May 22, 2010

[TSS] Guest Reviewer: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Today is an exciting day here at Books and Cooks. It marks the first day I've had a guest reviewer on my blog. I'd like you all to meet Emerson Clauss; my friend, former employer,avid reader and book lover. As I mentioned in last weeks TSS post, Emerson reads some very interesting non-fiction books and we've decided to share them here on my blog.

“The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” by Michael Lewis

Reviewed by Emerson Clauss

Uncovering maybe the biggest catastrophic event of the 21st century, the Wall Street fall and the financial chaos it spurned, THE BIG SHORT sums it up to a tee. The book not only exposes the events and characters involved, author Michael Lewis explains, for those of us who possibly don’t understand a stock from a bond, many of the other hinkey products Wall Street peddles to investors of all kinds. For a seemingly fact filled set of circumstances, he makes this book interesting, intriguing and hard to put down.

Stemming from it’s origination in the early and mid-eighty’s, Lewis explains what derivatives are and how they are sold, traded and moved around the financial firms of the US and the world. He details what “Credit Default Swaps” are and how they came to be, and more importantly how they came to be abused. His explanations leave you feeling, rightfully so, as if it’s a large game of musical chairs… and the music just stopped.

He introduces us at first to a most unlikely small cast of characters, really outside of Wall Street and the big banks. They discover this unnatural set of facts and circumstances created in the financial world, that they themselves find incredible. And no one inside the financial world seems to notice or correlate this with the impending doom of the US financial system or problems created around the world.

We may feel we know the outcome of this story, but it is an unbelievable journey to unravel with Lewis and follow the events that lead to this catastrophe. Michael does not miss the fact that the laws that govern the trading and securities, to date have not yet been changed, altered or strengthened. This has the effect today, of leaving the Fox at the door of the Henhouse, while the rest of us are outside looking on and paying the tab.

Lewis doesn’t fail to show our Government’s total lack of oversight or failure to foresee this or to do anything to stop the madness. He shows how we (The US Taxpayers) stepped in to bail out irresponsible firms of all kinds, and end up buying their losses at 100 cents on the dollar. The Losers and Winners alike, made fortunes. The US Taxpayer just got skewered, again.

The facts and details are astounding. The cast of characters would be almost comical, if this weren’t true or didn’t represent a major malfunction of our “financial system”.

The book is a must read, if you want to uncover the truth about the depth of Corporate Greed, personal greed and how inept our government is to recognize or reel any of it in. “Definitely worth the price of the ‘ticket’”.


Author: Michael Lewis

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Published: March 2010

Pages: 266


I'd like to thank Emerson for taking the time to share his thoughts on this very interesting and informative book. What appeals to me is that it seems to explain things in terms that are understandable to people who aren't familiar with the inner workings of the financial world. I have to admit that before reading Emerson's review, I wouldn't have considered picking up this book and now, I actually would like to read it.

Thanks again Emerson and I look forward to more of your reviews in the future!

May 20, 2010

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

I love reading debut novels. They have an edge to them that is fresh and in this particular case, even gritty. Randy Susan Meyers has taken readers to a place that most people don't experience and the ones that do, probably spend most of their time wishing they didn't.

The title THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS is pretty bold and self explanatory, however, I discovered while reading this moving story about two sisters who lost their mother at a young age at the hands of their drunken and abusive father, that there are a lot of gray areas.

Here's a synopsis from Goodreads:

Lulu and Merry's childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu's tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare. He's always hungered for the love of the girl's self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly.

Lulu's mother warned her to never let him in, but when he shows up, he's impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past ten-year-old Lulu, who obeys her father's instructions to open the door, then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help and discovers upon her return that he's murdered her mother, stabbed her sister and tried to kill himself.

For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened. Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make. Though one spneds her life pretending he's dead, while the other feels compelled to help him, both fear that someday their imprisoned father's attempts to win parole may meet success.
  • Please note that in my review I work very hard to NOT include any details that may spoil or give away any aspect of the plot. Please read on knowing that I have taken great care in writing my thoughts on the book.
My review:

The reason I was initially drawn to this book was that it is one family's story told by the children. The innocence of a child's perspective is an honest and sometimes gut-wrenching reality that can often be overlooked, whether purposely or not, by adults. Although when the story begins, Lulu and Merry are children, we follow them into adulthood and watch how their tragedy affects them as they mature and, for one sister, has children of her own.

Randy Susan Meyers writes a complex family drama in a simple, straightforward manner. I use the term 'simple' not as a negative, but as a positive, as in stripped-down and authentic. Her writing is precise and deliberate with the story itself as it's main character. Speaking of characters, there are not a lot of them, but each one, no matter how large or small, has their purpose. Each sister takes turns telling the story through their own eyes. Lulu and Merry are portrayed in a very realistic way that lends to the undeniable believability of this story. Unfortunately, domestic violence happen every day in all cultures but the way in which we deal with it has a huge impact on all of the parties involved, whether we choose to see it or not. That is a big part of this book. It is 1971 when their father kills their mother and life was much different back then. It was before the days of therapy and self-help books. Family troubles were kept hushed and not talked about. I felt an instant connection with both of the girls and that feeling stayed with me throughout the entire book. The book is divided into parts; their childhood, their young adult years and as grown women.

This was a quick read for me, not only because I was into it, but also because there is a lot of dialogue between the characters and not a lot of descriptive detail. The girls each deal with their father's actions in very different ways and it was easy to understand each one's reasoning. There is no right or wrong here. One thing I wasn't expecting was the inclusion of the murderous father's point of view. It was also explored and revealed in a realistic way and begs the questions Has he paid for his crimes? Does he deserve a second chance? and Does he truly have remorse?

If you are in a book club, this would be a fantastic pick because there is so much to discuss, even though some of the subject matter is a bit dark and daunting. The actual physical abuse happens very early in the book and afterwards comes the emotional ramifications. Even if you aren't in a book club, this is a very good debut novel by an author who has her own experiences with domestic violence through her social work with batterers and victims alike. She has also had her short stories published in several publications. I will absolutely be on the lookout for future works from this up and coming author. If you're interested and would like to know more about Randy Susan Meyers, I encourage you to visit her website. Among other things, there's a section for book clubs and you have access to her blog, Word Love, as well.

Author: Randy Susan Meyers
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Published: January 2010
Pages: 320

May 18, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 5.18.10

By now I'm sure we all know the guidelines for our weekly Teaser Tuesday meme, so I'm not going to go into detail, but, if by some chance you are new to this feature, or if you'd like to read more teaser sentences from other bloggers, please visit MizB over at Should Be Reading.

My teasers today are taken from John Grisham's FORD COUNTY, his collection of seven short stories that all take place in the town of Clanton, Mississippi in Ford County where his first novel, A TIME TO KILL was based. The second story in the book, Fetching Raymond, is where I've taken my teasers from. It's about a hard-drinking divorce lawyer who is fed up with his job and his wife and gets a 'sounds to-good-to-be-true' opportunity to make a lot of money and he plans to make some drastic changes in his life - if it pans out.

Had Butch been an inmate, he would have been beaten, but he wasn't. He was a citizen, a former convict who hated every cop, trooper, guard, agent, and security type he'd ever seen. Every man in a uniform was his enemy. ~ page 73

May 16, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Exciting News!

Happy Sunday Saloners! Well, another great book week has passed and exciting things are planned for the near future here at Books and Cooks that I'd like to share, but first, let me tell you about my book week.

Last week I posted my review of ON FOLLY BEACH by Karen White. I was completely drawn in to this book, both for the writing and characters, but also for the interesting historical aspect of the affect of World War II on our nation's eastern seaboard. I welcome you to stop by and read my review. Today I've included information on how to win a copy of this wonderful book for yourself, so please stop by.

I finished reading Randy Susan Meyers; debut novel THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS this week. The book came out in January to really good reviews. I flew through this book in just days. I'll be posting that review by mid week and I'd love for you to check it out.

This week I'm reading FORD COUNTY by John Grisham. I used to be a HUGE fan and I guess I still am, but several years ago, I began to feel burnt out on his newer books. They just didn't hit me the way the older ones did. This book is a collection of short stories that all began as novels but just didn't go anywhere for him. I've only just started, but I have already recognized his writing from years ago in the pages and I am really enjoying it so far. It may sound silly, but its almost like reuniting with an old friend you haven't seen in years.

OK, now on to my exciting announcement! If you've followed my blog for any period of time, you know that most of the books I read are fiction. Although I have reviewed several non-fiction books, its just not something I devote a lot of time to. So, next week I'll be having a special guest reviewer for my Sunday Salon post. His name is Emerson Clauss and he is a good friend of mine and I can honestly say, probably the only person in my life (besides my blogger buddies) who loves books as much as I do. The difference between me and Emerson is that he reads nothing but non-fiction. So we thought it would be a great idea for him to share the books he reads here on Books and Cooks. We're both very excited about it. I worked for Emerson for ten years at his construction company and before that I worked with him at our County Builders Association where he was on the Board of Directors for many years. We've always shared our love of books and even though he doesn't read much fiction, he has always been a big supporter of my blog. I'm hoping to convince him to do this on a regular basis, maybe once a month. So I hope you will stop by next Sunday for his first review - I'm sure it will be as interesting and thought-provoking as the books he reads.

As for today, I'm planning to putter around the house, get some things done that I completely blew off yesterday to go shopping and try to squeeze in some good reading time. I hope your Sunday is peaceful and includes a good book.

May 15, 2010

On My Wishlist #3

On My Wishlist is a Saturday meme hosted by Book Chic City where we spotlight books that we have wanted to add to our library but just haven't done it yet. They can be classics, new releases or even yet-to-be-released books.

Today my wishlist book is THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN by Kate Morton. I've seen nothing but favorable reviews for this second novel from Morton. I absolutely loved THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON that was released in 2007. (My review here) Here's a description of THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN -

A lost child: On the eve of the First World War, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship to Australia. A mysterious woman called the Authoress had promised to look after her - but has disappeared without a trace. A terrible secret: On the night of her twenty-first birthday, Nell Andrews learns a secret that will change her life forever. Decades later, she embarks upon a search for the truth that leads her to the windswept Cornish coast and the strange and beautiful Blackhurst Manor, once owned by the aristocratic Mountrachet family. A mysterious inheritance: On Nell's death, her granddaughter, Cassandra, comes into an unexpected inheritance. Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden are notorious amongst the Cornish locals for the secrets they hold - secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family and their ward Eliza Makepeace, a writer of dark Victorian fairytales. It is here that Cassandra will finally uncover the truth about the family, and solve the century-old mystery of a little girl lost.

Well, I don't know about you but this book sounds to me like it has everything I love in a book. At 560 pages, its a bit of a chunkster and maybe that's why I've put it off for so long, but I'm ready to dive in to this very intriguing-sounding story. Have you read this book? If so, leave me a link to your review, I'd love to read it!

May 11, 2010

On Folly Beach by Karen White

ON FOLLY BEACH is the third Karen White book I've read in recent months, although it's the first stand alone novel of hers I've read. What draws me to her books is not only the locale of South Carolina's Low Country, but her easy writing style, intriguing stories and interesting characters she introduces to me. All of those things add up to a great read in my opinion.

Another great thing about this book is that it cleverly tells more than one story. Its the story of Emmy, a recent widow whose husband has been killed in Afghanistan while serving his country; its the story of Lulu, a woman who has lived on Folly Beach for more than seventy years and who has harbored secrets almost as long; but this is also Lulu's sister, Maggie's story from a tumultuous time in our nation's history, when there was a lot of uncertainty and fear during World War II. This is a story of love, loss. loyalty and betrayal that spans more than sixty years and impacts several people's lives in many different ways. And the best thing of all is that the common denominator in the telling of all of these stories is books. I love stories about books and Ms. White has used the vehicle of books to carefully craft and intertwine these women's stories and brings them beautifully together by the end.

The way she lays out this story using chapters to alternate between 2009, where we meet Emmy after the loss of her husband and 1942, in the telling of Maggie and Lulu's story was fantastic. When Emmy reluctantly leaves her Indiana life behind to move to Folly Beach, South Carolina, a place she's never been before, to buy an old bookstore, she had no idea how it would change her life.

Emmy's discovery of secret messages written in the margins of old books found at Folly's Finds, the bookstore she bought sight unseen, starts her on a journey that not only fascinates her but also forces her to see things about her own life she is resistant to. As time goes on, Emmy worries that the further she delves into these secrets and begins to figure out who wrote the messages, the more danger of hurting the very people who have been so warm and kind to her since moving to Folly Beach.

Not only did I love the way in which the story unfolded and the characters, I was also intrigued by the story of how the war affected those living along the eastern seaboard and the Duquesne spy ring that could have changed the outcome of the war. The historical element in this book had me completely drawn in. It sparked a curiosity in me to know more about events that I have to admit, I knew nothing about from my American History classes. Some of my favorite books are the ones that not only entertain me but get me to thinking and make me want to learn more. And thats what this book did for me.

ON FOLLY BEACH is one of the best books I've read this year. Although I've read the two books in the Tradd Street Series, I haven't read her other stand alone novels but I plan to change that very soon. For more information about Karen White and her books, visit her website. There is so much information there, including an excerpt from the book. I can't encourage you enough to read this beautifully told story. You won't be disappointed.

Update 5/16/2010 - There's another great review of this book over at my friend Anna's blog, Diary of an Eccentric that is worth reading. You can find it here. Also, if you like to win a copy of ON FOLLY BEACH for yourself, she's hosting a giveaway until May 20th, so you still have time to enter. Click here for more details and to enter.

Author: Karen White
Publisher: New American Library/Penguin Publishing Group
Published: May 4, 2010
Pages: 416
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

You might also be interested in:

Teaser Tuesday: 5.11.09

Today I'm taking my teaser sentences from Randy Susan Meyers' debut novel THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS. This compelling novel, that came out in January, centers around two sisters, Lulu and Merry, beginning in the early 1970's, and tells the story of how their life changed after their father killed their mother. The story is poignantly told by both of the girl's prospectives.

My teaser -

Hillary's parents greeted me as though I were Anne of Green Gables. I had no plans to take the shine off their impression by telling the truth about me. ~ page 61
For more teasers visit MizB at Should Be Reading.

May 10, 2010

Musing Mondays: Reading Time

Today's musing is about reading time . . .

Do you have to carve out time for reading due to work or other obligations? Or does your reading just happen naturally? (This question is courtesy of MizB)

My answer -

Up until a year ago when I worked full time, I had to schedule my time to read. I would come home each weekday and read for an hour before I did anything. And on weekends I usually read more in the morning while waking up and drinking coffee before I started my regular chores around the house. Sometimes, I'd read during commercials while watching TV in the evenings or during football games, I'd keep the TV volume low and read and listen to the game at the same time.

When I became unemployed, I thought I was going to have all this free time and I would blaze through books like crazy. But a very wise friend of mine, Dar, told me that that may not happen. She said even when you stay at home, something always pops up that will take you away from your reading. And boy, was she right! In the first few months of not working I barely got any reading done at all. It seemed there was always some thing or another that kept me away from my books. It was hard to believe I got more reading done while working, I guess because of the schedule I set for myself.

Fortunately, I'm into more of a schedule now and I'm starting to get some real reading done. I still love reading in the early morning and I also try to set aside an hour or two each day in the afternoon to read. Although that doesn't always work out. Night reading is difficult because my eyes are more tired and I usually fall asleep on the first page. Sunday afternoons provide me with some free time as well. I know this sounds crazy, but I feel guilty when I read all afternoon because I feel like I should be doing something (other than reading). I suppose that comes from working all my life and feeling like a slacker for sitting around reading all day. I told you it was crazy!

So it seems I'm getting back to the schedule I used when working. I still also carry a book with me everywhere I go in case I can steal a few minutes here and there.

Do you schedule your reading or do you just do it when you feel like it? Visit Just One More Page for more Monday Musings.

May 9, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Happy Mothers Day!

What a beautiful day it is outside on this Mothers Day! It hasn't gotten so hot yet that I have to crank up the A/C, so I have the windows open and the breeze is blowing through the house. My sister's birthday was yesterday, so we had a joint celebration at our parents house with some family and friends. It was a wonderful day and we all had a great time and ate lots of good food. I'd like to wish all of the Mothers out there in the blogosphere a Happy Mothers Day and hope that you have a day filled with love and family.

I didn't have as productive a week in books as I'd like to have had, but I did manage to finish ON FOLLY BEACH by Karen White. The book hit shelves on May 4 and I'm sure it's going to be a big hit for her. I'll be posting my review mid-week, so please stop back by and check it out.

I picked up a book from the library yesterday that I'm anxious to start reading. It's THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS by Randy Susan Meyers. This is a debut novel that came out early this year and is getting fantastic reviews. I had requested it a couple months ago and it became available the day I finished ON FOLLY BEACH, which was perfect.

I'm looking forward to spending the day at home today splitting my time between reading my book and catching up on my blog reading. I have some shrimp marinating to grill later for an early dinner along with some fresh veggies I picked up at the produce market the other day. I can't think of a better way to spend the day. What are your plans this Mothers Day?

May 4, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 5.4.10

It's Tuesday once again and time for a teaser! I'm taking my teasers again from Karen White's new book ON FOLLY BEACH which is being released today! This book has sucked me in and I almost hate to see it end. I'll be finishing it today and will have my review later in the week. So here are my teasers:

Maggie had loved the beach and the ocean, and even though they'd never found her body, it gave Lulu some consolation to know that she was buried under the blanket of her beloved Atlantic. And every once in a while, she wondered if Maggie's spirit knew that the waiting was finally over. ~page 177

Be sure to visit MizB at Should Be Reading for many more teasers from great books being read this week.

May 3, 2010

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is hosted each week by Marcia at The Printed Page. This is where we share what books we found in our mailboxes in the past week.

I received an advanced copy of THE ETERNAL ONES by Kirstin Miller last week from Nicole at AuthorsOnTheWeb. This is a Young Adult novel about past lives and reincarnation. Here's the blurb from Amazon -

Haven Moore can't control her visions of a past with a boy called Ethan, and a life in New York that ended in fiery tragedy. In our present, she designs beautiful dresses for her classmates with her best friend Beau. Dressmaking keeps her sane, since she lives with her widowed and heartbroken mother in her tyrannical grandmothers house in Snope City, a tiny town in Tennessee. Then an impossible group of coincidences conspire to force her to flee to New York, to discover who she is, and who she was.

In New York, Haven meets Iain Morrow and is swept into an epic love affair that feels both deeply fated and dangerous. Iain is suspected of murdering a rock star and Haven wonders, could he have murdered her in a past life? She visits the Ouroboros Society and discovers a murky world of reincarnation that stretches across millennia. Haven must discover the secrets hidden in her past lives, and loves before all is lost and the cycle begins again.

Wow! Sounds like an interesting premise to me! What did you find in your mailbox last week?

May 2, 2010

The Sunday Salon:

Happy May everyone! It's hard to believe we're in the fifth month of the year already. Last week was a blur to me, but it was a wonderful week. I had visits from two special people in my life. One was my cousin I hadn't seen in over a year. We spent the whole day together, starting with breakfast at our favorite coffeehouse then we hit the stores, including the new DSW store where I got the coolest wedged-heeled sandals! On Thursday I spent some time with my high school best friend who I hadn't seen in fifteen years! She lives in Texas and was in Orlando on business. Luckily, she was able to sneak away and drive to Ocala for a few hours to see me. We had a wonderful time catching up with each other. This past week was one of the best I've had in a while.

Although i had a lot going on, I was still able to have a good book week too. I started off on Monday with my review of HUSH by Kate White. I also participated in Teaser Tuesday, with a sneak peek at my current read ON FOLLY BEACH by Karen White. And on Wednesday I spotlighted a yet-to-be-released book I'm really anxious to read on 'Waiting On' Wednesday. This new book has magical realism elements that I love that reminds me of Sarah Addison Allen's books.

I also received an interesting ARC in the mail this week. It's called THE ETERNAL ONES by Kirstin Miller. This book involves reincarnation and past lives. I'm anxious to see what it's all about.

I'm looking forward to a much calmer week ahead and I plan to finish ON FOLLY BEACH. What a great book to read in the Spring! I'm noticing some differences in her writing from her Tradd Street books, which I really love. But I'll talk more about that once I finish the book.

For now, I'm off to go make an iced coffee and grab my book. The warm weather has definitely arrived so I may have to break down and turn the A/C on today. It is supposed to be in the 90's again. I hope you have a relaxing Sunday and that you get a chance to spend some quality time with your current book.

May 1, 2010

On My Wishlist - A Russian Classic

This week I'm only featuring one book 'On My Wishlist'. I think it warrants a space all it's own. This is a book that some believe is the 'single greatest novel ever written'. It is Tolstoy's ANNA KARENINA. I can't say whether I think it is because first of all, I haven't read it and secondly, I'm totally unqualified to make that judgement, but I am dying to get myself a copy and read it for myself. Maybe this will be the year I finally tackle that goal.

There are so many printings and versions of this classic love story and that is another reason I think I have put it off along with the fact that it completely intimidates me. But I've decided on the one used in Oprah's Book Club. If it's good enough for Oprah . . . Have you read this classic Russian novel? If so, what did you think of it?

What book is topping your Wishlist today? On My Wishlist is hosted each Saturday by Book Chick City.