Friday, January 28, 2011

Rescue by Anita Shreve (audiobook)

Anita Shreve is one of my all-time favorite authors. I have read every one of her novels. This is my first time listening to one of her books instead of reading it the old-fashioned way. I enjoy audiobooks and it was interesting to determine whether a Shreve novel would translate well to an audiobook.

Rescue is a novel that encompasses many of Shreve’s themes throughout the portfolio of her work. Sheila Arsenault is a woman on the run from an abusive relationship. After crashing her car in an alcohol fueled incident, Sheila is rescued by rookie paramedic Peter Webster. Webster is taken by the beautiful young victim and searches her out after she is discharged from the hospital. Webster is determined to help her and falls in love along the way. Sheila is happy to be rescued, but finds that old demons are hard to leave behind.
Eighteen years later, Webster is raising their daughter, Rowan alone. Rowan unfortunately seems to have inherited some dangerous addictions and traits from her mother. Will Webster be able to save his daughter or is it already too late?

I enjoyed listening to this audiobook. Dennis Holland did a fairly good reading of the novel, although I found his attempts at a Boston accent to be rather jarring. I almost wanted to do the dishes every day so I could listen to what was going to happen next. I found the plot to be compelling, but the best thing about the novel was the in depth character studies. Rash decisions that were made in youth can lead to consequences that can last a life time.

I also found Webster’s job as a paramedic to be very interesting as were the stories of his rescues. I’ve never read a book with a paramedic as the main character and I really enjoyed it. It left me wanting to know even more about the profession. I think it was a great way to talk about how Webster rescued people as his job in life, but that he had troubles at home with rescuing his wife and his daughter. It’s not as easy to rescue those you love from addictions and bad behavior.

Anita Shreve is a gifted writer. I love her style of writing. That being said, while Rescue was a good book, I still hold some of her earlier works such as The Weight of Water and Fortune’s Rocks in much higher regard. I kind of miss her historical books!

Overall, Rescue was a compelling story with great characters that I enjoyed listening too.

This is my first item for the Audiobook Challenge 2011.

Audiobook Source: Review copy from Hachette Book Group. Thank-you!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winners of Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

I apologize for posting the two winners of the audiobook version of Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff so late. I was out of town this past weekend for my sister's baby shower and returned to a boat load of work that was due for a meeting on Wednesday. When Wednesday arrived, not one, not two, but all three of my kids came down with a nasty flu bug that included high fevers and other nasty flu side effects. Two out of the three are still sick today, but I think we've turned a corner. I'm just happy to get to my computer a bit of "me" time!
There was a lot of interest in this book, but unfortunately, there can only be two winners. And the two winners of Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff are Esme of Chocolate and Croissants and Nichole. Both winners were chosen using and were notified via email. They have until next Thursday, February 3rd to send me their mailing addresses. If I do not hear from them, new winners will be chosen.
Thank-you to Anna from Hachette Book Group for allowing me to host this great giveaway! Thank-you to all who entered this giveaway! I still have one giveaway currently on my sidebar (The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy) and have a couple more that will be posted this next week so stay tuned!
I am currently listening to the audiobook of Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff and am enjoying it greatly. If you didn't win this book, I highly recommend picking it up!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Interview (and GIVEAWAY) with Mary Lydon Simonsen, author of The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy

Mary Lydon Simonsen is a guest today on Laura's Reviews. Her new novel, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, " is the perfect book for all lovers of Pride and Prejudice to fill in the behind the scenes details of how our favorite two lovers were finally able to get together." See my review from earlier this week for more of my thoughts on this novel. Mary Lydon Simonsen graciously agreed to answer my burning questions about this novel.

LAG: What was your inspiration for making Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Bourgh into match makers? It is a unique and fresh twist to the Pride and Prejudice story.

MLS: When I first read Pride and Prejudice, I was just about Georgiana’s age, and I wanted to know more about her. I wondered if she was able to get over her near elopement with the dastardly George Wickham. Little did I know that I would answer my own question when I wrote a novel 40 years later. As for Anne De Bourgh, I always felt she drew the short straw in Pride and Prejudice. Wasn’t it enough that she had Lady Catherine as a mother without making her “sickly and cross?” I wanted to rehabilitate her character, and so I made her a matchmaker for Darcy and Elizabeth. She later enlists Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam’s help in bringing our favorite couple together at Pemberley. (LAG - I have to admit I laughed out loud at your answer, "Wasn’t it enough that she had Lady Catherine as a mother without making her 'sickly and cross?'”)

LAG: Why did you decide to make the Bingleys only three of a large family of nine? I like the new Bingley siblings.

MLS: Charles is a bit wishy-washy for my taste, and with all that money, I thought he needed guidance from an older sibling. While George Bingley, the eldest brother, watches the store, Charles tries to mend fences with Jane Bennet, and in pursuing Jane, he becomes a better, more mature man and one who is less dependent upon Mr. Darcy. But while these changes were taking place, Jane permitted a certain Mr. Nesbitt to call. Everyone knows a Mr. Nesbitt type—someone whom I refer to as a conversation killer.

LAG: When did you first discover Jane Austen and what do you love about her novels?

MLS: I first met Jane Austen in high school. Pride and Prejudice was required reading in my English class, and I loved Austen’s novel so much that I read everything else she wrote in a reading marathon. I was particularly drawn to Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot. I was like the shy Anne Elliot, but I wanted to become the spunky Elizabeth Bennet. And who wouldn’t want to end up with Captain Wentworth or Mr. Darcy?

LAG: I see in your author biography that you wrote a book called “Anne Elliot, A New Beginning.” I love Anne Elliot! Persuasion is tied with Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel. Can you tell us about this novel?

MLS: Me too! I love Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice equally. I will gladly tell you about my self-published novel, but first a word of warning. Anne Elliot, A New Beginning is a parody of Persuasion. Because I wanted to empower Anne, I made her a long-distance runner, and that one change was a catalyst for many others that affects all of the Elliots. In Anne Elliot, our heroine realizes that her cousin, Mr. Elliot, is not an honest person, and so she hires a Bath street urchin to help her trail the heir to the Elliot fortune around town. When Captain Wentworth comes to Bath, he joins in the chase. Although a parody, I was faithful to Austen’s love story. Of all my novels, this was the one I had the most fun writing. Thanks for asking.

LAG: Do you have any future novels in the works that you could tell us about?
MLS: Yes, I do. Sourcebooks is publishing two additional novels. In A Wife for Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy goes to Longbourn the day after the assembly to apologize for his rude remarks. This sends their romance down a completely different path. But the course of love never did run smooth. During the season, Mr. Darcy paid sufficient notice to Letitia Montford to get the rumor mill going, and Darcy feels that as a gentleman, he must become engaged to Miss Montford or embarrass the lady. A Wife for Mr. Darcy will be in stores in July 2011. The second novel is quite a departure for me. In Mr. Darcy’s Bite, Mr. Darcy is a werewolf. Fear not fans of our hero, Mr. Darcy retains his humanity, but being a furry creature of the night for two days every month does present complications for our beloved couple. But it’s a howling good tale and will be in stores in October 2011!

LAG: What books are on your shelf? Who do you like to read?

MLS: I read a lot of history, especially about World Wars I and II, Regency England, American history, and coal mining (my ancestors were coal miners). But when I want to read non-fiction, it is usually a mystery. I like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series and Charles Todd and Barbara Cleverly’s post WWI detective series. I am reading an interesting series now: the Julia Grey mysteries by Deanna Raybourn set in the late Victorian Era. Good stuff.

Laura, thank you for having me. This has been a pleasure.

LAG: Thank-you Mary for being a guest. You had great answers to my questions!


If the two of them weren’t so stubborn…

It’s obvious to Georgiana Darcy that the lovely Elizabeth Bennet is her brother’s perfect match, but Darcy’s pigheadedness and Elizabeth’s wounded pride are going to keep them both from the loves of their lives.

Georgiana can’t let that happen, so she readily agrees to help her accommodating cousin, Anne de Bourgh, do everything within their power to assure her beloved brother’s happiness.
But the path of matchmaking never runs smoothly…


Mary Lydon Simonsen’s first book, Searching for Pemberley, was acclaimed by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and RT Book Reviews. She is well loved and widely followed on all the Jane Austen fanfic sites, with tens of thousands of hits and hundreds of reviews whenever she posts. She lives in Peoria, Arizona where she is working on her next Jane Austen novel. For more information, please visit and, where she regularly contributes.

Giveaway Details
Danielle of Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer two copies of The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest blog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday January 28th.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

The Girl in the Green Raincoat is a thriller reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, if the character played by Jimmy Stewart was instead a feisty detective named Tess Monaghan. Tess is heavily pregnant and is on bed rest for preeclampsia. She spends a lot of her time watching out her window and notices a woman in a green raincoat who walks her dog each day. The dog is also dressed in a matching green raincoat. One day the dog runs through the park alone without the woman. When Tess tries to find out the fate of the woman, she discovers that the woman’s husband has had a string of wives who have disappeared mysteriously. Will Tess be able to find the girl in the green raincoat?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a quick read and once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are wonderfully developed. Tess is a great character. She is used to standing on her own as a detective and is suddenly depending on others to do the legwork for her. This causes frustration. At the same time she is trying to solve the mystery, she is having concerns about her boyfriend Crow, and about becoming a mother for the first time.

I found Tess to be very relatable as I just had my third child this past October. I was down and out with hypomesis gravidum at the beginning of the pregnancy. It is no fun when you are a hostage of your own body. Her fears and concerns are the same as all women when you are about to become a mother for the first time.

I am a huge Hitchcock fan and I loved the shades of Rear Window in The Girl in the Green Raincoat. The ending of this novel does not disappoint, it is a thriller through and through.
While I have previously read a Laura Lippman novel, it was not one of her Tess Monaghan mystery novels. This novel was great on its own having never read the series. Having said that, I will definitely be checking out the rest of the series!

Lippman’s prose in this novel is exquisite. There were many quotes that were so witty that I laughed out loud. Sadly I didn’t mark my favorite one, but here are a couple of my favorites.

The novel starts out with this quote, “I am being held hostage,” Tess Monaghan whispered into her iPhone. “By a terrorist. The agenda is unclear, the demands vague, but she’s prepared to hold me here for at least two months. Twelve weeks or eighteen years, depending on how you look at it.”

“Nice way to talk about our future child,” said her boyfriend Crow.

And this literary reference also made me laugh. “I think of myself as Boo Radley, watching quietly, at the read to avenge.”

“You look more like Scout, trapped in her ham costume.”

Overall, The Girl in the Green Raincoat is an excellent novel with witty dialogue, fantastic characters, and a thrilling plot.
About Laura Lippman
Laura Lippman grew up in Baltimore and returned to her hometown in 1989 to work as a journalist. After writing seven books while still a full-time reporter, she left the Baltimore Sun to focus on fiction. The author of two New York Times bestsellers, What the Dead Know and Another Thing to Fall, she has won numerous awards for her work, including the Edgar, Quill, Anthony, Nero Wolfe, Agatha, Gumshoe, Barry, and Macavity.

To learn more about Laura’s work, visit her website or connect with her on Facebook.

This review is part of the TLC Book Tours.
For more reviews of this novel, please check out the rest of the tour stops:
Thursday, January 20th: Life In Review
Friday, January 21st: A Fanatic’s Book Blog
Monday, January 24th: Kelly’s Lucky You!
Tuesday, January 25th: In the Next Room
Wednesday, January 26th: Book Reviews by Molly
Thursday, January 27th: Books Are Like Candy Corn
Monday, January 31st: Books Like Breathing
Tuesday, February 1st: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Wednesday, February 2nd: Life in the Thumb
Thursday, February 3rd: Kahakai Kitchen

Book Source: Review Copy from Harper Collins Publishers. Thank-you!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Laura’s Top Ten Books of 2010

I read a lot of good books in 2010. I like to call 2010 the year that disappeared. With my horrific morning sickness at the beginning of the year, the birth of Penelope Rose on October 15th, and having a baby to nurse along with a 4 & 2 year old, I haven’t had as much time to socialize as I usually do. I did have a lot more time to read instead of sleeping!

Overall I read 95 books in 2010 and listened to 9 audiobooks. My number of books was up for the before stated reasons, but my number of audiobooks was down. I was in a number of challenges this year including The All About the Brontes Challenge, The Classics Challenge, The Stephanie Plum Reading Challenge, and the Everything Austen Challenge II. I was also in two book clubs, my Kewaunee Library Book Club and FLICKS Book and Movie Club.

I read a variety of books through the year, but I didn’t read as much non-fiction or sci-fi as I would usually like too. This is probably because between reading advance review copies of books, books for challenges, and books for my book clubs, I didn’t have much time to read personal picks. I need to work on this.

My top ten books are my favorite ten books that I read this year. They were not necessary published in the year 2010 and do not include books I read and enjoyed for a second, third, or fourth time (such as Pride and Prejudice, Outlander, Child of the Northern Spring) as it is obvious that I love those novels. If you are interested, check out my top 10 from 2009, 2008 and 2007.

Without further ado, my top ten favorite books of 2010 (in no particular order):
  1. Room by Emma Donoghue – Room was a horrifying and heart-warming tale rolled into one told through a very unique prospective, that of a five-year old child. Jack has lived in a small room trapped with his abducted mother throughout his five-year life. The room encompasses his life, but things are about to change as Ma plans their escape. I literally couldn’t put this book down!
  2. The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson – I know I’m cheating here by counting a trilogy as one selection, but I loved the entire trilogy and read it this year. Larsson weaves a unique tale set in Sweden, with a very unique heroine, Lisbeth Salander. Hero Mikael Bloomberg is a crusader who stops at nothing to get the story for his Millennium magazine and to right wrongs even if it means bringing down the Swedish government.
  3. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins – I loved this young adult trilogy set in a post-apoplectic world. The world has ended as we know it and the U.S. has been divided into thirteen districts. The districts are controlled by the capital and are kept under strict control. Each year each district is required to send two children to compete in the televised “Hunger Games.” There can only be one winner left alive at the end of the games. Katniss Everdeen is trying to keep her sister and mother alive in District 12 when her sister is chosen for the games. Katniss steps in to save her and her life is forever changed.
  4. The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick – These two novels are among the best historical fiction novels that I have ever read. I love the hero William Marshal. His story is a riveting tale that I had never read about before. Chadwick is a master storyteller that is vividly able to bring the past alive. I look forward to reading more of her novels!
  5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – This book is uniquely narrated by death during WWII and tells the story of one girl and her struggle to survive during WWII in Germany. The German people not painted as only evil, but rather shades of gray.
  6. Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran – I honestly didn’t know that Cleopatra even had a daughter! Moran’s novel is an intriguing look at the life of the famed Queen’s children after her death.
  7. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrich – A stark fascinating novel set in the depths of winter in Wisconsin. A mail order bride has arrived, but is she all that she seems to be? Lovers of gothic tales such as those written by the Brontes or Daphne Du Maurier will love this novel.
  8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas Although it has been almost two hundred years since this novel was written, it is still an action packed novel that kept me up in the night trying to find out what happened next. It is the ultimate novel of revenge.
  9. The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier – I loved this book. It was a unique story with a unique heroine, Joy Harkness, that has moved to a small town into a large Victorian mansion that needs a lot of fixing up. The characters are wonderfully drawn and the writing is superb.
  10. Life of Pi by Yann Martel – Why do we believe? This tale of a boy and a tiger on the high seas was thought-provoking.

Books that I love tend to keep me thinking about them late into the night. I read a lot of good books this year and had a hard time narrowing them down. Special honorary shout-outs go to Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush, Alone by Richard Logan and Tere Duperrault Fassbender, The Brave by Nicholas Evans, By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan, and The Polski Affair by Leon H. Gilden. Also I have a special mention of Black Hills by Dan Simmons. This book had some of the best and most memorable scenes in fiction that I read (or listened to in this case) this year, but was brought down overall by some scenes that should have been cut (Brooklyn Bridge) and a too frisky General Custer.

Did you enjoy any of these novels? What were your favorite books in 2010?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen

Have you ever wondered about Mr. Darcy’s side of the story in Pride and Prejudice? I know I like to think about Mr. Darcy! The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy chronicles Mr. Darcy’s love for Elizabeth Bennet and how his sister Georgiana and cousin Anne had to work their magic at times to get Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth together.

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy mostly takes place between Mr. Darcy’s ill-fated proposal at Rosings to just after the marriage of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. This story is unique in that we get to find out what happened on Mr. Darcy’s side, and it also fills in the missing gaps on the Bennets' side.

The other unique aspect is that Anne de Bourgh is no longer the non-talkative invalid of Pride and Prejudice; she is a heroine with weak lungs who gives her all to ensure that her beloved cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy will have a happy ending. Unlike in P&P, she actually befriends Elizabeth and they become correspondents. She uses this opportunity to convince Elizabeth of Darcy’s goodness and also to make sure the timing of her holiday with find Mr. Darcy at home at Pemberley.

Georgiana has also changed in this version of the classic tale. She is no longer a shy wallflower, but is a budding author whose imagination takes flight at anything hinting of gothic mystery or of romance. Her curiosity of her brother’s secret love for Elizabeth leads her to help her cousin Anne to do anything she can to bring the two together.

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy was a very well-written and enjoyable tale. It had great witty dialogue that made me laugh out loud a few times. Unlike some other Mr. Darcy books that just paraphrase Pride and Prejudice, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy is a fully realized tale of its own that was very intriguing. Author Mary Lydon Simonsen took the original story and expanded on it, creating new intriguing characters, and developing other minor characters into riveting new characters themselves. I especially liked the expanded Bingley clan and older brother George. I also loved the humorous turn of events after Lydia elopes with Wickham.

Overall, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy is the perfect book for all lovers of Pride and Prejudice to fill in the behind the scenes details of how our favorite two lovers were finally able to get together!

Author Mary Lydon Simonsen will be a guest on Laura’s Reviews this upcoming Thursday so stay tuned!

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

The Winners of The Heir by Grace Burrowes

The two lucky winners of The Heir by Grace Burrowes are Nathalie of Book Eternity and Katherine. Congrats to you both!!

Winners were chosen using a monte carlo simulation in excel to generate random numbers. My computer doesn't seem to like lately and I'm an engineer so excel is my best friend.

Both winners were notified via email and have until this Friday, January 21st, to send me their mailing addresses. If I don't hear from this by that time, I will draw new winners.

Thank-you to Danielle at Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this great giveaway. Thank-you to all who read this blog and entered the giveaway!

I still have one great giveaway for an audiobook copy of Cleopatra on the sidebar. Stay tuned this week for another new giveaway!

The Winners of An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin Audiobook

The two lucky winners of audiobook copies of An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin are katklaw777 and DarcyO. Congratulations!! The two winners were chosen using a Monte Carlo simulation to generate random numbers in excel ( is not working on my computer again!).

I have emailed the winners and they have until this Friday, January 21st, to send me their mailing address. Otherwise, new winners will be drawn.

Thank-you to Anna from Hachette Book Group for allowing me to host this great giveaway. I look forward to reviewing the book myself!

Sad you didn't win? There is still an ongoing giveaway for the audiobook version of Cleopatra on my sidebar and stay tuned this week for another great giveaway!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I was evil this month for my FLICKS Book and Movie club and chose two books for my fellow members to read. In my defense, I don’t get to chose again until next fall and One for the Money and Water for Elephants were both books I wanted to chose and both the movie versions of them come out before my next turn. Since we like to go to movies together, I thought I’d pick these both to see if they would be movies that my club would like to see together.

Jacob Jankowski is a ninety-three year old retired veterinarian that lives in assisted living. A circus comes to town and sets up across the street from the assisted living. The excitement of the circus among the residents brings back memories to Jacob of the time that he worked for the circus in his youth.

Jacob’s parents were killed in a car accident a week before he was due to graduate from Cornell with his veterinary degree. The plan had been for Jacob to return home after graduation and join his father’s practice. After his parents’ death, Jacob learns they had mortgaged their home to the hilt in order to send him to school. It is the 1930’s and times were tough. Jacob is in turmoil and is not sure what to do with his life. On a whim, he jumps on a train only to discover it is a circus train.

The circus manager, Big Al, is happy to discover he is a Cornell trained vet and Jacob is on the show. Jacob learns the ropes of the circus and discovers that the people and animals are not treated well. He also meets the beautiful Marlena and her moody husband, August. Big Al buys an elephant for the circus named Rosie that is unable to perform. This puts the circus in financial difficulties. Will Rosie save the circus? Will Jacob and Marlena find a way to be together?

It has been a few years since I first read Water for Elephants. I remembered the basic story, but I really enjoyed reading it again for the second time and seeing all of the details I missed. Being a few years older, I also had a different prospective on the “old man” parts of the book. The first time around I was bored by them, but this time around, they were some of my favorite parts. I think having my Great-Grandma in assisted living and then passing away made me think more about what it would be like to be an old person at the end of your life living in assisted living.

My favorite quote in the book is, “When you’re five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties you know how old you are. I’m twenty-three, you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties something strange starts to happen. It’s a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I’m – you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you’re not. You’re thirty-five. And then you’re bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it’s decades before you admit it.”

This happened to me. I made fun of my husband for not remembering how old he is (he’s two years older than me), but then once I hit thirty, the same thing started to happen to me. I have to think about how old I am when people ask me. I often think I’m my husband’s age and then am relieved to realize I’m two years younger!

I also enjoy the great historic detail on the workings of a traveling train circus in the 1930’s. I found them to be fascinating and something new that I had never read about before. I especially liked the historic pictures at the beginning of each chapter. My book club also enjoyed this aspect of the novel. I think we need to take a road trip to The Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI. I’ve never been there before (I grew up in Michigan).

One book club member did not like this book due to the animal cruelty. There are scenes of animal cruelty that were very disturbing. Luckily Jacob didn’t see them first hand, although he heard them and saw the after effects. Author Sara Gruen gives the historic basis of some of this cruelty in her author’s note in the back. Sadly the real story was worse than the fictional story.

I myself was disturbed by the cruelty to the circus workers. The practice of “redlighting” workers by throwing them off the train when the circus was in hard financial straits is more than a little disturbing. I actually had to do a quick research online to see if it was true that such things happened after I finished the book and unfortunately, it looks like it did.
I am looking forward to the movie. What do you think of the casting of Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon in these roles?

Overall, I enjoyed this book all over again for the second time. It is a great story love story, a great historical fiction story of circuses in the 1930’s, a great story of life in your 90’s, and a great mystery (whodunit from the prologue). Water for Elephants was first recommended to me by a member of my book club in Milwaukee and was now passed on by me to my current book club. It is my first book for the Historical Fiction Challenge 2011.

Book Source: My brother-in-law and sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago.

Friday, January 14, 2011

In Defense of Stephanie Plum

I picked One for the Money for my FLICKS Book and Movie Club pick this month as I think the Stephanie Plum series is a light and funny set of books, and more importantly, there is a movie version coming out of One for the Money this summer and since this club likes to get together and go to a movie, I thought this would be a good choice. This particular book club also loves a good love triangle, and what could be better than Stephanie, Ranger, and Joe?

Well, it had been awhile since I had read this book and I had forgotten that the love triangle does not get more developed until later in the series. The Ranger I know and love was only fleetingly shown. I also love Lula and Grandma Mazur, but they only have brief appearances.

One for the Money is a good set-up book for the series in its introduction of Stephanie Plum and her new career as a bounty hunter. Stephanie is a lingerie buyer that has been out of a job for six months. She’s out of money and goes to her cousin Vinnie for a job in his bail bondsmen office as a file clerk. The file clerk position has been filled, so Stephanie instead takes the information on Joe Morelli, a former high school love turn nemesis after he wrote about their romantic encounter on the walls of a bathroom. Morelli is a cop accused of murdering an unarmed man and is on the run. Stephanie wants the large sum (ten grand) that she will get for turning him in to turn her life back around. She learns the ropes from the ultimate man of mystery, Ranger, and has some scary encounters with deranged boxer Benito Ramirez. Will Stephanie capture Morelli?

I must admit, I love book club when a book can get people talking. And the best way to get people talking is if they don’t like a book. Often at book club, we tend to pick books that fall within our comfort zone. I like to read books that I normally wouldn’t pick up and learn about new authors or a new genre that I haven’t read before. I think that book clubs are a perfect opportunity for this. I sometimes try to pick books that are different from the normal reading habits of my book club just for this reason.

While most members of the book club liked One for the Money, one member did not. She hated Stephanie Plum, the tone of the book, and couldn’t finish it. She thought it was just a set up for a movie with great lines, but not realistic. This assessment of the book got me thinking about it and about Stephanie Plum, which is exactly what I like a book club to do.

I realized I have a totally different view of Stephanie Plum. I like Stephanie because she is different from most heroines of novels. She is not a perfect person on a pedestal waiting for a white knight to rescue her. She doesn’t live in a huge mansion with a rich family. She is a flawed person that has an addiction to food, crazy relatives, and is majorly indecisive. She has problems with her bills and is not the world’s best bounty hunter. But through it all Stephanie remains positive. She has brunt honesty about her short comings, family, and friends that I find refreshingly funny. I love the first person narrative structure of the book where you getting thoughts straight from Stephanie. I think that Stephanie is a great real heroine. While Stephanie may find herself in situations that I don’t, she reminds me of some of my friends and would be a fun person to have over for dinner!

My friend also didn’t like Morelli and thought he didn’t get much character development. Here I also must heckle my friend. You didn’t finish the book! Morelli is a man on the run so he is only fleetingly in the beginning of the book when Stephanie is on the look-out for him. They have more time together toward the end of the book and I thought the ending was pretty romantic myself . . . but Morelli is a man’s man and romance to him may be eating pizza and watching the game!

Overall though, while I harass my friend, I also want to thank her. I like when someone can truthfully admit to not liking a book, can create a good discussion, and can keep me thinking into the night why I do like my book!

After reading One of the Money again, I realized I liked the character additions and developments that happen throughout the series. I must admit though that I think the series peaked at somewhere like book seven or so. The newest books, while they make me laugh, there seems to be no new character development. I would really like the story to keep moving. Have Stephanie finally pick someone!

What do you think? Are you a fan of Stephanie or did you try to read about her and hated her? Please tell me your story! And what do you think of Katherine Heigl as Stephanie? I am not a fan of that casting.

On a side note, this book was written way before a movie was ever thought of. This book was originally published in 1994, which you can tell when they have “car phones” and a lack of cell phones at critical moments. It was funny to read about the lack of technology!

Book Source: I purchased this book at Target.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the third and final book in the Millennium Trilogy. It is an excellent novel and such a page turner that I had a hard time putting it down. It is a 500 page book with some pretty dense language, but I was able to finish it in only a couple days.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest starts directly after the events of The Girl Who Played with Fire. Lisbeth Salander is fighting for her life the hospital after being shot in the head at the end of the last novel. Although Lisbeth is wounded and locked away for a large part of the novel, she is a formidable foe. Her allies Mikael Blomkvist, Annika Gianni (Blomkvist’s sister and Lisbeth’s lawyer), Anders Jonasson, and Dragon Armansky work together to help free Lisbeth from murder allegations and to expose the massive government cover-up that has led to Lisbeth being abused for much of her life. Exposure of this conspiracy will not only vindicate Lisbeth, but will rock the Swedish government.

Larsson wrote this novel with meticulous detail, which I have read complaints about in other reviews. I like the detail and still was able to briskly read through the novel. It was a bit slow at the beginning and the end, but overall a good read.

Was anyone else scared by the scene of Zalachenko trying to get to Lisbeth’s room in the hospital on his crutches? The thought of being confined to a hospital bed and being able to hear your attacker’s crutches coming down the hall is terrifying. I wanted to know why the two were only doors apart when they were both in the hospital after trying to kill each other! That seems like a problem!

While the novel was a thrilling read, my favorite part of it was the strong women. Lisbeth herself is a unique heroine and although she is small in stature, she doesn’t let life take control of her, she takes firm control of life. Other female characters such as Monica Figuerola and Erika Berger were tough women in a man’s world. I liked the exerpts about amazons and women warriors. The first book in this trilogy may have been about “men who hate women,” but the third book is about women triumphantly fighting back.

I enjoyed this book and the entire series. If you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend them. Are the Swedish movies worth watching or should I wait for the American versions?

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Winners of Rescue by Anita Shreve Audiobooks

The two lucky winners of the audiobook version of Rescue by Anita Shreve are ttlyoverit17 of Books and Shtuff and Suko of Suko's Notebook. Congrats to the winners!!

The winners were chosen using and were notified via email. They have until Friday January 14th to respond to me with their mailing addresses. If I don't hear from them by that time, I will draw new winners.

Thank-you to Anna from Hachette Book Group for allowing me to giveaway Rescue and also for allowing me to review it. I'm listening to it right now and am enjoying it!

Sad that you didn't win? I still have many more great giveaways that are currently ongoing. Please check out the right sidebar of this blog for more details!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011 Reading Challenges

I'm still running consistently behind on my blog postings due to the holidays, having three kids, and actually wanting to sleep at some point. I have a couple of book reviews to post and my 2010 list of top ten books, but I thought instead I would at least get signed up for the challenges I would like to participate in this year!

Historical Fiction is my favorite genre of books to read. I decided this year I should keep track of what historical fiction books I read and participate in a challenge so I can read other's reviews and share my love of historical fiction.
Historical Tapestry is hosting the challenge this year and has the following guidelines:
  • everyone can participate, even those who don't have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section if you wish)

  • add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide us directly to your review)

  • any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,...)
    you can overlap this challenge with others kind of challenges

  • During these following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:
    Severe Bookaholism: 20 books
    Undoubtedly Obsessed: 15 books
    Struggling the Addiction: 10 books
    Daring & Curious: 5 books
    Out of My Comfort Zone: 2 books

  • The challenge will run from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2011.

I am aiming for severe bookaholism!

The second challenge I would like to participate in is an online Book Club at Dreams and Speculations that explores "the Women of Science Fiction." Science Fiction is another of my favorite genres that I enjoy reading, but unfortunately, I haven't been reading as much sci-fi the last few years as I would like. I think the concept of this challenge and how there is a book for each month. I haven't read any of the chosen books, and I haven't read many sci-fi books written by women in general. I'm excited to learn about new authors!

As described by Dreams and Speculations, the book club works like this:

"It’s simple. Anyone is invited to participate for one month or all twelve months. And what are we reading? A month ago I posted polls to 40+ possible books. The twelve are our 2011 selections. Each month will get a different book. Any participant has the entire month to read that book and prepare for a review/discussion on the last day of the month here at Dreams & Speculation. It’s that easy. "

The third challenge I want to participate in is the The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011 hosted by Laurel Ann at Austenprose. It has been two-hundred years since Sense and Sensibility was first published and Laurel Ann is spending the year celebrating. I am aiming for the "Disciple" level with 5-8 Sense and Sensibility inspired entries. Knowing myself and Jane Austen challenges, I may exceed this!

I plan to review the following items for this challenge:

1. I have Found it (Kandukondain Kandukondain) 2000

2. Sense and Sensibility 1995

3. Brightsea, by Jane Gillespie

4. Reason and Romance, by Debra White-Smith

5. Sense and Sensibility: The Screenplay and Diaries, by Emma Thompson and Lindsay Doran

6. The Three Weismanns of Westport, Cathleen Schine

My fourth and final challenge I would like to join at this time is The Audiobook Challenge 2011 hosted by Teresa's Reading Corner. The 2011 Audio Book Challenge will run from January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011. I am aiming for the Addicted level of 12 Audio Books through the year. I may surpase this!

I look forward to all of these challenges throughout this year. For those of you wondering about the All About the Brontes Challenge, I'll have a post up in the next few weeks about it!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Stephanie Plum Reading Challenge Wrap-up

I joined The Stephanie Plum Reading Challenge with hopes of getting caught up on the series by the end of 2010. Mission accomplished!

I read (or listened to the audiobook) the following regular series novels by Janet Evanovich:

1 Twelve Sharp
2 Lean Mean Thirteen
3 Fearless Fourteen
4 Finger Lickin’ Fifteen
5 Sizzling Sixteen

I also listened to the audiobook on the following “between-the-novels” books:

1 Plum Lovin’
2 Plum Lucky
3 Plum Spooky

I definitely enjoy the regular series better than the “between-the-novels” books. I must say though, that while the Stephanie Plum series does give me a good laugh, I think the earlier novels were better than the later ones. I’m at the point now where I’m tired of the love triangle and just want Stephanie to pick Ranger or Joe!

I discovered that this is the only series of books that I actually prefer listening to the audiobook versions versus reading the hardcover books. I love Lorelei King’s reading of the books. She is one of the best audiobook readers I have ever heard and she makes these books fun to listen too.

Thank-you J. Kaye for hosting this challenge!

Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich (audiobook)

Plum Lucky is the third of the “between-the-novel” books in the Stephanie Plum series. These novels are holiday themed and as you can guess from the title, Plum Lucky chronicles Stephanie Plum’s adventures on one memorable St. Patrick’s Day.

Grandma Mazur has found a bag of money at the end of a rainbow on St. Patrick’s Day. A little man with green pants claims it is his and tries to take it back, but Grandma will have none of it. Stephanie and Lula spot her fighting the man off and help her out. Grandma buys an RV and takes the money to Atlantic City. Stephanie and Lula have to find Grandma and are helped by the sexy Diesel. It turns out that the man in the green pants have stolen the money from an old foe, and Stephanie has to help get the money back in order to save the life of a horse . . . and Grandma.

Plum Lucky was another funny entry into the Stephanie Plum series. I still don’t like the “between-the-novel” books as much as the regular novels. I still think it’s because mystery man Diesel is not as good of a man of mystery as Ranger. Stephanie already has enough trouble picking between Ranger and Joe, she doesn’t really need a third man in her life!

I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook. As I stated in my review of Plum Lovin’, Lorelei King makes this book and all of the Stephanie Plum books a joy to listen too. She has a unique voice for each character, and it makes the book highly entertaining. I love reading the Stephanie Plum books, but King makes them fun to listen to. I actually am starting to prefer them on audiobook versus hard copy for this reason.

This if my final selection for the Stephanie Plum Reading Challenge. I am now officially caught up on the series!

Audiobook Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Everything Austen Challenge II Wrap-up

As readers of this blog know, I love everything Jane Austen related. I especially love the Everything Austen Challenge and was glad to be a part of it again this year. I don’t really need an excuse to read, watch, or listen to anything Austen related, but this challenge inspires me to go above and beyond, and I love reading all of the great reviews from others that come with it. It always gives me a lot more ideas for Austen related works to read in the future!

I completed all of the items I had originally intended to for this challenge, and added many more along the way. I read the following eight books:

I listened to the following three audiobooks:

I watched the following three movies:

In all, I read, listened, and watched a total of fourteen items for this challenge.

I learned that I had missed a great Pride and Prejudice mini-series, the BBC-1980 version. While it does not replace the 1995 mini-series as my favorite, it is a great series in its own right. I didn’t really enjoy the BBC versions of S&S or Persuasion. I don’t think I need to watch these versions again.

I also learned that while I love listening to Jane Austen on audiobook, some audiobooks are far better than others. Juliet Stevenson was an excellent reader for Persuasion, but the other two audiobooks I listened to had really dry readers.

I enjoyed all of the books I read, and don’t have one favorite. While I do love Mr. Darcy, I did enjoy reading about other characters from Pride and Prejudice (Charlotte Collins) and books based on other Austen works (Lady Vernon and Her Daughter). I thought Abigail Reynolds and C. Alleyn Pierson did a wonderful job of creating new works based on P&P, and especially creating great new characters while remaining true to the original characters. I also loved Mr. Darcy as a cowboy in Pemberley Ranch.

Thank-you to Stephanie for hosting this great challenge. I hope that it returns again later this year!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter was a great way to end the Everything Austen Challenge II for 2010. It was an amazing book and was a very original take on Austen. Although I love Mr. Darcy, it is great to read Austen lit based on different characters and book in the Austen canon.

Lady Susan is a short epistolary novella that was written by Jane Austen in the 1790’s, or around the same time she wrote her first version of Sense and Sensibility. Lady Susan shows that Austen’s wit started while she was young with her first forays into writing. I read Lady Susan last year as part of the Lady Susan Soiree on Austenprose. It was great fun.

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter take the Lady Susan novella and expand it into a novel, in the same manner as Austen took her original Sense and Sensibility story and expanded it.

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter takes the view that the letters that you read in Lady Susan, may show a prejudiced point of view of Lady Susan Vernon and that there may be much more to the story. And the much more to the story is a captivating tale that I enjoyed reading and had a hard time putting down!

Susan Martin is a beautiful young woman with a sparkling wit, but not much in the way of a dowry. She enthralls many men, but falls in love with and marries Sir Frederick Vernon. Her Aunt and Uncle settle a London home on the couple and they have a happy life together that is only troubled by financial woes brought about by Sir Frederick’s brother Charles. Sir Frederick and Lady Susan have one beloved daughter, Frederica. After Sir Frederick passes away, his estate passes to his brother and Lady Susan and Frederica find themselves in trouble in the matters of money and in love. And ill-informed gossip plagues them at every turn. What is a woman to do in a man’s world to survive?

I enjoyed the entire book. It was the next best thing to reading an original Jane Austen novel. I definitely rate Lady Vernon and Her Daughter as among the best of the Austen Lit based on original Austen works. I loved the author’s note at the end that described the reasoning for doing things such as using the name Lady Vernon rather than Lady Susan. It was very interesting. I also enjoyed the original Lady Susan letters at the end and the great family tree at the beginning of the novel. They definitely enhanced the reading experience.

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter is my fourteenth and final item for the Everything Austen Challenge II for 2010. I finished the book on December 30th, but the holidays have me a bit behind on my posts!

Book Source: I won this novel from Laurel Ann on Austenprose.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Giveaway - Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff Audiobook

I am excited to be able to give away two audiobook copies of the new biography, Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff courtesy of Hachette Book Group. Entertainment Weekly recently had this book in its top ten non-fiction books of 2010. I can't wait to listen to this audiobook myself!

Audiobook Description (from Hachette Book Group):
The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt.

Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.

Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and--after his murder--three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.

Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra's supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.

About the Author (from Hachette Book Group):
Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize, the Ambassador Award in American Studies, and the Gilbert Chinard Prize of the Institut Français d'Amérique. All three were New York Times Notable Books; the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the Chicago Tribune, and The Economist also named A Great Improvisation a Best Book of the Year. The biographies have been published in a host of foreign editions.

Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities and was a Director’s Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She was awarded a 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Schiff has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe, among other publications. She lives in New York City.

Giveaway Details:
Anna of Hachette Book Group has been kind enough to offer two copies of the audiobook version of Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of Cleopatra, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel. As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

Winners will be subject to the one copy per household rule, which means that if you win the same title in two or more contests, you will receive only one copy of the title in the mail.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday January 21st.

Good luck!

Winner of The Polski Affair!

The lucky winner of The Polski Affair by Leon H. Gildin is bettycd of More Coffee?. Betty was chosen using a Monte Carlo simulation in excel. What can I say? I'm an engineer and for some reason wouldn't work on my computer today!

I have notified Betty via email and will mail the book to her once I receive her mailing address. If I don't hear from her by this Friday, I will draw a new winner.

Thank-you to all who entered this giveaway, to author Leon H. Gildin who wrote a great book and also a great guest blog, and to Kim of On Point Communications for supplying me a review copy and a giveaway copy of this book.

If you are sad you didn't win, check out the great giveaways posted on my sidebar and stay tuned for another great giveaway that I will be posting later today!