Category Archives: Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon: Special Books

I was going through my bookshelves the other day, and I came across a few books that I’ve had for a long time, 20 years or more. That’s unusual for me, as I tend to be pretty ruthless when it comes to culling my shelves–anything that I won’t likely read again or that doesn’t have a special significance for me has to go. But these particular books are special, because they’re by an author who meant a lot to me as a teenager.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned Josephine Humphreys several times before on the blog. She wrote a book called Rich in Love which resonated so strongly with me as an adolescent trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life, because it features a character who is trying to do exactly that–Lucille. Lucille is one of those characters who gets inside your skin and makes you see the world from her point of view. She’s a teenager growing up in the deep South (as was I), and I think there were times when I really felt like I was Lucille. I loved this book so much, but more than that it was like a secret world that I could escape to and live in from time to time when my own was too much to take. (On a side note, the movie is amazing, too, and the fact that both Ethan Hawke and Kyle MacLachlan are in it may have had something to do with my obsession with the story).

At that time, my older brother was working at an independent bookstore in Atlanta, one which sadly no longer exists. He worked in the rare books section, and because he knew how much I loved Josephine Humphreys, he would put aside signed copies of her books for me. Thanks to him, I have signed copies of both Rich in Love and The Fireman’s Fair, and despite the fact that I don’t put sentimental value on many physical things, they mean a lot to me. If there were ever a fire in our home and I could only save one book from my library, it would be Rich in Love.

And now I’m thinking I need to do a re-read of all Josephine Humphreys’ books. I wonder how my reaction to her writing will have changed (or not) over the years.

What about you? What’s your “special” book?

Sunday Salon: The September Wrap-Up

September, where did you go? Why did I spend so much of you reading a book that I didn’t even like? These are questions I am unlikely to get an answer to, since generally months don’t talk back. Oh, well.

In September, I read and reviewed:

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare – 2.5 stars

The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker – 4.5 stars

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan – 3.5 stars

The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith – 3 stars

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian – 1 star (review coming on Tuesday)

The Night Strangers counts for my R.I.P. challenge, so only three books left to read for that by the end of October. The Miracle at Speedy Motors counts for my Mount TBR. challenge, as I’ve had it (partially finished) on my shelf for ages and finally took it down and finished it. And The Emperor’s Edge counts for my Why Buy the Cow? challenge, as I got it for free. Progress, yay!

I also wrote my first guest post in September, which was a lot of fun. The Best & Worst of Kate Atkinson was posted over at At Home With Books. Thanks to Alyce for giving me the opportunity to write for her series.

I’m looking forward to October, to more R.I.P. reading (and viewing!) and to Roof Beam Reader’s The Literary Others: A LGBT Reading Event (more on that tomorrow).

Hope you all had a September full of excellent reading and that October holds more of the same.

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan

I had heard a lot of good buzz about Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s previous he said/she said young adult romances, including Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, so when I saw their latest book up on NetGalley, I was glad to get the chance to read it.

Dash and Lily are New York teens who have never met, although they both live in Manhattan and as it turns out even have friends in common. Dash is a moody, “snarly” young man, the child of divorced parents, and someone who loves reading. In the opening chapter he is browsing the aisles of the Strand bookstore when he comes across a red moleskin notebook tucked away on a shelf.  Taking it out, he finds written inside:

I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.

Intrigued, Dash begins to follow the clues around the store and, eventually, around the city. On the other end of the notebook’s back and forth is Lily, a sensitive girl who has been raised in the protective circle of her large extended family and attends an all-girls school. Her notebook adventures are the first real rebellion she’s ever shown in her life, and they represent a chance for her to step out of her comfort zone and unwind a bit.

But of course, the two are teenagers, and inevitably they are curious about one another and the potential romance that is developing along with their epistolary relationship. When they finally meet, a series of unexpected events causes them to question the bond they have formed and whether it is meant to exist in the real world or rather to remain trapped within the pages of a red notebook.

To begin with, I loved the setting of New York City at Christmastime. There’s something so magical about it, and as Dash says at one point in the book, New York is a city that never disappoints. I loved the descriptions of the Strand bookstore, too, having never had the chance to visit it myself. I got a feel for what it must be like to be a teenager growing up in New York, and it’s so different from my own suburban experience.

I also really enjoyed the character of Lily.  From what I understand about how the two co-authors work, it’s Cohn who writes the chapters from Lily’s point of view and Levithan who writes from Dash’s point of view, and both seem to really understand the mind of teenagers, or at least the differing male/female perspectives.  Lily is charming, still so very innocent and yet so eager to experience more of life. She is completely without guile and does things from a pure heart and a curious nature.

I was not as fond of the character of Dash.  Although he has his moments, he can be very pessimistic and seems to hold the world and other people to an impossible ideal. Part of that may be a result of being let down by his parents, but I got frustrated with his snobbishness and his patronizing attitude.  It isn’t until the last quarter of the book that he finally starts to feel like someone who might be worthy of Lily.

My other complaint about the book is that the dialogue often feels forced, and both Dash and Lily sound like they are writing their lines rather than speaking them. The register is not appropriate to teenagers, and there is a persistent hipness to their style of speaking that comes across as very unnatural. Maybe this is the way New York teens typically speak, but outside of a Dawson’s Creek episode you don’t normally hear such “talky” teens.

But, with the exception of the dialogue, the writing in general flows very well and I enjoyed the contrasting points of view that are maintained throughout the book.  The plot is fast-moving and witty, and the ending is satisfying.  I definitely liked the book and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another title by Cohn and Levithan.

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares has a publication date of October 5, 2012.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, Harlequin UK Ltd and MIRA Ink for providing me with a review copy of this book.

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Sunday Salon: The August Wrap-Up

I find it difficult to believe, considering that August is a summer month and I’ve been childless for a large part of it, but this was an absolute bomb of a reading month for me.  A total bomb.  In the entire month, I only finished…wait for it…two books.

I think part of the problem is that one of those books was really long, and the other was read leisurely as part of a readalong, but still.  Two books???  Thank goodness I’m already well ahead of my yearly goal, or this would represent a major setback.

So, in August I read and reviewed:

The Passage by Justin Cronin, 3.5 stars

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, 4 stars

Technically, I finished Moning’s Shadowfever at the beginning of August, but I included that in last month’s wrap-up post so can’t use it here.  I did write my review of the series this month:

Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series

And I was pretty busy on the blog in general, with several Weekend Cooking posts:

Weekend Cooking: Ratatouille

Weekend Cooking: Stuffed Zucchini

Weekend Cooking: Victorian Cooking

Weekend Cooking: Apple Cheesecakes

I also signed up for several new challenges this month, including joining The Classics Club and Carl’s RIP Season for September and October. In general, I’ve decided to stick to monthly challenges as I’ve found it impossible to keep up with multiple annual challenges.  My brain just can’t handle it!  I’m going to finish out the year with the ones I started, but I don’t plan on adding any new ones for next year.  Besides, I’ll have my hands full reading all my Classics Club books!

Hope you all had an nice August and are looking forward to September and a new season of reading.

Sunday Salon: The Classics Club

Edited: I’ve made some changes to my list, so for the current list with links to reviews, check out my Classics Club page.

After finishing up North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell yesterday, I went a little crazy.  I started thinking about other books by Gaskell that I’d like to read, which led me to think about books by other writers that I want to read, until I found myself making my classics club list. I’ve had this in the back of my mind for a while, but I wasn’t quite ready to commit. Something about North and South just pushed me over the edge, maybe because it made me realize that I could pretty much only read Victorian literature and still easily come up with a list of 50 books.

I’ve not been that narrow in my focus, although it’s pretty obvious from this list what type of book I prefer. About half of the list are books that I already own and either haven’t read in so long that they merit a good re-read, or else I’ve never found the time to pick them up. Others are additions that I’ve always meant to read or that are important to know because they are frequently referenced in the wider literature (for example, The Mysteries of Udolpho).

So, without further ado, here’s my list of 50 classic novels to be read in the next five years. That means I have until August 26, 2017 (at which point I will be 41 years old, that’s a scary thought!) I’ll link back to the list every time I finish and review a book.

My List

Austen, Jane Emma
Austen, Jane Sense and Sensibility
Austen, Jane Lady Susan
Brontë, Anne The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Brontë, Charlotte Villette
Brontë, Emily Wuthering Heights
Cather, Willa O Pioneers!
Cather, Willa My Antonia
Chopin, Kate Awakening, The
Collins, Wilkie The Woman in White
Cooper, James Fennimore The Last of the Mohicans
de Maupassant, Guy Une Vie
Dickens, Charles Bleak House
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor Brothers Karamazov, The
Du Maurier, Daphne Rebecca
Dumas, Alexandre Les Trois Mousquetaires
Dumas, Alexandre The Comte de Monte Cristo
Eliot, George Adam Bede
Eliot, George The Mill on the Floss
Emerson, Ralph Waldo Essential Writings Of Ralph Waldo Emerson, The
Forster, E.M. Room With a View, A
Forster, E.M. Howards End
Gaskell, Elizabeth Cranford
Gaskell, Elizabeth Wives and Daughters
Gaskell, Elizabeth The Life of Charlotte Brontë
Hamilton, Edith Mythology: Timeless Tales Of Gods and Heroes
Hemingway, Ernest For Whom the Bell Tolls
Hemingway, Ernest The Sun Also Rises
Hemingway, Ernest The Complete Short Stories
Hugo, Victor Les Misérables
Hurston, Zora Neale Their Eyes Were Watching God
Jewett, Sarah Orne The Country of the Pointed Firs
Lee, Harper To Kill a Mockingbird
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia Love in the Time Of Cholera
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia One Hundred Years Of Solitude
McCullers, Carson The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Montgomery, L.M. Rilla of Ingleside
Radcliffe, Ann The Mysteries of Udolpho
Rhys, Jean Wide Sargasso Sea
Shelley, Mary Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon Ceremony
Smith, Betty A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Sophocles Antigone
Thackery, William Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David Walden and Other Writings
Unknown Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Unknown Death Of King Arthur, The
Wharton, Edith The Custom of the Country
Wharton, Edith Ethan Frome
Woolf, Virgina A Room of One’s Own

Sunday Salon: The July Wrap-Up

Considering how much of my July was spent on vacation, it’s no surprise that I spent a lot of time reading.  However, I only finished seven books, not that much over my usual monthly average, which must mean I have a fixed reading speed.  I honestly don’t know how some people read as much as they do–I can’t imagine being more engrossed in books than I have been this past month!

Read in July:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed, 5 stars

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin, 4.5 stars

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig, 3.5 stars

Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning, 3.5 stars

Faefever by Karen Marie Moning, 4 stars

Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning, 4.5 stars

Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning, 4 stars

As you can see, I really got into the Fever series in the second half of the month.  These books surprised me, as I was pretty unenthusiastic after having read the first one, Darkfever, a while back. But they honestly get better as they go along, which can be rare for a series, and by the last two I was completely hooked.  I’m going to try and write a general review of the series this week if I can get back into reviewing mode.

My favorite book of the month was Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which I sped through and thoroughly enjoyed.  I’ll be putting up a review of that one soon, too.

I participated in the Paris in July challenge for the month of July, which was a lot of fun.  I wish I had had time to post more for this, but I really enjoyed reading everyone’s else’s posts.  For my yearly challenges, I haven’t totalled things up lately, but I don’t think I read anything that advances me on any of those. Oh, well–still five months left in the year.

Hope you guys had a good reading month in July, and now on the dog days of summer.  Happy August!

The June Wrap-Up

Here we are in July, and I’m seriously behind on my blog postings.  I have at least four reviews that I need to write and several others on the horizon.  It’s hard to get any serious writing done, though, as I’m on vacation at the moment. and trying to get used to a QWERTY keyboard again means writing anything takes twice as long as usual!  Also, I haven’t had time to visit other blogs as much–please forgive me.  I’ll catch up with you in a few weeks, I promise.

June was a busy reading month for me, with six books finished:

Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville, 4 stars

Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little, 4 stars

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling, 4 stars

Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith, 4.5 stars

Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews, 3.5 stars

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, 5 stars

My favorite book this month was A Discovery of Witches–thanks so much to all of you who recommended it to me.  I absolutely loved it and can’t wait for the second book in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, to come out (in 9 days!!)

I didn’t do so well on my Empty That Shelf June Challenge, although I did finish the Alexander McCall Smith book (Espresso Tales) that had been on the shelf for ages.  For July, I’m participating in the Paris in July Challenge hosted by BookBath and Thyme for Tea.  I haven’t planned out exactly what I’m going to read, watch, or do for this one yet, but it should be fun (and maybe I can use it as an excuse to pop up to Paris for the weekend sometime).

So there’s the June wrap-up–on to July!  Happy Canada Day to you Canucks out there and a Happy 4th on Wednesday to the Yanks.  I’m planning to celebrate with a 5k race in the morning followed by a day of activities in a small town in north Georgia.  Wish me luck!

Sunday Salon: The April Wrap-Up

April was a pretty slow reading month for me!  Although I started quite a few new books, I actually only finished four this month, which is going to hurt my average.  The good news is that I did manage to review them all.

For a re-cap, in April I read:

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson, 4.5 stars

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella, 3.5 stars

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning, 3 stars

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett, 3.5 stars

Far and away, my favorite was A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty.  I have yet to read a Joshilyn Jackson book that I don’t love, and this one was no exception.

I celebrated National Poetry Month in April by sharing some of my favorite poems, including The Lanyard by Billy Collins and Ode to My Socks by Pablo Neruda.

My favorite reading event in April, though, was definitely Dewey’s Readathon.  Although I didn’t read for 24 hours straight, it was nice to have an excuse to make reading a priority on a lazy weekend at home, and the mini-challenges were lots of fun.  I even won a $10 gift certificate for The Book Depository!

Now that May is here, I’m hoping the weather will start to cooperate and bring us some sunshine so I can get busy with one of my favorite warm-weather activities–reading in the park.

Sunday Salon: A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

I must confess–I have a huge crush on Joshilyn Jackson.  Not in a romantic way, but more in a ‘I love the way your mind works and the way you talk and how we have so much in common that we should totally be best friends’ kind of way.  I blame it on the audiobooks.  I mean, all her books are great, but there’s just something about the way she reads them that pulls you into the world of her novels and makes you feel a part of it.  I highly, highly recommend listening to them, even if you’ve already read the paper versions.

I just recently finished A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, her latest novel, and I fell just as much in love with it as the previous ones. The story centers around a trio of women (well, two women and a teenage girl) that make up three generations of a family: Big, Liza, and Mosey.  The women take turns narrating the story, so you get shifting points of view of the story based on who’s ‘speaking’ in a particular chapter.

Jenny Slocumb, aka Big, is from a small town in Mississippi and got pregnant at the tender age of 15.  She goes on to give birth to Liza, who has her own baby at 15.   It would seem to be Mosey’s turn, 15 years later, except that Mosey is a virgin and doesn’t even have a boyfriend (her best friend Roger doesn’t count). She has absorbed enough life lessons from her mom and grandmother to know that sex=trouble, and they are determined to keep Mosey from following in their footsteps.

But it’s a “trouble year”, and if it isn’t Mosey turning up pregnant, some other kind of trouble is ready to rear its head.  When Big decides to cut down the willow tree in her backyard and an old grave is discovered, it seems that this trouble year is determined to outdo all the previous ones, leading Big, Liza, and Mosey to seek out the truth in their own ways, never knowing if the answers they find will bring them closer together or tear them apart.

As usual, I loved Jackson’s writing.  She has a way with language that is witty and playful and so original.  The characters of the three women are all memorable in their own way, although I had a particular fondness for Jenny.  Her history, her strength, and the sweetness of her love story were all so compelling.  Liza has had a stroke and so must have been a difficult character to write, but the way Jackson details her mind, as she moves between awareness of the real world and her own inner sea of thoughts and memories, is well done. Mosey is a believable teenager and the way she interacts with her friends (particularly her text-speak conversations with Roger) is hilarious.  She also shows so clearly the influence of the two women who have raised her, each so different but both so nurturing in their own way.

This was probably my second favorite Jackson novel, after Gods in Alabama, but they are all wonderful and worth reading.  And don’t forget to try them on audio, as Jackson’s narration is warm, funny, and, really, because who can read a story better than the author herself?

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Sunday Salon: The March Wrap-Up

March has been a quick month for me–I swear it was only February last week! My reading has been a bit sporadic, and my reviewing even more so.  I blame it on a few books that, while interesting, have been slow-going and kept me from building any kind of momentum.  I haven’t read anything in March that just knocked by socks off or captured my attention like some of the other books I’ve read this year (Chaos Walking trilogy, I’m looking at you!)  I did read (and love) the third book in the Clare/Russ mystery series, but that was early in the month and already feels like a long time ago–I miss you, Clare and Russ.  Come back to me soon!!

For a re-cap, in March I read:

Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming, 4.5 stars

Hollywood Scandals by Gemma Halliday, 3 stars

Hollywood Confessions by Gemma Halliday, 2 stars

The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith, 3.5 stars

I really wish it were possible to give half stars in Goodreads, as there are lots of books I’d move up or down accordingly.  I’m going to start including them here anyway.

Blogwise, I had a few popular posts in March.  I’ve noticed that far-and-away the ones that attract the most traffic are my Weekend Cooking posts–people must really like to read about food!  This month I posted about: Weekend Cooking: Friendship Bread.  I should really participate in Weekend Cooking more regularly.

I’ve noticed a lot of people talking about Bloggiesta Ole!, and while I haven’t had time to participate this year, it has inspired me to want to make some changes and improvements here.  More to come on that, hopefully.

And finally, this month’s challenge was the Review Copy Cleanup Challenge, and I might as well admit that this effort has been a complete bust for me.  I’m realizing that once I know I need to be reading something, I’m even less motivated to do it, and I am easily distracted when it comes to books.  So even though I still have quite a few review copies to read and review, I’m going to read them when I want to and not because I’m feeling under pressure.  I mean, this is supposed to be fun, right?

Speaking of fun, April is National Poetry Month in the U.S., and to celebrate I’m going to be writing a lot of poetry-related posts this month.  If you check out the site, there are lots of fun ideas and ways to celebrate.  There’s a sign-up for a Poem-a-Day email, or you can participate in Poem In Your Pocket Day on April 20th.

So here’s to April, to warmer temperatures, a little rain, and lots of good reading!