Thursday, November 29, 2012

How to Be an American Housewife by Maraget Dilloway

A lively and surprising novel about a Japanese woman with a closely guarded secret, the American daughter who strives to live up to her mother's standards, and the rejuvenating power of forgiveness.

How to Be an American Housewife is a novel about mothers and daughters, and the pull of tradition. It tells the story of Shoko, a Japanese woman who married an American GI, and her grown daughter, Sue, a divorced mother whose life as an American housewife hasn't been what she'd expected. When illness prevents Shoko from traveling to Japan, she asks Sue to go in her place. The trip reveals family secrets that change their lives in dramatic and unforeseen ways.

Offering an entertaining glimpse into American and Japanese family lives and their potent aspirations, this is a warm and engaging novel full of unexpected insight.

My take: 3.5 looks
Read on the heals of The Buddha in the Attic and a re-read of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I seem to be on an Asian-theme in my reading. This was a great character study and exploration of familial relationships and culture clash. I liked the difference voices of the characters and their moving from Japan to America, through generations. It was a very easy and quick book to read and is recommended.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winter Reading Challenge on Bibliophile

Vonnie posted the new Winter Reading Challenge for the Shelfari Bibliophile group and it's a doozy!! Here it is:

1. You read as many books as you want. Each book you read will be worth different points.
2. To earn points, you must read books that are part of the categories listed below. These points determine how many raffle entries you’ll earn at the end of the challenge to win the prizes. So choose wisely!
3. You must read at least ONE BOTM from December to February to be qualified to enter the raffle.
4. A book could be combined with no more than 4 categories.
5. Themed books are worth 10pts and could only be combined with one other challenge category. It excludes BOTMs. No more than 2 themed books per month.
6. All BOTM books read must have group participation.
7. You must create your own comment thread within this thread to keep track of what you read and what points you are claiming.
8. All books read must have a review under your personal comment thread. (Please no multiple threads. Keep it all under one; this means you have to comment on your own thread).
9. Have fun!

Read a book that is (a)…
- BOTM (Dec.-Feb.)= 6pts This is our group and it’s a must. Also, you must answer at least two questions from the discussion! I know…it’s horrendous.
- 500+ pages= 5pts Reading a huge book is just plain scary, especially when the world will end.
- 1001 Books to Read Before you die= 4pts The world is ending. Quick! Grab a must read book! Visit for the list of books that you should read before you die.
- Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic = 3pts Read these books to help you prepare if the world ends.
- Utopian/Dystopian= 2pts A world different from ours could be frightening.
- Suspense= 1pt The end of the world could be quite suspenseful!

Monthly Themes (10pts each):
*Maximum of 2 books per month. Does not include BOTMs and could only be combined with one other challenge category for extra points*
December- Read a book that has a seasonal word(s) in the title

What the points mean:
50-55pts: 1 raffle entry
56-65pts: 2 raffle entries
66-75pts: 3 raffle entries
75-85pts: 4 raffle entries
86-95pts: 5 raffle entries
96+pts: 10 raffle entries

Prize 1- The person with the most points will receive $15 GC from gifted by Vonnie(this person will not enter the raffle)
Prize 2- Choice of combined BOTM books from 2012 under $25 plus a bookmark gifted by Mimi.
Prize 3- Choice of 2 ARC books gifted by WonderBunny.
Prize 4- Mystery box of books plus swag from Vonnie’s collection.

*Also, a mini challenge will be given out once a month (a total of three). Be in the lookout for these since they will have a short timeline to complete*

I added the color. Fun, huh?! I will post later what my reading plan will be. Since I won the Summer Challenge (yay!!), I will not win this one; but it's the journey, not the destination!

It's a winner, Vonnie!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


By now you know that I judge a book by its cover. I know, but people get paid TONS of money to entice (entrap?) people like me!

There is a lot of appeal in a title. For example, I remember the first time I saw Carl Hiaasen's book Sick Puppy. I was amused, but not enough to read the summary.

However, these books REALLY caught my eye, and only because of their titles:

  • The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
  • By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coalho
  • Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stranger-Ross
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

These I have added to my TBR based solely on their titles:
  • A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois
  • , said the shotgun to the head. by Saul Williams
  • This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It by David Wong
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis

And yet more that I will consider adding, once I read a summary:
  • Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  • Evening Is the Whole Day by Pretta Samarasan
  • The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal

See what I mean? How can you not pick up a book with such a carefully crafted and well-thought-out title? I guess that is not really judging a book by its cover, but it IS definitely choosing a book by its title!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Son by Lois Lowry

Told in three separate story lines, Lois Lowry’s Son  combines elements from the first three novels in her Giver Quartet— The Giver (1994 Newbery Medalist), Gathering Blue, and Messenger —into a breathtaking, thought-provoking narrative that wrestles with ideas of human freedom. Thrust again into the dark, claustrophobic world of The Giver, readers will meet an intriguing new heroine, fourteen-year-old Claire. Jonas from The Giver is here, too, and Kira, the heroine of Gathering Blue. In a final clash between good and evil, a new hero emerges. The whole Quartet has been redesigned in honor of this long-awaited grand finale!

My take: 3.5 looks
I liked this last installment in Lowry's "The Giver" quartet. I read The Giver over two years ago and it has stuck with me. When I read a fellow reader's review of one of the sequels, it sparked my interest in reading the other three. They were extremely easy to read and left me with a feeling of good-over-evil and a desire to read the next in the series.

I was pleasantly surprised by the layout of this last story, with three sections which addressed three characters that devotees have loved since The Giver was published to accolades in 1993. The sections flowed seamlessly into one another, but were all different stories with different trials and outcomes. It was like reading three novellas to make one large story arc. Brilliant.

Since these are YA books, I appreciate the tidy ending to each story, but feel that real life was addressed through aging, death, and a very real evil present in their lives. This is a very good series with an equally satisfying ending. The only thing lacking is the prospect of another in the series. I expect these books will become classics. It makes me want to go back to the first in the series for a re-read, and what can be better than that?

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Aunt Dimity and the Duke by Nancy Atherton

A broken heart, a missing lantern, and a dead rock star... thank goodness being dead won't stop Aunt Dimity from lending a helping hand.

Emma Porter is forty, fat, frumpy, and a passionate amateur gardener. When her longtime lover dumps her for a younger woman, Emma escapes the cloying sympathy of family and friends by setting out on a summer-long driving tour of England's glorious gardens. A Dimity-contrived coincidence brings her to Penford Hall, a sprawling Gothic mansion in Cornwall, where she finds a duke in search of a missing lantern with extraordinary powers. Suspecting there's more than one mystery to be solved at Penford Hall, Emma accepts the duke's invitation to stay on and restore the once-glorious chapel garden to its former beauty. The dark rumors surrounding a rock star and the near-death of the duke's beautiful cousin confirm Emma's suspicions, and set her--with Aunt Dimity's ghostly guidance-on the path to Penford Hall's secrets and the pleasure of unexpected love.

My take: 3 stars
I actually liked this one better than the first. I thought the characters were better-drawn and were more real to me. The story was intriguing with just enough of the paranormal to not get weird. Emma as the lead role in this story was so much more believable than Lori in the first book, Aunt Dimity's Death. I found her to be introspective, sincere, and appropriately emotional. The love between Derek and Emma was predictable but that did not stop the flow of satisfaction once it occurred. The supporting characters were fun and I hope to see them in the upcoming installments of this delightful cozy mystery series.


Monday, November 19, 2012

John Dies at the End by David Wong

The word-of-mouth phenomenon read online by over 50,000 readers is now available in print! Telling the story now, I'm tempted to say something like, "Who would have thought that John would help bring about the end of the world?" I won't say that, though, because most of us who grew up with John thought he would help end the world somehow. It's a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. On the street they call it Soy Sauce, and users drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no longer human. Suddenly a silent otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs. Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity? No. No, they can't.

My take: 3.5 stars
This is the weirdest, craziest, oddest book I have ever read. And that's saying a lot. It is weird, yes, but oh so entertaining.

Warning: Do not read this if you are at all offended by the "F" word, kittens being kicked and dogs being blown up, penis envy and adoration, or gratuitous blood and gore.

However, if you can breeze past these things, you are in for one wild ride.

John and David are modern day heroes. They are borderline slacker-college-drop-out-losers, but step up to the plate when they see that their way of life, heck-probably the very planet, is in danger. Armed with a drug called "soy sauce" and very little fear, they jump with both feet into saving the world.

At 658 pages as an iBook, but was about 200 pages too long for me, but to persist is to benefit from a crazy, made-up ending and a taste for the sequel. This has been made into a movie, set to release in January 2013. I don't know how they made this into a movie, but I thought that about "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", too. Like that one, I will probably skip it on the big screen in favor of the images in my head. The book is always better.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Biblio-Mat at The Monkey's Paw in Toronto

At a bookstore in Toronto, owner Stephen Fowler installed the Biblio-Mat book vending machine. The bookstore, The Monkey's Paw, described “Toronto’s most idiosyncratic second-hand bookshop,” stocked more than just books, but this latest addition is causing quite a stir.

For $2 each, a random book is dispensed. This is how Fowler describes the selection of books: "The books in the machine are two dollars each – that’s not enough to make any profit, but the nature of the second-hand book business is that I end up with a lot of books that are interesting and worth keeping and disseminating, but have no practical retail value. Historically in the used books trade there has always been the dollar cart in front of the store. This is just a spin on that."

The look of the machine is as cool as the idea itself. Painted retro-green, it has a very vintage vibe, from the title at the top to the font used to announce "Every Book a Surprise", "No Two Alike", and "Collect All 112 Million Titles". Set in the corner of the store, the customers love it. Well, for the most part. You have to realize that most of the fun comes in the action itself, and not the "prize" that the book will be. If you lack imagination and a sense of adventure, you need not deposit your coins in the slot. If you feel lucky, however, you may feel a what Fowler calls a psychic connection with the book title you receive.

Makes me want to take a road trip to Toronto!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton

Lori Shepherd thought Aunt Dimity was just a character in a bedtime story ...
... Until the Dickensian law firm of Willis & Willis summons her to a reading of the woman's will. Down-on-her-luck Lori learns she's about to inherit a sizable estate--if she can discover the secret hidden in a treasure trove of letters in Dimity's English country cottage. What begins as a fairy tale becomes a mystery--and a ghost story--in an improbably cozy setting, as Aunt Dimity's indomitable spirit leads Lori on an otherworldly quest to discover how, in this life, true love can conquer all.

My take: 3 stars
This was a very cute start to a prolific cozy mystery series. It was recommended to me by a friend after I asked for a "light read" and I am officially hooked.

The story grabbed me from the beginning and I felt the "hard-knock life" of orphan Lori. Just as I was getting used to her cash-strapped plight, her future started looking up!

Perhaps it is my naivete on this lifestyle, but I soon found her distrust of all things good and hopeful to get a little tiring. It seemed to me that she had not been through quite the dire straits necessary to be so negative and jaded. If someone bought me a closet full of new clothing, I would be delighted! If a wealthy, eligible bachelor kept smiling at me like the Cheshire cat, I would be intrigued. Instead, Lori did her best to repeatedly bite the hand that fed her.

Though this was a bit of a hindrance to the reading for me, it caused more light irritation and comments under my breath like, "What are you doing, Lori? Take the compliment!" rather than making the book less enjoyable. The introduction of Aunt Dimity and her unusual manner of communication were so entertaining that this turned into a page-turner for me. When I was finished, I immediately started the next one in the list!

Highly recommended.

Book Clubs are FUN!

Last night was book club, which is each Wednesday night at 5:30. It is a small group of ladies, but we are voracious readers and it is always so much fun!

What makes it fun? I wondered, as I reflected on the discussion from last evening.

Is it the lively social time, as we prepare coffee and peak at the treats that someone brought? Is it the actual discussion of the book, which always offers new insights and perspectives, even if I have read the book more than once? Is it the fact that I just like these ladies and respect their opinions? Is it that we always laugh?

No, I don't think it's any of those things, and I will tell you why.

While I love all of these things about my face-to-face book group, I also love my on-line book group. I don't see any of these folks and have never laid eyes on them before, they are a mixture of men and women, they join the discussion at various times, and different people comment on each book.

And yet, it is as enjoyable as my F2F club.

The answer is a simple one: We all share the love of books. Good books, terrible books, popular books, hard-to-find books, classics and newly published books. We have this in common: we are all bibliophiles and that seems to be all it truly takes for a phenomenal reading, reflecting and reviewing experience.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My December Reading Theme

I am thinking of having a Christmas theme to my reading list for December. I tried to do this with scary books in October, but I feel that I didn't quite make the mark. Although, now that I look back on it, I did read two ghost stories and a book with witches.

I counted books in my collection with "Christmas" in the title and found ten, but I am just counting nine because I don't consider Lewis Black's "I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas" quite in the same spirit.

So, here they are, in no particular order:
The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank
Aunt Dimity's Christmas by Nancy Atherton
Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
Silent Nights - Two Victorian Christmas Mysteries by Anne Perry
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

There. That's six, and that's enough for this busy time of year.

What are you reading for December?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Dark Glamour by Gabriella Pierce

Jane Boyle married her prince charming and moved into his upper east side castle--but she didn't get her fairy-tale ending

It's hard to live happily ever after when you discover your demanding and controlling mother-in-law is literally a witch, determined to steal the magical powers you didn't even know you had. Jane narrowly avoided Lynne Doran's clutches when she escaped on her wedding day, and has been hiding out in New York City. But she can't hide forever.

When Jane learns of the one thing Lynne wants most, she sets out to provide it, hoping her good turn will persuade her mother-in-law to stop hunting her. Unfortunately, Jane's daring plan will send her right back into the witches' den--the Doran clan's multistory town house on Park Avenue. But thanks to a tricky spell, blond architect Jane will be transformed into Ella, a dark beauty with a whole new look . . . and all of Jane's budding powers. Though the stakes are life or death, nobody said "Ella" couldn't have a little fun along the way, too.

My take: 2.5 looks
This is the second book in the "666 Park Avenue" series (book three is scheduled to be January 2, 2013). This one didn't grab me like the first did, and I found some of the themes a little tiring. The good points of the book are that it is a very easy read (took me a day), it is borderline mindless fluff, and it will in no way change your life. It had been a while since I read the first book, and Pierce did a nice job of summarizing characters and events that affected the story here.

The negatives are few, and just as shallow as the positives. Jane is annoyingly promiscuous. She is married to a man still in hiding, sleeping with another man while also wanting to sleep with her best friend's boyfriend. I mean, come on! And I really wanted some sort of mention of condom use. Instead, they rip their clothes off and he "takes her right away". Not good for the teens who are surely reading this.

I also wanted more of the matriarch, Lynne Doran's story. I found her to be the most interesting and complex character in the first book, and the mother/daughter relationship in this book would have provided a very rich and fertile area for exploration. Instead the relationship was restored and written as an assumption, which was completely unbelievable. The fact that it was left to the very end of the book also presented it as more of an afterthought.

The other negative was the abrupt ending. It really leaves you hanging in a way that the first one did not: While you knew there would be a sequel which would take the story farther, it didn't rush to the last page like a train wreck. I didn't consider this an intriguing twist or even a cliff hanger, so much as the author finished in a hurry and did so, in my opinion, a little recklessly. This caused so many loose ends of items that were not fully introduced that, instead of foaming at the mouth for the next book, I have more of an unsatisfied feeling.

Recommended if you need a quick read, but know that you will be left disappointed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

From the author of the contemporary classic "When the Emperor Was Divine," a tour de force about a group of women brought from Japan to San Francisco in the early 1900s as mail-order brides. In six unforgettable, incantatory sections, the novel traces their new lives as "picture brides:" the arduous voyage by boat, where the girls trade photos of their husbands and imagine uncertain futures in an unknown land . . . their arrival in San Francisco and the tremulous first nights with their new husbands . . . backbreaking toil as migrant workers in the fields and in the homes of white women . . . the struggle to learn a new language and culture . . . giving birth and raising children who come to reject their heritage . . . and, finally, the arrival of war, and the agonizing prospect of their internment.

My take: 4 looks
The subject of Japanese Americans during WWII is not a subject in which I am well versed, and I found this book intriguing. The summary calls the writing style of the novella "incantatory", which is an apt description of the staccato-like cadence of the writing. Many voices speaking about the same subject and separated by an ellipses. The tone is perfectly set in Otsuka's writing style in that it gives the impression of faltering, hesitant, circumspect recollections.

The chapters are written to highlight a particular part of the journey, moving chronologically from the war brides' time on the boat to America to their eventual internment during the war. Each chapter provides a collage of the event (meeting their new husbands for the first time, bearing children, forced into migrant work, etc.). It is a very concise yet stunningly completely view of the scene.

This will make me run right out for Otsuka's other book, When the Emperor Was Divine.

Highly recommended, but with adult themes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts. The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain due to double engine failure. The body count? Thirty-nine. What follow is a riveting ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling, award-winning novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, meticulous research, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply. The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

My take: 3.5 looks
What a nicely done ghost story, especially after reading the milquetoast The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

This was a truly gripping, suspenseful and scary book. The ghosts were believable and the witchcraft seemed very plausible. I was looking for a few twists and turns that turned out not to be, but this was a straightforward telling of a good old-fashioned ghost story. The use of language was well done and stayed true to the storyline; for example, tincture, sibilant, liminal and obfuscation. The references to arcane devices like the vertical chamber apparatus had me dashing to the internet for a better understanding. Even simple household items, like the dining room chandelier containing light bulbs shaped like faces lent to the electric air for the reader.

Well done, Mr. Bohjalian!


Monday, November 5, 2012


What is a MacGuffin, indeed?

This is a term coined by the great film director Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. The formal definition is: an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance.

So, my question is: What is the difference in a MacGuffin and a Red Herring? I found a very good explanation here:

A MacGuffin is a person, incident or object that motivates the other characters. It is the thing everyone is searching for or talking about-the stolen jewelry, the mysterious contents of a case in Pulp Fiction and Ronin, the money Janet Leigh’s character steals in Psycho, Jack Sparrow’s compass in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. The real story, however, lies in what the MacGuffin motivates the characters to do, it doesn’t matter, in the end, what the MacGuffin is.

Unlike MacGuffins, Red Herrings are meant to distract the audience and lead them in the wrong direction, diverting attention to the incorrect conclusion in a mystery or a crime drama. They are a sleight of hand that distracts from the real story, the right solution to the crime or a problem. The army of the Twelve Monkeys in Twelve Monkeys is a good example, as is Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Many critics feel that red herrings are overused and are becoming cliched attempts to impose plot twists on poorly written stories, but Red Herrings remain a necessary element of telling a story.
And have you also heard of Chekov's Gun? I had heard this before, and never knew what it meant. Well, I ran across that, too: There’s an old writing rule attributed to Chekhov: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise, don’t put it there.”

The main difference between a Chekhov’s Gun element and a MacGuffin is that the Chekhov’s Gun seems insignificant at first, and we later learn that it is very important; whereas a MacGuffin or Red Herring seems incredibly important, but we later learn that it is not.

Don't you just love all of this?!