Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Case You Missed It: August

Wow - how is already almost Labor Day? I can't believe that the end of Summer is creeping up on us! I don't know about you but I am not ready, what with the chilly San Francisco Summer we've been having! Here's to a warm Fall! This photo was taken at my friends wedding in Wine Country in Northern California of us. As you can see, it was warm! I hope you all have fun Labor Day plans! We'll be enjoying the heat it New York City :)


August has been a busy month at Amused By Books headquarters but it sure has been fun! In case you missed it, here's what I've been up to all month:
Wow, busy times! I bet September is going to be a blast too so stick around!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mailbox Monday - Aug 23rd - 28th, 2010

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and August is being hosted by Chick Loves Lit! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Did you all enjoy your last weekend of August? How is this month already over?! Mine was nice and relaxing which is great because I am now going to hop on a plane for New York to work in my company's office over there which I am really excited about! I think it may actually be warm over there! Don't worry - since it's a work trip, I'll still be posting as usual but we will be enjoying New York City for Labor Day weekend which I am looking forward to.

Now, what did everyone get in their mailboxes this week? Here's what I got:

From PBS:

1. 'The Sparks Fly Upward' by Diana Norman




















2. 'What I Thought I Knew' by Alice Eve Cohen




















3. 'Magnolia Wednesdays' by Wendy Wax

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Exciting News!

You all may remember back in June when I went through the process of nominating myself for a couple of awards for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I went ahead and bit the bullet, nominating myself for Best New Book Blog and Best Written Book Blog and I am thrilled to report that the shortlists have been announced today for all of the categories and... Amused By Books has made the shortlist for Best New Book Blog!! This was the category that meant the most to me because I really want to make a mark with all of the other major new bloggers out there. I am really so excited to have been shortlisted and I just wanted to say thank you to all of those who have supported me along the way. Also, a huge congratulations to all of those who have made the shortlist in this and all of the other categories as well. It's been really fun to participate in voting so far and I look forward to all of the events coming up the week of September 13-17.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to Deal

'Leaving the World' 
By Douglas Kennedy


Format: Paperback
Published: Atria; June 2010
Pages: 512


Synopsis: Kennedy's ninth novel is a complex study of a line early in the book: nobody gets away lightly in life. On the morning after narrator Jane Howard's 13th birthday, her father, citing Jane's comment that No one's actually happy, walks out on the family. Jane shuts down emotionally, but excels academically and while at Harvard begins an affair with her married thesis adviser, David, which ends four years later when he's killed in an accident. Moving on from making big bucks in finance, Jane ends up teaching at a third-tier university in Boston where she falls in love and has a daughter with film archivist Theo, who along with his new paramour, cheats Jane out of most of her savings. Life only gets harder, until, just when Jane is ready to give up, she gets involved in a child-murder investigation in Calgary, Canada. Jane is a quintessential heroine who never makes excuses or wallows in self-pity, despite her grief. Episodically structured yet with a strong narrative drive, this is a book with lasting impact: powerful, provocative, and tender. - From Publisher's Weekly


My Take: I've never read a book by Douglas Kennedy and I always find it interesting when male authors take the point of view of a female lead character. I don't know why but I think it that it would be difficult to get into our psyche and write it well and vice versa. When I picked up this book and looked at this cover I didn't know if it would be 'chick lit' but quickly discovered that it most certainly wasn't, if only for the sheer fact that it was drama, drama, drama throughout. This book deals with heartbreak on a scale that I haven't read in quite some time and left me reeling about what to say about it for a couple of days. 

A lot happened in this book. A lot that was central to the story and a lot that I am not sure necessarily was. We were with Jane, our heroine for a large portion of her life. We first met her when she was 13. Let's just say her parents suck on scale that is so grand it's hard to grasp that they were allowed to continue to raise her. Her parents got a divorce, and basically her mom blamed Jane for the divorce until the day her mother died. It was categorically not Jane's fault. This made Jane say that she never wished to have children. Famous last words and all that.

We then meet Jane when she is graduate school. She is academically brilliant. Studies hard and earns degrees but not her parents love and respect. Let me cut to the chase here because I could go on for miles and it's hard to kind of formulate my thoughts here because there is so much I could say. I think there is an old adage that life only throws you whatever you can handle but I do think life threw Jane a little more than was necessary. Without giving too much away, it was hard for her to find love in her life and get close to people because so much of it was taken away.

The crux of the story is this: Jane wants to leave the world. Why does she want to do so? Something horrendous happens to her. You don't even find that out until you are about 3/4 of the way through the book so stick with it because if you are like me you will find that the book jumps points a lot. You feel like you are moving along on one train and then you there is a major diversion and something serious happens and now the plot is moving onto something else. This happened probably half a dozen times. Honestly, this bothered me. The whole point of the story could have been tied up much faster and we still would have sympathized with Jane without all of the extra twists and turns I think because sometimes they just seemed extraneous and almost to prove the authors knowledge of all kinds of random things. I mean seriously this book takes us on a journey like I couldn't have expected. However, don't get me wrong, I was rooting for Jane and I wanted her to survive this. At the core, I could totally relate to a book dealing with how one handles grief. The problem is there was just so much other stuff too!

(I got this book from Crazy Book Tours)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Announcing the 100+ Follower Giveaway

I have reached a milestone that when I started this blog last September I didn't think I would ever reach! I am so excited to say that I have officially gained over 100 followers and I am so grateful to each and every one of you! When I started this little book blog I didn't know if anyone besides my mom would read it and the fact that people take the time to read it, comment, and follow me truly makes me feel so wonderful so I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you with a little giveaway!

Here's the deal. This giveaway will be open to followers of this blog only and it will be open for one week, until September 2nd. All you have to do is fill in the form below. I will be giving away one (1) $25 gift certificate to either Amazon, Powell's, or The Book Depository (just indicate which you would like in the form). If I reach 125 followers while this contest is running I'll give away another $25 gift certificate and so forth.

Click here for the form and thanks again for being a follower!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

BFF

'Mackenzie Blue: Friends Forever?'
By Tina Wells


Format: Hardback
Published: Harper Collins; June 2010
Pages: 208


Synopsis: Mackenzie Blue is hitting the trails!
It's time for Brookdale Academy's camping field trip, but Zee has much more to deal with than a lesson about nature. . . .
Pros:
1. My BFF, Ally, is visiting all the way from Paris! Ooh la la!
2. My friends and I are so going to win the environmental scavenger hunt!

Cons:
1. We have to stay in teeny-tiny log cabins. How will we all fit?
2. The legendary (and terrifying) Mountain Man . . .


My Take: The third and most recent installment of the Mackenzie Blue series takes off right where the last book, 'The Secret Crush', left off and it is just as cute as the previous two! If you haven't checked in before, I've reviewed the last two books in this series over the previous two weeks, 'Mackenzie Blue' and 'Mackenzie Blue: The Secret Crush' and found them both to be absolutely adorable so was more than happy to pick up the third installment.

In this book, the whole gang is back together for a week away at camp. Mackenzie (Zee) is a little nervous about her first full week away from her parents but at least all of her friends and her favorite teacher, Mr. P. will be along for the adventure so she needn't worry. The premise is that they are at a science camp and it will be filled with all kinds of fun learning activities along the way, as well as misadventures to boot. 

I enjoyed this one because it dealt with the common misadventures that young girls often find themselves dealing with: multiple friends and how to balance them all. Heck, I still deal with this! Zee's best friend from Paris is home for a few weeks and gets to join them but all of her friends from school are on this trip. Some feelings get bruised and Zee has to learn to balance all of these emotions. This is a normal part of growing up and a valuable lesson. 

Another big milestone happens in this book. Boys shield yourselves! Zee gets her first period while away at camp. I think this book dealt with it well. Zee didn't know it was coming, she and her girlfriends were suitably thrilled when they found out. Man, how exciting it was when you got that first period. Oh girls!

Also, this time there is an actual kiss but I won't spoil it for you by giving it away. But nothing more than that for those parents out there!

All in all another great book from this series!

(Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me this book)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

California Book Blogger Lunch!

In attendance was (back row, left to right)  Florinda from 3 R's Blog, Jill from Fizzy Thoughts, Amy from My Friend Amy, and me. (Front row, left to right) Helen from Helen's Book Blog with her sweet dog, Danielle from There's a Book and Chick Lit Reviews with her adorable son Jase, and Ti from Book Chatter.
This past Saturday I got to do something very special: spend it with some fabulous California book bloggers! I was thrilled when a couple of months ago, Jill from Fizzy Thoughts decided to organize a book blogger lunch in Santa Barbara for any and all California Book Bloggers. While a bit of a drive from San Francisco, I thought it would be well worth it to head down and see what these ladies had to say since I still consider myself having a lot to learn in this blogging world.

Helen from Helen's Book Blog was kind enough to invite us into her home and feed us a delicious lunch where we spent the afternoon chatting about life, books and blogs. We all brought lots of books with us that we had read to swap which was a blast and then we went to famed Santa Barbara independent book store Chaucer's to go shopping together. It was such a fun day and I look forward to doing something like this again! You can see from the group in the photo above that California produces some pretty awesome book bloggers!

Book loot courtesy of book blogger swap and Chaucer's!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mailbox Monday - Aug 16th - 21st, 2010

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and August is being hosted by Chick Loves Lit! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Did everyone have a great weekend? This past Saturday I went to a California Book Bloggers lunch! It was so much fun to hang out with some great ladies - look for a full write up on that tomorrow :)

Here's what I got this week:
1. 'The I Hate to Cook Book' by Peg Bracken




















From Crazy Book Tours:
2. 'Her Fearful Symmetry' by Audrey Niffenegger




















3. 'The Jewel of St. Petersburg' by Kate Furnivall




















From PBS:
4. 'Miranda's Big Mistake' by Jill Mansell




















5. 'Pretty in Plaid' by Jen Lancaster




















Let me know what you got!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Crazy Times in Venice

'The Book of Unholy Mischief' 
By Elle Newmark


Format: Paperback
Published: Washington Square Press; Nov. 2009
Pages: 400


Synopsis: Luciano, the wily hero of Newmark's entertaining first novel, is only a street urchin when the doge of Venice's chef finds him, but once dragged into the kitchen as an apprentice, he discovers more bubbling than boiling water. While the town is in an uproar over the rumor of an ancient book containing magical potions and lessons on alchemy, Luciano pines away for a girl and learns the basics of chopping, sweeping and eavesdropping. As he and his maestro become friendlier, Luciano begins to learn that there's more to his teacher than a garden of strange plants and a box of spices. Newmark does a fine job of building suspense and keeping the novel barreling along, and her knowledge of and affection for 15th-century Venice adds charm to this nicely told adventure yarn. Copyright © Reed Business Information


My Take: I love it when books really take you to a time and a place. You never know when you pick up a book whether or not they will do this for you. Historical fiction, I think, has the biggest challenge with this because not only do they have to paint a picture of a scene for you but they have to take you back to a time and a place that you have never known. When a book does this well and can really take you there and take you out of the present it is something really magical and that is something my most recent read, 'The Book of Unholy Mischief' did a fantastic job of!

Newmark's book is set in the Venice, Italy of the 15th Century. I loved imagining what it might have been like to have lived back then while reading this. Maybe it was because I had just read another historical fiction book set in Italy, 'The Blind Contessa's New Machine' but I was all about being transported back to Italy again. Plus, I've actually been to Venice and found it to be one of the few places I've travelled that actually was in real life exactly how I imagined it would be so it was easy for me to imagine this one.

Another great aspect of description in this book was the food, and we all know that a great country for food is Italy! I mean, when you think of Italy you think food, right? Luciano our plucky hero is just a little street urchin trying to survive day to day when a chef, a maestro in the kitchen, grabs him from the dregs of living a horrible life not knowing where his next meal is to come from, to live and learn how to become a chef. How exciting for us because with Luciano's apprenticeship comes beautiful descriptions of dishes you wanted to eat right up. Did you know they used to call tomatoes 'love apples'? That cracked me up! They also thought they were poisonous but the chef could turn them into a 'love apple soup' that people would just eat up and who today doesn't love tomato soup? Ha!

At any rate, the crux of this story is that Venice is all a twitter about 'The Book of Unholy Mischief'. What is in the book? Who has the book? How can I get a hold of the book and if I do, will it give me eternal life, major riches, a love potion? Oh man, who wouldn't want this book if it could promise all this! The rich men have rewards out for anyone who can bring information on the book and Luciano wants to solve the mystery. It's a fun story that I could totally see being made into a movie! It was so vividly told!

(I received this book from Pump Up Your Book Tours)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Meme of Reading Questions

This week's Booking Through Thursday asks us all kinds of fun reading based questions. I just love surveys like this! My answers are below and I am looking forward to seeing all of yours!


I got this from Lorette‘s blog and couldn’t resist adopting it for all of you.
1. Favorite childhood book?


Anything in the Berenstain Bears series!

2. What are you reading right now?

'The Book of Unholy Mischief' by Elle Newmark

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

Some audiobooks by Jen Lancaster

4. Bad book habit?

Buying waaaay more books than I can ever read in any reasonable amount of time

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

'Born Round' by Frank Bruni (audiobook)

6. Do you have an e-reader?

Nope and I don't think I want one either

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

I do prefer to read one book at a time, although every once in a while I'll read multiples, either to meet a deadline or because I don't like what I am currently reading that much

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

Yes! I read a lot more and I've delved in a couple of different genres - love that!

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)

'The Swan Thieves' by Elizabeth Kostova (audiobook)

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

'River's Edge' by Marie Bostwick

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

More than I used to – maybe 6 books a year (used to be zero!)

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

Chick Lit, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

13. Can you read on the bus?

Yes! That’s how I keep the crazy people from talking to me :)

14. Favorite place to read?

My bed or couch…with the cat curled up next to me

15. What is your policy on book lending?

I’ll only do so to a few select people, otherwise I know I won’t get the book back

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

Only if I don’t have a bookmark near me – I prefer not to though!

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

Heck no!

18. Not even with text books?

Oh ok, maybe then but that’s allowed because they make you buy new ones every year. It’s some sort of racket they are running and the writing in the margins helps the next person out!

19. What is your favorite language to read in?

English. I’m not real fancy.

20. What makes you love a book?

Wit

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

Outside of my blog because obviously I am recommending books all the time there? If there is a character that I think someone I know will totally relate to, then I will recommend it to them.

22. Favorite genre?

I can’t pick just one! I love women’s fiction, chick lit, and historical fiction all equally!

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

Classics

24. Favorite biography?

‘The Middle Place’ by Kelly Corrigan

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

Yes, first time last year. It didn’t go well. I never found my butterfly.

26. Favorite cookbook?

‘Rachel Ray’s Big Orange Cookbook’!

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?

I know what it would be last year but I don’t think I’ve read one this year. I’ll keep trying though!

28. Favorite reading snack?

Pretzels

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

I don’t read a lot of books that are overly hyped but back in the day this probably happened with Dave Eggers’ ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

Rarely. That’s why I like blogs.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

I feel that, no matter what, you should be honest. If you like a book tell us, if you don’t tell us.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?

The only other language I kinda know is German…

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

‘Moby Dick’

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?

‘Anna Karinina’

35. Favorite Poet?

Emily Dickinson

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

Well I really only do audiobooks from the library so that would be maybe 3

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?

N/A, see above

38. Favorite fictional character?

Scarlet O’Hara

39. Favorite fictional villain?

Mrs. Danvers

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?

Chick Lit

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.

Two weeks…maybe

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

‘The Lost Dog’

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?

Music, I can’t really listen to it when I am reading. Also if my boyfriend is talking to me. I assume he wants me to stop reading and answer him back.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?

Bridget Jones’s Diary or In Her Shoes

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

Angela’s Ashes

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

Probably around $100. I’ve done this multiple times.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

Never. However, I always read the back blurb. If they don’t have one, I don’t buy the book.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

It sucked. No seriously, if the characters/storyline bored me to tears or if they were doing things that were morally disagreeable and I couldn’t really stomach it.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?

Yes – by color!

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

I swap them – immediately!

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

Eat, Pray, Love or the Dragon Girl series – too much hype

52. Name a book that made you angry.

‘The Bastard of Istanbul’ – you can read my review to find out why

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

‘The House on Tradd Street’ – I don’t like ghost stories, but I loved this one!

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?

‘The Swan Thieves’ – I LOVED her first book, so what the heck happened…

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

Anything by Marian Keyes or Jill Mansell!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crushin'

'Mackenzie Blue: The Secret Crush'
By Tina Wells


Format: Hardback
Published: Harper Collins; Dec. 2009
Pages: 240


Synopsis: Grade 4–8—This book picks up where Mackenzie Blue (HarperCollins, 2009) left off. The seventh grader and her friends in Mr. P's music class are going to form a band and put on a rock 'n' roll musical based on Romeo and Juliet. Mackenzie hopes to be the lead while her big crush, Landon, plays opposite her. This sequel is full of elements tweens can relate to, such as texting, mean girls, embarrassing moments, and references to popular culture. The tone is light and positive. Mackenzie texts and emails her friends and writes in a journal. An "Online Glossary" is included, and playful illustrations appear throughout. 


My Take: If you liked the first 'Mackenzie Blue' book (click for review), of course you'd have to read the second book in the series! The fun continued in this book and it was still just really cute and sweet. Zee is such a lovable character and a sweet girl, who wouldn't want to be her friend!

This book seems to pick up pretty much where the first book left off. The 7th Graders in Mr. P's music class are going to form a band and decide to promote their band by writing their own musical. My guess is this would appeal to any and all fans of those who loved 'High School Musical' yet it is now in book form? I liked that the kids would have to write their own musical, create the sets, costumes, and perform it. That would be an amazing amount of work, plus it drew them all together.

As the name suggests there is a little bit of a romantic twist in this story but don't worry, it is merely an almost-kiss as it were. Zee has a crush on the school surfer named Landon. There weren't any boys in my middle school named Landon but if there were undoubtedly they would have to have been hot as well! At any rate Zee is the lead female in the musical and Landon is the male lead and this leads to lots of practice sessions. Zee is thrilled by this, her parents are not. It's all very humorous, and how you would hope parents would deal with something like this and not how you fear 7th graders act in real life if the news and MTV is to be believed (do I sound like a 70 year old woman right now instead of someone in my 20s?, yikes!).

Another thing I noticed with reading this one is that it is a very multicultural book. There are lots of different kids in the book and, like most schools, it appears as though lots of races and ethnicities are represented. It just seemed very modern and I know books like this weren't as prevalent when I was a kid. It's just nice to see. Looking forward to reading the next one!

(Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me this book)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lusting Over Book Storage...Again!

By now I think you all know that I think book storage is an art form. I know, I know lots of people think it's merely utilitarian but since these objects fill up my house I have to make mine look pretty! Here's a link to what mine look like. And here, over at Design * Sponge is a whole post full of their best homes that they've visited with some of the best book shelves. Seriously drool-worthy I think! Maybe we can find some inspiration in here to redecorate, yet again! I think my favorite is the books they've put in picture frames - such a good idea!




Monday, August 16, 2010

Mailbox Monday - Aug 9th - 14th, 2010

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and August is being hosted by Chick Loves Lit! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!


How was everyone's week? We had guests this past weekend. My grandma and her husband came to visit which kept us on our toes. It was lots of fun to be able to show them around town and get out and enjoy the sites! Now another Monday has already approached!


Here's what I got in my mailbox this week.
From PBS:
1. 'Georgia's Kitchen' by Jenny Nelson                2. 'Muck' by Craig 
                                                                                  Sherborne

                                    












What did you get?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Guest Post: Book Blogging Around The World

Happy Sunday Everyone! I would love it if you all checked out my guest post entitled Book Blogging Around The World on Charlotte's lovely blog The Book on the Hill . I talk all about my travels, life, living in California, and what I like about being a blogger in the US. Let me know what you think!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Love is Blind

'The Blind Contessa's New Machine'
By Carey Wallace


Format: Hardback
Published: Pamela Dorman Books; July 2010
Pages: 224


Synopsis: This charming and refreshingly modest debut hinges on a romantic triangle consisting of a blind contessa, her aristocratic husband, and an eccentric inventor. As Carolina Fantoni and Pietro prepare for their wedding in early 19th-century Italy, she tells her handsome, well-born fiancĂ© that she is going blind. Like her family, he doesn't take her seriously, and only Turri, Carolina's friend and married neighbor, believes her. While Pietro engages in less than lofty pursuits, Turri and Carolina continue to meet on Carolina's father's property, and Carolina's creeping blindness inspires Turri to invent a machine she can use to write messages. His invention—a typewriter—sparks an affair that could have far-reaching consequences for them both.


My Take: When I got this book in the mail I was excited because finally I got to read a tiny book! I feel like I have been reading all of these massive books lately. While some of them have been good, they've taken up lots of time and sometimes it's nice to just escape for an afternoon into a nice, little story and let me tell you, this novel is just a wisp of a book in size, but in story, you will leave it feeling like nothing is left out!

Carolina is the blind Contessa of whom the story is named after. When the story opens she has her sight and is a young woman who is the daughter of a rich lemon farmer and his wife in Italy. She likes open spaces and time to herself but it is time to find a husband. Pietro is the catch of the valley in which they live.  The fact that he chooses Carolina delights her at first but when she realizes that she is going blind she is unsure as to what to do. She turns to her friend Turri for advice. He tells her that her growing blindness will only get worse. This must have been so scary. To have to deal with a medical condition that had no pain yet also no cure. To not know how to get rid of it or why it was coming on. This poor woman was all alone in her fear of her coming blindness and just looking at her no one knew it was happening. She tells her family and fiance but they think it's just a joke.

Wallace does a great job in this slim novel of creating multifaceted characters. Pietro loves his wife but he can not understand her blindness. He has always been regarded as the most handsome man and now the woman he has chosen can not even see him! He doesn't know what to do with this. Their servants follow her around at night. Carolina can hear them but they refuse to respond when she calls out to them. Are they ghosts? Her main servant, Liza, is snotty to her and makes up lies when what Carolina really needs is someone to guide her. They never did give her a darn cane to help guide her around her home!

The only one who really understands Carolina is her friend Turri. Both Turri and Carolina are married to others though. Turri is an inventor and feels Carolina's pain when she tries to write him a letter so he invents a 'writing machine' - an early typewriter. The whole town is mystified by the invention!

To be loved by someone other than the one you are with is an age old story but this one does it well. You can easily read this book in an afternoon and get lost in old Italy. You will feel for Carolina and Turri's forbidden romance! And for that cover alone? Why wouldn't it be worth having it on your shelves!

(I got this book from Crazy Book Tours)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Evolution

This week's Booking Through Thursday asks:

Have your reading choices changed over the years? Or pretty much stayed the same? (And yes, from childhood to adulthood we usually read different things, but some people stick to basically the same kind of book their entire lives, so…)

I would say that yes my reading choices have changed since I've gotten older. I most certainly go through reading-phases. I find an author that I love, which leads to a genre that I love, which leads me to reading everything I can find in that genre until I am bored of it!

This first happened in 7th Grade with 'Gone With the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell. I became obsessed with Civil War-era historical fiction/romances until I'd read everything that didn't verge on the too-raunchy. Around my senior year in high-school/freshman year of college my mom helped me discover Marian Keyes and 'Bridget Jones's Diary' by Helen Fielding and I think for about 5 years the only books I read were Brit-chick lit and that is still one of my absolute favorite genres!

I think it was probably around the end of my time at college and my first few years out of college when I thought that I needed to learn about what authors are making literary waves and that's when I started paying attention to those long and shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize for Fiction lists and reading as many as I can. I have found many authors that I love from that list and many that I find I never want to read again!

Finally, again around the time I was leaving college, I read 'The Red Tent' and then about six months later I read Barbara Kingslover's 'The Poisonwood Bible' and that's when I became the fan I am now of women's fiction. It's smart, adult topics often match who I am or where I think my life might lead.

That in a nutshell, is the reading evolution of Amused!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

School Time!

'Mackenzie Blue'
By Tina Wells


Format: Hardback
Published: Harper Collins; May 2009
Pages: 224


Synopsis: Grade 4-7– Zee is starting seventh grade in Brookdale Academy with Jasper, an awkward Brit she befriended that summer. She is a guitar player who is looking forward to Teen Sing, a national contest that offers its winner a recording contract. Auditions will take place in her school's auditorium. Zee enters instrumental class expecting a famous classical teacher and finds Mr. P., a nervous rock enthusiast. Kathi, the mean girl, is mean to him. Chloe, a girl from the South who plays cello, becomes perky friend number two. So why, when Zee's diary is lost, does she suspect her friends and not Kathi? 


My Take: I know, I know this isn't my normal kind of book! But when the publisher offered to send me the set of books for review and I saw how cute they looked I couldn't pass them up. I thought it could be a really fun way to pass an afternoon, plus I was interested to see how the books that are being put out now for young girls compared to the books that were marketed to me at that age. 

First of all I immediately liked Mackenzie, or Zee as all of her friends call her, because she has to wear a uniform to school. I had to as well and I hated it (although, yes I appreciate that I had to now). She is keen to express her individuality though and she is really sweet and stands out from the crowd. I think she makes a good person for girls to read about because she deals with adversity by being nice to others. Of course there are mean kids in this book, teachers and parents who annoy her, and through it all, even when she has a bad day, she gets stressed but is never rude. How many kids (adults?) can say that?!

Also, I liked it because it was hot pink! I think as a little girl this book would have certainly called out to me. It was cute because it used different mediums throughout. While it was technically a 'chapter book', it had pictures, used I.M., texting, diary entries, etc. to break it up. I think this is probably good to get on their level. Granted, I was incredibly grateful there was a glossary in the back for some of the I.M. abbreviations because I didn't know what the heck they meant, but hey, I'm probably not supposed to.

At any rate, the point of this is, the book was entertaining, sweet, and I would totally recommend it and read the next two! Please look for my reviews of the next two books in the series in the coming weeks.

Also, if your kids are reading this, you should have them check out Mackenzie's website: http://www.mackenzieblue.com/ because it's really interactive!

(Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me this book)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shelving is Beautiful too!


Gallery Fumi
I have a thing about shelves...bookshelves that is. I've posted here before about how I organize my shelves by color and how I love book ends but now I've discovered the site: Bookshelf Porn! I am in heaven looking through this site! Almost every day they find some gorgous new photo of shelves of books. Be still my heart! Anytime you think ebooks are taking over the world and print will be no more, just click over to this site and calm your fears...and get some decorating inspiration to boot!

Photo by Tiffany Arment


dancingbearswithpaintedwings

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mailbox Monday - Aug 2nd - 7th, 2010

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and August is being hosted by Chick Loves Lit! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!


How was everyone's weekend? Mine was so nice! I got to get caught up on lots of stuff! 


Only two books came into my mailbox this week but I am looking forward to reading them both! 


From Crazy Book Tours:
1. 'The Blind Contessa's New Machine' by Carey Wallace



















From PBS:
2. 'The Best of Times' by Penny Vincenzi



















What did you get?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I Bought It

Just a quick note here to tell everyone that I made the jump to buying and registering my own domain name! This site will now officially be at www.amusedbybooks.com. It should automatically transfer you over if you enter my blogspot address so let me know if you have any issues! Please update your google readers or whatever it is you use to follow me accordingly so you don't miss anything :) Now, back to regularly scheduled programming!

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Story Within A Story Within A Story

'The Blind Assassin' 
By Margaret Atwood


Format: Paperback
Published: Anchor; Aug 2001
Pages: 521


Synopsis: Family secrets, sibling rivalry, political chicanery and social unrest, promises and betrayals, "loss and regret and memory and yearning" are the themes of Atwood's brilliant new novel, whose subtitle might read: The Fall of the House of Chase. Justly praised for her ability to suggest the complexity of individual lives against the backdrop of Canadian history, Atwood here plays out a spellbinding family saga intimately affected by WWI, the Depression and Communist witch-hunts, but the final tragedy is equally the result of human frailty, greed and passion. Octogenarian narrator Iris Chase Griffen is moribund from a heart ailment as she reflects on the events following the suicide in 1945 of her fey, unworldly 25-year-old sister, Laura, and of the posthumous publication of Laura's novel, called "The Blind Assassin." When her narration gives way to conversations between two people collaborating on a science fiction novel, we assume that we are reading the genesis of Laura's tale. The voices are those of an unidentified young woman from a wealthy family and her lover, a hack writer and socialist agitator on the run from the law; the lurid fantasy they concoct between bouts of lovemaking constitutes a novel-within-a-novel. Issues of sexual obsession, political tyranny, social justice and class disparity are addressed within the potboiler SF, which features gruesome sacrifices, mutilated body parts and corrupt, barbaric leaders. Despite subtle clues, the reader is more than halfway through Atwood's tour de force before it becomes clear that things are not what they seem. Meanwhile, flashbacks illuminate the Chase family history.  


My Take: So here's what happened. I started out my year thinking that there were some books and authors that I wanted to make sure to read this year. I think this happens to everyone. Not everyone reads every awesome book/author that is around when they first appear on the scene (or they need to go back and read a classic because they weren't told to read them in school!) and so we need to expereince books that we feel everyone else is talking about. Margaret Atwood was one of those authors for me. I felt like everyone, even people who haven't read a ton of books, have read at least one Atwood. So when I started 2010 I said that I will check her off my to read list. And this book, 'The Blind Assassin', was the book I felt I should read. Maybe this is controversial but this was the book that always called out to me on shelves in bookstores, that I always felt that I saw other people reading when I was out and about. But the year progressed and I hadn't read it yet. The I got to be on Thats How I Blog and we participate in a twenty minute book club and I thought this would be a great book to suggest and the rest is history!

This story, while I expected it to be rather epic, had a lot more going on than I expected, yet still managed to be a little dry. How is that possible? The story, for me, was bogged down in way too many details. The novel centers around the lives of two sisters, Iris and Laura. At the beginning a lot of dramamtic things happen, people die, it is very sad and then bam, Iris is old and looking back on her life and telling us about it. Iris as an 80 year old woman, I'll admit she was funny and acerbic as an older woman and I liked her. How she got through a hard life with so many people around her dying would be incredibly difficult but she managed.

The problem for me was this. I was hooked right away because it was so dramatic with everything happening and then about 150 pages in the story kind of stalled for me because as Iris is explaining her younger years with her mother, father, and sister Laura, she explains the day to day, the mundanity. Some major events happen, but we are talking year after year she categories for a couple of hundred pages. Let's speed this up! So there's two stories going on, Iris as an 80 year old reflecting on her life as a younger woman.

Now for the third story: the namesake, 'The Blind Assassin'. This is Laura's (Iris' sister) posthumous science fiction novel. It's not too hard to follow but what also happens is that they break this story up too with details of Laura's life with her lover. So maybe there are 4 stories going on? This actually isn't as confusing as it sounds because Atwood does break the sections up a lot but it does make it incredibly difficult to describe coherently so if this is hard to follow, I really apologize! However, whether or not I liked it, I think I thought it was just ok.

I've been told not to give up on Atwood yet but to try 'The Handsmaid's Tale' next. Do you agree?

(I bought this book)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

First Time

This week's Booking Through Thursday asks:

What is the first book you remember reading? What about the first that made you really love reading?


Wow, this is a difficult question. My memory from that long ago isn't always the best! Ok so let's break it down! The first book I remember reading? I feel like it would have been something kind of easy but honestly what I remember reading over and over and over again as a child are my Berenstain Bears books! I had the whole collection and couldn't get enough! I just loved them all and they brought me to a magical place. Yes memory is a funny thing because I am sure the first book I actually read was something much different but that's not what they asked was it and these are the books that stick with me.

Now to the second part: what is the first book that really made me love reading? This would probably be a tie between what made me love reading as a child and what made me love reading as a young adult. I think in probably fourth grade or so I read The Little House on the Prairie series and oh my goodness it opened up a whole world of amazing history to me and I couldn't get enough in my free time. I devoured these books.

Eventually though you feel like you've grown up and it's Seventh Grade (I know, not really!) but you don't want to read any of that silly kid stuff anymore and that's when I first read 'Gone With the Wind'. I feel like this was a seminal moment in my reading history. It was by far the longest book I'd ever read by choice at that point and I devoured it.  It was also written with adults in mind and I never looked back. From then on I was an adult reader and I couldn't get enough.

What were the books that meant the most to you?


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Friendly Reminder - Tonight I'll Be On That's How I Blog

Hi everyone! This is just a friendly reminder that I would love it if you all tuned in tonight at 9pm EST/6pm PST as I talk books, blogs, and book blogs with Nicole from Linus's Blanket on That's How I Blog on Blog Talk Radio! I am so excited and I would be even more excited if you all join in and listen online. Just click the link at the time and listen in by streaming it through your computer.

If you've never listened to the show before, we will be talking about all kinds of fun bookish stuff and at the end we will have a 20 minute book club to talk about 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood so if you've read that or are looking for something to read next tune in to that as well!

Everyone's Got Problems

'The Condition'
By Jennifer Haigh


Format: Paperback
Published: Harper Perennial; June 2009
Pages: 416


Synopsis: A dysfunctional New England family struggles toward normalcy in this poignant novel from PEN/Hemingway-winner Haigh, who follows the children of resentful, controlling, Paulette and distracted, needy Frank. Even during a childhood in idyllic Cape Cod, there are hints of a rocky future. When that future arrives, Billy, the most successful of the children, keeps a secret about his sophisticated New York life from almost everyone. Scott, formerly the uncontrollable brat of the bunch, sees himself in his own troubled son. Meanwhile, Gwen suffers from a genetic condition that prevents her from developing into womanhood. The story starts slowly, and while the setup feels familiar (a fractured New England family), the children take unexpected turns that shake up the narrative, leading to the most surprising twist of all: despite the sobering events chronicled, there's a strong nod to the healing power of love. Haigh allows the reader to sympathize with each of the family members, and, in turn, to see their flaws and better understand them.


My Take: I was really excited to read this book because Haigh is one of my favorite authors. I absolutely loved her last two novels, 'Mrs. Kimble' and 'Baker Towers' and so I, naturally expected to feel the same about her latest. The premise for this book was interesting, but me, with my ability to judge a book by a cover, felt that cover was striking, and was willing to give it a whirl. 

Let me start by saying that a heck of a lot happens in this novel so if this is a bit jumbled I apologize but  I am going to try to hit on some of the major points! Gwen is one of the children of the family and has Turner's Syndrome, a condition I hadn't heard of before, and that is what the title is referring to. A lot of the story centers around 'the condition' and how it affected peoples lives. The story starts in the 1970s and the family's summer vacation home. Turner Syndrome can mean many things depending on what you have but one of the main symptom's is that women don't go through puberty. This summer Gwen is twelve and it suddenly becomes clear she is not developing at a normal pace.

Paulette, Gwen's mother, was a difficult character for me. She is a bit of a prude so having to deal with a symptom that centers around puberty and her daughter not developing could not be more embarrassing for her. Paulette and Frank, the parents, end up getting divorced. Not because of Gwen but I would say she is the catalyst.

The majority of the story takes place about twenty years after the family finds out about 'the condition'. I liked this. I thought the story might be all about getting tests done and dealing with diagnoses but instead all three children were adults and it was more about the affect of their parents divorce on their lives and Gwen's condition may have had on them.

This story, while maybe not as good as her other two novels for me, was pretty good and did a great job of showing a complicated cast of characters and how complicated, as humans we really all are. The characters all dealt with a lot of growth. While at the beginning they may have been using each other as a kind of crux, by the other they were not and I love a story where the characters grow.

(I got this book at a sale where all the proceeds went to charity)
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