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Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
1995
Thriller
468 pages...that go fast!

***RECOMMENDED READING***
The New York Museum of Natural History is experiencing a series of brutal and unexplained murders on the eve of one of its largest exhibition openings. With the discovery of certain artifacts from past expeditions, protagonist Margo and her mentor, Frock, realize that something truly horrible, unimaginable, and scientifically incredible is among the halls and catacombs of the large building. Detective Pendergrast is your stereotypical thriller-detective, but I found that I liked him a great deal and rooted for him to save the day.

Relic was certainly a departure from the types of books I normally read, and I am glad to have discovered it. It had a very similar vibe to books written by Michael Chrichton, particularly Jurassic Park and follow-ups; for me, that made it a really fun read that was a page-turner and the perfect book for all of the doctors' waiting rooms I have been in lately. This would also be the perfect book for road trips, flights, and waiting in airports. I plan on reading more by this author in the future.

4 stars and lots of fun! Quick read, fast pacing, plot-driven. Need a break? This is a good one!

 
 
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The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
2010
General Fiction
432 pages

This book was given to me by for an early review

Taken from www.goodreads.com:
Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats—a talent that earned her the nickname Trouble. She's now a respected psychotherapist working with the world-famous Dr. Liz Mattei. She's also about to marry one of Boston's most eligible bachelors. But the suicide of Zee's patient Lilly Braedon throws Zee into emotional chaos and takes her back to places she though she'd left behind.

What starts as a brief visit home to Salem after Lilly's funeral becomes the beginning of a larger journey for Zee. Her father, Finch, long ago diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, has been hiding how sick he really is. His longtime companion, Melville, has moved out, and it now falls to Zee to help her father through this difficult time. Their relationship, marked by half-truths and the untimely death of her mother, is strained and awkward.

Overwhelmed by her new role, and uncertain about her future, Zee destroys the existing map of her life and begins a new journey, one that will take her not only into her future but into her past as well. Like the sailors of old Salem who navigated by looking at the stars, Zee has to learn to find her way through uncharted waters to the place she will ultimately call home.


I feel like this book took awhile to find its footing and I had a difficult time relating to and understanding the characters until about 100 pages into the book, but then it just took off for me. The weaving of the lives of all of these interesting people into a tale that mimic's one once told my the main character's mother is really something special and something that was difficult to put down once I hit "the spot." Now I plan on going back to read The Lace Reader, the first book by ...moreI feel like this book took awhile to find its footing and I had a difficult time relating to and understanding the characters until about 100 pages into the book, but then it just took off for me. The weaving of the lives of all of these interesting people into a tale that mimic's one once told my the main character's mother is really something special and something that was difficult to put down once I hit "the spot." Now I plan on going back to read The Lace Reader, the first book by the author, although I couldn't get through it the first time. (I am not a big fan of the unreliable narrator.)

 
 
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My Life in France by Julia Child
2007
Memoir
353 pages

***Recommended Reading***
I absolutely fell in love with Julia Child while reading the story of her life, in her words. She is just so LIKABLE, as is her husband. Everyone knows Julia Child with her distinctive height, voice, and style of cooking, but this book goes so much beyond all of that and focuses primarily on her life before fame. Her descriptions of food that normally would disgust me had me salivating in bed at 1 am. This is a must-read, whether you like food or not, and is now one of my favorite memoirs!


 
 
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Child 44 by Tom Robb Smith
2008
Thriller
493 pages

Excerpt taken from www.goodreads.com:
Stalin's Soviet Union strives to be a paradise for its workers, providing for all of their needs. One of its fundamental pillars is that its citizens live free from the fear of ordinary crime and criminals.

But in this society, millions do live in fear . . . of the State. Death is a whisper away. The mere suspicion of ideological disloyalty-owning a book from the decadent West, the wrong word at the wrong time-sends millions of innocents into the Gulags or to their executions. Defending the system from its citizens is the MGB, the State Security Force. And no MGB officer is more courageous, conscientious, or idealistic than Leo Demidov.

A war hero with a beautiful wife, Leo lives in relative luxury in Moscow, even providing a decent apartment for his parents. His only ambition has been to serve his country. For this greater good, he has arrested and interrogated.

Then the impossible happens. A different kind of criminal-a murderer-is on the loose, killing at will. At the same time, Leo finds himself demoted and denounced by his enemies, his world turned upside down, and every belief he's ever held shattered. The only way to save his life and the lives of his family is to uncover this criminal. But in a society that is officially paradise, it's a crime against the State to suggest that a murderer-much less a serial killer-is in their midst. Exiled from his home, with only his wife, Raisa, remaining at his side, Leo must confront the vast resources and reach of the MBG to find and stop a criminal that the State won't admit even exists.


Child 44 is a terrifying book that makes for a fantastic summer read, especially if you don't have to work in the morning so you can stay up all night reading.

I found some of the material to be extremely difficult to read, and this story is certainly not for the faint of heart, but the intricacies of the plot and the horrors of the government kept me turning pages...one night until 3am.

I will be reading the second book, because yes, this did hook me!


 
 
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Hidden Wives by Claire Avery
2010
General Fiction
336 pages

*** Recommended Reading***

Thank you to the authors for a providing me with a signed copy of this book!

Claire Avery, the pen name for two sisters who wrote this debut novel together, have written a page-turning exploration into the world of a polygamist sect based in Utah. The sisters' interest in and knowledge of extreme religions is portrayed through fictional characters Sara and Rachel, two young members of this sect. After spending their lives with The Blood of the Lamb society, the sisters endure many horrific experiences before deciding to flee the only home and faith they have ever known, ...more Claire Avery, the pen name for two sisters who wrote this debut novel together, have written a page-turning exploration into the world of a polygamist sect based in Utah. The sisters' interest in and knowledge of extreme religions is portrayed through fictional characters Sara and Rachel, two young members of this sect. After spending their lives with The Blood of the Lamb society, the sisters endure many horrific experiences before deciding to flee the only home and faith they have ever known, and will be tested in many ways.

What surprised me most about reading this book is how quickly you like and sympathize with the two main characters. I was rooting for them after only a couple of pages, and the manner in which the story is written makes it a compelling read that is difficult to put down...SO I read it in a couple of sittings.

Many of my friends have read and enjoyed The Nineteenth Wife, which deals with similar issues. I think I will be moving that one higher on the to-read list after experiencing Hidden Wives. Hidden Wives would make a great summer read and a great book for discussion groups because of the nature of the material.

As a side note, I have corresponded with the authors, and they are so kind to their readers. When authors reach out to book addicts like me, I am even more receptive, and Claire Avery has a new "follower" in me. I will definitely be looking for more books to come, so keep writing, ladies!


**side note** With the popularity of the recent television hit "Sister Wives" on TLC, I think this book, along with other books with similar theme will receive more attention. This is a topic that captivates many people because it provides us with a glimpse into a world so different than what we know.

 
 
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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
2008
General Fiction (short stories, interwoven)
270 pages

I really liked this series of stories about a town and its people that could have represented Anytown, U.S.A. I found myself wondering "When/How is Olive going to pop up in this section?" throughout the entire book. Many of the stories were heartbreaking and emotional, and it took me almost two weeks to read it because I could only read one or two at a time. Olive is an interesting character who proves to be an effective tool for meandering through the lives of others. The writing was ...more I really liked this series of stories about a town and its people that could have represented Anytown, U.S.A. I found myself wondering "When/How is Olive going to pop up in this section?" throughout the entire book. Many of the stories were heartbreaking and emotional, and it took me almost two weeks to read it because I could only read one or two at a time. Olive is an interesting character who proves to be an effective tool for meandering through the lives of others. The writing was superb, as in Amy and Isabelle, which I also highly recommend. Will now read anything Strout.

 
 
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Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
2000
General Fiction
320 pages

Wow! I haven't read Olive Kitteridge yet, but if this book is any indication of what Strout is capable of, I know I am in for a literary treat. This story of mother and daughter is written so beautifully, and I found Strout's description of everyday occurrences to be spectacular. The discomfort in the mother/daughter relationship is palpable, and as the reader, you will experience this throughout the story. I think it is a true talent when a writer can provoke such strong emotion through words, ...more Wow! I haven't read Olive Kitteridge yet, but if this book is any indication of what Strout is capable of, I know I am in for a literary treat. This story of mother and daughter is written so beautifully, and I found Strout's description of everyday occurrences to be spectacular. The discomfort in the mother/daughter relationship is palpable, and as the reader, you will experience this throughout the story. I think it is a true talent when a writer can provoke such strong emotion through words, and discomfort is difficult to achieve (think, On Chesil Beach...another good example) - I felt "squirmy" each time Amy and Isabelle interacted. I love the coming-of-age story with Amy and how Isabelle reacts (and doesn't react) to her daughter's teen years. Completely enthralling, I give this book a solid five stars. Cannot wait to read Olive, which I also have sitting on my shelf!

**update** Olive Kitteridge was incredible as well, but something about this book really got to me!

 
Jackpot! 08/27/2010
 
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Lottery by Patricia Wood
2007
General Fiction
320 pages

***Recommended Reading***

It only took me one chapter to fall in love with Lottery, and it will now hold a place on my "recommended fiction" list I usually have ready for anyone that asks what to read next.

Perry is not retarded. He is slow. Perry reminds us of this throughout the novel as he is faced with many different life-changing situations. The narration is perfection and the main characters phenomenal. This is one of those books that I could clearly envision while I was reading. I even teared ...more
It only took me one chapter to fall in love with Lottery, and it will now hold a place on my "recommended fiction" list I usually have ready for anyone that asks what to read next.

"Perry is not retarded. He is slow." Perry reminds us of this throughout the novel as he is faced with many different life-changing situations. The narration is perfection and the main characters phenomenal. This is one of those books that I could clearly envision while I was reading. I even teared up a few times, especially at the end of the story.

You owe it to yourself to check out this book. Perry will win your heart and so will his story. Fantastic.


 
 
***** Recommended Reading*****

Garden Spells

Published in 2007
290 Pages

This is one of the most pleasant reading experiences I have had lately. Sarah Addison Allen weaves such a beautiful story of two sisters who possess unique abilities passed down through the Waverley generations. The main character, Claire, has a gift that enables her to cook and bake using ingredients from her magical garden to make those eating her dishes feel or act a certain way. Her sister, Sydney, has another gift that she discovers about halfway through the book. We are also introduced to ...more This is one of the most pleasant reading experiences I have had lately. Sarah Addison Allen weaves such a beautiful story of two sisters who possess unique abilities passed down through the Waverley generations. The main character, Claire, has a gift that enables her to cook and bake using ingredients from her magical garden to make those eating her dishes feel or act a certain way. Her sister, Sydney, has another gift that she discovers about halfway through the book, which I will not reveal here. We are also introduced to a bevvy of other interesting characters, many of whom we get to know more through flashbacks. These include the neighbor next door, an old childhood friend, a rival family, a cousin who has an uncanny knack for providing people with gifts they are going to need but don't know for what at the time of receiving them, and an apple tree with a mind of its own. Magical and fun, this story reminded me a little bit of "Practical Magic" but carried a more whimsical tone.

The Sugar Queen

Published in 2008
276 Pages

Not as magical and fun as Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen still tells a good interlocking stories of an overbearing mother, a delicious mail carrier, a gorgeous man who appears to have been drawn with charcoal, a cheating boyfriend, a woman hanging out in a closet, two gals with trendy names, and box upon box of Swiss Cake Rolls mixed with other assorted sweets. Some people will really enjoy the twist ending; others like me (patting myself on the back here) will figure it out long before turning ...more Not as magical and fun as Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen still tells good interlocking stories of an overbearing mother, a delicious mail carrier, a gorgeous man who appears to have been drawn with charcoal, a cheating boyfriend, a woman hanging out in a closet, two gals with trendy names, and box upon box of Swiss Cake Rolls mixed with other assorted sweets. Some people will really enjoy the twist ending; others like me (patting myself on the back here) will figure it out long before turning the final pages.

If you're new to the author, try Garden Spells first.


The Girl Who Chased the Moon
Published in 2010
269 Pages

Addison Allen weaves together yet another wonderful story with magical elements in this tale about "coming home" to Mullaby. You can read the summary on Goodreads, but I would hate to give away any more than that as far as plot, characters, and the magic. Addison Allen has hit a nice stride with the types of books she is writing, and people are certainly responding.

If you liked Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, this is a sure bet, although Garden Spells is still my favori...more
Addison Allen weaves together yet another wonderful story with magical elements in this tale about "coming home" to Mullaby. You can read the summary on Goodreads, but I would hate to give away any more than that as far as plot, characters, and the magic. Addison Allen has hit a nice stride with the types of books she is writing, and people are certainly responding.

If you liked Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, this is a sure bet, although Garden Spells is still my favorite!

 
 
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This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
2009
General Fiction
339 Pages

*** Recommended Reading ***

I loved the smart, witty writing style that depicted the Foxman family in this fantastic story about a family sitting shiva following the death of the father. They are delightfully dysfunctional, sweet, and real and I found myself dreaming about an independent film and who I would cast while reading the book.

THEN, I read the author information and saw that it is already in the works with Warner Bros. Mr. Tropper, if you read reviews on Goodreads, be very careful on who is cast to pl...more
I loved the smart, witty writing style that depicted the Foxman family in this fantastic story about a family sitting shiva following the death of the father. They are delightfully dysfunctional, sweet, and real. I found myself dreaming about an independent film and who I would cast while reading the book and later discovered that some critics saw the screenplay in the plot and writing style and published negative reviews because of that. Was Tropper writing for a movie? Maybe, maybe not. Probably. Don't most authors want movies?

Anyways, I then I read the author information and saw that it is already in the works with Warner Bros. Mr. Tropper, if you read my blog (which you probably don't, but just to cover my bases) be very careful on who is cast to play these important roles. It truly is going to make or break the movie. The actors selected will be solely responsible for making this an incredible film or a huge flop. If Warner Bros. tries to go too big, I think it is going to turn into a mess.

Regardless, read and love This is Where I Leave You before Hollywood turns it into trash or treasure.
The cake scene alone will have you laughing, in spite of the situation.

You're probably reading this and thinking, "Stephanie isn't really telling me about the book. She's just ranting about how worried she is about the film version." Well, you're right. This was nothing even resembling a review (which is why I call them book NOTES) and I just want my opinion heard. I have recommended this book to MANY people, all of whom loved it with the exception of one, who didn't see the dark humor.

Just go read it.