Tag Archives: new release

Win The Good Daughters

If you loved reading Labor Day by Joyce Maynard, you may want to try to win yourself a copy of her new novel The Good Daughters.   Thanks to Harper Collins, we’re giving away a copy to a lucky reader!   Here’s the official synopsis of the story:

They were born on the same day, in the same small New Hampshire hospital, into families that could hardly have been less alike.   Ruth Plank is an artist and a romantic with a rich, passionate, imaginative life.   The last of five girls born to a gentle, caring farmer and his stolid wife, she yearns to soar beyond the confines of the land that has been her family’s birthright for generations.

Dana Dickerson is a scientist and realist whose faith is firmly planted in the natural world.   Raised by a pair of capricious drifters who wasted their lives on failed dreams, she longs for stability and rootedness.

Different in nearly every way, Ruth and Dana share a need to make sense of who they are and to find their places in a world in which neither has truly felt she belonged.   They also share a love for Dana’s wild and beautiful older brother, Ray, who will leave an indelible mark on both their hearts.

Told in the alternating voices of Ruth and Dana, The Good Daughters follows these “birthday sisters” as they make their way from the 1950s to the present.   Master storyteller Joyce Maynard chronicles the unlikely ways the two women’s lives parallel and intersect – from childhood and adolescence to first loves, first sex, marriage, and parenthood; from the deaths of parents to divorce, the loss of home, and the loss of a beloved partner – until past secrets and forgotten memories unexpectedly come to light, forcing them to reevaluate themselves and each other.

Joy Topping of The Dallas Morning News wrote a review of The Good Daughters in which she stated the following:

“The author’s deft and delicate touch as she plumbs the depths of her characters’ psyches is what will keep readers pinned to the page.   It’s like a conversation with  friends about whose lives you crave every detail, simply because they are so dear to you…  Maynard’s simple language gorgeously interprets the book’s themes…  In Maynard’s gifted hands, every sentence and step seems organic, as if she were just keenly observing these (two) women and taking richly detailed notes on their lives.”

Interested?   The Good Daughters is published by William Morrow, runs 288 pages and has a value of $24.99.   In order to enter this contest, you simply need to post a message below with your name and e-mail address included or send an e-mail with this information to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as your first entry.   In order to enter a second time, tell us what the best or worst book is that you’ve read during 2010.   (Munchy will be as curious as a cat to read your answers!)

You have until midnight PST on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 to submit your entry or entries.   In order to be eligible to enter this contest, you must live in the continental United States and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be shipped to a P.O. box or a business-related address.  As always, the winner’s name will be randomly drawn by Munchy.

This is it for the rules.   Good luck and good reading!

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Watching the Wheels

On Book Reviewing and Reading

During his unfortunately short lifetime, John Lennon had to deal with a lot of guilt.   Some of it was due to the break-up of his personal and working relationship with Paul McCartney.   But for a time, the public viewed his relationship with Yoko Ono as the likely cause of the Beatles’ dissolution (in retrospect, there were other factors involved).   It finally arrived at the point where John felt compelled to sing, “I don’t believe in Beatles/ I just believe in me/ Yoko and me/ and that’s reality.”

It may seem odd, but a book reviewer is sometimes affected with guilt.   This is especially true after spending hours and days reading a novel, a memoir, a nonfiction account or a survey book and finding it a disappointment.   You might not think so, but most reviewers would love to just write positive reviews.   Except that in the real world, writing exclusively positive reviews just would not reflect reality.

So the books that don’t meet the reviewer’s high expectations must be documented with a dreaded negative review.   And here is where the guilt comes in…  As the reviewer begins to draft a not-so-positive review, he/she begins to wonder if he/she did something wrong or miss the point?   Is it somehow my fault that I didn’t like it?   It’s an odd question but it’s one that I find me asking myself.   Other reviewers that I talk to ask themselves the same question.   Regardless, it’s a thought that must quickly be put aside.

Each of us, after all, is providing only one perspective, one that each review reader (and author) is free to accept or reject.   Talk to four or more people about the Beatles, for example, and you’re likely to hear all of the following:  “John was my favorite.”   “I was always a Paul fan.”   “I always loved George.”   “Ringo was my guy.”   If you were a Paul McCartney fan, you didn’t wonder if it was somehow your fault that John wasn’t your cup of tea.

When I talk to people about music, I get a sense of honest straight forwardness about one’s opinions.   You may know that I love Van Morrison but have no problem in telling me that he is not someone you listen to.   Why should it be different with literature, with books, with popular fiction?   I think it’s because many of us grew up seeing academic standards applied to literature that were not applied to modern music.   There was a sense that opinions about books were more formal, more standardized; therefore, there should be a consensus as to whether a particular book was “good” or “bad.”

Of course, all that has changed with the advent of the internet and with the more traditional style reviews (especially those printed on paper) moving into the background.   We’re entering the new world where, it might be said, we’re all “free to be you and me.”   So your opinion about a book is just as good, as valuable, as mine and vice-versa.   We’ve entered a zone where everything in life is, as one New York City newspaper observed, both large and small all at once.

So when, for a moment, the feeling of guilt crops up because you love something that other people don’t – or fail to admire a book that others may – it’s time to move past that moment and accept that you simply feel what you feel.   You think what you think and this is fine.   You get to judge what you want and need to judge, and don’t ever believe those who tell you that you “shouldn’t judge things.”   Everyone judges everything in life almost every minute of the day, but only some admit to it.   Book reviewers, by necessity and by role, must admit to it.

And John Lennon offered us some valuable advice – in the song “Watching the Wheels” – as to what to do once we’ve boarded the merry-go-round of guilt…  Get off of it.   “I just had to let it go.”   We just need to let it go.

Joseph Arellano

One in a continuing series of articles.   Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy by author-musician Ken Sharp was published by MTV Books.

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Guilty of the Crime

The False Friend: A Novel by Myla Goldberg (Doubleday; 272 pages; $25.95)

There’s a saying that has been going around for years in the fields of entertainment and sports, “When the legend conflicts with the truth, always choose the legend.”   The distinction between the public story and actual events is what preoccupies Celia, the female protagonist of The False Friend.   Celia, an Illinois State Auditor, lives in Chicago but she’s returned to her small hometown in the formerly forested wilds of New York State to make a confession.   It seems that twenty years earlier Celia and her best friend Djuna and three other girls walked into a dense forest; only four of them walked out.   Djuna was never seen again.

The official story of Djuna’s disappearance is that she was picked up by a man driving a car – a man who stopped on the road by the edge of the forest and convinced her to get into the car.   That man was her killer.   This is the public story that the four girls told to the police and to their parents.   It was never questioned.   But Celia was the girl walking closest to Djuna on that fateful day and she’s now willing to disclose what factually happened…  Or, what she believes in her mind’s eye actually happened.

Celia has a somewhat naive faith in the premise that once she tells her version of the truth everything will be made better.   She also thinks that her former classmates will readily accept her version of the truth.   She’s seeking absolution and is excited that it’s about to be granted to her belatedly.   But the funny thing is that once she meets with the other girls (those willing to communicate with her), they don’t buy into her story.   Each one is absolutely certain that she saw Djuna being lured into the stranger’s automobile.

Author Myla Goldberg does a fascinating job of translating what is essentially a small story into a larger one about our roles and responsibilities in society.   If all of those around us wish to accept one version of events, of facts, what right do we have to say they’re wrong?   Sometimes there’s far more comfort to be had in the public story, the legend, than in simpler frail human events.

When reading this novel, each reader will come to think of certain events in his/her own childhood.   We may be sure that things happened a certain way on a certain date, only to find that our family members are wedded to an entirely different version.   Telling those around you that they’re wrong only makes them feel uncomfortable, if not angry.   (Thus, we all have sometimes accepted the group’s story instead of our own.)

Goldberg has created a fascinating and extremely engaging novel in Friend.   Her calm, deliberate style will call to mind Catherine Flynn (The News Where You Are) or Anne Tyler (Noah’s Compass).   The uncertainty over an event that happened decades earlier is also a bit similar in storyline to Lisa Unger’s recent novel Fragile.

Goldberg’s talented prose will cause the reader to read and re-read several lines such as these:

“The school building itself was utterly unchanged…  The opposite edge of the walk displayed a gray boulder the size of a crouching child.   On it were carved the words JENSENVILLE HIGH, Gift of 1993…  The rock reminded Celia of a marker designating the future resting place of herself and her former classmates, all of them to be interred beneath in eternal, obligatory return.”   (Whew)

At the conclusion of The False Friend, Celia must make a critical choice – Will she continue to dispute the perceived history of a local tragedy or will she come to side with the community’s accepted version of events?   You will need to read this intelligently told tale to find out what decision she makes.   You will then wonder if you would have made the same choice.

Well recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The False Friend will be released by Doubleday on Tuesday, October 5, 2010.

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Win Blind Man’s Alley

Thanks to Judy at Doubleday, we have a copy to give away of Blind Man’s Alley: A Novel by Justin Peacock, the author of A Cure for Night.   This book has a retail value of $26.95 and this is a first-run hardbound copy.   The novel is said to be “an ambitious and compulsively readable novel set in the cutthroat world of New York real estate.”   Here is the official synopsis:

A concrete floor three hundred feet up in the Aurora Tower condo development in SoHo has collapsed, hurling three workers to their deaths.   The developer, Roth Properties (owned by the famously abrasive Simon Roth), faces a vast tangle of legal problems, including accusations of mob connections.   Roth’s longtime lawyers, the elite midtown law firm of Blake and Wolcott, is assigned the task of cleaning up the mess.   Much of the work lands on the plate of smart, cynical, and seasoned associate Duncan Riley; as a result, he falls into the powerful orbit of Leah Roth, the beautiful daughter of Simon Roth and the designated inheritor of his real estate empire.

Meanwhile, Riley pursues a seemingly small pro bono case in which he attempts to forestall the eviction of Rafael Nazario and his grandmother from public housing in the wake of a pot bust.   One night Rafael is picked up and charged with the murder of the private security cop who caught him, a murder that took place in another controversial “mixed income” housing development being built by…  Roth Properties.   Duncan Riley is now walking the knife-edge of legal ethics and personal morality.

Blind Man’s Alley is a suspenseful and kaleidoscopic journey through a world where the only rule is self-preservation.   The New York Times Book Review said of A Cure for Night that “(Peacock) heads toward Scott Turow country…  he’s got a good chance to make partner.”

In order to enter this book giveaway contest just post a comment here, with your name and e-mail address, or send that information via e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will be considered to be your first entry.   For a second entry, tell us who your favorite crime or courtroom drama author is – Scott Turow, John Grisham, Steve Martini, Julie Compton, Jonathan Kellerman, Robert Rotenberg of Canada (City Hall), John Verdon (Think of a Number), David Baldacci or someone else?

You have until midnight PST on Sunday, October 10, 2010 to submit your entry or entries.   The winner will be drawn by Munchy the cat and will be contacted via e-mail.   In order to enter this contest you must live in the continental U.S. and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be shipped to a P.O. box or a business-related address.

This is it for the “complex” contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!    

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Gaining Traction

When I first thought about writing book reviews (decades removed from writing music reviews at the college newspaper level), I thought it would be easy to get new releases from publishers.   I had no idea how difficult it would be.   I discovered that publishers – being reasonable business people – want samples of your work before entrusting you with their product.   It was then that I contacted a female book reviewer, a pioneer in the field, and asked her for advice.   Being wise she offered no A-B-C- guidebook steps, no formula to follow, although at that point I would have willingly purchased a Book Reviewing for Idiots book.   Instead, she told me something that was far more valuable:“When you start out, it will feel like you’re trying to climb a very steep and difficult mountain.   No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to find the path upward.   But then one day you will suddenly realize that you’re making progress – you’re gaining traction – and from then on every step becomes easier than the one that preceded it.”

She was right and you might think this article is about how to gain such traction.   No, because that’s something that every novice reviewer is going to have to learn on their own.   So I thought about using this space to answer a question that someone recently asked me, “How do you choose (or select) the books that you review?”   My answer was a simple and truthful one, I don’t choose (or select) the books, they choose me.   It’s true, as I almost never request a book on a blind basis.   I have generally read or heard something about the book prior to its release and I rely on my instincts to tell me that this is going to be either a most excellent or truly awful read.   As I’ve mentioned before, very good books and very bad books make for easily written reviews.   If nothing else, they tend to be interesting.   Interesting is not that difficult to write about.

I think some people would be surprised to learn that I decide to refrain from writing reviews on about every fifth or sixth book I read.   Why?   The logical answer would be that it’s because they’re average, but that’s not really the case.   Instead the answer is that with certain books I just cannot find “the hook” to make them sound interesting.   Recently, for example, I read a unique novel that was satisfying in every respect except that, two days after finishing it, I couldn’t think of how I would begin a write-up.

With some very good stories the only way you can begin to describe how good they are is to give away too much.   You know those movie previews where they show you the entire film – beginning, middle and ending – in two or three minutes?   Yeah, it’s like that.

And I won’t discuss the novels that are not bad; it’s just that there’s nothing special there.   Or they tend to be repeats of stories written by others.   Retreads…  Covers.   (Sometimes, and this seems to be happening more and more often, multiple novels are released that are built around near-identical plots.)

Let’s draw on a possible parallel to music reviews…  Writing about the latest concert performance by U2?   That would be easy.   Writing about the latest gig by a U2 cover band?   Not so easy.

So, to come full circle, there are books out there, generally fictional, that are fine and maybe even very good.   But if they’re derivative (the writing equivalent of clothing or musical knock-offs) it’s hard to locate the center that makes them worth writing about.   And the ones that are 100% original can be very hard to write about – sui generis (literally one-of-a-kind) works are difficult to compare to anything else.   Just think about trying to write about something that no one has experienced before – be it a book, film or record – and it may give you the beginnings of a headache.

Traction, such a tricky thing; it’s either there or it’s not.

Joseph Arellano

One in a continuing series of articles.   Pictured:  K2 – Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs with David Roberts (Broadway Books, August 2010, $14.99; also available as a Kindle Edition download).

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