A Kid’s Review: Slob by Ellen Potter

31ddxnovrxl_sl500_aa240_Slob by Ellen Potter

Product Description from Amazon.com:

Twelve-year-old Owen Birnbaum is the fattest kid in school. But he’s also a genius who invents cool contraptions— like a TV that shows the past. Something happened two years ago that he needs to see. But genius or not, there is much Owen can’t outthink. Like his gym coach, who’s on a mission to humiliate him. Or the way his Oreos keep disappearing from his lunch. He’s sure that if he can only get the TV to work, things will start to make sense. But it will take a revelation for Owen, not science, to see the answer’s not in the past, but the present. That no matter how large he is on the outside, he doesn’t have to feel small on the inside.With her trademark humor, Ellen Potter has created a larger-than-life character and story whose weight is immense when measured in heart.

I received this ARC from Penguin and before I could even look it over, my 11 year old daughter snapped it up.  Maybe it was the Oreo cookie on the cover, or maybe it was the title, but she devoured the book in less than 2 days.   It’s a YA novel meant for kids 9-12 years old.  Rather than review it, my daughter wanted me to ask her questions about it, so here we go!

What is Slob about?  Who is the main character?

Slob is about a fat genius named Owen who tries to figure out a mystery about his parents.  Owen is 12 years old and goes to middle school. 

What challenges does Owen face?  

Owen is overweight, which presents a lot of problems for him, especially in gym class, where his coach is out to get him and embarrass him.  Someone suggests he get a ‘fat exemption’ from the doctor but he decides to tough it out.  Owen wants to solve the mystery about his parents so he builds Nemesis, a radio/television that can see the past and expand on what was caught on the security footage of a camera across the street from their deli.  It’s complicated.

How would you describe the book?  What was your favorite part?

I would describe it as suspenseful.  It has both serious and funny parts.  It’s mostly a mystery. The cover is really cool.  On the cookie, where it would say “Oreo”, it says “A Novel”.  The part I liked best were the parts at school, because he helps his arch-enemy recover from a seizure, and then they become friends.  

Were the characters believable?

I thought they were.  I liked Owen but the character I found most interesting was Mason Ragg.  He has one brown eye and one milky-blue eye and half his face is always sneering due to a medical condition.  It was rumored that Mason carried a switchblade in his sock, but it turned out it was just a key carrier.  There was another rumor that he was kicked out of his old school for being a handful.  It shows that people often make assumptions based on incorrect information. Mason knew about his reputation but didn’t let it bother him.

Did you like the ending?  Is there anything you’d change?

I did.  Owen learned a lot about himself by the end of the book.  He never did solve the mystery about his parents, but maybe some things are better left unsolved.

Who would you recommend this book to?  

I’d recommend this book to middle school kids, kids who’ve been bullied, kids who are friends with a bully, kids who are different, and kids who love to read.  It’s an easy read, and not too long (208 pages).  I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.  

 

Slob by Ellen Potter will be released on May 14th, 2009.  

Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

51a7mjkefwl_sl500_aa240_Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is the tale of two sisters.   The book opens in Shanghai in 1937, where Pearl and May are “beautiful girls” who model for an artist and whose faces appear on calendars and advertisements selling everything from soap to cigarettes.  They make money, but it all goes into supporting their expensive lifestyle.  They are sophisticated, educated girls who wear gorgeous clothing, stay out late, go to clubs, and take full advantage of their status in this cosmopolitan city.  They are blissfully ignorant of the rapidly changing political climate and the war with Japan looming on the horizon. 

At home, they are just girls, albeit girls living a privileged life, with cooks and servants and lovely furnishings.  Daughters are worthless in China except for their value as marriage material.  Pearl, however, is in love with her “beautiful girl” artist ZG, and May loves Tommy.  They’ve made a modern assumption that they will marry for love, as they do in the west, and are shocked when their father announces that their marriages have been arranged, to help the family. “Baba”, a wealthy businessman, has had a reversal of fortune.  His gambling debts are mounting and he sees no other way out but to marry off his daughters to the highest bidder. 

dsc0325824 hours later, the girls are married women.  Their new husbands, Sam and Vern (only 14!), and their family live in Los Angeles.  The plan is that the girls will tie up loose ends, take a boat to Hong Kong to meet their new husbands, then travel with them to Los Angeles.   Pearl and May, still in denial, never get on the boat for Hong Kong.  Baba is upset but thinks, “What can I do?”  Life goes on pretty much as before, with the girls adjusting their lifestyle only slightly and trying to make more money. 

But then the war breaks out.  They get caught up in the bombings but manage to escape Shanghai.   Threatened by collectors of Baba’s debt, they flee.  Leaving the city proves extremely difficult, and as they make their way out of the country, they are broken both physically and spiritually.  They finally arrive in Los Angeles after much hardship and make a life with their husbands and extended family as immigrants in Chinatown.  Pearl and May, with their love of western clothing and sensibilities, are made to wear the traditional clothing of China for the tourists and must stay within the confines of the community.   Pearl works and works, harboring little resentments against the more carefree May.  They struggle with everyday life, and nothing is as they expected it to be.   

As in Lisa See’s earlier novels, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, there is a major misunderstanding between the main characters that threatens to destroy their relationship and propels much of what happens in the book.  May and Pearl, like all siblings, view their shared past differently.  The revelatory moment, when they each see things clearly and understand the others’ perspective, comes late in the novel.   

I’m a huge Lisa See fan and was completely swept away by Shanghai Girls. This is a book about survival and just how much a person will endure for the people they love.  It is also a captivating history lesson about the difficulties faced by our immigrant population.  The book is so rich in detail, lush in its descriptive language.  Lisa See is an expert at describing and exploring women’s relationships, making this a natural choice for a book club.  My only complaint is the cliffhanger ending.. but then, maybe that leaves the door open for a sequel.  I hope so!  

Shanghai Girls will be released on May 26th.  Many thanks to Random House for sending me an advanced readers copy.  

For more information on Lisa See, please visit her website.

Teaser Tuesday 4/14/09

tuesday-t1Miz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

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imagedbcgi1My teaser comes from a deliciously naughty book called Foreign Tongue by Vanina Marsot. Lucky me, I get to see the author on a panel called Windows on the World at the Festival of Books in a couple of weeks!  It’s about an American woman who moves to Paris to escape Los Angeles and a love affair gone wrong.  She gets a job translating a novel from French to English, then discovers after she accepts the job that she’ll be translating an erotic novel.  Oooo la la!

This is from page 19:

“I had a sensation I’d had before in France, that not everyone finds a blank slate charming and guileless, the way we do back home.  Here, they prefer complexity; an acknowledgement that we are all guilty; or at least, no one is innocent.”

This book is witty and smart.  I just love the main character, Anna.  It’s one of the most entertaining books I’ve read all year!  Foreign Tongue is on sale beginning today, from Harper Paperbacks.  

Tell me: Should I finish?

I’ve developed a bad habit.  I’ll start a book, get bored, pick up something else thinking I’ll come back to it another time, and then I never go back.  I’ve got three books on my nightstand that for various reasons I stopped reading.  I need your opinion- are these books worth the hours it will take to finish them?  Please let me know if you’ve read any of them, and if you were glad you went the distance.

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O Nan.  I’m a fan.  I feel guilty.  I loved Last Night at the Lobster.  I really enjoyed Songs for the Missing.  But Wish You Were Here is plodding and (yawn) loooooooong.  I purchased this at the airport in New York and read the first 125 pages on a 4 hour flight before setting it aside, almost a year ago.  

Mexican High by Liza Monroy.  Part of my problem here is I won this book, so it doesn’t carry any sort of obligation.  I tried to use it as my “car” book, for those times I had to wait a few minutes here or there, never really giving it my full attention.  I’ve moved it to my nightstand for bedtime reading but it just hasn’t grabbed me yet, and I keep choosing other books instead.  

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah.  Another loooooooong book.  Maybe I have a short attention span.  After over 100 pages I just don’t really care what happens to the characters.  I’m not sure why I’m not connecting to them, but I’m not.  Keep at it?  Try again?  Give it away?

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Tell me:  Should I finish these books?

Teaser Tuesdays – 4/7/09

tuesday-tMiz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

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music-teacherMy teaser this week comes from page 66 of The Music Teacher by Barbara Hall, which I just received yesterday from Algonquin Books (haven’t started it yet).

“For me, it all started in the second grade, when the class was auditioned for the school band.  That was back in the day when there was such a thing as a music program in public schools.”

Oh, how well I can relate to this teaser!  In California, budget cuts have decimated the schools’ music and art programs.  Our school sent home a notice this week that the limited music program we had this year is now officially terminated for next year.  No music.  No art.  Lots of state testing, though!

Review: The Blue Notebook by James Levine

51rkxj2gqbl_sl500_aa240_Is it wrong to say I loved a book about child prostitution?  Maybe so, but it’s true.  The Blue Notebook by James Levine is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.  

The story is about Batuk, a beautiful and imaginative young girl from rural India.  Having learned to read during a lengthy hospital stay for TB, she takes solace from her miserable home life in books.  Betrayed by her own father, she is sold into the sex slave trade in Mumbai at the age of 9, brutally raped and forcibly introduced to the ways of the street.  Stunned and disoriented, survival becomes little Batuk’s main priority. 

As a prostitute, she weaves fantastical tales in her blue notebook as a way to remove herself mentally from the filth and scum of the Common Street, a place in Mumbai where she is locked in a “nest” and “makes sweet-cake” with 10 or more men a day.  All of her earnings go to pay off her purchase price; she gets nothing.  Hungry, filthy, lonely- her pencil and notebook come to mean everything to her.  Sold yet again to a wealthy man and taken to a luxurious hotel to show the man’s effeminate and vile son “how to be a husband”, she is abused, attacked, and treated like human garbage.  She hangs onto her notebook and continues to write, hiding her scribblings behind the pipes under the bathroom sink. 

The subject matter is difficult, but Batuk is an unforgettable character.  Through the gift of literacy she manages to rise above her circumstances and hold onto hope for the future.  Her imagination sets her free even as she is exploited, beaten, sold, belittled and raped. 

The atrocities of Batuk’s existence sickened me.  After reading The Blue Notebook, I did some internet searches to find out how many children are in similar circumstances in India.  The numbers are staggering and the reasons are complicated, but poverty, illiteracy, hunger, and overpopulation play an enormous role.  

James Levine is a brilliant writer.  He is a British doctor at the Mayo Clinic who, as part of his research for the Mayo Clinic, interviewed homeless kids on a famous street of prostitution in Mumbai known as The Street of Cages.  He noticed a girl writing in a notebook outside of her cage and he interviewed her at length.  That powerful image haunted him and launched his career as an author.  I hope this book will shine a bright light into this dark global issue.  

All of the US proceeds from The Blue Notebook will be donated to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children.  It will be released in July 2009.  I recommend you buy a copy to help this organization and to honor a child you love (you can pre-order before the release).

Thank you to Rochelle Clark at Random House for sending me this extraordinary novel.

  

Review: Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson

us-cover-compressedSonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson is about silence and loss. On the day his daughter Miriam dies, musician Adam Anker visits a War Memorial Museum in New Zealand, where he finds a photograph of a man who shares the name he was born with, Adam Lipski, and a note from Adam’s sister. Putting that information aside as he grieves the loss of his daughter, he returns to the mystery of his past a year later. His quest for answers takes him to Krakow, Poland, where he meets an old friend of Lipski’s who can fill in the blanks of his past for him. There is also some unfinished business with Cecilia, the mother of his daughter, who he hasn’t been in contact with for 19 years- the entirety of their daughter’s life.

Adam’s mother was silent about their family, where they came from, and who his father was. As frustrated as Adam had been throughout his life about this lack of fundamental information, he did the very same thing to his daughter Miriam. He never told her anything about her mother, even though she had begun to ask, and with her death he regretfully could never make that right.

Cecilia has lived alone on the island where she spent her childhood summers for the entire time she and Adam have been apart. The symbolism in the fact that both Adam and Cecilia live on islands, worlds away from each other, wasn’t lost on me- we humans are all islands in a sense, but these two cherish their solitude more than most and shy away from human connection. Cecelia’s story takes some major twists- large events worthy of their own separate novel. One important thing we find out is why she gave Adam the painful choice of being her partner or being Miriam’s father (one or the other, not both).

I thought that after nearly two decades of silence, Cecilia would crave information about the daughter she let go the way the desert craves the rain. Adam awakened long-buried feelings in Cecilia, and he does tell her about Miriam eventually, but it feels like Adam is the one who needs to tell, rather than Cecilia is the one who needs to hear. The beautiful sonata he has written for their daughter is what finally unlocks the silence between them.

This book has a dreamlike quality that I enjoyed, although, as often happens with dreams, I wasn’t always clear about what was going on. The book is divided into 6 sections, with the first three narrated by Adam, four and five narrated by Cecilia, and the 6th back to Adam. The transition was a little disorienting. When I realized there was a new narrator I had to go back and re-read several pages with that new voice in my head. At some point, maybe about 100 pages in, Adam starts speaking directly to Cecilia as if she is the reader. When Cecilia takes over, she is speaking directly to Adam as if he is the reader. It took some getting used to. However, I enjoyed the book for it’s exquisite prose, and would recommend it to those with an appreciation for beautiful language.

Linda Olsson is also the author of the acclaimed novel, Astrid and Veronika. You can visit the author’s website HERE. Thanks to Penguin for sending Sonata for Miriam for me to review.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays~

tuesday-tMiz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

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us-cover-compressedFrom page 63 of Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson:

“By ourselves we might have had a slim chance of blending in: together we were impossibly alien.  It was as if we gave off a particular smell that was obvious to all.”

I have to say that the writing in this book is beautiful, almost poetic, but I’m a little lost as to what’s going on (I’m about halfway through).

What are you reading this week?


Interview and Giveaway: Laura Fitzgerald, author of One True Theory of Love

images-1Recently I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors, the wonderful Laura Fitzgerald.  Laura is the author of the bestselling book Veil of Roses, and a new novel, One True Theory of Love (reviewed here), which just came out in February.  Even though she is really busy promoting her book and going to book signings and festivals, she took the time to give me very thorough and thoughtful answers to my questions.  Please enjoy this interview, and leave a comment if you’d like a chance to win her new book!  

BOTB:  If you had to describe your new book in one sentence, what would that be?

Laura:  One True Theory of Love is a story about the redemptive power of second chances in life and love.

51svuaqeq5l_sl500_aa240_BOTB:  You mentioned your very own book club recently read and discussed One True Theory of Love.  What was that like for you? 

Laura:  It was incredibly fun, because it was such a celebration of a big goal achieved and these are great women with whom to celebrate. It was also a great discussion of the book’s themes of second chances and the changing nature of relationships. All in all, it was a fun night of much wine, great discussion, and laughter.

It was also a bit weird, because everyone was asking me about my husband’s forearms and are they as sexy as Ahmed’s in the book…That’s been the one big difference between Veil of Roses and One True Theory of Love. With the main character in Veil of Roses being from Iran, no one suspected there was anything of me in her. But with this second book, I’m being asked that question a lot: How much of Meg is you? And, of course, there’s a lot of me in both Tami and Meg, as there is a lot of me in every character I write. I’m all over my books, hiding in plain sight. 

n225748BOTB:  I’ve read on your website that the idea for the book came from a book club meeting you attended for your first book, Veil of Roses.  Can you tell us about that?

Laura:  Well, I was quite far along in my writing of this other story that just wasn’t working out – I couldn’t get the main character to be likable, and the story itself was so different from Veil of Roses in tone and temperament that I was coming to the sad conclusion that it wasn’t the right “next book” for me. This realization was confirmed as I met with three book clubs in Wisconsin in the course of a week. 

The clear message was they like the “make you laugh, make you cry” flavor of Veil of Roses. The book I’d been working on was a straight “make you cry” type of book. Also, in each book club, members were going through huge life changes, falling in or out of love, mourning the deaths of loved ones, and just in general fighting the good, hard fights that life presents us. And it just struck me how much courage it requires to build yourself back up after life has knocked you down. We like to believe our happy ending is out there, waiting for us – that no matter how bad things are, if we just try harder, or try AGAIN, good things will happen and we’ll be happy. That’s not always how it works – but this deliberate optimism is what helps us move forward. 

I hate to sound existential, but I believe the happiness can be found in the struggle. Life is richer for going after what you want when there’s no guarantee of a positive outcome. It just is. 

BOTB:  What has been the most exciting thing that has happened to you since becoming a best selling author?  How has it changed your life? 

Laura:  I can’t and won’t downplay how nice it is to forevermore get to be referred to as “national bestselling author,” but the life-changing part of it comes down to the fact that I had a hard-to-achieve goal and I achieved it – writing a novel good enough to be published at a time when no one cared whether I did it or not. I now get to spend my days doing what I love, in a way that is perfectly suited to my skills, wants and personality. I am figuring out how to tell great stories, and after years and years of work learning my craft, I am almost at a point where I feel I’m hitting my stride with my writing. It’s exciting for me personally to feel with some confidence that the next few books are going to be a culmination of a lot of work on the backend, and that the best is yet to be. 

To repeat: Life is richer for going after what you want when there’s no guarantee of a positive outcome. I feel like I’m walking on a tightrope and to stay on it requires every ounce of skill I have, plus some luck. It’s a position I love to be in. 

BOTB:  Do you write with a particular audience in mind, or do you just write what you like?  

Laura:  Pretty much all my stories center around women who have to summon the courage to do something that is hard for them to do in order to get their shot at happiness — it’s a proactive approach to life and ultimately very affirming. We save ourselves, and we find ourselves in the broken pieces. I firmly believe that. My audience is any woman who needs that message. 

BOTB:  What is the writing process like for you?  Do you treat it like a job- writing for a certain number of hours a day- or do you wait until inspiration strikes?  How do you manage to get anything done with two young kids at home? 

Laura:  Writing is my job, absolutely. I have an office that I go to Monday through Friday while my kids are at school. I’m at this phase in my life where I’d spend twice as much time on my writing if I could – seven days a week, probably, but I’m acutely aware that my kids won’t be this age forever. My top value at the moment is maintaining balance and it’s a constant struggle. So I leave my writing at the office and spend the rest of the time with my kids. And husband. And friends. (And on facebook.) 

BOTB:  Can you tell us about your workspace?  Do you have interesting things on the walls or on your desk to spark creativity?  

Laura:  I rent an office a few miles from my house, and it’s mine, baby – all mine. No phone, no internet connection, no husband, no kids. I don’t like clutter, so I keep my desk clear, with only a great view of the Catalina Mountains in front of me. I’ve got Ethan Allen furniture – desk, reading chair and bookshelves. I have three prints on my walls – two simple and artistic photographs, one of a book with its pages spread open and one of a cup of coffee shot from above (I love both coffee and books). I also have a print of Mark Twain with one of his quotes: I find it usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. This has significance to me because I believe in doing a ton of work behind the scenes to make my writing come out smooth and easy. I’m a big planner and thinker and having my office – which I think of as my “pretty little prison cell” allows me the space and time to do both. And then to write, of course. 

BOTB:  You mentioned that you’re writing a sequel to Veil of Roses.  I’m so excited about that!  What will it be called, and when can we expect to see it in stores?  

Laura:  I’m working very hard to make this sequel even better than the first book. In addition to learning what happens after Tami and Ike’s wedding, I’m delving into the lives of two other characters from Veil of Roses – Tami’s mother, and Rose. 

As yet, it hasn’t been titled. I’m calling it GONE TO PICK FLOWERS, but that’ll likely change. It should be in stores by next summer (2010).

BOTB:  Laura, THANK YOU for your time and generosity!!  I loved your book and am so thrilled to be able to offer a copy of it to one lucky reader!

If you’d like a chance to win a copy of Laura’s new book, One True Theory of Love, leave a comment here by Tuesday, March 17th.

Review: One True Theory of Love by Laura Fitzgerald

51svuaqeq5l_sl500_aa240_One True Theory of Love by Laura Fitzgerald is such a good book.  It would probably be classified as chick lit- which is defined by wiktionary.org as “literature perceived to appeal to, or be marketed at, young women, typically concerning romantic dilemmas.”  So now I guess we need to define young, because I’m a mom in my forties and I loved it.  Can we call it women’s fiction, rather than the more condescending-sounding “chick lit”?  

The story is about second chances in life and in love.  Meg Clark is a spunky kindergarten teacher and single mom whose heart was trounced by her cheating ex, Jonathon, but who, almost 10 years later, is doing pretty well.  She and 9 year old son Henry are in a good place.  They are happy, and they are a package deal who, after meeting the handsome Ahmed in a coffee shop, announce “we don’t date.”  

But of course, that will change.   Meg wears her heart on her sleeve and soon lets down her guard and allows Ahmed into her life, much to Henry’s delight.  Ahmed is a great guy; kind, sexy, successful, great with kids and honest to a fault.  He’s very easygoing but cannot tolerate a lie in any form.  Ahmed’s trust issues stem from his relationship with his father.  When he rigidly refuses to understand a “lie of omission” (which to him is a deal-breaker) they break up.  Meg, advised by her father to withhold certain information from Ahmed, is stunned. 

The eternally optimistic Meg tends to see the best in others, causing some blind spots where her loved ones are concerned.  Her parents, separating after 35 years, are each looking for something better, a second chance.  Having always been daddy’s girl, she is critical of her mother and worships her dad.  However, after discovering that her dad has been having an affair with his secretary for many years, she feels shocked and betrayed, even though everyone knows except Meg, because she just refused to see the truth.  

images-1I enjoyed the romantic chemistry and banter between Ahmed and Meg.  Ahmed, an Iranian American, fielded some questions/comments about his background, but it was mostly a non-issue.  Author Fitzgerald is married to an Iranian American so maybe that’s why it all seemed perfectly natural.  There were no culture clashes, no latent racism.  That was an aspect of the book I respected and enjoyed. 

I really liked this book.  The characters and situations felt very real and were wholly likeable.  I would recommend this to all the chicks who like lit and to the more mature lovers of women’s fiction.  Whichever one you are, I predict you will like One True Theory of Love.  If you haven’t read Fitzgerald’s earlier book, Veil of Roses, you definitely should check that one out, too!

You can find out more about Laura Fitzgerald and her books at her website.  Here she tells how One True Theory of Love was actually inspired by a group of women at a book club discussion of Veil of Roses!  How cool is that??