BTT ~ The Best?

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It’s a week or two later than you’d expect, and it may be almost a trite question, but … what were your favorite books from 2008?

I’ve been meaning to post my Top 10 of 2008 list for about a week now, so I was glad to learn that Booking Through Thursday‘s question this week was “what were your favorite books from 2008?”  I had set a goal for myself to read 33 books in 2008 for the 33 years I celebrated on my birthday, New Years Day 2008.  Well I met the goal plus one!  Below you will find my top ten favorite reads from the list, followed by the other 23 titles that I read.

Karen’s Top Ten of 2008
1.  (A Tie)
~  The Art of Racing In The Rain
~  Keeping The House
2.  The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Lie Society
3.  Twilight
4.  Between Here & April
5.  Change of Heart
6.  The Abstinence Teacher
7.  Dewey – The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World
8.  House & Home
9.  My Best Friend’s Girl
10.  Where The Red Fern Grows
THE REST IN ORDER OF DATE READ
12.  Shopgirl
13.  My War… Killing Time In Iraq
14.  Wonder Woman: Love & Murder
15.  St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves
16.  Candy Girl
17.  Matrimony
18.  Mrs. Lieutenant
19.  Sail
20.  The Last Summer (Of You And Me)
21.  Night
22.  My Horizontal Life
23.  Schooled
24.  I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone
25.  The Great Man
26.  The Summer of Naked Swim Parties
27.  Loose Girl
28.  Time of My Life
29.  Man of the House
30.  Home Girl
31.  Lulu In Marrakech
32.  Bachelor Degree
33.  Off The Menu
(34.  Driving Sideways ~ Review Still Pending)
 
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Book Review ~ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Summary ~ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows ~  January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb.

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. Born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

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What an amazing book this is!  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a gem of a story set in 1946 post-war England and Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands.  The first interesting thing that struck me was that it is a work of fiction, but because the whole book is told through letters between characters, the voices feel real and brilliant.  Juliet Ashton is a gem of a heroine who is the author of a biography about the lesser known Bronte sister, Anne, as well as “Izzy Bickerstaff Goes To War.”  It is while on a book tour for the Izzywork that we meet her and her loving and supportive life long friend and publisher, Sidney Stark.  It is through their letters to each other that you get a sense of their personalities and great admiration for each other.  It is also through letters that the reader gets to know every character in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The war is over and people are once again striking up more light-hearted correspondences and it isn’t long before Juliet receives a letter from a man named Dawsey Adams about  the fact that he is now the proud owner of Juliet’s formerly owned copy of Selected Essays of Eliaby Charles Lamb.  This new correspondence between two strangers with a shared love for the poetry of Charles Lamb is the stepping stone for Juliet to meet and get to know all of Dawsey’s friends and fellow survivors of the German Occupation of Guernsey through the art of letter writing.  We get to meet these wonderful characters as well and their stories that jump from the pages of this book are  heartwarming stories of friendships forged between oddly matched people who are went through the most horrific, depressing and suffer-able events of their time. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a surprisingly addictive read of a book that will make you wish it would go on forever.  I loved the way these people took matters into their own hands and cared for people who may never have entered their lives if it weren’t for the Occupation.  Then they let their stories fill the pages of letters they sent to a stranger in London who was willing and eager to read them and create a column which then would become a book to mark their time in history.  All of their stories soon revolved around one special woman who made the greatest sacrifice of them all during the Occupation of their beloved, little island. 

I cannot recommend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society enough.  At first I wasn’t sure I would be able to get into the story due to the letter style the book was written in, but I am so glad I gave it a chance.  After the first page there was no turning back for me.  I found myself talking about this book with Hubby and friends.  I surprised myself when I physically hit the book at certain upsetting parts and how I took my time reading it because I didn’t want it to end.  Do yourself a favor and pick this book up this weekend.  You are in for a special treat of a story.

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

Book Review & Giveaway ~ Bachelor Degree by Judith Marks-White

~ This Giveaway Has Concluded ~

{This is a long, lost review that I forgot to post in 2008}

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Summary ~ Bachelor Degree :From Publishers Weekly
In this brassy sophomore effort from Marks-White (Seducing Harry), divorced New York gallery associate Samantha Krasner, 38, has always been overshadowed by her rich, twice-widowed, art collector mother, Madeleine Krasner-Wolfe. To Madeleine’s delight, Samantha hits it off with artist de jour Blake Hamilton, though she urges Samantha to put the long-distance affair on the back burner and get things brewing with much-gossiped-about hottie gynecologist Spencer Gould. Madeleine sets her sights on Spencer’s also-gyno father, and schedules appointments for them (and a niece, too, for good measure)-with unexpected results. As Blake’s debut exhibit approaches, secrets and lies are unleashed that test all concerned. Though Samantha, who narrates, is meant to be witty and acerbic, she comes off as hard. And in light of the book’s theme of looking for love in the big bad city, the third-act scandal almost seems like a tacked-on after-thought. Marks-White does do a sterling job of name-checking the hangouts and proclivities of affluent New Yorkers (“When I dipped my fork into my lobster seasoned with vanilla and set on a cauliflower puree, I actually gasped”), which brings her brand of Manhattan to life.

Author Judith Marks-White has done it again.  Her latest novel, BACHELOR DEGREE, is a fun romp in the chick-lit genre and offers the reader a glimpse into the sophisticated, cutthroat and appealing art scene of New York City.  Samantha Krasner is an intelligent, highbrow and sexy woman who works for the most sought after art gallery in the city.  After agreeing to show the new hot, up and coming artist, Blake Hamilton’s NYC debut show, she seals the deal by starting a hot and orgasmic filled relationship with the gorgeous British artist. 

Working through the stresses of a long-distance relationship and then the equally challenging cross-town one, Samantha also has to contend with an overbearing and against-the-grain mother who only wants the best for her daughter, and herself, but has very odd ways of showing it.  As the character get more and more entwined in each other’s lives, some people turn out not to be as they first appeared. 

With twists and revelations that will shock the reader, BACHELOR DEGREE takes an interesting shift that makes it a unique read.  It will grab your attention from the very beginning.  Taking you on an insider’s tour of New York City’s finest restaurants, sometimes it felt like the meals where characters in their own right, the inner workings of putting together an all out gallery bash and place you right into Manhattan, one of the sexiest, most amazing cities in the world. 

{Rating ~ 3.75 out of 5}

I am giving away my copy of Bachelor Degree.  I received this book through Elle Magazine’s Reader’s Prize book review feature.  My review of Bachelor Degree was submitted to Elle for possible publication and though it was not published, I still enjoyed the experience and opportunity of reading Bachelor Degree.  If you would like a chance to win this book, please leave your name and e-mail address in the comment section of this post by Sunday, January 11th at midnight, EDT.

Sunday Salon ~ December 21st, 2008

Only one more Sunday in the year left after today.  It’s hard to believe that 2008 is almost a mere memory and a new number will round out the year.  With the new year just around the corner, so is my 34th birthday.  I am a New Year’s Baby, minus the big ears.  I am not freaking out about the number 34 as I was a couple of months ago when I came across the first gray hair I’ve ever noticed on my head.  I immediately went to the store and purchased hair dye to cover that little bastard up.  I will have to get another box soon since his friends decided to join him as my roots are beginning to show. 

The new year will also find me attempting a much needed, devoted attempt at dieting.  I’ve asked Santa/Hubby for a new pair of Nike Shocks so I can start walking in addition to dieting.  I do have a goal which is good and is actually a huge motivation for me.  In June I plan on attending Fan Fair, now called CMT Fest, in Nashville, TN with my friend Jesse (the one who got married in D.C. last month) and I would like to be comfortable wearing short sleeve shirts and not being self conscious about my arms the whole time.  We’ll see what I can do.

But I am not dieting yet and that has been apparent over the last few days.  With the holidays upon us, I have been a baking fool and Hubby has been making some delectable dishes.  Today I made both Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Bread and Banana Nut Bread (with coconut) and yesterday Hubby made Tyler Florence’s Mac & Cheese.  That Mac & Cheese came out of the oven looking so pretty, bubbly and perfect I had to take a pic and share it with you below. 

mac-n-cheese

I have been reading too this weekend.  I am almost done with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  I could have been finished by now but I am enjoying the story and it’s characters so much that I have been taking my time.  It’s also the 33rd of 33 books I will have read this year.  I had made a goal for myself back in January to read 33 books for the number of birthday’s I have celebrated.  I will be doing a top five or top 10 list (I haven’t decided yet) of the books I have read this year by the end of it. 

What reading goals did you make for yourself this year?  If you didn’t will you be making one in 2009?  Also, did you eat anything mouthwatering this weekend too?  Do tell!

Book Review ~ Dewey by Vicki Myron

51vqjqdidrl__ss500_2Summary ~ DEWEY ~ THE SMALL -TOWN LIBRARY CAT WHO TOUCHED the WORLD (From Publishers Weekly):
One frigid Midwestern winter night in 1988, a ginger kitten was shoved into the after-hours book-return slot at the public library in Spencer, Iowa. And in this tender story, Myron, the library director, tells of the impact the cat, named Dewey Readmore Books, had on the library and its patrons, and on Myron herself. Through her developing relationship with the feline, Myron recounts the economic and social history of Spencer as well as her own success story—despite an alcoholic husband, living on welfare, and health problems ranging from the difficult birth of her daughter, Jodi, to breast cancer. After her divorce, Myron graduated college (the first in her family) and stumbled into a library job. She quickly rose to become director, realizing early on that this was a job I could love for the rest of my life. Dewey, meanwhile, brings disabled children out of their shells, invites businessmen to pet him with one hand while holding the Wall Street Journal with the other, eats rubber bands and becomes a media darling. The book is not only a tribute to a cat—anthropomorphized to a degree that can strain credulity (Dewey plays hide and seek with Myron, can read her thoughts, is mortified by his hair balls)—it’s a love letter to libraries.

dewey4

In challenging times like we are facing right now, I believe it is important and good for the human soul to read a story like Dewey ~ The Small-Town Cat Who Touched the World.  To see a town and it’s citizens hit hard by financial woes, illness and all of life’s hard knocks, come together through the love of a single feline is a miracle.  The story of Dewey, the cat of the Spencer Library in Spencer, Iowa is a labor of love and respect for a cat and the lives that he affected locally and around the world. 

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This story was a great one about the love for a cat who just happened to be left in the book return bin at a library in a small town and who was rescued by a woman and her library staff who allowed him to nestle and cuddle his way into their lives and the lives of so many others.  There are so many touching and tear-jerking passages in this book, that at almost every sitting, I had to grab a wad of tissues in order to make it though the chapter.  From Dewey’s visits with the children of Spencer, Iowa when they would come to the library for story hour, to the handicapped children who brightened and became more alert in Dewey’s presence.  Vicki Myron, with the help of writer Bret Witter, does a fabulous job of giving the reader background information about the townspeople of Spencer and even shares very personal stories from her own life in order to paint a complete picture of just how powerful and important Dewey Readmore Books’ friendship and love was.

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Dewey graced the shelves and rooms of the Spencer Library for nineteen years and though he couldn’t possibly have known the impact he had on people all over the world, he knew that the time he spent with people in his library was worth while and helped bring smiles to sad hearts on a daily basis.

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I absolutely loved this book.  It was a great story about a cat that made a difference to many.  The book was very easy to get lost in and there weren’t many slow parts at all.  I would recommend this book to any animal or book lover and I must advise that you keep a box of tissues close by at all times.

{Rating ~ 4.5 out of 5}

Thanks to Library Thing’s Early Reviewer Program for sending me my free copy of Dewey.

Book Review ~ Lulu In Marrakech by Diane Johnson

Summary ~ Lulu In Marrakech:   Lulu Sawyer, the heroine of Diane Johnson’s captivating new novel, arrives in Marrakech, Morocco, hoping to rekindle her romance with a worldly Englishman, Ian Drumm. It’s the perfect cover for her assignment with the American CIA: tracing the flow of money from well-heeled donors to radical Islamic groups. While spending her days poolside among Europeans, in villas staffed by local maids in abayas, and her nights at lively dinner parties, Lulu observes the fragile coexistence of two cultures which, if not yet clashing, have begun to show signs of fracture. Beneath the surface of this polite expatriate community lies a more sinister world laced not only with double standards, but with double agents.

As she navigates the complex interface of Islam and the West, Lulu stumbles into unforeseen intrigues: A young Muslim girl, Suma, is hiding from a brother intent on an honor killing; and a beautiful Saudi woman, Gazi, who is vying for Ian’s love, leaves her husband in a desperate bid to escape her repressive society. The more Lulu immerses herself in the workings of Marrakech, the more questions emerge; and when bombs explode, the danger is palpable.

Lulu’s mission ultimately has tragic consequences, but along the way readers will fall in love with this endearing young woman as she improvises her way through the souk, her love life, and her profession. As in her previous novels, Diane Johnson weaves a dazzling tale in the great tradition of works about naive Americans abroad and the laws of unintended consequence, with a new, fascinating assortment of characters, as well as witty, trenchant observations on the manners and morals of a complicated moment in history.

Lulu in Marrakech

Lulu In Marrakech is a post-911 look at foreign counter intelligence in Morocco.  The novel, by award winning, bestselling author of Le Divorce author, Diane Johnson, stars Lulu, a CIA agent assigned to build a case in Marrakech.  She has conveniently met and fallen into bed/love with an English businessman named Ian.  Now, Ian may or not be who he says he is and has the potential to be involved in some shady business deals with radical Islamic groups.  With a cast of interchanging characters going in and out the revolving door that is Ian’s dessert oasis, things are never too dull for a CIA agent who isn’t always sure where her assignment will lead. 

Lulu In Marrakech was a bit slow, as is the work of an embedded Foreign Counter Intelligence CIA agent in a foreign land.  The characters and scenarios that Lulu is faced with in Lulu in Marrakech may lend for an intriguing read for some, but I lost interest fairly early in the story and never recovered my interest in Lulu and her unfocused story. 

{Rating ~ 1 out of 5}

It seems that I am not the only one who didn’t care for Diane Johnson’s latest penned release.  The New York Times just published their review of Lulu In Marrakech and though they were much harsher than I was with their review, I completely agree with the reviewer.  You can check it out HERE.

Book Review ~ Home Girl by Judith Matloff

Summary ~ Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block

After twenty years as a foreign correspondent in tumultuous locales including Rwanda, Chechnya, and Sudan, Judith Matloff is ready to put down roots and start a family. She leaves Moscow and returns to her native New York City to house-hunt for the perfect spot while her Dutch husband, John, stays behind in Russia with their dog to pack up their belongings. Intoxicated by West Harlem’s cultural diversity and, more important, its affordability, Judith impulsively buys a stately fixer-upper brownstone in the neighborhood.

Little does she know what’s in store. Judith and John discover that their dream house was once a crack den and that “fixer upper” is an understatement. The building is a total wreck: The beams have been chewed to dust by termites, the staircase is separating from the wall, and the windows are smashed thanks to a recent break-in. Plus, the house–crowded with throngs of brazen drug dealers–forms the bustling epicenter of the cocaine trade in the Northeast, and heavily armed police regularly appear outside their door in pursuit of the thugs and crackheads who loiter there.

Thus begins Judith and John’s odyssey to win over the neighbors, including Salami, the menacing addict who threatens to take over their house; MacKenzie, the literary homeless man who quotes Latin over morning coffee; Mrs. LaDuke, the salty octogenarian and neighborhood watchdog; and Miguel, the smooth lieutenant of the local drug crew, with whom the couple must negotiate safe passage. It’s a far cry from utopia, but it’s a start, and they do all they can to carve out a comfortable life. And by the time they experience the birth of a son, Judith and John have even come to appreciate the neighborhood’s rough charms.

Blending her finely honed reporter’s instincts with superb storytelling, Judith Matloff has crafted a wry, reflective, and hugely entertaining memoir about community, home, and real estate. Home Girl is for anyone who has ever longed to go home, however complicated the journey.

I’ll admit that I have never been to Harlem.  I’ve watched the Harlem Globetrotters on T.V. in exhibition games as well as when they were cartoon guest stars on Scooby Doo.  I have watched performances on T.V. that were broadcast from the stage of The Apollo Theatre too.  After reading Judith Matloff’s Home Girl, my interest in Harlem has piqued.  First of all, I did not realize exactly where Harlem was in relation to the Theatre and Garment Districts, Midtown Manhattan and another area I have frequented when in NYC, Soho. 

Home Girl is a retelling of events that happened to a former New Yorker and her Dutch husband John, when she purchases, practically without any idea of what she was getting into, a row-house on a drug infested block in Harlem.  After the rose colored glasses had been yanked off, Judith realized just how much work she and her husband would be in for.  Not only the work and money that would have to go into renovating their dilapidated house, but the work it would take to co-exist with crack dealers and scared, racist neighbors, who weren’t willing to make a difference themselves.

The house eventually recovers from the cancer that had plagued it for too many years.  Judith overcomes her odd feelings of loyalty to the drug dealers on her block and begins attending some community policing program meetings and starts to unite with the neighbors and community.  She finally feels a sense of belonging where, for the first three months after buying her house, she felt like the crazy outsider who didn’t belong.

After the adventure that was Judith and John’s life as foreign corespondents over the last twenty years, followed by the seemingly treacherous times after buying a major fixer-upper in West Harlem, they are faced with the most unknown of all territories, Parenthood!

Home Girl is an enjoyable, fly-on-the-wall look into the lives of author Judith Matloff, her patient and trusting husband, their wonderful dog, their new baby, the house that they resurrected from death’s door and the many dangerous, outrageous and kooky characters on their block that they adopt when they move to West Harlem and a colorful array of tenants in the upstairs and basement apartments of their beloved brownstone.  Judith captures life pre- and post- 9/11 beautifully and in Home Girl’s post 9/11 chapters, the sadness and unity that New York City goes through is described perfectly.

I loved reading about the relationships Judith built with some scary characters that surrounded her and entered her life.  I winced at all the work Judith and John had to do on their house and I breathed a sigh of relief when it all came together for them and knowing they are still living in their home on that “lawless block” shows that a home can be created out of the most undesirable of conditions.  Just ask some of Judith’s squatter-neighbors! 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

A couple of months ago author Judith Matloff joined us here at Planet Books for her first blog guest post.  You can check it out HERE as well as watch the book trailer for Home Girl.  It’s cool to see the people that Judith got to know and wrote about in Home Girl, and she still spends time with.  To learn more about Judith Matloff, check out her web site HERE.