2010 A New Year and a Fresh Slate

Happy New Year!!  Are there even people out there wanting to read this blog anymore?  I have been a horrible blogger.  Non-existent actually!  2009 started out strong with regular postings here and then our move from Okinawa to Virginia threw a huge wrench in that.  I have not had the drive to blog since moving in the house and to be honest with you, the only thing that has kept me reading regularly has been my book club (thank you ladies) that I started here in the DC area in August. 

So, with that all said, I am not going to try to back track and analyze the books I read in 2009 or even acknowledge the many reading challenges I attempted, including my 34 of 34 personal challenge (read 34 books for my 34 years).  I am going to start fresh and new and see where that takes me and you!  How does that sound?

Right now I am reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett on my Kindle for book club and I  just love it!  The character development is rich and full of great detail.  The story itself is riveting and keeps me guessing and on the edge of my seat.  Book club meets on the 24th and I am now 70% done with the book.  I am hoping to finish it by the weekend so I can get another book read before the next title is announced for book club.  Last week I had hoped to get more reading done than I actually did while we were at Walt Disney World and on the Disney Cruise to celebrate my birthday but I am catching up this week since I’m sick from all the weather changes between freezing Orlando, warm Nassau and cold/rainy Castaway Cay (Disney’s very own island). 

I will only attempt to complete one reading challenge this year.  That is the one I make for myself, which is to read a book for each year I’ve been alive.  So in 2010 I will try to read 35 for 35!  I have read your posts over the last couple of days and reading challenges are the hot topics among book bloggers now.  What will you attempt to do this year or are you putting reading challenges to the side and just reading?

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OMG! Where DID the time go?

I suck.  I mean, I read all of your blogs when I get a chance but I have neglected Planet Books so badly that I feel guilty about it but still haven’t found myself inspired enough to post anything.  Well today that inspiration finally hit me.  My new and dear friend “LibraryLove” and one of her best friends, “Fa-book-ulous” have started a new blog called Year of the Bookworms 2010.  I met these two exciting and interesting book lovers at Jennifer Weiner’s book signing event over the summer and am so glad I did.  Their blog will focus on the personal challenge they have made for themselves, to read 52 books in 2010.  That’s a book a week! 

Well, for those of you who used to read my posts here at Planet Books before I seemingly fell off the blogging earth, I had challenged myself to read thirty-four books this year.  Last year I read the thirty-three books I had challenged myself to read for each year I had lived but this year I won’t be hitting that number.  I’ve only read seventeen books so far this year and though it is a lot when you think about it, it isn’t thirty-four books.  I will probably read another two or three before the end of 2009 but that will only put me at nineteen or twenty books instead of thirty-four.  Next year is 2010 and I will turn thirty-five on the first day of it.  Once again I will challenge myself to read thirty-five books to match my birthday number.  I welcome the challenge and though I won’t hit my number this year, I hope to have success again in 2010. 

What about you?  Did you make a reading challenge for yourself or with your friends this year?  Are feeling good about hitting your goal come New Years Eve or are you feeling down like me about not coming close to your set number?  No matter what your reading challenge may or may not be for 2009 or the upcoming 2010, be sure to keep reading.  It’s what makes us bookworms.  It connects us!

Book Review ~ Those Who Saved Us by Jenna Blum

We choose to read books for many reasons.  Sometimes the cover art speaks to us from the shelves of a local library or book store and we feel the need to take that book home.  We may chose our books based on reviews  read in Bookmarks Magazine, the book review section of the local newspaper or even because we read a fabulous review here on Planet Books.  LOL!  Well I chose to read Jenna Blum’s haunting novel, Those Who Saved Us, for a fairly unique reason.  The main character has the same last name as I had till I got married in 2004. 

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Those Who Saved Us is a story about a woman named Anna who finds the Nazis invading all aspects of her hometown of Weimar, Germany and putting it on the map due to its geographical relation to Buchenwald concentration camp.  Anna’s father is a terrible parental figure, making Anna’s life miserable and difficult as her sole purpose becomes the huge job of handling every need of his and their home.  She finds relief in the friendship with “The Good Doktor”, Max Stern, and eventually the forbidden love that grows out of their chess games and conversations.  Max is a Jew and the risk of even talking with him is deadly.  Eventually, fear for Max’s life due to his association with The Resistance pushes Anna into action and she hides him in the walls of his father’s house.  Of course, as happened all over Europe in the late 30’s and early 40’s, Max is discovered by Anna’s father and shipped off to the Gestapo.  This is the catalyst for Anna and she quickly leaves her childhood home and becomes apprentice to a local baker and spy for The Resistance. 

Well folks, that is just the beginning of this enrapturing and memorable book.  The book jumps from WWII Germany to mid’90’s Minnesota and back again.  In Minnesota, Anna is an elderly, secret filled woman who has just lost her husband and has a stressed relationship with her middle-aged daughter Trudy.  Trudy is a professor of German history at a university in Minneapolis.  She joins a fellow professor on a project that finds her locating Germans in the area who survived WWII in Germany by any means possible and recording their stories.  Little does she know what one of her interviews will disclose about her own mysterious path and the ways her mother made it possible for the two of them to survive during one of this planets most hellish periods.

The drama and stories that emerge from Those Who Saved Us will stay with me forever.  I have said before that I think it is very important for these historical fiction novels to find a voice.  They may be fiction but they are based on fact and in the case of Those Who Saved Us, Jenna Blum completed a great amount of research thanks to Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. 

Those Who Saved Us reads like a drama and horror story at times but provides a lesson in history and how you can never truly escape your past.  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the historical fiction genre but warn you that there are some stories within that will cause your jaw to drop and your stomach to turn. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Book Review & Q&A with Cathy Marie Buchanan, Author of The Day THE FALLS Stood Still

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What a fresh and interesting title to add to the many historical fiction books out there.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still is a must read for those looking to dive into a new book this fall.  Author Cathy Marie Buchanan has created a cast of characters led by Bess and Tom.  Bess is a wonderful heroine whose desires, dreams and fears helped to keep me enthralled as I read.  After reading a few books set during WWII this year, it was interesting reading this book which is set during WWI.  The mood was much different but still set a stress in the story and for its character.  Set between 1915 and 1923 in Niagara Falls, Canada, Ms. Buchanan also presents focuses on a new way of getting energy to the masses is making its way into everyday life.  It’s called hydroelectric power and it will change the way lives are lived and will change the lives of residents in Niagara Falls forever.  Bess is also on the cusp of womanhood and finding love and will never be the same again.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still will keep you enraptured from beginning to end. 

I’m not the only reader singing Ms. Buchanan’s praises these days.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still debut on the New York Times bestseller list at #31 two weeks ago and Barnes & Noble selected the book as a “Recommended Pick.” 

Ms. Buchanan started touring for her debut book last week but has taken a moment to answer a few questions for us here at Planet Books.  I would love to welcome The Day The Falls Stood Still author Cathy Marie Buchanan to Planet Books. 

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PB Having written a book that I consider historical fiction, what other era in history is your favorite?  What is your favorite historical fiction title?

CMB ~ My formal education in history ended in grade nine, and so I hardly feel qualified to have a favourite era.  That said, I did fall in love with the WWI period as I researched The Day the Falls Stood Still.  The way communities pulled together, the way everyone was doing their bit really struck me.  People gave up driving and meat and started war gardens and, if they had a free moment, rolled bandages and wrote letters to buoy the spirits of soldiers they’d never met.  It seemed the crisis brought out the best in people, that sacrifice was widespread.  It made me feel hopeful that at some point, hopefully not too far off, all of mankind will take up the fight against our own looming crisis–climate change.

PB ~  What has been your favorite part of the process you went through to get to this finished product?  The research?  The writing?  The press junket?

CMB ~ I was fascinated on a daily basis as I researched The Day the Falls Stood Still.  Born and bred in Niagara Falls, the lore I’d grown up came to life as I read old newspaper accounts of the stunts and rescues on the river or as I came upon gorgeous old photographs of the river before the massive diversion of water away from the falls for the production of hydroelectricity or as I gazed out over the Niagara River from Loretto Academy, the boarding school the book’s protagonist attends.  A now I have the great pleasure of meeting readers online and in the flesh, and I love being told their stories of Niagara Falls or hearing how The Day the Falls Stood Still has touched them in some way.  Still, I am a writer at heart, and it’s what I love most.  I write everyday, sitting down at the computer as soon as my boys leave the house for school.  The objective is always the same, to lose myself in the words I am setting on the page.  And I have had moments when I look up from the computer, dazed.  It takes a second to grasp that I am sitting at my desk, a further second to decide:  Is it morning or afternoon?  Have I had lunch?  Have I forgotten to pick up my boys from school?  My head was a hundred years away in Niagara Falls.  It’s when the best writing has come, and I overflow with happiness.

PB ~  Being an author, do you feel that book blogs are a great way to get the word out?  Have you enjoyed your blog tour?  Do you find it an effective way of communicating with readers?

CMB~ I was a marketer (among other things) before I was a writer.  In marketing lingo, the groups of consumers who seek out new product information and then go about spreading the word are called chat leaders.  These chat leaders are respected authorities in their areas of expertise, and companies jump through hoops to get newly launched products into their hands.  For a new line of lipstick, the chat leaders might include the beauty editors at magazines, the cosmeticians in stores, that neighbour you’d know to turn to for a recommendation for a lipstick that stays on for more than five minutes.  Book bloggers and their followers fit the bill when it comes to books.  You are the chat leaders–the people who know books, who talk about books, who can’t wait to find that next great read, the people whose opinions on what to read next are regularly sought.  So, yes, absolutely, book bloggers are a great way to get the word out.  And the book blogs do provide a wonderful platform for giving readers further insight into a book.  Through reviews and guest posts and Q&As, the bloggers enrich the experience of reading a particular book for their followers.  I have loved my tour, not only because the chat leaders are chatting but also because having someone thoughtfully consider the work that I’ve poured my heart into for the last umpteen years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Thank you, bloggers and followers, for that. 

For more information about Cathy Marie Buchanan and THE DAY THE FALLS STOOD STILL, be sure to check out her website HERE.

Book Review/Giveaway ~ The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

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Summary ~ The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills. – This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory kicks off a new series by the best selling and beloved author.  This time the focus is on the famed “War of the Roses” or “The Cousins’ War.”  The Houses of York and Lancastor battled for the throne of England between 1455 and 1487.  At the time “The White Queen” takes place, King Edward IV of York’s reign.  He privately married our heroine, Elizabeth Woodville, after a short courtship. 

The historical fiction that Gregory produces is wonderful.  It’s rich with storytelling and fact that has been blended perfectly together.  I have never read any of Gregory’s novels before but I can say that she has struck a positive chord with this new book as she introduces her readers to a new reign in England’s history.

From the beginning, I thoroughly enjoyed Elizabeth.  Her thoughts are strong and well written and her adventures from widow and mother to Queen of England and beyond held my attention.  Kind Edward was five years Elizabeth’s junior and because he married for love (or lust, because Elizabeth wouldn’t go to bed with him until he married her) and not for an alliance between countries, this caused weakness in his personal and professional relationships that make for good drama.  Of course there is heartbreak, romance and all the great aspects that are expected in a Philippa Gregory novel (I’ve read the reviews and seen the film adaptation of “The Other Boleyn Girl”).  However, I did feel that the flow felt a bit like a non-fiction work at times but for the most part The White Queen was a good read.

Thank you so much to Philippa Gregory’s publicist Kelly at Touchstone-Fireside Books for inviting me to read and review The White Queen and for sending me my beautiful copy of the book.  The cover art is exquisite!  Kelly has also offered to giveaway two copies of The White Queen to two lucky winners/readers here at Planet Books.  Please leave your name, e-mail address and the name of your favorite Philippa Gregory book so far for a chance to win.  This contest will conclude on Friday, August 21st at Midnight, EST.  Good luck!!  You can check out Philippa Gregory’s website HERE.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

TLC Book Tour Review ~ Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens

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Summary ~ Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming…

I really looked forward to reading Two Years, No Rain when Lisa at TLC Book Tours invited me to read/review it.  I loved the idea of a story written by a man about a man with real issues that if it were written by a woman about a woman would be considered chick lit.  I was not disappointed at all with Shawn Klomparens novel.  His protagonist is Andy Dunne and we meet him when he is newly divorced and working as a forecaster for a satellite radio station.  He likes his job fine but finds his love life is what keeps him up at night.  Actually it’s a secret, fantasy ridden love life with a pretty and witty Chinese-American woman named Hillary Hsingwho works for another company on the property.  She is in a suffering and failing marriage and, in my opinion, really teases the hell out of dear Andy.  Grrrrr. 

After fullfilling Hillary’s request/suggestion to audition for a childrens T.V. show and actually getting the job and much much more, things start to really take off for Andy and his story.  Things with Hillary get a bit heated and more public and we learn more about Andy and his family.  He really is a lovely, charming and likable character and one of my favorite’s in a long time.  I didn’t care for Hillary and her yo-yo actions towards Andy but things did get interesting from the reader’s point of view for them. 

The last part of the book was cool to read because Andy and Hillary go to Hong Kong on a business trip for Andy’s show and with two company paid plane tickets, really how could they not go together.  Having visited Hong Kong twice now and experiencing category 3 and 5 typhoons while living in Okinawa, I thought the descriptions of both the storm and Hong Kong and it’s surrounding territories was great.  I’m curious if the author, Shawn Klomparens, has ever been to Hong Kong himself.  I could easily envision the landscape and buildings in my minds eye while reading about Andy and Hillary’s crazy trip.

All in all, I enjoyed Two Years, No Rain and highly recommend putting it at the top of your TBR (to be read) stack.  You can check out Shawn Klomparens’ web site and learn more about him and Two Years, No Rain HERE.  You can also check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour for Two Years, No Rain HERE and see what they have lined up for the rest of this month. 


 

Book Review ~ Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

Summary ~ Belong to Meby Marisa de los Santos ~ Cornelia Brown surprised herself when she was gripped by the sudden, inescapable desire to move to the suburbs with her husband. Her mettle is quickly tested by her impeccably dressed, overly judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt—the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she’d find in suburbia. With Lake, another recent arrival, Cornelia shares a love of literature and old movies—as she forms an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman and her perceptive, brilliant young son Dev.
Acclaimed bestselling author Marisa de los Santos’s literary talents shine in the complex interactions she creates between three unforgettable women, deftly entangling her characters in a web of trust, betrayal, love, and loss that challenges them in ways they never imagined.

belong-to-me-large2I LOVED THIS BOOK!  I knew by the time I was half way through it that it was going to get a 5 out of 5 rating and that feeling continued on till the end.  If you were a fan of Desperate Housewives before it went over the edge into absolute absurdity, than Belong to Me will quench your bibliophile thirst perfectly.  Like when I read Elizabeth Noble’s The Reading Groupand Jennifer Weiner’s Little Earthquakes, I loved going “in for a visit” with the characters of Belong to Me and now that the last page has been read I miss them already. 

Now I haven’t read the prequel to this book, Love Walked In, but I didn’t feel that I was missing anything because of that.  Belong to Meis told from the point of view of three characters.  Cornelia, along with her husband Teo, is the newest member in a neighborhood just outside of Philadelphia.  Cornelia finds out that when you are the new kid on the block, it might be difficult to find your niche and fit in.  That is proved true by another neighbor and fellow narrator, Piper (nick named Viper by another character).  Piper is in total control of her life and surroundings, or so she thinks.  She discovers that her husband isn’t happy and spends a good portion of the book caring for her best friend, Elizabeth, who is dying from cancer.  The third narrator is Dev.  A fourteen year old boy who’s mother moved them across the country to this new area where they meet Cornelia, Teo and their pseudo-daughter, Clare.  Dev was a very interesting character with his scientific and poetry loving mind.  His story line is full of anxiety, mystery and discovery. 

I can’t even start to tell you my favorite parts of this book because the whole thing was so great.  If you want a juicy, drama filled, funny and fantastically written book to read, than I must recommend Belong to Me!

{Rating: 5 out of 5}