Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - Unforgettable

Well, last night was Oscar night, and it wouldn't be right if we didn't have an Oscar topic. The Bumbles have suggested that we discuss our favorite Oscar moments over the years. I can't say that mine are all that unique, but here are the ones that came to my mind:

1. Sally Field's "You Really Like Me" Speech (1985)

2. Jack Palance's One-Armed Push-Up (1991)

3. Bjork's famous Swan Dress (2001)

What are some of yours?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Salon: Fantasies

Good morning all! I'm coming to you presently from our balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, in Treasure Island, FL. My son had a double-header football game yesterday in St. Petersburg, so we very efficiently turned the two hour haul into a mini-vacation. You'd normally say that you can't get enough of these mini trips but right now, my prevailing fantasy is of sleep and peace and normalcy, something that wasn't present this week.

Not that it was a bad was full of fun! The kids had Monday off for President's Day, so we took in a few hours of Universal. When we hopped over to the Harry Potter side of the park, it got ugly. You couldn't even get in to that part of the park it was so busy. So being the most wonderful mother ever, I took my daughter (with my unhappy son in tow) to see Justin Bieber 3D. As much as the kid makes me crazy, the movie wasn't really all that bad. I always feel like it is my duty to at least keep up with pop culture.

Our weather has been gorgeous, so I did some yard work, and some walking. Then on Wednesday night, Heather (Raging Bibliomania) and I hoofed it down to Disney to spend the evening with Dawn (She Is Too Fond of Books). After a 3 1/2 hour dinner, wine, talk of family, books, corn nuts and food, we declared the evening to be a huge success. Dawn has got it all going on! I'm so glad to have finally met her in person.

Wash, rinse, repeat. Thursday night I saw Heather again at our Books, Babes and Bordeaux meeting, where we discussed the most dreadful "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson. To our credit, we did discuss the book quite a bit, even though only two of the nine of us actually finished it. The most exciting news of the night, besides the excellent wine our host Helen served, was that we decided to read "The Weird Sisters" for next month!

Now comes Friday night, and at this point I feel like I might turn into a pumpkin if I don't get my 8 hours of sleep. Not in the cards yet, however. We had a huge Mardi Gras Gala fundraiser at the school, which involved dressing up, drinking Hurricanes and jello shots, eating Cajun food, and bidding on silent and live auction items. As per my normal behavior, we walked away with a tidy pile of cool things...a round of golf, some spa facials for my wrinkles, various restaurant gift cards, and some movie tickets. It was great fun, but getting to bed at 1:30am was not good for moose and squirrel, since we had to get up at the crack to get to St. Pete.

Sheesh, I'm long-winded today. Sorry. So what of reading you ask? I finished "Year of Wonders" on audio, and it packed quite the emotional punch. I also started listening to "You Know When the Men Are Gone" in the car, an incredible collection of short stories about the men who serve in Iraq and the wives they leave behind. Amazing stuff so far. I'm also in the middle of "Gods Behaving Badly", which is a spoof on Apollo and company in the modern day. It may be my mood, but it is really annoying me it is so goofy. I've considered setting it aside. We'll see.

In print I've been a little bit of a slacker, having only finished "Made From Scratch", a book about a young woman who decides to homestead, raising chickens, bees, rabbits, a garden, and stuff like that. I have a fantasy of living off the land and making sheep and goat cheese, so I was totally into the whole story. Then I have just put a tiny dent in "The Improper Life of Bezillia Grove", a highlight for the UCF Book Fest.

Are things letting up next week? Nada. In fact the whole month of March is going to be a whirlwind I am thinking. Maybe April will be gentle and calm.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Turtle in Paradise - Jennifer L. Holm

"Turtle in Paradise" was another book I picked up at SIBA last fall. The folks at Random House were pushing it in a big way, singing its praises. But it was only after months had gone by, and enough long-ish books had been read, that I picked it up was short! I know, I am making you all cringe.

What I didn't know or expect is that it would charm my brains out. If I could eat it with a spoon, and chocolate syrup on top, I would. Hang on for some gushing.

Synopsis: Turtle has never known her father, and her mother has a bad habit of loving the wrong men, and having her head in the clouds. When her mother gets a job as a housekeeper, and the employer hates kids, Turtle is shipped down to Key West to live with her aunt, back where her mother grew up.

Turtle isn't sure this is a good idea. She has three dirty rude boy cousins, nobody wears shoes and has dirty feet, everyone has weird names, and everyone is kind of poor. It is 1935, after all, and times are tough. But Turtle is a fighter, refuses to be ignored, and pretty soon she finds she is fitting right in.

Her cousins call themselves the Diaper Gang. During the day, they pull around an old wagon, filled with the island's "bad babies". In other words, they are babysitters, rescuing harried mothers for an hour or two from teething, colicky infants. They have a secret cure for diaper rash, and they are in high demand. They work for candy. There is an old cranky woman, who Turtle finds out is her grandmother, who hates children, but might be susceptible to Turtle's charms. She befriends an old sailor, a rum runner, and a writer who hangs around alot and goes by the name of Hemingway.

But when Turtle finds a treasure map hidden in her grandmother's termite-infested piano, and the kids steal a boat to hunt it down on an uninhabited key, they get more than a bag of booty. Enter the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane. (Haven't we been there recently? Doesn't everyone know they aren't supposed to be in Florida on Labor Day of that year?)

On this shabby, dirty island, Turtle learns many valuable lessons and finds her own paradise. She learns that money doesn't equal happiness. That family is everything, even if they do mess their pants. And that even a hard-shelled turtle has a soft underbelly.

My thoughts: Who would ever believe that so much comfort, humor and preciousness could be packed in a 185-page middle grade book? I was so tickled with it, I was giggling and squeaking for the two hours it took me to read it. I absolutely loved the character of Turtle. She was clever, and witty, and full of piss and vinegar. The residents of her Key West were just as memorable - everyone an eccentric, everyone with a story (which is the way it still is today).

The local references were all authentic. The dangers of scorpions, the term "alligator pear" for an avocado, sugar apple ice cream, Pepe's Cafe, the afternoon activity of a cut-up (gathering and cutting wayward pieces of fruit and vegetables into a bowl and topping it with lime juice and hot sauce), the efficiency of the rumor mill called the Conch Telegraph...this is all Key West-isms. Even the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane was a real event in history that devastated the Keys and a majority of the Florida coast.

In fact, Holm's great-grandmother emigrated to Key West from the Bahamas in 1897, and she grew up hearing the stories of her ancestors, which explains why this book rings true. Some of the characters in the book were based on real people, and she has provided black and white photos from Key West during the Depression era.

What all of this adds up to is a heart-warming story that will be loved by readers, whether they are 7 or 70. You may learn a little history about Key West, and you will most assuredly fall in love with a 10 year old girl named Turtle.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Angelology - Danielle Trussoni (Audio)

"Angelology" was a book that first came to my attention nearly a year ago when it was reviewed by Swapna @ S. Krishna's Books , when she said the book was "one of the best in recent memory". Which if you know Swapna, and the hundreds of books she reviews each year, you know these are BIG words. I've always been a fan of Anne Rice, with all her complicated little creatures that she creates, and this didn't sound so terribly different. When I saw that my library had this one on audio, I grabbed it.

Synopsis: When Evangeline was just a young girl, her mother was killed under suspicious circumstances, and her father brought her to the St. Rose Convent to be raised under their protective care. Now, at 23, she has taken her vows and is happy with her simple, secluded existence with God.

Her life, however, suddenly becomes complicated when a young man comes to the Convent asking questions about an ancient artifact on behalf of his wealthy employer. Evangeline is compelled to help the man in his quest, and not only learns about the history of angels that exist among us on earth, but begins to connect the dots in her own past.

Trussoni builds a world that rivals those of Anne Rice, starting with the genesis of man and the fallen angels, the survival of the angelic species beyond the Great Flood, and their rise to power and fortune. These are not chubby little cherubs, but seductive yet deadly creatures that will stop at nothing to control humans and rule the earth. When their race is threatened by disease, a war begins over the one ancient item, more ancient than anything else on earth, that could save them from extinction.

My thoughts: I was immediately captivated by the legend created by Trussoni built on the foundations of Catholic church history, the Bible, and other religious texts. This web she weaved is far from fanciful. It is complex and thorough, and you can't help wanting to believe it all to be true. It was all explained in such a way that made complete sense, even to a good church-going girl like me. There was action, intrigue, mysteries, ancient texts, and suppressed accounts of harrowing explorations.

About 2/3 of the way through the story, however, it lost some of its gravitas and academia, and became a little Da Vinci Code-ish. Chasing clues, evading murderous angels, and racing against time. I think I inwardly groaned at this injection of Hollywood. It was just a little too much.

In the end, however, Trussoni does pull things together, throws in a juicy unexpected twist, and resists the temptation to wrap things up with a happily ever after. There is all kinds of potential for a sequel, although I'm not certain I want one.

A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this audiobook was Susan Denaker, a new voice for me. The was not the most expressive narrator, but she was an absolute master with accents, and lent the story authenticity. She seems to have been around the block as a narrator, with books of all genres.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Florida Keys #3

Out in the middle of the ocean, we find Alligator Lighthouse. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin (Audio)

To me, there is nothing more entertaining than Southern literature. The sultry heat, humidity, bugs and kudzu aren't much fun in real life, but they provide ready-made atmosphere in books. And if you ever want a cheat sheet to the better Southern stuff, look no further than the OKRA picks, which are awarded every year by SIBA. This year, one of the most talked-about OKRA picks was this new release, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter", hailed as an atmospheric, gothic, Southern drama. This description was enough to convince my Heathrow Literary Society to adopt it as it's April selection.

Synopsis: Larry and Silas were unlikely friends back in the 1970's in rural Mississippi. Larry was bred into poor white stock, and Silas was a black son in a single-parent home. But friends they were, finding their common bonds in hunting and fishing, sneaking peeks at the sunbathing neighbor girl, and attempting (but sometimes failing) to prevent the whole black/white thing from getting between them. But when Larry takes a date to the drive-in, and the girl goes missing, Larry is branded a killer, despite a lack of evidence, and becomes the community outcast. Silas goes on to become an accomplished college baseball player and gets an education, distancing himself the scandal.

Twenty years later, Silas comes back to serve as the town constable, but stays far away from his childhood friend. Then another young woman goes missing, and all eyes are again focused on Larry, the community exerting their own form of punishment on the quiet, lonely man. Soon after, Larry is shot in his home, and some claim it was self-inflicted, an act of guilt. Silas aims to get to the bottom of it, but in the process, discovers alot about himself and his deeply buried feelings about his old friend.

My thoughts: This novel evoked so many different emotions while I was listening to it, I began to feel bi-polar. The Southern atmosphere was immediately comfortable. Within 10 minutes of starting it, I broke into a big old grin and said to myself "Yeah, hey, I know you. This is my language". After the familiarity settled in, I started to get a little ache in the pit of my stomach. I felt such an overwhelming pity for Larry and his life of loneliness. He was not a bad guy, just awkward and misunderstood. When a man prays to God every night to send him a friend? Guys, that just ripped my heart out. People can be so judgemental and cruel. But would I treat him any differently?

There are also several mysteries embedded within the story...two missing girls, one murder and an attempted murder. Plus a few more other Big Questions. These crimes are not the focus of the story, and certainly aren't all that difficult to figure out, but I don't believe that was Franklin's point. It's just one aspect amongst a multitude of layers of this study of human frailty, race relations and the examination of conscience.

The last thing I want you to think, though, is that this book is too heavy. It is also full of love and hope and very smart but subtle writing. Once I'd finished the book, I wanted to slip back down into the warmth of it all, like a hot bath. This is the perfect case where a story is greater than the sum of its parts. I now consider myself to be a Tom Franklin fan.

A word about the audio production: With Southern fiction, you must take great care to cast the audio with an accomplished Southern narrator or the story will lose its soul. In this case, Kevin Kenerly, a new-to-me narrator, hit this one out of the park. His various regional and ethnic accents were spot on. I can't seem to find out much about the man, but he has a handful of audios under his belt, and hope there are more coming.

The best news of all? Mr. Franklin will be calling into our Heathrow Literary Society in April to give us insight into this wonderful story, and answer our questions. It is going to be hard to wait, but on the other hand, it might be good that I have a little bit of time to pull myself together and practice suppression of fan girl tendencies...

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Movie Meme Should Be Continued

Sidebar: I hate it when I accidentally hit the publish button too soon. Monday mornings suck sometimes.

Our question today, brought to us by The Bumbles via The Gal Herself, is all about the movies that beg for a sequel. Now on any other day, I would tell you that many times stories are best left alone. Ambiguous ending? That's OK. Leave it to our imaginations. I do not want to know what happens to Scarlett when Rhett leaves her. I don't want to know how Harry and Sally's life proceeds after they get together. But for the purposes of this exercise, I'll give it a go.

1. No Country For Old Men - Realizing that the bad guy walked off into the sunset in the book, and the movie shouldn't have taken any other approach, it would be nice to see what kind of havoc old Chigurh wreaks after his showdown with Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin.

2. The Girl That Kicked The Hornet's Nest - I know this movie already is a sequel, but the world needs more Lisbeth, and sadly will never get it.

3. The Sound of Music - Little debate in the Nawrot household this morning over this one. Hubby thinks any sequel would be just bad, and he's probably right. But there is still meat on this bone when the Von Trapp family scurries over the Austrian border in the middle of the night to escape Nazis.

4. Let the Right One In - Still fresh in my mind from a recent watching, it seems that a 13 year old boy and a 12 year old vampiress, running away on a train to somewhere without parental supervision, had some potential. This is a book-to-movie adaptation, however, so the director was sticking to his guns and I appreciate that.

A weak offering, I know. This is a topic that I'll probably be pondering for weeks and refining. Do you have any additions to the list?

Now that my day has been kick-started, I'm off to spend a few hours at Universal. Hope everyone has a great President's Day!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Salon: Literary Mood Swings

Good morning my friends! I came up for air for just enough time to share my week with you, then I'm taking a big breath and going back under for another week of fun. The week started out calm and controlled. I did a whole bunch of yard work, enjoying our absolutely gorgeous weather, and also alot of walking, which helped with my audio slump.

But then I attended a "field trip" with my son to Sea World on Friday...I put those words in quotation marks because while yes, we learned about seals, manatees, dolphins, and whatever, a bulk of our time was spent riding roller-coasters. Particularly one that is fairly new called "Manta", which is a coaster where you are strapped in lying face down, so it seems like you are flying. It was positively amazing. I'd never experienced anything like it.

Saturday was spent out of town in New Smyrna Beach at a double-header football game and then a birthday party for a colleague of my husband's last night. So I haven't been around the blogs lately, and I apologize. I'll hopefully catch up today.

I complained about my slow progress in reading last week, and this week I caught up a little. On audio, I finished (FINALLY) "Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show" by Frank Delaney (liked it), "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson for book club (ugh), and "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Eagan. Now this Goon Squad, guys, is just freaking the cat's meow. I was grinning or gaping the whole way through, admiring this lady's killer writing and cleverness. Don't let another day pass without picking it up or at least adding it to your list. And the audio rocked too, assuming you can hang with a plot that is non-linear. I just started "A Year of Wonders" by Geraldine Brooks, which was a highly recommended read from Jackie at Farm Lane Books.

What of sitting and reading something in print? I read "The Postmistress" for a TLC Blog Tour coming up, all in about two days. I just absolutely loved it. It reminded me a little of "The Lotus Eaters". This was a book I bought on my Kindle the second it came out, but then never got to it, so yes my TBR Dare is intact! And I also read "Appointment in Samarra" by John O' Hara for another book club...jury is out on that one. Supposed to be a classic and all that, but it was just OK for me. I'm not sure what I'm going to pick up next. That will be the excitement of my day today, shopping my bookshelves.

Guess I've got some reviews to write, don't I? I've also had both some really stinky reads and five star reads. Makes me a little dizzy from all those mood swings!

Next week is going to be positively insane. Kids don't have school on Monday, and there is literally not one day where nothing is happening. Dawn from She Is Too Fond of Books is coming to town! Book club! School fundraiser gala! Weekend in St. Petersburg for another double-header football game! A mammogram! Where will the excitement end?

Hope you all are having a fantastic weekend. What are you all up to today? Reading anything good?

Friday, February 18, 2011

An Object of Beauty - Steve Martin

When I picked up this ARC at SIBA last fall, I had no idea it was written by THE Steve Martin. I had no clue he had written the novella "Shopgirl" for example. I just thought he was a wild and crazy guy that I loved in The Jerk and made a bad career choice by starring in those awful Pink Panther remakes. Where have I been?

Imagine my shock! I did some poking around, and not only is Martin an accomplished writer of adult and children's literature and actor, but is an award-winning banjo player with CDs and everything. And he is an avid art collector, and his years of observation of the business was his muse for this novel.

Synopsis: Set in the decadent 1990's and cautious 2000's in Manhattan's swanky art society, our narrator Daniel Frank, an art journalist, tells the tale of his long-time friend Lacey Yeager. Lacey is one of these fascinating creatures that demands attention when she walks into a room (a fact of which she is highly aware) and will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. And what she wants is lots of money and the prestige to make it big as an art dealer. Daniel retraces Lacey's steps to this end goal...a grunt position at Sotheby's, sleeping with clients, some questionable deals, some lucky investments, a job at a high-end gallery, eventually opening her own gallery, and alot of hard work.

We also get to experience a real behind-the-scenes view of the art world. Martin interlaces real personalities with fictional ones (which are which?), capturing the fevered passion of collecting, the breathtaking beauty of oil on canvas, the fickle nature of the market, the theft and the scams. There is a whole sub-culture not privy to us middle income earthlings, until now.

My thoughts: I'm not sure what I expected when I started this book, but it wasn't conversational prose and smart, snappy characters. Who knew this guy could write? Apparently not I.

I can't say that I actually LIKED Lacey. She is every woman's nightmare (and girls, we all know one or two of these don't we?) who will steal your man if it suits her agenda. She is so self-absorbed, she has no idea the path of destruction she leaves in her wake or the people she ruins in her climb to the top. She is also smart though, and I found her undeniably witty and hard not to be mesmerized by her when she is "on".

The supporting characters (and everyone in Lacey's orbit is the supporting cast) were all amusing and believable. It was hard not to sympathize with one of Lacey's conquests, a European collector, as he loses his heart to her. We know full well he will be cast aside when she is done with him. I enjoyed the eccentricities that are permitted to the New York's filthy rich (food sniffing? telling bad stories over and over again?). Some have criticized that the characters came straight out of Vogue or Sex and the City. Maybe, but who says that is always a bad thing?

Another bonus afforded to the reader (except recipients of ARCs - boo!) is with the mention of every famous piece of art, we are treated with pictures. Oh, how I would have LOVED to have seen some of these works of art! Yes, I know, I could have googled them, but that requires too much effort. Next time I'm at Barnes & Noble, though, I'm going to sit down and have a good look.

On the downside, there is very little plot, except that it is twenty-ish years of Lacey-cam that includes the aftermath of 9/11 and the financial blowout of Wall Street. I was waiting for something big to happen, and there is a reveal, if you will, about an illegal activity, but it wasn't all that shocking or climatic. I didn't much mind though. I was too busy having fun.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Delirium - Lauren Oliver

Last fall, I was nudged gently by Rhapsody Jill to read "Before I Fall" by Lauren Oliver. What are friends for, but to give us recommendations that blow our minds and change the way we think about our lives? When the opportunity presented itself to receive an ARC of Oliver's new release "Delirium", and first of a trilogy (of course), I didn't even care what it was about. Just bring it on. I'm buying what she's selling.

Synopsis: Some kinds of love can be a good for your pet kitty, or your grandmother. But passion? People can act pretty irrational, even stark raving mad, under the grip of that kind of love. It can cause people to kill, cheat, steal, or even cause wars. That is the conclusion of a future US of A, and therefore, once a person reaches the age of 18, they will be "cured" of this disease forever - emotional neutering, if you will. They will be evaluated, and offered a choice of a handful of mates, they will have kids and live their lives as a calm, rational, unemotional law-abiding citizen.

17 year-old Lena loves her life, her best friend Hana, and running. She is still haunted, however, by the suicide of her mother when she was young. Her mother couldn't be cured, and it drove her mad. Lena is afraid she may have some of that gene in her, so the quicker she gets this over with, the better.

Until she meets Alex. He has the scar of the cured, but has a joie de vivre that suggests otherwise. And...he thinks Lena is beautiful. Through Alex, Lena learns of an underground movement against the authorities, of a world she's been sheltered from her entire life, and she learns about crazy, intoxicating, delirious love. She only has weeks until her cure though, and she is scheduled to marry some skinny dude with allergies. How will she be able to live without Alex in her life? How will she be able to live without love?

My thoughts: From the outset, I thought the premise of a world without love was a tad bit silly. No, really. The government lobotomizes people and sucks the emotion out of them to control them? Please! But an intellectual I am not, and I decided I could get behind this idea without further analysis. Once I dropped the tendency to mentally pick, I was swept away. All that teenage angst and euphoria just washed right over my 44 year-old self. Hey, I've been there. I remember.

The connection between Lena and Alex is almost immediate. It may seem a little too hasty, but again, been there done that. These are teenagers we're talking about here. And their relationship sizzles. Not in a sexual way (for those of you wondering whether your daughter should read the book), but in an almost spiritual way. Sparks almost fly off those pages.

The world-building definitely brought an appropriate amount of gravitas into the mix. Despite the wackiness of the government messing with affairs of the heart, these guys mean business. If anyone attempts to cross fences into The Wilds and are caught, they are executed without trial. If "regulators" unearth sympathizers, or even catch someone out after curfew, they might bash their heads in with a billy club, turn their bloodthirsty dogs on them, or dump them in the prison called The Crypts where you are left to rot. It seemed alot like Nazi Germany, personally, and was scarey.

There are moments of beauty in the pages, and there are scenes that made my heart pound. The ending is sudden, violent, and leaves many unanswered questions. I told you I didn't really care what the book was about upon receiving it, so I had no idea originally that this was a trilogy. As a result, the ending about made my head explode. HOW DARE THEY LEAVE ME LIKE THIS??? After my frantic, slobbering e-mail to Jill, she soothed my nerves by telling me there was more to come. Thank God.

The book wasn't exactly a mind-blower like Before I Fall. The plot wasn't as tight, and there were a lot of theoretical snags with which you could get hung up on. But I'm frankly tickled this story isn't over.

Want the opinion of Jill (Rhapsody in Books) on "Delirium"? Hop on over here, for the second part of our one-two punch.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Florida Keys #2

The captain's helper, Colby, catching some bait fish. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Exposed - Kimberly Marcus

A little update on my year of reading what I totally rocks. Proof positive was this book. I'd finished The Cypress House and was shopping my bookshelves, specifically the stack of beauties I'd obtained from SIBA last fall. Ah! A YA novel, just what I needed! So I started thumbing through the pages, to get a feel for it, and ended up finishing it in two hours. Serious impact, minimal time investment. This is one you should all read.

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Liz is a photography genius, destined for journalistic success. Her forever-best is Kate, a talented dancer. They've been friends since childhood, and they could
n't imagine a day where they wouldn't always have their Saturday Night Slumber, their Friday nights at Salvatore's pizzeria, and be there for each other through thick and thin.

Shockingly, however, that day comes. Kate avoids Liz at every turn, refuses to talk to her or even look her in the eyes. When Kate finally reveals to Liz what is troubling her, Kate's world implodes...her family is devastated, and she stands to lose everything that is important in her life.

In this emotionally-wrought debut, written in free verse, Marcus brings us nose-to-nose with a very serious, very prevalent issue in society today.

My thoughts: This free verse thing is new to me. I first experienced it recently with "Song of the Sparrow", and found it very easy to read and very impactful in its sparseness and simplicity. Why haven't I tried this before? It's wonderful! Marcus employs this method of prose so skillfully, it nearly brings you to tears. Her chapters are short and each have titles, like little journal entries or shapshots. You'd think, then, that the content would be superficial, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Marcus has chosen a topic that has been covered before, but it doesn't make it any less raw for those involved, or for the readers. (And no, I'm not telling! This story deserves to be protected!) And she NAILS it. All of it...the emotions, the repercussions, the distraught, confused, angry voice of the teenage narrator. Each entry a sucker punch to the gut, leaving you gasping for breath, but turning the pages faster and faster.

I'd call this one a no-brainer. Get it, read it in one sitting, then sit back in awe and wonder at how this debut author has got it all going on.

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Movie Meme - Show Me the Money

You'd think we would see a romantic theme today, or maybe something Grammy-ish, but it appears the Bumbles were doing their taxes this weekend, so instead we are talking about money (as in stealing it, spending it, or Lord have mercy, giving it away). Luckily, there is no end to movies about money...they are probably more numerous than movies about love. (What does that say about us?) Here are a few that we enjoy in the Nawrot household:

1. Wall Street - obviously. This movie is the original lesson plan for greed.

2. Trading Places - all about the almighty dollar, but definitely more light-hearted. I have this one permanently on my iPod, because it is always good for a laugh. Also a great movie for Jamie Lee Curtis to showcase her new boob job, and wins the award for the best drunk Santa scene.

3. A Simple Plan - a most excellent movie, riveting to the point of putting a hard knot in your stomach, about two brothers and a friend who find a few mil in a plane that crashed on their property. Funny how scenarios like this always head south...

4. Millions - more found money, but this time by a seven-year-old in England, and as charming as a movie can get.

5. There Will Be Blood - I don't remember seeing too much paper money in this movie, but instead it was in the form of oil. And the plot is just as dark - I felt like I needed a shower when it was all said and done. I drink your milkshake!

6. The Counterfeiters - based on a true story about the largest counterfeiting operation in history, organized by the Nazis in a concentration camp. Received quite a bit of love at the Oscars a few years ago. If you don't mind subtitles, you must add this one to your Netflix Q toot sweet.

I actually came up with a few more, but I like to limit myself to six. I must give you time to visit the other participants of this very fun meme!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Salon: My Sneaky Solution to the TBR Dare

Good morning, all of you Valentines! Can you just feel all that love in the air? No? In our case, it is more a brisk 39 degree chill in the air, coupled with a slight headache from all that romancing my husband and I did at a soiree at our favorite wine store last night. Nothing says hubba hubba like a wine tasting, chocolate, and good friends.

It was a extra busy week this past week, with my sister in town. She is a great cook, and a movie fanatic, so these are the activities we dabbled in. We went to see "The King's Speech" at the theater (who dare not love Mr. Firth?), watched "A Film Unfinished" at home (unearthed German footage of the Warsaw ghetto), as well as "Let the Right One In", a Swedish vampire movie based on the book I just finished. I also re-watched "The Notebook" with my daughter, and cried like a damn fool. We also had a couple nights of uber-cooking. Lots of fun.

But as a result, not much reading was accomplished. Like I said, I did finish "Let the Right One In", which was pretty long, and am about halfway through "The Postmistress". In the audio world, it was a much sadder scene. I'm STILL listening to and enjoying "Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show", and I also started listening to (and not really enjoying) "Housekeeping" in my car for Books, Babes and Bordeaux at the end of the month. It came from the library on an MP3 disc, and for the life of me can't figure out how to transfer it to my iPod. I'm so bad with technology sometimes, I scare myself.

I'm doing great with my TBR Dare still, but I seem to have subconsciously figured out a way around it. All book club reads are exceptions to The Dare, and I've now just joined my THIRD book club (a Skype book club). Don't tell my husband or he will think I'm insane. So between the three, I am feeling rather gluttonous with books NOT sitting on my bookshelf. Pretty shifty, huh?

The problem is...when to get all this reading done. For a girl who swore off all challenges and ARCs, I'm sure feeling some pressure. Three book clubs, and books that need to be read and reviewed for the UCF Book Festival in April, and I've got a full plate. I need to get down to serious business here this next week, which, with the exception of a Sea World field trip, should be relatively calm.

Before I ship out here for church, I had to share a book that appeared in EW this week, and it almost made me drool for wanting it. "House of Prayer No. 2"??? Anyone heard of it? Seriously, read the review on EW. It must be mine. But how to read it before April 1st? Hmmm...wonder if I could convince a book club to read it?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Moonlight Mile - Dennis Lehane (Audio)

After pretty much loving A Given Day, Shutter Island, and Mystic River, I decided that this is as close to fan girl as I was going to get with an author. I love his gritty, blue-collar Boston thing he's got going on, he's good for some in-your-face foul language, and he throws a nice twist or two in there to keep you on your toes. Unfortunately, I'd never read "Gone Baby Gone" because my library doesn't have it on audio, and of course, here comes a sequel, all squeaky and shiny and new, tempting me to read out of order. My solution was to watch the movie, just to get the flavor of the characters we are dealing with. I'll try to be as unspoilery as possible, but a few tidbits of "Gone Baby Gone" are going to be revealed, so be warned. I will, however, protect the integrity of "Moonlight Mile".

Synopsis: It's been twelve years since the abduction and recovery of Amanda McCready, and the ethical dilemmas of that situation haunt Patrick Kenzie to this day. Still, life has moved on. Patrick and Angie worked out their differences and are now married with a little girl. They are struggling to make ends meet, and desperately wish for a normal stable life in which to raise their child.

Then their past comes to haunt them. Amanda's Aunt Beatrice calls Patrick for help...Amanda is missing again. Despite Amanda's home life, she is the brightest and most promising in her class...Harvard-bound. It seems unlikely she has run away on her own. Even though this is not a case that is going to pay the bills, Patrick and Angie decide that this might be the chance to make good on all the mistakes that may have been made twelve years ago.

My thoughts: Even without the benefit of getting to know the literary characters of Patrick and Angie, I liked them, and was genuinely excited to find out how they were doing after all this time. I found that they had matured nicely, but both still had that wild edge that loves the thrill of danger. I was also nostalgic about Amanda, that poor poor child with that horrible mother (who is still just as bad as ever). Lehane easily jumps right back into the storyline without a hitch, providing all that stuff I love...all that edgy, hard-ass fast talk, working class neighborhoods, and the squalor and depravity of the underbelly. He also blessed the story with some really colorful characters. I almost felt guilty for loving the Russian hitmen, but I couldn't help myself.

I also appreciated Lehane's examination of social issues, particular with abused children. Is is our right, as a by-stander, to guess what kind of a life a child might have, and act on our own accord to ensure they get the love and protection they need? Or do we let the government handle it and turn our heads, knowing it might not be the best alternative?

But somewhere down the path, believability and plausibility took a hike. The Big Explanation (you know, the one near the end that resolves all the questions), and to a certain extent The Lehane Twist, were waaaaay out there. I just couldn't buy what he was selling. I'm itching to go into details, but that would blow the whole thing for you. Suffice it to say that no matter how Lehane justified himself, I still found myself just shaking my head.

I guess my bottom line is that I enjoyed this quick listen, and I love what Lehane brings to the table, but this isn't the best of him. It is worth the effort, though, just to catch up with Patrick and Angie, and adore some Russian mobsters.

A word about the audio production: I squealed with delight when I discovered that this audio was narrated by the most wonderful Jonathan Davis. Unwittingly, I think I have listened to more of Jonathan Davis than any other narrator out there. He is ONE CLASS ACT. He does accents like Meryl Streep, he offers nuances, he offers emotion, all effortlessly. He is a delight to listen to.

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Cypress House - Michael Koryta

My first experience with Michael Koryta was in reading "So Cold the River", a mystery thriller with a supernatural edge, all set in the town of French Lick, Indiana, at the historical West Baden Resort. I've actually stayed at this resort, and it is a one-in-a-million kind of place, where you instantly become hypnotized with it's charm and beauty. If you look out the corner of your eye, you feel that you might even catch a glimpse of a ghost. So reading this book was a unique experience.

Then I actually met Koryta at SIBA this past year, and was able to get a signed copy of his latest novel, "The Cypress House", which released on January 24th. Totally different setting, but again one I'm familiar with...Florida. Only this is 1935, during the most intense hurricane to make landfall in US history (I suspect most Floridians have heard about this one). If you have lived through a hurricane, your stomach probably just went knots, because it is a wholly terrifying experience. This is ready-made atmosphere, something it seems Koryta knows something about.

Synopsis: Arlen Wagner has a haunting gift. In the final hours of someone's life, Arlen does not see a breathing human, he sees a skeleton, and smoke where their eyes should be. And he sees a trainload of these skeletons as he and his buddy Paul are en route to assist in building a bridge in the Keys. (Little do they know, they are all traveling straight into the path of the most devastating hurricane in US history.) Arlen cannot convince the group to disembark, so he and Paul take off on their own, and hitch a ride with a man who takes them to The Cypress House.

The Cypress House is a seemingly forgotten fishing resort, settled on the ocean, and run by the withdrawn but beautiful Rebecca Cady. But bad things start to happen as soon as they arrive. Their mysterious driver goes up in flames inside his car. Arlen and Paul are taken in for questioning, and find themselves up against a crooked police officer and judge. And there is an ugly hurricane bearing down on them. As they stay to help Rebecca recover from the aftermath of the storm and rebuild Cypress House, it slowly dawns on them that all is not well in this corner of paradise. And this underlying evil could be the undoing of their friendship, the undoing of deeply buried secrets, and possibly the undoing of their lives.

My thoughts: I really had a good time with this one. It had everything going for it. The underlying theme of the deadly 1935 Labor Day Hurricane immediately set the stage for impending doom. You have the oppressive, sultry atmosphere of rural, coastal Florida. Koryta also has conjured up some really memorable, well-drawn characters that come alive on the page. Arlen is the epitome of an anti-hero...a swaggering ex-Marine who nips at his flask a little too often in order to escape some persistent ghosts. His young, innocent protege. The quiet and sexy damsel in distress with a story of her own. And some real backwater badasses that make Hitler look like a girl scout.

You know almost from the beginning that it is going to get down and dirty before it is all resolved, and all the reader has to do is hold on tight and enjoy the ride. Koryta doesn't hold back either. Blood is drawn, people die, body parts are severed, and victims hung up by their ankles. You will find yourself immersed in a mucky swamp, infested with a nest of angry water moccasins, and the dead who have a thing or two on their mind. It is wild and woolly and I enjoyed every minute of it, with my heart pounding until I'd turned the last page.

Don't let the supernatural slant deter you. At it's heart, this is a mystery thriller that is slathered with creepy, full of piss and vinegar, and Arlen's little "talents" are just the cherry on top that complete the package. In fact, I'd even say that the supernatural aspects made the story a better one, adding an additional level of complexity and offering a perspective that you don't get in most books.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Florida Keys #1

Fishing at sunrise. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pray For Silence - Linda Castillo (Audio)

Several weeks ago, I reviewed Linda Castillo's first installment in the Kate Burkholder Amish murder mystery series, Sworn to Silence. For those of you who didn't get around to reading my thoughts, I was lukewarm on the whole experience. Interesting characters, bad dialogue, and a narrator probably not suited for this type of book. But I liked it enough to give the second book in the series a shot. So what was the consensus? I think I'm still in the game. But first, let me fill you in on the plot.

Synopsis: Eight months after the last book, when Chief of Police Kate Burkholder cracked a grisly serial murder case, she is back again with another mess on her hands. An Amish family of seven was brutally murdered, and in the case of the family's two teenage girls, tortured as well. This was a gentle family, and there are no leads or evidence whatsoever.

Until Kate discovers the journal of 15-year-old Mary, one of the murdered daughters. Soon Kate finds herself not only sucked into the dark world of a very scared teenager, but also suffers flashbacks of when she also an Amish girl who was in way over her head and suffered tragically.

Kate also calls in BCI Agent John Tomasetti for help, with whom she had a little fling in the last book. The fling continues, of course, but with serious, complicated undercurrents.

My thoughts: I'm not wholly sure if this plot line was improved from the last novel, or I'm just warming up to the familiarity of the characters, but I found less fault with Pray for Silence. I appreciated the devastating and slow reveal of Mary's life through her journal. I appreciated the ongoing sexual tension between Kate and John. And like the last story, we are allowed to peek inside the lives and customs of the Amish people.

Mind you, the details of the family's murder, including a baby, as well as Mary's "situation", was very graphic and not for the gentle-spirited. While it verged on gratuitous, it also seemed realistic for the circumstances. (I'm being slightly cryptic but I'm trying to be careful not to reveal "stuff").

The quirky supporting characters that I loved in the last book had less of a role in this one. They were only on the periphery, with most of the focus on Kate and John. But it was nice to see the familiar faces darting on and off stage.

Castillo did do her share of lecturing about basic forensic science, and this does get under my skin. I suppose if this is the first murder mystery you've read, you'd appreciate the lesson. But by now, 95% of the population knows that statistics of solving a crime after it has passed the 24 hour mark, and they understand the signs of homicide versus suicide. Every schmoe out there is a forensic expert at this point.

My lingering thought as I finished this installment was "how many serial or mass murderers can there be in a small Amish town, and how long can Castillo keep this up?". I'd say, by the next book or two, Castillo better change her game or we are all going to throw up our hands in disbelief. The setting is fascinating, I admit, but something's gotta give. I think Kate needs to move to Columbus to take up with Tomasetti, but that is just my vote.

A word about the audio production: Like I said in my previous post, the narrator, Kathleen McInerney, is a good narrator for women's fiction, but is not cut out for this genre. Her performance isn't horrible, but her portrayal of men's voices in particular are amateur. Her voice just doesn't exude the seriousness of the subject. I was sorry that she was back again to narrate the second installment, but I won't hold it against the book.

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Salon: Wasting away in Margaritaville

Yo dudes! Happy Sunday! This happy post is coming to you from Islamorada, in the Upper Keys. My sister is visiting from Minneapolis, and we all came down here to do some deep sea fishing, drink a margarita or two and chillax. Thanks for all your well-wishes - the flu ran its course later this week finally, and I'm back up and running.

I think it is kinda funny how the moons align sometimes. As I sit here in this little piece of heaven, I recall that in the last couple of weeks, I've read not one but two books (The Cypress House and Turtle in Paradise) that have featured the famous 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, which decimated the Upper Keys. This storm is officially the most intense hurricane to hit the US, in front of even Katrina and Andrew. The young man that assisted with our fishing trip yesterday told us that his ancestors pioneered this area in the late 1800's, and his grandfather battled this hurricane by tying himself to a palm tree, and was the only one in his family to survive. We Floridians just eat up stories like this, and gives us all a little jolt of fear that the next Big One might be looming out there in our future. Have you ever had little moments of serendipity like this, where your life and your books work in sync?

Besides recovering from the flu, and the arrival of my sister, we also had our February Heathrow Literary Society meeting, and had a very lively discussion of "Freedom" (review posted this past Thursday). Next month, we will be reading "Appointment in Samarra" by John O'Hara. Has anyone read this one?

For feeling like a sack of poo, I did have some decent reading this week. I finished "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" on audio, which is for our Heathrow Literary Society in April. I probably should have waited until we were closer to April, but I just couldn't wait, I was too excited. (And by the way, I loved it.) I also finished Robert Crais' "The Sentry" on audio, the newest Joe Pike novel. Have any of you read this series? Joe Pike reminds me alot of Jack Reacher, and I purr when I am in his midst. I am now a couple of discs into "Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show".

I also finished "Delirium" by Lauren Oliver, and while it was not a five star love, it was a love nonetheless. I also read a middle grade book that I picked up at SIBA called "Turtle in Paradise", and people, I wanted to eat this book up with a spoon with whipped cream on top. I am now languishing in "Let the Right One In", the amazing vampire novel translated from Swedish (thanks James! I'm finally getting to it). You betcha as soon as I finish it, I'll be watching both the Swedish movie and the US remake. I'm sorta over the whole vampire thing, but this has a whole different vibe going on.

I'm going to sign off now and enjoy everything I can squeeze out of this place before we have to leave and hike back up home and watch the Packers kick the Steelers butt. Happy Sunday and Happy Super Bowl!

Friday, February 4, 2011

An evening with Tatjana Soli, author of The Lotus Eaters

This past Thursday was a big night for Books, Babes and Bordeaux, one of my book clubs...we were going to have our very first call-in from an author. We had chosen "The Lotus Eaters" as our January selection based on my gentle encouragement, and were thrilled when the author, Tatjana Soli, agreed to chat with us about it.

Normally, our book club meets at a local restaurant and generally imbibes in a bit of wine (hence our name). This time, in order for us to have access to a speakerphone and little background noise, we met at Marianne's house, and we all brought appetizers and wine. The highlight was Marianne's Vietnamese Egg Rolls, and Heather's Banana Bread with chocolate chips! Side note: this worked out so well, we are meeting at someone else's house next month.

Before Tatjana called in, we chatted about the book. It was universally loved overall, although we all agreed that the book required you to be diligent through the first chapter or two. Once we were past that, we couldn't lay the book down. One member wanted more from the ending, and a couple others questioned whether Helen (the main character) ever truly loved either of her men. We all agreed that Vietnam, the country and it's people, burst into life with Tatjana's talented prose.

Then the focus was on Tatjana, and what she had to say. She was extremely easy-going, forthright, and honest. She charmed us all. Here are some of the things we discussed:

Her muse for the book: Tatjana spent much of her young life around soldiers on military bases. Many of them left for Vietnam and never came back, others came back with horrific stories. There was a whole mystique to these men and their experiences, and the seeds were sown.

Her inspiration for the character of Helen: There were two well-known female photographers in Vietnam that Tatjana researched to find a basis for Helen. The first was Catherine Leroy, a French-born photographer whose pictures graced the covers of Life and other publications, many of them winning awards.

The second female photographer that inspired Tatjana was Dickey Chapelle, who started her career in WWII as a war correspondent, and ended with Vietnam, when she was tragically killed by shrapnel.

Inspiration for Helen's iconic photo: For those of you who have read the book, Helen was officially recognized for her photography after she endangered her life by capturing the execution of a seemingly harmless old man. This photo was a tip of the hat to the famous Eddie Adams photo that all of America has seen:

Say what? Did you know that Tatjana has never visited Vietnam? Which was shocking to all of us, since her imagery in the book is so vivid and intense. While she had been originally scheduled to make the trip, it was cancelled because of a family emergency, and never re-booked. Tatjana instead relied on the pictures in her mind's eye taken from photos, film, and her imagination. She nailed it though, according to the Vietnam Vets who have read her book.

On the journey: Tatjana was steadfast in her mission to write this book. The road was not easy however, and it took approximately 10 years to progress from idea to publication. She endured a couple of years of research, alot of writing, and re-writing, hearing that the book would never fly, and was turned down by everyone. "Women don't want to read about war (???) and men don't want to read about a female photojournalist." She thought it was never going to happen. It has to make her feel justified when someone like Tim O'Brien actually blurbed her!

Any talk of a movie? Not so far, according to Tatjana. She didn't want to hazard a guess on casting. I couldn't seem to get past the movie "The Killing Fields", and with my computer in hand, pitched Sam Waterston as Darrow and Haing S. Ngor as Linh. But who would play Helen? Most of us thought Helen Hunt might work, although she isn't aging well. As you can see, by this point, we were having way too much fun! I personally think this book would be a phenomenal movie.

Current projects? Tatjana is currently working on a book about a citrus farm in Southern California, tentatively named "The Wilding Tree", due Spring 2012. Our book club will be the first in line.

Tatjana's favorite books? It is always fun to hear what amazing writers are reading. She immensely enjoyed both "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson and "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys. She also recently discovered and adored "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan. We were so influenced by her passion for these books, we decided that the February book club pick would be "Housekeeping".

Overall, it was a wonderful evening, and we were all very appreciative for the time and energy that Tatjana gave to our group of readers, considering how busy she is with her book tour. We all agreed that it is one thing to read a book, but another thing completely to get the author's perspective, and enjoy her warm personality and passion for her subject.

If you haven't yet read "The Lotus Eaters", you need to make this a priority. I even placed it on my top reads of 2010. I guarantee, you will not be disappointed!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen (Audio)

OK, I am finally biting the bullet. I am FORCING myself to sit down and write something about this book. Because sometimes books are too big for words. They cover too much territory, too much human emotion, too much ugliness, too many messages, to really get the point across.

Years ago, I read The Corrections. A friend loaned it to me, stating that he "couldn't get through it, so good luck". Just to prove my super-woman tenacity, I slogged through it. I hated it. The characters were miserable and obnoxious. Then I finished it. Then I decided I really did like it.

So when Freedom was released, I was mildly interested. But it was long, and Oprah endorsed it, everybody and their brother was talking about it, and when my book club discussed reading it, I voted NO. I can be bitchy that way. But then there was a mix-up, and somehow it was published in our country club newsletter that we were reading Freedom for February, and our hand was forced. Now my dander was really up. OK FINE! IF I HAVE TO! I embarked on 19 discs of audio.

Synopsis: At the heart of the novel is the seemingly All-American Berglund family...Walter and Patty, and their two kids Joey and Jessica, living in a big house in St. Paul MN. Walter is the do-gooder, environmental-loving lawyer, Patty the pretty, athletic stay-at-home mom, with two perfect over-achieving children. At the beginning of the story, we get an outsider's perspective of the family from a few jealous neighbors' narratives, then we dive in - hold your breath! It's deep and murky! Walter, Patty and Joey (and a few other main characters) all take turns narrating personal thoughts and events in their past, what made them the people they are, and the nitty gritty of what is really happening in their twisted, miserable lives. Drugs and alcohol abuse, manipulation, adultery, kinky sex, lying, cheating, stealing, rape, and any other type of depravity you can think of. What this all amounts to is a thorough character study on each narrator, from childhood on. So thorough, you know it like your own story after it is all over and done with. And what we learn isn't necessarily likable, but human and real and exposed.

But there is so much more than "just" family dysfunction (that is a real big fat juicy "just"). Big issues such as over-population and the pressure on finite resources, raping our natural environment for political gain, the ethical dilemmas of capitalism in Iraq, and the rapid-fire information overload and instantaneous gratification that our culture has become. For a side tour, Franzen delves into the business of rock 'n roll, and liberally peppers his prose with lots of pop culture, showing us he is hip to Bright Eyes and Donnie Darko. It seems that Franzen has alot on his mind, and he has thrown it all at us. Whether it was intended to hit us in the head and incite an epiphany, or simply draw blood, I'm not sure.

My thoughts: Most of humanity fell in love with this book, but I was not one of them. I was highly entertained, in a way that it is entertaining to watch the freakshows that go on Doctor Phil and have their frailties laid out for all to see. The characters in this book are not caricatures. They feel as real as you or I. But they are damaged, unhappy people, angry at each other, life and society in general. Franzen's prose also comes across as sarcastic and generally negative. Then there is all that sex, which I thought added nothing but a layer of skeez. As easy as it was to listen to all of this, I often felt like I needed to take a shower (no, I didn't need a cold shower, I just needed to rid myself of the mental slime).

But then, after 18 discs of rolling around in the muck, getting it in my ears and eyes and mouth, it was like the whole book took a Prozac, and for the last disc, the plot gently floated in a dreamy fog off stage left. OK, well, that is nice. But it was a confusing shift in mood, and it left me unsettled. You mean they didn't all self-destruct in the end? I kinda wanted to see them all locked up in a room together to see who would come out alive.

As grumpy as this all sounds, I tip my hat to Franzen and all of his cleverness. The theme of "freedom" is deftly woven into every nook and cranny. Whether it is freedom from the confines of marriage and kids, freedom of expression, freedom from parental control, or freedom of songbirds to exist without the fear of being eaten by kitty cats. In the search for the ever-alluring freedom, however, the characters find that perhaps it isn't all its cracked up to be, or even that its existence is just an illusion.
As brilliant as Franzen may be, however, I thought it was a shame he wasted it on such misery. I likened it to Picasso drawing cheesy charicatures at a street fair, or painting women's boobs at a strip club.

A word about the audio production: Whatever my gripes for the book, the narrator, David LeDoux, was spectacular. David is a new-to-me voice, but in a quick glance, I see he has also narrated "Water For Elephants" by Sarah Gruen and "Shiver" by Maggie Stiefvater, just to name a couple. His voice was authentic and unforced, and captured nuances of the various personalities of the characters perfectly. This is a narrator I'd listen to again without hesitation.

Opinions from the Heathrow Literary Society: We had eleven member attend this meeting, and two people admitted to liking it. One member said she liked it fine until she saw interviews with Franzen, and then was turned off. One member said there was nothing redeeming in this book whatsoever, and her husband, who had to endure the audiobook with her on a trip, thought she was insane for finishing it. The rest of us didn't feel it was worth the effort, and would not recommend the book. We decided that Franzen is probably not a very happy person. On the bright side, it was probably the liviest discussions yet.

3 out of 5 stars