Monday, October 31, 2011

Sunday Salon (on Monday): How to Write a Book Review

Once again, I've taken a few days off from work with the intention of spending time reading and writing. Once again, I haven't managed to do much of either (which is why I'm "Sunday Salon"-ing on Monday)...but I have had the chance to spend some face time with online friends and do a few things with the family, so it's by no means been a waste. But I don't go back to work till Wednesday and I don't really have much planned for today or tomorrow, so there are still a couple of days to carry through with that R-and-R plan!

I had the chance to meet up with a few local bloggers for dinner on Saturday night, which is one of the things I want to write about in the next day or two, and of course we discussed all sorts of bloggy, social-media things. I was the only book blogger present, but even though books aren't their focus, some of the others at the table get pitched book reviews occasionally too. One of the women recently received a review copy that was accompanied by some promotional/press information, as they sometimes are; this one included an insert on how to write a book review for your blog. And not just any book review, mind you, but an "Attention Grabbing" one. She was generous enough to pass that document along to me, and I thought I'd share some highlights. I'm not going to identify the book for reasons that should become apparent (and because I declined the pitch I received for it myself), but I do thank Kim Tracy Prince for the blog fodder!

These tips for writing an "attention-grabbing book review" were sponsored and provided by the book in question and its author.
  • Identify the Subject, Scope, and Type of Book--this includes stating the title, author, genre, and general focus of the book.
  • Summarize the Content--an overview (including "favorite quotes and paraphrases") for nonfiction, a spoiler-free review of the storyline for fiction
  • Include Graphics--cover images and/or author photos, as long as they're not copyrighted
  • Enrich Your Review with Links--to related content and/or author information
  • Provide Your Reactions to the Book (that's what makes it a "book review," isn't it?)
  • Be Honest--"This is especially important for blogs because your readers trust what you have to say." Don't say you loved a book if you didn't, and don't forget that an online review lives forever in archives.
I'll be honest; these aren't bad review guidelines, generally speaking. However, the fact that they're coming from the author whose book would be the subject of the review is more than a little off-putting to me. I also have to wonder whether someone who is trying to direct the review process so closely might just see that last point backfire spectacularly, and wish they hadn't insisted on quite so much honesty. That review might indeed grab attention, but perhaps not for the most desirable reasons...

What do you think? Is this decent advice from a questionable source? Is it useful or offensive? How would you react to receiving a how-to guide like this in one of your review copies?

The Sunday Salon.com

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Foto: The Anniversary Gift

Technically, it's not a bookcase, but that's primarily how we'll be using it. This is what Tall Paul and I gave each other for our fifth wedding anniversary last week.

We still have to move some books into it, as you can see, but a couple of the stacks have already found new homes here. We found the cabinet itself at Room & Board, a new-to-us furniture store that we'll definitely visit again!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book Talk: *You Are My Only*, by Beth Kephart

You Are My Only
Beth Kephart
EgmontUSA (2011), Hardcover (ISBN 1606842722 / 9781606842720)
Fiction (YA), 256 pages
Source: ARC from publisher at BEA 2011 (pub date October 25, 2011)
Reason for reading: favorite author

Opening lines: “My house is a storybook house. A huff-and-a-puff-and-they’ll-blow it down house. The roof is soft; it’s tumbled. There are bushes growing tall past the sills. A single sprouted tree leans in from high above the cracked slate path, torpedoing acorns to the ground.
“Splat and crack. Another acorn to the ground.
“‘I’m off.’
“‘Be good.’
“Be good. My mother’s instructions. Her rules.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website: Emmy Rane is married at nineteen, a mother by twenty. Trapped in a life with a husband she no longer loves, Baby is her only joy. Then one sunny day in September, Emmy takes a few fateful steps away from her baby and returns to find her missing. All that is left behind is a yellow sock.

Fourteen years later, Sophie, a homeschooled, reclusive teenage girl is forced to move frequently and abruptly from place to place, perpetually running from what her mother calls the "No Good." One afternoon, Sophie breaks the rules, ventures out, and meets Joey and his two aunts. It is this loving family that gives Sophie the courage to look into her past. What she discovers changes her world forever. . . 
The riveting stories of Emmy and Sophie—alternating narratives of loss, imprisonment, and freedom regained—escalate with breathless suspense toward an unforgettable climax.
Comments: I’ve been intrigued by the plot of Beth Kephart’s newest novel, You Are My Only, ever since I first heard about it; the young-mother angle was what particularly caught my attention, as I was also married at nineteen and a mother by twenty. Thankfully, my story and Emmy Rane’s don’t have much more in common than that; for one thing, my baby didn’t mysteriously disappear when she was just a few months old. Twenty-seven years later, I still (usually) know where he is.

This isn’t just Emmy’s story, however; it’s also that of fourteen-year-old Sophie Marks, whose overly-sheltering mother Cheryl has moved the two of them from one place to another--always trying to stay ahead of what she calls “the No Good”--for most of Sophie’s life, home-schooling and keeping her away from the neighbors. But Cheryl has to go to work and leave Sophie on her own, and Sophie’s old enough to be getting restless, which leads her across the alley to meet Joey Rudd, his two aunts, and their big loud dog, Harvey.

Kephart follows Emmy and Sophie through alternating, parallel narratives. Emmy’s efforts to find her missing Baby cause her physical injury and sufficient mental and emotional anguish to be confined to a state hospital. Sophie’s developing relationship with Joey’s family causes her to see herself differently and to chafe against her own confinement, facing questions she hasn’t really thought about before and finding answers that she she never imagined.

There’s suspense in this novel, but it doesn’t come from figuring out how Emmy’s and Sophie’s stories are connected; any reader who doesn’t surmise that connection fairly quickly isn’t paying attention, and Beth Kephart’s novels both require and reward attention. While they’re written primarily for a young-adult audience, they’re ideal “crossover” books for the adult who doesn’t usually read YA; unlike a lot of current YA fiction, they’re firmly rooted in the real world and feature emotionally complex characters. Kephart’s teens have always been strikingly real, but in Emmy, she’s created an adult protagonist who is just as fully realized.

You Are My Only explores attachment from a number of perspectives; the fierce protectiveness of mother love is a primary theme (one that I think applies to Cheryl as well as to Emmy), with the unconventional family across the alley--two elderly lesbian aunts and the teenage nephew they are raising--considered in counterpoint. These themes largely emerge between the lines, which is a hallmark of this author's storytelling style. Kephart’s writing is poetic and evocative, and as I said, it rewards attention paid to it...and to the things she doesn't actually say. One of her great strengths is that she can tell a powerful story without hammering all the points home. And this is a powerful, memorable story, ambitious in structure and emotionally affecting.

Beth Kephart has become a friend over the last couple of years, but I’ve made every effort to set that aside during my reading of You Are My Only and consider it objectively. Speaking objectively, I believe this is her best work yet and would encourage anyone who hasn’t yet discovered her work to start right here. Speaking personally, I’m happy that I loved reading this, and honored to call its author a friend.

Rating: 4.25/5

Other reviews, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Talk: *The Family Fang*, by Kevin Wilson

The Family Fang: A Novel
Kevin Wilson (blog)
Ecco (a HarperCollins imprint), 2011, Hardcover (ISBN 0061579033 / 9780061579035)
Fiction, 320 pages
Source: ARC from publisher (pub date August 2011)
Reason for reading: Review copy

Opening lines: “Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art.
“Their children called it mischief.
“‘You make a mess and then you walk away from it,’ their daughter, Annie, told them. ‘It’s a lot more complicated than that, honey,’ Mrs. Fang said as she handed detailed breakdowns of the event to each member of the family. ‘But there’s a simplicity in what we do as well,’ Mr. Fang said. ‘Yes, there is that too,’ his wife replied. Annie and her brother, Buster, said nothing.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website: Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as long as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.
When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance–their magnum opus–whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.
Comments: There are oddball, dysfunctional families, and then there are the Fangs. Their oddness is a conscious choice on the part of parents Caleb and Camille, and on those grounds, they’d probably dispute the “dysfunctional” label. The Fangs are artists, and their life is their art; and on those terms, they’re pretty pleased with how it functions. Their children, Annie and Buster--participants in their parents’ artworks as “Child A” and “Child B,” but now no longer either participants or children--might beg to differ.

The Fangs’ art involves orchestrating unexpected behaviors on an unsuspecting public--literally, creating scenes (or, put less charitably, pulling stunts)--and surreptitiously capturing the response on film. The artwork isn’t necessarily the event itself, but the reaction it creates; it’s a variant of performance art in which the artist isn’t the performer, but the director, and some of the performers are unaware that they even have roles. Annie and Buster, however, usually knew they were playing the part of the catalysts to the reaction...until they got old enough to refuse, and left home. Perhaps not surprisingly, Annie becomes an actress, while Buster goes into writing; also not surprisingly, neither is terribly well-equipped for adulthood, and eventually they both end up returning to their parents’ home to recover from setbacks. It also may not be too surprising that their parents aren’t entirely prepared for that development.

While I’ve just said that certain elements in the storyline of The Family Fang are “not surprising (perhaps),” I don’t mean it in the sense that they’re predictable. Perhaps they are from an “understanding-human-nature” viewpoint, but overall, “predictable” is NOT an adjective I’d use to describe this novel. “Oddball”--an word I applied earlier to the Fangs themselves--fits pretty well, though.

The Fangs’ art is based on reaction, and my reaction to The Family Fang is mixed. Considering its Southern setting and art-world trappings, it has a lot of potential for quirk and wackiness, but it doesn’t take those factors nearly as far as it could; I appreciate that, to be honest, and think it makes for a stronger novel. Some of that strength comes from the themes it explores and the questions it raises about art and living authentically and what families owe one another; there’s some great book-club discussion fodder here. On the other hand, the premise of the novel has some off-putting elements, and the characters aren’t all that easy to like; those factors might make the book less appealing to groups.

I’m really not sure what I expected from The Family Fang--charming eccentricity, maybe? I don’t think it delivered that, not really. Having said that, it did have an emotional depth I really didn’t expect, along with some skewed humor and uncommon perspective. It’s an oddball, and I didn’t love it, but I have a feeling I’ll remember it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Other reviews, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tangents: The 3 R's of what's been going on...

At last, I've got some blogging time on my hands, so I thought I'd take a "3 R's" approach to a post about why there hasn't been much posting on The 3 R's lately. 

Despite appearances to the contrary, I'm reading pretty steadily--it's just not necessarily showing up in reviews here (or in comments on your blogs!). My "moonlighting" gig with Shelf Awareness means that they get the reviews for the books they provide to me; I'm allowed to cross-post them here, but not until after they've been published there--or SA decides not to publish them, for one reason or another (unrelated to review quality, our editor assures us), and releases reviewers to post them on our personal sites. In any case, there's a few weeks' lead time before those reviews can show up here, and I don't feel I can say much about those books beforehand; I don't even take them out of my LibraryThing TBR collection until the reviews go up. (Therefore, my "2011 Review" count on LT is currently understated by three.)

The SA reading is a side job that's claimed more of my reading time than I thought it would, and I'm still learning to manage the time commitment. It really is nice to be paid for reading, and I'm appreciating the exposure to books I don't think I'd have found on my own, but it's been a real challenge to make space to read books I have found on my own. 

There's some overlap with the Reading stuff here, obviously (writing for places that aren't this blog), but the time crunch takes a slightly different form. I've been in the habit of doing much of my writing during lunches and slow times at the office (no worse than wandering around chit-chatting, if you ask me, and better than spending my evenings glued to the computer, if you ask me and my husband)--and there just haven't been as many of those slow times lately, as we're in the midst of a few major projects and changes. I've got plenty of notes and clippings regarding things I want to write about, but not much opportunity--or, sometimes, to be honest, mental energy--to develop them. (Therefore, you end up with posts like this one.) 

Going for more than a few days at a stretch without writing makes me feel both restless and aimless, and I don't care much for either one of those feelings.

Discovering that I am capable of "reading" and enjoying audiobooks could help with the whole reading-time-crunch thing, but lately I've been listening to podcasts in the car instead of books; most of those are pop-culture related, but a couple of them are bookish! (And there's one sports podcast I listen to, but only when my son is on it.) Podcasts are an even newer-to-me thing than audiobooks, but once I get up to date on those I think I'll hit the books again. However, since I'm now the official school chauffeur for my stepson (his new school is between home and my workplace, while his dad's job is in the opposite direction), there are times when the presence of (almost) 12-year-old ears makes listening to either podcasts or books a questionable proposition.

The 24-Hour Readathon this weekend would help too, but I'm not participating this time; tomorrow is my wedding anniversary, and my mother-in-law is visiting for the weekend. Something bookish is supposed to happen on Saturday, though--Tall Paul and I decided that our anniversary gift to each other would be a lovely new cabinet to store books in, and it's supposed to be delivered on the 22nd. (Yes, I'll show and tell after it arrives!)

I'm taking a week off from work starting next Wednesday, and I intend to spend some of that time reading and writing as well. Not all of it, though; my husband and my sister have birthdays to be celebrated, I have a couple of blogger events to attend, and we're participating in the Thousand Oaks "Walk to End Alzheimer's" next Saturday, October 29. Speaking of the Walk, I'd like to thank my readers Kay, Kim, and Stacy (edited to add: and Mikefor their generous donations to our Walk team!

Sometimes I can use a lot of words and not say much, but it feels good to do that--and to be here. Now, tell me something that's been going on with you!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Salon: Treasures!

The Sunday Salon.com

Last month, I posted an appreciation of one of my favorite writers--and people--Beth Kephart. It was honest and heartfelt...and part of an underground blogger campaign to call attention to her upcoming young-adult novel, You Are My Only, which will be in stores next week (and is available for pre-order now).

Bloggers and Beth are an excellent combination, because in addition to being a prolific and well-reviewed author, she’s one of us. I knew Beth first as a blogger, and I think my appreciation of her as an author has only enhanced my appreciation of her as a blogger. Beth’s blog was a finalist for “Best Published Author Blog” in the 2011 BBAW Awards, and with good reason. She talks about her books, yes, but also about other people’s books; she reads avidly and regularly blogs her reflections on what she’s read. This past May, I was lucky enough to meet her at Book Expo America, where she signed galleys of You Are My Only, and it was truly one of the highlights of my week at BEA; she was gracious and generous and genuinely interested in everyone who stopped by her signing table.

Beth’s friends were thrilled to see this message from her on Facebook a couple of days ago:
“I have you to thank for this: You Are My Only has gone back on press for a second printing, eleven days before it is due out in stores. You want to know if bloggers have an impact? You want to know if your work is valued? Don't ask anymore.”
The underground blogger campaign apparently made an impression on Beth’s publisher, Egmont USA; expanding a book’s print run so close to pub date is a pretty rare occurrence, and feeling like you may have helped influence that decision is pretty special.

Beth also worked with several book bloggers on an “above-ground” campaign to pique interest in her latest book, the You Are My Only Treasure Hunt. Beth contributed guest posts about different aspects of the book to five different blogs; the treasure-hunter’s task was to find them all, post the links, and then leave a link to that post in comments on Beth Kephart Books. All participants will be entered into a drawing, and two winners will be chosen. Each will win these two things: A signed copy of You Are My Only and Beth’s critique of the first 2,000 words of a work-in-progress.

This post is my official treasure-hunt entry. Beth’s guest posts can be found on these blogs:

Go read them all, and find out more about You Are My Only--and you can enter the treasure hunt, too! The entry deadline is October 24, the day before the book hits stores. I’ve been eagerly anticipating reading this for months, and am very excited that even more people will now have the chance to read it too! In the meantime, you can watch the book trailer:

Sadly, this won't be out in time for next weekend's 24-Hour-Readathon, but if you're participating, you've probably got plenty of books already stacked up and waiting! I have to skip it this time, but we're getting a new bookcase delivered on Saturday (it's our wedding-anniversary gift to each other), and that's not bad compensation.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Annual Alzheimer's Post: Walking to the End, again

Twelve years ago this month, my mother, Mary Ann Corsino Lantos, passed away. A New York City native and, after a nine-year detour to southwestern Connecticut, a resident of St. Petersburg, Florida for 22 years, she was 69 years old at the time of her death. She was survived by her husband, two adult daughters, and one teenage grandson. 

But our family had truly lost her well before that. For over seven years, she had been living in a nursing home, incapacitated by early-onset Alzheimer's disease. We had begun to see changes in her health, demeanor, and personality when she was in her mid-to-late 50's - sudden weight loss, strange sleeping habits, difficulty in speaking, disengagement with her family and surroundings, paranoia and hallucinations - but her long-standing fear of doctors and medications caused her to resist our efforts to get her to seek help. My sister and I had both moved away, and geographic distance and the demands of our own lives limited what we could do about her situation; my dad was uninformed, fundamentally passive, and unprepared to force the issue. By the time Mom reached the point where something had to be done, there wasn't a realistic alternative to round-the-clock care for her, and the next several years were spent in a form of limbo. By the time she died, much of our grieving had been long underway; Alzheimer's doesn't take the body quickly, but it does take the intangibles that make a person unique and special.

My experience with Alzheimer’s has left me with feelings of loss, guilt, and fear. I often feel that I didn’t do enough to help with or advocate for my mother. I was a young mother myself at the time she became ill, and lived over 1000 miles away for most of the years until she died, and those facts have helped me rationalize my lack of involvement. But I wonder whether I would have done many things differently if I had been there--and I’m not sure I would have. The distance and denial feel connected, and they both feed guilt, even now.

The fear comes from the scientific facts about Alzheimer’s, including these: it remains difficult to diagnose in a timely manner, lacks effective long-term treatments, and is an incurable, terminal condition. It’s still associated with many unknowns, as last year’s Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s, elaborates:
  • What causes Alzheimer’s? Is it inherited? What causes younger-onset Alzheimer’s? Is there any treatment that can delay the onset or slow down the course of the disease?
  • What about new tests that may be able to tell you if you’re going to get Alzheimer’s? Are the tests ready for use? Are they accurate? Who would be a candidate to take them? If there are no foolproof treatments yet, what’s the good of knowing?
  • What can we do to prevent Alzheimer’s? Do lifestyle changes really help? Should we all be hitting the treadmill, drinking tea, doing crossword puzzles, taking Omega-3 and Vitamin D?
  • Why do more women get Alzheimer’s than men? Is it just because women live longer? Does estrogen play a part in prevention? If so, how much and when?
  • What exactly is the natural course of the disease? Why does it play out in a few years for some patients, in a decade or more for others? Why do different people have different symptoms: some explosively angry, others hypersexual, still others mumbling or even silent? In other words, why is it that, “Once you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s, you’ve seen…one case of Alzheimer’s”?
  • And for God’s sake, when will there be a cure?
Those living with Alzheimer’s--not just the patients, but their families and other caregivers--need resources and support now. Those who could find themselves living with it in the future need research to answer some of those unknowns.

The annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s (formerly the Alzheimer’s Memory Walk) is the nation’s major fundraising event on behalf of this disease:
“Walk to End Alzheimer's is the nation's largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer care, support and research. Since 1989, this all age, all-ability walk has mobilized millions to join the fight against Alzheimer's disease, raising more than $347 million for the cause. Events are held annually in the fall in nearly 600 communities nationwide.
All Walk to End Alzheimer's donations benefit the Alzheimer's Association, the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. The mission of the Alzheimer's Association is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.”
All of the unknowns can leave a person feeling that there’s little she can do about Alzheimer’s. Participating in this walk every year is one thing I can do, both in remembrance of my mother and in support of a healthier future. My family and I will be walking in Thousand Oaks, California on Saturday morning, October 29. If you’re local, we’d love to have you join us there!

I do have a fundraising goal for the Walk, and if you’d consider a donation to help me reach it, I would seriously appreciate you!

Previous posts about Alzheimer’s on The 3 R’s Blog (sources for some of the material included in this one):

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Talk: *Fathermucker*, by Greg Olear (TLC Book Tour)

Fathermucker: A Novel
Greg Olear (Facebook) (Twitter) (tie-in blog)
Harper Paperbacks (2011), Edition: Original, Paperback (ISBN 0062059718 / 9780062059710)
Fiction, 320 pages
Source: Publisher provided
Reason for Reading: TLC Book Tour

Opening lines: “Fatherhood is fear. Fatherhood is disappointment. Fatherhood is anger and envy and lust. And the surest guarantee of fatherly success is a Spock-like mastery of those base emotions. Mister Spock, not Doctor.
“Good fathers conquer fear. They become One with their phobias. Like the Buddha. Or Patrick Swayze in Point Break.”
Book description, via the publisher’s website: A day in the life of a dad on the brink: Josh Lansky—second-rate screenwriter, fledgling freelancer, and stay-at-home dad of two preschoolers—has held everything together while his wife is away on business . . . until this morning’s playdate, when he finds out through the mommy grapevine that she might be having an affair. What Josh needs is a break. He’s not going to get one.
Comments: After observing over the last couple of years that my reading tends to skew very heavily toward female authors, I’ve been making a deliberate effort this year to read more books written by men. That’s a particular challenge for me when it comes to fiction; novels with the themes and topics I’m most drawn to just seem more likely to be produced by women. Having said that, introduce me to a guy who writes who writes realistic stories about recognizable human beings--call it “domestic fiction” so as not to lean toward one gender over another--and, if he’s good at it, odds are pretty good he’ll make a new fan. (Yes, I have said this before--I thought it sounded familiar! I’ve been blogging long enough to repeat myself, apparently.) If Fathermucker, his second novel, is any indication, Greg Olear is good at it.

The suburbs of the Northeast have been fertile domestic-fiction territory for decades, but Olear’s view of that landscape is thoroughly contemporary. As many others have before them, Josh and Stacy Lansky left New York City for the Hudson Valley once they started a family, but the shape of that family is a little different. Having sold a screenplay that almost got produced a few years earlier, Josh has become a struggling work-at-home writer and stay-at-home dad to their two children, while Stacy brings in the steady income working in marketing at IBM. Their five-year-old son Roland is on “the spectrum,” and toddler daughter Maude is a handful in her own two-year-old way. At the end of a week of single parenting while Stacy is away on business, Josh is having a real two-star (out of five) day: there are mice in the walls of his house, there’s a preschool outing in the afternoon (during which he hopes to find an opportunity to pitch an interview to one of the other parents, a renowned punk-rock musician), he and Stacy keep getting each other’s voicemails...and he’s very distracted by a neighbor’s suggestion that his wife just might be cheating on him.

Plotwise, this is clearly not new territory, but the framing is. The last few decades have made us increasingly conscious that parenting is a job. In some circles, that job’s more likely to be viewed as an intensely child-focused full-time vocation, and one that doesn’t exclusively call mothers. Having said that, there aren’t many at-home dads at the playgroup and on preschool field trips in the Lanskys’ circle, and even fewer breadwinner moms. And having said that, the novel’s parent-centric aspects resonate like everyday conversations at school pickup (or posts on a parent blog), and that extends to the particulars of raising a special-needs child.

Much of Fathermucker sounds like everyday conversation, actually--everyday right now. I’m torn over whether this is a strength or a weakness. Olear uses some very specific pop-cultural references and gives his characters dialogue that places them firmly in the 2010s. I appreciated that the novel was so current, but wonder if those details might cause it to become dated quickly--can a book be too contemporary? Then again, Fathermucker could just as easily turn out to be an artifact marking and elaborating on a particular point in our social history.

But regardless of how it holds up over time, it’s a great read at the moment. The style is modern--Josh’s internal monologue frequently goes stream-of-consciousness, and his speculations about Stacy’s alleged infidelities are presented in screenplay form--and while some of the characters’ specific concerns are very current, their larger ones are timeless. While it’s built around some elements that are certainly ripe for satire, Fathermucker mostly avoids that; rather, I found it intelligent and earnest, without taking itself too seriously. The details are sharply observed, and the commentary is on them is often very funny. I was thoroughly engaged by this novel, and at times I thought it was brilliant. I think Greg Olear may have found himself a new fan.

Rating: 4/5

Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Tuesday, October 4th: The Scarlet Letter
Wednesday, October 5th: The Lost Entwife
Thursday, October 6th: Raging Bibliomania
Monday, October 10th: Like Fire
Wednesday, October 12th: Rundpinne
Thursday, October 13th: The House of the Seven Tails
Monday, October 17th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Tuesday, October 18th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, October 19th: Colloquium
Thursday, October 20th: Amusing Reviews

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Salon: Gone Readin'

Last week's dire predictions have come to pass - I've been pretty scarce around the blogiverse. My only post since last week's Salon was my review of How to Be an American Housewife for the latest BlogHer Book Club. BHBC has recently shifted to a more discussion-based format, and we'll be having a variety of conversations about this novel over at BlogHer.com during the next few weeks. Have you read it? Please join in if you have!

This week may not be much different, posting-wise. I've got a blog-tour review due up on Tuesday, and a few other potential posts percolating if I can just make some time to work on them. We'll see how it goes. I did the "mark all as read" thing on my Reader yesterday, so it's a fresh start on blog-reading this week.

To be honest, I've been pretty bad about blog-reading since Book Blogger Appreciation Week ended, and that was nearly a month ago! I'm not the only one having trouble keeping up with it these days, though, and that makes me feel a little better. Molly from The Bumbles Blog has been struggling with this too, and she's got a great idea for turning it around:
"Why not just take that time that I spend writing posts over the course of one week and use it instead to read posts that other bloggers have written? Give myself a week off from producing posts and devote my energy into reading everyone else; leisurely and with my full attention. 
And wouldn't it be cool if other bloggers did the same thing at the same time? So that we were all just taking one week to visit each other, read and engage without the pressure of trying to balance the creation of posts with the reading of others - which always seems to get bumped to the bottom of the priority list. 
If we knew when this week would be, we could spend time the week before putting our best foot forward so to speak on our own blogs, posting funny, cool, informative or inspiring posts for everyone to read when they went visiting the following week. That way we would all have really great writing, photos and videos to check out all week long. We would be entertained continuously. We would meet some new bloggers. We would be able to do more than scan. We would be on a vacation from blogging...in the blogosphere!"
It's very true: one of the great frustrations of blogging is that when you're focusing on writing your own posts. you don't have time to read anyone else's; and when your time's very limited, it's got to be one or the other (except for those brief periods when it can't be either). Usually, that means your own blog is the "one."

Molly hasn't come up with a name for this blog-reading week or set a date for it yet, but I'd love to participate in something like this. Do you think it sounds good, too? If you do, go let her know!

As for today, though, I'll be reading that book for Tuesday's tour post, when I'm not doing chores and spending family time. Hope you have a good Sunday!

By the way, for those of you waiting to hear about the West Hollywood Book Fair from last Sunday, there's not much to tell. Small regional presses had a nice presence there, but the larger book vendors weren't especially well set-up for sales. Kids' and YA books were pretty well represented, though. I didn't attend any panels, and the signings--as one might expect at a "Hollywood" book fair--were heavier on "celebrity" authors than one might see at other book events, but I guess they are a part of the local literary scene. I'm glad we checked it out, but I don't think I'll be going again next year.

The Sunday Salon.com

Thursday, October 6, 2011

BlogHer Book (Club) Talk: *How to Be an American Housewife*

How to Be an American Housewife
Margaret Dilloway (Facebook) (Twitter)
Berkley Trade (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback (ISBN 0425241297 / 9780425241295)
Fiction, 352 pages
Source: Publisher
Reason for reading: Selection for the BlogHer Book Club (Review, promotion, and discussion participation compensated by BlogHer.com)

Opening lines: “I had always been a disobedient girl.
“When I was four, we lived in a grand house with a courtyard and a koi ´Čüshpond. My father worked as a lawyer and we were still rich, rich enough to have beautiful silk dresses and for me to have dolls with real hair and porcelain faces, not the corn-husk dolls I played with later.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website: When Shoko decided to marry an American GI and leave Japan, she had her parents' blessing, her brother's scorn, and a gift from her husband-a book on how to be a proper American housewife.

As she crossed the ocean to America, Shoko also brought with her a secret she would need to keep her entire life...

Half a century later, Shoko's plans to finally return to Japan and reconcile with her brother are derailed by illness. In her place, she sends her grown American daughter, Sue, a divorced single mother whose own life isn't what she hoped for. As Sue takes in Japan, with all its beauty and contradictions, she discovers another side to her mother and returns to America unexpectedly changed and irrevocably touched.
Comments: Margaret Dilloway’s debut novel is a mother-daughter story, an immigrant story, and an inspired-by-a-true-story story. The true story is her own mother’s. Suiko O’Brien left Japan after World War II as the bride of an American soldier, gave birth to a daughter relatively late in life, and suffered from an enlarged heart; Dilloway makes all of these facts part of Shoko Morgan’s biography as well. Suiko brought a book with her from Japan--titled The American Way of Housekeeping, written in both English and Japanese by the “Women of the Occupation” in Japan--it was meant to help eliminate the communication barrier between American housewives and their Japanese maids; not realizing this and thinking it was meant for housewives themselves, Suiko’s new husband gave the book to her. Fictionalizing and reshaping the book according to her father’s misunderstanding--turning it into an instruction book called How to Be an American Housewife--Dilloway gives this to Shoko as well, using it as a framing device for the novel.

“Excerpts” from this “manual” open each chapter of the novel, and they were my favorite parts of the book. Some foreshadow the portion of the story that’s about to follow and others are less clearly related to the action, but they were all fascinating little bits of cultural insight. While they often made comparisons between Japanese and American ways in an effort to be instructive, the overall feel of those pieces portrays idealized mid-century, middle-class American domesticity. “How to be an AMERICAN housewife,” indeed--no matter where you’re from. Even America.

Shoko tells her own story for the first two-thirds of the book, sometimes-shaky English and all, and I was immediately drawn into it. When her declining health imperils her long-held secret plan to return to Japan and make peace with her brother after decades of not contacting each other, Shoko is forced to enlist her daughter Sue (Suiko) to go in her place. Sue has never been to Japan and knows little of her extended family, but is swayed to accept the errand by her own daughter Helena’s enthusiasm for the idea. Sue takes over the telling once she and Helena begin preparing for their trip. Dilloway makes the transition between her two first-person narrators smoothly, while establishing each with a distinctive voice.

The fact that I was caught up in the story so quickly is a compliment to Dilloway’s writing, because it took me a while to warm up to Shoko on her own, and I didn’t really feel that I liked the book until past the halfway point. I found myself more interested in the mother-daughter story between Sue and Helena than that of Shoko and Sue, so I might have preferred a different balance. Having said that, I think this is a strong first novel and a solid piece of women’s fiction; the male characters aren’t developed as well as the female ones, but even if they were, the subject’s not likely to attract male readers anyway. I’m interested in seeing what Dilloway might do with a less autobiographical story, though...and I think there’s some real potential for social commentary in this whole “how to be an American housewife” thing.

Rating: 3.75/5

If you’ve read the book, please join the discussions of How to Be an American Housewife at the BlogHer Book Club and on Twitter (hashtag #BHBC)!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Salon: Off to the Book Fair!

The Sunday Salon.com

The past week was not a stellar one for either reading or blogging, and the upcoming one (or two) doesn't look to be much better, to be honest. Work's busy, traffic is lousy, school's back in session, and there are demands from all sides--the off-line life is calling, and there's just not much time to write anything that doesn't have a firm deadline right now. Don't look for me around here more than a few times a week for the next little while. I'm not even going to be participating in the Fall edition of Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon on October 22, due to its unfortunate scheduling conflict with my wedding anniversary.

Earlier in my blogging career, not having posts in reserve and ready to fill this busy time would have seriously stressed me out--and to be honest, I'm not thrilled by the prospect even now. But I'm not killing a perfectly good Sunday in front of my computer cobbling together content, either, as I have been known to do in the past. Instead, I'll be doing this:

I didn't even know the West Hollywood Book Fair existed until this past Friday, but having missed the LA Times Festival of Books this year, I was excited to discover it! The WeHo event is on a smaller scale, but will also offer author appearances, panel discussions, and plenty of exhibitors and vendors. I'm not expecting to meet up with any blogging friends there, but I do get to go with Tall Paul, who hasn't joined me at the LATFoB for the last couple of years. (However, if you are going to be there, tweet me--@florinda_3rs--and let me know; let's try to say hello!)

And on the way there and back, I'll be continuing to read How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway for the BlogHer Book Club, which we'll be starting to discuss this week.

The weather forecast looks great for a beautiful day of books in the park! Hopefully, I'll get to tell you all about it soon. Hope you enjoy your Sunday!