Sunday, August 31, 2014

My September Reading Map

It time to update my Reading Map! This is like a road map of my reading journey. Each month I do a ‘check-up’ to help me see what I’ve accomplished towards my reading goals and to help me see what needs to be done next. Here is my September Reading Map!

I never seem to accomplish as much as I hope to. There are so many good books I want to read, I tend to over-schedule my reading. But I’m not too disappointed. I finished and reviewed 3 of the 7 books on my list, 1 is finished and the review will appear later this week, and I am in the middle of reading 2, so that leaves only one untouched! And I hope to get to it this month! Here are the details.

Cancel The Wedding by Carolyn Dingman  (TLC Book Tours)
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (book club selection)
The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger (TLC Book Tours)
The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson (TLC Book Tours — review coming)

Unplanned Reading
Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer (Penguin First To Read — review coming)

Currently Reading
The Explanation For Everything by Lauren Grodstein (Currently reading — Library Thing Early Reviewer)
American Blonde by Jennifer Niven (Currently reading — Library Thing Early Reviewer)

Not read
The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

My reading map for September appears below. I am starting with the books that are currently in progress, and adding the books with reviews due in September. And as usual, I am adding more books than I think I can finish this month. These are not in any particular order and not all absolutely have to be finished and reviewed by the end of the month, but I am really going to have to push to get this done!

September Reading Map
The Explanation For Everything by Lauren Grodstein (Currently reading — Library Thing Early Reviewer)
American Blonde by Jennifer Niven (Currently reading — Library Thing Early Reviewer)
A Matter of Mercy by Lynn Hugo
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J. Taylor
The Lost Tribe of Cony Island by Claire Prentice
The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

Do you have a ‘map’. If so, share it below in the comments. Maybe I’ll see something I want to add to my list!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: The Virtues of Oxygen

The Virtues of Oxygen
by Susan Schoenberger

Why did you choose this book? it sounded like a good summer read
When did you read this book? August 2014
Who should read this book? readers who enjoy friendship stories
Source: TLC Book Tours
Here is a synopsis of The Virtues of Oxygen from TLC Book TOURS

From the award-winning author of A Watershed Year comes a heartrending story of unlikely bonds made under dire straits. Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

My Review

When I was offered the chance to review this book, I almost passed on it. To be honest, I tend to judge a book, at least initially, by its cover, and this one does nothing for me! But luckily I went on to read the synopsis and decided to read the book. I’m so glad a did!

This is a story of a friendship. Vivian contracted polio as a young girl and was left paralyzed to the point that she can not breathe without the assistance of the iron lung, a chamber which encloses her entire body from the neck down. She requires 24/7 care to be sure she does not choke and to make sure the generator comes on if she loses electricity. Many of her caregivers are volunteers from her community, one of whom is Holly, a widow with two teenage boys, who is on the brink of bankruptcy. Her husband died when the boys were very young, and she has lived paycheck to paycheck since. She has had no time for romance or entertainment or anything outside the day to day routine of earning a living and caring for her children and Vivian. She has been able to pay her mortgage each month, just barely, with a little help from her mother, but when her mother suffers a stroke, things come to a crisis.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the way the community pulled together to support Vivian. It was also interesting to see the different reactions people had to Holly’s financial status, and how Holly perceived others felt about her due to her financial difficulties. I also enjoyed reading Vivian’s back-story, told in unaired podcasts spread throughout the book.

I grew up hearing horror stories of polio and iron lungs as the justification for getting shots at the doctor. I’m not sure I ever really took it seriously or realized just how devastating polio can be, and I certainly did not realize that iron lungs are NOT things of the distant past. I’ve seen one in the local science center, but I thought they were relics, so it really surprised me to read this contemporary story of a woman who lives like in an iron lung. The author explains her inspiration for Vivian came from a newspaper article she’d read about a polio survivor named Martha Mason, who also lived life in an iron lung. After I finished the book, I googled Martha Mason to learn more about her, and recognized that many of the details in the book came from her story. You can learn more about Martha in this article and this article, or view a short documentary of her life below.

About Susan Schoenberger

Susan Schoenberger is the author of the award-winning debut novel A Watershed Year. Before turning her attention to writing fiction, she worked as a journalist and copyeditor for many years, most recently at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. She currently serves as the director of communications at Hartford Seminary and teaches writing classes at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three children.

Connect with Susan at her website,

My Rating:  ★★★1/2   3-1/2 Stars

This book review is included in a tour by TLC Book Tours. I was provided a review copy and have written an honest review which appears above.

Susan’s Tour Stops

Monday, July 21st:  Bookchickdi
Tuesday, July 22nd:  Kimberly’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, July 23rd:  Bibliotica
Thursday, July 24th:  Fiction Zeal
Monday, July 28th:  Books a la Mode – guest post/giveaway
Tuesday, July 29th:  Lavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, July 30th:  Reading Reality
Thursday, July 31st:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, August 4th:  Literary Lindsey
Tuesday, August 5th:  Library of Clean Reads
Wednesday, August 6th:  Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, August 7th:  Sidewalk Shoes
Friday, August 8th:  Mom in Love with Fiction
Monday, August 11th:  A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, August 12th:  BookNAround
Wednesday, August 13th:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, August 18th:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, August 20th:  Reviews from the Heart
Thursday, August 21st:  Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, August 22nd:  Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, August 25th:   I’d Rather Be at the Beach
Tuesday, August 26th:  Missris
Wednesday, August 27th:  Time 2 Read
Wednesday, September 3rd:  Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday Memes: Five Days Left

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Today I am spotlighting Five Days Left by Julia Lawson Timmer

Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.

Mara Nichols is a successful lawyer, devoted wife, and adoptive mother who has received a life-shattering diagnosis. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most.
Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance and the power of relationships, and shows that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.

Opening Paragraph

  Mara had chosen the method long ago: pills, vodka and carbon monoxide. A “garage cocktail,” she called it. The name sounded almost elegant, and sometimes, when she said it out loud, she could make herself believe it wasn’t horrifying.

My Teaser

    She  stepped away from the chair and did a pirouette, arms raised above her head, hands in “fancy position,” as she had seen the big girls do at ballet school. Striking a final pose, she looked at her mother and smiled triumphantly.
page 7

(These quotes are from uncorrected advance proofs. Please refer to the final printed book for corrected quotes!)

So...what do you think? Is this one you would pick up? Leave a comment below!
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: Sisterland

by Curtis Sittenfeld

Why did you choose this book? it is set in St Louis and written by a Missouri author
When did you read this book? May 2014
Who should read this book? readers who like mystical realism or St Louis settings
Source: Goodreads First Reads
Here is a synopsis of Sisterland from Goodreads

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.
Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.
Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.

My Review

I really liked this one...a lot! I was first drawn to it because it is a ‘sisters’ book AND because it is set in St. Louis. And I was rewarded. I LOVED all the St. Louis details the author included in the novel. I’ve been to almost all of the places she mentioned and have at least heard about most of the ones I haven’t been to! But one of the things that really hooked me once I started reading is the ‘earthquake’ story. In this story, the sisters are identical twins, and have ‘psychic’ abilities. Sister Vi picks up that a major earthquake will occur along the New Madrid fault, and gives a specific date, causing widespread panic. What is so interesting is that this really happened about 25 years ago. The man who made the prediction was not a ‘psychic’ but he did give a date for the earthquake to occur, and unbelievably, at least to me, was that many, many people, including a few of my own friends and relatives and much of the media, took him quite seriously and refused to send their children to school or cross bridges on that December day!  If I remember, Iben Browing, the man who made the prediction was a meteorologist, not a geologist. If you live outside of the midwest, you may not even be aware of the New Madrid fault, let alone the fact that it is responsible for one of the largest earthquakes in US history. It is still active, so even though his prediction was a disservice and did cause widespread unnecessary panic, it also served to make people more aware of the potential damage that will result when ‘the big one’ does occur. Since that time, building standards have been modified and bridges and overpasses have been retrofitted.

Back to the book though…
While the earthquake prediction played a major role in the story, the story was really about relationship. The identical twins respond differently to their psychic abilities with Vi running with it, and Kate running FROM it. Throughout their lives Kate has worked to ‘fit in’ with her peer group, and Vi has alwys been herself, not worrying about how she is perceived by others. This causes tension between Kate and Vi, and stress for Kate as she worries about her friends and family and how they will feel about her once they meet Vi. And of course, the tension builds as the predicted date of the earthquake approaches, causing issues in Kate’s relationship with Vi as well as in her marriage. I am not going to tell you whether or not there is an earthquake, but the events leading up to the predicted date do result in chaos to the sister’s relationships. I was pleased the author with the way the author chose to the story. I was given enough of a glimpse into the future to know what happens to the characters, instead of being left hanging, wondering about their futre.

I really enjoyed this one! If you like story sisters I think you will, too! You can visit Curtis Sittenfeld’s web site for discussion questions and an excerpt of Sisterland.

For more background on the 1990 earthquake prediction by Iben Browning, visit one of these links.

And if you’d like to read more about the 1812 earthquake along the New Madrid fault, you might be interested in Jay Feldman’s When The Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire Intrigue, Murder and the New Madrid Earthquakes.

My Rating:  ★★★★   4 Stars

I received a review copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program in return for an honest review.
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