Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Horse Boy

The Horse Boy: A Father's
Quest to Heal His Son

by Rupert Isaacson
audio book: 10.5 hours

*** About the Book ***

When Rupert and Kristen's son, Rowan, is diagnosed with autism, their world begins to crumble. Rowan's language skills stall, he has violent tantrums, and he doesn't seem to connect with the people around him. What he DOES connect with is are horses. When Rowan and his dad ride together, Rowan's little body relaxes and he begins to speak more and more.

Traditional autism therapies aren't working for Rowan and Rupert and Kristen are at their wits end. That's when Rupert comes up with his "crazy idea": a trip to outer Mongolia, to a culture built upon horses. Rupert has a deep respect for shamanism due to his friendship with several African shamans; he is convinced that with the help of horses and the Mongolian shamans, Rowan's life can improve.

What happens in Mongolia is both heartbreaking and wonderful, and you simply have to read to find out all about it.

*** Why I Read It ***

A while back I read a review of this book over at Stuff As Dreams Are Made On and I found it fascinating. Chris said that this was one of his favorite books this year. I knew I didn't have time to read it at the moment but I was really intrigued. So when I found it on audio at my library I snatched it up right away.

*** My Thoughts ***

This book hit me really hard, in a way I was not expecting. As I listened to Rupert talk about Kristen's pregnancy and Rowan's birth I was struck by the fact that Rowan is exactly one month older than Kiddo. Woah. This could have been MY life. From that point on, whenever Rowan's age was mentioned my mind went back immediately to thoughts of Kiddo at that same age. I would think, "While we were enjoying X, they were dealing with Y." It was a very strange and moving experience. Kiddo came in while I was listening to the first part of the book and asked me about it. I explained as simply as I could about autism and Rowan's connection with horses. His response was "That is really interesting - really sad, but really interesting."

Back to the book itself ...

This was an amazing book. What I know about autism is ... not much, really. I also don't particularly identify with belief in shamanism or similar religions. But that didn't matter at all - I still really enjoyed listening to this book.

I admire Rupert and Kristen for their conviction to keep trying, to be open minded about things that might help Rowan. They didn't simply do what the doctors said - they tried to think outside the box, and they got results.

Not only is their story interesting and inspiring, it is well written as well. Rupert was (is?) a travel writer so he is very skilled at bringing the various places they travel to life on the page.

*** About the Narrator ***

This book was narrated by the author. IF the author has a good speaking voice, I prefer that he/she narrates - it brings me more fully into the book. And in this case the author was the perfect narrator. Hearing him describe the crises and triumphs their family experienced was very moving. I highly recommend this audio book.

*** The Movie ***

Documentary filmmakers (and friends of the Isaacson family) accompanied them on the Mongolia trip and filmed much of their experiences. Some of the funnier moments in the books revolved around these guys and their loads of camera equipment.

The footage they took has been make into a film which is playing in select cities this Fall. Check the schedule here to see if your town is on the list. I'm glad to see that it is playing in Baltimore - you can bet I'll be there to see it!

Here's a trailer for it. Just to let you know, after reading this book seeing the video brings tears to my eyes.

*** Other Reviews ***

Be sure to check out these other reviews. And if you've read this book please let me know.

Winners of "The Last Queen"

Thanks to everyone who entered my contest for a copy of GW Gortner's THE LAST QUEEN. I used to come up with two winners:
#4 = Michelle P.

#16 = nfmgirl

Congratulations to you both! Look for my email and get back to me with your mailing address as soon as you can.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Favorite Reads: Sarum

This weekly event, hosted by At Home With Books, is a place to remember and share books that we read before we started blogging. All are welcome to join!

The Book: Sarum: A Novel of England, by Edward Rutherford - published in 1988 - 1,056 pages

What It Is About: It is basically an overview of all of English history, focused on one particular place and several specific families. Here's a summary from Library Journal:
A first novel, Rutherfurd's sweeping saga of the area surrounding Stonehenge and Salisbury, England, covers 10,000 years and includes many generations of five families. Each family has one or more characteristic types who appear in successive centuries: the round-headed balding man who is good with his hands; the blue-eyed blonde woman who insists on having her independence; the dark, narrow-faced fisher of river waters and secrets. Their fortunes rise and fall both economically and politically, but the land triumphs over the passage of time and the ravages of humans. Rutherfurd has told the story of the land he was born in and has told it well. The verbosity of a Michener is missing, but all the other elements are present, from geology and archaeology to a rich story of human life. Highly recommended.
Why I Love It: I don't remember many of the specifics of this book but I do remember being enthralled with it. I loved how each family had its own characteristics that you could trace through the generations. And I remember learning so much history from this book while being entertained at the same time.

Other Thoughts: This book hadn't crossed my mind in many years. But when I saw Swapna's photos from her trip to England, specifically her visit to Sarum, I was immediately reminded of this book.

Would I Recommend It?: Those who enjoy historical fiction would likely enjoy this book. On it is shown as a Young Adult novel ... really? I was a young adult when I read it, but I was reading all sorts of books at the time so I can't say if this is an appropriate label or not. Regardless, it is epic in scope and fascinating to read.

For more of my before-blogging favorites click here.

*** Reminder: I'm giving away two copies of CW Gortner's wonderful novel THE LAST QUEEN. Click here for details! ***

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Getting a new bookcase!

I don't know about you but I really need a new bookcase. My house is relatively small and filled with mostly hand-me-down furniture. And since most of the people I know are not big readers, no one is handing me down any bookcases.

My sister promised to give me the beautiful barrister bookcases she had in her house and I was so excited about that. Then she decided to move them to her basement instead. Oh, the horror!

My uncle gave me a lovely small china closet a few years back. Books would fit in beautifully, but of course my china is in there - and I DO so love my china!

I also have a small rolling file cabinet that I got from work when we moved offices. I use as an end table in my living room - it is completely filled with books both inside and on top.

All of Kiddo's books are on a big, white bookcase in my living room. Why is it that HE gets the good space?! Well, that's because kids books are notoriously hard to stack ... unlike my own books, which stack perfectly well.

So you can imagine my excitement when I was offered a brand new bookcase - of my own choosing - for free!!! Oh the joy!!!

CSN Office Furniture is looking to expand their customer base and they reached out to bloggers to help do that. Kudos to them for seeing the potential in blogs! I was really excited to browse their site and see if there was anything that would work for me.

Can I tell you that I'm completely impressed?! My wish list for office furniture is about a mile long now. If they gave me an unlimited budget for this promotion, here are the things I might want to order:

Of course that is not to be because we are NOT dreaming. :) Getting back to reality ...

I chose a very reasonably priced bookshelf that will go perfectly in my living room. I can't wait for it to arrive! My new treasure stands 5' tall and will give me almost 200" of additional shelf space - woohoo!

You can bet that I'll be putting it together as soon as it arrives. I'll try to remember to take pictures of the putting-together process for you but there's no guarantees there - I might be too excited. I will DEFINITELY take a picture of it when it is loaded up with books though!

If you are considering a new bookshelf, entertainment center, or office furniture of any type, I encourage you to check out CSN Office Furniture. Their website is easy to navigate, their products are gorgeous, they offer free shipping on most items, and they have lots of items on sale (and SALE is always a good word). Plus they are blogger-friendly and we should definitely thank them for that!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand? July '09

*** Reminder: I'm giving away two copies of CW Gortner's wonderful novel THE LAST QUEEN. Click here for details! ***

This monthly meme is hosted by 5 Minutes for Books on the last Tuesday of each month. The idea is to share the books you are currently reading, or the stack that is on your nightstand, or something along those lines.

What I do each month is tell you what I'm reading and where ... so here goes!

*** My Carry-Along Book ***

Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell - I'm reading this as a summer project with Becky's (online) book club. We started in June and are set to finish in August. I never wanted to read this book even though I loved the movie, but a few blogger friends raved about it so I decided to give it a try. It is FANTASTIC! I'm really enjoying it.

For a while I was only reading this in bed, but I finished my book club's selection for this month so now I can devote more of my time to finishing this book (and with 1,000 pages, I DO need to give it some time!).

*** In My Car ***

The Iliad, by Homer - Rebecca Reads reviewed this a while ago and I was intrigued. I love the stories of the Trojan War and ancient Greek gods so I figured I'd try it out. And since this was originally an epic poem meant to be recited, I thought that listening to the audio book would be the perfect way to experience this story. I'm getting close to the end now and I have enjoyed most of it. It reminds me in parts of the movie CLASH OF THE TITANS and the TV show XENA - I wrote about the comparisons here.

*** In the Bathroom ***

The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper - I'm reading this for the 1% Well Read Challenge. I loved the movie, but I've been warned multiple times that the book is really hard to get through. I'll admit that it is very wordy and the characters are quite different than their movie counterparts, but I AM enjoying it so far. Hopefully that will continue ...

*** On My Desk ***

The Survivors Club, by Ben Sherwood - I'm listening to this audio book when things aren't too busy at work, or when I have some "no-thought-required" jobs to do. The concept of the book is quite interesting: some people are more likely to survive disasters than others, and you can train yourself to be one of those people. I'm more than 1/2 way through, so you can expect of a review of this in the near future.


Those are the books occupying my attention at the moment. And here is a list of what I'm planning to read soon:
  • The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan (for online book club)
  • Golden Boy, by Martin Book (for "Read Your Own Books Challenge")
  • Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell (for "Read Your Own Books Challenge")
  • Till We Have Faces, by CS Lewis (for in-person book club)

How many books do you have going right now? Is there one that you are really into? Or maybe there's one that you just can't bring yourself to get back to? Let me know what you're reading right now in the comments!

And for more Nightstand posts, check out 5 Minutes for Books.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Giveaway: The Last Queen

A big thank you to author CW Gortner for offering TWO COPIES of his fantastic book, The Last Queen, to my readers!

This was one of the best books I've read this year. You can check out my review here if you like. As soon as I finished reading it I gave it to my cousin who was in town for the weekend. She was pretty excited about it and I'm sure she's going to enjoy it (when she gets a chance to read it finally!).

*** How To Enter ***
  • Leave a comment saying why you'd like to read this book - the cover? the summary? a review you've read? something else? A simple "enter me!" won't get you in.

  • If your email address is not available through your profile or your blog, please include it in your comment.

  • The author is only shipping books to readers with a US mailing address. (I DO have an international giveaway coming up though!)

  • I'll choose the winners on Friday morning (7/31) so be sure to get your comment posted before then.

***About The Book ***

Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country's throne, has been for centuries an enigmatic figure shrouded in lurid myth. Was she the bereft widow of legend who was driven mad by her loss, or has history misjudged a woman who was ahead of her time? In his stunning new novel, C. W. Gortner challenges the myths about Queen Juana, unraveling the mystery surrounding her to reveal a brave, determined woman we can only now begin to fully understand.

The third child of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain, Juana is born amid her parents' ruthless struggle to unify their kingdom, bearing witness to the fall of Granada and Columbus' discoveries. At the age of sixteen, she is sent to wed Philip, the archduke of Flanders, as part of her parents' strategy to strengthen Spain, just as her youngest sister, Catherine of Aragon, is sent to England to become the first wife of Henry VIII.

Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her handsome young husband, the sole heir to the Habsburg Empire. At first she is content with her children and her life in Flanders. But when tragedy strikes and she inherits the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, her intelligence and pride used as weapons against her, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it could cost her everything.

With brilliant, lyrical prose, novelist and historian C. W. Gortner conjures Juana through her own words, taking the reader from the somber majesty of Spain to the glittering and lethal courts of Flanders, France, and Tudor England. The Last Queen brings to life all the grandeur and drama of an incomparable era, and the singular humanity of this courageous, passionate princess whose fight to claim her birthright captivated the world.

Don't Call Me A Crook!

Don't Call Me A Crook!: A Scotsman's
Tale of World Travel, Whiskey, and Crime

by Bob Moore
255 pages

*** About the Book ***

I first learned about this book from Online Publicist. Here's the summary from her site:
Bob Moore [of Glasgow, Scotland] was a marine engineer, building superintendent, and moonshine runner [in the 1920s]. He traveled throughout the U.S., Australia, Egypt, South America, Japan, and China. He also conned women, fought with pirates on the Yangtze, and set a coffee shop ablaze. [His book] is picaresque, perverse, and darkly funny. With its unforgettable characters and strange plot twists, it reads more like a novel than a memoir. Originally published in 1935, Don't Call Me a Crook! is a mysterious and overlooked treasure. No critics reviewed it. To date, only four holders of original editions have been identified. Only a handful of people seem to have ever known of the book.
Intriguing, no? You can see why I immediately accepted the offer of a review copy.

*** My Thoughts ***

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading but I rather enjoyed this book. The author's voice was unique - somewhat dry, very ironic, and occasionally quite funny. It is almost as if you are sitting at a bar with Bob and he is telling you his life story, jumping from adventure to adventure, place to place, all with the purpose of entertaining you.

Bob seemed to me to be a product of the times. Only during Prohibition could many of his adventures have occurred, and only in an era before computers. But more importantly, Bob's opinions and prejudices seemed stereotypical of this era, at least as I understand it. In his worldview rich and white is better than poor and white is better than Hispanic is better than Black ... and on down the line. Obviously this is not an admirable belief system, but I think it typifies what most people believed.

If you can read this book without judging Bob at every turn then you will likely enjoy this slice-of-crazy-life memoir. I'll admit there were times when I couldn't believe the things he said or did (how COULD you treat people that way?!) but on the whole I enjoyed the book.

*** Some Quotes ***

To give you an idea of Bob's dry, understated sense of humor and his rather unique moral code, here are a few quotes from the book.

Speaking of an acquaintance who was jailed along with him for something they didn't do, Bob says:
I really felt more sorry for him than I did for my own predicament because I think it must be a worry to lose your reputation, but that is never a thing that I have had to bother about because I have never had any reputation to lose.
At another point Bob complains about the system of lending money in America.
You see it is very difficult about owing people money in America. It is not like it is in England, where if you cannot pay it back all a man can do is issue a summons against you. In America a man can come right at you with two detectives, and if you do not find the money at once they take you away to gaol. That is one respect in which I do not think America is a good a country as England, because how is a man to get on if he cannot borrow money when he is hard up, and it is silly to arrest him for not paying back, because if he had enough to pay back he would not need to borrow any.
See what I mean? You've got to love his logic ...

*** Other Links ***

I've only seen a few reviews of this book so far, but I expect more will turn eventually. In the meantime, check out these bloggers' opinions:
If you've reviewed this book I'm happy to add your link here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Iliad, Clash of the Titans, and Xena

For the past week I've been listening to THE ILIAD, by Homer. I'll be writing a review of it whenever I finish it but for now, here are some of the thoughts floating around my head.

In THE ILIAD, the Greek gods interact with humanity on a regular basis. As I listened to the first part of the book I was reminded of the 1981 movie The Clash of the Titans. Have you ever seen it? It was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. (And it is set for a remake soon!) Below are two clips from the movie that I've been thinking about as I listen to Homer's epic.

Skip ahead to time marker 4:45 and watch until about 7:36 ...

And in this clip start at 2:45 and watch though 6:42 ...

This is exactly the type of behavior that the gods display in THE ILIAD. (As a side note, did you notice Thetis, mother of Calibos? That is Maggie Smith, famous today for her role as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series. AND Thetis is also the mother of Achilles in THE ILIAD, the one who sort of starts all the mess.)

As I got further into the story I began to think about the gods and their bickering and I found myself visualizing scenes from the tv show Xena: Warrior Princess. I tried to find some of the specific scenes that I remembered, the ones with Ares and Aphrodite but I was not successful. The only thing I found on YouTube (other than video tributes set to music - what IS the deal with that anyway?!) was the opening credits of the show.

That gives you a bit of an idea of what I'm talking about, but not exactly. In the show, the gods are petty and picky, they bicker, they scheme, they trick ... and boy, is it funny to watch. That is exactly what the gods sound like in parts of THE ILIAD.

I'm going to get back to listening now ... hope you all have a great weekend!

PS. Today is my 11th wedding anniversary!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Finds 07/24/09 + Contest Winner + Kiddo

Welcome to my Friday, where I share with you the books that Find their way onto my TBR list.

BUT FIRST! Check out Kiddo to the right. We went to see Harry Potter 6 last night and that is what he wore - too cute!

AND! My contest for a copy of THE LOCAL NEWS ended today. The winner is ...

#6 - Jennifer, Snapshot

Congratulations! I'll be in touch to get your mailing address.

And now, the two books that I added to my TBR list this week. Yes, you read that right, just TWO books!

A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal, by Asne Seierstad - "Norwegian journalist Seierstad spent 101 days in Baghdad before, during and after the initial coalition attacks in March 2003. She calls the articles she sent back to Europe "glimpses from the war," and weaves them into a brisk, present-tense narrative." This is the same author who wrote THE BOOKSELLER OF KABUL and ANGELS OF GROZNY. Violet Crush had great things to say about this one.

The Wave, by Todd Strasser - Anna says "anyone who thinks the Nazi party's rise to power in the 1930s and the Holocaust could never happen again should grab a copy of The Wave: The Classroom Experiment That Went Too Far" - and that caught my attention immediately. She goes on to say, "At just 138 pages, I finished The Wave in one sitting. I was on the edge of my seat wondering how it would all play out." Go check out her review for more details. This book sounds very powerful.

These both look amazing - I hope I get a chance to read them sooner rather than later!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lovely Links #18

Welcome to another edition of Lovely Links, the post where I share all the fun things I've found online lately. Enjoy!

*** Reminder: I'm giving away a copy of THE LOCAL NEWS
by Miriam Gershow - click here for details.


  • More info on the upcoming 2-part movie version of THE HOBBIT - I am SO excited about this!

  • The first details I've seen about the 2-part finale to the HARRY POTTER books are available here. Oh how sad I will be when these movies are finally over. :(

  • This heartbreaking article tells the story of young African girls who are raped by HIV-infected men who believe sex with a virgin will cure them. It is horrible but very worth reading. This story will be featured in the upcoming documentary Tapestries of Hope.

  • On a lighter note, the wonderful blogger Chartroose had some nice things to say about me way back in May. I kept meaning to post a thank you ... so sorry for the delay, but THANK YOU CHARTROOSE!

  • Ti from Book Chatter introduced me to a wonderful blog called Don't Know Much About. It is based on a series of books (Don't Know Much About History, Don't Know Much About Geography, etc.) and every day posts excerpts from the series. This is a WONDERFUL way to learn new things - I love this blog!

  • Rebecca wrote about her friend, a Public Affairs Officer stationed in Iraq and his blog. His posts are short and usually funny so definitely go check him out. And if nothing else, go read this post and video about the Demon Fish!

  • Do you know how to find library book sales in your area? Book Sale Manager is the newest online tool to help you do just that! See what you can find in YOUR area right now.

  • Well-written and interesting review of Brandon Sanderson's WARBREAKER by Grasping for the Wind. I've read ELANTRIS by this same author and enjoyed it very much. WARBREAKER is not on my TBR list but it does look like a great book.

  • BookTV has a new and improved website! Check it out here - but do be patient, as it sometimes takes a while to load.

  • The Baltimore Aquarium helped to rehab an injured harbor seal and released him on July 9. Click here to read the story and track his progress using the transmitter attached to his fur (he'd gone over 700 miles when I last checked) or watch a video about it here.

  • Ever wonder what causes that lovely "after the rain" scent? It's caused by bacteria ... who knew?!

  • Will the Scottish Orkney Islands be underwater one day?

That's all for now folks!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Choosing Epic Historical Fiction ...

I’ve recently been disappointed in a few historical novels I’ve read (or listened to), books I thought I’d enjoy. This was really bothering me so I gave it some serious thought and came up with a theory:

In order for me to enjoy an historical novel, especially once that is “epic” in scope (and especially ones with lots of battles in it), I need to have a real connection with the characters; their stories need to be the focus of the book.

Let me give you some examples.
  • I absolutely love the Bernard Cornwell series called “The Saxon Chronicles.” According to Cornwell’s website this series tells “the tale of Alfred the Great and his descendants through the eyes of Uhtred, an English boy born into the aristocracy of ninth-century Northumbria, captured by the Danes and taught the Viking ways.” The framework of the books is the consolidation of what would become England. Most of the characters are historical figures. But the storyline follows Uhtred’s life – HE is the focus of the books. He is telling his own story, complete with all the personal details that endear a character to a reader. I learned so much about this period in history through this series all while enjoying a great story about a character I was invested in. [Here are my reviews of book 3 and book 4 of the series.]
  • On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed by Steven Pressfield’s book GATES OF FIRE. This book tells the story of the Spartan defense at Thermopylae (the same story depicted in the movie “300”). The Persian King Xerxes is so impressed by the Spartans that he commands Xeo, a Spartan warrior’s assistant and the lone survivor of the battle, to tell him the story of the men who fell in the battle. Rather than focusing on Xeo’s story, Pressfield uses Xeo to tell the story of Sparta itself and a few of its best warriors. Again, I learned a great deal from this book (and I really enjoyed learning it) but the characters felt too distant for me to be really attached to them. Everything was on such a large scale that I was lost in the melee. I needed a character I could identify with and feel close to in order to really appreciate this book. [Here is my review of this book.]
  • I had the same problem with Pressfield’s TIDES OF WAR. In this book too most personal details are left out or glossed over as they don’t affect the outcome of the epic. But for me, that was the fatal flaw – I NEED something personal to latch on to otherwise I don’t care about the story. [Here's my review of this book.] Right now I’m listening to Bernard Cornwell’s AGINCOURT and having the exact same issues – the story is really about the war, not about the main character.

All this may not sound very profound to you but it is a revelation to me. I love historical fiction and history in general and now I have a better idea of how to choose historical novels that will really appeal to me.

One more quick thing …

As I was working on this post Nymeth wrote a review of LAVINIA by Ursula le Guin. This book is about the end of Trojan War and the early days of the Roman Empire, told from Lavinia's perspective. In her review Nymeth says, “unlike what sometimes happens with epics, I never felt distant from the characters or the story.” That is exactly what I was talking about above! I think LAVINIA might be the perfect book for me.

*** Giveaway Reminder: I'm giving away a copy of THE LOCAL NEWS by Miriam Gershow - click here for details. ***

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kid's Picks - July 21

This month for Kids' Picks I decided to do something a bit different. Rather than tell you what Kiddo has been reading I'm going to let him show you. Hope you enjoy his video!

By the way, I realize that it is really dark - it certainly didn't look that way when we made the video, but it is what it is. Next time I'll be sure to bring in some extra lights ....

Kids' Picks is hosted by 5 Minutes for Books. Go on over there - you're sure to find LOTS of great kids books every month!

*** Giveaway Reminder: I'm giving away a copy of THE LOCAL NEWS by Miriam Gershow - click here for details. ***

Monday, July 20, 2009

Giveaway: The Local News

*** GIVEAWAY! ***

Great News! Author Miriam Gershow has generously offered a copy of her book, THE LOCAL NEWS, to one of my readers.

*** HOW TO ENTER ***
  • Leave a comment saying why you'd like to read this book - the cover? the summary? review you've read? something else? A simple "enter me!" won't get you in this time.

  • If your email address is not available through your profile or your blog, please include it in your comment.

  • Miriam is only shipping books to readers with a US or Canadian mailing address. (I'm sorry to those of you that excludes, but it is not my decision.)

  • I'll choose a winner on Friday morning (7/24) so be sure to get your comment posted before then.


I reviewed the book here - although I didn't love it I think many of you would. My review includes links to lots of other reviews, many that really connected with this book.

From Publisher's Weekly: "Bright, precocious but socially awkward Lydia Pasternak reports on the aftermath of her older brothers disappearance in [The Local News]. Danny was everything Lydia wasn't: at ease with their parents, popular in school, physically imposing, beloved by the opposite sex. Danny went from being Lydia's playmate in their youth to her tormentor in high school, so his disappearance leaves Lydia with some very mixed feelings, one of which is relief. As time goes on and the weekend search parties prove more and more fruitless, Lydia struggles with the fact that her geeky best friend, David, has feelings for her; she also obsesses over the private investigator hired by the family and allows herself to be sucked into the social world Danny once dominated. Lydia’s perspective gives this [book] an unflinching quality as she details the emotional damage that reverberates even through her 10-year high school reunion.”

Tides of War

Tides of War:
A Novel of Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War
by Steven Pressfield
audio book: 17.75 hours

*** What It Is About ***

This book tells the story of the rise and fall of Athens under Alcibiades, a general in ancient Greece who was like a god among men. Under his leadership Athens attempted to conquer much of the (known) world. When battles were lost and the Athenians' faith in him wavered, he turned against them and sided with their enemies, the Spartans. Then he turned against the Spartans and rallied Athens again. Then he ... well, you get the idea.

*** My Thoughts ***

I have to say, I was rather disappointed in this book. I mean, after the way the Spartans were glorified and praised in GATES OF FIRE, I was all about loving Sparta. Then in this book, they are the enemy and all the things that made them great in the other book are criticised. OK so I realize that is what war is all about, demonizing your enemy and all, but I don't have to like it!

But seriously, I was not really a fan of this book. The story is truly fascinating but I felt too distant from it, too uninvolved to really care what happens next. The narrative framework is rather convoluted: aging Athenian Jason tells the story of Polymides (friend of Alcibiades) to his grandson, as it was told to him by Polymides himself. Sometimes Jason narrates and other times Polymides tells his own story. Most personal details are left out or glossed over, as they don’t affect the outcome of the epic of Alcibiades. But for me, that was the fatal flaw – I NEED something personal to latch on to otherwise I don’t care about the story.

*** The Audio Book ***

The narrator of this book was George Guidall and he was fantastic. I've listened to other books he's done and he always seems to get things just right. I've mentioned before that a narrator can ruin a book for me but in this case he made me enjoy it more than I would have otherwise.

*** Other Links ***
  • I reviewed another of Pressfield's books, GATES OF FIRE, here.
  • Lezlie reviewed another of his books, this one set in WWII, here. She is the one who introduced me to Pressfield's books.
  • I couldn't find any reviews of TIDES OF WAR ... if you've reviewed it please let me know and I'll add you in here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bancroft Press

In the interest of promoting books AND local businesses, here's some excellent info about a relatively new Baltimore-based publishing company.


Bancroft Press

Based in Baltimore, Maryland, Bancroft Press is a general interest book publisher that seeks to produce high quality works of fiction and nonfiction. By conscious choice, our writers have been, are, and will continue to be "in-the-trenches" journalists and other professionals -- authorities who know and present their stories and subjects better than anyone in the country.

Established in 1995

Bancroft Press operates under the slogan books that enlighten. It has published nearly two dozen books, from a TV thriller, a Hollywood novel, young adult fiction, and adult mysteries to non-fiction books ranging from humor, health, and cultural criticism, to history, business, art, and personal investment.


Publishers Weekly called Bancroft Press small but enterprising, Bancroft Press has received plaudits from syndicated columnist Liz Smith, who calls Bancroft up and coming, and a special honor from book publishing guru John Kremer who in 1998 designated Bancroft "one of the top 101 independent book publishers in the U.S." based on design, content, selection, marketing, volume, and sales.

As of June 2005, five of Bancroft’s books have been sold to mass market paperback, seven to book clubs, four to the movies and television, four to a foreign publisher, three to audio book publishers, and two to serial sales. In just the Young Adult area, it has published one Alex Award winner, one Edgar finalist, and one book garnering a Booklist starred review.


To learn more about Bancroft Press and to browse their current books please visit their website at

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Finds 07/17/09

Welcome to another week of Friday Finds. Six books weaseled their way onto my TBR list over the past seven days ... that's less than one book per day, so I'm happy!

Lavinia, by Ursula le Guin - According to, "To make a long story ridiculously short, after the Greek victory in the Trojan War the legendary warrior Aeneas escapes to Latium, a then-obscure region of pre-Roman Italy. Lavinia, the local princess, is to be married off to a puffed-up, self-important suitor, but prophecy insists that she will wed a foreigner --- and Aeneas is the obvious candidate. Fighting ensues. There is only the briefest mention of Lavinia in Virgil’s original (unfinished) poem; it is Le Guin’s notion to re-create and complete this chapter of THE AENEID with her as the protagonist, not a mere pawn in men’s games of war and power. " I first heard about this last spring but it didn't go on my TBR list until I read Nymeth's excellent review.

The Firebrand, by Marion Zimmer Bradley - Nymeth mentioned that she's waiting to receive this book and since I love this author, I was interested. In her post she says, "Ursula Le Guin's brilliant Lavinia left me in the mood for more epics from the point of view of women, and this is the Trojan War from Cassandra's perspective." Considering that 1) I'm listening to The Iliad (about the Trojan war) now, and 2) LAVINIA is also on my TBR list, I'm thinking that this will be a great book for me.

Where the Wild Things Were, by William Stolzenburg - "It wasn’t so long ago that wolves and great cats, monstrous fish and flying raptors ruled the peak of nature’s food pyramid. Not so anymore. All but exterminated, these predators of the not-too-distant past have been reduced to minor players of the modern era. And what of it?" This book examines the consequences of too few predators ... and its addition to my list gets blamed on Alyce.

Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, by Christina Thompson - "In this involving, compassionate memoir, Christina Thompson tells the story of her romance and eventual marriage to a Maori man, interspersing it with a narrative history of the cultural collision between Westerners and the Maoris of New Zealand." This one also gets blamed on Alyce - she was very bad for my TBR list this week.

Mary, Queen of France, by Jean Plaidy - I've heard lots of good things about Plaidy's books but I've never read anything by her. This novel is about Mary, the sister of Henry VIII. Swapna reviewed it and said it is "brisk and engaging! Mary was an absolute gem in this novel and really made it enjoyable. She was clever and very funny. Plaidy really makes the reader care about this charismatic and endearing woman." I'm sold!

Annie's Ghosts, by Steve Luxenberg - The author "grew up believing his mother, Beth, was an only child. About five years before his mother's death, he learned that she had a sister who was institutionalized when they were both young children. He never spoke to her about it, but when she died in 2000, the family learned that Beth's sister, Annie, died in 1972 at the age of 53. Luxenberg wondered how it was that he and his siblings knew nothing of their aunt and why there was no evidence at all of Annie's existence -- other than the notice from the cemetery about placing flowers on the family graves, which triggered the investigation into his mother's past." Anna had lots of good things to say about this book!

So tell me, did I add to any of your TBR lists this week?

You can see more Friday Finds at Should Be Reading.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Favorite Reads: Treasure Island

At Home With Books has a weekly meme where we can all talk about books we read and loved before we started blogging. Hope you enjoy my reminiscences!

The book: Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson - published in 1883 - 224 pages

What is is about: This is the story of young Jim Hawkins and his adventures with the pirate Long John Silver in his search for buried treasure.

Why I love it: This is an adventure story meant to be enjoyed by children but it is not "just" a kids story. There is fun and adventure, yes, but there is also friendship and a blurred line between right and wrong. Is Long John Silver "all" bad? If he is a pirate, how can he be "good" in any way? What is the "right thing" for young Jim to do? These are not simple questions to answer nor are they simply the problems of children. Of course, for the most part I love the book because it is FUN ... but the morality issues it weaves in are what make it an enduring classic.

Other thoughts: Two things come to mind ...

First, there's a relatively new book out called SILVER, by Edward Chupack that is a retelling of this book. I have it on my shelf waiting to be read.

And second, I've seen many of the movie adaptations of this book but my favorite will always be The Muppets Treasure Island. Here are a few clips for your viewing enjoyment:

Do I own it? I fell in love with this book in middle school. I'd check it out from the library over and over again, reading it at home and in class (stuffed in my desk so the teachers couldn't see) until I finally lost it. That was the first book I ever had to pay the library for ... I was mortified. I never did find it, and I've never bought a copy for myself. I might get one for Kiddo one day though ...

Would I recommend it? Oh yes, most certainly. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't enjoy this book (but of course I'm biased!).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Local News

The Local News
by Miriam Gershow
368 pages

About the Book

Here’s an excerpt from what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about this book: “Bright, precocious but socially awkward Lydia Pasternak reports on the aftermath of her older brothers disappearance in [The Local News]. Danny was everything Lydia wasn't: at ease with their parents, popular in school, physically imposing, beloved by the opposite sex. Danny went from being Lydia's playmate in their youth to her tormentor in high school, so his disappearance leaves Lydia with some very mixed feelings, one of which is relief. As time goes on and the weekend search parties prove more and more fruitless, Lydia struggles with the fact that her geeky best friend, David, has feelings for her; she also obsesses over the private investigator hired by the family and allows herself to be sucked into the social world Danny once dominated. Lydia’s perspective gives this [book] an unflinching quality as she details the emotional damage that reverberates even through her 10-year high school reunion.”

My Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about this book. In fact, it has been several days since I finished reading it and I still can’t decide exactly what I want to say about it. To make this easier for me I’m simply going to list my thoughts as they come to me …
  • The book is very well written. It moves along at a steady pace, never seeming to drag or feeling choppy anywhere.
  • A few of the main characters, specifically Lydia and Lola, are VERY convincing. These girls could be walking the halls of the high school near you right now (well, ok, it is summer right now, but you know what I mean).
  • Although the book deals with sad circumstances, I didn’t feel weighted down with sadness as I read. Lydia’s apathy (along with her other issues) allowed me to keep an emotional distance that enabled me to read this book. Without Lydia, I might have struggled with the topics raised. However, looking back on the book now, it is incredibly sad; the family goes into a downhill spiral after Danny’s disappearance and it is painful to watch in retrospect.
  • I really didn’t like any of the characters. This is my biggest complaint about the book and the reason that I’m struggling so much to review it. Yes, Lola was a sweet girl, but I still didn’t like her much. Danny’s friends were all super-macho jocks. Lydia … well, she is unique to be sure, but I didn’t really LIKE her either.
  • The book comes to a somewhat abrupt ending. There is some resolution to the issues raised at Lydia’s 10-year reunion but then the book just stops. Period. I’m not a big fan of that type of ending.
As I said, I have mixed feelings on this book. In my recent review of BELONG TO ME I complained that things were a bit too neatly tied up at the end; now I'm complaining that there IS no ending ... I'm sure you're thinking that I need to make up my mind already!

Other Opinions

Since I'm somewhat ambivalent about this book I figure I'd share with you what other bloggers are saying. Most of them seem to really like it, so I guess I'm in the minority here ...
  • A recent guest post ReadingGroupGuides praised this book saying, "The story is a page-turner with a quality reminiscent of Jodi Picoult's ability to explore complicated dilemmas without attempting anything so trite as solving the problem." (Maybe that is part of my problem- I'm not a big Picoult fan!)
  • Books on the Brain says, "I loved this book and couldn't put it down."
  • Redlady's Reading Room calls it "haunting and compelling."
  • Peeking Between the Pages actually liked the ending. She says, "The end of the novel brings things together nicely as it takes us to Lydia as an adult attending a school reunion and coming to terms with who she is, what she wants and what the disappearance of her brother has done to her life and her."
  • She Reads and Reads thought she wouldn't like but ended up really getting into Lydia's character.
  • Lit and Life thought the author really captured teen angst.
If you also reviewed this book I'd be happy to add your link to this list - just let me know about it in the comments.

In spite of my mixed feelings I'm sure that many of you would enjoy this book (especially if you like Jodi Picoult - it DOES remind me in some ways of her books). And if your book club is interested in talking with Miriam you can request that through her website:

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein
336 pages

*** The Plot ***

I liked the summary I read at this site so I'm just going to copy it here:
On the last night of his life, Enzo (a dog) reflects on the life he has shared with his human family: Denny, Eve, and Zoe. Through Enzo's eyes (an interesting perspective), we witness the best and worst of human behavior and learn a little something about car racing, too.
Of course there is much more to the book than that but that IS the gist of it.

*** My Thoughts ***

Bloggers have been raving about this book for quite some time now. I recommended it to a friend (before I read it myself) and she loved it. In fact, she and her sister both nominated it for our book club to read. I wasn't sure it was exactly my kind of thing but I figured I'd give it a shot ... and then I got a copy from a publicist, so I figured I was "meant" to be reading it right now.

It just took me a few days to read. The plot moves along quickly, Enzo is a unique narrator, and the writing is well done. On the whole I thought it was good. Not great, but good. If I had to describe it in one word I'd say ... cute.

Maybe I'm callous, I don't know, but I just didn't LOVE this book as much as most other people seem to. I love dogs so that is not the problem. I'm glad that I read it and I have a list of people I'll be recommending it to, but I won't be counting it among my favorites of the year.

Sometimes discussing a book at book club changes my opinion of it somewhat; I'll be interested to see if that happens with this one. I'll be sure to update you after our meeting on 7/19.

(Garth Stein is rather attractive, don't you think?)

*** What Fun! ***

Despite my rather luke-warm feelings about the book I do have to say that the marketing that has been done for this book is FANTASTIC. Garth has a wonderful website ( chock full of interviews, photos, and promotional material for readers to play around with. I made a custom poster for my book club's meeting, printed some decorations, and even found a link to make iron-ons for t-shirts! There are also discussion questions for book clubs - always a helpful thing. Plus there's a video of Enzo, which I posted on my book club's blog. I had a blast preparing for this book club meeting, thanks to all the materials available from Garth.

By the way, that is Garth with his dog, Comet, in the photo. Comet was the model used for the US hardcover edition of the book. I learned that from Garth's site too. ;)

*** Movie News ***

The book is being made into a movie! Here are the details, as found on Haute or Not:
We had the great pleasure of meeting with Garth Stein the other evening before a book signing here in Miami and he wanted to give Haute or Not? Readers an “inside scoop.” Stein has just signed a deal with Universal Studios to film the movie, The Art of Racing in the Rain. It will star Patrick Dempsey (McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy), who we absolutely love !!!
So, what do you all think about that little bit of news?

*** Other Links ***
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