading 451 Fridays each week, why not participate? I'd love to have you - leave me a comment and I'll get you the details!

BBAW Giveaway #4



Is anyone else feeling a little sad that it's the last day of BBAW? It FLEW by - but boy, was it fun. For my last giveaway, I have a 3-book assorted fiction set. Here are the details:






Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant


Synopsis from publisher -

By the second half of the sixteenth century, the price of wedding dowries had risen so high that most Italian aristocratic families could afford to marry off only one daughter. The remaining young women were dispatched into convents, and not all of them went willingly. Santa Caterina's new novice sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the convent to its core.

Serafina, a willful, emotional furious girl, has just been ripped from her proposed marriage and sent by her noble family to Santa Caterina. During her first night inside, such is her violent, incandescent rage that the dispensary mistress, Suora Zuana, is sent to her cell to calm her with a draft of herbs. Thus begins a complex relationship of trust and betrayal. And while outside the convent walls the forces of the Counter-Reformation push for ever more repressive changes, Serafina's rebellious spirit challenges not only Zuana but many other nuns who have made peace with the isolated life.


Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Synopsis from publisher -

With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry — lonely, friendless, not too good at sports — spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele — a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his Husband for a Day coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others — especially those we love — above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.



The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny


Synopsis from publisher -

Chaos is coming, old son.

With those words the peace of Three Pines is shattered. As families prepare to head back to the city and children say goodbye to summer, a stranger is found murdered in the village bistro and antiques store. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in to strip back layers of lies, exposing both treasures and rancid secrets buried in the wilderness. No one admits to knowing the murdered man, but as secrets are revealed, chaos begins to close in on the beloved bistro owner, Olivier. How did he make such a spectacular success of his business? What past did he leave behind and why has he buried himself in this tiny village? And why does every lead in the investigation find its way back to him?

As Olivier grows more frantic, a trail of clues and treasures-- from first editions of Charlotte's Web and Jane Eyre to a spider web with the word WOE woven in it--lead the Chief Inspector deep into the woods and across the continent in search of the truth, and finally back to Three Pines as the little village braces for the truth and the final, brutal telling.


All three novels are PAPERBACK ARCS, and each has been gently used (read once). To enter, leave a comment on this post with your CONTACT INFO. International entries are welcome. Entries will be accepted until Friday, September 18, at Midnight CST (YEP, that's tonight!), and winners will be announced on Saturday. Good luck, and happy reading!

Book Blogger Appreciation Week - Day 5


For the final day of BBAW, Amy has given us the following topic:

Setting Goals!
Write in 50 words or less…what do you like best about your blog right now and where would you like your blog to be a year from now?


I feel good about the ways my blog has evolved over the past year. From only posting once or twice a week to nearly every day; from posts that depended heavily on memes to primarily original material; from just a handful of readers to an average of 50 visits per day, I think I'm heading in the right direction. I'm especially proud of my feature, 451 Fridays, and hope to be able to continue that series for many weeks to come. Of course, I would like to improve my writing and reviewing skills, and hope to be better at engaging in the community of book bloggers, specifically by becoming a better commenter and a more involved participant. Mostly, though, a year from now I hope to still love book blogging. I want to continue looking forward to figuring out what I'm going to say each day. I want to keep enjoying the discovery of a great new blog to read. I do this because I love it, and I hope I still feel that way for BBAW 2010!


(And yes, I realize this is WAY over 50 words - apparently, I need to set a goal of being more concise, too! *grin*)

I've had such fun this week writing the BBAW posts, and reading all of yours. Thanks so much to the BBAW powers-that-be for putting together a great week. Three cheers for book blogging!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

And the Winner is.............Best Series or Feature



I was completely delighted to be shortlisted for Best Series or Feature for this week's BBAW. I am so proud of 451 Fridays, and am so appreciative that the blogging community enjoys it as well. The other features in this category were absolutely wonderful, and I want to make sure you have a chance to check them all out:

Author Recipes at Maw Books Blog
- Natasha does fabulous author interviews, and asks each author to give her one of their favorite recipes. She then makes the recipe and blogs about it - such fun! I especially enjoy when she shares her family's response to the recipe.

Scene of the Blog at Kittling: Books - Cathy invites bloggers to share pictures of their blogging space. It is so much fun to see where all my favorite blogs are created!

Spotlight on Bookstores at She Is Too Fond of Books - Dawn invites bloggers to talk about their favorite bookstores. Who doesn't love a good bookstore??

What a Girl Wants at Chasing Ray
- Colleen hosts a roundtable discussion about what girls want - and GET - in reading. I'm new to this feature, but I already love the wise words and thoughts from this collection of contributors.

Talk about fabulous company!! I'm so happy to announce that the winner of Best Series or Feature is.................






Scene of the Blog at Kittling: Books!!


Make sure you stop by and congratulate Cathy. And, again, thanks for putting me on the shortlist. I couldn't have been more honored to be among this group of amazing bloggers!

BBAW Giveaway #3




Welcome back to the third day of giveaways here at Need More Shelves. Today, I have a 3-pack of YA novels up for grabs! Here's the details:







The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams


Synopsis from publisher -

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning them much---if you don't count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her.

But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle---who already has six wives---Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever


20 Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Synopsis from publisher -

According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there's a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there's something she hasn't told Frankie — she's already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie's older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.


Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Synopsis from publisher -

For Nora Grey, romance was not part of the plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how much her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch came along.

With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Nora is drawn to him against her better judgment.

But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure who to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is, and to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.

For Nora is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen - and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost her life.


All three of these books are PAPERBACK ARCS, and all are gently used (read once). To enter, leave a comment on this post with your CONTACT INFO. International entries are welcome. Entries will be accepted until Friday, September 18, at Midnight CST, and winner will be announced on Saturday. Good luck, and happy reading!


Book Blogger Appreciation Week - Day 4


Today's BBAW assignment is to review a book that you read thanks to another book blogger. I'm excited about this one - I've been saving this review just for this event, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with you!


A couple of months ago, I was scanning through my Google reader, and happened upon a post with my name in it. What??? I looked closer, and saw that Cathy, from Constance Reader, had dedicated a review to me. We had discovered a shared love of books set in boarding schools, and when she read this book she thought of me. I was SOO excited - no one had ever done that before! So, of course, I immediately had to find a copy of the book she had reviewed, and boy was it a good one.

Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont
published 6/08
276 pages



Constance Reader's review



Synopsis from publisher -

When Catherine Morrow is admitted to the Esther Percy School for Girls, it's on the condition that she reform her ways. But that's before the charismatic and beautiful Skye Butterfield, daughter of the famous Senator Butterfield, chooses Catherine for her best friend. Skye is a young woman hell-bent on a trajectory of self-destruction, and she doesn't care who is taken down with her. No matter the transgression--a stolen credit card, a cocaine binge, an affair with a teacher, an accident that precipitates the end of Catherine's promising riding career--Catherine can neither resist Skye's spell nor stop her downward spiral.

My thoughts -

Here's what this book was like - imagine Gossip Girl, set in the early 80s, with REALLY good writing. It has that same guilty pleasure quality that Gossip Girl has, with it's rich teenagers and their soap-opera-esque lifestyles. Catherine is the bad girl desperately trying to clean up her act, and Skye is the damaged, irresistible friend Catherine can't quite seem to shake. I can't say I especially liked either of these two girls - this is not the type of book you keep reading because you form such a connection with a main character. I spent a considerable amount of time wanting to throttle both of them, for their superior attitudes and reckless ways. But there was something about them that compelled me to keep reading, compelled me to find out how their stories would play out.


And I did enjoy the writing. Nina de Gramont has a beautiful way with words, and despite the fact that I didn't truly connect with the characters, she made me feel their emotions - the insecurity, and invincibility, and betrayal. I also found her use of Shel Silverstein's poem, Forgotten Language, to be especially effective in evoking the sense of a lost time, a period in the narrator's life that she couldn't ever get back.

"The rain fell, Bloom twitching her ears in protest. Without being commanded the horse shifted around and began heading toward home. A lump in my throat swelled with sorrow and relief at my own undeservedness. I could never have predicted it could feel so painful. So grand and enormous. So unexpected and inevitable. To be forgiven."

As a caution, there is a LOT of drug use in this novel. A LOT. It's interesting that the author set the story in the 80s, because it seems to me that is the only way her characters could have gotten away with some of the things they do - like smuggling cocaine back home from Venezuela in their jacket pocket. About halfway through, I was pretty tired of it - yes, I know, the kids are engaging in debauchery. Just like the last chapter, and the chapter before, and all the ones before. So if you have a low tolerance for that, seriously do NOT pick up this book.

But I have to say, I did enjoy this read. The time flew by as I was engrossed in these characters lives - it was a bit like an accident, where you know you shouldn't look, but can't help yourself. If you are looking for a book that reads like a guilty pleasure novel, but is actually well written, you might want to check this one out.

Cathy, thanks for giving me the heads up about this novel - the next time I stumble across a good boarding school story, I'll be sure to let you know!

(As a completely random aside, when my husband was a wee little lad, his parents almost sent him to Philips Exeter. Of course, I'm glad he didn't, because the likelihood of our meeting would have been pretty slim, but I admit in the back of my mind, I was thinking, "Wow, that would be so cool!")