Today’s Favorite Song

I have to do one more ‘Today’s Favorite Song’ post before hitting the hay tonight.  Jessica Simpson’s new country music video for “Come On Over” was recently released.  NowI am a fan of this song and I have always, for the most part, been a Jessica fan.  I loved the Newlywed MTV reality show that she and ex-husband (dreamboat) Nick Lachey had on a few years back and I was a tepid fan of her pop music.  I can even forgive her the mistake she is making being with that Cowboys quarterback.  Actually, I have no doubt that Tony Romo is a nice guy and even cute in a little boy way, but I’m a born and bred Washington Redskin fan so I am not really a fan of anything associated with that dreaded Dallas team. 🙂 

I think that this attempt at country music might be a good move for Simpson if she can build a fan base in country music.  Over the weekend I noticed she had received mixed responses of applause and boos at a concert where she was the opening act for country music superstar Sara Evans.  I think that country music fans need to give Simpson a chance.  She has an amazing voice and country music may have room for another belter like Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood.  Here is her new single and music video for “Come On Over”.  Do you like it? 

Today’s Favorite Song

One of my favorite bands of the 90’s was Reel Big Fish and they continue to jam in the twenty-first century.  They are a ska punk band from Huntington Beach, CA consisting of six current members and fourteen past members.  The music is rich and fun and the lyrics are hilarious and clever.  I’ve included some videos for your viewing pleasure.  Enjoy and Happy Hump Day!

Book Review & Giveaway ~ Keeping the House by Ellen Baker

Summary ~ “When Dolly Magnuson moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, in 1950, she discovers that making marriage work is harder than it looks in the pages of the Ladies’ Home Journal.  Dolly tries to adapt to her new life by keeping the house, supporting her husband’s career, and joining the Ladies Aid quilting circle.  Soon her loneliness and restless imagination are seized by a vacant house, owned by the once-prominent Mickelson family.  As Dolly’s life and marriage become increasingly difficult, she begins to lose herself in piecing together the story of the Mickelson men and women – and unravels dark secrets woven through the generations of a family.  As Keeping the House moves back and forth in time, it eloquently explores themes of heroism and passion, of men’s struggles with fatherhood and war, and of women’s conflicts with issues of conformity, identity, forbidden dreams, and love.” 

A Novel

Keeping the House by Ellen Baker is much more than it seems when you first look at the cover.  The new paperback version, released last Tuesday, July 15, 2008, is very retro with the simple picture of a red and cream checkered apron and a weathered look to the ink, as if this copy had been collecting dust on a shelf for the last sixty years.  But what this book holds inside is an epic story about three generations of the Mickelson Family of Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, the effect of two world wars on a family and the people surrounding them as well as a curse placed on the gorgeous, imposing, massive family house that overlooks the town as if looking down its nose.  At least that is what the towns people, especially members of the Ladies Aid, think of the Mickelsons and their house on the hill.  Little does the town know that this family of wealth and apparent great fortune in all they touch really suffers from heartbreak, deceit, family secrets and gut wrenching sadness.
The matriarch of the Mickelson family is Wilma.  She first arrives in Pine Rapids as a new bride in the summer of 1896.  She has left her family and her beloved piano studies behind and is now the newest member of the successful Mickelsons and their lumber mill.  Wilma escapes the doldrums of everyday married life with the help of her piano and the sonatas and waltzes she plays all day long.  As I was reading I was curious what the pieces she was playing actually sounded like so I checked them out.  I wasn’t surprised to discover that the three pieces that Baker wrote into Wilma’s repertoire are all devastatingly sad and melancholy in sound.  Chopin’s Waltz in B Minor and Nocturne in B-flat Minor are both utterly beautiful pieces of piano music that sweep around the room.  As I listen to them now, I can easily see Wilma Mickelson playing these pieces with such emotion.  That these pieces of music were some of the only friends this character had in this strange town is heartbreaking.  The third piece of music which filled the house on the hill when Wilma still played was Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique.  A popular and well known Beethoven movement, the notes create a sound that represents hopes and dreams but then reminds the listener that reality is not always what you hope it will be.
Wilma’s husband John is a man of drive and power.  He wishes only the best for his new bride but knows that her life may not be what she wanted.  They have four children but we only really get to know two of them; Jack & Harry Michelson.  Their stories span both The Great War and World War II.  The segments when the voice of Jack and his son J.J. share stories of being Marines at war are so vivid and full of the terrors of war, it’s hard for me to believe that even an author with as much knowledge of this period of history as Ellen Baker has could write of the experience of war with such vivid imagery and emotion.  It blew me away!  Keeping the House shows the spoils of war and when these troops return to the real world, they are not what their families remember them to be.  Unfortunately this book can give insight to what our present day troops are going through mentally when they return home to their loved ones but are haunted by destruction, death, brutality and unwhole bodies, both physically and spiritually. 
This book holds some of the most memorable female characters I have ever read too.  Besides Wilma Mickelson there is Dolly Magnuson, the newlywed who is the present day (1950) reflection of Wilma.  She is uninspired and bored in her role as wife and housekeeper to her husband Byron.  She wishes for adventure but settles for a seat in the Ladies Aid quilting circle.  After learning that these ladies know of the Mickelson family and what they believe to be true of the family members’ business, Dolly becomes obsessed with the idea of asking Byron to buy her the old, forgotten and apparently deserted Mickelson house.  Dolly starts to piece together the history of the family when she breaks into the house on the hill and begins cleaning it up, in hopes of living there one day with her husband and having a perfect marriage with him.  She comes across pictures and Wilma’s old piano but also discovers that not everything is as the town gossips think it was.  One of my favorite quotes from the book is Dolly imagining what the town gossips might say about her.
“Maybe Pine Rapids wouldn’t be so bad.  Even if she was going to stay married, that didn’t mean she had to care what the town thought of her.  Let them talk!  Starting with tonight, when they would comment on how shocking is was that her husband had had to take her out for supper on a Tuesday.  She could hear them now: ‘I’ll bet she was reading a novel all day, instead of fulfilling her obligation to the household!  She’s just spoiled, expects dinner out like it was her due!'”
Just when you suspect that the story will continue down one road, a twist comes out of nowhere and makes you second guess the characters’ motives and this continues through to the end.  As is life!  I absolutely loved Keeping the House and will say that it has become one of my favorite books I have ever read.  I loved the character and plot development and the periods in which the story was set.  Ellen Baker succeeded in creating a book rich in detail, that is thought provoking and moving.  An edge-of-your-seat gripping tale of family secrets and love lost and won.  At the front of my copy of Keeping the House, there is a list of reviews from newspapers and authors.  The Booklist review shares my feelings about this book.
“Brimming with luscious detail that authenticate the story’s various time periods, from early to mid-twentieth century, Baker’s accomplished, ambitious debut novel is a majestic, vibrant multigenerational saga in the finest tradition of the genre.”     – Booklist
{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}
Author, Ellen Baker, will be joining us in the coming weeks with a guest post.  She has also graciously agreed to provide a signed copy of Keeping The House for a giveaway contest here at Planet Books.  To qualify for a chance to win a signed copy of this wonderful book, please leave your name in the comment section of this post by Midnight EST on Friday, August 1st, 2008.  To get an extra chance to win, please write a post on your own blog about this contest and link it back to my review.  Check back here on Saturday, August 2nd to see who wins.  Good Luck!! 

You can learn more about Ellen Baker at her website and her MySpace page

Sunday Salon ~ July 20th, 2008

It’s Sunday already!?!  Wow, this week sure did fly by.  I have been suffering from a terrible case of bronchitis this week/weekend but because of it I got a lot of reading done.  I should be wrapping up KEEPING THE HOUSE today.  This book is just amazing!  There is so much going on but I have never once felt lost within all the storylines and characters.  I will be posting my review within the next couple of days.  It’s going to be a daunting task because there is so much I love about this book.  I told the hubby last night that KEEPING THE HOUSE is right up there with MIDDLESEX as some of my favorite reads over the last few years. 
Are you reading anything that you thought may be something else and has turned into one of the best things you have read in a while?  Or, are you reading something that isn’t what you expected but not in a good way? 

Booking Through Thursday ~ Vacation Spots

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Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday?
Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip?
What/Where are they?

The last time I bought books on vacation was when I was in Singapore last year.  I visited the Borders Bookstore there everyday over our four day stay and purchased numerous books.  I was familiar with the U.S. covers so when I came across a book that came with two different covers, say the UK print, I was sure to buy the non-US print for collector purposes. 

I used to be a music seller at the White Flint Borders Books, Music & Cafe in Rockville, MD so when we go on trips around the country I like to visit different stores.  I do this with Cheesecake Factory restaurants too.  I worked at the 16th Street Mall Cheesecake Factory in downtown Denver, CO in the late 90’s.  I have been to at least a dozen different Cheesecake Factory locations from Seattle to Boca Raton, FL.  Let’s see if I can remember all the locations:  Seattle WA, Bellevue WA, Denver CO, Boulder CO, Frisco TX, Chicago IL, Chevy Chase MD, Rockville MD, Baltimore MD, Tyson’s Corner VA, Arlington VA, West Palm Beach FL, Fort Lauderdale FL, and Boca Raton FL.  Whew!!  That’s a lot of cheesecake & apple dumplings!

I’m not usually a big book shopper when I’m on vacation though but I tend to buy CD’s when traveling.  Since music is such a big part of my life I like to have music that reminds me of where I’ve been.  Not necessarily music representative of the place but just something that will remind me of the trip when I listen to it.  The two most memorable CD’s purchased on vacation are The Go-Go’s Greatest Hits that I picked up at a used cd store during my high school choir trip to Orlando senior year.  The second CD was just last year while the hubby and I were visiting Tokyo.  We were in Shibuya and came across a large CD store.  The new G. Love CD had just been released in Japan and this copy had a few extra tracks just for Japanese stores.  Too cool!

Today’s Favorite Song

As I’m reading Ellen Baker’s KEEPING THE HOUSE, I keep hearing big band music in my head.  I decided to check out videos from one of the coolest new/retro groups around… The Puppini Sisters.  They are a trio consisting of three singers, Italian Marcella Puppini and English Stephanie O’Brian and Kate Mullins, who perform 1940’s style close-harmony music.  They are really amazing and I love the three part harmonies that they create as well as the music style they sing in.  I’ve provided a few videos for you to watch here.  You may recognize some of the songs here as covers of favorite pop tunes from the last few decades.  This music is exactly what I hear in my head as I read KEEPING THE HOUSE

Guest Post: Author Susan Coll Talks About Her Home Town Strip

I am very excited and honored to have author Susan Coll grace us with a guest post here at Planet Books!  She is the author of three novels, A Love StoryROCKVILLE PIKE and ACCEPTANCE.  Susan has shared with us the thoughts and events that put her novel ROCKVILLE PIKE into motion here at Planet Books.

~ “Wacky, heartwarming, and deliciously smart, this novel ( A Love Story) of heartbreak and hilarity on the doctoral circuit is the intersection of Laura Zigman, Nora Ephron, and Richard Russo.” 

~ ROCKVILLE PIKE  “is a smart, witty, and funny read that revels in the joy of discovering what life has in store.”  It takes place in Rockville, MD where I attended community college for a couple of years and have loved to shop and dine since I can remember. 

~ ACCEPTANCE is “a comic chronicle of a year in the life in the college admissions cycle.” 


      Cover             A Suburban Comedy of Manners Cover     

                                      A Novel Cover


                                                   On Locality

      My last two books, Rockville Pike and Acceptance, were deemed “too American” by international publishers. I wasn’t particularly surprised by this—they are distinctly American, both in the specificity of their suburban settings and in the subject matter, but what strikes me as ironic is that I couldn’t have written either of these books had I not recently returned from six years living overseas. Newspapers routinely rotate their foreign correspondents so that they come to their subjects with a fresh eye, and I think it was a six-year absence from this country, and nine years away from the Washington D.C. area, that enabled me to view my surroundings, and the most routine aspects of daily suburban life, with a sense of wonder.

     Rockville Pike—the road, not the book—begins in Washington, DC, where it is known as Wisconsin Avenue, and it then stretches 41 miles, changing its name eight times as it straddles the border into Maryland and stretches north through the traffic clogged suburbs and ex-burbs and then into whatever patches remain of rural farmland. The Pike portion of the road runs through the eponymous town of Rockville, Maryland. Just say Rockville Piketo anyone familiar with the area and he or she will inevitably recount a recent journey to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or Circuit City, or to Best Buy, or maybe Toys R Us. You know this road, because there is one in every stretch of America, and possibly in every corner of the world these days. Even while traveling in India, about three years ago, one of my kids remarked that the road we were on, running from New Delhi to a rural village about an hour outside the capitol, looked like Rockville Pike, as it was dotted with shopping malls, gleaming new condominiums, and an overabundance of Pizza Huts.

    It was during a routine day of running errands along my own Rockville Pike that I had the epiphany that led to the creation of that novel. I remember quite clearly that it was a January afternoon, and that I was feeling somewhat sapped of spirit from all of the traffic and the prospect of my still long, dull, to-do list. I needed a break, and there, off to the left as I headed south, was the small graveyard where I had heard that F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, were buried. Tender is the Night is one of my all-time favorite books, and I decided to pull off the road and pay the author my respects. Fitzgerald’s family is originally from Rockville , and although he never lived in the area, he was nonetheless buried in the family plot at St. Mary’s church (although it is said that he was first buried at another local cemetery, and was later re-interred here after his daughter, Scottie, convinced the church to accept him despite the fact that he had not lived the life of a model Catholic). I stood there contemplating the strangeness of this locale, considering the fact that Fitzgerald, with no real connection to this area, had come to rest in the middle of a noisy, wildly busy, crisscrossing, confusing intersection, in this not particularly bucolic patch of  Maryland. I imagined how, many years ago, this road had been a dusty Indian trail, and later research revealed that James Polk and Andrew Jackson had traveled this road by stage coach, stopping at local inns along the way.  I looked again at his gravestone, which is inscribed with the last sentence of the Great Gatsby: And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.  And then I looked up and saw a giant discount furniture store across the street, and I knew that this was going to be the subject of my next novel.

     Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think I would have seen this landscape in quite the same way had I been living in the same place all of these years, traversing that same stretch of Pike. I suspect that the giant discount furniture store (or really, all the giant discount furniture stores) would have become part of scenery that blurred in the background as I ran my errands, and had I looked out across the street from the graveyard—where I probably would not have stopped in the first place since it would not have seemed quite so novel—the presence of a furniture store would have struck me as the norm. I think it’s only because I had come to this landscape with a little jet lag of the soul after moving from New York to New Delhi to London to suburban Maryland in the space of nine years, that I was able to see what was peculiar about this juxtaposition of the ridiculous and the sublime, the buy-now-no-payment-due-for-a-year sort of discount furniture store in such close proximity the tombstone of one of America’s most celebrated authors, beside which sat an empty champagne bottle, a bunch of dead flowers, and a puddle of melted blue candle wax.

Karen, who has been exceedingly generous in asking me to write this guest blog, knows the Rockville area herself, and she asked me if I had any favorite restaurants along the Pike. I didn’t quite realize until I began to think about this that one thing that’s really wonderful about Rockville Pike these days is the availability of great ethnic food. There are at least six Vietnamese restaurants serving pho. There’s great Japanese at Hinode, plus a good new fast-food Japanese noodle shop in Congressional Plaza. There’s fabulous dim sum further up, which is worth the forty minute drive from my house. I can’t actually think of a good all-American place along the way, because in fact Rockville Pike, while maybe too American a book, has become a great, sprawling, international melting pot.


Author Bio from  Susan Coll was born in New York, and attended Occidental College, in Los Angeles. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C. ACCEPTANCE is her third novel.  She is also the author of the novels ROCKVILLE PIKE and KARLMARX.COM, and has worked as a freelance writer and book reviewer. Her articles have appeared in publications including the International Herald Tribune, the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review, and the Washington Post. A short story set in India, Fire Safety Week, was broadcast on BBC World Service Radio, and the first chapter of the novel BRAIN FEVER, written with J.H. Diehl, appeared in the literary journal ENHANCED GRAVITY.

Sunday Salon ~ July 13, 2008

This week has been a busy one here in Okinawa.  It’s PCS (moving) season and for the first time in our four summers here we know a lot of people leaving.  My best friend on the Island, Summer, her husband and their Chow Chow left yesterday morning and my other close girlfriend, Juli, and her family leave next Saturday.  Change of Command ceremonies are occurring left and right on all bases and the flood of new families can be spotted as they walk around in a bit of a daze while getting used to life overseas.  Needless to say, with all the excitement I have had little time to read.  I did manage to finish one of my ARC’s, HOUSE & HOME, on Thursday as well as post my review HERE and on a new site HERE.  I also got to start another ARC, KEEPING THE HOUSE by Ellen Baker. 
                        A Novel
Notice the common theme of both titles… HOUSE.  Yeah, with all this moving happening around us the hubby and I have gotten the real estate Internet hunting bug, though we don’t move till next spring.  I’m hoping it dies down with us or else it’s going to be a long year of looking at great houses that will be plucked up by other buyers before we can get back and actively shop around.