Monday, June 30, 2014

Author Interview with Desiree Zamorano


Interview with Desiree Zamorano
Author of "The Amado Women"


   



Shelf Notes was lucky to meet Desiree Zamorano at Book Expo America
during her signing of "The Amado Women". We reviewed the book yesterday, here. Desiree also graciously has offered to send a free ebook
(Modern Cons or Human Cargo), your pick.
All you need to do is head on over to her website and add yourself to her e-mail list.

http://www.desireezamorano.com/



Shelf Notes: We wanted to ask you about your upbringing, does it reflect the characters in the book?

Desiree Z: My upbringing is embedded in this novel, from growing up in an impoverished part of LA, in leaving that world behind, to being surrounded by dynamic, intelligent, talented women. 

Shelf Notes: Which character do you most relate to? Which one did you prefer writing? Which one was the hardest to write?

Desiree Z: Yikes! I don't think I'm the only writer to see bits of myself and others in each of my characters--I LOVED writing about Mercy as a child-- every time I revised the novel I DREADED revisiting the tragedies.

Shelf Notes: What about this story makes it stand out from others?

Desiree Z: I think that is more for a reader to say--however in my opinion it's the depth of emotion, the connection between the women, and, I hope, the way the story resolves.

Shelf Notes: What Authors have inspired you to write? What was your favorite book growing up?

Desiree Z: Holy smoke, so many writers have been a source of inspiration. As a kid, the thought of creating an entire world for someone else to enter simply fascinated me. I read a lot of science fiction then, and fell into that world. Growing up I wanted to live inside "A Wrinkle in Time." It wasn't until I was an adult that I found out there were more books in that series. Darn.

As an adult, I am captivated by authors who create multiple story lines, like Kate Atkinson, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, and bring it all together in a way that's practically magical.

Carolyn See's "Making a Literary Life" really nurtured me when I needed it most. Dagoberto Gilb's "Gritos" gripped, inspired and reminds me of the context surrounding Mexican American authors.

Shelf Notes: Do you have sisters? What kind of relationship do you have with them?

Desiree Z: I have one sister, who lives 10 minutes away. I drew from our relationship to explore what it might feel like to be alienated from her-- happily we are great friends.

Shelf Notes: What was the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome in your life?

Desiree Z: Wait, how can I out myself on that?!? It may prove the basis of many novels to come! Recently, however, becoming a traditionally published author has been the most challenging goal I set for myself. At times I thought it would never happen. The publication of THE AMADO WOMEN has been a huge source of joy and celebration to me and my family.

Shelf Notes: What is the one thing you want a reader to take away after reading your book?

Desiree Z: I hope they experience an emotional recognition and connection with my characters.

Shelf Notes: Lastly, Shelf Notes needs to know what your favorite candy is?

Desiree Z: See's Candy (originally from my home town) makes Peanut Crunch which is my absolute favorite in the world.

We would like to thank Desiree for picking Shelf Notes to introduce her new book to everyone. Want more Desiree? Tomorrow be on the look out for a special blog post from Desiree herself!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Amado Women


The Amado Women
Desiree Zamorano
4.5/5


Expected Publication July 1st 2014 

First Sentence
"Sylvia Levine (nee Amado) had been brooding for months."


Publisher's Description:

Southern California is ground zero for upwardly mobile middle-class Latinas. Matriarchs like Mercy Amado—despite her drunken, philandering (now ex-) husband—could raise three daughters and become a teacher. Now she watches helplessly as her daughters drift apart as adults. The Latino bonds of familia don't seem to hold. Celeste, the oldest daughter who won't speak to the youngest, is fiercely intelligent and proud. She has fled the uncertainty of her growing up in Los Angeles, California, to seek financial independence in San Jose. Her sisters did the same thing but very differently. Sylvia married a rich but abusive Anglo, and, to hide away, she immersed herself in the suburbia of her two young daughters. And Nataly, the baby, went very hip into the free-spirited Latino art world, working on her textile creations during the day and waiting on tables in an upscale restaurant by night. Everything they know comes crashing down in a random tragic moment and Mercy must somehow make what was broken whole again.


Dear Reader,

This might be the first book that I've read which shows a different side of Latino women. Usually, when reading books featuring Latinos, I find the light is a little dark and the setting a little poor (literally). I recently went to see Junot Diaz speak at a local College and he cried out for more Hispanic writing, and he vividly described what it's like to be a minority watching TV and reading books that are full of characters that live a completely different life. The Author, Desiree, gives us a side that reminds us of those similarities and gives us everything that is relatable within all different races. I love that! I gobbled up this story and felt SO much along the way, I didn't feel like an outsider peering into a secret life I knew nothing about. This is where I think we need to get, this is where we need to overcome the thought that people are so different, because deep down WE ARE THE SAME!

Okay, enough of the rant... let's get back to the book. The Amado Women is beautifully tragic, three daughters and a mother get together for family gatherings and each time we see the bonds change between them. The mother, Mercy, who is a proud woman with strength and conviction. The eldest sister, Celeste, who broke free of the family early on (only to succeed in her occupation to make her quite wealthy). The middle child, Sylvia, married young and ends up raising two daughters. The youngest daughter, Nataly, who jumps from ship to ship without figuring out her place in life. Each daughter has an extremely compelling story, we become enveloped with the hurt and/or excitement each one feels. 

Starting with Nataly, who can't settle down or live a productive money-making life. I know this person, the artist... the one who struggles to follow her passion but is clueless to the stress it causes others in her life. I felt very close to Nataly because I consider myself an Artist, but I didn't go down the road Nataly did... I was too worried I wouldn't be able to support myself sufficiently. I admire this character but also know that life as an artist is too difficult to cling to that hope, reality bites! 

Her sister, Sylvia, has a very different approach with life, marrying an abusive husband and having two children. I know many people who would also relate to this woman, and maybe open the eyes of some to see how horrible living that way is. I found myself relating to this character quite a bit when she started thinking about the big "D" word. How her mother kept nagging her and reminding her that she needed to stay with her husband to be financially secure and for the children, it gave me flashbacks to my own divorce and the way my family handled it. 

Then we have, Celeste, the one with "everything", but we quickly realize that she has just as much heartbreak (if not more) than the other two sisters. Money doesn't buy everything, we all know this but sometimes someone hides behind it in order to clear their mind from the tragedy they've experienced. So life like! Every character sweeps in on a cloud of truth dust, I found myself in awe of how connected I felt with all of them... even though each one was so different.

The Author really touches on some realistic issues people go through, in all walks of life AND in all races. I love that this novel might strike a conversation outside of social norms, this would be the perfect book for a book club. Just imagine, sharing personal tragedies or triumphs and recognizing that the person next to you is very much the same. Okay, that happens from time to time. However, the times I've felt close to characters with a different background than me are few and far between. Desiree does this with The Amado Women and I believe every woman should pick this book up and feel that connection too!

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

P.S. - Want a digital copy of Desiree's other books Modern Cons or Human Cargo? Head over to www.desireezamorano.com, subscribe to her e-mail list and she'll give a choice between the two. Also, tomorrow check out an exclusive interview with the Desiree Zamorano herself! Even more? The next day she'll be doing a guest blog, right here on ShelfNotes. Make sure you check it out.

The Amado Women

Support Shelf Notes! Purchase your copy of The Amado Women here:


Saturday, June 28, 2014

The String Diaries


The String Diaries
Stephen Lloyd Jones
3/5


Published July 1st, 2014

First Sentence
"It was only when Hannah Wilde reached the farmhouse shortly after midnight that she discovered how much blood her husband had lost."

Publisher's Description:

A family is hunted by a centuries-old monster: a man with a relentless obsession who can take on any identity.

The String Diaries opens with Hannah frantically driving through the night--her daughter asleep in the back, her husband bleeding out in the seat beside her. In the trunk of the car rests a cache of diaries dating back 200 years, tied and retied with strings through generations. The diaries carry the rules for survival that have been handed down from mother to daughter since the 19th century. But how can Hannah escape an enemy with the ability to look and sound like the people she loves?

Stephen Lloyd Jones's debut novel is a sweeping thriller that extends from the present day, to Oxford in the 1970s, to Hungary at the turn of the 19th century, all tracing back to a man from an ancient royal family with a consuming passion--a boy who can change his shape, insert himself into the intimate lives of his victims, and destroy them.

If Hannah fails to end the chase now, her daughter is next in line. Only Hannah can decide how much she is willing to sacrifice to finally put a centuries-old curse to rest.

Dear Reader,

Have you ever wondered if the person standing next you was who they really said they were? This is the basic premise for this book. There is a race of "people", originating from 19th century Hungary, who have the ability to change their shape and mimic the look and sound of someone else. Shapeshifting isn't a new concept but we don't really come across it much in novels, so this is definitely new and refreshing. I will even go as far as saying this concept was thrilling to me, but with the good comes the bad.

As much as this story propelled me through the book in less than a week, I wasn't as impressed with the development of characters. Yes, I know... it's not that type of book, but I hate having to read a book over 300 pages without some great character development. I felt more connected to the villain of the book than I did the protagonist(s). This might be due to the long cast of characters. We get taken back and forth through time, getting to meet all the past generations of Hannah's family. I loved the history that was thoughtfully put into those parts of the book, and I actually related really well to those characters. Then, we get brought back to the present and I know I SHOULD care about Hannah and her family, but all we get to see is the suspense and terror of them running away. I would have loved to see a little more background on them, how they met? Why does Nate believe her story when her ancestors had a hard time explaining the same to their own betrothed? That was the biggest disappointment for me, I really wanted to care about!

Remember how I said I cared more about the villain? Well, this guy is a complete jerkhead... so caring might be the wrong word. His backstory was my favorite part of the book though, his history starts in early 1900's within this secret group of supernaturals. I wanted to hear more of that background, and I'm actually hoping this book will make a comeback with a sequel that focuses mainly on that group. So I'll ask the Author, please skip the modern day nuanced story-line and stick with the historical fantasy you had me gobbling up. I'm interested to know what other people thought and if they feel the same way as I do. What do you think reader?

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

The String Diaries

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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Enchanted


The Enchanted
Rene Denfeld
5/5


Published 2014

First Sentence
"This is an enchanted place."


Publisher's Description:

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners' pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.



Dear Reader,

This has to be one of my favorite books I've read this year. What a great year for books, I've had more 5 stars this year than I would have ever thought. I wonder if this has to do with the blog and getting more involved in the literary world. My "to-read" list has grown so fast in recent years and the recommendations keep rolling in. I've noticed that I hardly ever read a book I hate and if I do, more than likely... it's left unfinished. You'll notice that our reviews for 1-2 star ratings are VERY few (a handful at most). I mean, think about it... if you read the premise, the book has a recommendation from someone, and you have some inkling to read it... you would suppose that you'd like the book at least a little, right? Ugh, this has to be one of my biggest digressions yet (on this blog), and I apologize. I think the bottom line is this, I pick the books I read and I think I'm getting better at picking them! This book, alas, I did not pick. RJ Julia Bookstore can take credit for that. This bookstore has a first edition, signed copy, club that you can join and get the book shipped to your door every month. Great selection, really! Check it out.

Enough about that, can we finally talk about the book? Okay, sorry... entirely my fault. The Enchanted is all about the secrets people hold, and this is all set in a prison. The term "magical realism" definitely applies here. Even though this is set in modern time, whenever we're transported into the prison via the characters, you almost feel transported back through time. The prison itself is ancient, the tone always seems very old fashioned. This is really hard to describe to you, I think you'd better just read it yourself, hehe. The story goes back and forth between the perspective of an inmate, a "lady" investigator and the warden (plus a few minor characters here and there). We get to know these characters very intimately, as we're told their backstory (and a few others). We start to feel the pressure of the jail cell walls and that impending doom of death knocking on those jail bars. The tone of all of this is very dark and mysterious.

You can't read this without feeling the magic it holds. Think of it like this, you're in a dark and wet cellar that has row after row of damaged books... and when you open one of them, you find the pages come to life and they reach out and grab hold tight to drag you inside. At first you feel unsettled by the story but then you start to empathize and yearn for closure. Each prison inmate has that story to tell, and we get to see a glimpse of that from two of them among others who come and work within the prison. The stories are tragic, honest, powerful, beautiful, and terrible all at the same time. The Author uses fantasy mixed with the bitter and disgusting reality of the prison system, telling a tale of magical horror. Don't be scared, don't turn away, read everything because there is a very serious lesson to be learned here. I've never read anything like this and I think everyone should experience it.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

The Enchanted


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Two Hotel Francforts


The Two Hotel Francforts
David Leavitt
3.5 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentence
"We met the Frelengs in Lisbon, at the Café‚‚ Suiça.
"
Publisher's Description:
It is the summer of 1940, and Lisbon, Portugal, is the only neutral port left in Europe—a city filled with spies, crowned heads, and refugees of every nationality, tipping back absinthe to while away the time until their escape. Awaiting safe passage to New York on the SS Manhattan, two couples meet: Pete and Julia Winters, expatriate Americans fleeing their sedate life in Paris; and Edward and Iris Freleng, sophisticated, independently wealthy, bohemian, and beset by the social and sexual anxieties of their class. As Portugal’s neutrality, and the world’s future, hang in the balance, the hidden threads in the lives of these four characters—Julia’s status as a Jew, Pete and Edward’s improbable affair, Iris’s increasingly desperate efforts to save her tenuous marriage—begin to come loose. This journey will change their lives irrevocably, as Europe sinks into war.

Gorgeously written, sexually and politically charged, David Leavitt’s long-awaited new novel is an extraordinary work.

Dear Reader,

I got this book as a Netgalley offering a while back, and had entirely forgotten how the little blurb described it.  So I again went in cold, and I find I really enjoy those books about which I have very little expectation!  The story centers around a couple of weeks relatively early in World War II, when residents from all over Europe were attempting to flee the continent and the Nazi persecution.  Many ended up in Lisbon, as Portugal was neutral at the time, and there was a port where boats could bring people to America or several other far-flung parts of the globe.  (Surprisingly, there was also a World's Fair happening there at the time, which I would have thought would have been postponed due to the growing conflict in nearby countries.)   

Two couples meet accidentally while at a cafe, waiting on the boat to America to arrive.  One of them is a couple of American expatriates who had vowed never to go back to the States after they had moved to Paris many years earlier.  The other couple was a mystery-writing team, famous for their British novels written under a pseudonym.  They meet due to an accident involving broken glasses, and begin their adventures together largely due to their both being bored  out of their minds during this "holding pattern" they are forced into.  The couples are particularly tired of their own partners, having traveled through very trying times (and many years before) with each other, so they pair off by gender and have themselves quite a bit of fun.  For a while, anyway.  The closer the date of the ship's arrival, the tenser things get, and things come to a head right around the time the ship is pulling into port.  I don't want to give too much away, but this did recall to me a bit of The Great Gatsby, with its sparkling environs and the posh characters that all swirled around each other, privileged and bored and unhappy all in their own way (to brazenly misquote Tolstoy).  There also definitely lurked something more sinister behind everyone's facade, and those secrets spilled out over the course of the book, culminating in a partly-surprising ending (it was, after all, hinted at right from the start!).  What I found pleasantly surprising was that the part the reader thought would be the denouement of the novel ended up being passed over in a cursory manner, while the author then went on in the epilogue to explain pretty much all of the meat of all the characters' back-stories.  Oddly done, but well done, I do think. 

Yours,
Arianna

The Two Hotel Francforts

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bookopotamus




Bookopotamus
{ a FREE app for your Android or iPhone! }


Dear Reader,

This is, clearly, not a book review.  It's an app review, and it's a review of a FREE, BOOK-THEMED app, so hopefully you'll humor me for a few minutes.  I have become addicted to Bookopotamus, the philanthropic game produced by Findaway, the producers of that great library audiobook staple, the Playaway.  They are totally correct that it is "a fun way to donate to literacy"!  What you do is play a clip from an audiobook, and then choose the book that it is from (don't let that freak you out; it's multiple choice).  Every time you play, the company donates Playaways to children's literacy programs!  Super, right?  You can't go wrong with this adorable little app.  Even if you get totally distracted and end up missing 3 hours of work?  You can justify it by reminding yourself that you are doing it for CHARITY.  And not just 'cause you are totally addicted to books or anything.  It's all good!

Yours,
Arianna

P.S. Thanks to the Swiss Army Librarian for bringing this amazingness to my attention!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Art Forger


The Art Forger
B.A. Shapiro
3 / 5

Published 2012

First Sentence
"I step back and scrutinize the paintings."
Publisher's Description:
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—one of the Degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing Degas painting—the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner—is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.

Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life. B. A. Shapiro’s razor-sharp writing and rich plot twists make The Art Forger an absorbing literary thriller that treats us to three centuries of forgers, art thieves, and obsessive collectors. it’s a dazzling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.

Dear Reader,

Okay, did anyone else notice how completely self-absorbed the main character, Claire, is in this novel?!  It's so annoying.  She couldn't care one whit about her friends, never asks about their lives, but uses them to her advantage whenever she needs to.  And they seem to be okay with this!  So I guess it's not a problem in her world...

For those who haven't yet read this book, it is about a woman who is asked to make a forgery of one of the famous paintings which was stolen in the Gardner heist of 1990.  Of course, the minute the painting was named, I went online to see it for myself - I like to know what is being discussed when it comes to famous artwork.  However, I it turns out that Shapiro actually invented a fifth version of Degas' "After the Bath" for her story, one which does not actually exist.  It was a pretty good idea, since the whole story is simply a fiction based on the author's idea of what might have happened to that one missing painting - she does not speculate on the disappearance of the others that were taken.

Interestingly, I am reading another book right now which discusses the Gardner art heist, which is odd since I haven't really encountered the famous and intriguing story since I read Stealing Rembrandts several years ago.  (The other book I am reading, Wally Lamb's We Are Water, doesn't talk about it too much, but it was funny how they both coincided in my life at exactly the same time.)  In any case, like many others, I've been fascinated with this story since I heard about it.  I cannot wait until the paintings resurface, so the world can know how the strange robbery took place.

Shapiro's book, though, at least takes a very good stab at a story behind one of the pieces - you'll never see the ending coming!  I did really enjoy reading about the process of art forgery, which many reviewers say is truly the way these things are currently done: the materials and processes that Claire uses in the book, and the people she learns from, are real and have produced paintings which have fooled many an authenticator.  Very neat stuff.  The science behind it is amazing, too.

The story itself, Claire's experiences as she paints the fogery and as she recalls other problems in her career as an artist, is interesting enough, although as I pointed out above, she is not a great friend.  Luckily, her pals don't seem to mind.  They get caught up in her adventure, too, and this really was one story that had me totally uncertain of what was going to happen next - I like mysteries like that.

I read the book because it took place in Boston, and I do love all the Bostonian details that Shapiro throws in here and there.  I also read it because my sister graduated from the Museum of Fine Arts school, just like Claire does in the novel.  I think I'd recommend this most to people who are interested in art, Boston, or the Gardner Museum heist.  Otherwise, it's a mystery novel that won't really appeal outside those catgeories, I think.  Still, a very fun and engaging book!

Yours,
Arianna
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Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Farm


The Farm
Tom Rob Smith
3.5/5


Published June 2014

First Sentence
"Until that phone call it had been an ordinary day."

Publisher's Description:

If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.

Your mother...she's not well, his father tells him. She's been imagining things - terrible, terrible things. She's had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.

Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I'm not mad... I need the police... Meet me at Heathrow.

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother's unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

Dear Reader,

The Farm is one of those books that put you on teeter totter, one minute you start to believe and the next you become skeptical. I'm getting a little tired of the "big reveal" mystery, which I think has become really popular after "Gone Girl" hit the big time. I would like to say that this book gave me something different to latch onto, and it did, but just barely. For most of the readers who still crave those thrilling mysteries, this won't disappoint.

The story is told through Daniel and his mother, who has turned to him for safety after suffering from a breakdown in Sweden. She believes her Husband, Daniel's father, has sided with some locals and is no longer to be trusted. She hopes that Daniel will listen to her story with open ears (believing that he'll save her from those coming after her). The plot slowly develops as the story gets unraveled. We hear the story the way Daniel does, in slow progression with all the events in order. As much as I like the clarity the story has when told in chronological order, it loses some of that suspense when you don't know some of the consequences. I was pulled into the story more by the language and detail the Author provides. While not poetry, the Author gives us great picturesque settings and paints the characters very clearly.

One of the hardest things for me to do while reading this was to remain subjective. As the mother started ranting out things that sounded a little crazy, all I could relate this to was from my personal experiences with my own mother. I don't want to go into that much but I do have personal experience with having a family member who has experienced mental confusion, paranoia and other related issues. I know how it feels to question the facts and be torn because a parental figure is a leader, one you trust and believe, which makes questioning things that much harder. I could really relate to what Daniel was going through and I felt even more connected to the character than I thought. I tried to look at things objectively, like Daniel but found that very difficult. I was pretty convinced that his mother had lost her mind.

After pondering over the book while writing this, I've realized that I was more impressed with it than I thought I was. The biggest downfall is the pace of the book, I know that a few nights I fell asleep during a sentence which only happens when I get bored. But to be fair, this happened to me during some of my favorite books of all time, like "Les Miserables". I believe you can have boring parts in a good book! I believe that's the case with this one... it wasn't bad, no... it was actually pretty good, but I just didn't devour it like most books in this genre. I would suggest you go into reading this book when you have a little more brain power for it. This won't be a beachy thriller, this will be more of a thinker.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug
P.S. - I received this title free from Grand Central Publishing through NetGalley for this review.



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Friday, June 20, 2014

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safran Foer
3.5 / 5

Published 2005

First Sentences
"What about a teakettle? What if the spout opened and closed when the steam came out, so it would become a mouth, and it could whistle pretty melodies, or do Shakespeare, or just crack up with me?"
Publisher's Description:
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is a precocious Francophile who idolizes Stephen Hawking and plays the tambourine extremely well. He's also a boy struggling to come to terms with his father's death in the World Trade Center attacks. As he searches New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he left behind, Oskar discovers much more than he could have imagined.

Dear Reader,

Hmmm.  I'm not sure what I thought of this book, really.  It hovers between a 3.5 and a 4 for me.  In some ways it was such a beautiful piece, and in other ways, well - I kind of wanted to shake Oskar Schell until he stopped being so rude and annoying!  He was a fantastic character, in the sense of a "character": one who has quite a bit of dimension to him.  He was a seriously precocious kid who you sometimes forgot was just nine.  But he could be so incredibly annoying, too!  He didn't seem to have a filter and he offended others easily by his nosiness.  If I had encountered him in real life, I probably would not have wanted to interact with him.

However, the book had a beautiful generational aspect to it, which echoed Everything Is Illuminated, Foer's first book.  Both spanned from WWII to the present, which leads me to assume is a time period which really intrigues Foer.  Both included stories of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren and how they arrived where they currently find themselves.  I was particularly interested in the aspects of the story which pertained to 9/11: Oskar's father died in the attack, and I think this might be the first book I've read since Julia Glass' The Whole World Over which truly dove unabashedly into the tragic event.  Perhaps I've read others; I'm sure there have been more.  But because that was such a momentous day that we lived through, and I recall well how touchy people were about the attacks for years later (they had to postpone TV shows and movies which featured the World Trade Center towers, in order to edit them out, didn't they?).  So it's interesting to see the tide finally turn, and people want to really touch on the anguish of that time.

In any case, the premise of the book is neat, with Oskar wanting to discover the origins of a key that he found in his father's room after his death.  I found that also a bit frustrating, though, because his father didn't know he was going to die on September 11, 2001!  And he certainly wasn't sick or anything; this was a totally unexpected death.  So why would he have left clues to a posthumous puzzle?!  It bothered me that the kid didn't think about that, that he just figured his father had left him a clue and that was that, he had to move forward in solving it.  Ultimately, I guess one could say it was just his way of coping with his dad's untimely death.  But still.  At least the book had a good mystery to it, although even that wasn't quite solved to my satisfaction.  I guess I'm just more critical of this book than I want to be, which is why I keep wavering on every assertion I make!  I'm sorry.  I'll leave it at this: it was definitely an enjoyable enough book to read, and if you like Foer, then you'll definitely not hate this one.  It was an interesting take on the whole 9/11 thing.  I just didn't love it, that's all - and I had hoped to.  Ah, well.  Live & learn!

Yours,
Arianna

P.S. I was totally unaware in 2011 that this was made into a movie, too!  I'll definitely have to watch it.

P.P.S. I have to admit, I was totally enchanted by the grandparents' story: particularly of the silence, and the writing, and the way the two danced around each other, withholding when they should have been sharing.  Those were my favorite parts of the book, because they were so real.  I should have written that in my above review, but I just thought of it now!

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summer House with Swimming Pool


Summer House with Swimming Pool
Herman Koch
3.5/5


Published June 2014

First Sentence
"I am a doctor."

Publisher's Description:

When a medical mistake goes horribly wrong and Ralph Meier, a famous actor, winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser is forced to conceal the error from his patients and family. After all, reputation is everything in this business. But the weight of carrying such a secret lies heavily on his mind, and he can't keep hiding from the truth…or the Board of Medical Examiners.

The problem is that the real truth is a bit worse than a simple slipup. Marc played a role in Ralph's death, and he's not exactly upset that the man is gone. Still haunted by his eldest daughter's rape during their stay at Ralph's extravagant Mediterranean summerhouse-one they shared with Ralph and his enticing wife, Judith, film director Stanley Forbes and his far younger girlfriend, Emmanuelle, and Judith's mother-Marc has had it on his mind that the perpetrator of the rape could be either Ralph or Stanley. Stanley's guilt seems obvious, bearing in mind his uncomfortable fixation on the prospect of Marc's daughter's fashion career, but Marc's reasons for wanting Ralph dead become increasingly compelling as events unravel. There is damning evidence against Marc, but he isn't alone in his loathing of the star-studded director.

Dear Reader,

I was lucky enough to score both the physical and audio-book (advance readers copy), which was nice. I swapped back in forth between listening and reading which was super easy because the audio-book aligned the tracks with the chapter numbers (I love when they think of those little details). Going into Book Expo America this year, I had only a handful of books I "REALLY" wanted, one of them being Summer House with Swimming Pool. I don't know why, but the premise intrigued me. The book has so many themes that bark up my tree... mostly because it was dark with the comedic edge. I love dark comedies, my favorite.

Doctor Marc Schlosser is a typical medical jerk wad. He thinks he knows everything and that everyone should savour the ground he walks on. He has the normal family, wife and two daughters plus a general medical practice that has them well off. His clients usually consist of the rich and famous and he gets invited to quite a few prestigious soirees. One of his clients, an Actor, Ralph happens to befriend him and then invite him to stay during the summer Holiday when they happen by chance upon one another. This is where the crazy begins. The men in this book made me want to heave, and I mean EVERY time. I guess this is something the Author wanted since the entire story ends up revolving around the revolting decisions some men make.

I have to say, Herman Koch writes exceedingly well. The detail and background that went into the characters is fantastic, although sometimes disturbing... a little too real? The main character, being a doctor who has little morals, we hear some highly disturbing things from his thoughts on certain medical issues. I found myself cringing during those moments but at the same time, I like when writers do this... it makes things real. If you cringe... you feel something, if you feel something... it makes it more real. I wanted to love the plot line as much as the writing, but I just didn't get into the summer escapades the family got into. I was more impressed with the bigger picture the book was slowly revealing. I don't want to give it away, so I'd rather not go into it. However, I do want to say that the big idea was VERY disturbingly thought provoking. There was this part of the book, where the doctor was remembering a past lecture his teacher had spoken of; the professor was saying how "God" or "biology" made things a certain way and we get a warning when we try to force an "unnatural" action upon this "thing". I found that fascinating and especially in the context the Author used (can't let you know what that is).


Overall, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to everyone. This book would/will be appreciated by certain people who can enjoy the grotesque and the evil of the world, in a natural setting (not some magical, fantasy realm). I haven't read "The Dinner" but I would imagine he uses the same tactics, first world problems, unruly and despicable characters with disturbing events popping up along the way. Arianna just recently reviewed "The Dinner" and I think she was as neutral as I was about Koch's book. I enjoyed the book enough to want to read his next one though.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug


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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: AmberBug's Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday from "The Broke and the Bookish"

This will be my second contribution to "Top Ten Tuesday" from The Broke and Bookish. The topic this week revolves around "to be read" lists and particularly, what we'll be reading this summer. At first I thought this would be hard for me since I usually pick the next book I read when the time comes (never really ahead of time). Don't get me wrong, I DO have a HUGE "to be read" pile but I don't like to plan things out too much. I find myself in moods, there have been some books I've loved (but when read in the wrong mood... my adoration of the book might not have been as strong). I like to play to the book strengths, if the book is light and breezy... it helps if I've read a darker and deeper book before. I like to swing my reading moods around, like a trick yo-yo. 

So you can see why I had trouble selecting 10 books for this... You'll see below, I decided to pick 10 books I really WANT to read this summer. Hopefully, that might happen but you never know. I still hope you like my list. I can at least guarantee the first one will be read RIGHT after I receive it in the mail. That particular book needs a little background with why I've selected it. You've probably heard of the Hachette/Amazon dispute (unless you live in a cave), but you may not have heard that Stephen Colbert decided to make a stand against Amazon and demanded that his viewers buy the book "California" through independent bookstores such as Powells. Check out the background behind this here. Little did Powell's and/or the Author of "California", Edan Lepucki, that this book would rise above J.K. Rowlings, "Silkworm" as the #1 selling book on Powells (and continues to stand there). After looking up the premise of the book, I decided it sounded interesting enough to buy and decided to put myself into this mad mix of chaos. I haven't received the book yet but when I do... It'll be bumped to my very next book to read. I can't wait. I feel like this will be a little "Colbert" book club and it makes me excited to see what kinds of people join me in reading this at the same time.  


California by Edan Lepucki (Click to go to Powell's site to buy.)


California by Edan Lepucki
A gripping and provocative debut novel by a stunning new talent, California imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind's dark nature and irrepressible resilience force us to question how far we will go to protect the ones we love.


Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
This next selection is another definite. I have already purchased and downloaded it from Audible. I'm really looking forward to it, she even narrates it herself. This book is a little self explanatory. ;p

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir

Since I plan out my audible selections more than my books, I'll let you in on another audio-book I have sitting in my "to listen"... (One I've been hearing only amazing things about). Book Blurp: Apollo 13 meets Cast Away in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller, set on the surface of Mars. 


The Bees by Laline Paull

The Bees by Laline Paull


I've been DYING to read "The Bees" ever since it came out. I would like to purchase this one, since I have a feeling that I'll really like it. Take the very popular "Dystopia" and add "Literary Fiction" with some "Fantasy" and "Science Fiction" and you have something closely describing the genre of this... I mean what?!? Yeah, it looks awesome. Here is the SUPER lame blurb they came up with: 

The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut set in an ancient culture where only the queen may breed and deformity means death.

I mean really? Can you name drop anymore? I think the idea that this book envelops so many genres is in itself SO cool, you don't need a blurb like that. Hopefully the book itself isn't as terrible as that name-dropping one liner. 



The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin


Blurb: On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means. 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has gotten quite the audience, especially within the book loving communities. This is a "must read" for me, just a matter of when. Maybe this summer? 


Garlic, An Edible Biography by Robin Cherry

Garlic, An Edible Biography by Robin Cherry


So have we told you our plans for the future of Shelf Notes? No? Super awesome and intelligent Arianna came up with the idea of doing cookbook reviews. If you didn't know this, we are super close in the real world (as well as on our blog) and we decided to get our significant others together and cook for them. With their opinions of the food and our opinions regarding the ease of directions (among other things), we shall give you a comprehensive review of the book, the food and the night itself. Fun right? Yep, see... Arianna is pure genius. We picked up Garlic, an Edible Biography at BookExpo and even met the Author. My hope is to make a garlicky dinner sometime this summer. So be on the watch for our upcoming reviews.


The Palace of Illusions by Kim Addonizio

The Palace of Illusions by Kim Addonizio


This is another book I picked up at BookExpo this year. The publication date is early September, so I'm hoping to read this late summer. I'm not a huge short story fan but I have a feeling that these might be wacky enough to keep my interest (not to mention the Author was tattooed up the wazoo!) Blurb: Distracted parents, first love, the twin forces of alienation and isolation: the characters in The Palace of Illusions all must contend with these challenges, trafficking in the fault lines between the real and the imaginary, often in a world not of their making. 


The Furies by Natalie Haynes

The Furies by Natalie Haynes


Another BookExpo book. Not much about this has me jumping up and down BUT it looks like a solid pick for summer. Young adult mystery, I did just read "We Were Liars" and maybe this one will be hoping to ride on the coat-tails of that book, but I might give it a go.


The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison


This is a book I've been hearing Rebecca S. from BookRiot rave about for a while now. I listen to the podcast and she has relentlessly promoted this book to the point where I need to read it, RIGHT NOW. The only thing is... I usually save non-fiction for audio booking and apparently, this title is not available on Audible. Why? No idea... but I'm hoping it pops up sometime this summer. If not, I might have to mosey on down to the local bookstore and see if they can order one for me.


Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes


I'm REALLY looking forward to this one. I haven't had the chance to read Shining Girls yet but I've heard great things about it. I think that's why I want to be on the ground running with this book. I have the ARC (advance reading copy), it looks like the kind of book I'd love... so nothing to fear! You'll definitely see me reading this before the release date (but the review probably won't be published until September). 

Blurb: Broken Monsters lays bare the decaying corpse of the American Dream, and asks what we'd be prepared to do for fifteen minutes of fame, especially in an online world.


So, that's my list. What about you? Which books have you yearning for a beach day? 

 

Flight Behavior


Flight Behavior
Barbara Kingsolver
3.5 / 5

Published 2012

First Sentence
"A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture."
Publisher's Description:
Flight Behavior transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman's narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel's inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith, and everyday truces between reason and conviction.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.

Dear Reader,

I keep finding these books that I don't know anything about, although I must have at some point because I added them to my to-read list.  There are SO many books on that list, though, that it's not a surprise that I don't recall all of them!  I of course knew Kingsolver's work, and that was probably part of the reason I added this book.  And, in typical Kingsolver fashion, it was a very good story.  The author put you right in the middle of things from the start, and the situation pulled you along through the book.  Dellarobia (love the origins of her name!) is a dissatisfied housewife who is about to have an affair - I mean, literally, she is walking towards where she is supposed to meet her co-adulterer when the book begins.  She is stopped in her tracks by the gorgeous sight of droves of orange butterflies in flight.  Being nearsighted, she cannot tell what the orange fire in the trees is, she just knows it is momentous and takes it as a sign - to begin living her life differently.

Imagine something like this.
(from Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve)

As with all well-intentioned real-life resolutions, though, Dellarobia has a difficult time sticking to this one.  She does try, though, and notices changes taking place in her life almost immediately - in the way she interacts with her husband and in-laws, and the way she is perceived by others, although the latter has mostly to do with her having had a "vision" of the now famous butterflies before they were "discovered" by her husband and father-in-law.  Since the butterflies are on the family's property, big changes begin to take place in everyone's lives, as first locals and then tourists begin flocking to see this unique spectacle.

Things take a sadder turn, though, when Dellarobia learns from a Mexican family and a visiting scientist that the butterflies are not meant to be there in Tennessee.  She learns how their natural migration pattern usually takes them to Mexico, but that natural disasters have somehow thrown the butterflies off their regular path.  In this way, much like Dan Brown does in Inferno regarding overpopulation, Kingsolver takes the novel in a turn towards pedagogy, and a bit of proselytizing about climate change.  Not to say I don't agree with her!  Just that she definitely uses her writer celebrity status to make an important point, and I admire her willingness to do so.  (Most of her works do tend to have similar messages about nature, don't they?  I don't recall Animal Dreams very well, as we read it in high school, and since The Poisonwood Bible was a sort of memoir, there was less intention in that one, I think.  Prodigal Summer may have, although I don't remember.  And The Lacuna had an entirely different message, but a message nonetheless.  I like works that deliver messages!  They make them much easier to swallow.)

In any case - I don't want to tell too much of the story, but it gets very in-depth regarding the butterflies and their disrupted migration patterns.  Kingsolver's characters speculate quite a bit on what might have caused the problems, and I found all of that fascinating (and scary, and upsetting).  Some might find the science section drier than the rest of the book, although Kingsolver does attempt to intersperse those parts with the more story-ish parts of the book, to make it more bearable for her readers.

I really knew nothing about the science of lepidoptery before this book, so I am glad I read it.  I wouldn't recommend it nearly as highly as The Lacuna or even The Poisonwood Bible, but it is probably on par with what I felt about Prodigal Summer: a good book, well-written, but (aside from the butterflies) probably not something I'll remember forever.  Just an enjoyable read.  And the audiobook was read by the author herself, which was pretty great.

I want to leave with more images of the butterfly migration, because I find it all so fascinating.  Plus, Kingsolver talks quite a bit about how strange the butterflies look when they are perched in a huge group on the trees, almost like a fungus.  I had to see for myself!

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidoptera_migration

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidoptera_migration
I wanted to end this with a more pleasant image, so here's a pretty picture of a solo Monarch:

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Monarch_In_May.jpg


Yours,
Arianna
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