Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Own Mini Read-a-Thon

Stacks!
I have stacks of review books. Stacks, I tell you! I am reading as fast as I can but it's never fast enough. Next week my boyfriend is going out of town for 5 days and I am going to make a pledge to myself. Here it is.

My pledge:
  • When I get home from work/gym, I shall make thyself dinner and not turn on thy tv. I shall pick up thy books instead! 
  • For four evenings and one Saturday, this girl shall read, read, read and get through some of those review books like it's her job.
  • She likes to read and besides, those tv shows are all just re-runs anyway so pick up those books, drink a glass of wine and chill thyself out. It will be relaxing, I promise!
There, I can do it, and I shall.

My read a thon will commence from Sept. 6th - 10th and I will let you know how I go. Wish me luck and fill free to join me!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: Sister


Author: Rosamund Lupton

Format: Hardback
Published: Crown; June 2011
Pages: 336
Genre: Mystery
Grade: A
Source: Personal copy

Synopsis: When the body of Beatrice’s beloved younger sister, Tess, is discovered in an abandoned building in Hyde Park and ruled a suicide, Beatrice knows the police have made a mistake. She’s certain her sister was murdered. Determined to uncover the truth, Beatrice impulsively begins to hunt for clues on her own. So begins Rosamund Lupton’s stunning debut, Sister, at once an engrossing thriller and a powerful meditation on the bonds of family. Writing her story as a letter to Tess, Beatrice gradually connects the strange, varied occurrences leading up to Tess’s death--Tess’s pregnancy; a trial drug from a pharmaceutical company; a man who may or may not have been a figment of Tess’s imagination. Beatrice’s former life falls apart as her search veers toward obsession, and she realizes she might pay a terrible price for the truth. An adrenaline-filled psychological thriller, Sister’s emotional impact comes from Lupton’s heartrending portrait of the love between Beatrice and Tess.

My Take: I don't read many mysteries or thrillers as a general rule. I scare easy and I don't want to have nightmares if I can possibly avoid it! However, I had been seeing this book around the blogosphere a lot and the reviews were all pretty positive and the concept certainly intrigued me enough to want to give it a try. Then my book club suggested it as our next book club read and I thought that this would be the perfect time. That's what book club is for, to push yourself out of your boundaries and read what you normally wouldn't. As so often happens, I ended up loving this book. And guess what, no nightmares!

I do not have a sister but that did not take anything away from my understanding of the special bond the two sisters in Lupton's engrossing debut novel shared. Beatrice and Tess were best friends. Separated by years and the Atlantic Ocean now, Tess lived in London and Beatrice in New York, they were still very involved in each other's lives. Beatrice was always the classic over protective straight laced older sister and Tess the cooky fun loving younger sister. Then one day their world is flipped on its side when Tess is found dead in an abandoned bathroom. Everyone believes it to be suicide, and the evidence certainly points in that direction, but Beatrice knows her sister intimately and knows she values life too much to have ever committed suicide. Thus the mystery of the whodunnit begins.

Beatrice's all engrossing need to find the killer of her sister was maniacal. When everyone else would have given up because there were no leads, Beatrice continued on. When even her own fiancee didn't believe her, Beatrice continued on. It was interesting to read and certainly heart-wrenching. The love she had for Tess and the guilt at letting this happen poured out of every page because the novel was concurrently written as a letter to Tess and an eye-witness statement for the murderer.

Did I guess who did it in advance? Of course not! I went down every other trail first! Whoops. But that's part of what made this such a fabulous book. Beyond the mystery was the familial bond. I look forward to seeing what Lupton does next.

Cover Lust: I love this cover! Both beautiful and haunting at the same time. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mailbox Monday: August 29, 2011

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and August is being hosted by Life in the Thumb! 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 and audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!


Guess what, everybody? Amused By Books is hosting Mailbox Monday for the month of September so be sure to come right back here next week for all of your links. I am very excited for the opportunity to be able to host!


Did everyone have a nice weekend? My grandma and her partner were visiting from Arizona so we had a fun weekend of showing company around. We got to go to the fabulous California Academy of Sciences. We all enjoyed it and I can highly recommend it to any of you next time you visit San Francisco!


Now on to the books. Just a small pile this week which is great because I need to catch up on my review stacks!


From the author:
1. Lunch Bucket Paradise, A True-Life Novel by Fred Setterberg




















2. The Burning Soul by John Connolly




















What did you get?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway: Just My Type

'Just My Type: A Book About Fonts'
Author: Simon Garfield


Format: ARC
Published: Gotham; Sept. 2011
Pages: 356
Genre: Nonfiction
Grade: A
Source: TLC Books


Synopsis: Fonts surround us every day, on street signs and buildings, on movie posters and books, and on just about every product we buy. But where do fonts come from, and why do we need so many? Who is responsible for the staid practicality of Times New Roman, the cool anonymity of Arial, or the irritating levity of Comic Sans (and the movement to ban it)?
Typefaces are now 560 years old, but we barely knew their names until about twenty years ago when the pull-down font menus on our first computers made us all the gods of type. Beginning in the early days of Gutenberg and ending with the most adventurous digital fonts, Simon Garfield explores the rich history and subtle powers of type. He goes on to investigate a range of modern mysteries, including how Helvetica took over the world, what inspires the seeming ubiquitous use of Trajan on bad movie posters, and exactly why the all-type cover of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was so effective. It also examines why the "T" in the Beatles logo is longer than the other letters and how Gotham helped Barack Obama into the White House. A must-have book for the design conscious, Just My Type's cheeky irreverence will also charm everyone who loved Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Schott's Original Miscellany.

My Take: Now I realize this book may not be for everyone but it most certainly was for me. Here's the thing, you may be scratching your head thinking a book about fonts. Boring! But you would be so wrong. You know why? People get heated up about them. They familiarize themselves with them and everyone has a favorite. I work in marketing and the past two companies I have worked for now we have gone through a rebranding effort and each time we have changed fonts. Holy smokes people hold onto your hats! Your average Joe's and Jane's will come out of the word work to tell you how awful and ugly the people you paid to study your brand and recommend these changes were so wrong. And then a year later once they are used to it, how good it all the looks. The thing is, we look at type and fonts all day and it is fascinating to read about what's behind them.

What's particularly great about Garfield's book is it's cheeky. Its not just a scientific study of fonts but it goes into the more humanistic side of things and our feelings behind fonts. Perhaps why a person created the font they did. He picks a particular font and goes in depth on it. I learned all about why transit fonts were designed for readability, why designers love Helvetica, and how people who really know their type can get frustrated watching movies because typefaces are often used out of context. You learn a lot, but just when things start to get to specific or scientific, that's the end of a topic. It's wrapped up and we move onto the next font. You learn a lot in a brief way. It's totally digestible.

Reading this book I found myself looking at the world around me in a whole new life. Look at that, they choose a serif font I'd say to myself. Almost all advertising around me on my way to and from work and in my transit system is in sans serif fonts. Something I had never looked at before. Also, since everyone can just pull a drop down menu in their computer they can pick and play around with any type they choose. Everyone's an artist now. Why not learn why a font is designed the way it is? In reading Garfield's fascinating book, I've learned it's usually designed that way for a very specific reason!

Cover Lust: I love a graphic, artistic design and this one is really eye-catching.

Giveaway Details!
The publisher has kindly offered up one new copy to a lucky winner! The deadline for this giveaway is Sep. 9th; entries open to those in the US and Canada.

To Enter (Mandatory)!
Comment below with a way for me to contact you.

For Extra entries (Optional), indicate that you are:
+1 Follow this blog on Google Connect (see right sidebar)
+1 Follow me on twitter and tweet about this giveaway (include @amusedbybooks in your tweet)
+1 Blog/Post about this giveaway on your sidebar

3 extra entries available. Giveaway open until 11:59pm PST Sep. 9th. I will draw the winners using random.org and announce them here on my blog. Good luck!



For other opinions about this book, here's the full TLC Tour Schedule.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Club Worthy Books: 2011

Last week we had a great discussion about book clubs. Many people love theirs and it seems just as many people don't, or can't find one to begin with! This got me thinking, for those of us that do have a book club, it can sometime be hard to come up with the perfect book club suggestion. It's a lot of pressure. Maybe you only have to come up with one a year, or maybe it's a free for all, ie, whoever has the most popular book suggestion each month wins. Regardless of your book club's way of doing things, I thought I would throw out what I think are the most discussion worthy books of the year so far. These aren't necessarily the best books of the year, but those that I think people will read and go, "I want to talk about this with someone!" And please, if you have a great discussion worthy book, let us know in the comments!


In no particular order, here are 10 books that I think are totally book club worthy. All titles link to my reviews:

1. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer




















2. Small Wars by Sadie Jones




















3. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein




















4. The Bird House by Kelly Simmons




















5. The Heights by Peter Hedges




















6. The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark




















7. Wrecker by Summer Wood




















8. Faith by Jennifer Haigh




















9. One Day by David Nicholls




















10. The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Before Ever After Winner!


Congrats are in order to the winner of Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto! Thanks to all who entered! The winner, chosen via random.org, is Michelle of Book Briefs.

Don't despair, there are still two other great giveaways running right here, just look in the upper right hand corner of Amused By Books for the scoop.

Books Made Into Movies: The Help

The Help
Studio: Dreamworks
Originally Released: Aug. 2011
Running Time: 146 min.
Rating: PG-13


Synopsis: Based on one of the most talked about books in years and a #1 New York Times best-selling phenomenon,  “The Help” stars Emma Stone (“Easy A”) as Skeeter, Academy Award®–nominated Viola Davis (“Doubt”) as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny—three very different, extraordinary women in Mississippi during the 1960s,  who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk. From their improbable alliance a remarkable sisterhood emerges, instilling all of them with the courage to transcend the lines that define them, and the realization that sometimes those lines are made to be crossed —even if it means bringing everyone in town face-to-face with the changing times.
Deeply moving, filled with poignancy, humor and hope, “The Help” is a timeless and universal story about the ability to create change.

My Take: Last year, along with my book club, I joined what felt like the rest of the world and read the phenomenon that was The Help (click title for my review). My entire book club and I loved it. I found all of the characters to bring something to the multi-faceted book but for me, my personal favorite was Celia, the outcast woman branded 'white trash' by the rest of the Jackson society gals for her 'husband-stealing' ways. Suffice it to say I couldn't wait to see the movie. I emailed one of my girlfriends who had read the book and said "let's go!"

Having read the book only last year, it was still pretty fresh in our minds so I was pleased to see that the movie really didn't change the story line much like some movies do. We felt that they did a great job with the casting. Emma Stone did a great job as the civil rights rousing Skeeter (although for the love of God, couldn't they have made her hair look less like an awful wig in some of those scenes), Bryce Dallas Howard had everyone in the audience hating her as Hilly Holbrock, Octavia Spencer's expressive eyes made her the best Minnie ever, and of course Viola Davis played a wonderful Aibileen. I would be remiss if I didn't mention my personal favorite from the book Celia played fabulously by Jessica Chastain (if I could have her entire wardrobe from the movie I would!) and Alison Janney as Skeeter's mom had some fabulously funny one-liners.

Bottom line, there aren't a lot of movies out there that have an almost all female cast and this one does, and it does it well. For stunning scenes that bring you back to the 1960s that combine both heart and humor, this is a movie that you can't miss!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway: Let's Take the Long Way Home

'Let's Take the Long Way Home'
Author: Gail Caldwell


Format: Hardback
Published: Random House; Aug. 2010
Pages: 208
Genre: Memoir
Grade: B
Source: TLC Book Tours


Synopsis: Caldwell (A Strong West Wind) has managed to do the inexpressible in this quiet, fierce work: create a memorable offering of love to her best friend, Caroline Knapp, the writer (Drinking: A Love Story) who died of lung cancer at age 42 in 2002. The two met in the mid-1990s: "Finding Caroline was like placing a personal ad for an imaginary friend, then having her show up at your door funnier and better than you had conceived." Both single, writers (Caldwell was then book critic for the Boston Globe), and living alone in the Cambridge area, the two women bonded over their dog runs in Fresh Pond Reservoir, traded lessons in rowing (Knapp's sport) and swimming (Caldwell's), and shared stories, clothes, and general life support as best friends. Moreover, both had stopped drinking at age 33 (Caldwell was eight years older than her friend); both had survived early traumas (Caldwell had had polio as a child; Knapp had suffered anorexia). Their attachment to each other was deeply, mutually satisfying, as Caldwell describes: "Caroline and I coaxed each other into the light." Yet Knapp's health began to falter in March 2002, with stagefour lung cancer diagnosed; by June she had died. Caldwell is unflinching in depicting her friend's last days, although her own grief nearly undid her; she writes of this desolating time with tremendously moving grace. 


My Take: Struggling with loss is never easy. It's different for everyone and no matter what, from my experience, you usually feel alone. After you've reached a certain age you will inevitably have lost a grandparent, parent, or friend to something. Caldwell lost her best friend, Caroline, to lung cancer and this book is her tribute to her friend. If you've lost someone close to you and had to deal with the life that comes afterwards then you will find plenty of comfort and head-nodding in agreement within this sparsely paged memoir.


The book begins with Caldwell standing by the lake in which she and her dear friend use to always take their dogs on walks together. Only her friend isn't there beside her anymore because she has passed on. At first, we don't know what happened, but slowly through stories, memories, glimpses through past lives we become intimate with the friendship that these two shared. Having met later in life, these two found a sisterly love that they hadn't found in anyone else. It was sweet to read about. I liked knowing that you could build a deep bond with someone other than those you've known since childhood. They did everything together.


Caldwell and Caroline initially bonded over their new dogs. If you are a dog lover than you would have wanted to be friends with these two women. Their passion for their dogs is insurmountable. The walks they took every day with their dogs is how they would talk out their feelings. Then they began to row and swim together, which led to vacations and a years-long friendship. Until, sadly, Caroline became sick.

I don't cry a lot in books, but the passages in which Caldwell was saying goodbye to her dear friend were heart-wrenching. This isn't a book for the faint of heart. Don't get me wrong, it's not gruesome or anything. It's just real life. And sometimes, real life is utterly sad.

While this memoir was incredibly moving there were times when the storyline was paced a little wrong for me. The timeline wasn't linear and I was confused as to why certain stories were being told at certain times. However, I would still wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who has lost someone dear in their lives.

This book is out now in paperback, so be sure to grab yourself a copy!

Cover Lust: While simple, this cover is a little lackluster to me. I think that the cover on the paperback version tells a story closer to what is inside.


Giveaway Details!
The publisher has kindly offered up one new paperback copy to a lucky winner! The deadline for this giveaway is Sep. 6th; entries open to those in the US and Canada.

To Enter (Mandatory)!
Comment below with a way for me to contact you.

For Extra entries (Optional), indicate that you are:
+1 Follow this blog on Google Connect (see right sidebar)
+1 Follow me on twitter and tweet about this giveaway (include @amusedbybooks in your tweet)
+1 Blog/Post about this giveaway on your sidebar

3 extra entries available. Giveaway open until 11:59pm PST Sep. 6. I will draw the winners using random.org and announce them here on my blog. Good luck!



For other opinions about this book, here's the full TLC Tour Schedule.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mailbox Monday: August 22, 2011

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and August is being hosted by Life in the Thumb! 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 and audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!


My weekend was busy busy but it was fun! Friday night I went and saw The Help with a girlfriend. We both loved it! A review of that coming up later this week. Saturday we hosted a bbq at our house which was a blast. Good food and good friends. Sunday I went and saw the play Billy Elliott with a friend. Have you seen it? If not, you should as it rocks!


Ok, now to why you are here, the books! Here's what came in this week:


From Broadway Paperbacks:
1. Duty Free by Moni Mohsin




















From PBS:
2. Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess by Jerramy Fine




















3. The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons




















What did you get?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Audio Book Review: The Madonnas of Echo Park

'The Madonnas of Echo Park'
Author: Brando Skyhorse


Format: Audio CD
Published: Simon & Schuster Audio; June 2010
Narrators: Robert Ramirez, Luis Moreno, Alma Cuervo, Alyssa Bresnaham, Jonathan Davis, Tony Chiroldes, Florencia Lozano, and Annie Henk
Genre: Literary fiction
Rating: A
Source: Personal copy


Synopsis: The facts may be invented, but the total portrait of a shifting city is alarmingly realistic. Giving voice to the varied vignettes are eight different narrators who are all possessed of the characters' similar sorrows, awes, and outrages. Their stories can stand alone, but are much more deeply poignant when taken together. We have Aurora, who the bullet barely missed, and her mother, a maid in a house that is already clean. We have the crazy Coat Queen, who thinks she's seen the Virgin Mary, and the mysterious Jesus, who thinks he is The Lord. We have the illegal day laborer, who is asked to cover up one murder, and the citizen bus driver, who is asked to reveal another murder.
Throughout this remarkably astute observation of urban decay, the cacophony of voices piles up into a clear and singular tone of struggle. They struggle for their very lives; they struggle to find forgiveness for crimes long since past; they struggle to find meaning in the ever-changing storefronts and ever-shifting boundaries of a city divided by race and wealth. Each narrator in turn steps up to deliver the sad reports, the astonishing connections, and the overdue diatribes. The end result is a debut novel that manages to uncover some glints of optimism in its unflinching portrayal of Mexican life in The City of Angels.
My Take: I am not someone who normally enjoys audio books read by multiple narrators but I picked this one up on a whim after seeing some positive reviews of the book around the blogosphere and thinking that I might enjoy it. I am so happy I did as each narrator lent so much character to their individual part and it was the perfect way to illuminate this story.
Set in Echo Park, an historically Hispanic part of Los Angeles, now becoming gentrified, I found myself nodding my head as I live in the Mission which is the historically Hispanic part of San Francisco, now becoming gentrified (and we are one of the gentrifiers). It's interesting to have a front row view to a city changing because it does and doesn't change in so many ways. People come and go, store fronts, restaurants, and bars come and go, but often the people who have grown up and made their life here historically stay and those who come in and buy or rent property to gentrify it also come and go so yes the makeup of a neighbor shifts but much also stays the same.
The Madonnas of Echo Park was both a beautiful and incredibly sad story. The vignettes were all different, yet interwoven. Each person's story was unique and to go into them individually would make this an incredibly long review. You would meet future and past characters that show up in other vignettes. The stories show the history of that person's story in the fabric of Los Angeles, how they have much city and family pride but often struggle to communicate it. For example, when a story is told from the mother's point of view you feel as through the teenage daughter is ungrateful for how far her mother has come and everything she is giving up to give her daughter a better life. Yet, when the story is told from the daughter's point of view you understand how embarrassed she is in front of her friends because of her differences. The stories are authentic, and while they aren't mine, I felt for these characters and wanted them to survive and have an easier life. I wholeheartedly recommend the audio version of this fantastic novel to anyone!
Cover Lust: I think it's beautiful. An old fashioned quilt that reflects modern dancing and dress!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Do You Get Fulfillment Out of Your Book Club?

I go through phases with my book club. There was a time in college when I first found a book club that I became enamored with them. To discuss books without having to write an essay on them? For pure pleasure? Sold!

As soon as I became settled in a new location after college and had a solid group of friends near me, I knew it was time to start a book club of my own and I did and it was a success. Such a success that it felt like work. After three years of solely organizing the book club I needed a break.

I took my break, the book club continued on, I started a book blog, and after a couple of years I rejoined, tentatively. Dipped a toe in. Every other month or so they would read a book that I really wanted to read and you know what? I learned to love my book club again. I got out of it again what I wanted. We were discussing great books, books that I loved sometimes more than anything else that I was reading. We were planning activities. The location was at a neutral place and when that didn't work we would split the location between our own homes because we've grown up now and have actual living rooms and not just studio apartments. We all bring snacks and it is fun. Most of all, it's no one's sole responsibility and it is fulfilling once again and I have re-discovered my book club and I love it.

How about you? Do you have a book club and do you love it?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Recipe Time: Peach and Vanilla Mini Pies

Peach and Vanilla Mini Pies!
It's been awhile since I've shared a recipe with you all and I've been reading some cooking themed books lately (I reviewed one yesterday and an audio book review will be coming up later on) and it's put me in the mood! Nothing says summer food like pie around here! So after searching for a fun recipe to try I stumbled upon one in a favorite magazine and it was a big hit and I knew I had to share it.

The best part about these mini-pies, besides the fact that there are so few ingredients, is that everyone gets their own so you can hold them in your hand to eat them! Who hasn't wanted to eat their pie on the go? Ha! Ok let's start baking:

Peach and Vanilla Puff Pastry Pie Recipe
(Thank you O, The Oprah Magazine!)
The peach and vanilla filling


Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 vanilla bean pod, halved lengthwise
  • 3 large peaches (about 1 pound), peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2" chunks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 (9" x 16") pieces frozen puff pastry, thawed but still very cold

Directions

Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour


Preheat oven to 400°. Run a paring knife down the cut sides of the vanilla bean to remove the vanilla seeds, and transfer to a large bowl. (Discard vanilla bean pod, or save for another use.) Add peaches, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla extract and toss until well combined; set aside.

Working on a sheet of parchment paper, cut 1 piece of puff pastry in half, and then roll each half into a 10 square. Using a bowl, glass, or cookie cutter, cut 4 (4 1/2") circles out of each half. Use the circles to line the cups of 8 muffin tins, positioning them to form little pie shells or baskets. Save any remaining dough scraps to reroll and use for step 4, as needed.

Spoon peach mixture evenly into the muffin cups lined with the puff pastry shells; set aside.

Arrange remaining pastry on a sheet of parchment paper and cut out 8 circles, approximately 3 in diameter. Place 1 on top of each muffin cup, folding the edges of the bottom pastry over the top and pinching tightly to seal each pie.
Bake until pies are puffed and deep golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes. Carefully run a paring knife around the edges of each pie and immediately transfer to a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Stuffing the cups with the filling
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