May 31, 2008

Review: Just Who Will You Be?

A few weeks ago I received a list from an authors representative of upcoming book releases that I could choose to review. When I saw JUST WHO WILL YOU BE? by Maria Shriver, I knew that was my first pick. I remembered seeing her on the Today Show and how she spoke straight from her heart when talking about this book. I just knew she really believed in it and wanted to share her thoughts and experiences.

I've never read any of her other books. And I don't know much about her aside from her being a Kennedy, married to Arnold and being the First Lady of the State of California. She has always seemed very professional and confident in all the interviews and reports she's done on tv. Like she knew exactly who she was and what she was doing. I guess being born into the Shriver/Kennedy family you're expected to do great things and be ambitious and professional. Surprisingly and happily, this book shows a completely different side of Maria.

She is warm, funny and even after all the success she's had professionally and personally (by raising a wonderful family), she has an uncertainty and almost a shyness about who Maria Shriver is. Its endearing, actually to know that someone of her public stature and familial fame could be unsure of herself. She's a 'real' person. She could be any one of us.

The speech she gave at a high school graduation was the basis for this book and it was a terrific speech! Sadly, I can't even remember who the guest speaker was at my own graduation, but I can tell you with almost certainty that the graduating class that was fortunate enough to have Ms. Shriver, won't soon forget. It was inspirational without being boring or ordinary. This little book is the perfect graduation or birthday gift for someone who is about to enter a new phase of their life or even someone who is thinking of making a change and just needs a little encouragement. Its a great book to pass on to people you care about.

May 30, 2008

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Late one night in November 2005, as I flipped channels on the tv, I came across a woman being interviewed on Nightline by Meredith Viera, who was sitting in for Ted Koppel. The woman's name was Joan Didion and she had written a book. I don't know if I had even heard of her before, but it became obvious that she was an accomplished writer/journalist. As I listened to her talk about her book I was drawn to her story. The book is called THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING and it is a tragic, sad account of the sudden loss of her husband, novelist, journalist John Dunne (younger brother of Dominick Dunne) and soon after, her adult daughter, Quintana Roo and how she coped with the events and her loss. After watching her, I wanted to run right out and get her book. I was intrigued.

The story itself is just awful. In New York on Christmas Day 2003, Quintana was admitted to the hospital with severe flu-like symptoms that soon escalated into pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was in a coma and on life support. Five days later after visiting their still comatose daughter in the hospital, John Dunne suffered a fatal heart attack. Four weeks later Quintana woke up and asked her mother, 'Where's Dad?'. It would be the first of many times she would have to explain to her daughter that her dad was gone. Two months later, she was released from the hospital and would begin to resume her life. But as it turned out Quintana collapsed at LAX airport returning home to California. She was rushed to the hospital where she underwent brain surgery to relieve a massive hematoma. She was in and out of hospitals and rehabs for months on end until she passed away in October 2005, the same time her mothers book was being released.

Although my heart goes out to Joan Didion for the heartache she went through during that time, I have mixed feelings about the book. I really wanted to like this book and I wanted to come away with some knowledge of understanding grief that I hadn't had before. That is not at all what I got. Her grief is obvious, but she never really lets you in to the core of her human emotions. She gives great detail of the the movements she made going to and from hospitals and talking to this doctor and that specialist, but it all came across very cold and removed to me.

One thing that bothered me about this book is that she makes it quite clear early on (if you are unaware of who they are) that she and John are literary people who take literature and their part in it very seriously. Everything has to be in connection with a passage they read or a book they wrote. But if you haven't spent 15 years in college and you don't have a Masters degree in literature, you have no knowledge of these references and they can't possibly have the same meaning as they do to the Dunne's, who live and breathe literature. The continuous references became tiresome to me. And these references would take her off onto stories of places she and John worked or lived, different countries they visited or lived for periods of time. Sometimes I forgot what she began talking about in the first place. There is an enormous amount of repetition as well. Maybe that was her frame of mind at the time of writing the book, but it became annoying. I felt she was rambling and her mind was wandering. Maybe it was.

Another thing was the incessant name-dropping. It was as if every single famous person they knew was mentioned in this book. But there was never a meaningful story to go along with it. Just a mention of the name for whatever purpose. Its obvious Mrs. Dunne wanted to make sure the world knows that she and her husband moved in famous circles. THAT was the most annoying thing of all. When she mentioned that after John died and she couldn't eat, that "a friend" brought her Congee from a Chinatown restaurant everyday because that's all she could eat, she never once mentioned that persons name. Unless you were famous, you didn't get a mention. In all the months she was in the hospital with her daughter, there was never any mention of a conversation with Gerry, Quintana's husband. Only his name was brought up a handful of times. That seemed odd to me.

I didn't expect this to be a self-help guide to grief counseling, but I did expect some insight into how she dealt with the pain and the loss. I was very disappointed. Once I finished the book, I felt no closer to understanding her experience than I did after watching her during her interview on Nightline.

I started reading this book in mid 2006. It took me a year and a half to finish it. The review is a little long, and I hope I haven't spoiled it for anyone else, but I wanted to be honest about my opinion. If anyone else has read the book and feels differently (and I'm sure there are), feel free to leave a comment so we can discuss it if you'd like.

May 29, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: What Is Reading, Fundamentally?

Suggested by: Thisisnotabookclub

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audio books — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

For me, I think that all of the forms of 'reading' listed in the question are legitimate 'reading'. With technology today and all the pod casts, ebooks etc, you can't label these forms as not 'reading'. Personally, the one that I would say comes closest to not being 'reading' is comic books. Do you really consider that reading?? And then there are magazines. Yes, its still a form of a book, but I find myself skimming thru magazines more than actually reading them from cover to cover. There are some good articles in magazines, don't get me wrong and they serve a purpose. Its just when I think of sitting and reading something, a magazine doesn't come to mind for me. I'm sure there are others that do read them from front to back . . . its a gray area for me.

The other thing I like about physical books is that I like to collect them. I like having them on my book shelf so that I can flip through them anytime I want. Sometimes I will be reminded of something in a book I've read and I like to be able to go to the shelf, pull that book out and read it. That is satisfying to me.

When I read I prefer to have a physical book in my hand. I like the feel, the turning of the pages, the smell - I just love books! However, I'm not opposed to the audio books, books on tape, etc. Those forms come in handy when traveling or exercising or even when your eyes are just too tired to focus. Probably in the not too distant future, I will have to switch to the audio form of books due to my progressive eye disease. I will miss the feel of the book, but hopefully, I'll enjoy it just the same. But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

May 28, 2008

Mailbox Goodies

I love to come home and find books in my mailbox! Especially on a Wednesday, a day that is smack dab in the middle of a work week! It's like a special treat to get you thru to Friday! Even though I was off work on Monday, I'm still looking forward to the weekend.

In my package today were 2 of the 3 books I've chosen to review for The Book Network, JUST WHO WILL YOU BE by Maria Shriver and THE SNAKE CHARMER by Jamie James. They're both non-fiction and I'm especially eager to read Maria's. However, I have about 40 pages left of THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. I'll be finishing that tonite. As far as the review goes, I'm going to need to think about how I feel about that book beforehand. (That remark will be explained in my review).

I hope everyone is having a good book-week and may you find something special in your mailbox too.

May 26, 2008

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Let me start by saying you don't have to like racing to enjoy this book. The ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein is not all about racing, although there are parts that do talk about racing, but in the way a racer thinks.

This is a story about a dog and his family. His master, Denny is a Formula One race car driver (not a NASCAR driver as some presume) and Enzo, our canine narrator, does love racing, but he loves his Denny much more. I didn't know what to expect from this book. I heard about all the hype, but I guess I just didn't expect such a loving story, especially told by a dog. Having the narrator be a dog gave the story such an innocent and honest interpretation of how humans handle and react to certain situations. I'll tell you this: I'll never look at a dog the same again.

If you are lucky enough to have had a great dog, like I was, I think you'd appreciate this book even more. I lost my dear Mandy, an Australian Sheppard/Chow mix 2 years ago to old age. This book brought to the surface all the emotions and feelings I had for her. All I can say is if you are a dog lover, you will appreciate and love this book. Even if you aren't a lover of dogs, its still a great story about a family.

Sometimes when I've heard alot about a book, I tend to expect too much from it and get disappointed. Not in this case. I really loved this book. Garth Stein has a winner here.

May 25, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Memorial Weekend

I started off my Sunday by going to church. When you have a former Marine as your pastor, you can bet the Memorial Day weekend service is going to special. And it was! Afterwards, I came home and read some. I'm almost finished with THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN. This is a unique book, narrated by a dog, with a compelling story. Its different than any other book I've read.

Yesterday I found out I've been chosen by The Library Thing Early Reviewers to review a book for them. Since I've only recently joined LT, I didn't know I'd be chosen so quickly. What a pleasant surprise! The book is THE RICHEST SEASON written by Maryann McFadden. I feel like I lucked out since this is an excellent selection for me. The story is about two women who both end up in the low country of South Carolina and they each are at a place in their lives where change is coming. I believe this is Ms. McFaddens debut novel and it has a release date of late June. I've read several books with the low country locale and I've enjoy them all.

I'm planning to spend the rest of my Sunday lounging around, reading and spending time with my honey. I hope all you Saloners are having a great day and are enjoying the holiday weekend! Oh, and for you, Dad - Semper Fi

May 23, 2008

Long Reading Weekend Ahead!

I am so looking forward to the long holiday weekend that is upon us. It's not that my 'real' job is so tiring or anything - its just that when I'm at work I can't read! I'm planning to do some chores around the house, but mostly I'm going to get alot of reading done. I've been asked to do three more book reviews, so I've got to get busy finishing THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, which I just started. I'm excited about the books that will arive week. They are:

JUST WHO WILL YOU BE by Maria Shriver. I'm looking forward to this little book. I only know Ms. Shriver as a TV journalist so it'll be interesting to know more about her and how she thinks.

THE SNAKE CHARMER: A Life & Death in Pursuit of Knowledge by Jaime James. This is the true life account of Dr. Joe Slowinski, a biologist who ultimatly sacrifices his life for science.

THE WENTWORTHS by Katie Arnoldi, a satire about a wealthy, powerful southern California family and the abuse they inflict on others and the consequences they sometimes endure.

But this weekend is dedicated to RACING IN THE RAIN. We're supposed to get some much needed rain in my area for part of the weekend, but that will only make my reading weekend better! I love to read when its raining! Enjoy your weekend everyone!

May 22, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Movies vs Books

Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?

This is a great question! Books are so much better for me. Although I enjoy a good movie, I'd much rather pick up a book and read the story. I visualize so much in my head and there's so much more detail in the book. Usually when I see a movie and I've already read the book, I'm disappointed in the movie. So much is left out that it just isn't the same. I feel more connected to the story when I read it as opposed to watching it on screen. And it stays with me longer.

May 21, 2008

Welcome Home Specialist Ryder!!!

Yesterday was an important day for my best friend - her husband who has been serving in the military in Iraq has come home!! They've only been married a short time and he's been gone for alot of that time. We prayed every day that he would make it home safe and he did! P - We're all so proud of you and happy you made it home safely! Since you've been gone, there's been a part of your wife missing and now that you're home, she is whole again. I just wanted to say 'WELCOME HOME' and Thank You for serving our country!! I love you both!

May 20, 2008

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees

This is the story of 14 yr old Lily Owens, living in South Carolina in 1964. A time of race riots and the signing of the Civil Rights Act, which plays a significant role in what happens. Lily tells the story of her quest to find answers about her mother since she died when Lily was 4 years old. Why did she disappear for three months? How did she die? Was I responsible? And the biggest question of all - Did she love me? Her story takes us from the peach farm in Sylvan, where she lives with her racist, angry father who she calls T.Ray, to a pink house in Tiburon, a couple hundred miles away, where three colored sisters who are named after calendar months live. She doesn't know why, but she believes this is the place that holds the key to her mothers' mysterious, short life.

I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't read the book, but i will say that the relationships Lily forms with these people change her life. August Boatwright, the beekeeper, quickly becomes someone Lily trusts and you can feel the yearning she has for August to love her. She is desperate for a mothers love. The main thing Lily is searching for is some sort of a sign from her own mother that she was loved and that she didn't leave her, despite what her father tells her. His bitterness and anger pushes Lily further and further away until one day, thru a sequence of events, she makes the decision to run away and try to find answers, at the same time protecting a friend who is in trouble.

Through Lily, Sue Monk Kidd tells the story with an innocence that warms your heart. But even with the innocence, its plain to see that Lily is a smart girl who thinks quick on her feet and is loyal to people she cares about. I admire the way Ms. Kidd writes - her phrases are beautifully written. She puts things in a way that you never thought of. Its simple, but lovely. This book tells a wonderful story and I enjoyed every single page. This is one of my all time favorites. I recommend THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES to any mother, daughter, sister or friend and I know they won't be disappointed.

May 18, 2008

The Sunday Salon: My First Post

This is my first post for The Sunday Salon and I've really been looking forward to it. I'm kind of new to the whole book blogging thing. Lisa, over at Books On The Brain was one of the first fellow-bloggers I 'met' online. She is quite an inspiration. I really enjoy her blog posts and you can always count on a good recommendation from her. Since I was a little girl, I've always loved to read, but I re-discovered my love of books with a new intensity a few years ago. There just isn't enough time to read all the wonderful books out there!

This morning I got up early, partly because I like it (dawn in my favorite time of day) and partly because my new kitten doesn't know the difference between getting up for work during the week and being able to sleep in on the weekends! Anyway . . . The book I'm reading now is THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd. I know I'm probably one of the few people left in the world who hasn't already read it. I'm about two-thirds of the way into it. I put a big dent in it this morning, reading 80 pages so far today. I don't want to say too much about it now because I'll be posting my full review after I finish, but I will say this: I LOVE THIS BOOK!! What a wonderful storyteller she is! You know how when you're reading a book with a title that you just don't get? (Like THE KITE RUNNER, I never knew what a kite runner was!) Then you get to the chapter that makes it all click and it makes sense then? That's my favorite part of reading. When it all comes together. Well, that happened this morning while reading chapter 8. The whole secret life of the bees was explained and Lily and me got it at the same time. It is an important moment and just another reason this is a wonderfully written book. I can't wait to get back to it and finish.

Next week I'll be reading a brand new book by Garth Stein called THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN. I've heard so much about this book and I'm really excited about reading it. Its getting rave reviews. But more on that next week. I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday! Happy Reading!

May 14, 2008

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Winner

I heard about a new psychological thriller that will be coming out in August that I wanted to mention. I'm really looking forward to reading it when it comes out. Its called FRESH KILLS by Bill Loehfelm, a former educator from New Orleans. I believe this is his first novel. In 2003 he wrote OSAMA BIN LADEN, a book to help educate younger readers on the early life of the terrorist and the beginnings of al Qaeda. Last month FRESH KILLS won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and here is what they are saying:

"Fresh Kills quickly expands past itself, blows away its limiting genre boundaries, and becomes a story of real psychological complexity and emotional realism." --Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love

From Amazon -
In Fresh Kills, the murder of John Sanders, Sr. on a New York street corner reunites his estranged and abused children, John, Jr. and Julia. While Julia struggles to keep things together on the home front, Junior, unhinged by his father's death, searches for the killer across the bleak, haunted landscape of his Staten Island hometown. Complicating Junior's pursuit are two police detectives: one, a former childhood friend; the other, a veteran cop who might have his own reasons to wish John, Sr. dead. Junior's emotional state crumbles under the pressure coming at him from every side. Bedding his high school sweetheart doesn't exactly simplify the situation. When the opportunity for revenge presents itself, Junior must decide whether he will continue the chain of violence that has nearly destroyed his life, or give in to the possibility of a new beginning. With emotional intensity, crackling dialogue and a heartfelt sense of place and character, Fresh Kills delivers unexpected and profound insights that speak to the soul of its struggling hero, and heralds a breakthrough voice in fiction.

May 9, 2008

Worlds Healthiest Foods

I found this great website during my online travels that I want to share.. It’s called “The Worlds Healthiest Foods” located at Actually it is a not-for-profit organization called The George Mateljan Foundation.

The website is packed with all kinds of nutritional information and offers healthful recipes and tips too. I found it educational and interesting. For anyone who is trying to eat better and learn how to prepare foods in a healthier way, this website would be invaluable. There are over 100 recipes that you can search either by ingredient or nutritional element. For example, I have extreme hypertension, so I searched for foods with Omega 3 fatty acid benefits to help lower my blood pressure and to help promote red blood cell function, which will also help with my retinal disease. The recipes are not complicated nor do they use gourmet ingredients, so you don’t have to worry about the cost or finding specialty items.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a burden. You can use your imagination and come up with your own recipes using foods you like.

May 7, 2008

Book Review: "The Ex-Debutante" by Linda Francis Lee

At first glance, this isn't a book that I would make a beeline for - I'm not into alot of girly-girly things like balls and designer labels, but this book is about so much more than debutantes and their clothes. I am so glad to have read it! There are so many facets to the story and Linda Francis Lee reveals them beautifully.
Carlisle Wainwright Cushing is the protagonist of the story. She is an accomplished attorney who is confident and seemingly happy with her choices. She has made a very nice life for herself in Boston, even though her roots are in Texas along with her dysfunctional family. Although her life would appear to be going the way its supposed to - she has a great job, a wonderful fiance' - even Carlisle is surprised that maybe she still has alot to learn about herself. She gets pulled back to Texas when her mother asks for her help with her latest divorce. Then she gets guilted into organizing the annual debutante ball that has been hosted by her family for a century. During the course of defending a mother she feels she never really knew and overseeing 8 teenage girls that don't even know the meaning of being a lady, let alone a debutante, she faces her past and is forced to re-think her future. This is a heartwarming story of not only Carlisle, but all the Wainwright women and even the girls who are debuting.

Linda Francis Lee writes the story with a clever, witty stroke of the pen (or keyboard). Her characters are so easy to imagine. As I read the book, I could see it as a movie playing in my head. It has comedy, drama and longing. It's a delightful read that never gets bogged down or boring. She has you rooting for even the slightest of characters. This book is for any woman who has ever felt out of touch or misunderstood and confirms that even when you think you know all there is to know about your family, they still may surprise you.
Also reviewed at:

And at Beastmomma

May 5, 2008

Weekend Review: Grillin' & Chillin'

Since my sweet boyfriend has arranged to have someone finish up the yard work that I started (and can't seem to find the strength or the time to finish), I could spend this weekend doing other things. Mainly, putting a dent in THE EX-DEBUTANTE. I started the book last week, but didn't get too far. Finally yesterday, I stopped playing with Jax, got the laundry going and dove right into my book, which by the way I do like.
I haven't been doing much cooking lately, so I wanted to prepare something new for dinner. In the past, I've been intimidated by seafood, but I'm trying to get over that. I went to the market and got some nice salmon steaks. I've only ever had Salmon patties, and honestly, could take 'em or leave 'em. But for these, I rubbed olive oil on each side then seasoned with garlic salt and pepper. Nothing fancy. But I didn't want to drown out the flavor of the salmon. I grilled the fish for 4-5 minutes on each side and it was perfectly cooked, including the beautiful grill marks. The fish flaked apart nicely and was moist and very tasty. I served it with steamed veggies and a baked potato with butter (I know B-A-D) and fresh parsley. It went very well with the Black Swan (Australian) Chardonnay I already had on hand. It was a light meal that was ready in less than 15 minutes. I was really happy with the outcome. I think I'm tackling this fear of seafood. Who knew it was so easy!?