Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bloggiests Mini-Challenge!

Bloggiest Mini-Challenge: Setting Goals

Part of Bloggiesta is mini-challenges - tasks to help you spruce up your blog, some of which also include prizes participants can win. There's a list of new mini-challenges for this year on Suey's blog, It's All About Books. Danielle has posted Flashback mini-challenges on her blog, There's A Book. These are challenges from past Bloggiesta years.

One of the Flashbacks designed and hosted by Amy of My Friend Amy, a wonderful blog, is about Setting Goals for your blog. This is a challenge I desperately needed! As a result, and lots of thanks to Amy whose goals inspired my own, I've come up with a list of goals for my blog in 2012:

**Overall, by the end of 2012, I want to write a blog I want to read.
**By the end of 2012, I want to decide, once and for all, if I want to move my blog to  If my answer is yes, then I want to move it.
**By August I want to have a schedule for posting as well as posts ready to go so my posting isn’t up in the air or last minute.
**By early June I want to be writing reviews I’m proud of but that take me less time to write than they do now.

These may not look like much, but these goals are huge and will, hopefully, improve my blog ten fold! (Hoping, hoping!)

Friday, March 30, 2012

~ Bloggiest Begins! ~

Bloggiesta Starting Line!

I discovered only yesterday that Bloggiesta is this weekend. This will be my first time participating and I’m excited about it!  Bloggiesta is organized by Suey at It’s All About Books and 1st Daughter at There’s A Book. Bloggiest is a Blogging Fiesta led by mascot, PEDRO: Plan. Edit. Develop, Review. Organize. The idea is for the next 3 days participants work on perfecting their blogs and connecting with other bloggers working on their blogs.

My blog and I need help! My initial list is below but it may grow and change as I hopefully figure things out and cross out items!

Bloggiesta To Do List!
1. Make changes to sidebar
2. Link up with Twitter, Facebook etc.
3. Find out how to list social media icons on sidebar
4. List books read and/or by Title and Author
5. Figure out how to list above on a separate page attached to my blog
6. How to make additional blog pages
7. Find out what the above is actually called! (Maybe page tabs?!)
8. Clean up Google Reader
9. Clean up labels
10. Update Goodreads account
11. Reduce review backlog
12. Learn to write better and shorter reviews and write them faster!
13. Comment, comment, comment!
14. How to add a video to a posts
15. How to add an audio excerpt to a post
16. Pintrest
17. SEO - what is it, how to use it!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

Date Published: February 28, 2012
ISBN: 978-0062192974
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Mystery
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to Les Genévriers, an abandoned house set among the fragrant lavender fields of the south of France. Deeply in love and surrounded by music, books, and the heady summer scents of the French countryside, Eve has never felt more alive. But as verdant summer fades to golden autumn, the grand house’s strange and troubling mysteries begin to unfold—and Eve now must uncover its every secret . . . before dark history can repeat itself.

My Thoughts: The Lantern is promoted as being similar to or in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. This immediately piqued my iinterest in the book since Rebecca is a favorite book of mine. =Once I had The Lantern in my hands, ready to read it, I became nervous. I was concerned my expectations for this book were too high. I worried I’d doomed The Lantern to failure in my own eyes even before reading it. A few chapters into The lantern and my fears were erased. Deborah Lawrenson has written a beautiful, absorbing gothic ghost story and romance that pays a loving tribute to Rebecca but stands on its own as a fantastic book.

The book summary above details only one story in The Lantern but there are two. The book opens with Eve and Dom’s story but the second chapter and every other chapter thereafter tells the story of Bénédicte who grew up with her family at Les Genévriers during WW II and lived there until the 1970s. When Bénédicte’s family: dad and mom, beautiful and talented sister Marthe and frightening, evil brother Pierre, lived at Les Genévriers it was a farm with acres and acres of land inhabited by tenants of the farm. Bénédicte tells the tragic story of her family, revealing long held secrets and the mysteries that remained unsolved in her lifetime.

I was instantly magnetized by Eve’s story about her whirlwind romance with Dom after they met in Switzerland and how they eventually settled at Les Genévriers in the south of France. It took me a little longer to get into Bénédicte’s story. At first, I was almost annoyed when one chapter ended and I had to switch to her story. I felt this way, not because I didn’t care for Bénédicte, but rather because I was caught up in Eve’s story which moved almost as quickly as her romance with Dom in Part I of this book But I was as absorbed in Bénédicte’s story by chapter 10. The two stories seemed separate at first then I realized they were linked in subtle but important ways. Bénédicte and Eve share similar characteristics and personalities. When I realized this I began to really enjoy the back and forth of the stories.

Bénédicte is elderly and looks back on her life as she tells us about her life. Les Genévriers is in a sad state of disrepair by now. Bénédicte talks of ghostly images, visions and about of strange sounds and sights that haunted her, giving her story and Les Genévriers a wonderfully chilling, haunting atmosphere. This is contrasted by dynamic, picturesque descriptions of the land, the trees, flowers and the mountains surrounding Les Genévriers. Lawrenson’s descriptions are vivid and lush lifting Les Genévriers off the page and bringing it to life. I felt as if I could see and smell the flowering lavender plants Bénédicte describes at length. Similarly, I got chills when she describes being outside in the dark night seeing strange images, hearing unexpected sounds. It felt so real.

Lawrenson brilliantly brings Les Genévriers and Eve and Dom together after the house has been abandoned and deserted for many years, linking the two stories. I thought it was fascinating that, as the stories progress, we know things about Les Genévriers from Bénédicte that are not known by Eve and Dom. I was curious to see how Eve finds the house and grounds, wondering if she will see ghostly images or hear haunting sounds. As they move in and set about repairing and restoring Les Genévriers they’re in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. Eve is content and happy, little bothers or upsets her. The descriptions of the house and grounds are rich, colorful and vivid. When not working on the house or the grounds, Eve and Dom’s life is about literature, music and research. It’s an idyllic existence. Until things change.

The south of France, beautiful in the warm months is cold, harsh and unfriendly in the winter months. With the change in the weather, Eve feels and sees changes in Dom. He becomes withdrawn, reserved and almost morose at times. She feels closed off from him, kept at a distance. This makes Eve suspicious of Dom. She questions whether she really knows him at all. Eve, naive and trusting is insecure as the younger woman in her relationship. She’s desperately in love with Dom and their life and fears ruining the relationship so she treads carefully around him. She knows little of his life prior to her and doesn’t question his desire for them to be alone. Eve misses her friends and family but kowtows to Dom’s wishes. Lawrenson doesn’t provide an extensive background of Eve’s life but she creates a woman we can relate to, understand and empathize with. Dom remains a mystery. I didn’t want to see him as a bad guy, maybe because there’s a truly bad guy in The Lantern, but Eve’s suspicions impacted me and I became concerned for her safety. I hoped that Eve would get up the nerve to find the answers to her questions and discover Dom‘s secrets.

When Les Genévriers was Bénédicte’s family home, also living there was a contemptuous individual, her brother, Pierre. A nasty, unkind boy who grew to be purely evil, he manipulated people but also knew when to turn on the charm.. Lawrenson so effectively creates a character with the traits of a sociopath that I was actually afraid for Bénédicte in several scenes. She’s kind, thoughtful, giving, almost unable to be mean and hence, she’s reluctant to believe that Pierre is evil. The day comes when Bénédicte can no longer deny it. I sympathized with her frustration that no one else in her family saw Pierre for who he really was. He had them all hood-winked. As the stories progressed, I wondered how much my knowledge of Pierre might be coloring my view of Dom as Eve’s suspicions and distrust grow. I thought this was a fascinating aspect of the story.

Eve begins to see unexplainable ghostly images and experiences strange occurrences at Les Genévriers around this time. She also hears things she cannot explain and feels uneasy in some of Les Genévrier’s rooms. The separate stories become much closer as one begins to inform the other. The ghostly gothic imagery in Bénédicte’s world finds it’s way to Eve. Both women see a lit lantern, for instance, along a path on the grounds late at night. They have no idea how it got there. Bénédicte and Eve are haunted by loss. Bénédicte relays the mysterious disappearance of her sister in the midst of a flourishing career. Eve has becomes obsessed by the unexplainable disappearance, several years ago, of Dom’s ex-wife, Rachel, whom he refuses to talk about. Questions about the women plague Bénédicte and Eve in their lives. Eve decides to research Les Genévriers and discovers the story of Bénédicte’s sister, Marthe and a connection to Dom’s ex-wife which increases her suspicions.

Lawrenson has written an absorbing story about two fascinating women and their intriguing lives that are both linked to an amazing home, Les Genévriers and riveting mysteries. Add in gothic elements and vivid imagery, interesting characters, several with their own captivating side stories, and a little bit romance and you have a mesmerizing book that’s difficult to put down once you start reading it. If this review is somewhat confusing, I’m sorry about that. I wanted to give you a taste for this wonderful book without giving away the best parts of it. The Lantern is a book that sucks you in, causing you to forget the world around you, and transports you to the south of France, an abundantly lush landscape and the haunting, beautiful world of Les Genévriers.  I highly recommend this book.

See Deborah Lawrenson's Website, Blog and Facebook page

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review The Lantern and to Harper Paperbacks for a copy of this book.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Date Published: August 16, 2011
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Pages: 384
ISBN: 978-0307887436
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Winner of the 2011 Indie Lit Award in the category of Speculative Fiction

Book Summary: Set in a terrifyingly plausible near future, Ready Player One tells the story of Wade Watts, who, like most of his contemporaries, escapes a grim, poverty-stricken reality by spending his waking hours jacked into a sprawling online utopia known as the OASIS. Created by the reclusive James Halliday, the OASIS is a place where you can be anything you want to be, and where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And somewhere within this alternate reality, the ultimate lottery ticket lies concealed: Halliday has promised that control of the OASIS—and his massive fortune—will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late-twentieth century. And then Wade unlocks the first puzzle. Suddenly the world is watching, and Wade finds himself embroiled in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, pitted against powerful opponents who are willing to commit very real murder to gain control of the OASIS. If he’s going to survive, Wade will have to leave behind his perfect virtual existence and face up to the real world he’s been terrified of for so long.

My Thoughts:  In 2044 the world is a beaten down, worn out place of despair. Most people, like teenage Wade Watts, avoid what would most-likely be a grim existence in the real world by escaping into the OASIS. Wade is virtually alone in the world since both his parents died when he was much younger. Uncomfortable and insecure with who he is, Wade prefers the virtual world where he can be anyone he wants to be. In the OASIS, Wade also has his one true friend, Aech. When he isn’t attending school in the OASIS, Wade searches for answers to the riddles Halliday left, determined to win Halliday’s “Easter Egg” and thereby gain the respect of the world as well as Halliday’s substantial fortune.

Wade’s solitude and the many hours he spends in the OASIS has given him plenty of time to familiarize himself with Halliday and the music, TV, books and other things he loved, most of which came out of the 1980s. Wade, a huge admirer and fan of Halliday’s even before he announced the competition, shares many of Halliday’s interests, loves and obsessions. This gives Wade a bit of an edge against the other gunters (egg hunters!) and some nasty, ruthless competitors when the hunt’s announced. It’s an extremely difficult competition since Halliday was highly intelligent with a wide range of interests. Halliday’s riddles are extremely difficult to decipher and for five years nobody managed to find the first clue.

Gaming, popular in the 80’s, is integral to the competition and the story. The competitors play a different videogames to advance to the next level of the competition. Each game and level also contains unexpected surprises and threats that must be defeated. This fun and creative competition thrilled the geek in me, especially since most of the videogames come from the ‘80s, my teenage years. I was reminded of Pac-Man, Frogger and other games I once played but hadn’t thought of in years.

Wade diligently works to decipher Halliday’s clues and play the next game in the quest. Videogames are Wade’s specialty so we get a blow-by-blow description of every video game he plays as well as whatever else is required of Wade to succeed to the next level. This is a busy, extremely action-packed narrative and I was surprisingly excited, my heart pounding as Wade moved ’up the ladder’ on his way to win the Easter Egg. The elated feeling faded a little as the story progressed because the action on each successive clue and level became somewhat repetitive rendering it a little tedious for this neophyte gamer. Feeling threatened by the nasty, ruthless competitors, Wade, about three-quarters of the way through the book, pulls a stunt that’s a little too over-the-top even for this book. I know this is a fun, science fiction, fantasy kind of book, but this part was a little ridiculous and bordered on the cheesy.

I wondered if I might have a different opinionm about what Wade did if I understood him and was able to relate to him better. Wade is the only character whose real life is slightly defined and described but it’s not enough to provide a three-dimensional view of him. Wade is intelligent and ambitious. He discovered the large, well-stocked public library in OASIS when he was younger and read many of the books. This intrigued me and I wanted to know so much more about Wade. I also thought Ready Player One had a great mix of characters, such as fellow gunters, Daito and Shoto, and Art3mis as well as Ogden Morrow, Halliday's partner whom I wanted to know more about. I kept waiting and hoping the author would share, extensively, Wade’s background and those of the other characters especially considering they want to win to save the real world from the evil people who want to destroy it. But Wade, the friends he’s made and his love interest remain two-dimensional and unknown to the readers.

Overall, I was entertained by Ready Player One and very much enjoyed reading this creative and captivating book. It spoke to the geek in me which I loved. I have a small fascination with gaming and how people become obsessed with it, so I was intrigued by the videogaming part of the book. My favorite part, although, was the numerous references to 80s pop-culture, such as Family Ties, The Greatest American Hero, Dungeons & Dragons, Ghostbusters, Revenge of the Nerds, Pink Floyd, Monty Python and so many more! This book offers action, intrigue and an interesting mix of the past and future for a riveting reading experience I think many readers will enjoy.

Thank you to Crown Publishers for sending me a copy of Ready Player One to read and review.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

~ First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate share the opening paragraph or two of a book you've decided to read based on that paragraph. I read about this book on the website of the book publisher, Algonquin and was hooked. Algonquin was great about sending me a copy and I’m looking forward to reading this satiric story about a frustrated novelist who discovers online poker...for better or worse.

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants in this terrific meme who can be found in the comments!
Pocket Kings by Ted Heller

It is a cold and harrowing morning in the life of a man the day he wakes up, looks at himself in the mirror, and finally realizes that he is not, has never been and never will be George Clooney. A magnificent, eternal ideal has been floating out there: it was a paragon of the perfect human being this man had wanted to become. He wanted to look like him, act like him, talk and think like him. He wanted to be him and shed the creaky body and cranky soul and unexciting past of the man he was. And now he realizes: it isn’t happening and it’s not going to - Damn it, I’m just going to go on being me.

Perfection will not only forever elude this broken man; it won’t even get close enough to tickle his bald spot, pinch his love handles, or tug on his double chin. If he were as much as half-perfect he wouldn’t be here; he wouldn’t be looking at his reflection in his smudged bathroom mirror, wishing with all his might that he were someone else. And it’s too late: it won’t ever happen. He knows it now. Excellence, courage, wit, grace, confidence...they’ve all slipped away. The luminous spirit of the ideal man has fled the scene and isn’t coming back. It’s all over now, Baby Blue. James Bond is long gone, my friend. You will never play centerfield for the Yankees, you will never be Tiger Woods or Spider-man, you won’t win an Oscar and own a large yacht and sleep with famous women. The closest you’ll ever get to being Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen is playing Guitar Hero. You’ve always been you and will always be you and now there’s nothing left to do but ride Life’s Moving Sidewalk Unto Death.

What are your thoughts about these paragraphs? Would you read this book based on these paragraphs?

Monday, March 26, 2012

~ Mailbox Monday ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Anna of Diary of an Eccentric. Below are the titles I recently received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained. Enjoy!

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (for review from William Morrow)
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.
In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary.

I, Iago by Nicole Galland (for review from William Morrow) From earliest childhood, the precocious boy called Iago had inconvenient tendencies toward honesty—a failing that made him an embarrassment to his family and an outcast in the corrupt culture of glittering Renaissance Venice. Embracing military life as an antidote to the frippery of Venetian society, Iago won the love of the beautiful Emilia and the regard of Venice's revered General Othello. After years of abuse and rejection, Iago was poised to achieve everything he had ever fought for and dreamed of . . .

But a cascade of unexpected deceptions propels him on a catastrophic quest for righteous vengeance, contorting his moral compass until he has betrayed his closest friends and family, and sealed his own fate as one of the most notorious villains of all time.

Inspired by William Shakespeare's classic tragedy Othello—a timeless tale of friendship and treachery, love and jealousy—Galland's I, Iago sheds fascinating new light on a complex soul, and on the conditions and fateful events that helped to create a monster.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (swapped with friend)

Told in a series of vignettes stunning for their eloquence, The House on Mango Street is Sandra Cisneros's greatly admired novel of a young girl growing up in the Latino section of Chicago. Acclaimed by critics, beloved by children, their parents and grandparents, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, it has entered the canon of coming-of-age classics.

Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous, The House on Mango Street tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, whose neighborhood is one of harsh realities and harsh beauty. Esperanza doesn't want to belong -- not to her rundown neighborhood, and not to the low expectations the world has for her. Esperanza's story is that of a young girl coming into her power, and inventing for herself what she will become.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Sunday Salon: A cat in a tree and a cat- bunny!?!

Spring may have arrived but it’s still March. Gone is the gorgeous 70 degree, sunny weather from last week. Today it’s cold, overcast and...well, I guess that's March! Today is a great day to sit down with a good book and a cup of tea or watch a movie.

The cats are back inside, cuddled up anywhere it’s warm and cozy. Yesterday Edgar, aka Lucky (by my 11-year old neighbor) climbed a small tree outside the front door and couldn’t figure out how to get down! The tree has a double trunk. About half way up the length of the tree, the limbs and branches start sprouting off everywhere. Edgar couldn’t figure out what to step on to get down once the branches stopped. He didn’t understand that he needed to run down the trunk just like he ran up it to get in the tree. He would start climbing down but when he ran out of branches to step on, he's climg up again!  With the help of several people, a variety of cat toys and some cat food, we encouraged Edgar to partly jump, skitter and tumble out of the tree. Once he was on solid ground he looked at all of his and then stalked off...I guess he was a little humiliated!  And he’ll probably be back up the tree in a few days.

The last few mornings I’ve seen a pretty cat outside just sitting and watching people and cars go by. She wasn’t interested in food. I don’t really know if she’s a girl, but she looks like one - she has long hair, small ears and a small, bright pink nose! Like Bob, she doesn’t have a tail. But the weird part is when runs she hops with her back legs, like a bunny! I don’t know If I’d believe it if I hadn’t seen it myself. She doesn’t always hop, just when she’s excited and wants to move quickly. It looks natural, too! I was afraid she might be hurt but it doesn’t look that way.  She looks perfectly happy hopping.  Bunnies and cats don't they?!  I only saw her for seconds this morning. I’m hoping she comes back soon.

It’s been a kind of blah week. My allergies are really bad, at least I think it’s my allergies! I’ve had a pretty constant headache, scratchy throat, no energy etc. etc. And I spent a lot of this week in doctor’s office (not related to the allergies). So, although I’ve been trying to read, I haven’t had much success. The same goes for writing. I sit down to read or at the computer and everything goes blank, it‘s like I lose all ability to think or focus. Hopefully this week coming up will be better on both counts. a lot but I have written almost nothing of any kind. I hate when this happens but at least I know it will go away...eventually!

I finished The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson and have about ten pages left in The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore. I’m also close to the end of Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kauffman. Soon I’ll have to pick something to read besides The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng which I started recently. I was hoping the weather would be nice enough this week so I could sit outside and read, especially since I missed most of this past week of beautiful weather sitting in waiting rooms! But it doesn’t look as if that will be. Oh well, maybe in April!

What are you reading today?
I hope it’s something good! Enjoy your day and have a great one!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

~ Wondrous Words Wednesday ~

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion's Weblog where we share words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun (please do!) Be sure to leave a link to your post over at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

The following words are from The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson :

" As the seasonal sybarites have drifted away to the next event. To a more fashionable spot for September or to the daily work that made these sunny weeks possible, we have stayed on.”

1. Sybarite
     : a person devoted to luxury and pleasure.

"The susurration in the trees on it‘s land was their childhood music, a magical rustling that seemed to cool the hottest afternoon."

2. Susurration
     : a soft murmur, whisper

" Through the Garden of Sound, where he talked, unexpectedly, about Debussy; through the Garden of Scent, where the cold air was spring-sharp with narcissi; on through the Gardens of Color and Touch, where we discussed synesthesia, and settled on Fridays being orange and shiny-smooth. .”

3. Synesthesia
     : a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color

" “We could find her a nice spot.”
“A plinth!”
He found her one, too: a plain cube of sandstone. "

4. Plinth
     : a slab-like member beneath the base of a column or pier
     : Also called plinth course, a projecting course of stones at the base of a wall; earth table.

“ A Greek boy, pox-ridden with lichen, cast an anguished look back t the house from the parterre; what should perhaps have been a parting glance had it not been petrified into a stare. "

5. Parterre
     : an ornamental arrangement of flower beds of different shapes and sizes.

" It was enough to make it necessary for her to sit down (a rare event) with a restorative cup of lavendar tisane. "

6. Tisane
     : an infusion (as of dried herbs) used as a beverage or for medicinal effects

" The lamplight went cloudy as if the bulb was glowing from inside a shell, leaving the room nacreous as an early morning when mist still covers the sun. "

7. Nacreous
     : having the luster of mother of pearl; pearlescent; a milky opalescent (or opaline) luster

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review: Hystera by Leora Skolkin-Smith

Hystera by Leora Skolkin-Smith

Date Published: November 16, 2011
Publisher: Fiction Studio Books
Pages: 194
ISBN: 978-1936558186
Genre: Health; Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

Book Summary: Set in the turbulent 1970s when Patty Hearst became Tanya the Revolutionary, Hystera is a timeless story of madness, yearning, and identity. After a fatal accident takes her father away, Lillian Weill blames herself for the family tragedy. Tripping through failed love affairs with men and doomed friendships, all Lilly wants is to be sheltered from reality. She retreats from the outside world into a world of delusion and the private terrors of a New York City Psychiatric Hospital. Unreachable behind her thick wall of fears, the world of hospital corridors and strangers become a vessel of faith. She is a foreigner there until her fellow patients release her from her isolation with the power of human intimacy.

How do we know who we really are? How do we find our true selves under the heavy burden of family and our pasts? In an unpredictable portrait of mental illness, Hystera penetrates to the pulsing heart of the questions.

My Thoughts:  Lilly has been voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric ward following a failed suicide attempt. She’s a smart woman, enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College.  But life is difficult and debilitating.  Overwhelming feelings of guilt regarding her father’s stroke and pressure from her clingy, critical mother have been troubling Lilly for quite a while.  The final straw is the breakup with her boyfriend, Mitchell after Lilly wasn’t comfortable having sex with him.  Lilly started experiencing delusions and hallucinations of a sexual nature brought on by shame about her body and sexual issues.  These feelings resulted in an imagined physical manifestation of the shame on her body that both upset and calmed Lilly.  She complained of pain between her legs, related to the imagined physical manifestation, while in the emergency room. When a nurse tried to examine her, Lilly became hysterical and had a severe breakdown, ending up in a quiet room on the locked psychiatric ward. There was nothing unusual found at the source of her pain. The doctors believe Lilly suffers from fear of intimacy and other issues of fear.

The majority of this book is told from Lilly’s point of view through a third-person narrator. The narrative is confusing and chaotic, especially early in the book, because we’re, essentially, inside Lilly’s mind experiencing what she thinks as she does. The narrative is also extremely effective and powerful since we’ve been given a front-row seat to Lilly’s thoughts and memories. It’s mesmerizing to read about Lilly’s memories of life with her mother when she was young and how she’s been strongly impacted by the things her mother said to her even when she was very young. Lilly struggles with issues about her mother and guilt that mainly revolve around Lilly’s desire to be free of her mother’s control. She’s searching for her own identity but Lilly doesn’t feel safe out in the world to discover who she is. Lilly also has difficulty trusting others and fears letting others know the real Lilly and what she wants from life. It’s a captivating and amazing experience to read about each day from Lilly’s point of view. It’s also confusing and disjointed, further emphasizing the mental illness at the center of this story but also making it difficult, sometimes, to understand what‘s happening in the book.

I’ve thought a lot about this book and Lilly since I read it. I’ve also returned to the book and reread a few chapters. I think it’s a book that benefits from rereading because there isn’t a straight-forward meaning to many of the passages. Lilly isn’t a character who it’s easy to relate to or identify with but she is dealing with some issues familiar, at least to a degree, to many women, particularly those issues involving mother-daughter relationships. Shame regarding our bodies, sexual feelings and behavior are also issues that are not uncommon to many people. Reading about how Lilly has been impacted by life is occasionally frightening because these familiar issues are partly responsible for driving Lilly mad, making her feel so insecure and unsafe in society that she tried to exit it. A few of the chapters, along with Lilly’s struggles, are also a little tiring and aggravating because it’s not always easy to understand where Lilly’s coming from or what she’s thinking and feeling. That’s probably due to my own lack of experience or understanding of mental illness and the unusual framework of this book.

Leora Skolkin-Smith has written a fascinating novel about one woman’s descent into mental illness and her struggle to feel whole. This is a haunting and poignant look at Lilly’s struggles. My heart went out to Lilly and I would have liked to know her better but the nature of her illness and this book makes that understandably impossible. I felt a range of emotions while reading this book and I, ultimately, rooted for Lilly to find herself and the feeling of security she longs for. I haven’t read many books about mental illness but Hystera has piqued my interest in reading some other books about struggling with mental illness and madness. I recommend this book to anyone interested in mental illness and people fighting to overcome it.

Leora Skolkin-Smith website.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book and to Fiction Studio Books and Leora Skolkin-Smith for a copy of Hystera

Friday, March 16, 2012

~ Digging to America by Anne Tyler ~

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Date Published: August 28, 2007
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 304
ISBN: 978-0345492340
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.0 out of 5

Book Summary: Two families, who would otherwise never have come together, meet by chance at the Baltimore airport – the Donaldsons, a very American couple, and the Yazdans, Maryam’s fully assimilated son and his attractive Iranian wife. Each couple is awaiting the arrival of an adopted infant daughter from Korea. After the instant babies from distant Asia are delivered, Bitsy Donaldson impulsively invites the Yazdans to celebrate: an “arrival party” that from then on is repeated every year as the two families become more and more deeply intertwined. Even Maryam is drawn in – up to a point. When she finds herself being courted by Bitsy Donaldson’s recently widowed father, all the values she cherishes – her traditions, her privacy, her otherness–are suddenly threatened.

A luminous novel brimming with subtle, funny, and tender observations that immerse us in the challenges of both sides of the American story.

My Thoughts:   Bitsy Donaldson and her husband, Brad are very different from Sami and Ziba Yazdan. When the families cross paths at the airport while both waiting for the arrival of the little girls they’ve adopted from Korea, Brad insists Sami and Ziba and Sami’s mother, Maryam join them at the Donaldsons to welcome the babies girls. It makes sense for these families to become friends. Bitsy won’t have it any other way, anyway. Most people find it exceedingly difficult to say no to Bitsy because she doesn‘t make it easy to do! Ziba is too well-mannered and kind to refuse Bitsy’s orders...ahem, I mean invitations. Sami and Ziba also like the idea of their new baby daughter, Susan having a little Korean girl her age, Jin-ho Donaldson, as a friend. They feel that if this requires Sami and Ziba to be friends with the Donaldsons they‘ll do it. Quiet, well-mannered Maryam isn’t so sure a close friendship with the loud, opinionated though well-meaning Bitsy is a good idea.

Digging to America is a character-driven book. There really isn’t a plot but the theme about how people from other countries move and settle in the United States and slowly acclimate to the American way of life, is well-developed, as are the corresponding themes of identity, family, friendship, loyalty and individuality. Anne Tyler deftly examines relationships within the context of family and friendship and skillfully relays how cultural identity plays into and, often, alters these relationships. Tyler explores the idea of “otherness” for immigrants trying to fit in and what it means to be different. Susan and Jin-ho aren’t the only characters who’ve moved to the USA from another country. Maryam Yazdan, Sami’s mother and now Susan’s grandmother, grew up in Iran. She moved to America just shy of twenty to marry an Iranian man chosen by her family. Susan and Jin-ho adapt easily to life in America since they’re babies with the love and support of their family and friends. In contrast, Maryam, after more than 20 years in the United States, still hasn’t adjusted. She isn’t really comfortable with life in America or with the behavior of Americans. Maryam appears to feel awkward and uncomfortable around most people including her own son. Sami almost completely denies his Iranian heritage and has always wanted a completely American lifestyle. Maryam’s sadness is almost palpable in a few scenes where Sami is dismissive of the Iranian culture and his heritage. But Maryam doesn’t try hard to adapt, often criticizing American’s behavior. Tyler adeptly portrays the range of human emotions with her characters in this book.

Maryam’s relationship with Sami is, sadly, dysfunctional but the other relationships portrayed: Sami and Ziba, Bitsy and Brad as well as Bitsy’s parents Dave and Connie are strong and solid marriages. I thought this was intriguing especially considering that the characters are flawed, some more strongly than others, much like real people. Tyler does a terrific job showing how the couples support and help each other in their marriages, even when one spouse is unreasonable. I especially enjoyed the scenes in which the couples face issues and questions about raising their Korean-born daughters. So it was to my surprise and utter disappointment that I really wasn’t able to identify with or relate to any of the characters in Digging to America.

Maryam was the most fully-developed character, but her arrogance, critical nature and self-centered attitude made her difficult for me to like and she became tedious and exhausting. Bitsy is pushy, opinionated and forces her ideas on others, particularly Ziba. Ziba allows herself to be easily manipulated. She doubts herself and is extremely insecure. I wanted to know more about Ziba and Bitsy: their motivations, their backgrounds what may have happened in their lives to cause them to behave in this way and their ideas about raising their Korean daughters. Ziba and Bitsy remain a mystery for the most part, providing peeks into their history but no real explanations for the women they are. I essentially became irritated as I continued to read this book since I was unaware of Bitsy and Ziba’s motivations for their behavior. I had many questions and they remained unanswered.

Tyler’s writing is compelling and it’s easy to sink into one of her books quickly. She often addresses fascinating issues, exploring them skillfully as she does here with immigration, immigrants and assimilation. She doesn’t shy away from emotions or drama and excels at incorporating witty dialogue and commentary in her stories. I thought Digging to America was captivating when I first started reading it but by the second half of the book I was mostly aggravated as I read.

Monday, March 12, 2012

~ Mailbox Monday ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Anna of Diary of an Eccentric. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week.

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty (for review from Faber abd Faber and TLC Book Tours)

Two police officers knock on Laura’s door. They tell her that her nine-year old daughter Betty has been hit by a car and killed. When justice is slow, Laura decides to take her own revenge and begins to track down the man responsible.

Laura’s grief reopens old wounds and she is thrown back to the story of her passionate love affair with Betty’s father David, their marriage and his subsequent desertion of her for another woman.

Haunted by her past and driven by her need to discover the truth, Laura discovers just how far she is prepared to go for love, desire and retribution.

Whatever You Love is a heart-wrenching and compulsive story from an acclaimed novelist writing at the height of her powers.

The Book Club Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp (from Penguin)

Whether it’s Roman Punch for The Age of Innocence, Sabzi Challow (spinach and rice) with Lamb for The Kite Runner, or Swedish Meatballs and Glögg for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, nothing spices up a book club meeting like great eats. Featuring recipes and discussion ideas from best-selling authors and book clubs across the country, this fully revised and updated edition of the classic book guides readers in selecting and preparing culinary masterpieces that blend perfectly with the literary masterpieces their club is reading. This edition includes new contributions from a host of today’s bestselling authors including:
*Kathryn Stockett, The Help (Demetrie’s Chocolate Pie and Caramel Cake)
*Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants (Oyster Brie Soup)
*Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper (Brian Fitzgerald’s Firehouse Marinara Sauce)
*Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone (Almaz’s Ethiopian Doro Wot and Sister Mary Joseph Praise’s Cari De Dal)
*Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Annie Barrows’s Potato Peel Pie and Non-Occupied Potato Peel Pie)
*Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See’s Deep Fried Sugared Taro)

The Book Club Cookbook will add real flavor to your meetings!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

~ Sunday Salon: Time to 'Spring Ahead' ~

Happy Sunday! I wasn’t quite ready to lose an hour of sleep but the weather is so nice here it feels like Spring has already arrived! I think it’s been a couple of weeks since I posted a Sunday Salon. Last Sunday I took my 11-year old neighbor to the Flea Market. I spent a few hours pouring over books while she investigated booths and tables of toys. We both expected she’d have to drag me out of the market but I actually had to coax her to leave. Candy and ice cream are great bribes when you’re eleven! (and very yummy at my age, too!)

The cats are loving the warm, sunny weather. They have a lot more energy especially Lola and Edgar who chases anything that moves. Even Bob has wanted to play this week. I woke up the other morning to a tremendous racket. Bob was chasing a ball across the floor and ran into my portable oxygen they crashed around him, he ran away, still chasing the ball right under the bed where he hid for a while! Edgar found a Badminton shuttlecock (I always call it a ’birdie’) outside and brought it inside to play’s become his favorite toy. It seems out of place in this part of Brooklyn. I just don’t see Badminton as being a popular activity here but, apparently, somebody, other than Edgar, likes to play! Edgar stares at the birdie and stares and stares at it, suddenly it flies into the air, Edgar jumps as high as he can, his little furry body quivering and twisting in the air! Once he gets the birdie, he runs outside and plays in the grass with it for hours. I love watching him - he's so focused and absorbed in his game and enjoying it so much!

I'm thinking I might open an online used/rare bookstore. I need to bring in some money - cats eat a lot! - and I could also use a job or activity that helps me feel productive. Not working has bothered me for a long time...basically since I left my job and went on disability which was many years ago. This venture may not work out especially because of the popularity of e-readers and e-books. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit and I figure the only way I’ll know for sure is if I try! Maybe I’ll find a way to sell e-books at some point, too. So, although I’m not 100% sure of this, I’m leaning towards it and I feel excited about the idea.

I haven’t read much this weekend, so far, and I’m not quite sure why but I'm getting that desperate feeling I get when I haven't done much reading in a day or two. So today some reading is a priority! I’m hoping to finish The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore and read more of Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kauffman. I have reviews of some great books coming up the end of this month and beginning of April including The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng so I have some reading to do. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I can read outside while working on my tan! Lol

What are you up to today? What good books are you reading?
Enjoy your day and have a great one!

Friday, March 9, 2012

~ The Radleys by Matt Haig ~

The Radleys by Matt Haig

ISBN: 978-1451610338
Pages: 384
Published Date: September 20, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Free Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:  Just about everyone knows a family like the Radleys. Many of us grew up next door to one. They are a modern family, averagely content, averagely dysfunctional, living in a staid and quiet suburban English town. Peter is an overworked doctor whose wife, Helen, has become increasingly remote and uncommunicative. Rowan, their teenage son, is being bullied at school, and their anemic daughter, Clara, has recently become a vegan. They are typical, that is, save for one devastating exception: Peter and Helen are vampires and have—for seventeen years—been abstaining by choice from a life of chasing blood in the hope that their children could live normal lives.

One night, Clara finds herself driven to commit a shocking—and disturbingly satisfying—act of violence, and her parents are forced to explain their history of shadows and lies. A police investigation is launched that uncovers a richness of vampire history heretofore unknown to the general public. And when the malevolent and alluring Uncle Will, a practicing vampire, arrives to throw the police off Clara’s trail, he winds up throwing the whole house into temptation and turmoil and unleashing a host of dark secrets that threaten the Radleys’ marriage.

The Radleys is a moving, thrilling, and radiant domestic novel that explores with daring the lengths a parent will go to protect a child, what it costs you to deny your identity, the undeniable appeal of sin, and the everlasting, iridescent bonds of family love. Read it and ask what we grow into when we grow up, and what we gain—and lose—when we deny our appetites.

My Thoughts:  I started to read this book in the fall last year. I put it down to get something else done and it got covered up in my disorganized mess of books. When I came across The Radleys while reorganizing my books last month, I thought, “Uh-oh!“. I set this book on my nightstand and as soon as I could, I picked it up and reread it. I must have been in a weird mood last time because this is a witty, smart and satiric book with engaging dialogue. I found this fast-paced, riveting and fun book difficult to put down once I started reading it. I’m very happy I came across The Radleys in my piles of books. It’s a great exception to my rule against vampire books as well as an exceptional book. The only other vampire book I’ve read is Dracula when I was in high school, a very different book than this one!

The Radleys, to the naked eye, seem to be a pretty typical, dysfunctional family. They have some rather odd quirks and idiosyncrasies but they don’t appear any more dysfunctional than the next family. Dad, Peter, is a local and respected doctor and Helen, is a stay-at-home mom, active in various activities. Rowen and Clara, are normal teenagers who attend the local high school. The family has been living in a nice house in the quaint and quiet English village of Bishopthorpe for many years without incident. This is rather remarkable because Peter and Helen have accomplished the amazing feat of hiding the fact that their family, The Radleys, are vampires. Rowen and Clara don’t even know despite feeling very different from their classmates in several ways. They don‘t suspect they are vampires at all. But who would?!

Rowen and Clara’s age and growing independence are causing some major problems related to being vampires. They aren’t aware some of their natural inclinations, many which set them apart from other teenagers, are a result of their being vampires Clara, for instance, upset because animals actually run away in fear when they sense her presence (they do the same with the other family members) insists on eating a vegetarian diet unaware that vampires don’t tolerate vegetables well. Clara is sick to her stomach everyday and very weak. And Rowen suffers frequently from severe insomnia that isn’t helped by handfuls of sleeping pills. He doesn’t know that it’s normal for him, as a vampire, to sleep during the day and play at night. Peter and Helen, as a result, are having an on-going argument about whether or not to tell Rowen and Clara the truth. Adding to this problem is one of the adults, I’m not going to reveal which one, has a secret of their own they’ve kept many years. They fear that revealing they’re vampires will result in the family living as vampires leading to the revelation of this major secret which will upset the family dynamic.

Peter and Helen are too distracted by these issues and some other concerns, many that plague most adults night and day. They, similar to many parents of teenagers, are out of touch with their children and unaware of the concerns and problems of teenagers. Matt Haig creates Peter and Helen as characters many readers can relate to and even identify with since many of us have children. It’s easy to understand and empathize with Peter and Helen’s struggles in raising teenagers even though we’re not familiar with the specific vampire issues. Helen and Peter are far from perfect, too. Helen gets tiresome at times with her worries and her nagging while Peter shows himself to be a selfish jerk , focused on his own needs and desires most of the time. But these flaws make them seem all the more human, interestingly, and more intriguing and real.

Haig also creates likable, relatable characters in Rowen and Clara. It’s easy to understand and empathize with them as they struggle with the problems faced by most teenagers including bullying classmates, relationships and fitting in. Rowen and Clara have the additional problems associated with being teenage vampires to deal with, such as very pale skin, sun-induced rashes, nausea, vomiting, insomnia. It’s enough to send you to bed with the covers over your head, something Rowen considers doing. It’s easy for readers to feel sympathy for them.

Clara soon finds herself in a situation many women, having once been teenagers, can understand and relate to, when she attends a party and has to cope with the unwanted advances of a drunken classmate. We empathize with the position Clara’s in and hope she can extricate herself from it before anything terrible happens. We aren’t prepared for what does happens next and neither is Clara when her identities as a teenager and a vampire combine and the unforeseen and unexpected happens. This occurrence changes everything for The Radleys and, when Clara calls her parents for help, Peter and Helen know they kept their secret too long. Like so many parents, all they want to do now is comfort and protect their little girl. The rest of the book is about keeping Clara safe as well as mitigating the damage. Peter and Helen also wonder about the possibility of incorporating the family’s identity as vampires into their current life. They’re not completely on the same page here, although, since one of them wants to live as a full-fledged vampire and drastically change their lifestyle.

Haig’s writing is scintillating, smart and engagingly clever. One of my favorite parts of the book is the passages from The Abstainer’s Handbook, the self-help bible for vampires trying to live life as regular humans. These ’rules of conduct’ covers issues such as OBT (overwhelming Blood Thirst) and how to deal with an attack of OBT; skin care and coping with daylight and the sun. I also thought it was clever that Byron and several other poets from the Romantic period were vampires. Rowen feels very connected to these poets even before he knows he’s a vampire and Uncle Will is a professor who teaches about the vampire poets. Haig also connects some passages throughout the book to the poetry of these poets in smart ways which I enjoyed. I highly recommend this book to everyone, those who enjoy vampires and those who don’t.

Thank you to Giselle at Simon & Schuster (Free Press ) for a copy of The Radleys and the opportunity to read and review the book.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

~ First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday.   To participate share the opening paragraph or two of a book you've decided to read based on that paragraph. When I was contacted about reviewing this book, I read an excerpt and was immediately hooked. The author’s writing is beautiful and I’m curious about the story...I also love that part of the book is set in New York City!

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants in this terrific meme who can be found in the comments!

Open City by Teju Cole
And so when I began to go on evening walks last fall, I found Morningside Heights an easy place from which to set out into the city. The path that drops down from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and crosses Morningside Park is only fifteen minutes from Central Park. In the other direction, going west, it is some ten minutes to Sakura Park, and walking northward from there brings you toward Harlem, along the Hudson, though traffic makes the river on the other side of the trees inaudible. These walks, a counterpoint to my busy days at the hospital, steadily lengthened, taking me farther and farther a field each time, so that I often found myself at quite a distance from home late at night, and was compelled to return home by subway. In this way, at the beginning of the final year of my psychiatry fellowship, New York City worked itself into my life at walking pace.
Not long before this aimless wandering began, I had fallen into the habit of watching bird migrations from my apartment, and I wonder now if the two are connected. On the days when I was home early enough from the hospital, I used to look out the window like someone taking auspices, hoping to see the miracle of natural immigration. Each time I caught sight of geese swooping in formation across the sky, I wondered how our life below might look from their perspective, and imagined that, were they ever to indulge in such speculation, the high-rises might seem to them like firs massed in a grove. Often, as I searched the sky, all I saw was rain, or the faint contrail of an airplane bisecting the window, and I doubted in some part of myself whether these birds, with their dark wings and throats, their pale bodies and tireless little hearts, really did exist. So amazed was I by them that I couldn’t trust my memory when they weren’t there.
What are your thoughts about these paragraphs? Would you read this book based on these paragraphs?

Monday, March 5, 2012

~ Mailbox Monday ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Anna of Diary of an Eccentric. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (for blog tour review from Myrmidon publishers)

Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambrige and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice 'until the monsoon comes.' Then she can design a garden for herself. As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day. But the Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? Why is it that Yun Ling's friend and host Magnus Praetorius, seems to almost immune from the depredations of the Communists? What is the legend of 'Yamashita's Gold' and does it have any basis in fact? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?

The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (Flea market purchase!)

An exhilarating meditation on nature and its seasons -- a personal narrative highlighting one year's exploration on foot in the author's own neighborhood in Tinker Creek, Virginia. In the summer, Dillard stalks muskrats in the creek and contemplates wave mechanics; in the fall she watches a monarch butterfly migration and dreams of Arctic caribou. She tries to con a coot; she collects pond water and examines it under a microscope. She unties a snake skin, witnesses a flood, and plays 'King of the Meadow' with a field of grasshoppers.

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar (Flea market purchase!)

When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they'd built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable and their marriage founders. But an unexpected job half a world away offers them an opportunity to start again. Life in Girbaug, India, holds promise—and peril—when Frank befriends Ramesh, a bright, curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of the grieving man's attentions. Haunted by memories of his dead son, Frank is consumed with making his family right—a quest that will lead him down an ever-darkening path with stark repercussions. Filled with satisfying real characters and glowing with local color, The Weight of Heaven is a rare glimpse of a family and a country struggling under pressures beyond their control. In a devastating look at cultural clashes and divides, Thrity Umrigar illuminates how slowly we recover from unforgettable loss, how easily good intentions can turn evil, and how far a person will go to build a new world for those he loves.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (swap with a friend!)

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s astonishing and haunting first novel, is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is a story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a "blind" street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Lily Sabbath. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawkes, Hazel Motes founds The Church of God Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with "wise blood," who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel's existential struggles. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, blindings, and wisdoms gives us one of the most riveting characters in twentieth-century American fiction