The Rock Orchard by Paula Wall

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Back of the book: When it came to men, Charlotte Belle strictly ascribed to the law of catch and release. As soon as she could get a man out of her bed, she threw him back in the stream. No, Charlotte did not need a man. She had money. She had her driver, Mr. Nalls, for heavy lifting. Sex? Her pond was well stocked. What else does a woman need a man for? And so it comes as quite a surprise to Charlotte that she can not stop thinking about the Reverend Thomas Jones.
To read the back of the book one might think that this book is all about sex. While it does figure into the plot (more than once) it’s really not what The Rock Orchard is about. Paula Wall’s writing is wonderful. I had a definite sense of atmosphere while reading. The sounds, smells, and sights are apparent. The characters are unique, real, sad, hilarious. I laughed a lot while reading. The one thing wrong with the book is the length – I wasn’t ready for it to end.
This would be a good selection for the 2009 Southern Reading Challenge hosted by Maggie (I think it begins in a few months).

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie

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Back of the book: Virginia Miner, a fiftysomething unmarried tenured professor, is in London to work on her new book about children’s folk rhymes. Despite carrying a U.S. passport, Vinnie feels essentially English and rather looks down on her fellow Americans. But in spite of that, she is drawn into a mortifying and oddly satisfying affair with an Oklahoman tourist who dresses more Bronco Billy than Beau Brummel.
Also in London is Vinnie’s colleague Fred Turner, a handsome, flat broke, newly separated, and thoroughly miserable young man trying to focus on his own research. Instead, he is distracted by a beautiful and unpredictable English actress and the world she belongs to.
Both American, both abroad, and both achingly lonely, Vinnie and Fred play out their confused alienation and dizzying romantic liaisons . . .

This has been on my shelf for a while. I can’t remember how I heard of it or where I bought it. It started slow and kind of grew on me as I read. The characters weren’t all that likable at first but I ended up really enjoying the relationship of Vinnie and Chuck (the Oklahoman). There could be a great discussion about the two of them. In fact, this book made me wish I belonged to a book club! There is a Q & A with the author as well as discussion questions at the end.

The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein

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Back of the book: On the eve of World War I, in a small English mill town, Harry Bernstein’s family struggles to make ends meet. Harry’s father earns little money at the Jewish tailoring shop and brings home even less, preferring to spend his wages drinking and gambling. Harry’s mother, devoted to her children and fiercely resilient, survives on her dreams: new shoes for young Harry, her daughter’s marriage to the local rabbi. Then Harry’s older sister does the unthinkable: She falls in love with a Christian boy. But they are separated by an “invisible wall” that divides Jewish families on one side of the street from Christian families on the other. When Harry unwittingly discovers the secret affair, he must choose between the morals he’s been taught all his life, his loyalty to his selfless mother, and what he knows to be true in his own heart.
Harry Bernstein writes about his early years in such an engaging way that he makes reading about incredibly difficult times almost easy. The Invisible Wall is Harry’s memoir of his early years (pre-WW I) in England. Reading it, I had thoughts of Angela’s Ashes – there are a few similarities. I appreciated that he included photos of his family. Harry was ninety-six when he wrote the book. I read the paper back edition and he added an afterward in which he tells how he came to write his memoir. He also wrote The Dream which is about his life in the United States. I look forward to reading it soon.

Houston, We Have a Problema by Gwendolyn Zepeda

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Back of the book: Jessica Luna isn’t always sure what to do with her life, but there are plenty of people willing to tell her. Her mother says she should drop the bad boys and marry a nice man the way her sister, Sabrina, did. Her coworkers encourage her to climb the corporate ladder, while her friends tell her to ditch the day job and strike out on her own. Is it any wonder, with so much conflicting advice, Jessica would rather rely on the plastic Virgin Mary that hangs in her car and her weekly visits with her friendly neighborhood psychic, Madame Hortensia? But as Jessica’s life becomes increasingly complicated, the universe becomes increasingly unclear. Madame Hortensia confirms a big change is on the horizon . . . but exactly what that means is something no one sees coming.
Gwendolyn Zepeda gives us Jessica – a character who is easy to cheer for. I really wanted her to succeed – in her job aspirations, her family relationships, and her romantic situation. Houston, We Have a Problema is a fast-paced novel about a young woman figuring out her life and working out exactly who she is. It was a quick read and I enjoyed it.
Author links:
My thanks to Miriam Parker of Hachette Book Group USA for sending the book

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

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From Publishers Weekly: Mixing nostalgia, baseball and a boy’s mostly epistolary friendship with a 1940s baseball star, this inventive but sentimental novel consists entirely of letters, fictional newspaper clippings, telegrams, war dispatches, report cards and other documentary fragments. Growing up Jewish in a tough, Italian Brooklyn neighborhood, Joey Margolis is troubled by anti-Semitic neighbors, by Hitler’s rising power, by his parents’ divorce and by his absent cad of a father. Craving a surrogate dad, Joey strikes up a correspondence with Wisconsin-born New York Giants slugger Charlie Banks. The boy’s outrageous fibs, tough-guy posturing and desperate pleas grab the reluctant attention of the superstar, whose racy vernacular guy-talk (peppered with amusing misspellings and misusages) hints at his deepening affection for Joey.
I want to thank Les for posting about Last Days of Summer a few months ago. It was published in 1998 and reprinted in 2002. I hadn’t heard of it but her comments piqued my interest. My whole family are baseball fans so I really enjoyed all the player and game references. The friendship between Joey and Charlie is quite touching. They were equally important to each other and watching their story unfold was a wonderful reading experience. I recommend this to anyone who loves a good story with a lot of heart (baseball fan or not)!

Winner of The Piano Teacher give-away

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Congratulations to MJ. You are the winner of The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee. Please send me your address and I’ll send the book out asap. Thanks to all who entered.
My thanks to Viking for sending this ARC. The Piano Teacher will be published on January 13th.
Note: Although the post is dated Jan. 9th, the winner was not selected (by until after 5am Jan. 10th. The post was written earlier (with a blank left for the winning name).

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: Book Cover

The Shell Seekers is the sweeping tale of Penelope Stern Keeling and her family. It’s also the title of a painting by her father and given to her when she married. We learn Penelope’s story in flashback form – much of it taking place during WWII. A fair amount is also in the present (at the time the book was published – the mid 1980s). If you’re a fan of family sagas and haven’t yet read The Shell Seekers, you’re in for a treat.

The chapters are titled after important characters in the story. I thought the book was a fair reading experience until the chapter “Richard” – that’s when it became a wonderful story for me. I couldn’t put the book down from that point on. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it.

A Give-away

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee: Book Cover

I’m hosting a give-away of my copy (ARC) of The Piano Teacher.

You can read my review here as well as Kaye’s review here.

1. For one entry leave a comment.

2. For a second entry post about this give-away on your blog and leave a link for me.

This is limited to readers in the US and Canada. I will accept entries until 11pm(EST) Friday, Jan.9th. I’ll use and post the winner’s name on Saturday, Jan. 10. Good luck!

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee: Book Cover

From the back of the book: In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese, with terrible consequences for both of them, and for members of their fragile community who will betray each other in the darkest days of the war.
Ten years later, Claire Pendleton lands in Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter’s piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the colony’s heady social life. She soon begins an affair . . . only to discover her lover’s enigmatic demeanor hides a devastating past.
As the threads of this engrossing novel intertwine and converge, a landscape of impossible choices emerges – between love and safety, courage and survival, the present and, above all, the past.
I wanted to read this book from the moment I read about it and was thrilled when I received an ARC through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. It’s difficult to believe this is an author’s debut novel. Ms. Lee writes sparingly and beautifully. I’ve never been to Hong Kong but I don’t doubt she has captured it’s atmosphere perfectly. The description from the back of the book tells the reader enough of the story. I will only add that The Piano Teacher is a very good novel. It will be published on January 13, 2009.
My thanks to Viking for the ARC.

2009 Books

(Favorites in RED)

January ~ 12
Shelter Mountain – Robyn Carr
The Piano Teacher – Janice Y.K. Lee
Whispering Rock – Robyn Carr
The Shell Seekers – Rosamunde Pilcher

A Virgin River Christmas – Robyn Carr
Last Days of Summer – Steve Kluger
Houston, We Have a Problema – Gwendolyn Zepeda
The Invisible Wall – Harry Bernstein
Stealing Home – Sherryl Woods
Foreign Affairs – Alison Lurie
The Rock Orchard – Paula Wall
Fireside – Susan Wiggs

February ~ 9
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Second Chance Pass by Robyn Carr
Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga
Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich
Snowbound by Janice Kay Johnson
The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

March ~ 12
It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Temptation Ridge by Robyn Carr
Montana Creeds: Logan by Linda Lael Miller
Rubies in the Orchard by Lynda Resnick with Francis Wilkinson
Knit Two by Kate Jacobs
Hot by Julia Harper
Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames
A Slice of Heaven by Sherryl Woods
Catholics by Brian Moore
Paradise Valley by Robyn Carr

April ~ 12
Too Good To Be True by Kristan Higgins
Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle
Feels Like Family by Sherryl Woods
The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
The Inn at Eagle Point by Sherryl Woods
Thanks For the Memories by Cecelia Ahern
The Long Walk Home by Will North
Eating Heaven by Jennie Shortridge
Montana Creeds: Dylan by Linda Lael Miller
Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center
Sweet Love by Sarah Strohmeyer
May ~ 10
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
Shelter Me by Juliette Fay
April & Oliver by Tess Callahan
Just Breathe by Susan Wiggs
Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg
Irresistible by Susan Mallery
The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
Cutting Loose by Nadine Dajani
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
June ~ 11
Flowers on Main by Sherryl Woods
To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
All of Me by Lori Wilde
Love in Bloom by Sheila Roberts
The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews

Nothing But Trouble by Susan May Warren
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
Welcome to Serenity by Sherryl Woods
Wild Hearts by Susan Mallery
A Cowboy’s Promise by Marin Thomas
July ~ 12
Harbor Lights by Sherryl Woods
How To Score by Robin Wells
Roastbeef”s Promise by David Jerome
Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton
Summer House by Nancy Thayer
Instant Attraction by Jill Shalvis
The Last Chance Cafe by Linda Lael Miller
The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
Wings by Aprilynne Pike
Driftwood Summer by Patti Callahan Henry
August ~ 8
Under Her Skin by Susan Mallery
There’s Only Been You by Donna Marie Rogers
The Widow’s Season by Laura Brodie
Table Manners by Mia King
The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline
So Into You by Sandra Hill
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
How to Tame a Modern Rogue by Diana Holquist
September ~ 9
Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline
Sea Witch by Virginia Kantra
Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran
Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
92 Pacific Boulevard by Debbie Macomber
Angel Lane by Sheila Roberts
Viola In Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani
Instant Gratification by Jill Shalvis
Vision In White by Nora Roberts
October ~ 11
This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber
Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham
To Taste Temptation by Elizabeth Hoyt
Leaving Carolina by Tamara Leigh (Book #100)
To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt
Lakeshore Christmas by Susan Wiggs
White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner
Chosen By Desire by Kate Perry
To Desire a Devil by Elizabeth Hoyt
A Highlander’s Temptation by Sue-Ellen Welfonder
November ~ 10
Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti
All the Right Angles by Stef Ann Holm
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews
All That Matters by Stef Ann Holm
Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts
Perfect on Paper by Maria Murnane
Bed & Breakfast by Lois Battle
When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge
December ~ 10
On Strike for Christmas by Sheila Roberts
That Holiday Feeling by D. Macomber, S. Woods, R. Carr
Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
A Stone Creek Christmas by Linda Lael Miller
The Christmas Bus by Melody Carlson
At Home in Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller
The Secret of Everything by Barbara O’Neal
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
2009 books read total: 126

75 Books – 2009 Challenge


Is the 50 Book Challenge too easily reached, but the 100 Book Challenge too much of a stretch? Here is a challenge for avid readers who fall into the middle ground. I’ll log my 2009 books read here and on Goodreads 75 Books 2009 Challenge page. In addition to posting title and author, I can post a star rating, any recommendation, and any other info about the book.
1. The Piano Teacher – Janice Y.K. Lee