Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review: The Frugal Book Promoter

I can't tell you the number of people who have urged me to give up on my quest for traditional publishing and simply publish at least one of my novels on my own. I tend to resist those suggestions. However, I do think that if I give my efforts a bit more time and still come up empty, I might be willing to consider self-publishing. Thus, when offered up a free download of this book, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher, I jumped aboard right away.

Author Carolyn Howard-Johnson focuses on the three P's: platform, publicity, and public relations. She talks about branding and building a platform. She urges you to reflect on your work and ask questions like: "does it fit with what is currently in the news?" and "what demographic does it appeal to?" Like other writing coaches, she encourages the writer to build an extensive e-mail list.

She also recommends seeking out endorsements from similar, more successful writers. Of course, these endorsements are hard to obtain because many of the successful writers feel inundated with such requests and simply will not take the time to read a newbie's novel (Melody Carlson, who is probably the biggest name in Christian YA fare, states outright that she simply hasn't the time to read some unknown author's novel).

I liked her suggestion for producing bookmarks with an image of your novel and a brief sentence hooking a prospective reader in. I could see myself asking our local library to stock such bookmarks at their front desk or slipping them into other Christian YA books available at the library. These would be easy enough to hand out to friends and strangers.

Howard-Johnson provides detailed instructions for how to draw up a media release to pitch your book to others. I read through the entire book in the space of one morning (and at 373 pages, that's quite an accomplishment). The hints and tips were helpful and informative. I still feel great hesitation, because I have no desire to be an aggressive self-promoter. As much as I want readership for my work, I simply cannot bring myself to hound people into purchasing my book and reading it. My goal is to have the quality of the work drive interest and generate further readership. The biggest hurdle is simply getting your foot in the door.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Passing on Young Adult Books Left and Right

This hasn't been a great month for Young Adult reads. It just seems like so much of the recent YA fare is full to the brim of voices I cannot get behind and garbage galore. I'm even contemplating quitting my Young at Heart (older individuals reading young adult books) book club because I simply haven't enjoyed or been able to get into the last several choices. I went to the meeting but did not read How It Went Down. This month I tried to read the leader's selection, I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President (now there's a mouthful). Despite it making the New York Times Bestseller List, I couldn't stand the voice of the main character and didn't appreciate the crudity and vulgarity in the first 60 or so pages. Alas, I gave up, and then couldn't make the meeting anyway because we had family visiting that day.

I have also tossed aside a few other books. The other day, I began a new YA book, Ned Vizzini's Be More Chill. I gave it one exercise session (about 3/4 of the first CD in the audio version). This is yet another example of a book written in a raunchy teen voice full of crudity and genital obsessing. I understand that authors are eager to capture the realistic voice of today's teens, but I find it so depressing that this supposed realistic voice sinks to the lowest common denominator in subject matter and expression. The sad thing is that the premise sounded interesting (picked-on nerd who discovers a pill capable of turning his life around), but I will never know whether the story will indeed be worth it because I'm simply sick and tired of wading through filth and crassness to get to the gem of story beneath it all.

Thankfully, I did find that I am not alone in my disgust for this sort of perpetual fixation on sexual exploits and gutter thoughts and language. Another reviewer on Amazon, a Captain Bevo wrote: "Vizzini's book offers a teenager's-eye view of the world from just about the lowest common denominator. I suppose some people would say it's 'realistic,' but I like to think that there's more to most teens than just partying, gossipping, and chasing around after sex. The book makes the same mistake that most others of the genre do: it's almost sociopathic in its over-indulgence in the protagonist's thoughts, feelings, and overall perspective, while casting everybody else, from parents, classmates, love interests, etc, in a wooden and one-dimensional manner."

The final book I am casting aside is Alive by Scott Sigler. It is billed as a "ripping, claustrophobic, thunderbolt of a novel." Again, the premise is intriguing. A girl wakes to find herself in a coffin with no idea who she is or how she got there. She discovers a small group of other teens also trapped in coffins and attempts to free them as well. They begin to search for answers and she becomes their leader.

I read to page 71, at which point the group still has no clue where they are, who they are, or why they are there. Moreover, the main character in her quest to lead the group has just stabbed one of the boys to death, simply because he challenged her leadership and attempted to take her weapon. I guess after a 70 page investment, I simply want to know more about what is actually going on.

If you have read any of the above mentioned works and thoroughly enjoyed them, by all means leave a comment and convince me to give them another shot. Perhaps there is gold hidden there beneath the surface. Perhaps I should have persisted. For now, I have too many other books from the hold lists to get to. I may just give up on YA books in general for a while.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Review: Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free

As I'm always on the lookout for new books in audio form, I was thrilled when Sheila of The Deliberate Reader mentioned this book by Kathleen Karr, Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free. She said that this was a book best listened to because the audio provides musical accompaniment to the story and since the story is about Gilbert & Sullivan, this element was essential. I would have to agree. This is definitely a story where the audio automatically trumps physical reading.

Libby Dodge is a very young inmate at the Sherborn Women's Prison in the early 1900s. The story follows Libby from her first day of incarceration until she is set free. In the interim, she meets a wide cast of characters in the fellow inmates and employees at the prison. She is especially drawn to the new prison chaplain, Mrs. Wilkinson, a woman who believes that women can be reformed by exposure to the finer things in life ... things like Gilbert & Sullivan.

I found it difficult to get into at first, because I think the piano interludes (between chapters) were more disruptive than enhancing; however, the performance excerpts were helpful. Moreover, at the beginning, I didn't feel all that drawn to the main character. I believe this was caused by the author's desire to keep her crimes a secret at the beginning. Once Libby is thrown into solitary confinement and begins to divulge the events leading to her arrest and incarceration, I began to feel more drawn in by the story line.

At the end of the audio version, the author provides a brief explanation for the inspiration behind the book. The prison, the performance, and the reformatory chaplain were all real. The characters were embellished by the author's imagination, but the main character was drawn from a real-life inmate who stayed in the prison, despite her release, so that she could perform in the prisoners' performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. The book reminded me of the books of Gary D. Schmidt, another author who portrays the powerful influence of music and literature on young minds. I still would rank Schmidt's books higher (perhaps more accessible to today's young reader), but Kathleen Karr does an outstanding job of presenting the historical climate and rendering a good story.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review: The Show Must Go On

Kate and M. Sarah Klise (their last name rhymes with mice, a detail I gleaned from this book, to correct my longstanding mental image of a "kleece" pronunciation) have built a long-standing tradition of producing humorous, pun-filled books for kids. With almost twenty books of combined effort prior to this one, they have always managed to capture childish whimsy and create clever verbal play. This new series, The Three Ring Rascals series, so far is just not up to the standard they have set for themselves.

It began pleasantly enough with a circus full of lovable animals and a sweet, old owner, Sir Sidney. Wishing to take a vacation, Sir Sidney seeks out a new manager for his circus. He hires a man, Barnabas Brambles, who is only concerned with making more cash. Barnabas clearly doesn't give a fig for the animals or the little critters (the rascals referred to in the series name) who tag along with the circus. He is determined to milk the opportunity for all it is worth, yet makes one bad decision after another.

As an adult reading the Klise sisters' children's books, I have always found something humorous enough to draw me into the story and have delighted in their ability to teach kids something while tickling their funny bone. This book does teach lessons of kindness, forgiveness, and second chances, and perhaps kids will react differently (indeed, on Amazon, there are only four and five star reviews and on one of the later books in the series, a teacher wrote that her third grade students love the books), but this story just didn't delight me as much as their past fare. Indeed, if you want to begin with their best offerings, I'd recommend you check out their first series, the Regarding the Fountain series. Perhaps I simply missed the clever use of puns or perhaps it is just that this series is aimed at younger ages, 7-10. Hopefully, this is just a bump in the road, but I'm not sure I'll be looking for the next book in this particular series. My hopes are pinned on another Regarding the Fountain book or a book to continue the 43 Old Cemetery Road series.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: A Girl Named Zippy

A Girl Named Zippy was the book club selection for the month of September. Having listened to Haven Kimmel's other memoir, She Got Up Off the Couch recently, I knew it would be fun to listen to the author read this book aloud. Indeed, I think much of the humor is more effectively conveyed when read by the author aloud. I would recommend reading (or listening to) the books in order because the first book presents a more affectionate, gentle rendition of her childhood, while the second one takes on more difficult transitions in life. Both are sure to provide much amusement.

One thing I noted this time around (or hadn't remembered from reading the book over a decade ago) was that the author was born the same year I was - 1965. I relished the experience of tripping back in time to the icons of my youth (the small tubes of sample lipsticks from Avon, the fuzzy stuffed monkey wearing a shirt and clutching a plastic banana, and E-Z-Bake Ovens). In group discussion, we marveled at the author's excellent ability to write from a child's perspective. She nailed the dialogue between kids (especially in one scene where she is confronted by a girl attempting to steal her best friend) and portrayed clearly what it was like to see the small town world of Mooreland, Indiana, from a child's eyes.

In our discussion, we touched on the difficulties of writing outstanding memoir. Haven Kimmel manages to present what is, in many ways, a dysfunctional family, with grace and gentle humor. She readily admits that her mother wore an indentation in the couch by sitting in one spot reading and knitting and her father won and lost many things in his gambling habit. Her siblings were often cruel (holding her upside down, telling her she was adopted), but she manages to present them in very human ways, with compassion. Her story is one of resilience and pluck.

As I said in my review of her second memoir, the author excels in her ability to paint small town America and inject subtle humor to poignant stories. One of the members of our group delved into some research and discovered hints that the author regrets the impact her memoirs have had on the small town she grew up in. Memoir is such tricky business. It is one person's flawed perspective on events and people, but it is still a valid tale because it expresses the wisdom an individual gleaned from such events and people. Life in Mooreland certainly influenced the author. This particular author succeeded in telling the story of her life in ways that made the ordinary extraordinary and the mundane significant. Plus, she's always good for a hearty chuckle.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

I was really hoping for a "highly recommend" to go along with this title, especially since I so deeply loved Rachel Joyce's first book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (see my raving review here). Alas, I didn't like Queenie's journey of waiting quite as much as I enjoyed Harold's journey of walking. I did enjoy the read, just not as much as with Harold's side of the story. Really though, if you read and loved the first book, you will certainly enjoy this second book, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

In case you haven't read the first book, Harold Fry receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy some twenty years after she abruptly disappeared from his life. She has written to tell him that she is dying. He begins to post a brief letter of sympathy, but realizes such an act is insignificant in the face of the gravity of the situation. So, instead of merely walking to the post box to deposit the letter, he continues walking, sending word for her to wait until he reaches her. The rub is that he is over 600 miles away and is not really a trained walker. Along his journey, he comes to terms with his relationship with his family and the past.

Enter Queenie's side of the story: the waiting. While Queenie lies dying and waiting for Harold to arrive, she begins the arduous task of writing out a final letter to explain her abrupt departure and to clarify things on her heart. One would think such a story would be boring, but in Rachel Joyce's capable hands, Queenie's tale spreads out like a beautiful quilt (I especially loved the characters dying alongside her in the hospice - a very colorful group).

If you are looking for something very similar to Harold's journey, you might be disappointed. However, if you can take them for two sides of a similar coin, you will catch the beauty of Queenie's side of the tale. It touches on love, guilt, regret, loss, death, patience, and hope. Here are a few of my favorite bits:

"I am someone who has always run from difficulty, and it dawns on me that I don't have to go on that way. We write ourselves certain parts and then keep playing them as if we have no choice. But a tardy person can become a punctual one, if she chooses. You don't have to keep being the thing you have become. It is never too late."

"I'd made my sea garden to atone for the terrible wrong I had done to a man I loved, I said. Sometimes you have to do something with your pain because otherwise it will swallow you."

At one point one of the nuns reminds Queenie, "Waiting is about being still. You can't keep busy every minute, otherwise you're not waiting. You're just throwing things around to distract yourself.... Whether you can wait for Harold Fry is not something you will influence by working hard or getting upset. We behave these days as if we can have everything the moment we think of it. But we can't. Sometimes we just have to sit and wait."

I enjoyed getting inside Queenie's head as she attempts to make peace with her past and to write out the confession of her wrongs to Harold Fry. It was a rich experience. I'm thrilled that my blogging friend, Amy, brought this book to my attention (since I hadn't heard a thing about it) and her book review raves a bit more about this book, if you are wanting a more enthusiastic review.

Side note: I like the American cover for this book (above) far more than the British one (shown at the left).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: The Victorian City

I used to be deeply in love with all things Victorian England and especially in love with Charles Dickens and his works. I wrote many a paper on these topics. Yet, it has been a good long time since I've devoted as much attention to the subject as I have in the past month or so. If you are interested in Victorian England, then this is another book you might be interested in perusing.

In The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London, Judith Flanders explores what life was like in London in the nineteenth century. I wasn't as quickly captivated with the writing as I was in Jackson's book Dirty Old London, but there were several very interesting stories and in general, the information was engaging. She covers a wide range of topics (walking, slumming, death, entertainment, food, and violence), but it seemed like there were so many more possibilities the book could have focused on. I suppose it is the nature of the beast (it being such an insurmountable topic) that the author couldn't do more than skim the surface of what life was like in that day and age.

I was fascinated by the story of a fire which raged along Tooley Street, devouring warehouses and lighting the Thames with flames as liquid fuel danced along the surface of the river. I could just picture the thousands of individuals who stood around and even boated near in order to view the spectacle. The fire smoldered for weeks before finally being completely contained and put out.

I had to read the passage about watercress girls aloud to my sons to remind them of how easy their life is. These young girls (starting around age 8) would wake at 3 a.m. and make their way to the city markets by 4 a.m., to try to select (in the dark) reasonably good watercress (sometimes fooled into purchasing yesterdays wilted remains). They would then make their way through the city selling small clusters of the leaf vegetable, stopping only to purchase a penny loaf to eat and working until ten in the evening. The book indicated that these girls generally walked about fifteen miles daily.

I was also horrified by the story of the 1867 Regent's Park skating disaster. Although park officials warned that the ice was probably unsafe, police officers informed them that they couldn't keep people off the ice because "it might have been dangerous to go on the ice, but it was not illegal." When the surface cracked, about 250 individuals were plunged into the icy waters (up to twelve feet deep), some becoming trapped beneath the ice. Some clung to pieces of ice until they could hold no longer and then dipped down beneath the water. The icemen attempted to save some, but often the ropes broke. Some 200 men and boys made it to the shore, but 45 died in the incident (all but 3 of them were boys between the ages of 9 and 29).

Those were the most interesting bits, but in many other parts I found myself skimming the information. I was also frankly surprised that there was never any mention of religion or The Salvation Army's place in Victorian London. The book ends on an unusual note, discussing the controversial statistics of prostitution and kept women, then shifting to the subject of suicide. One page after these discussions end, the book abruptly ends. I'm thinking there are probably better books on the subject (I may have even read one of them in years past). I know that I am hoping to secure a copy of Lee Jackson's book on walking in Dickens' London the next time my mother-in-law comes for a visit (her library has the book; mine does not). Judith Flanders does have another title I would be interested in exploring, called The Invention of Murder, again about Victorian England.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

My husband walked by as I was listening (and walking) to this audio version of John Green's An Abundance of Katherines. He asked what in the world I was listening to; to which I replied, "Oh, another curse-filled YA book." He then said, "Then, why are you listening to it?" and I had to reply that the only reason I checked it out was because it was written by one of the top-rated YA authors around these days - John Green. I have to do my research and attempt to discover what draws people to certain authors.

I will admit that John Green is an outstanding author, despite the fact that I could do without a great deal of the language, misbehavior, genital-obsessed dialogue and general trashiness found in his writing. He knows how to craft a decent story. Indeed, one the things I actually enjoyed about this book was his commentary on stories and on the importance we all have in sharing our individual stories. He made some excellent points. He skillfully crafts believable characters and realistic dialogue (perhaps a bit too realistic for me ... I'm aware that many young people out there drop F-bombs with every breath they take, but I find that discouraging). I continue to shake my head at the prevalence of filth and the fact that young people (and adults) seem to clamor for this stuff.

Colin Singleton is a teenage prodigy who knows he will never be a genius. Still, he wants to matter. He wants his life to matter. Moreover, he wants to get over the loss of his most recent girlfriend, the 19th Katherine in a long line of Katherines. His best friend, Hassan, suggests they take Colin's game show winnings and take a road trip to help him forget about the Katherine who broke his heart. Somehow they end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, where a unique factory owner employs them in an oral history endeavor. Along the way, Colin meets an intriguing girl (not named Katherine), learns how to tell a good story, and makes his own story shine.

The story is worthwhile and definitely causes the reader to think about friendship, love, purpose, and meaning. However, I think it could have just as easily been told without the constant language (toned down, ridiculously, by using the word "fug" instead of the F-bomb ... and the author even acknowledges this as ridiculous because he mentions that their use of "fug" is a result of reading another author who extracted the F-bomb from his work and replaced it throughout with the word "fug," as a sort of "fug you" to the publishers who questioned his frequent usage of the curse word), the references to "thunderstick," and the graphic account of stumbling upon a naked girlfriend having sex with another guy. Why, oh why, is this what appeals to the general demographic these days? Have we sunk to the lowest common denominator? Do we really need to appeal to base appetites in order to sell good stories? Someone please explain to me why this is so popular? I just don't get it.

But, popular, it is! According to the Good Reads site, in the "Best YA Realistic Novels" category, the book ranks 19th out of 1,599 books according to 9,618 voters. Moreover, it was a 2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. As an aside, when I tried to find out how popular this particular book actually is, I discovered on Green's own site that he considers this to be his least-selling title. He also mentioned that "it appeals to teachers and librarians because it is the way to teach and share my work that involves the least sex." Interesting.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Book Review: A Lifelong Love

As I approached my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, the library sent a notice about the acquisition of this marriage book, A Lifelong Love: What If Marriage Is About More Than Just Staying Together. Knowing that Gary Thomas is the author of Sacred Marriage, another well-lauded book, I decided to put my name on the hold list. I don't regret it - this was one of the best marriage-enrichment books I have ever read.

There were a few concepts which stood out to me after finishing the book. Toward the beginning, the author encourages each spouse to view the other as God's beloved child. Basically, it is the idea that God, the Father, is our Divine Father-in-Law, who wants nothing more than the very best treatment for his child. When I look at my spouse in that light, it should naturally make me want to treat him better than I have been treating him. Indeed, he encourages wives to think about their sons and whether they would want their daughter-in-law to treat their son in the same manner they treat their husband. This was an eye-opener and made me strive to do better at honoring my husband and serving him.

I think the key thing Thomas does is to flip the perspective from what you are missing from your spouse, into what are you failing to give to your spouse. He urges readers to consider the Judgement Day, when God will not ask about how our spouses treated us, but will instead focus entirely on how we treated our spouse. Even if your spouse is failing to meet your needs, you are never absolved from the task and rewarding opportunity of meeting the needs of your spouse.

The author emphasizes the idea that "a good marriage isn't something you find; it's something you make, and you have to keep on making it." You can stand back and believe that you married the wrong person, but it is far more productive to stop focusing on what the other person is failing to do for you and focus instead on what you are able to give (and the author admits that often this requires looking to the Lord for the strength to do so). Our actions are the only part of the equation we can change, anyway.

In one chapter, Thomas puts forth a rather unbelievable statistic (I didn't take the time to look up the footnote) that one doctor quoted: "Seven out of ten men, upon hearing of a wife's cataclysmic medical diagnosis, leave the marriage." Whoa! Seventy percent? That is a horrendous statistic. I would certainly hope that should something devastating happen to my spouse, I would stay the course and walk alongside my spouse for the whole journey.

On the whole, I found the advice and thoughtful commentary to be quite helpful. I think if you are facing a difficulty in your marriage relationship, this could be a very beneficial book. Moreover, even couples that are relatively sound could benefit from putting these concepts to practice. I like the promise on the back cover: "Whatever season of marriage you are in, A Lifelong Love gives you the practical help you need to infuse your marriage with a spiritual passion that will not only change you but will change the world around you."

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Review: A Metropolitan Murder

After reading the interesting treatise on filth in Victorian London, Dirty Old London, I decided to see if my library carried any other of Lee Jackson's titles. Indeed, I was thrilled to find a novel in audio form. A Metropolitan Murder takes place in the 1860's around the time of the advent of the underground railway. It is clearly the work of someone who has researched Victorian London thoroughly. Jackson captures the flavor and scent of the city, the personality and attitudes of its various classes.

When the second-class Metropolitan Railway carriage pulls into the Baker Street station, the remaining passengers are ushered off the train. One passenger, a red-haired woman of questionable character, does not stir ... cannot stir, because she has been strangled. The man who discovers her body flees the scene and becomes a suspect, and Inspector Decimus Webb is determined to bring the woman's murderer to justice. Along the way, he learns of two other murders.

The book is a complete picture of Victorian society, with the matron running the Holborn Refuge, a hospice for wayward women, a variety of criminal sorts, a young woman trying to work her way out of a life of crime, and a Doctor intent upon rescuing and reforming these young women. Everything seems to come back to Agnes White, the roommate of the murdered woman, but no one can fathom why. Things are not always what they appear and the motives run deeper than could be imagined.

At the end of the book on CD, there was a postscript by the author. He takes the time to outline the history of the underground railroad. Moreover, he points out that he selected this time period because it corresponds to the actual first railway murder recorded in London in 1964. If you are at all interested in Victorian history, this book provides a fascinating mystery to accompany the descriptive bits.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Book Review: Rain Reign

The cover enticed me to pick up this book. Isn't it great? I love the rich blues, the rain, and the shadowy figures of the girl and dog. The title was perplexing and the author is identified as a "Newbery Honor Author" (author of the Babysitters Club series, although I've never read any of those). I'm glad all these aspects of the cover sucked me in because it was a delightful book.

Rose Howard is an obsessive fifth grade girl (she has Asperger's Syndrome). She is obsessed with homonyms, prime numbers, and following the rules. Her father is doing his best to raise her on his own, but often grows weary of Rose's insistence on rule-following and homonym-identifying. To show his love for her, one night he returns home with a dog he found stranded behind a building in the rain. Rose calls him "Rain" because of how he was found and because the word has two homonyms (rein and reign).

Rain becomes Rose's beloved companion. Then, one day, a fierce storm blows into town. The creek by their house floods, leaving them stranded, and Rain disappears when Rose's dad lets her out.

Rain Reign is a heart-breaking, tender tale about a very unique girl and her love for a dog. You will come to love Rose and to feel for her in her difficulties with people and with situations that stretch her out of her comfort zone. If you enjoyed Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, chances are you will equally enjoy Ann M. Martin's book, Rain Reign. If you are familiar with kids who deal with Asperger's, this is sure to strike you as spot on. It is a tale well worth absorbing.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Book Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

I had my doubts about this book, In a Dark, Dark Wood. I almost set it aside, but I was already 70 pages in and felt somewhat invested. Moreover, the premise had intrigued me and I truly did want to find out what was about to happen. Just wishing it hadn't taken so long to get to the crux of the matter and without the trashy behavior.

Leonora Shaw (known to her friends in the past as "Lee" but now going as "Nora") is shocked and perplexed when she is invited to a hen party (I'm guessing this is the British ritual where the bride-to-be gathers with several girlfriends for a last hurrah girl's weekend away) for her old best friend, Clare. She hasn't been in contact with Clare for a full decade, but is eager to know why Clare would want to invite her. Instead of firing off an e-mail to ask directly, she decides to attend the gathering.

Here's where the story got a bit off-track and into territory I was uncomfortable with. First off, there's a man in the party (sure, the guy is gay, but how does this work as a girl's weekend?). Secondly, they begin to party in what must be fairly standard behavior for such occasions: tequila shots, cocaine, and games of "I have never..." Frankly, the story could have been told just as effectively without those unsavory bits, but once again, perhaps the author felt inclined to include such behavior because that is what sells books these days. Who knows.

The premise remained interesting and I persevered. The small cast of characters form an unlikely group, completely unaware that they are not alone in their isolated house in the woods. Nora awakens in a hospital bed, attempting to piece together the events leading to that point. She remembers blood on her body, running frantically through the woods, encountering a car and having some sort of accident, but other details remain fuzzy.

The story is very similar to an Agatha Christie mystery - isolated house, small cast of characters, murder, endless possibilities of motives, and the intrigue of attempting to ferret out the truth. Although I didn't feel drawn to any of the characters and didn't really root for anyone in particular, I did think it was fairly good for a debut novel. I was eager to keep reading to find out what truly happened and who was responsible. I feel like I should have figured it all out long before I did. But, it left me hanging and reading at a frantic pace. I did have to suspend belief on several questionable links in the plot, but I was perfectly willing to do so. I liked it better than The Girl on the Train, but perhaps still would have liked a story written by Christie instead.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: She Got Up Off the Couch

My book club group selected Haven Kimmel's first memoir, A Girl Named Zippy for this month's reading choice. I was searching for another audio book to use while walking and happened upon Haven's second memoir, She Got Up Off the Couch: and Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana. I knew at the outset that the book would be funny, because her first memoir was quite humorous (read it over ten years ago).

Although there was a level of sadness in the telling of this particular story (the story highlights the empowerment of her mother amid great familial dysfunction), the author manages to interject enough humor to keep the story lighthearted. This was typical Kimmel fare: stories of her disdain for shoes, her lack of personal hygiene, outlandish childhood perceptions, and sometimes irreverant commentary on religiousity. She tells of the many community individuals who helped to care for her (bathing her and feeding her), of the deep and abiding friendships she made, of the quirkiness of small town Indiana, and of her mother's decision to go back to school. The burgeoning independence of her mother provides a framework for some essays which are more about Zippy, really, than about the mother.

All in all, it was an entertaining memoir. I laughed while walking (which is probably easier than crying while walking). I think I would be willing to attempt one of her novels at some point. She is an excellent writer and knows how to vividly paint small town America.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: Wonder - Highly Recommend

If you have a child who is different in any way from the children around him/her, then this book is going to be a perfect selection. If you have a child who blends in nicely but is challenged when it comes to being polite and respectful to those who are different, this book can help. If you enjoy stories about the underdog, if you cry when you think someone is being picked on, if you simply want a good read to touch your heart, then this book is for you. What a fantastic book! What an emotionally uplifting journey!

"R.J. Palacio has crafted an uplifting novel full of wonderfully realistic family interactions, lively school scenes, and writing that shines with spare emotional power." - inside cover endorsement that is dead on.

August "Auggie" Pullman is a unique individual. Having been homeschooled for all of his life because of medical issues and surgeries related to a deformity of his face, Auggie is about to enter the public school for the first time for his fifth grade year. Starting at a new school is difficult for anyone. Add in the obstacle of the stares and reactions of the entire school to something you cannot change and you have more trouble than any child should have to face alone. Thankfully, Auggie is not alone. He has family and friends to help him get through the transition and his beautiful story will move any reader.

I cried as I attempted to read this touching story aloud to my youngest son, Sean. Of course, when they mentioned that one of Auggie's many deformities involved a case of hemi-facial microsomia, Sean perked up because that is the condition his oldest brother, Bryce, has. Of course, Bryce has a mild enough form of it that he has never received a single taunt or sideways glance. Indeed, I would dare say most people wouldn't even be able to discern the difference in size between the right and left sides of his face.

For a first novel, Wonder is pure gold. The storytelling is natural and compelling. The characters shine. Each narrator propels the story along with deeper understanding. The plot continues to move along at a nice pace. Moreover, there is such a wealth of wisdom and compassion portrayed in this novel. It is definitely an experience I want to share with others. It fully deserves its spot as a #1 New York Times bestseller. I will be recommending this book to as many readers as I can find.