phantom, music of the night, andrew lloyd webber

Review: The Girl in the Rain by L.G. Davis

The Girl in the Rain - Cover Art -

This book really starts with a bang: Paige, a young schoolteacher, is forced to make a difficult decision regarding her trouble-ridden younger brother, Ryan, unknowing of how severe the consequences of her choice would prove to be. Later, with Ryan a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, Paige would find herself consumed by guilt and doubt over the choice she made. Unfortunately, Ryan does not hesitate to use this guilt against her, seeing fit to torture her in increasingly disturbing ways. As the psychological torment continues, Paige finds herself at a crossroads, needing to find a way to deal with the demands of her abusive brother while also trying to reclaim some semblance of her own life.

There is definitely a degree of self-pity within the book that soon wears thin. I mean, yes, it’s important to the characters and the plot development of the book that Paige is a spineless pushover who constantly feels sorry for herself and in fear of her brother, but there are only so many times you can hear this and in so many ways before it starts to wear on you. So, I did ultimately take off a star for that. But, fortunately, otherwise, the characters are rather compelling. Ryan comes across as very sinister, with another side to him, while Paige soon reveals that she herself has another side as well.

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phantom, music of the night, andrew lloyd webber

Where to Restart; a.k.a. "How Do I Move Forward From Here?"

Alright, looking back at it, this really is a total mess. There's no point even trying to import stuff here that I posted reviews for elsewhere in the meantime, so I'm going to start anew, with a particular focus on whatever new releases and such I read, as well as whatever things I randomly come across that seem to warrant a review. I know I still have readers checking in on this blog, since I got a bunch of your messages (thank you, by the way — all the well wishes are very much appreciated), and I hope you aren't disappointed by this decision. If you really want to catch up on my Goodreads or Facebook reviews, drop me a line. Otherwise, I will post an update once I have one to offer.

In other news, yes, I did graduate college since you last heard from me - summa cum laude! Yay! Actually, I finished with two B.A.s and three Associate's degrees, on my way to law school. We went through a lot of emotional breakdowns and such following the fire, and there was a very long period on my part of a more-than-fulltime course schedule paired with demanding work schedules, but it all proved worth it in the end. And, we're mostly okay now. We lost our dog some time back — the same one I pulled out of the fire that night, so, that was a big blow all over again. Then, major health scares and all that made for an interesting time away from you all.

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phantom, music of the night, andrew lloyd webber

I'm Baaaack!!

Hey, everyone! Don't hate me! I know I checked out for a long time there; after the fire and all, I just couldn't do it for a while, and then, as my life got back together, I got busy with school and all. I was still around on Goodreads and Facebook and such but, to be honest, revisiting this blog depressed me, since it was a reminder of all that we lost.

But, I'm back now, and am going to try to get back into book reviewing and such, as well as just sharing my random thoughts and all. I think I'll be keeping a secondary blog elsewhere, since there are some elements of this site I don't love, but I'm too emotionally attached to this blog not to keep it running as well, so, no worries there.

phantom, music of the night, andrew lloyd webber

My 2009 Reading Challenge

For 2009 I have set myself the challenge of reading at least 100 books. Therefore, I've joined the 2009 100+ Reading Challenge hosted at J. Kaye's Book Blog. This is my very first ever official reading challenge and I don't know whether I'll make it or not, but I'm sure I'll get to read lots of great books in the attempt. So, throughout the year, I'll be keeping track of all my books read in 2009 within this post.

ETA: I called off this challenge after my house fire, but continued to keep track of the books I read.

Listed books with a '*' after them are highly recommended works that are both engrossing and well-written, as well as being among the best books I've read in my life. There shouldn't be too many of these, since they're the 'best of the best'.
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phantom, music of the night, andrew lloyd webber

To Whom it May Concern: Fire Isn't Fun

We just suffered a major house fire fairly recently, and lost virtually everything, including ALL my books. So, if I haven't reviewed your title yet, I won't be able to, because the relevent book is no longer in my possession. I'm very sorry. I would change the situation if I could, but it is what it is. Luckily, we now at least have a place to live while we rebuild, and can hopefully start replacing some of our possessions. I would have posted sooner, but I'm just now feeling even coherant enough to be able to do so today. If you haven't been through a house fire while you were actually in the house when the fire started, and ran out your front door amidst a cloud of smoke, and had to watch your house burn down with everything you own inside, I'll tell you, it really messes you up for a long time.
phantom, music of the night, andrew lloyd webber

Review: The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle

I absolutely loved this book. It is without a doubt one of the most heartbreaking books I've ever read, but also the most heartwarming, in an alternating pattern that varies throughout the book. Dealing with the aftermath of horrible child abuse in a way that is honest and real, there is no sugarcoating of facts to be found here. Obviously, things aren't blatantly described, but the author has no problem discussing the issue. But, at the same time, this is not a story about child abuse, but rather a story about triumph, survival, and the love and support of a family.

Sarah Laden, a recent widow struggling to now raise two boys entirely on her own, has her world turned upside down when a shocking secret is discovered about her long-time friends, the Kendrick family. Faced with the possibility that she may not have really known them at all, and that the woman most responsible for her recovery after the death of her husband may have had a far darker motive for her actions than Sarah could have ever imagined, the already fragile balance that is her everyday existence now seems to be more difficult than ever before. And when the Laden family makes the decision to add another child to the family, the traumatized young Jordan Kendrick, things become even more complicated yet. What hope is there for this family to survive, and can they find the happiness together that seems to have been missing for far too long?

For anyone who has ever followed the news, you know that the most horrible crimes are often committed by the seemingly most unlikely people. Friends and neighbors are almost always heard to say after the truth is discovered that they "had no idea" and "it can't be true, they're such nice people". It was good to read a book that takes this real-life rule to heart. The 'bad guys' here aren't the creepy or strange people that everyone steers clear of. Rather, they're seemingly normal family people who volunteer at school events, participate in their community, and are seemingly good friends or acquaintances to many people, all of whom have no idea of the truth until the police get involved. This book will haunt you, educate you, and hopefully let you understand the deeper issues a bit better. Yes, there are times that you want to grab one of the characters and slap them out of their denial, until you think about how you would feel in their position. For better or worse, the emotions and reactions in this book are true to real life, as unfortunate as that can sometimes be.

Without any doubts, this book definitely warrants 5/5 stars. This is one for the keeper shelf.

phantom, music of the night, andrew lloyd webber

Review: Afraid by Jack Kilborn

Small towns have long been a main source for horror fare, for logical reason, and this book is no exception. The small town of Safe Haven, Wisconsin is anything but a safe haven when a helicopter crash unleashes something terrifying on the unsuspecting residents. For anyone who has ever lived in a small, isolated, one road in and out town, this book will definitely strike a chord. From man's depravity and greed, to the will to survive unspeakable horror, this book runs the full range of human nature, and does so quite well.

This is quite a good read, though a bit graphic in the violence department. I found it to actually be a rather gripping tale. Though a sensitive person may be disturbed by the violence (think a 'Saw' movie in book form), it is otherwise a title I would strongly recommend to any horror/thriller fans out there. With believable characters, a realistic storyline (it hasn't happened in real life, but you can easily imagine that it could), and just enough terror to be haunting, it is a good read in the genre. Overall, I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. But for the genre, it ranks a solid 4/5.

phantom, music of the night, andrew lloyd webber

Review Books for April

Here are all the books I received for review purposes in the same period. It isn't as bad as it seems, since several of these are currently being read or are already read, even if reviews aren't posted yet thanks to my getting sick. It shouldn't take too long for me to get caught up, since I'm going on vacation and will have plenty of reading and reviewing time. Plus, many arrived fairly recently, so it's no surprise I haven't gotten to them yet.

The Noticer

by Andy Andrews
read my review for this here

A moving story of common wisdom from the bestselling author of The Traveler’s Gift.

Orange Beach, Alabama is a simple town filled with simple people. But they all have their share of problems – marriages teetering on the brink of divorce, young adults giving up on life, business people on the verge of bankruptcy, and many of the other obstacles that life seems to dish out to the masses.

Fortunately, when things look the darkest – a mysterious old man named Jones has a miraculous way of showing up. Communicating what he calls “a little perspective,” Jones explains that he has been given a gift of noticing things that others miss. In his simple interactions, Jones speaks to that part in everyone that is yearning to understand why things happen and what they can do about it.

Based on a remarkable true story, The Noticer beautifully blends fiction, allegory, and inspiration.

Run into Trouble
by Alan Cook

Read my review for this here

"I really like books by this author. This is another great one. The characters are interesting, and the plot is well laid out...I often felt like I was out there running with them." -Dawn Dowdle for Drake and Melody are teamed up to run a race along the California Coast for a prize of a million dollars-in 1969 when a million is worth something. Neither knows the other is in the race before it starts. They once did undercover work together in England, but this information is supposed to be top secret. The race sponsor, Giganticorp, is a large and very profitable government military contractor, whose ambitious CEO, Casey Messinger, is connected to the powerful in Washington, which must give him access to classified information. The nine other pairs of runners entered in the race are world-class marathoners, including a winner of the Boston Marathon. If this competition isn't enough, somebody tries to knock Drake out of the race before it begins. But Drake and Melody also receive threats calculated to keep them from dropping out. The stakes increase when startling events produce fatalities and impact the race, leading them to ask whether the Cold War with the USSR is about to heat up. If so, is it safer to line up with the hawks or the doves-because a wrong choice may mean giving up valuable freedom for questionable security. With their previous training and their own contacts in Washington, Drake and Melody are in the best position to figure out whether various events are connected and who is behind them. Their other challenge is to keep themselves in good physical condition to be able to compete for the prize money while running through the spectacular scenery of the California coast from the Mexican border to San Francisco.

by Jack Kilborn

Read my review for this here.

Known for cop thrillers, J.A. Konrath (Fuzzy Navel) debuts his Jack Kilborn pseudonym and reveals some serious horror chops in this carnival of carnage. Five government-sponsored Red-ops fighters, psychotic torturers with modified brains and extensive training in killing anyone in their way, have been accidentally assigned to a mission in small, sleepy Safe Haven, Wis. Gen. Alton Tope sends in a dozen Green Berets, two other Special Forces teams, navy SEALs and some marines, all of whom may be just about enough to stop the killers. The townies also band together to save their little rural paradise, though several get trampled into red goo along the way. Any attempt to make a point about U.S. support of international terrorism gets a bit lost in the gore fest, but fans of gross-out horror will love it.

The Walking People
by Mary Beth Keane
You can enter my giveaway for this book here

Debut author Keane offers an extended meditation on leaving, finding and making home in a novel focused on the new Irish immigrant experience. Awkward, dreamy Greta Cahill was always in the shadow of her vivacious older sister, Johanna, as the two grew up on the far west coast of Ireland. Surrounded by houses left vacant by neighbors who emigrated, adventurous Johanna dreams of America, especially when, in the aftermath of a family tragedy, she befriends Michael Ward, the son of itinerant tinkers who wants nothing more than to stay in one place. When teenaged Johanna's dream comes true, Michael and Greta are dragged along to America in Johanna's impetuous wake. In New York City, however, Greta and Michael create their own home, happiness and success. The narrative, which extends from 1956 to the present, has the dusty feel of 19th-century literature, though Greta is an appealing character lacking in nostalgia. Her romance is also authentic and unsentimental, and despite the stodgy storytelling, her coming-of-age reflects a fresh take on the lives recent immigrants can create.

Jantsen's Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace
by Pam Cope with Aimee Molloy

For Cope, life in her small Missouri town seemed perfect; she ran a hair salon, enjoyed a happy family life and lived in a beautiful home. Yet, she explains, I have to say, I put on a hell of a performance. For a long time, I even had myself convinced of how good and right everything was in my life. Her ideal was shattered in 1999 when Jantsen, her 15-year-old son, died suddenly from a heart ailment; this moving memoir recounts Cope's transformation and growth after her world collapsed. Her metamorphosis began after she accepted an invitation from a friend to visit Vietnam. Though Cope was wrapped in personal grief following the death of her son, the trip illuminated for her the superficial environment she inhabited. After visiting a local orphanage, Cope found for the first time in her life a sense of wholeness and purpose. Soon she stepped outside her own circumscribed world and began creating better lives for the abused, neglected and at-risk children she encountered, first in Vietnam then in Cambodia and Ghana. This is a wonderful story of a woman whose personal tragedy gave birth to a gift and how she fulfilled that legacy to make the world a better place.

The Angel's Game
by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

From master storyteller Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of the international phenomenon The Shadow of the Wind, comes The Angel’s Game—a dazzling new page-turner about the perilous nature of obsession, in literature and in love.

“The whole of Barcelona stretched out at my feet and I wanted to believe that, when I opened those windows, its streets would whisper stories to me, secrets I could capture on paper and narrate to whomever cared to listen . . .”

In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martín, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.

Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed—a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.
Once again, Zafón takes us into a dark, gothic universe first seen in the Shadow of the Wind and creates a breathtaking adventure of intrigue, romance, and tragedy. Through a dizzingly constructed labyrinth of secrets, the magic of books, passion, and friendship blend into a masterful story.

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy
by Thomas Buergenthal

You think you’ve heard it all: the roundups, deportations, transports, selections, hard labor, death camps (“That was the last time I saw my father”), crematoriums, and the rare miracle of survival. But this one is different. The clear, nonhectoring prose makes Buergenthal’s personal story––and the enduring ethical questions it prompts––the stuff of a fast, gripping read. Five years old in Czechoslovakia at the start of World War II, Buergenthal remembers being crowded into the ghetto and then, in 1944, feeling “lucky” to escape the gas chambers and get into Auschwitz, where he witnessed daily hangings and beatings, but with the help of a few adults, managed to survive. In a postwar orphanage, he learned to read and write but never received any mail, until in a heartrending climax, his mother finds him. In 1952, he immigrated to the U.S., and now, as human-rights lawyer, professor, and international judge, his childhood’s moral issues are rooted in his daily life, his tattooed number a reminder not so much of the past as of his obligation, as witness and survivor, to fight bigotry today.

Dred Scott's Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America
by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano

Judge Andrew Napolitano lays bare the twisted legal history of racism in America.

“All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights" wedded the American soul to the concept that freedom comes from our humanity, not from the government. But American governments legally suspended the free will of blacks for 150 years, and then denied blacks equal protection of the law for another 150 years. How did this happen in America, how were the Constitution and laws of the land twisted so as to institutionalize racism, and how did it or will it end? In a refreshingly candid book, Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America, Judge Andrew P. Napolitano takes a no-holds-barred look at the role of the government in the denial of freedoms based on race.

The Chameleon Conspiracy
by Haggai Carmon

The master criminal and con man known as the Chameleon has eluded international law enforcement for twenty years. Dan Gordon was sure he finally had him, but he was left empty-handed. Now he won't rest until the Chameleon is stopped. The Chameleon is actually more than a mere criminal - he's an undercover sleeper agent. But Gordon is more than he seems, too. He's an experienced hunter, trained by the Mossad, working now for the CIA.

In the Land of Cotton
by Martha A. Taylor



Immerse yourself in this highly anticipated political docu-drama set in the Deep South amidst the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement.

Martha was a young white girl living in the Deep South, inundated with the racist sentiments of the times. But Martha's natural curiosity and generous heart led her to question this racial divide. When she discovered a primitive Negro family living deep in the woods near her house, everyone's life changed forever.

Take the journey of a lifetime alongside Martha as she forges relationships that lead to self discovery and a clearer understanding of the world around her. In the Land of Cotton provides an outstanding snapshot of life in the South during those troubled times - a snapshot everyone should take a close look at, regardless of era or color.

The year was 1956.

Par for the Curse
by Toyi Ward

What a refreshing story. For popular fiction the sentence structure is strong and could easily be literary in nature. The plot is well done and the ending does not disappoint. This is a genre busting display of originality. It's obvious the author conducted extensive research in palm reading to provide the back drop for this story. Even I tried to interpret my own hand while reading the story.

The character development is some of the best in popular fiction. Though the characters are mixed race African-Americans, their plight and appeal are universal. The depth and complexity of the family dynamics are perfectly crafted in a tale of love, support, and typical family tension. The character behavior is consisten throughout the novel and there was never any place that I felt a disconnect between character and behavior.

The plot had several underlying stories, all that were wrapped up by the end of the story. Unlike a lot of popular fiction, this novel develops, nurtures, and closes the plot at all levels of the story. It's funny, thought-provoking, and pure entertainment. I give this story an "A" and Toyi Ward a red carpet into fiction writing. --Journey Reviews, March 2009

Painting the Invisible Man

by Rita Schiano

Based on a true event... In 2001, while researching the online archives of her hometown newspaper for a client, freelance writer Rita Schiano stumbled upon archived stories about her father s murder and the possible mob connections that led to his death. This brief visit to her past inspired her to look deeply into the heart of her childhood. The journey she embarked on was nothing she could have ever anticipated. Rather than place her work into the harsh scrutiny of memoirs, Schiano developed her story through the eyes of a fictional character, Anna Matteo. It is the story of a stolen childhood, a family torn apart by the violence of mafia ties and one young girl s resilient spirit that allowed her to rise above the hardships and seek solace in the most unusual ways.

Nine Lords of the Night
by E. C. Gibson

"I sensed that the world was a labyrinth from which it is impossible to flee." Jorge Luis Borges So begins E. C. Gibson's novel The Nine Lords of the Night... Set against the background of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico in 1993 and 1994, the novel explores the antiquities trade and how it affects a group of archaeologists. Betrayals, disappearances, murders, and a labyrinth-like conspiracy reaching from academia to Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, gradually unravel as the protagonists apply their professional skills to solving larger mysteries.

Gray Apocalypse
by James Murdoch

In this tale of human survival and personal redemption, an alien species is positioning an enormous asteroid to strike planet Earth, eradicate the human race, and replace mankind with millions of hybrid alien creations. A flawed but determined hero, Michael Kendon, steps out of the ranks of humanity to confront the alien Goliath. A renegade assassin and sole survivor of a crushed resistance movement, he seeks to locate a powerful weapon designed to deflect the asteroid. Using his extraordinary mental capabilities and natural psychic gifts, he manages to keep himself alive and bedevil the breeders and their human surrogates. The powerful fuel of his humanity ultimately enables him to prevail.

Dirty Little Angels
by Chris Tusa

PDF e-book only

"Dirty Little Angels is the To Kill a Mockingbird of 2009. Chris Tusa's novel marks the debut of a brave new voice in contemporary American literature." --Burl Barer, Edgar Award winning author of The Saint, Mom Said Kill, Body Count, Murder in the Family

If I had a dollar for every sentence in Dirty Little Angels that blew my mind, I'd be able to buy a decent Chevy Nova outright. Christopher Tusa is a new and powerful voice in American fiction, and I truly believe that this raw and poetic first novel marks the beginning of a great and glorious career. --Donald Ray Pollock, author of Knockemstiff

Listen up, folks: Chris Tusa has written a nasty little novel that somehow lifts close to grace its downtrodden and sometimes blackhearted inhabitants. They're fallen and broken, but like the New Orleans through which they stagger and flail, they are lovely ruins-and like New Orleans they are only one storm away from the End Times. Witness the storm, as told by Tusa: Dirty Little Angels.
phantom, music of the night, andrew lloyd webber

Contest Wins for April

Here are all the books I received from contest wins since the end of March. Several books I'm meant to have won simply never showed up, so I decided to strictly only post books on here after I've received them. I was really busy this last month, plus got sick with the flu, so I wasn't able to do individual posts as things showed up, so I'm doing one big one.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas DVD

Read my review for this here

From Miramax Films, the studio that brought you the Academy Award winning Life is Beautiful (Best Foreign Language Film, 1998) comes The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Based on the best selling novel by John Boyne, it's an unforgettable motion picture experience powerful and moving beyond words (Pete Hammond, Bored and restless in his new home, Bruno, an innocent and naive eight year old, ignores his mother and sets off on an adventure in the woods. Soon he meets a young boy, and a surprising friendship develops. Set during World War II, this remarkable and inspiring story about the power of the human spirit will capture your heart and engage your mind.
Bonus Features include Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary by Writer, Director Mark Herman and Author John Boyne, Friendship Beyond the Fence Featurette, Feature Commentary by Writer, Director Mark Herman and Author John Boyne

Max (Maximum Ride, Book 5) Audio CD Unabridged
by James Patterson

Maximum Ride and the other members of the Flock have barely recovered from their last arctic adventure, when they are confronted by the most frightening catastrophe yet. Millions of fish are dying off the coast of Hawaii and someone-or something-is destroying hundreds of ships. Unable to discover the cause, the government enlists the Flock to help them get to the bottom of the disaster before it is too late.

While Max and her team are exploring the depths of the ocean, their every move is being carefully tracked by Mr. Chu-a criminal mastermind with his own plans for the Flock. Can they protect themselves from Mr. Chu's army of mercenaries and save the ocean from utter destruction?

Buffalo Gal
by Laura Pederson

Won slightly used copy in giveaway

Growing up in the snowblower society of Buffalo, New York, Laura Pedersen s first words were most likely turn the wheel into a skid. Like many families subsisting in the frigid North during the energy crisis, the Pedersens feared rising prices at the gas pump, argued about the thermostat, fought over the dog to stay warm at night, and often slept in their clothes. While her parents were preoccupied with surviving separation and stagflation, daughter Laura became the neighborhood wild child, skipping school, playing poker, betting on the horses, and trading stocks. Learning how to beat the odds, by high school graduation Pedersen was well prepared to seek her fortune on Wall Street, becoming the youngest person to have a seat on the American Stock Exchange and a millionaire by age 21. Combining laugh-out-loud humor with a slice of social history her hometown was a flash point for race riots, antiwar protests, and abortion rallies, not to mention bingo, bowling, and Friday night fish fries Pedersen paints a vivid portrait of an era.


Mistress Shakespeare

by Karen Harper

Among the many mysteries of Shakespeare’s life is a marriage license issued to him and one Anne Whateley shortly before he wed Anne Hathaway. Harper spins this mystery into a novel about Shakespeare’s true love, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets. In Harper’s telling, Anne Whateley and Shakespeare are childhood friends, but after the Hathaway marriage, Whateley goes to London and makes a life for herself as a businesswoman. When the playwright embarks on his London phase, she is there, engaged in Will’s world and helping to advance his career. Harper, who writes a mystery series featuring Elizabeth I as a sleuth, knows her period well, and it shows, sometimes in the form of awkward expository dialogue but more often in sure handling of the details of politics, theater, and daily life, including some harrowing passages featuring childbirth and the plague. Though Shakespeare himself remains a cipher, Anne is an appealing and spirited heroine, and her tale will be enjoyed by historical-fiction fans. --Mary Ellen Quinn

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti
by Giulia Melucci

From failure to fusilli, this deliciously hilarious read tells the story of Giulia Melucci's fizzled romances and the mouth-watering recipes she used to seduce her men, smooth over the lumps, and console herself when the relationships flamed out.

From an affectionate alcoholic, to the classic New York City commitment-phobe, to a hipster aged past his sell date, and not one, but two novelists with Peter Pan complexes, Giulia has cooked for them all. She suffers each disappointment with resolute cheer (after a few tears) and a bowl of pastina (recipe included) and has lived to tell the tale so that other women may go out, hopefully with greater success, and if that's not possible, at least have something good to eat.

Peppered throughout Giulia's delightful and often poignant remembrances are fond recollections of her mother's cooking, the recipes she learned from her, and many she invented on her own inspired by the men in her life. Readers will howl at Giulia's boyfriend-littered past and swoon over her irresistable culinary creations.

Girls in Trucks
by Katie Crouch

An unenthusiastic Southern debutante copes with the cruelties of postcollege New York life in Crouch's amusing debut. Sarah Walters is neither a misfit nor the queen of the Camellia Society cotillion scene growing up in Charleston, S.C. But when she and her fellow Camellias try to make a life in New York City, they find themselves coping in unexpectedly dangerous ways—from standard substance addictions to Sarah's fixation on preppy ex-boyfriend Max, a smooth and sadistic child of wealth. While the formula of young women in the big city seems destined for cliché, Crouch subverts most expectations; Sarah almost purposely misses an opportunity for happiness and stability with the gentle lover she met in Europe, and her ploy to ignite sparks with a college friend goes painfully awry. When Sarah goes back to Charleston and faces a perhaps too over-the-top family crisis (it involves suicide and lesbianism), the reader's left with the hope that the worst is over. Though this feels almost like a collection—each chapter its own story with its own narrative technique—Crouch's portrayal of a young woman's self-sabotage and the pitfalls facing young women in a cold world is wise, wry and heartbreaking.

The Turnaround
by George Pelecanos

Starred Review. In yet another gem of urban noir, bestseller Pelecanos (The Night Gardener) explores the possibility of making the turnaround, of starting over and building a new life, regardless of the past. One summer day in 1972, three teenage white boys—Alex Pappas and his friends Billy Cachoris and Pete Whitten—drive into a poor Washington, D.C., neighborhood, high on booze and weed, looking for trouble. They confront three young black men, Billy winds up dead and Alex badly beaten. In 2007, Alex runs the family coffee shop, as did his father, and grieves for his son, recently killed in Iraq. Then, one of the black survivors of the incident contacts Alex, opening a door that may finally put the trauma of the past to rest. At the same time, another survivor, the man who beat Alex, has gotten out of prison and has extortion on his mind. The result is a beautifully written and thought-provoking novel of crime, friendship, aging and redemption.

Galway Bay
by Mary Pat Kelly

Kelly uses a well-known chapter in Irish American history as a springboard for a vividly lavish historical novel. The mid-nineteenth-century potato famine in Ireland resulted in approximately one million deaths and one million emigrations. After leaving a desperate and depleted Ireland, Michael and Honora Kelly make their way to America. Eventually settling in Chicago, the Kellys and their children struggle to survive and thrive in the “Promised Land.” This multigenerational family saga mirrors the experiences of countless other immigrants who transformed both their own lives and the face of America. Kelly does an admirable job of conveying both the despair and the determination that gripped a generation of Irish immigrants. Through the eyes of the extended Kelly clan, the reader is treated to a panoramic overview of the Irish American experience. --Margaret Flanagan

This One Is Mine
by Maria Semple

Critics had mixed reactions to Semple's debut novel. While some appreciated the social commentary and satire, others were not impressed by far-fetched plot twists and cliched characters. Teddy, in particular, seemed to have few redeeming qualities, which made Violet's behavior incomprehensible. Though Semple, writing with wit and warmth, gives readers a fascinating insider's view of Hollywood, USA Today saw too much of a sitcom in the novel. Other critics pointed out that This One Is Mine, because of its unexpectedly poignant character development and themes of compassion, understanding, and redemption, is no made-for-TV movie. With its fast-paced plot, laugh-out-loud shenanigans, and touching conclusion, this novel will charm readers who can forgive a new novelist's few missteps.