Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #49: LibraryLove November 28, 2010

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June by Robin Benway

Book description~ I hugged my sisters and they fit against my sides like two jigsaw pieces that would never fit anywhere else. I couldn’t imagine ever letting them go again, like releasing them would be to surrender the best parts of myself. Three sisters share a magical, unshakeable bond in this witty high-concept novel from the critically acclaimed author of Audrey, Wait! Around the time of their parents’ divorce, sisters April, May, and June recover special powers from childhood—powers that come in handy navigating the hell that is high school. Powers that help them cope with the hardest year of their lives. But could they have a greater purpose? April, the oldest and a bit of a worrier, can see the future. Middle-child May can literally disappear. And baby June reads minds—everyone’s but her own. When April gets a vision of disaster, the girls come together to save the day and reconcile their strained family. They realize that no matter what happens, powers or no powers, they’ll always have each other. Because there’s one thing stronger than magic: sisterhood.

Phew. After FOUR, yes, FOUR Thanksgivings meals shared with both family and friends over the last few days, I finally had this morning and afternoon COMPLETELY unscheduled and uninterrupted to read, read, read like the wind! Although I enjoyed every moment of spending time with friends, families, and babies this weekend, I’ve felt the pressure of this challenge now more than ever. Back in the summer, I was inundated with books to read and review and unfortunately didn’t get to them all. This book fell by the wayside and I finally got around to it this week. Special thanks to Penguin Books and Young Adult (YA) author Robin Benway for sending me this galley copy of April, May & June to review. What a fun and unexpected read! Although I do enjoy the YA genre from time to time, this story was really well-written and could be enjoyed by adults and not just young readers.

“No thanks. I know smoking kills and all that but also, you get these really weird pucker lines around your mouth. And I haven’t been using moisturizer every night since I was ten for no reason. “

The story is focused around the three sisters, named sequentially after the months in which they were each born, each with unique abilities (think Jedi mind tricks!). Dealing with the emotions of being a teenager is more than enough for these three girls. Add on to that a painful divorce for the girls’ mother and you have yourself the starting threads for this fun, suspenseful tale of love, sisterhood, and teen angst. The girls are trying to navigate through high school while missing their father, who now lives states away. The girls’ mother starts to date and so too, do the girls. However, as I was trying to sink my teeth into this quick read, my main criticism is that the mysterious and suspenseful juicy rising action of the plot line didn’t unfurl until almost 200 pages in, then the book suddenly halts and leaves the reader wanting more. I loved April & her love interest Julian’s storyline; I would have much preferred more of them than some of the other extraneous half-developed characters. What is it with most YA novels these days? YOUNG kids are reading 600+ pages of Harry Potter and/or Lord of the Rings; why can’t YA books go a little more in-depth too??

This was a fun and for the most part lighthearted book. Although rated as Young Adult, many of the “party scenes” in this book, to me, wouldn’t be what I’d want my teenager reading. Alright, off I go to enjoy the afternoon with my hubby and puppies in front of the fireplace and excited to crack open of my friends’ suggested reading of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Off I go….stay tuned!

3/5 stars

49 down, 3 to go!




Book #47: LibraryLove November 19, 2010

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Book description~ Jason Blake is an autistic 12-year-old living in a neurotypical world. Most days it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong. But Jason finds a glimmer of understanding when he comes across PhoenixBird, who posts stories to the same online site as he does. Jason can be himself when he writes and he thinks that PhoneixBird-her name is Rebecca-could be his first real friend. But as desperate as Jason is to met her, he’s terrified that if they do meet, Rebecca wil only see his autism and not who Jason really is. By acclaimed writer Nora Raleigh Baskin, this is the breathtaking depiction of an autistic boy’s struggles-and a story for anyone who has ever worried about fitting in…

As if the teenage-angst years weren’t hard enough, imagine how frustrated and confused you’d feel if you struggled with Asperger’s Syndrome as well as being a typical teenager? For Jason, his life is “Anything But Typical”. If you may recall from my earlier review of House Rules by Jodi Picoult, we met a teenage boy with the same disease, a mild form on the autism spectrum that affects social behaviors and the way you view and articulate your world. In Typical, Baskin’s latest novel, the main character and budding young teen author Jason Blake, also struggles with Asperger’s, living in a wo rld that is a confusing one that he can’t quite seem to grip. His two major outlets- writing and surfing the online writer’s forum he joins, help him make sense of the world as he knows it.

“There are only seven plots in the whole world: Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Environment, Man vs. Machine, Man vs The Supernatural, Man vs Self, Man vs Religion”.

Jason uses writing as an outlet for his creativity and along the way builds his confidence independently while having other members of the online writer’s forum critique his works. One day a girl named “PhoenixBird” stumbles upon his writing. Through providing feedback to each other, they develop a friendship where they correspond through email about writing.

“I click on one from PhoenixBird, the one I was saving until I got home. Now I am home. [“I feel I could have written your story. It is so beautiful. I have to go to cheerleading practice but I can’t wait for your next story”.] I think this girl has just said something nice to me.”

As the rising action develops, a writer’s convention comes up in a nearby town. As a surprise, Jason’s mom springs him with tickets to the convention. He and PhoenixBird have a chance to meet but of course, Jason is so socially awkward, the story unfolds into a heartwarming, sad, and uplifting tale about coming of age and acceptance.  Teen angst mixed with more social awkwardness than any one teenager should bear, and you’ll finish this book in a day or two. It brings me back to that “interesting time” where as teens, we overanalyzed every action and reaction, word, movement, etc.

“Truthfully, language arts is my best class, but not because I have a good grade in it. I like it because there are no right answers, even if the teachers says there are. Even when they mark something wrong on your test or book report, it’s really just their opinion and in my opinion they could be wrong. It’s like when you read the directions on the back of a package of brownie mix. Chewy or cake like? There is not wrong answers. Books are like brownies. “

I haven’t read a young adult novel in a while, but to quote Jason in the phrase above, one of my favorites from the book,  sums up why I just love the genre. Thanks to Sarrina for recommending I pick up this book from my library. I couldn’t put it down. I laughed and cried and wanted to give Jason a hug. He dreams of meeting his mother’s expectations, but by the end of the novel, Jason’s mother realizes how much he actually teaches her every day.

I would have liked to see another 100 pages fleshed out of this story, but as a young adult novel, I have to keep the author’s audience in mind….but dang you, oh good book for making me want more!

I would write more, but I’m exhausted from a recent week-long business trip and I need to move on to the next book which is quite a chunkster, at 600+ pages! The year is almost over. Eeek!

4/5 stars

Happy Thanksgiving one and all 🙂

47 down 5 to go!

In progress- True Colors




Book #38: LibraryLove August 15, 2010

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkaupf

Book description~ It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families wake to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.  Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by a tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice. Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor. Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.

As if being a mother didn’t already leave you with constant worry. Now you’re daughter is missing and was taken from the comforts of her bed. In your house. In the middle of the night. Oh wait. And by the way- your daughter is a selective mute who has not spoken since tragedy struck her as a toddler. This is the premise for Gudenkauf’s page-turning novel The Weight of Silence. We are along for a suspenseful thrill ride that I would compare to The Lovely Bones and Memory Keeper’s Daughter not in terms of plot, but the tone of the novel.

Silence was narrated by Antonia (Calli’s mother), Louis (detective), Martin (Petra’s father) , Petra (Calli’s best friend) and Ben (Calli’s brother) in first person narrative where Calli’s voice (the main character) is told in the third person. This was an extremely smart and strategic move on Gudenkaupf’s part and I absolutely loved her use of this technique, where if you remember, I criticized it in my earlier review of Heart of the Matter.

Calli, 7, is a selective mute. Calli has not spoken since she was four years old. Calli’s character would not have been anywhere near as magnetic to me if I knew what she was thinking/feeling. Instead, we rely on her best friend, kindred spirit, and “voice”, Petra, who also goes missing that fateful night from her own bed, to fill in the blanks.

“I am thinking that I should have put up posters the day Calli lost her voice. Missing it would say, Calli Clark’s beautiful voice. Four years old but sounds much older, has a very advanced vocabulary, last heard on December 19th, right after her mother fell down the stairs; please call with any information regarding its whereabouts, REWARD.”

Under normal circumstances, I probably would have criticized Gudenkaupf right away too, for how she develops the rising action so slowly, only giving the reader 1-3 pages per character/chapter before it switched to someone else’s voice. I compare it to listening to the radio on SCAN mode; just getting into a song and then it switches to the next station. Gudenkaupf also spent a lot of time on the backstories/love triangle between  Antonia, Louis and Griff (Calli’s father) when as the reader, I wanted nothing more than to stick with Calli, Petra and Ben’s stories. However, I feel as though Gudenkaupf’s goal was to do just that- frustrate the reader. Why would an author WANT to frustrate the reader you say? As a literary device.  How do you think you’d feel if for the last three years you’ve not been able to utter a single word. How frustrated would you be? Gudenkaupf wants to frustrate the reader, igniting a passion to find out what happens next. It successfully allowed me to really connect and relate to what Petra and Calli were going through in the woods, and feel the agony the family was going through during the search, in the moment, for that particular character. If the reader were let inside Calli’s head, there’d have been no element of uncertainty which every good suspense novel needs! I just love Gudenkaupf’s literary choices in this novel and think it really made me want to keep reading and turn the page.

“I see your lips begin to arrange themselves and I know, I know. I see the word form, the syllables hardening and sliding from your mouth with no effort. Your voice, not unsure or hoarse from lack of use but clear and bold.  One word, the first in three years. In an instant I have you in my arms and I am crying, tears dropping from many emotions, mostly thankfulness and relief, but tears of sorrow mixed in. I see Petra’s father crumble. Your chosen word doesn’t make sense to me. But it doesn’t matter, I don’t care. You have finally spoken.”

I enjoyed this book selected by one of my book club babes for discussion later this month. I’m really looking forward to hearing the opinions of our group and you as well, if you decide to pick it up.

If you want a suspenseful and quick read, I definitely recommend this book.

“My own silent little girl is even more of a mystery to me. The way she likes her hair combed smooth after a bath, the joy she has in inspecting her nails after I have inexpertly painted them. Having a little girl has been like following an old treasure map with the important paths torn away”.

4/5 stars

38 down, 14 to go!

In progress, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake




Book #33 LibraryLove June 19, 2010

The Wildwater Walking Club by Claire Cook

Book description~ After losing her boyfriend and her job in one fell swoop, Noreen finds it hard to know what the next step is—never mind take it. For the first time in a great many years, Noreen has time to herself. So she puts on a new pair of sneakers and a seriously outdated pair of exercise pants, and walks. It isn’t long before she’s joined by neighbors Tess and Rosie, two women as lost as she is. As the Wildwater women walk and talk, and talk and walk, they tally their steps, share their secrets, and begin putting their lives back together. And along the way, they learn what women everywhere are finding out—time flies, and getting fit is actually fun when you’re walking with friends.

What I often miss from many of our fellow bloggers’ reviews is what drew them to pick up the book they are reviewing! There are so many ways I get inspired to read different books. What or who inspired you to pick up the book you’re reading?

From the bright flip flops on the cover to the intriguing title, stumbling upon this novel was quite serendipitous. I first saw Wildwater Walking Club advertised in a daily edition of Shelf Awareness, one of my favorite book trade publications, advertising the newest books available for advanced review to bloggers and where special giveaways are announced.  I entered a ‘beach reads’ giveaway and although I didn’t win, I immediately checked out WWC from my local library. Then, randomly I received a Facebook friend request from author Claire Cook after she saw the blog link on fellow author Beth Hoffman’s page! What a fun small world.

From the very first page I was hooked. Cook wrote such a fun and refreshing read! Who knew a breakup with a scum bucket, boxes of sneakers, a pedometer, a corporate buyout AND retractable clothesline art could bring such unlikely ladies together?? Well it did! Forty-something ex-sneaker marketer/developer, Noreen,  makes a less-than clean break from slimeball Michael. With her life in flux, taking the first step is the hardest. As part of her corporate buyout, Noreen is entitled to a huge discount on the sneakers she once developed. Taking advantage of that final discount, Noreen grabs stacks of sneakers and two of her neighborhood gal pals and they start the Wildwater Walking Club, as a diversion from their complicated lives.

I love how flawed Noreen’s character is. It’s easier to relate to characters who aren’t perfect. Noreen, as I say, acts as a “ground wire” for the two women she ends up forming a walking club with. The ladies walk the neighborhood every day and record their steps with pedometers.  They plan future vacations, discuss life, love, their uncertain futures, and most important of all, learn to move forward when their lives throws monkey wrenches into the mix. I thoroughly enjoyed the gardening tie-in as lavender plays an important and unexpected role as a character in this book! The ladies plan to ‘pool their pedometer mileage’ and trip over to attend a nearby lavender festival. Noreen and Rosie’s bond strengthens as they tend to the lavender and discover fun lavender recipes like MY personal favorite, lavender black currant champagne (heavenly)!!  Lavender’s solid, calming and rejuvenating presence plays such an important role in setting the foundation for this easy breezy summer read.

I grew up watching my parents tending to their backyard pool/waterfall gardens, front rolling hill and arbor areas year after year.  When you walk up to my parents’ front door, the expansive and fragrant lavender greets you with all the butterflies and bees loving the oasis. It sparked my green thumb and when my husband and I bought our home, I also learned an appreciation for gardening. Orchids and flowering herbs are my absolute favorite, but I love the solidarity of rubber plants and our beautifully rare and draping cultivar rosemary in the front. It’s a quietly slow and steady hobby, but it’s so rewarding seeing new buds, stalks, and petals take form out of nowhere…

WWC was a story of second chances, redemption, starting from scratch and being strong enough to demand what you want at any age. A few of my very close friends are dealing with many seriously hard-hitting issues in their lives right now and ladies if you’re out there, you would really enjoy this book. I think we all can benefit from a fresh start in one way or another and WWC is an uplifting and fun read that left me with a smile on my face. Take “that first step” and toss WWC into your beach/pool bag today!

I look forward to reading Cook’s other works in the near future. And Claire, PLEASE add the Nation’s Capitol to your book tour (pretty please) 😉

Before I head out-of-town for a business trip, here are two recipes from the book that I couldn’t help but share.

For all you walkers out there, enjoy!

Aches Away Lavender Tea Soak

1 c lavender

½  c chamomile

¼ c sage

¼ c rosemary

6 crushed bay leaves

Mix all ingredients. Fill a metal tea ball, muslin, or organza bag. Hang on the tap or float under warm  running water in tub. Climb in and soak liberally to relax muscles, increase circulation, soften body and re-energize soul.

Lavender Dream Pillow

½  c lavender buds

½  c rose petals

½ c crushed mint leaves

3 drops peppermint oil

6 drops lavender essential oil

Mix all ingredients and fill 6-by-12 inch rectangular pillow. Place over your eyes to encourage a restful, rejuvenating sleep, and to make all your dreams come true. 😉

Don’t forget to enter our FREE summer giveaway. Click here for details! Winner announced Wednesday!

4.5/5 stars

33 down, 19 to go!

In progress, A Little Bit Wicked




Here is a photo of the enormous lavender plant at the entrance to my parents beautiful home:

Here is a photo of just a fraction of the lush landscaping around their backyard pool, the result of a decade of care: