Saturday, May 29, 2010

How To Save Your Own Life by Michael Gates Gill

At the age of fifty-seven, Michael Gill lost it all.  He had been born into a wealthy family, educated at Yale, a happy marriage with four children and a prestigious job at a top advertising agency.  Then the bottom fell out.  He was fired from his job.  His marriage fell apart, and he lost his house and his possessions.  He then found out he had a brain tumor.  Depressed and desperate, he started turning his life around when one day, in a leap of faith, he said "yes" to a job at his local Starbucks.  The story of how he regained his life was told in the bestseller, "How Starbucks Saved My Life."

As a follow-up, Gill has now written a book telling others how to reinvent their lives also.  The book is broken into fifteen life lessons.  These are items such as learn from your children, learn from your mother, learn from your father, etc.  They extol the virtue of slowing down and taking the time to experience the small things in life and learn to gain pleasure from them.  Gill feels that the simple life is the more desirable life, and that he is happier with nothing than when he was rich and powerful.  He now knows that family and relationships are the prime motivator of a happy life rather than money and possessions.

Readers who are looking for ways to change their lives will enjoy this book.  The chapters are short, and each illustrates a specific lesson with points from Gill's own life and experiences.  At the end of each chapter is a section on how to apply the lesson to the reader's own life.  This book is recommended for self-help and memoir readers.

Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn

In Prospect Park West, Amy Sohn takes us inside the lives of four women who live in this Brooklyn neighborhood.  Melora Leigh is a famous actress, who after two Oscars, worries that her career is in trouble.  She is slowly falling apart mentally, physically and emotionally.  Her son spends his time with the live-in nanny while Melora and her husband work on their careers.

Rebecca is a part-time journalist who works out of her home while tending to her year and a half old daughter.  After the birth, her husband turned off sexually to her, and Rebecca hasn't had sex in over a year.  She is desparate to change this, and is starting to look around outside her marriage to get her needs met.

Lizzie is a stay-at-home mom who feels trapped.  Her husband is a musician trying to promote his career, which means he is on the road most of the time.  Even when he is home, it's in "conquering hero" mode as he says he needs to decompress from the strains of his career, not take over child care.  Adding to the isolation Lizzie feels, her husband is another race and their child is bi-racial.

Karen is another stay-at-home mother.  She is aggressively trying to improve the lot of their family, pushing to move to another, more prestigious address, pushing to get to know some of her famous neighbors, pushing to have another child to create a storybook family. 

Sohn shows us the strengths and weaknesses each women faces as she tries to carve out a satisfactory life for herself and her children.  The strain between working and stay-at-home moms is explored, as is the changing dynamics of relationships once children are introduced into a marriage.  The four women come together and push apart throughout the book.  Sohn has worked on Sex And The City and that highly sexually charged viewpoint is found throughout the book, but does not define it.  This book is recommended for readers that enjoy exploring others' lives and how they face issues.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi uses the graphic novel format to share her life story with readers.  Satrapi grew up in Iran during the years that the Shah lost power and the Fundamentalist Muslims became the government authority.

Satrapi was raised in a modern family that valued education and modern life.  Her parents were part of the revolution that forced the Shah from power.  They were shocked, however, when the ultra-religous government that took over soon made the freedoms they were used to and expected illegal.  No longer could women dress as they pleased; they were instead forced to wear the veil.  No longer could the Iranian people travel freely; the borders were closed for over three years, and even when reopened, passports were almost impossible to obtain.  No longer could one count on an education; the universities were closed for over two years.

Darker items were to follow.  There were 3000 political prisoners under the Shah, but there were 300,000 political prisoners under the new regime.  Satrapi's family had both relatives and friends that were imprisoned, tortured and some were even executed.  Then the government got involved in a war with Iraqi.  Bombings were common, and over a million people were killed.

Satrapi's use of the graphic format is a perfect match to the story of a young girl whose life changes so dramatically and who tries to make sense of the things happening around her with a child's understanding.  Satrapi ended up being educated outside of Iran in her teen years and later, and chose a graphic artist's career.  This book was a perfect match for her talent, and her memoir is chilling.  To see freedoms taken away gradually is difficult, and when one looks up and sees where the normality markers have moved to, it is eye-opening.  This book is recommended to all readers who care about world events, and those who enjoy memoirs.

Tinkers by Paul Harding

George Washington Crosby is dying.  He has been brought home to die, and spends his last days in a hospital bed in his living room, surrounded by his family and friends.  He rarely interacts with them; instead he spends his time in a nether state, where he roams through the memories and events that make up his life.

In particular, George's story is that of men and their fathers.  George's father, Howard, was a tinker; someone who drove from one isolated farm to another, selling the supplies that the farmers could not produce on their own.  He was a gentle man and often taken advantage of by those around him.  Howard's defining characteristic was that he was an epileptic.  His seizures were severe and scared his children while disgusting his wife.  When he discovers that his wife plans to have him committed to a mental hospital (this was in the 1870's), he leaves the family without a word and builds another life elsewhere.

George has spent time rasing a family.  After his children are grown and he is retired, he becomes a master clock repairer and seller.  As he lies in his bed, his thoughts often drift to his clock business; the preciseness that is needed to repair them, and the knowledge that a clock in working order ticks off the seconds and minutes and hours of a life, giving the ability to lead a structured, regulated existence.

Paul Harding won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Tinkers.  It is an amazing feat, as this is his debut novel.  The book demonstrates the human longing for connection, but also the fact that each of us leads a separate life and die alone, whether we are physically surrounded by others or segregated into an isolated place.  This book is recommended for all readers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Coop by Michael Perry

After years of doing other jobs and living other places, Michael Perry knows just where he wants to be.  At thirty-nine, after jobs in EMT and on the road as an author, he came home to his roots.  He met Anneliese, a local college teacher, at a book signing.   They got married and with her three year old daughter, started life as a family.  Together they agreed that what they wanted was a return to the simple farming life they had known as children.  They bought a small farm in Wisconsin near his family.  Michael supports them as an author while Annaliese home-schools Amy.  As the book starts, they are expecting their first child.

Michael explores his childhood years.  He grew up in a fundamenalist religion, in a family with eight birth children and a large group of foster siblings, some of whom were adopted. As best as anyone remembers, the family fostered sixty or more children, many of them disabled in varying degrees.   His father had been a chemical engineer and his mother a nurse before they decided to farm.  Michael grew up in poverty but surrounded by love and great life lessons. 

Now Michael and Anneliese attempt to recreate this loving atmosphere for the family they are building.  The reader learns about the livestock they are raising, how they parent their child, the daily chores that consume their days, and about the baby they are expecting.  Anneliese decides on a home birth, and while Michael agrees, it makes him nervous. 

This is such a soothing, gentle, wonderful book.  It is like having an old friend stop by and sit on the front porch with you, rocking and telling stories.  Perry does a great job of recreating his life as a new farm owner, and even for those readers who are adament city-dwellers, there is a hint of longing for his life.  Readers can hear Michael talk about his new book. 

Michael Perry will be on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl on Monday, June 7th at 7pm EST at http://www.blogtalkradio.coom/book-club-firl/2010/06/07/michael-perry-discusses-coop  This book is recommended for readers who need a break from the pressures of everyday life.  It is a true gem.  I loved it so much that I went out that day and ordered his first book, Truck, where he talks about his life before the farm.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

In the early 1860's, Mary Sutter, a young midwife, wants more.  Known locally as the most talented midwife, she wants to learn the entire body and become a doctor.  She approaches a medical school and is turned away.  She then asks a local doctor to teach her and again is denied.

But events are about to overtake everyone's life in America.  The War Between the States is beginning, and families are torn asunder and cultural conventions are changed forever.  Mary leaves her family and moves to Washington where she hopes to achieve her goal.   Her brother, her brother-in-law and the local doctor that denied her all enlist.   Mary becomes a nurse in a hospital in Washington.

As time goes on, the doctor in charge of the hospital realises that Mary is different from the other nurses, and that she has the ability to do more.  Hospitals and doctors are overwhelmed with soldiers, both wounded in battle or taken ill with one of the epidemics that swept Army camps.  With so much need, throwing away the talents of anyone willing to help is not possible.  As the war progresses, Mary gets her chance to learn medicine and become a surgeon.

Robin Oliveira has created a book that will remain in readers' minds long after the last page is read.  Neither war nor early medicine is glorified or simplified.  The butual cruelty and waste is laid bare.  Readers learn the history of President Lincoln's decisions and his inability to get talented generals.  It is difficult to imagine how different war was with the limited medical knowledge available.  This was the first war with mass amputations.  Doctors learned from these about keeping wounded individuals alive.  Sanitation's role was unknown, as were most medicines and procedures.  The breaking apart of families by war is also portrayed realistically.  There was no ability to communicate easily; letters could take weeks to arrive.  Transportation and getting from one city to another took days if not weeks.  A soldier might be dead for weeks or months before the news got back home to his family. 

This book is recommended for historical fiction readers, and well as those interested in how women fought the bonds that kept them from the professions.  Many historical fiction books are written in medieval times.  While those are interesting, this look at our own country a century or so ago is breaktaking.  This is Robin Oliveira's first novel.  I know I'll be anxiously awaiting her next one.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

Anton Waker is on an island in Italy.  A year ago, he would never have thought this would be his life.  Back then he worked in an office and was about to be married.  He was the picture of respectability.

But that picture was marred.  Anton was having an affair with his secretary, Elena.  His job had disappeared from under him; one day he got to work and his staff was gone and he had been transferred to an office in the basement and given no work.  In fact, Anton's whole life had been a charade.  He had been raised by parents who made their living by selling stolen goods.  His cousin Aria had lured him into an illegal business of selling counterfeit social security cards and passports.

Anton tried to leave that life behind.  But Aria has forced him to do one last job; a job that has left him stranded on this island, and that has forced him to leave his entire life behind.  His wife is gone; his job is gone, his life as he's known it is gone.  Can Anton build another life; one that is built on honesty and that gives him the home and peace he has been searching for his entire life?

Emily St. John Mandel is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  She has a knack of creating characters who live on the margin, who are searching for connection and meaning, and for making the reader care about them.  The writing is sparse and the reader sometimes feels adrift in a fog between them and the story.   But then a flash of light occurs and the connection is made, leaving the reader feeling more involved in the character's lives than they would have suspected.  The reader finishes the last page satisfied and content,  and already anxious for Mandel's next effort.  This book is highly recommended for all readers.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dedication by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Kate Hollis has just gotten the call she's been waiting for years to get.  Her ex-boyfriend, Jake Sharpe, has just returned to their hometown.  Yes, Jake Sharpe.  The Jake Sharpe who's a mega-rockstar.  The Jake Sharpe who was her high school boyfriend and who broke her heart when he disappeared on her right before prom night.  The Jake Sharpe who has made fame and fortune detailing their sexual relationship and all of Kate's family issues in his songs.  Now it's payback time.

McLaughlin and Kraus tell this story by alternating between the 18 year old Kate and the 30 year old one.  Kate is now an accomplished professional, but still haunted by the betrayals Jake has done.  She has maintained a close relationship with her best friend in high school, and comes home to confront Jake when her friend calls with the news that he has hit town.  Even her parents worry about what the result of such a confrontation will be, but Kate is determined.  She feels that she can't move on until this issue from her past is resolved.

Lovers of "chick lit" will love this book.  It is written in a light and breezy style, with twists and turns in the plot.  I think it would be incredibly difficult to write a book with someone, and I wondered if they had split the writing with one author doing the 18 year old Kate and the other the adult one.  If they did, it wasn't possible to tell as the book flowed easily between the two eras.  This book is recommended for readers looking for an enjoyable read and those interested in how women resolve life issues.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, didn't expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

As Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she's never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.

Featuring one of the most unusual love triangles in literature, THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel about the persistence of love and the essence of what it means to be human.

THE HOST debuted at #1 on The New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list and remained there for more than a year. Meyer’s first adult novel was not only a huge commercial success with more than 2 million copies sold, it also brought a whole new audience of readers to Stephenie Meyer. Featuring one of the most unusual love triangles in literature, THE HOST, appeals to rabid Twilight Saga fans and readers of classic literary suspense alike.

Movie rights to THE HOST have been optioned by Nick Wechsler and Steve and Paula Mae Schwartz, the team that produced the film of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Andrew Niccol of Gattaca and The Truman Show will write the script and direct.

Stephenie Meyer graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English literature. She is the author of the bestselling Twilight Saga. She lives in Arizona with her husband and three young sons. This is her first novel for adults.



1. The giveaway starts Sunday, May 9th and ends on Friday, May 21st at midnight.

2. There will be three winners, chosen by random number generation.
3. Winners must have street addresses (no P.O. Boxes) in either the United States or Canada.

4. For one entry, leave a comment (with your email!). You will get an extra entry for any/all of the following; being or becoming a follower, blogging to this giveaway or tweeting about it. If you blog or tweet, please include the link.

5. Winners will be emailed and must respond within three days in order to claim their prize. After three days, another winner will be chosen and notified.

Good luck!

The Handy Law Answer Book by David L. Hudson, Jr.

David Hudson has written a useful and informative law reference book that will make a good addition to any family's library.  Hudson works as First Amendment Scholar for the Forst Amendment Center and teaches classes at Vanderbilt Law School, Nashville School of Law and Middle Tennessee State University.  His degrees are from Duke University and Vanderbilt Law School.

The book is organized into nine key legal areas.  Areas included are Constitutional Law, The Bill of Rights and 14 Amendment, The Court System, Lawyers and Lawsuits, Criminal Procedures, Credit and Bankruptcy Law, Employment Law, Family Law and Personal Injury Law.  Each chapter is written in a question and answer format.  Along with this basic legal knowledge, there are pertinent cases that illustrate specific legal points and that serve as precedent for situations following that case.   Numerous illustrations add to the reader's understanding of the principles being discussed.

The book starts out with explanations about how our law system was established by the Founding Fathers, goes on to explain how courts are organized today and then gets more specific.  The reader can find the answer from everything from how to find a lawyer to who is entitled to your credit report to who is eligible and who isn't for overtime pay.  Knowledge about common-law marriages, retirement accounts as marital property and how tort law differs from criminal law is discussed.  The book is an exhaustive source of answers to the legal issues any family may encounter in their daily life.

This book is recommended to readers both as an enjoyable book to expand their legal knowledge and to serve as a reference book going forward.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

A man's body has been found in the bistro of Three Pines village.  No one knows who this man is, what he is doing in the village or who could have been involved in his death.  Inspector Armand Gamache and his team descend on the village to discover what has happened and who is responsible.

Gamache and his team have been to Three Pines before and they know the people.  There is Ruth, a famous poet who now is a bitter old woman who seems half mad.  Olivier and Gabri are a gay couple that run the bistro.  Myrna is a former psychologist who now runs a second-hand bookstore.  The Parras are members of the refuge Czech settlement.  Peter and Clare are artists, with Clare about to break out and become famous.  The Gilberts are the newcomers in town.  They have bought a ruined house above the village and are turning it into a luxury hotel and spa, a move that doesn't endear them to the village regulars.

As the case progresses, the team discovers that the man had lived as a hermit in the woods surrounding the village.  No one there had known of his existence, except for the person who had supplied his needs.  As the police investigate, his cabin yields marvels.  It is full of heirlooms, true treasures from all over the world.  These are marvelous items; items from the courts of Europe as well as fabulous art objects.  How did this hermit come to have these treasures and who was he?  The hermit himself was a gifted woodcarver and his mystery is solved as his sculptures are found and give up their clues about their creator. 

Louise Penny is the most exciting find of the year for me.  Her book is intricate and the plot is complex.  Each character is fully developed, and the reader sees how each interacts with all those around them.  As the book progresses, the reader discovers each person's strengths and their foibles, and how their characteristics have caused the events that have resulted in the murder.  This book is recommended for mystery readers; especially those who enjoy authors such as Elizabeth George and P.D. James.  This is an exquisite book.

The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley

In 1905, members of the United States government embarked on a cruise that took them throughout the Asian countries of Hawaii, the Phillipines, Korea, Japan and China.  The cruise was a mission created by the President, Theodore Roosevelt.  Not going himself, he sent his Secretary of War, William Taft, numerous members of Congress, and to make the occasion seem like a pleasant trip to renew ties and honor allies, his daughter Alice.  Alice was known as "The Princess", the Jackie Onassis of her time.  The press couldn't get enough of her, her clothes and her antics.  She provided the perfect cover for the true purpose of the trip.

For there was a hidden purpose.  Roosevelt, as was the case with many others in that time, felt that the white Christian male had a destiny to rule the world.  America, along with England and the other European powers, felt it was their right to take over the Oriental nations and to carve them up into so many prizes on a poker table. 

This is not the cuddley Theodore Roosevelt of the Teddy Bear and the Rough Riders legend.  This is the Roosevelt who time after time, in writing after writing and speech after speech, evangelized his belief in his race's superiority over all others, and his firm decision that God was on his side as he gathered nations and trade tokens to his country.  This was the Roosevelt of the motto, "Speak softly but carry a big stick" who believed that might made right, and that anyone who stood in his way should be put down brutally.

It is the author's belief that Roosevelt's shortsightedness and prejudice laid the cornerstone of the catalysm that was World World II.  The United States had entered into a secret treaty with Japan that gave them permission to take Korea and as much of China as they could bite off.  The shock was decades later when this favored nation turned against their champions.  Bradley puts the blame for WWII squarely in Roosevelt's lap.

Readers of history will find this book interesting.  While I don't personally believe that Roosevelt's policies were the sole source of the second World War as they don't account for Hitler and the Nazi atrocies, it is a spotlight into a hidden side of American history.  I was shocked to hear how openly prejudice was expressed, not only by politicians but by other revered American figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Note From An Old Acquaintance by Bill Walker

Brian Weller has just opened an email that will change his life.  At the lowest point of his life both personally and professionally, he receives an email from an old flame.  This was the woman he loved in his youth and that he let get away.  Nothing that has happened since; his career as a well-known novelist or the fame and fortune that accompanies that has changed the regret he has felt about letting Joanna Richman get away.

Brian and Joanna meet as young artists.  He is a budding novelist; she is a sculptress.  They fall in love quickly, both recognizing the other as a soulmate who understands what it takes to be an artist.  They support each other and encourage each others' creativity.  But their love is doomed from the start.

Joanna is engaged to a rich and powerful man.  Although he doesn't understand her, he is not about to let an impoverished writer take her away.   He is determined to do whatever it takes to retain her, whether that means playing dirty or forcing them apart.  He puts Brian in an impossible situation that can only be resolved by leaving Joanna behind.

Sixteen years have now passed, and Joanna has written Brian to strike back up their friendship.  Brian is at loose ends, finished with one book and starting another, and he decides to go to Boston where Joanna lives and renew their acquaintance.  The story of what happens when these past lovers are reunited moves the novel to its climax.

Bill Walker has created a novel with interesting characters and a fascinating look at the inner workings of an artist's life.  The plotline is taut and the reader is drawn along with the characters, unable to move on without finding out how their dilemnas are resolved.  This book is recommended for lovers of romance as well as those who enjoy reading about moral choices.