Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

DownloadedFileBefore I Go To Sleep is an impressive debut by S. J. Watson.  It begins with a young woman waking up in bed and not knowing who or where she is, or who the older man next to her might be.  Racing to the bathroom, she looks in the mirror and finds a person looking back at her that she doesn’t recognize, an older version of herself.  She sees pictures on the mirror of this older self with the man in the bed. That terrifying beginning is the set up for a book that deals with memory and identity.

Who are we if we don’t have our memories? Ben, the man in the bed, patiently explains, as he does each day, who he is, who she is, what their lives are like.  Ben goes off to work, leaving her to fend for herself until she receives a phone call from Dr. Nash. “You have amnesia,” Dr. Nash explains. “You’ve had amnesia for a long time. You can’t retain new memories, so you’ve forgotten much of what’s happened to you for your entire adult life. Every day you wake up as if you are a young woman. Some days you wake as if you are a child.”

A blank slate every day.  A mind wiped clean.  How did this happen? She meets with Dr. Nash and he has her start a journal, which helps her put her life into context and gives her some continuity from one day to the next.  She begins to remember things; her name (Christine), her husband, Ben.  But nothing is as it seems, and she has the sense that they are hiding things from her.  Nash suggests the journal be kept hidden from Ben, who doesn’t want her seeing a doctor.  Ben is patient with Christine, but also deliberately vague and evasive.  Who can she trust?

Before I Go To Sleep is a well crafted page turner.  I thought I had it figured out a couple of times but it wasn’t until near the end that all the twists and turns came together for me, and because that was great fun, I don’t want to give too much away.  Even though the amnesia concept is a frequent plot device in fiction, I found this book compelling.  We, as readers, experience everything and discover things at the same dreadful and ominous pace as Christine. It is a dark and delicious read. **purchased on the Nook for a book club discussion**

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand


DownloadedFile-4My husband, the non-reader, was given an iPod Touch for Christmas and has embraced audio books, hooray!  His first book on the iPod was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  I read Unbroken with my book club last fall, so I was excited to be able to discuss it with him and get his impressions of it.

For those who don’t know, Unbroken is an amazing true account of the life of Louis Zamparini, a man in his 90s who was, among other things, a scrappy kid from Torrance, CA,  a student at USC, an Olympic runner, a WWII bombardier, a plane crash survivor who spent more than 40 days floating in the Pacific Ocean on a tiny raft, a POW in Japan, an alcoholic, a born again Christian, and a motivational speaker.  He met Hitler during the 1936 Olympics and met Billy Graham after the war.  I liken him to Forrest Gump.

Let’s just say I enjoyed the book much more than my husband did.  I was so surprised!  I mean, it’s a war book and a survivor book, guys like that stuff, right?!  But he felt it was too long and that there were just way waaaaay too many details about everything.  Details about planes, about weather, about the ocean, about the sky, about maggots in the food, about starvation and bodily functions.  Details about running and training and school.  Most of his annoyance, though, had to do with the abuse Louis Zamparini endured in the Japanese POW camps.  He felt that, if it were accurate, nobody could possibly survive it and live to tell about it.  He wondered if perhaps it was exaggerated, and we talked about memory and how a man in his 90s could recall in such great detail what had happened to him decades before.  I admit I wondered if there was some exaggeration in the book, too, but by all accounts the author did flawless research.  And, the old dude is sharp, even now!!  We watched an interview with him on youtube and he’s got to be the most with-it *nonagenarian ever (*that’s an old dude in his 90s, in case you don’t know that word).

The old dude

The old dude

Anyway, I’m just giddy that I was able to have an actual book discussion with my actual husband.  Friends, this has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!  Hopefully it’s the start of a trend.

Does anyone have any good recommendations for my husband’s next audio book?  He hates accents of any kind, so the narrator must speak American English.  No Brits.  Leave me a comment if you know of a good one.  I don’t listen to audio books so I’m not sure what’s good to listen to.  He likes history, action, adventure, and anything that would be motivational/positive thinking (you can perhaps see why I thought Unbroken would be perfect for him?!)  Thanks for any suggestions you can offer!

Review: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown

26317027Janelle Brown’s debut novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, is a satire and social commentary on the super rich Silicon Valley lifestyle.  

After a stratospheric IPO makes him one of the wealthiest men in the area, Janice’s husband leaves her for her best friend and tennis partner, attempting to cut her out of his fortune.  Janice retreats to her 5200 square foot home to lick her wounds, staying away from the club and her “friends” for weeks.  Soon she’s hanging out with the sleazy pool boy and jonesing for “IT,” crystal meth that helps her get through the day.  

Alarmed and neglected, 14 year old daughter Lizzie, who has recently shaped up a bit on the swim team, enjoys the attentions of the boys on the team a little too much and pretty soon her name is all over the bathroom walls.  She calls older sister Margaret in LA to come home and help deal with their mom, which is perfect timing since Margaret is putting up a front for her rich friends while secretly being hounded by creditors.  She is looking for a way out. 

This family is a ridiculous mess.  No one talks to anyone else.  All three of these women are absurdly self-absorbed.  Janice is like Martha Stewart on overdrive, cleaning her house for hours each day when she’s not in bed sleeping, and completely oblivious to her daughters’ pain.  Lizzie, dealing with weight issues, mean girls, and boys who only like her for one thing, is completely alone and searching for anything to make her feel better.  She ends up finding Jesus in an evangelical youth group at a warehouse-style church.  Margaret is so deeply in denial about her financial problems that she takes a job dog-walking with disastrous results and thinks about moving to Mexico with the pool boy. 

Exposing the ugly underbelly of the American dream, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a sometimes funny, sometimes painful look at one very dysfunctional  family, and their struggle to find ways to communicate with each other and to live in a world that is less than perfect.  However, the situations felt kind of dated to me in this time of economic uncertainty, and the “ick” factor (drugs, teen sex, excess everything) was high. 

You can find discussion, opinions and comments about AWEWWE at Mari’s blog, Bookworm with a View, and a reader’s guide can be found on the Random House site.  While I didn’t love this book, or anybody in it, it was fun to read it as part of a discussion, and I would recommend it to book clubs because they’d find a lot to talk about.  Thanks, Mari, for sending it my way.

For other takes on the book, check out these reviews:

3 R’s:  Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness

Booking Mama

The Family With Three Last Names

Breaking the Spine

This book was our Summer Reading Series selection for July.  Our August selection is Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens and the discussion will take place here on August 18th.

Blog Neglect and Reviews

"Watch me, Mom!"

"Watch me, Mom!"

Due to the lure of summer and the demands of work and children, I’ve been neglecting my blog.  I’m down from 3-5 posts per week to 1-2.  It’s not that I have less to say, only that I have less time to say it.  

But I have been reading!  I read during the kids’ pre-lifeguard classes at the high school. I read while watching their back handsprings and round-offs during tumbling.  I read on the front steps of the library as the girls return their books and look for new ones.  I read at the roller rink while they skate.  I read in the food court at the mall as they and their friends spend an hour at Claire’s poring over $2 earrings and purple and green nail polish, or visiting the puppies at the pet store.  I read while sitting at the pool as they perfect their dives and their butterfly stroke.  “Watch me, Mom!”  “Time me, Mom!”  “On a scale of 1-10, how good was my dive?”  My To-Be-Reviewed stack is piling up.

Speaking of reviews.. I have a few questions for my fellow bloggers.

How long, on average, does it take you to write a review?

Do you read other reviews before or after you write yours?

Do you write your review immediately upon finishing a book, or do you wait a while and let it sink in a bit?

Do you pick up a new book to start the minute you finish one?

Inquiring minds want to know!!

Hope everyone is having a great summer!  Thanks to all of you who still come by and comment even though there’s not much going on around here lately!

Give me your GUSHERS

readiacMy friend David of Creative Management Partners LLC is looking for book reviews.  He wants your gushers– the books that completely blew you away and that you can’t help but gush about.  Not the ones that were good, pretty good, or even very good.  He wants the ones that you looooooved, the ones that kept you up all night, the ones you force into the hands of others, the ones you blab about to everyone.  Your must reads.

David has created a really cool website called Readiac: only the books you MUST read, because aren’t we all looking for a great book?  A not-to-be-missed read that will knock our socks off?  I know I am!  

If you’ve written a review for a book you want to tell the world about, one you’re super enthusiastic about, email David at david@booktrix.com with READIAC in the subject line and submit a review.  Or if you’re ready for a book to hit you like a freight train, head on over to Readiac and find one over there. Tell David that Lisa from Books on the Brain sent you!

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!!

To Rate, or Not to Rate

I’m hoping you can help me out.  I’m trying to decide whether or not to implement a rating system for my book reviews.  Sometimes I think it would be useful and helpful, then other times I worry that my opinion of a book could be heavily influenced by my mood at the time I’m reading it.  Also, I’m afraid I’d give everything a 4.

So I have a few questions for my fellow book bloggers..

Do you rate your books?

If so, do you use a 1-5 scale, or a 1-10 scale, or something else?  

What are the pros/cons to whatever scale you use?

Do you have trouble deciding what rating to give a book?  Do you have MORE trouble depending on how you got the book (purchased, borrowed, recommended by a friend, sent by an author or publisher, blog tour, etc)?

Do you ever want to go back and change your rating, after you’ve had more time to think on it?

Do you find yourself frequently giving half points (or stars, or caterpillars, or whatever you give out!)?

Ok, now a question for the readers-

Do you find it helpful when a reviewer or blogger uses a rating system?  Is that important to you?

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.

Review? Haiku! Giftcard Giveaway at Fyrefly’s Book Blog

In honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Fyrefly’s Book Blog is hosting a giveaway! She says:

We all love reading and writing book reviews, but let’s face it, even the most straight-forward of us gets a little wordy at times. After reading Adventures in Reading’s post on book reviews vs. blurbs, I decided to see if I could hone my conciseness to a point by fitting my reviews into haiku form. This isn’t an idea that’s unique to me; my friend A was reviewing books on LibraryThing in this format for a while, and I know others have done it before her. Still, once I got started, I found it hard to stop! 

Well, a poet I’m not!  But I had to try my hand at this, so I used 3 Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers for inspiration, and quickly came up with three haikus.  I’m not pretending they’re good or anything!!  But Fyrefly is giving away a $20 Amazon gift card, so what the heck.

 

He builds schools for girls

Pakistan, Afghanistan’s

American friend.

 

He saw their hopes, dreams

to educate their daughters

and live better lives. 

 

 

 

 

Late night drunken calls

Mockingbirds want privacy

Ghosts demand answers

 

What about you?  Can you review in haiku?

Calling all Book Bloggers

Being somewhat new to the world of book blogs, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how easy it is to snag free books.  There are so many contests and giveaways all over the web, and who doesn’t want more reading material, especially if it’s free?  In the past few months I’ve signed up for dozens of contests and giveaways, and won many of them.  Must be the luck o’ the Irish (Happy St. Patty’s Day, by the way!)

Well, I’ve discovered that publicists, publishers, distributors and authors are just as eager (if not more so) to give me their books as I am to receive them.  Why me? Because I am an enthusiastic reader who loves to share what I read on my blog. Free books+Free promotion= win/win situation!

Lisa Roe is an online publicist who loves her job.  She spends a portion of each day checking out book blogs (wait, I do that, too.. and she’s getting paid.. I want her job!)  She loves to read and is dedicated to getting books into the hands of bloggers.  The internet has changed the way publicists publicize.  Online promotion is the cutting edge of getting the word out about new books.

Lisa is taking a creative approach by actively seeking out book bloggers to read and review the books she is promoting. She’s inviting book bloggers to take a look at her brand new website.  If you see a title there that fits the content of your blog, she will send it to you to read and review.  She is also open to the possibility of book giveaways, contest, author interviews and guest posts on your blog (whatever it takes to promote those books!)

She has a mix of fiction and non fiction titles to choose from.  Even though I normally read fiction, one title that caught my eye is:  STAY HEALTHY, LIVE LONGER, SPEND WISELY by Davis, M.D. Liu : Written by a practicing family physician employed by one of the nation’s top healthcare organizations, this book provides critical information readers need to make intelligent medical and financial decisions to not only increase their chances for good health but also to get the most value out of their healthcare dollars. It is the only book that simultaneously tackles both the medical and financial perspective of staying healthy. Stay Healthy, Live Longer, Spend Wisely 

 51kpk7d-m5l_ou01_aa240_sh20_.jpg

Go check out Lisa’s site and send her an email if you’re interested in reading and reviewing one of the titles she’s promoting.  She’ll send you the book.  For free.  Yes, I do so love a free book!