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29 April 2011

Alas, I Have Not Hopped. For Shame!


A blog hop hasn't been seen at Coffee and a Book Chick because it's been a busy, busy year. But I love Jennifer at Crazy for Books and her hop and since my reading tastes are fairly eclectic, I wanted to partake again. I have so much fun visiting other sites that range from literary, chick lit, young adult, historical fiction, etc...

The question is..."What 2011 summer release are you most looking forward to?"

Egads. How do I answer when there are so many to eagerly await? So I shall pick...

The Lake, by Banana Yoshimoto. Dolce Bellezza brought it up recently, and since I think I'll be joining her Japanese Literature Challenge this year, I thought this would fit nicely into it.

It tells the tale of a young woman who moves to Tokyo after the death of her mother, hoping to get over her grief and start a career as a graphic artist. She finds herself spending too much time staring out her window, though ... until she realizes she’s gotten used to seeing a young man across the street staring out his window, too.

They eventually embark on a hesitant romance, until she learns that he has been the victim of some form of childhood trauma. Visiting two of his friends who live a monastic life beside a beautiful lake, she begins to piece together a series of clues that lead her to suspect his experience may have had something to do with a bizarre religious cult. . . .


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

26 April 2011

Here, Home, Hope, by Kaira Rouda


Life as a successful lawyer's wife and mother to two adorable sons, Kelly really should feel like she has it all. At this stage in life, these things should be comforting and being a stay-at-home mother should be all she needs. Right?

Unfortunately, Kelly's just starting the initial stages of a mid-life crisis. A recent scare with her first mammogram test, and a general feeling of being unsettled leaves her feeling as though she's within her life, but feeling as though she is missing...something.

And here I was, worried I wasn't ready for a thoughtful summer read! Here, Home, Hope by Kaira Rouda, to be released May 1st by Greenleaf Book Group, is like being with friends, commiserating over marriages, children, and life in general. I adored this book - it fit perfectly in my own life right now. Haven't we all questioned whether or not we're at where we want to be, where we thought we should be, at this stage? It's not as though you don't love what you have, it's whether or not you feel grounded, as if you're really living your life.

Let's be honest - problems are all relative. While one person appears to have the perfect life, it's not fair to say that they should just be appreciative of what they have and get over it. More often than not, they do realize that they should be grateful for what they have, and this is what compounds their guilt even more.

And this is exactly why I loved all of the characters - they are all real. They are flawed, insecure, confused, and going through one hell of a time right now. Kelly, at the middle of it all, feels that lack of confidence weigh her down even more. Should she start her own business? What could she do after being out of the job market for fifteen years? While she commits to making changes both in her professional and personal life, she begins to put little notes throughout her home as reminders, which are oftentimes both humorous and sad. And although she has friends, they're going through their own issues, too. Along for this personal ride is "borrowed" daughter, Melanie, struggling with tough emotional issues and anorexia, which makes the summer dramatically different than Kelly anticipated.

Here, Home, Hope by Kaira Rouda makes me want to sit at the beach on a summer afternoon and look back at my own choices, make changes when necessary, and appreciating what I have as I ultimately become who I want to be. Kaira Rouda has made her jump into contemporary fiction with a story that is inspirational and heartwarming, one that is going to be loved by many. It is a refreshing reflection on finding beauty in everything that makes you exactly who you are.

If you like Kristina Riggles' The Life You've Imagined or Sarah Pekkanen's Skipping a Beat, then you'll find a reassuring hug from Kaira Rouda's Here, Home, Hope.

About the Author
Kaira Rouda is an award-winning entrepreneur, marketer, consultant, speaker and author of 20+ years. She is the bestselling author of Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs, founder of Real You and brand creator of Real Living, the first national women-focused brand in real estate. Her first novel - Here, Home, Hope - will be released in May 2011.

Visit Kaira Rouda by visiting her website by clicking here.
Visit Kaira Rouda on Facebook by clicking here.
Follow Kaira Rouda on Twitter by clicking here.


FTC Disclosure: Thanks to the author for providing me a copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

24 April 2011

Push, by Sapphire (Audio Review)


This year has seen a lot of changes in my reading habits. Most notably has been my foray into audiobooks, and while peppered with a few hiccups here and there, it has been so successful that it is now to the point that I always have an audiobook downloaded.

While Push by Sapphire was an absolutely incredible story, tragic and hopeful, with strong and decisively clear messages, it was one I wish I had stopped listening to, and instead picked up the printed version instead. If you're familiar with the story, then you know it's about a young girl living in a neighborhood project with horribly abusive parents. Giving birth to her father's baby when she was only twelve, Precious is now sixteen and is pregnant with his child again. She can't read, so school is more of a haven for her to get away from the abuse, even though she doesn't participate in class at all. When she does, it's merely to tell other students to quiet down. Her weight gives her the extra intimidation to be left alone.

This is not an easy story. Precious hasn't been given any break at all in her short life, and even though she knows she's experiencing horrible things children aren't supposed to go through, it's the only thing she has truly ever known, so it seems as though she almost becomes acclimated to the terror of it all. She's a prisoner in her own life, held hostage by her parents. How can she escape out of it, especially when your captor is someone who is supposed to protect you?

I selected this audiobook because of Bahni Turpin's narration, and if you read my recent review of the audiobook production of The Help, then you know how much I love listening to her voice. In this production, true to form yet again, she has excellent delivery and emotional exertion, and along with Precious' story, leaves the listener thoroughly wiped out. While just under six hours, it was one I did finish because I had to see if Precious did escape from it all, and because of Bahni Turpin's perfect voice.

However...

I cannot read or hear about abuse. It makes me sick, I have nightmares if I even see a quick snippet on the news about something that's happened to anyone, especially a child. Others may be afraid of things that go bump in the night, but it is the plight of children dealt a horrible card in life that keeps me up. Because of this, I had an incredibly difficult time with the audio version of this story. Please note that Bahni Turpin did a fantastic job, but the graphic nature of Precious' reality and what she experiences is so devastating and difficult to listen to without becoming even more emotionally affected by the abuse. I felt like I was sitting next to Precious as she relayed, in first-person graphic perspective, everything that happens with her father and her mother, her conflicted feelings, the births of her children, the struggle of her education. The author, Sapphire, has brought this brutal truth of complexities and internal human conflict to the forefront so effectively that I was gripping my steering wheel listening to each moment, crying, wishing for something innocent and good to happen for Precious, just once in her life. I was infuriated by the abuse, and I know that Precious represents so many children in the world that I was left sick with anger. And although it crushes me to write that I think you should skip the audio over the printed version because you'll miss out on Bahni Turpin's voice, this is a story that, in my opinion, should be read, not listened to.

Raw and emotionally engaging, Sapphire has pulled you through one young girl's life so descriptively that in the end, you are left reeling, mind wandering, with a feeling, a need to do something, anything at all to be part of something bigger than what you are doing in your life now. Can I make a difference, something good? Can I not do what I used to do anymore, which was to simply read about it, or watch something on the news and then move on, allowing someone else to take care of it?

For a beautiful review post on this book, please visit The Picky Girl's site by clicking here.

About the Author
Sapphire is the author of American Dreams, a collection of poetry which was cited by Publishers Weekly as "One of the strongest debut collections of the nineties." Push, her novel, won the Book-of-the-Month Club Stephen Crane award for First Fiction, the Black Caucus of the America Library Association's First Novelist Award, and, in Great Britain, the Mind Book of the Year Award. Push was named by the Village Voice and Time Out New York as one of the top ten books of 1996. Push was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work of Fiction.

Sapphire currently lives and works in New York City.

Surprisingly, I couldn't find a website or Twitter account for Sapphire - if anyone has the links, please forward my way and I will edit this post to include both.

20 April 2011

The Kitchen Daughter, by Jael McHenry


Business travel this week in Minneapolis and Memphis has made me so homesick. I return to Florida on Friday, but tonight, I am in my hotel room in Memphis, listening to the rain and what I think might be a distant, yet intermittent, tornado siren. I've heard that there may be tornadoes tonight and so to find comfort in it all, I've closed my night with crying through the last few chapters of the heartfelt and endearing The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry.

Ginny Selvaggio is twenty-six years old, and she's spent her whole life comforted with food. But not eating food, instead making it. Taking recipes and creating dishes, searching food blogs and trying new things. She is an adventurer in her life by searching the internet and reading new food techniques to try out, but she is an adventurer only inside her house. She's never moved out of her parent's home, and with their recent, unexpected deaths, along with her sister wanting to sell the house and move Ginny into her home, Ginny's feeling a little overwhelmed.

To cooking she goes. The process of caramelizing onions reassures her, the smells of chocolate occupy her during moments of stress, figuring out how the combinations of a spice with something sweet will enhance each. This is how she copes with it all. And right now, the oddest thing is happening. When she makes the recipes of those who have died, they come back to visit, sitting on the stool in the kitchen, only staying long enough while the smell of their food lingers. And because she can interact with them, she asks them questions, putting her on a path to find out who she really is, to find out why she is the way she is.

Ginny is something most people aren't. She's literal. Blunt. If you tell her that she's beating around the bush, she'd probably be confused and, while not looking right at you, respond with something like "I'm not beating around a bush. I'm standing right here." Not surprisingly, this type of personality doesn't win her a lot of friends.

And because this book is about cooking, and especially cooking the recipes from family that mean the most, I want to write a clever post with analogies of Ginny's cooking and Jael McHenry's beautiful writing, because the story is a fulfilling creation that leaves the reader, the one consuming, satisfied and full with happiness. But then I want to stop myself because I think that's what everyone else would do. Then, I think, as long as I share with you this important fact from me, it will be okay: this is a book I loved. I loved the quirkiness of Ginny, the tough outer shell of her sister Amanda, the soft comfort of their housekeeper Gert, and Gert's son, the confused and heartbroken David. I read the last half in two hours, making mental notes of each recipe I'll be cooking in my kitchen this weekend when I get home. I already like to cook, but this story gave me an even deeper, more holistic and appreciative view of it. The creation of equal parts sadness, family, love, and food into one flourishing finish of a story that will be devoured quickly, left me with a craving for Jael McHenry's next book. 

If you like a dash of magical realism, along with cooking, recipes thrown into it all, then I'm pretty sure you'll like this book.

About the Author
Jael McHenry is a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who grew up in Michigan and Iowa before moving from city to city along the East Coast: Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and now New York, where she blogs about food and cooking at the Simmer blog, http://simmerblog.typepad.com. She is a monthly pop culture columnist and Editor-in-Chief of Intrepid Media, online at intrepidmedia.com. Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. In her senior year at Tufts University she appeared as a semi-finalist on the “Jeopardy!” College Championship, where she made a killing in consolation prizes. The Kitchen Daughter is her first novel.

Visit the author on her website by clicking here.
Follow the author on Twitter by clicking here.
Visit The Kitchen Daughter on Facebook by clicking here.
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Many thanks to Lisa with TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read this book. Upcoming tour stops are listed below - if you haven't visited the blogs below, now is the time!
All of the blogs reviewing this book and other books on tour can be found by clicking here.

Monday, April 11th:  girlichef
Wednesday, April 13th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Thursday, April 14th:  She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, April 15th:  Book Club Classics!
Monday, April 18th:  The Singleton in the Kitchen
Tuesday, April 19th:  Back to Books
Wednesday, April 20th:  Coffee and a Book Chick
Thursday, April 21st:  Books Like Breathing
Monday, April 25th:  Simply Stacie
Tuesday, April 26th:  Book Reviews by Molly
Wednesday, April 27th:  Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, April 28th:  2 Kids and Tired
Monday, May 2nd:  The Brain Lair
Tuesday, May 3rd:  Stephanie’s Written Word
Friday, May 6th:  Book Addiction
Monday, May 9th:  Farmgirl Fare
Tuesday, May 10th:  Overstuffed
Wednesday, May 11th:  Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Friday, May 13th:  The Literate Housewife Review

15 April 2011

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (Audio Review)


Yes, yes. You know I've been struggling with audiobooks lately, right? But... it's probably not hard to figure out how incredible I thought The Help by Kathryn Stockett was with the these two clues:

I finished all eighteen hours in 2 and 1/2 days.

My husband loved it. And he only listened to the last four hours on our road trip Friday night.

I felt this story was an experience, and since it is written in the true Southern charm and dialect of extraordinary women, it's one I believe can only be fully appreciated by listening to the audio version.

I couldn't stop listening to it. Every waking, non-working moment while I traveled to Dallas for business last week was spent with this audiobook. While I applied my make-up or steamed my business suit before the meeting, I listened to the words of Kathryn Stockett come to absolute life in the voices of sweet Aibileen, sassy Minny, and young and compassionate Skeeter. Enraptured. That is what I was. Compelled by the music of the voices speaking through, I was swept up in this incredible story.

The Help is Kathryn Stockett's story of three women in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. Not only was it a turbulent time in America's history with the beginnings of the civil rights movement, feminism, the rumblings of Vietnam, the assassination of Kennedy, and more, all of this was even more tightly drawn in Mississippi. Told from the three women's perspectives in their own chapters, Aibileen and Minny are maids working in the homes of white families, and Miss Skeeter is a young white woman who, like many others who grew up in wealthy white families in the South during that time, was raised by a black woman. And as Miss Skeeter is the idealistic young woman determined to become a writer, she is advised to write something that makes her uncomfortable as she composes it. It is only then when it is uncomfortable will it be something truly valuable. While each character has their own personal turmoil that they contend with privately, it is together that they find a common ground and friendship that is unshakeable. Kathryn Stockett has crafted a classic of the deep South and the black women who worked for, and raised, the white families in one of the most tremulous moments in American history.

Without question, I loved this story. Tears sprang to my eyes when the audio concluded. All stories have to end, but this one... this one I wanted to keep going. I immediately missed the characters as soon as it ended. The narrators excelled at relaying the perfect Southern charm into the rhythm and atmosphere, and as the book is written exactly as one would speak, the audio leaps to life and creates an experience unlike any other audiobook I have listened to. Because of this, and in advance of the film to be released by Dreamworks Studios this year in August, I needed to share with you these amazing narrators and where you can find them. I can't wait to do a deeper dive into the film's cast later as well. If Dreamworks can capture the same magic that Kathryn Stockett created in her writing that was beautifully produced in the audio version, then we could potentially see a multitude of Academy Award nominations issued in 2012.

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The narrators of The Help and their characters in this audio production (along with my thoughts):



Aibileen, narrated by Bahni Turpin. Aibileen is an older woman, having raised seventeen babies in her career. She is the voice of reason in the story, the one to which others seek out and find comfort in. With a gorgeous voice, Turpin is engaging through and through. There is just this easy fluidity to her narration that hypnotized me each time Aibileen's sections came up. And she was perfect for the voices of the children, the ones Aibileen cared for. I found myself smiling, easily picturing in my mind her interactions with the little girl Mae Mobley.

I have become a diehard fan of Bahni Turpin and loved her voice so much that I have just downloaded the audiobooks Precious and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks since she's the narrator for both!


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Minny, narrated by Octavia Spencer. A sassy woman who could possibly be the best cook in all of Mississippi, Minny has a hard time holding down a steady job because she's not one to keep her thoughts to herself. If she doesn't like something, why hold back? Octavia Spencer had the perfect voice! I laughed each time Minny interacted with Miss Celia, a sweet Marilyn Monroe-esque woman who suddenly is launched into high society when she left her poor upbringing to marry a wealthy man. The problem is that she can't take care of her house, and even cooking is a disaster. She secretly hires Minny for these things so she can hopefully impress her husband. Octavia Spencer's voice sparkled in the tough scenes of an abusive relationship with her husband and then later made me cheer out loud. Loved, loved her. I cannot imagine anyone else reading for Minny and can't imagine anyone else playing her in the film.

So, according to Entertainment Weekly, I was thrilled that Octavia Spencer is going to play the role in the film! Yay!! She is also a veteran actress of Hollywood and has also known Kathryn Stockett for ten years and was a factor to the inspiration for the character of Minny.
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Miss Skeeter, narrated by Jenna Lamia. The character of Miss Skeeter has graduated from college and returned to Jackson, Mississippi. Miss Skeeter was raised by a black woman named Constantine, one that she considers more motherly than her own blood. But now Constantine left after years working for the family, and no one is talking about why Constantine left. Was she fired, or did she quit? Haunted by this absence in her life, Miss Skeeter also doesn't want to be like every other girl in Jackson who gets married and has kids, and is instead determined to be a writer. Jenna Lamia carries the voice of this naive and sweet young girl to the forefront. Her voice smoothly cut through the story to poignantly deliver the youthful idealism representative of the 1960s.

Audiobook listeners may also recognize her from The Secret Life of Bees, which placed her as a finalist for Best Female Narrator in 2003, and Girl With a Pearl Earring. She also is an established actress and was in The Fighter, alongside Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg.

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About the Author
Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. She currently lives in Atlanta with her family. The Help is her first novel.

Visit the author on her site by clicking here.
Vist the author on Facebook by clicking here.

Happy Reading (Listening),
Coffee and a Book Chick

08 April 2011

Construction At the Site...



This picture always freaks me out, you know? I love it, but it always makes my knees weak.

Coffee and a Book Chick will be going through some construction over the weekend. And just so you know, I'm going to be without Internet access as well, so I won't be able to check all of your awesome blogs until Sunday night. So... I'm currently listening to The Help on audio, and let me just tell you. It. Is. Incredible.

Happy Reading (Listening),
Coffee and a Book Chick

04 April 2011

Skipping a Beat, by Sarah Pekkanen


I've been reading books that are making me bawl my eyes out lately, and this one did the job exceedingly well. Sarah Pekkanen fleshed out real people in an effortlessly convincing way, and has a fierce heart-tugging story line to go along with them.

Julia and Michael are high school sweethearts from West Virginia. They grew up with dysfunctional families and as soon as they graduate, they move to Washington, DC to begin a new life. Incredibly smart and always antsy, it's Michael who takes them completely away from their shabby upbringing by creating an incredible, yet simple, product that turns them into multi-millionaires when the company goes public on the stock exchange.

As they grow up into this rich life, they also begin to grow apart from each other. They become, to Julia's dismay, like one of the tragic operas she loves - a distant marriage of two people living separate lives. If not for her friend, Isabelle (who has her own heartbreaking story), Julia would be very much alone. Life has become altogether different than what was planned.
No, our marriage was more like spending an afternoon at the beach while the tide receded. You could be lying right there on the soft sand and not even notice the microscopic changes - the waves pulling back, inexorably pulling back - while the sun warmed your back and the happy shouts of children filled your ears. Then you'd look up from the last page in your novel and blink, feeling disoriented, wondering how the ocean had moved so far away and when everything around you had changed. (p. 37)
But it's after her husband suffers cardiac arrest during a meeting, whereupon he is dead for over four minutes, that becomes the strangest of them all. When he comes back, he's ready to change in a completely different way. Julia's astonished as he emphatically states that he valued the wrong things in life, and he's going to give away his millions and spend more time with her. He asks her to give him a few weeks so that he can prove how much they can be the couple they once were. But can Julia really give up the lifestyle that she's become accustomed to?

Skipping a Beat is told from Julia's perspective with the occasional flashback to help round out the story line, and I found her to be compelling and relatable. Now, mind you, she lives in a $9 million home and has hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry, but it didn't matter to me. Julia is very much the girl from her days before money, but she certainly has gotten used to the extravagant luxuries. Because of this, she's realistically conflicted, and the ease of which it's written made it simple to place myself in her shoes. She could be me, or one of my friends.

My first thought was exactly as Julia's: If he wants to fall back in love again, can't they do that and still keep all the money? For her husband to start giving everything away just so he can spend more time with her, to fall back in love with her? Wha?! But, but, I spluttered to myself... what about the ease of life, the convenience of having everything that you want? How can he give all of that away?

I loved, loved this book. With characters I couldn't get enough of, from Julia's best friend Isabelle to the brilliant and quirky kid named Noah, this book was a treat from start to finish. And with it all, Julia's love of opera kept me even more entranced. I had forgotten how much those soaring tragedies can pierce right into you - it's because they so easily represent real life.

And that is how I fell in love with it all. The book, the characters, the vision Michael had to draft a new marriage with Julia. I found myself clutching the book, hunkering down in my couch, turning the pages. My husband asked me if I was going to bed, and I could only weakly wave my hand to him over the back of the couch, as I prayed that he wouldn't walk around to see why I wasn't talking. Yep. I was a blubbering mess.

Sarah Pekkanen has created a new lifelong fan in me. I'll be eagerly awaiting her next book and will get The Opposite of Me to tide me over. And also downloading opera to my computer like there is no tomorrow.

About the Author
Sarah Pekkanen is also the author of The Opposite of Me. Her work has been published in People, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Baltimore Sun, among other publications. She writes a monthly column for Bethesda Magazine and lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband and three sons.

Visit the author on her website by clicking here.
Visit the author on Facebook by clicking here.
Follow her on Twitter by clicking here (@SarahPekkanen)

FTC Disclosure: Thank you to the author for providing me a copy of her book in return for my honest review.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick

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