Monday, February 22, 2010


Sheila, at Journey Through Books, now hosts this exciting meme—a weekly starting gate for the new reading journey.

But first, we reflect on the week behind us, when I started out slowly; my first book was so richly detailed and completely delightful, I did not want to hurry.  Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah, takes the reader on a family saga that begins in the state of Washington, zooms us into the past in Russia, and unfolds dramatically in modern-day Alaska.  My review is HERE.

Next, I dived into Home Repair, by Liz Rosenberg, a tale of love gone wrong, which I've reviewed HERE.

Then, on the weekend, I finished two more books:  Can't Wait to Get to Heaven, by Fannie Flagg, reviewed on my EXPLORATIONS blog; and Letter to My Daughter, by George Bishop (an Amazon Vine read), reviewed on REFLECTIONS.

Still whirling from these very different tales, I am still so ready for the new week, with this collection of books:

These books are all from my TBR piles and have been there awhile, so completing this journey will feel like a victory!

First, we have James Patterson's Big Bad Wolf, an Alex Cross tale.  On the flap, we read:

Alex Cross is battling the most ruthless and powerful killer he has ever encountered—a predator known as the Wolf.  

In his first case since joining the FBI, he and his colleagues are stymied.  Across the country, people are kidnapped in broad daylight, and then disappear completely.  Not taken for ransom, they are bought and sold...ordinary men and women, sold as slaves...
Next we peek into a slim volume written by Molly Jong-Fast, the daughter of Erica Jong, called Girl (maladjusted).

A Publishers Weekly review on Amazon describes it like this:

Jong-Fast (Normal Girl) writes about growing up with her eccentric, bohemian mother (novelist Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying) in a Manhattan townhouse with a hot pink door. She pads the memories with sarcastic commentary about her love of chocolate, daytime TV and recreational drugs; her expulsions from school and success at rehab; and her experiences with "legions of servants," resulting in a memoir that's long on jokes but short on substance. The 25-year-old author remembers her lesbian great aunt who, as an old woman, shocked the family by holding hands with a male rabbi; her grandfather, novelist Howard Fast, who was obsessed with the idea that the New York Times Book Review hated him; and her mom's various wildly inappropriate boyfriends, as well as the one who worked out (a divorce lawyer). She entertains with tales of her childhood encounters with a long line of therapists—who inevitably and boringly questioned her about how her mother's erotic writing affected her psyche—and her friendship with a beautiful, kind girl who turned out not to be perfect. Unfortunately, the stories' potential juiciness fizzles into snide remarks about the unattractive hijinks of the privileged. Ironic yet lacking insight, this collection provides an illuminating window into the world of the kids of "semi-celebrities," but its characters remain frustratingly unsympathetic.
Hmm, maybe not so good, but we'll see!

Next I have chosen Gail Godwin's Evenings at Five, which I've had for awhile, too.

A blurb from Amazon:

Celebrated novelist Godwin (Father Melancholy's Daughter) lost her companion of nearly 30 years, the composer Robert Starer, two years ago, and this book is a devoted, quirky, wry and surprisingly powerful fictionalization of aspects of their life together as working artists. It takes its text, as Godwin might like to say (her last novel was, after all, Evensong) from the cocktail hour the pair observed, well, religiously, at the end of their working day, exchanging their jokes, their thoughts, their sense of themselves and their friends and neighbors. It swiftly and seamlessly moves into husband Rudy's long illness, nobly borne, and wife Christina's profound sense of loss after his death, tempered frequently by flashes of hilarity and sweet sense...
Finally, another rather hefty volume, which really needs to introduction to most of us...Barbara Walters' memoir Audition.

On the book flap, we read that: ...this amazing woman who interviewed heads of state, world leaders, movie stars, criminals, murderers, inspirational figures, etc., for more than forty years, now has turned her gift of examination onto herself to reveal the forces that shaped her extraordinary life.
With 578 pages to tell us everything we wanted to know and more, I am still quite sure that it will move quickly.  I've been itching to read this one for awhile!

So that's it for my week...what are the rest of you reading?  Hope you'll stop by, leave some comments, and link back to your own posts.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

SECRETS FROM THE PAST -- A Review of "Winter Garden"

In this lyrical family saga, we observe family members who interact like children in parallel play. This mother and two sisters appear detached from one another and bound only by their common love for one man—a husband to one of them and the father to the other two—and how his death fractures them all.

On his deathbed, however, the man, Evan Whitson, exacts a promise from his daughters. He insists on them listening to their mother tell the "fairytale" that has been a recurring theme in their childhood and their only family tradition...their mother's story of a peasant girl and a prince in Leningrad, and to listen to it to the very end. Implied in this request is that somehow, this story has never yet been fully told and will somehow explain their mother and change their relationships to her and to each other.

But after the death, it is all that the sisters can do to manage their own lives. Meredith, the older sister, has always been the responsible one, holding the business together and taking care of everyone else. Yet she seems unable to prevent her mother's grief-stricken downward spiral. Meanwhile, Nina, the photojournalist, is off somewhere doing what she does.

The mother, Anya, seemingly finds peace only in her winter garden—a place as icy as her personality—and when one day, Anya seems like a threat to her own safety, Meredith places her in convalescent care.

When Nina returns and abruptly brings their mother home again, the sisters battle things out. And then something happens that changes everything for all of them. Anya begins to tell the fairytale.

What secrets will be revealed by this story, and what does it have to do with any of their lives? Will the telling of the story free them all?

This was a haunting and provocative novel that will be in my thoughts for a long time. A surprise twist at the end stunned me, even as I realized that it was the kind of conclusion we can always hope for in such a tale.

Winter Garden seems to epitomize the iciness of secrets, betrayals, and disconnectedness that inform the lives of our characters, and in this story, we also learn much about the strength of the human condition and how surviving loss can add to that strength.

                                               LAUREL-RAIN SNOW CREATIONS

Monday, February 15, 2010


This Monday meme is now hosted by Sheila, at Journey Through Books.  Check in at her site to learn about what everyone else is reading, via McLinky.

My past week was more productive than I'd expected, since my computer was down for about a day!

I finished the following books:

The Postmistress , by Sarah Blake - Reviewed HERE
The Handmaid and the Carpenter, by Elizabeth Berg - Reviewed HERE
Skylight Confessions, by Alice Hoffman - Read my review HERE
At Risk, by Patricia Cornwell - Reviewed HERE

This week's collection of books promises to deliver excitement, romance, and all of those elements we love in books.

I got Home Repair, by Liz Rosenberg, from the library last week, but I first noticed it here, on the Blogosphere.

Here's a snippet from Amazon:

Eve's beloved Ivan died thirteen years ago in an automobile accident. Her charming, boyish Chuck has taken a different exit out of her life: hopping into his car in the middle of a garage sale with no forewarning and departing their formerly happy upstate New York home for points unknown. Now Eve's a boat adrift, subsisting on a heartbreak diet of rue, disappointment, and woe-left alone to care for Ivan's brilliant teenaged son, Marcus, and Chuck's precocious, pragmatic nine-year-old daughter, Noni, while contending with Charlotte, Eve's acerbic mother, who's come north to "help" but hinders instead...
 I can't wait to plunge into it!

Next, we have Kristin Hannah's tantalizing new book Winter Garden.

A Publishers Weekly review notes:

Female bonding is always good for a good cry, as Hannah (True Colors ) proves in her latest. Pacific Northwest apple country provides a beautiful, chilly setting for this family drama ignited by the death of a loving father whose two daughters have grown apart from each other and from their acid-tongued, Russian-born mother. After assuming responsibility for the family business, 40-year-old empty-nester Meredith finds it difficult to carry out her father's dying wish that she take care of her mother; Meredith's troubled marriage, her troubled relationship with her mother and her mother's increasingly troubled mind get in the way. Nina, Meredith's younger sister, takes a break from her globe-trotting photojournalism career to return home to do her share for their mother. How these three women find each other and themselves with the help of vodka and a trip to Alaska competes for emotional attention with the story within a story of WWII Leningrad. Readers will find it hard not to laugh a little and cry a little more as mother and daughters reach out to each other just in the nick of time. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Finally, I have another library book from last week's Loot.

Fannie Flagg's books are favorites of mine, ever since she first caught my attention with Fried Green Tomatoes.  This one, Can't Wait to Get to Heaven, takes us back to the homespun, small town adventures for which she is well-known.

Combining southern warmth with unabashed emotion and side-splitting hilarity, Fannie Flagg takes readers back to Elmwood Springs, Missouri, where the most unlikely and surprising experiences of a high-spirited octogenarian inspire a town to ponder the age-old question: Why are we here?
Now...if I finish all of these, I plan to test the waters with my little Amazon Vine book, Letter to My Daughter, by George Bishop.

From the back cover, we read:

When Liz runs away from her Baton Rouge home on the eve of her fifteenth birthday, her guilt-ridden mother, Laura, writes her a letter about her own adolescence, hoping to give Liz insight into her mother as a woman who has enough of her own precarious history to understand her daughter...
So what do you have planned this week?  And what did you accomplish last week?

Stop on by, leave your comments, and link back to your posts...please!!

                                                  MY CREATIONS


Thursday, February 11, 2010

CONVERGING LIVES -- A Review of "The Postmistress"

Through rain, sleet, and snow...the mail is delivered...

This belief in the constancy of the postal system reminds us of the power of those who hold these positions.

So what would happen if one day, a postal worker decided to withhold something...a letter that bears bad news, perhaps?

We begin this tale of The Postmistress by glimpsing tidbits from the life of Iris James, a postmistress in a small Cape Cod town in the early 1940s, while at the same time, we hear the voice of Frankie Bard on the radio as she brings forth her account of the war up close and personal.

And then we peek into the home and world of Dr. Will Fitch and his young wife Emma, and the "defining moments" that led him away from her, to a place far away and in the midst of that same war.

How do all of these individuals' lives converge, and what can we glean from their perspectives in this significant and poignant time in history?

A spell-binding tale that takes us back, while at the same time brings us right into those historic moments with an immediacy that reminds us of its timeliness...and how the lives of individuals are connected by the events and circumstances through which they live.

A story that earns five stars from me, The Postmistress is unforgettable.

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Monday, February 8, 2010


This familiar  weekly meme is now hosted by Sheila, of Journey Through Books.  And best wishes to J. Kaye, the former host, who is now busily writing on her projects!

It's been an exciting reading week for me, with some really great books read, as well as exciting ones on the list to be read.

Last week, I read Noah's Compass, Lit:  A Memoir, and The Happiness Project.

This week, I have some great books on my stack, too.

The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake, is an Amazon Vine book that I'm itching to read.

On the back cover, we read this:

 The romantic, harrowing—and utterly inimitable—story of radio journalist Frankie Bard (appalled yet intoxicated by tragedy as no character I've ever read before) contains the uncompromised sensibility found in the writings of Martha Gellhorn.  The Postmistress belongs in what Gellhorn called the 'permanent and necessary' library.
 Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell, a contest win from That's A Novel Idea, is one I've been waiting to dive into.  Here's a snippet from the back cover:

Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan's worst hospital.  He has a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he'd prefer to keep hidden.

Pietro Brnwa is a hit man for the mob, with a genius for violence, a well-earned fear of sharks, and an overly close relationship with the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Nicholas LoBrutto is Dr. Brown's new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea:  that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might—just might—be the same person...
Uh-oh!  Does this sound chilling?

And now, finally, from one of my all-time favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg, is a quite different cast of characters in The Handmaid and the Carpenter.

A blurb on the back offers a peek:

I truly think that Elizabeth Berg succeeds in helping us feel the humanity in these characters.  Joseph is a living expression of what is beautiful and lasting to people.  And Mary is, as people have always perceived her, a woman who in her innocent trust is able to be a clear channel for that light.  Pamela Todd, author of The Blind Faith Hotel.
I think I have enough on my stack with these three, but just in case I find myself with time on my hands, I have a library book still to read, in Alice Hoffman's Skylight Confessions.

On Amazon, we read the following:

In Hoffman's 19th novel, a young woman becomes the victim of the destiny she's created, leaving behind a splintered family. On the day of her father's funeral, 17-year-old Arlyn Singer decides the first man who walks down the street will be her one love. That night, Yale senior John Moody stops to ask directions, and Arlyn and John take the first passionate steps toward what will become a marriage of heartache and mutual betrayal. After John's architect father dies, the couple moves into his Connecticut home, a glass house called the Glass Slipper, and Arlyn has an affair with a local laborer. She dies while her second child is still young, and the story forks to follow the divergent paths taken by the Moody children. Sam, the self-destructive first-born, spray paints his angst all over lower Manhattan and has a son before disappearing. Blanca, Sam's sister and the only family member he loves, moves to London and opens a bookstore. John remarries, to Cynthia, and has another daughter, but carries a family secret with him to his grave. Ghostly apparitions lend an air of dark enchantment, though the numerous dream sequences feel heavy-handed. (Jan.)
So what are you reading this week?  Stop on by, leave some comments, and link back to your posts.

Happy Reading Week!!

                                             My TBR Stacks!

Check out more about my CREATIONS HERE

Saturday, February 6, 2010

OUTRUNNING THE PAST -- A Review of "Lit: A Memoir"

In this stirring memoir, we follow a young woman's journey through addiction to recovery.

The steps she takes are told, as if from one friend to another, and in such a way that the author's setbacks, traumas, and the journey itself feel personal to the reader.

Mary Karr's third memoir, Lit: A Memoir, chronicles her journey through young adulthood—from the marriage to a "handsome, Shakespeare-quoting blueblood poet" that produces a son they adore to the troubling past that hovers over her. Her "apocalyptic past" continues to plague her, however, and she begins drinking herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide.

In this tale, we catch glimpses of Mary's childhood and the troubled family relationships. We can understand how she might do anything at all to blot out the memories and the insecurities that childhood spawned.

It is only when Mary finally reaches her "bottom" and begins the long arduous process of recovery that she begins to understand that the past does not have to define her. How she can surrender and actually move on. But she struggles with constant setbacks until finally, on one momentous day, when speaking to another recovering alcoholic/addict—a sponsor—that she uncovers the last secret to a serenity that has eluded her. She fights this knowledge and disputes its effectiveness for her. But when she does give in to the unthinkable, the world around her morphs into a place she no longer has to control or manage, and good things finally begin to happen. It is after she surrenders that she begins to find peace and fulfillment...and a measure of financial success.

So what is the secret ingredient in Mary's recovery, and how does it bring her peace, fulfillment, and success?

Reading this book, I felt like a fellow-traveler in the author's journey and wanted to applaud each insight along the way. Having concluded this very satisfying memoir, I now want to go back and read the other two: The Liars' Club: A Memoir and Cherry.

Five stars.

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Monday, February 1, 2010


Good morning!  I am so ready for a new reading week, and this meme hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog.  And I'm surprisingly ready for this new month!

This week, I have a great collection of books to read.

First, I have Noah's Compass.  Anne Tyler is an extraordinarily gifted writer, whose previous works have been memorable to me.

On Amazon, we read:

Starred Review. Like Tyler's previous protagonists, Liam Pennywell is a man of unexceptional talents, plain demeanor, modest means and curtailed ambition. At age 60, he's been fired from his teaching job at a second-rate private boys' school in Baltimore, a job below his academic training and original expectations. An unsentimental, noncontemplative survivor of two failed marriages and the emotionally detached father of three grown daughters, Liam is jolted into alarm after he's attacked in his apartment and loses all memory of the experience. His search to recover those lost hours leads him into an uneasy exploration of his disappointing life and into an unlikely new relationship with Eunice, a socially inept walking fashion disaster who is half his age. She is also spontaneous and enthusiastic, and Liam longs to cast off his inertia and embrace the joyous recklessness that he feels in her company. Tyler's gift is to make the reader empathize with this flawed but decent man, and to marvel at how this determinedly low-key, plainspoken novelist achieves miracles of insight and understanding...
 Next, we notice The Happiness Project, a book by Gretchen Rubin that caught my attention several months ago, before it was released.

Turning to Amazon for a blurb, we learn:

Starred Review. Rubin is not an unhappy woman: she has a loving husband, two great kids and a writing career in New York City. Still, she could-and, arguably, should-be happier. Thus, her methodical (and bizarre) happiness project: spend one year achieving careful, measurable goals in different areas of life (marriage, work, parenting, self-fulfillment) and build on them cumulatively, using concrete steps (such as, in January, going to bed earlier, exercising better, getting organized, and "acting more energetic"). By December, she's striving bemusedly to keep increasing happiness in every aspect of her life. The outcome is good, not perfect (in accordance with one of her "Secrets of Adulthood": "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good"), but Rubin's funny, perceptive account is both inspirational and forgiving, and sprinkled with just enough wise tips, concrete advice and timely research (including all those other recent books on happiness) to qualify as self-help. Defying self-help expectations, however, Rubin writes with keen senses of self and narrative, balancing the personal and the universal with a light touch. Rubin's project makes curiously compulsive reading, which is enough to make any reader happy.
 And then, for my third read this week, I am going to try Lit:  A Memoir, by Mary Karr.  I had planned to read it awhile ago, but had chosen other novels about addiction that week...and, well, I just needed a break!  Now I'm ready!

Here's the Amazon blurb:

The Liars' Club brought to vivid, indelible life Mary Karr's hardscrabble Texas childhood. Cherry, her account of her adolescence, "continued to set the literary standard for making the personal universal" (Entertainment Weekly). Now Lit follows the self-professed blackbelt sinner's descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness--and to her astonishing resurrection.
Karr's longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, Shakespeare-quoting blueblood poet produces a son they adore. But she can't outrun her apocalyptic past. She drinks herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide. A hair-raising stint in "The Mental Marriott," with an oddball tribe of gurus and saviors, awakens her to the possibility of joy and leads her to an unlikely faith. Not since Saint Augustine cried, "Give me chastity, Lord-but not yet!" has a conversion story rung with such dark hilarity.
Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr's relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up--as only Mary Karr can tell it.

So these are my spellbinding books for the week.  Hope you'll all stop by, leave your comments, and link back to your own posts.

Happy Reading!

                                           LAUREL-RAIN SNOW CREATIONS

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