This year, I have been making a conscious effort to read more new fiction than ever before, and I have found some true gems during the first six months of 2011. Blame my unmanageable to-read list or blame my book-ADD for my habits, but either way, I just never really focused on what was coming out...I was too busy reading everything I had missed in previous years. In the spirit of the halfway point of the year, I thought I would mention my favorite five books I have read so far.

~ all information taken from GoodReads ~
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5. The Violets of March by Sarah Jio
In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after.
Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily's good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life.

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4. Learning to Swim
by Sara J. Henry
When she witnesses a small child tumbling from a ferry into Lake Champlain, Troy Chance dives in without thinking. Harrowing moments later, she bobs to the surface, pulling a terrified little boy with her. As the ferry disappears into the distance, she begins a bone-chilling swim nearly a mile to shore with a tiny passenger on her back.

Surprisingly, he speaks only French. He’ll acknowledge that his name is Paul; otherwise, he’s resolutely mute.

Troy assumes that Paul’s frantic parents will be in touch with the police or the press. But what follows is a shocking and deafening silence. And Troy, a freelance writer, finds herself as fiercely determined to protect Paul as she is to find out what happened to him. What she uncovers will take her into a world of wealth and privilege and heedless self-indulgence—a world in which the murder of a child is not unthinkable. She’ll need skill and courage to survive and protect her charge and herself. 

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3. The Reading Promise
by Alice Ozma

When Alice Ozma was in 4th grade, she and her father decided to see if he could read aloud to her for 100 consecutive nights. On the hundredth night, they shared pancakes to celebrate, but it soon became evident that neither wanted to let go of their storytelling ritual. So they decided to continue what they called "The Streak." Alice's father read aloud to her every night without fail until the day she left for college.

Alice will approach this book as a series of vignettes about her relationship with her father and the life lessons learned from the books he read to her.

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2. Attachments
by Rainbow Rowell

Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can't seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period.

When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he'd be sifting through other people's inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can't quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can't help but be entertained-and captivated- by their stories.

But by the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you." After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it's time to muster the courage to follow his heart . . . even if he can't see exactly where it's leading him.

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1. The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain

No twentieth-century American writer has captured the popular imagination as much as Ernest Hemingway. This novel tells his story from a unique point of view — that of his first wife, Hadley. Through her eyes and voice, we experience Paris of the Lost Generation and meet fascinating characters such as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Gerald and Sara Murphy. The city and its inhabitants provide a vivid backdrop to this engrossing and wrenching story of love and betrayal that is made all the more poignant knowing that, in the end, Hemingway would write of his first wife, "I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her."

 
 
Ahhh... (imagine me stretching and heaving a huge sigh of relief in front of my computer)
...after an incredibly chaotic and stressful week, I am finally able to decompress and unwind. In fact, as soon as I hit "publish" on this week's post, I will be heading to my bed (covered in my new IKEA bedding!) to dive into some  books I downloaded to my trusty nook in the past few days. Oh, and a discarded ARC of The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer that I discovered at my local coffee shop's book exchange, which my book club will be reading together during the month of July. Score! (The wait list for this one is still pretty good at the library - way to go Ms. Orringer!)

See last week's post for information on Steplings by CW Smith, which I will continue to read (and hopefully finish) this weekend between the various gatherings we will be attending around town.
 
 
I have two books on tap for the weekend, sending The Sparrow and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children back to the to-read shelf for the time being. (Just for awhile! I was really getting into MPHfPC!)

First up - I will be continuing with Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, which I first heard about in BookPage magazine (you know, the free newspaper-style book review publication offered at your library?). The protagonist in Attachments is incredibly likable and the entire novel has such a fun air to it - I am finding myself smiling a lot as I read. I have a feeling that this might become one of my favorite books of 2011.

Here is some more information for the curious, taken from Goodreads:
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Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can't seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period. When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he'd be sifting through other people's inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can't quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can't help but be entertained-and captivated- by their stories.

But by the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you." After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it's time to muster the courage to follow his heart . . . even if he can't see exactly where it's leading him.

Written with whip-smart precision and charm, Attachments is a strikingly clever and deeply romantic debut about falling in love with the person who makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Even if it's someone you've never met.

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The second book on my nightstand's to-read-this-weekend-stack  is Steplings, the debut novel by author CW Smith. The author sent me a PDF galley to review, but the book won't be available until September 2, 2011. Look for more information to come. For now, a summary from Goodreads:

Nineteen-year-old Jason is lost. The rush of graduation parties has subsided, the ubiquitous discussion of college departures dimmed to a dull roar. His former classmates have made elaborate plans, but the only date on Jason’s calendar is a court appearance next Monday. Jason, who dropped out of high school just two months shy of graduation, finds himself stuck in the well-worn grooves of his hometown. But when his over-achieving girlfriend Lisa departs for UT Austin to study medicine, Jason finds Mesquite a place he can hardly recognize.  

Jason’s family can offer him little direction.  After his mother Sue’s unexpected death a few years back, his father Burl, fifteen years sober, slipped into old drinking habits. Jason watched the once clockwork-perfect routine of his family life descend into chaos. When Burl marries Lily, a high-strung, high-powered attorney, she brings a daughter into the house: Emily, eleven years old and a self-described know-it-all whose very existence is enough to irritate Jason.

Three days before Jason must appear in court, he receives a “Dear John” letter from Lisa. Heartbroken and determined to convince Lisa of his worth, Jason decides to hitchhike to Lisa’s dorm in Austin—but Emily, desperate to return to her father, a UT professor, overhears Jason’s plans and demands to accompany him. When Burl and Lily return home to find their children missing, Lily puts out an Amber Alert for Emily, accusing Jason of abducting her daughter. The frantic search effort that ensues threatens to destroy the tentative household that Burl and Lily have just begun to establish.

Smith’s gift for creating three-dimensional characters, abundantly demonstrated in his previous TCU Press titles including Understanding Women and Purple Hearts, lends this coming-of-age tale an unexpected quality of honesty and sophisticated narrative rarely seen in contemporary young adult fiction. Mary Powell, author of the TCU Press books Auslander and Galveston Rose, describes Smith’s prose as “rich and sophisticated, yet accessible, and the dialogue is right on.”  Steplings doesn’t romanticize the misadventures of its protagonists. Though Jason and Emily grapple with universal teen issues—Emily searches for acceptance in her new middle school, while Jason balks when confronted with new adult responsibilities—their troubles feel like uncharted territory when expressed through pitch-perfect narrative voices. “Watching Jason self-destruct,” according to Powell, “is akin to watching someone in a horror film go down into the basement.”

The authentic quality of Smith’s prose extends to the Texas setting; readers will recognize their neighbors in the characters that populate Mesquite and Austin. Kate Lehrer observed that Smith also “draws subtle distinctions among social classes.” Smith invokes tension between Jason’s no-frills lifestyle and Lisa’s country-club upbringing, and paints a widening gulf between Burl’s small-town mannerisms and Lily’s cosmopolitan tastes.  

Powell called Steplings “a friendly, hopeful, humorous, and thoughtful book about growing up.” Growing up, however, doesn’t belong exclusively to the young, and Steplings is a story that can’t be shelved neatly in the young adult category. Both teen and adult readers will see themselves in this multifaceted narrative of self-discovery.


 
 
I get that many people have commitment issues when it comes to following websites and blogs. It's primarily why I rely on obtaining my book information from ten different podcasts, two book review publications, and goodreads. I have those same commitment issues.

To remedy this, and feed the book lover's need for constant recommendations and bookish news, Read This Read That is now on facebook!

Each day, I will post a book recommendation, link you to a great reading website, or provide you with news from the literary world. You really can't lose.

I would greatly appreciate your support! Visit me here and LIKE us today! Please pass it along to friends and family - I hope to hit 1,000 likes by the end of the summer!
 
 
Yes, it's time for that cliched book-lover topic of the summer reading list, a topic I have neglected for a couple of weeks because:
A.) I wanted to first actually do some summer reading
B.) I have been anxiously looking for a new teaching job this fall
C.) I am working multiple jobs this summer and have been doing a bit of traveling
Excuses aside, the topic of summer reading has always been of interest to me because I find it fascinating that people are able to compartmentalize their reading into season-specific lists, and I also never really latched onto the concept of the typical summer reading novel. I just don't read a great deal of "light" books or "chic lit" which is what most people seem to enjoy during the warmest months of the year. Do people really not want to think while they read in June, July, and August? Do pools, beaches, and parks provide too many distractions for a quality read? Does a challenging book cause excessive perspiration?

What Summer Reading Means to Me
- Exploring books introduced to me by the awesome 79 members of my online book discussion group
- Reading books for the local library's adult summer reading program (prizes!)
- Being able to stay up late because I do not have to wake up early and present conditional verb conjugations to groggy Spanish 3 students
- Digging into two or three more classics that I have been neglecting but keep telling people I will be reading soon
- Getting into a new series I have heard people rave about
- Checking out some of the best books published so far that year
- Hefting around a chunkster that usually takes all summer to get through

Coming June 21st
Check out the Summer Reads 2011 page each day to discover a great title worth checking out. No chic lit!
 
 
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I downloaded this to my nook when it became available to me through the local library, and I have a hard time putting it down each time I dive back into the story. I even took my ereader into the gym with me this afternoon to read while on the treadmill. Yes, that good. Even if you're not a fan of Hemingway, don't pass by this engrossing take on the man and the marriage as presented by his first wife, Hadley.

from goodreads:
No twentieth-century American writer has captured the popular imagination as much as Ernest Hemingway. This novel tells his story from a unique point of view — that of his first wife, Hadley. Through her eyes and voice, we experience Paris of the Lost Generation and meet fascinating characters such as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Gerald and Sara Murphy. The city and its inhabitants provide a vivid backdrop to this engrossing and wrenching story of love and betrayal that is made all the more poignant knowing that, in the end, Hemingway would write of his first wife, "I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her."

review from Bookmarks Magazine
Critics praised The Paris Wife for rounding out the portrait of Hadley Hemingway, often overlooked in scholarly treatments of Hemingway and, in fact, in Hemingway’s own works. In McClain’s deft hands, Hadley, who narrates her love, confusion, struggles, and wavering support for her husband, comes alive amidst evocative, excellently researched descriptions of Left Bank cafes, culture, and artistic life. A few reviewers commented that Ernest’s artistic and literary coterie often overshadows the more plainspoken Hadley, but only the New York Times voiced serious complaints about a plodding narrative and a dull protagonist. But in this nuanced, balanced portrait of a marriage, McClain reclaims Hadley’s place as both a wife and a woman in history.
4 out of 5 stars

 
 
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I have devoured all of Sarah Addison Allen's creatively magical novels, and I am sure her latest, The Peach Keeper, will not disappoint. Selected as a group read for May by my book group, I am finally getting to it after an incredibly lengthy wait at the local library.

Taken from goodreads.com:
The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Chased the Moon welcomes you to her newest locale: Walls of Water, North Carolina, where the secrets are thicker than the fog from the town’s famous waterfalls, and the stuff of superstition is just as real as you want it to be.

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water’s heyday, and once the town’s grandest home—has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal. And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow. No easy task in a town shaped by years of tradition and the well-marked boundaries of the haves and have-nots.

But Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite do-gooder Paxton Osgood—of the very prominent Osgood family, has restored the Blue Ridge Madam to her former glory, with plans to open a top-flight inn. Maybe, at last, the troubled past can be laid to rest while something new and wonderful rises from its ashes. But what rises instead is a skeleton, found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, and certain to drag up dire consequences along with it.

For the bones—those of charismatic traveling salesman Tucker Devlin, who worked his dark charms on Walls of Water seventy-five years ago—are not all that lay hidden out of sight and mind. Long-kept secrets surrounding the troubling remains have also come to light, seemingly heralded by a spate of sudden strange occurrences throughout the town.

Now, thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the dangerous passions and tragic betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover truths of the long-dead that have transcended time and defied the grave to touch the hearts and souls of the living.

Resonant with insight into the deep and lasting power of friendship, love, and tradition, The Peach Keeper is a portrait of the unshakable bonds that—in good times and bad, from one generation to the next—endure forever.

For further reading, check out the other books by the author - they would all make for great pool or beach books!
The Sugar Queen
The Girl Who Chased the Moon
Garden Spells

 
 
Each year, my book group Busy as a Bee Books determines the titles we will be reading during the months of June, July, and August. With our list for 2011 finalized, I am very excited to share this amazing and eclectic mix we will be enjoying in the summer sun. From steampunk to nonfiction to historical fiction to mystery to young adult fiction, this list has it all. Read along with us and post your comments below!
 
 
Who doesn't love a long weekend to hang out with family and friends, grill outside, and relax with a good book? This chica sure does! I just finished a fantastic debut novel by Sara J. Henry called Learning to Swim (review to come!) and a pretty good novel about love and cooking by Jael McHenry called The Kitchen Daughter.

This weekend, I am planning to start this book for my group's summer reading list:
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So far, my fellow Busy Bees (the group is Busy as a Bee Books) haven't said too many great things about it, but I hear it is a quick read and it meets the criteria for one of the tasks I need to complete for my year-long reading challenge.

What will you be reading this weekend?
 
 
After being in a reading slump for most of the year, I have finally made it through a few books in one week - once a commonality in my life and now a rarity.

This "Week of Reading" started with the fabulous You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, continued with a chic-lit title that was just okay in 29: A Novel by Adena Halpern, and concluded today with the gripping but tragically sad memoir Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso.

I have a couple more memoirs checked out from the local library (including Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain which I have been wanting to read for quite some time) but I think I need a break after Tiger, Tiger to read something else, so I hope to be diving into the new Diane Chamberlain novel this evening. My book group read The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes and I really enjoyed it but haven't read anything by the author since. The Midwife's Confession, published this year, currently has 67 ratings on Goodreads with an average score of 4.68 - not bad, not bad at all!