Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Not So Big House

The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live by Sarah Susanka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I absolutely loved this book! I first checked it out from the library and have added it to my amazon wishlist, as it's one of those I'll refer bak to over and over. The Not So Big concept is not so much about the square footage of your home, but in maximizing the usable space in it.

If you're a family that will always eat your meals in the kitchen, no matter how much you have to extend the table in your nook but are scrambling for office/studio space-why would you waste over 100 precious square feet on a formal dining room?

Not So Big House is really all about making a house a home and loving every inch of it, nomatter how big, or Not So Big, it may be.

There are a ton of ideas from this book that I'll be implementing in our new home, and I hope you find inspiration for yours in it as well.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Crimson Rooms

The Crimson Rooms The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Crimson Rooms is a period novel set in mid 20's England, with the primary character being Evelyn Gifford; a young, female attorney, working her way to gaining a full lawyer position by being a clerk in a small firm. In the beginning, her character seemed a little one-dimensional, but after reading the story, it seems that she had to seem that way, as the book is really about her own self-discovery and letting go of some of the constraints she'd placed upon herself, while at the same time, strengthening her convictions in her chosen vocation.

Living in an all female, multi-generational home, the family is still recovering (daily, it seems) from the death of Evelyn's brother, James, in the war. Their world is rocked when a late night knock on the door introduces into their lives a free-spirited woman and the young son she claims is the product of a relationship with James during the war, where she was a nurse and he a wounded soldier.

Adding insult to injury, it seems that Evelyn's father had been in communication with the woman, even sending her a monthly stipend in her homeland of Canada. Suspect of the woman's motivation, Evelyn grudgingly forms an attachment to the child, Edmund, with whom she quickly falls in love while still being cautious about his mother's motivations.

Evelyn gets her first professional 'break' when she's assigned to assist in two cases; a case of kidnapping, which brings forth social class issues, those of poverty and alcohol abuse vs. attachment and well-being. Additionally, the issue of sending children to live in the Canada Territory for adoption is explored, and revealed to be nothing more than sending kids out as cheap labor. The second case is a murder case in which her firm is defending the accused; Steven Wheeler, who is charged with shooting his bride of less than a month in the heart during an afternoon picnic.

Without having any spoilers, I can say only that Evelyn's character blossoms and she discovers throughout the novel how enmeshed ones life can become with those around you, and that a person's free will to make choices that will make their life livable are not always in line with 'justice' as seen by the eyes of the law.

Learning to let go, Evelyn also learns when to choose logic over lust, compassion over former convictions, and to open herself to new experiences and relationships. There were periods when I felt about this book as I did In the Woods by Tana French except that, as opposed to In the Woods, in the end I felt like I appreciated the author's choice of pace in certain sections because I think it added to the characters' overall development.

McMahon has actually written several novels prior to The Crimson Rooms, including The Alchemist's Daughter: A Novel, and I look forward to reading more. The Crimson Rooms was released on February 8th, and can be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and Indie Bound.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by MotherTalk on behalf of G.P. Putnam's Sons/Riverhead and received a copy of the book to facilitate my candid review. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking time to participate.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp

Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I went back and forth on whether I liked this book. I like her voice, I like the premise and the idea of the story, but there are several parts that just don't feel good...and that's probably part of the point.

While I was expecting a 'ha ha, I had to go to fat camp, but I'm fine now.' This was much more about her continual, daily struggle with eating/food/and body image issues, even though she's been thin for more years of her life than she was 'fat'.

I think the part that made it the most sickening was the sadness I felt for her over her struggle to have to willingly gain weight when she was pregnant with her twins. I don't know if it bothered me because I had anxiety about gaining weight when I was pregnant as well, or if it's because I never have gotten to the point that I've had the discipline to really change my body for the better. It's far too easy to judge the inner workings of someone's mind and the feelings they've laid on the table for all to see. So, I'll try not to be too hard on her in my head.

In the end, though, there must be some poetic justice that that the very word used to sink her gut and break her heart is able to be turned into a meal ticket. Pun intended.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Middle Place

The Middle Place The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

Corrigan has written a beautiful book about our position in life when we become parents to our children, yet are still children to our parents.

In the midst of her breast cancer diagnosis, her father is diagnosed with late stage bladder cancer. This is such a moving book, but it's so much more than another tear-jerker 'Chicken Soup for the Cancerous Soul'.

Her descriptions of the sometimes rote and mundane tasks of motherhood are right smack in the middle of what is quite possibly the best love letter a mother could write to her children, parents and spouse and siblings all rolled together in a neat little package.

Perhaps one of the most relatable parts for me was being raised Catholic, still identifying as Catholic, but not attending church or really subscribing to a lot of the belief systems of the church. In one part, she addressed how she envied people like her father and mother who had such strong faith, and the comfort it could bring in a time of crisis while at the same time questioning whether faith allowed one to sit by...after all, God wasn't going to make sure you went to your appointments, or to ensure that a technician remembered to run a certain part of a test. It's something I've been struggling with personally, so I think I particularly liked that stream of consciousness.

Handling life's biggest stresses with class and wit, Corrigan is someone I would love to know in real life; grab some coffee with, have a play-date with our kids, have in my corner during life's ups and downs.

A quick read, this isn't something you'll have to slog through, but that you could possible purchase two days prior to book club and finish with time to spare. Just make sure you have your tissues handy.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

In The Woods

In the Woods In the Woods by Tana French

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had really mixed feelings about this book. Really, I felt like it was about 100 pages too long. By the time it got to the crux of the story, I was thinking "FINALLY!" instead of being curious to the end. I don't mind that it didn't end up with all the loose ends tied up, because I like having more to think about, but it was a little bit tedious at times, and sub-stories that felt unnecessary and unresolved. Additionally, there's a fantastical element that, in the end, is never really addressed.

Set in present-day Ireland, In The Woods is a 'you can never go home' type tale in which Andy/Rob is the sole survivor of a childhood tragedy in which he and two of his friends went to play in the woods one day, and two of them never came out. His family left, sent Andy to boarding school after which he changed his name to Rob to avoid further media and police contacts. He had no memory of the event, or several years leading up to it. As unbeknownst to his boss and co-workers, and is assigned a murder investigation that appears to have close ties with his own unresolved case.

Perhaps what was most disappointing is that the character that's supposed to be the 'surprise psychotic' is really not surprising at all. Rosalind is fairly transparently manipulative, and it's surprising that a seasoned detective was completely snowed by her when it was obvious to me, as the reader. Had she had more characteristics that were similar to Jamie, hence a reason for Adam/Rob to have a soft spot for her, I could see it, but otherwise it just doesn't fit.

Even though I wasn't wowed by this novel I would still recommend it to others, and would like to have it be part of a book discussion so that I could get different readers' perspectives. Overall, I think it's a great first novel, but it's not ground-breaking, and I look forward to reading the next book in my queue by her to see if her stories become more sophisticated and the characters less transparent.

But, as another reviewer on goodreaders so eloquently put it "Or could it be that weaving an engrossing, eclectic, multi-layered tale of murder, mythological spirits, and memory is a hell of a lot easier when an author goes into it knowing there's no way and no need to wrap it up? Because that's just lazy. "

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