Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Magic Room by Jeffrey Zaslow

The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters by Jeffrey Zaslow

I read this review of the book in my local paper and immediately put it on reserve at my local library.  I've been married 3 years this June and still sigh with content when I look at our wedding photos and remember that day. I fell in love with the book cover showing a photo of a bride looking at her reflection in the mirror and sighed again remembering how I felt the first time I tried on my gown.

Jeffrey takes us to a bridal store in a small town: Fowler, Michigan. Becker's Bridal has been in business over 70 years, going back three generations of the shop's current owner. Women from miles away come to Becker's to find THE dress for their big day. Jeffrey slowly tells the history of the shop, while winding in true stories from six different brides that have come to Becker's for their bridal gown. He also tells how the bridal industry has changed, and how women have changed in the way they look for and eventually purchase their gowns. I kept thinking how thoughtful and insightful Jeffrey remained throughout the book; after all, this is a MAN writing about a bridal shop, and dresses and women and so on. (He is a father of three daughters, I later learned.)  The book's title comes from the room designed by the shop's current owner. It is reserved for the bride who is almost certain about the gown she will wear on her wedding day. The room has mirrors all around, a pedestal in the center, and the mirrors give an effect of the bride's reflection going on and on to infinity. There is soft lighting and the entire setup took my breath away  as I read it and quite frankly, I wish I could put on my gown again and have my picture taken in that room! (You must watch the related video on the page and get the full effect!

There are so many reality shows on television now about weddings, wedding dresses, brides, bridezillas, and so on. They show so much materialism, drama and negativity and so little about the romance and love we usually think about weddings. I loved how this book stayed away from those negative influences. Jeffrey wrote the real stories about 6 very different brides, and the real story of the current owner and the real history of the bridal shop. 

I was so sad to learn that the author died earlier this year in a car accident. He was only 53.  I feel so much empathy for his wife and three daughters and especially hope his daughters find comfort in this book for the rest of their lives.

FTC: I checked out this book from my local library.

Friday, May 11, 2012

This book made me hungry!

Confections of  a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

I'm going to knock out a few book reviews tonight while I'm on a roll. I recently finished this book from the local library. I had it on my Amazon Wish List for probably over a year; I use it to keep track of all the books I want to read and their release dates. This book has been out since 2009 - so long that Gesine has closed the cafe in the book and moved it to TEXAS! *SNIFF!

The author is the younger sister of movie star Sandra Bullock. There, its been said, now on to the book. Gesine WAS an unhappy executive in her sister's production company in Hollywood. Going all the way back to college, she found baking to be relaxing, restorative, an outlet for creativity and a way to give back to her friends and family. One day she decided to move to the other side of the country and eventually open her own bakery and cafe in Vermont. The book alternates from the past, to the present (during an ordinary day in her cafe) and back to the past again. She shares mouth-watering and downright ambitious recipes of her own and her family from Germany.

I related to Gesine right away since my mother died from cancer as well (her mother died of colon cancer in 2000; my mother died from breast cancer in 2001). And just like me, when Gesine was growing up, she found her mother sometimes embarassing and NOW those are the things we both miss most about our mothers as adults. (I thought my mom's tastes in food were weird and outrageous when I was a kid and they're the same foods I crave as an adult.)

I loved reading about how Gesine picked up her life with her husband, started fresh in Vermont, learned how to mass-produce some of her well-loved recipes, then purchased, gutted, and set up the cafe that became a hit in the small town. She perservered over the years through employee turnover, growing pains and learning experiences of opening a new business, and the constant questions that come with being Sandra Bullock's sister. 

I'll be honest, although I found all the recipes mouth-watering and tempting; I'm just not as ambitious baking in the kitchen as I used to be (and they all looked so indulgent as I joined Weight Watchers in January). But I'll definitely remember her book because my mom's side of the family is mostly German (as is Gesine's mother). I'll KNOW to look up her book again if I want honest-to-goodness, indulgent, German sweets!

FTC: I checked out this book from my local library.

After a long time away, I give my review of The Long Way Home!

The Long Way Home by Karen McQuestion

The first book I reviewed on this blog was by Karen, and getting back to my blog after this absence, I’m giving huge KUDOS to Karen again for her latest book, The Long Way Home.  Like A Scattered Life, I was sold on the book RIGHT away by the cover, as it contains a partial map of Wisconsin. I was hooked right from the start and finished it in three days!
On a quick side note, when I talk books with anyone, I always say I love a good STORY. I’m not fan of any specific genre, but I love a good STORY about people and what happens in their lives. Karen writes EXCELLENT stories!
Four women are brought together in this story by the same thing, grief over a lost loved one. As my parents passed away in 1994 and 2001, I immediately connected with the women. (This book could not BE more up my alley!)  Marnie lost her boyfriend of several years from a sudden death, and then lost his son to the biological mother who took him far away to Las Vegas with no hope of visitation. Rita lost her only daughter to a brutal and unsolved murder.  Laverne’s husband passed away as well but she’s slowly turned inward as a self-imposed recluse. And then there’s Jazzy; a novice psychic or clairvoyant developing her talents and she becomes the glue for this quartet of women as they make a spontaneous, hail-mary road trip to Las Vegas to rescue Marnie’s “stepson”, Troy.
I loved how Karen wrote believable (and sometimes frightening) adventures that happened to each of the women along the way on this road trip. I continuously felt connected and empathetic to all of the women (well ALMOST to Jazzy but what an ability to have and share with others!) and thought I could have worked with or met any of these women anywhere in the state.  And finally, I found the ending to the book very satisfying.  She took the time to wrap up the stories of all four women.

FTC note – Karen was so generous and thoughtful to provide me an advance copy of the book. Thank you so much for thinking of me Karen!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Catching up!

I’ve been on a streak lately of mannish books, for lack of a better word.
I just couldnt help but notice how many books Ive read recently with male main characters.

I started with Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman for an online book club at Every Day I Write the Book Blog. The book was smart and provocative, and full of dark humor. The main character, Tom Violet, is a father of two, not all that happy in his work and life, but puts on a good face regardless. Hes also living in the shadow of his lothario father, a prolific, award-winning author. I really liked Tom from the get-go - I envy those that have the snappy comebacks all the time. His HR memos and dark humor made me bust out laughing. I also thought in the back of my mind he was pushing it sometimes - especially in the big meeting. He was so past the point of caring at that point, but there's something to be said for there's a time and place buddy! He was also much too nonchalant about the relationship with his young co-worker. That was a train wreck waiting to happen and he never saw it coming until it was too late. I like the the father - he loved women, just couldn't make up his mind. I gave him loads of credit for stepping up to care for the daughter when Tom and Anna were seemingly falling down the rabbit hole of their own whims and self-obsessed urges. I liked that it was current and I really related to his corporate job - that was what really got me invested in his story to find out where the book would go.

Next up was Father-mucker by Greg Olear. This book came from Book Club Girl for her online book club and Authors on Air podcast. I felt this book started out the same as Domestic Violets, but as it went on, it changed. I found Father-mucker better reading  than Domestic Violets, but I cant pin it on one specific factor. I think Greg Olear put more into the father in Father-mucker than Matthew Norman put into Domestic Violets.

I just finished An American Unhappiness by Dean Bakopolous. I borrowed this book from my father-in-law. I don’t know why I put off reading it so long; it was a great read! Its set smack dab in Madison, WI for one thing. And the main character is an authentic Madison liberal, with a vague and ambiguious job working for a non-profit that awards grants to artsy, provocativehumanities and research projects. Nevermind that the non-profit started from an grant (obtained by one of those infamous earmarks attached to an unrelated bill) from a less-than-savory congressman, that reads more like a mobster than a government official. As I read further into the book, I got more and more frustrated with Zeke. Hes drinking more and more, in serious denial regarding almost everything in his life. He has been working on a project for years about why Americans are unhappy. He doesnt really have a plan for the results except MAYBE he can get his ultimate crush, Sofia Coppola, to make a movie out of them. Time to wake up and smell the reality buddy! He claims he has no idea that his non-profit is under a serious audit by the Department of Homeland Security (by not returning any of their inquiries or messages) and chooses to focus more on unattainable women. His admin assistant, the barista at the nearby Starbucks, his nearly-divorced neighbor and his sister-in-law all seem to think hes nice enough, but hes worse than a grade school boy with a crush on his schoolteacher. I started to find him pathetic and as the audit gets inevitably more serious, he gets more delusional. Maybe Im being cynical, but I found myself agreeing with the women in his life. He's in denial about his job, hes drinking more and more as both a distraction and a crutch, and living in a fantasy world if he thinks he can keep all of that going the rest of his life.
Ive also started The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian which I checked out from the library. Chris is way up there on my list of favorite authors. I have yet to read a book of his that I didnt want to read again the second that I finished it. Midwives and The Buffalo Soldier are my favorites. I find him similar to Jodi Picoult his books are extremely thought-provoking, and have a lot of meat to them.
The Night Strangers was a book I was looking forward to for months.  The main character, Chip Linton is an airline pilot recovering from plane crash into Lake Champlain. 39 passengers die on impact or drown. Chip and his wife and twin daughters move to a small town and buy an old house and Chip discovers a basement door that is held shut by 39 carriage bolts and no one knows where the door goes to or what may be behind it. There is also an underlying story about some of the women in the town with mysterious backgrounds, and they have a keen interest in Chip and his family.

I also found that I have a copy of The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings. I bought this from my favorite bookstore, Snowbound Books, in da UP at least two years ago. Im excited as it’s the book behind the new George Clooney movie, also called The Descendants. From the movie, the story seems to be about a father who finds out his wife is cheating on him while shes in a coma.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Pioneer Woman

The book is a memoir of Ree Drummond, big city girl swept away by a smoldering, handsome cowboy. I've never been a regular follower of her blog, but out of curiosity, I watched all her new TV shows on Food Network, She is obviously and understandably proud of her family and her life so out of curiosity, I picked up her memoir from the library.

Right off the bat, the flowery paper, page after page, got a bit...flowery. But it went with her writing - she's a VERY feminine woman. She likes pretty clothes, shoes, makeup and as a young woman in her 20's, she's very concerned about her looks - again, comes with the territory. As the book went, the writing became excessive and detailed and just plain redundant very fast. She comes home to her parents' house from Los Angeles, and never seems to get a job and gets to stay there while aimlessly wondering (and wandering) if she's going to move on to her dream job(?) in Chicago. I couldn't really figure out what she was actually going to do once she got there. Then one magical night she meets "the Marlboro Man." (She never reveals his name; he is "the Marlboro Man" through the whole book! It got old the second time she used the pet name!) She meets him, talks to him for a few hours, never gives him her name, and they part ways. Several weeks later he magically calls her. Allrighty then.
SO they date and all she does every night is go to his house and eat dinner, watch movies and make out. She's writing in the sense of days, after several pages, only a two weeks have gone by. *Sigh. And in the midst of all this, she can't make up her mind if she's leaving or not, and never gets a job either. That really bothered me; no wonder past reviewers felt this memoir got so self-obsessed and exaggerated - she wasn't doing anything except hanging around her house and waiting for him to call her and then come pick her up or send her out gallavanting in the country to find his house some other out of the way location.
I don't doubt that she was swept off her feet by "the Marlboro Man." I don't doubt he's a gentleman and a great cowboy. I just have a hard time taking her seriously with all the over-the-top, flowery (not just the paper), extremely detailed narration of her romance. Not even halfway through I was getting tired of her indecisiveness about whatever was in Chicago and all the details about all their "dates" at his house. I finished the book out of sheer curiosity, honestly. I very much wish that the publisher would have quit with the flowery paper either just after the prologue or forward the first chapter. I also wish that she would have dropped the whole "Marlboro Man" deal after he magically called her back. He's got a name - make up a name if you want to protect him, but jeepers he has a NAME.
After finishing the book (and all six of her Food Network episodes), I still just have a hard time taking her seriously.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Catching up

Its been beyond too long since I last posted - work, vacation, illness; yadda yadda yadda. I had a great vacation in Seattle watching my cousin get married, spending alot of quality time with my family, seeing Pikes Place Market and looking UP at the Space Needle. I forgot to bring back a good coffee mug darnit! What really surprises me now that I think back is that I didn't visit a single bookstore while I was out there. I had it in mind to visit the original Starbucks and at least a few other coffee shops, which I sorta accomplished. The wedding was so much fun and the time with family was irreplaceable which is all that matters.

I finished "Next to Love" by Ellen Feldman just after I got to Seattle. Its a great novel about three women during World War 2 and its aftermath. It goes back and forth in time with its vignettes, for lack of a better description - it took me a bit to figure out how to keep it all straight. I'm ashamed to say I'm not all that up and up on my WW2 history. The book was very satisfying and put a real human face to the women of that time, I thought.

I just started Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. I'm almost halfway through and I stayed up pretty late last night since I didn't want to put it down. I also just got the new book by Tom Perotta called The Leftovers. Its not starting out too hot for me yet. I've loved all his books so far so I hope its not an omen. I'm hoping to start Miracle Beach by Madison's own Erin Cellelo as well.

Lastly I want to throw this out there - I recently read this on the Pioneer Woman blog. I'm not a regular reader of her blog but I am a regular viewer of the Food Network so with her new show, I was reminded of her books and blog. The post is over a year old but gave me alot to think about. I'm posting very regularly on this blog, I'm by no means a regular excerciser, and I'm just beginning to vary some of my blog posts outside of the Wisconsin boundaries. I'm not up to many followers but some of my fave followers are my family members and friends, Kathy (the reason I even wanted to start blogging about books), and definitely ANYone else that has stopped by, including the authors that were so kind to comment on my first few posts. I have to make a better effort to read even more and post more often. And possibly get up earlier than usual and start walking the dog around the neighborhood and use the Zumba DVDs I bought months ago.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Graveminder by Melissa Marr

The New York Times bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series delivers her first novel for adults, a story about the living, the dead, and a curse that binds them.
Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the tender attention her grandmother, Maylene, bestowed upon the dead of Claysville, the town where Bek spent her adolescence. There wasn't a funeral that Maylene didn't attend, and at each Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual: three sips from a small silver flask followed by the words "Sleep well, and stay where I put you."
Now Maylene is dead and Bek must go back to the place--and the man--she left a decade ago. But what she soon discovers is that Maylene was murdered and that there was good reason for her odd traditions. It turns out that in placid Claysville, the worlds of the living and the dead are dangerously connected. Beneath the town lies a shadowy, lawless land ruled by the enigmatic Charles, aka Mr. D--a place from which the dead will return if their graves are not properly minded. Only the Graveminder, a Barrow woman, and the current Undertaker, Byron, can set things to right once the dead begin to walk. - Review
I found this book on an list while I was searching for something different. I got exactly that. The book was the perfect amount of creepy, gothic deliciousness that I haven’t read since I used to read Stephen King and even Patricia Cornwell about 10 years ago.  I was sucked into the book right away and had a hard time putting it down anytime I had to put it down (note to self: gotta turn off the TV more often!)
In the history of Claysville, there has always been an Undertaker and a Graveminder.  It’s a special duo of people that keep Claysville and its secrets safe. See if you are born in Claysville, you’ll go back, and you’ll die there. The Undertaker will carry out the funeral arrangements and the Graveminder will make sure you stay where you are laid to rest. Those who are born in Claysville but die elsewhere, may either be in danger or cause it. A young resident is murdered outside of Claysville and does the latter.  The Graveminder, Maylene, is murdered and her partner, the Undertaker must leave and passes the “business” on to his son without any other choice to either of them. Byron must protect the new Graveminder, Maylene’s granddaughter, Rebekkah.  Together they have to find the zombie, for lack of a better word, and get her back to where she should have been laid to rest.
I liked that there wasn’t a great amount of gore in this book. The elements of vampires, zombies and underworld gouhls and ghosts are there but I didn’t imagine buckets of blood and guts. There is an underlying tension between Byron and Bek and I just wanted them to get over it and be true to how they’ve always felt about each other.  I enjoyed the book overall. The cover and title are provocative and I had a great time talking about the book, especially to those who know I read books very much NOT like Graveminder.
Next up is a slew of 9/11 memoirs, Thunder Dog, Memory Remains, and Where You Left Me.  I also won an advance copy of Falling Together by Marisa De Los Santos and Mozart’s Last Aria from Library Love Fest and Harper Perennial, respectively.  Locally, I just purchased Miracle Beach, by Madison’s own Erin Celello.