Here we go…

DownloadedFile-5So I updated my About Page recently and whoosh, three books arrived in my mailbox last week.  I’m excited to start reviewing again and hope to share one review a week.  I’m not the fastest reader ever, and not the fastest reviewer either.  But hey, a goal of once a week is better than going a whole year without a new post, right?

The books that found me this past week include ARCs of Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight (Harper Collins), Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende (Harper Collins), and TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Random House).  All of them look fantastic, however I might pass TransAtlantic to my mom.  I didn’t request it and I have so much reading material that I fear it will languish on my shelves for years.  But I think my mom will love it, and I want it to be loved by someone rather than be neglected and collect dust, so off it will go.  If she loves it, I might give it a try.

I started Reconstructing Amelia last night and quickly breezed through the first 50 pages.  Already, teenage Amelia has jumped off the roof of her private school, or did she?  There’s a mystery and it’s just ramping up.  I’m nervous for the main character, Amelia’s mom, Kate.

Also last week, I purchased The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch on the Nook for my daughter, who needs to read it for her sophomore English class.  I haven’t read it myself but would like to at some point.  My 8th grade daughter borrowed Dead is the New Black by Marlene Perez from the library for her required RC reading.  It’s below her reading level, but her teacher doesn’t care what level they read at so long as they read 20 minutes a day.  She claims not to like reading, but I caught her giggling over this one.

I also used some Audible.com credits to get a couple more audio books for my husband, the non-reader.  Based on recommendations from both Sandy and Kathy, I got 11/22/63 by Steven King and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  Thanks for the recommendations, ladies!

What are you reading this week?

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Review: Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein

small-book-coverAs I prepared to ship my daughter off to sleep-away camp, I thought it would be fun to read Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein, a memoir of the author’s childhood summers at a fat camp in the 80’s.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected.

The book opens as a grown up Stephanie is being told by a doctor that she must gain 50 pounds for the health and well being of the twins she is carrying. This sends her into an emotional tailspin, bringing back a flood of childhood memories of when she was called “Moose” by her classmates and when her parents shipped her off to fat camp. Moose is actually a compilation of 5 childhood summers spent at camp.

Stephanie’s mom is concerned about her weight. Stephanie’s dad cruelly pokes fun at her chubby body. At the age of 8 they start sending her to see Fran, a woman who runs a weight loss program out of her basement in Long Island. Weigh-ins, lectures about food (never exercise), and helpful/hurtful comments turn Stephanie’s extra pounds into a lifelong obsession with weight and a distorted body image.

When meetings in Fran’s basement don’t produce the desired results, Stephanie’s parents ship her off to Yanisin, a summer camp program designed to promote weight loss through diet and exercise. Stephanie finds she is on the thinner side of fat at Yanisin; there is a hierarchy of popularity even at fat camp, where everyone is heavy, and Stephanie is thrilled to discover she’s one of the ‘hot’ girls.

The author, then and now

The author, then and now

Rather than learning how to have a healthy relationship with food and with her body, Stephanie picks up some really bizarre ideas from the other campers (i.e. drinking water shots before a weigh in) and some unhealthy ways of dealing with things at camp. She even learns how to self-induce vomiting from another camper, and it all gets a bit dark and disturbing. The focus is always on appearance, not health.

This book brought up a lot of memories for me. I wasn’t fat but I went through a 2 or 3 year period between about 11 and 13 where I had what my mother affectionately called a “cookie roll”.. basically a jiggly tummy. I was horribly self conscious about it, and all the pictures from those awkward years show me with my arms crossed in front of me, trying to hide my stomach. I think Klein does a good job of describing what it feels like to be self conscious about your body, about not feeling good enough, about the pain of being teased by others.

But much of her writing made me feel uncomfortable. At times she is very crude. She talks about her fascination with kinky, hardcore porn magazines (as a preteen) and her very early discovery of her sexuality (bringing herself to orgasm in 2nd grade). I kept thinking- TMI (too much information).

But at other times the writing is funny, sharp, and heartbreaking. Each chapter begins with one of Stephanie’s journal entries from that time.  I think most people will relate to her complicated feelings about her body, about body image in general, and her relationships with her family and with other kids. Kids can be cruel. Even fat kids.

I was hoping that by the time Stephanie grew up she would identify less with her body- that thinness or fatness would not be her most important identifying trait. Meaning I hoped that she would think more highly of herself rather than just a person with weight issues. But by the end of the book, when she’s now a mother of 2 beautiful children, she still has a twisted body image, is still hyper-focused on her appearance, still obsessing about food and weight. I found that kind of sad.

Stephanie Klein is also the author of Straight Up and Dirty, a funny look at her life after divorce.  Many thanks to HarperCollins for sending me this book for review.

Review and Giveaway: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

imageDB-1.cgiBelong to Me by Marisa de los Santos starts out like this: 

“My fall from suburban grace, or, more accurately, my failure to achieve the merest molehill of suburban grace from which to fall, began with a dinner party and a perfectly innocent, modestly clever, and only faintly quirky remark about Armand Assante.” 

It begins as a fish out of water story about Cornelia Brown, a character from de los Santos’ debut novel, Love Walked In, which I did not read.  No matter.  I didn’t even realize this was a continuation of another book until after I’d read it.  It was great all by itself!

Cornelia and her handsome doctor hubby, Teo, move to suburbia from the city, and pretty soon they are getting to know people.  Teo, by the way, is Handsome with a capital H.  The frequent reminders of his hotness made me think of the way Stephenie Meyers described Edward in Twilight.  He’s attractive; very, very attractive, and doesn’t seem to know it.  Mr. Modest.  

We don’t get to know Teo that well, although he plays a pivotal role in the story.  Belong to Me is more about women, and their relationships with each other.  Ok, about their relationships with men, too.  But it’s more a book about women.  Piper from across the street is a snooty beyotch (did I spell that right??); a married stay at home mom who is critical of everyone.  Right off the bat, she makes comments about Cornelia’s name, hair, and yard.  Pipe’s BFF Elizabeth, sadly, is battling cancer, which is awful but really brings out the human side of Piper.  Cornelia befriends a waitress named Lake who seems smart and blissfully normal (and nicknames Piper “Viper”- ingratiating herself to Cornelia instantly).  But Lake has a secret- a big one.  She also has a son, 13 year old Dev, with a genius IQ.  And Clare is a frequent guest at Cornelia and Teo’s house, who Dev falls for, hard.  Ah, first love. 

It was interesting to see the transformation that takes place in the characters, especially Piper. All her perfectionism and controlling behaviors mask an inner self doubt and lack of confidence, and when things beyond her control threaten her carefully constructed life, it forces her to take a closer look at the things that truly matter- love, friends, family- not the manicured lawn or the perfect crease in the sleeve of her blouse.  Even Cornelia likes her by the end of the book.  

The story is told from 3 points of view in alternating chapters- Cornelia, Piper, and Dev.  De los Santos did a great job of keeping their voices unique- I could easily tell who was telling the story.  Cornelia had such an interesting vocabulary, Piper was really into appearances and denial, Dev was teenage-awkward and brilliant in the best possible way.  The characters had a depth that made them very realistic to me. 

There’s money, private schools, cancer and death, secrets and lies, inappropriate relationships, affairs, and children- legitimate and otherwise.  Does it sound a bit like a soap opera?  I guess it does, but Santos is able to intertwine these characters and their stories in such a way that the reader truly cares about them.  The book is filled with hope and friends, laughter and tears, and the warm feeling that comes from knowing we belong to the ones who love us.  My emotions were all over the map while reading Belong to Me, and the unexpected ending was a real treat.  De los Santos is a truly gifted writer.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.  

Please visit Marisa de los Santos at her website, and check out the wonderful guest post she wrote for me about balancing family life with writing and working from home.

Oh!  OH!  I almost forgot!  Harper Collins is generously offering copies of Belong to Me to 3 lucky readers!  Leave a comment by Monday, May 25th, for a chance to win!!

One Last 100K Celebration Giveaway: Things I Want My Daughters To Know by Elizabeth Noble

9780061122194Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope you are canoodling with your honey and staying warm!

For this final 100K Celebration Giveaway, Danny from HarperCollins looked over my blog and thought my readers would be interested in the book Things I Want My Daughters To Know by bestselling author Elizabeth Noble!  It seems appropriate since I talk about my preteen girls so much.  

There will be a Book Club Girl On Air show occurring online on Tuesday, February 17th, at 7 pm with Elizabeth Noble on www.authorsonair.com.  It’s an interview with the author where book club members can call in or write in with questions about the book.  Pretty cool!

6a00d8341c9ac653ef010536f1eeee970b-120wiHere’s a little information about the book:

How do you cope in a world without your mother?

When Barbara realizes time is running out, she writes letters to her four daughters, aware that they’ll be facing the trials and triumphs of life without her at their side. But how can she leave them when they still have so much growing up to do?

Take Lisa, in her midthirties but incapable of making a commitment; or Jennifer, trapped in a stale marriage and buttoned up so tight she could burst. Twentysomething Amanda, the traveler, has always distanced herself from the rest of the family; and then there’s Hannah, a teenage girl on the verge of womanhood about to be parted from the mother she adores. 

But by drawing on the wisdom in Barbara’s letters, the girls might just find a way to cope with their loss. And in coming to terms with their bereavement, can they also set themselves free to enjoy their lives with all the passion and love each deserves?

This heartfelt novel by bestselling author Elizabeth Noble celebrates family, friends . . . and the glorious, endless possibilities of life.

My Daughters, My Loves

My Daughters, My Loves

Sound good?  For a chance to win a copy of Things I Want My Daughters to Know, leave a comment by Saturday, February 21st, telling me something that YOU’D like your daughter (or future daughter, or niece, or random young girl) to know.

As for me, there are a million things I want my girls to know, not the least of which is how to behave themselves!  But also how much I love them and how much being their mom has changed me forever.  Happy Valentines Day to you and yours!

Review: The Space Between Before and After by Jean Reynolds Page

The Book Gods have been kind to me.  Recently I received a package from the Avon Trade division of Harper Collins containing not one but two books for my review.  I was tempted to add them to my ever growing stack, knowing it might be weeks before I got around to them, but instead passed one of those books and a couple others from the review stack to Elaine, a friend in my book club.  This girl is a reading machine!  Within a few days time she’d read the three books I’d given her and reviewed them for me.  Here is her first review for Books on the Brain:

The Space Between Before and After by Jean Reynolds Page is about a slightly dysfunctional family and their three-day visit in a small rural town in Texas.  Holli/Hollyanne, divorced and living in NY, believes that her aging grandmother who raised her is loosing her grip on reality.  Holli decides to go to her childhood home in Thaxton, TX, to check up on Grandma Raine to make sure she is all right.  Around the same time, she hears that her twenty-year-old son, Connor, who had recently run away from college with his girlfriend and moved into a trailer behind Grandma Raine’s house in Thaxton, may also be facing a crisis of his own, with his girlfriend in the hospital.  As a result, all the family descends upon Thaxton to solve these problems and, consequently, create more family drama than Holli initially expected. 

This three-day trip becomes the setting for some critical life decisions, secrets revealed, reflections into love, faith and loss, and flashbacks into Holli’s own troubled childhood.   The drama in the Texas home, the majority of the book, reminded me of a stage play, with lots of one-on-one conversations rotating between the various characters.  This part of the novel seemed to drag on a bit after the major conflicts are introduced.  In contrast, Holli’s flashbacks to her childhood and relationships with her father and stepmother, I believe, were interesting and heartbreaking.  Coincidentally or not, many of the tragedies of Holli’s life happen in concert with events in space.  I am still trying to figure out if there is any deeper symbolism in the space theme (the emptiness, the danger of traveling into the “heavens”, etc.), but I felt like it was more of a literary “gimmick” to tie the events together, more than anything else.  Also, it seemed as though every character had a secret to reveal and there seemed to be a few too many parallel tragedies in the story to be realistic, although maybe some families are simply that unlucky. 

The novel is extremely well written, albeit slightly long.  Minor criticisms aside, the book is a very enjoyable read and I would recommend it to someone interested in family drama. 

Blogger Bio:  Elaine Legere is stay-at-home mommy and part-time marketing consultant, after years of working for Disney, Palm (aka Palm Pilot), Los Angeles Times, and Details Magazine.  She received her BA at UCLA in English Literature and an MBA from University of Colorado. She is an avid reader, loves movies, and all things outdoors.