The Historian (October Read-Along)


After telling fellow book lovers that I re-read The Historian every October, I found that some people were interested when I brought up the idea of a read-along.  I've not done a read-along on my blog yet so I think it is a perfect time to start. If (when?) I add to / edit this post, I'll be sure to label / highlight the changed / updated section. Bookmark this page so you can check-in, comment, or post an update.

Guidelines:

  • The book is 642 pages so I've divided the book into 5 sections for the 5 weeks of October (and the first few days of November)
  • Schedule is Week #1: Chapters 1 thru 17, #2: Chapters 18 thru 34, #3: Chapters 35 thru 46, #4: Chapters 47 thru 65, #5 Chapters 66 to end
  • We will read each section at our own pace Tuesday thru Saturday
  • We will discuss the section on Sunday and Monday (I think dividing the posting time between a weekday and a weekend would allow everyone to post at their convenience) 
  • Discussion will be by posting comments below and / or Tweeting (using hashtag: #TheHistorian)
  • If you are interested in reading along with me, say hello in the comments box below.

The Husband's Secret


Title: The Husband's Secret
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publication Date:  April 1, 2013
ISBN: 9780399159343
Pages: 394
How I Got It: SheReads September selection

Goodreads Summary
The Husband's Secret is a funny, heartbreaking novel of marriage, grief, love and secrets. When her husband announces he's in love with her best friend, painfully shy Tess picks up her young son and returns to her mother's house. There she begins an unexpected affair with an old flame. Rachel is a woman in her sixties consumed by grief and anger at the loss of her daughter twenty years earlier. When her son announces he is taking her beloved grandson overseas, Rachel begins a descent into deeper bitterness and pain. Cecilia is the quintessential "I don't know how she does it" woman. A devoted mother to three daughters, she runs her household like clockwork, is President of the P&C, owns an extremely successful Tupperware business and is happy in her fifteen-year marriage. Until she discovers a letter in their attic labelled: "To my wife Cecilia, to be opened in the event of my death"... Her husband's secret is a bombshell beyond all imagining with repercussions across the lives of all three women.
My Review
I love being a member of SheReads book club because I get a chance to read books that I probably wouldn't have picked up. I've been recommending this to a lot of my friends that ask for recommendations because they don't read as much as I do. A lot of my mommy friends are loving it because of the short chapters.  They can put it down and pick it up according to their schedule. Problem is (or is it?) that no one wants to put it down! It's one of those "just one more chapter" sort of books. With three storylines, the first few chapters took me a bit to straighten out all the characters and I found myself asking "How are these storylines going to merge"? I was also impressed that I was equally invested in all the storylines. No slugging through a slow storyline to get to the one I wanted to read.  
The story centers on Cecilia and her husband.  Cecilia is a Type A mom that stumbles across a letter her husband wrote for her to open in the event of his death. At first she thinks nothing of it and sets it aside. Then her husband's reaction causes her to rethink ignoring the letter. Opening the letter and discovering her husband's secret shakes her world and prompts readers to ask "What would I do?" and "How far would I go to protect my husband?"
Some of the previous SheReads selections have not been my cup of tea but this selection is a hit on my list! 



What I Learned in My 1st Year of Book Blogging

Instead of a review, today I wanted to take a minute and reflect on the last year. Today is the first year blogiversary of Ivory Owl Reviews and I have learned a lot! By no means do I consider myself a pro yet but I feel much more confident than I did when I jumped in. I had been blogging for a couple of years before I created IOR, but was all over the place with my topics and posts.  Last year I snagged my first freelance article with Buckhaven Lifestyle magazine to review Kimberly Brock's The River Witch. I reached out to Kimberly on Goodreads and she was gracious enough to grant me time for an interview after she spoke on the 2012 Decatur Book Festival Emerging Authors stage. Imagine my surprise when she not only gave me great responses to my questions but proceeded to give me advice on moving forward with my passions of books and writing. She was so warm and friendly but very serious when stating that a book blog was a MUST! I went home and went to work. Here are a few pointers and things I've learned this year:

  1. Choosing a name for your blog-- I wanted something easy to spell. Misspelled words make searching for your blog difficult (1Luv, OneLove, 1Love, etc)  I also wanted my title to reflect the type of blog I had. I wanted it to include books, reading, or reviews. After much deliberation (and availability checking) I decided on Ivory Owl Reviews, named after the porcelain owl that guards my TBR pile.
  2. Plan your reading schedule--I originally thought you just post a review as you read, but once I received more requests for reviews and then discovered NetGalley and Edelweiss, I found myself to be overwhelmed. Starting out, I had accepted any and all ARCs and had to figure out how to streamline. I fulfilled my obligations and drafted a review policy. As I read I found it easier to revisit the policy and update it with what I was and wasn't interested in reviewing. I also found that I had accepted ARCs that I was unable to post a review of by the release date. I now know that I only want to accept ARCs releasing after a certain date (a couple months from now.) 
  3. Plan your posts--I was very sporadic at first but have become more constant. My goal is to have 4-5 reviews/week. You can save your posts as drafts and publish as you wish so I can easily start an outline of a review and return to it to dig in.
  4. Statistics--You can dissect and analyze which posting times and topics work best for you by checking your blog statistics. I get super excited if a post gets over 100 views. But to get those views you need to probably have another outlet you are promoting them on. I put links on Twitter and Google+. Maybe three or four times /post. You want it to be seen but you don't want to bombard your friends and audience.
  5. Interaction--I couldn't figure out how to get comments on my blog. I was getting views but no comments. What was up with that? Then I began commenting on other blogs and whaddayaknow...I start getting comments. Simple really. Interaction. Blogger allows you to compose your own reading list and you can post this on your site as a "blog roll."  After checking out someone's blog I decide if I want to keep visiting it. If so, I add them to my list. 
  6. Press all the buttons--"What does this button do?" "What about this one?" I tinkered with all the links and widgets to find what I liked. 
  7. Google it--"How do I add social media buttons?" "How do I change my template?" Anything you want to do with your blog, someone has probably already done it...and written a handy how-to tutorial.
  8. Ask your new friends--Once I started having constant interactions on my blog and social media, I could reach out to one of them and ask "How'd you make that picture look like that?" or "Where'd ya get that widget?'
These are just a few of the things I've learned this year but I feel they are good groundwork. Hopefully I can grow my readership and social media circles in the coming year as well as establish a more punctual posting schedule.

Do you have any blogging advice that you live by? What did you learn in your first year of blogging?

Mrs. Poe

This book review is published in the October 2013 issue of Buckhaven Lifestyle magazine as 
"Meet Mrs. Poe." Click here to view online version. 


Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Pages: 336
How I Got It: NetGalley


October brings chilly weather, changing leaves, thoughts of Halloween and spooky stories told around a campfire. This October, fans of Edgar Allan Poe are in for a treat with the release of Lynn Cullen's Mrs. Poe. Set in 1845, Frances Sargent Osgood has been taken in, along with her two young daughters, by the Bartlett family after being abandoned by her philandering husband.  Determined to provide an income from her writing, Frances is advised by a newspaper editor to transition from writing for ladies and children to instead focusing on "shivery tales" like Edgar Poe. The Raven is all the rage and newspapers are trying to duplicate its success. Desperate for inspiration Frances focuses on Poe during local salon gatherings. Fawned over by all of the ladies, and praised by his readership, Poe dismisses and degrades a majority of his peers causing many rivalries. Suspicions arise when he praises Frances and rumors begin to circulate that they are lovers.  As this friendship grows so does the suspicion of Mrs. Poe. Married for ten years, since Virginia was thirteen and Edgar was twenty-three, the marriage has become strained by Virginia's consumption and Edgar's long hours at the paper.  Aware of her husband's change in demeanor and lack of drinking since meeting Frances, Mrs. Poe desires a friendship with Frances as well.  Out of guilt, Frances caters to Mrs. Poe's requests but Virginia's social ineptness and provoking demeanor unsettle her. Virginia's constant need of praise and sharp tongued judgements become too much t bear. Believing she is contributing to Virginia's decline in health, Frances vows to stay clear of the Poes and cuts off all correspondence. Unhappy with this turn of events, Mrs. Poe and her mother begin calling on Frances at the Bartletts as well as Poe himself, under the pretense of conversing with Mr. Bartlett. Strange coincidences become more common as Frances and Poe's friendship progresses to an affair. This love triangle between Poe, his wife and his mistress becomes more complicated as Frances attracts a suitor, her husband reappears and Mrs. Poe's health deteriorates.
The backdrop of great technological progress (gas lighting,) and construction (the building of a "central" park for New York) parallels the artistic advancements (daguerrotypes replacing painted portraits,) of the time. Lynn Cullen layers the social advancements and expectations of the time with these technological and artistic advancements to tell a story bursting with creativity. Incorporating the style and suspense of Poe's work, Cullen weaves a tale of macabre delight with Poe and his social circle as characters in late 1840s New York. Lunatic asylums, affairs, and accidents build the story to a climax and ending as heart stopping as anything Poe could have written himself.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has previously chosen Cullen's The Creation of Eve as one of the best fiction books of 2010 and Reign of Madness as a Best of the South selection in 2011.

Maxed Out


Title: Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink
Author: Katrina Alcorn
Publisher: Seal Press
Publication Date: August 28, 2013
Pages: 392 
How I Got It: NetGalley

Goodreads summary:
Katrina Alcorn was a 37-year-old mother with a happy marriage and a thriving career when one day, on the way to Target to buy diapers, she had a breakdown. Her carefully built career shuddered to a halt, and her journey through depression, anxiety, and insomnia—followed by medication, meditation, and therapy—began.
Alcorn wondered how a woman like herself, with a loving husband, a supportive boss, three healthy kids, and a good income, was unable to manage the demands of having a career and a family. Over time, she realized that she wasn’t alone. As she questioned other working moms, she realized that many women were struggling to do it all, crashing, and feeling as if they were somehow failing as a result.
Mothers are the breadwinners in two-thirds of American families, yet the American workplace is uniquely hostile to the needs of parents. Weaving in surprising research about the dysfunction between the careers and home lives of working mothers, as well as the consequences to women’s health, Alcorn tells a deeply personal story about "having it all," failing miserably, and what comes after. Ultimately, she offers readers a vision for a healthier, happier, and more productive way to live and work.

My review:
I usually stick to fiction but I'm always interested in overworked family non-fiction. I loved my Gender and Work class at college and find it so fascinating that there are so many problems facing today's working families and so few solutions.  Katrina Alcorn provides readers with her own first person account of a growing career and family. Even after reading other similar accounts it is still always reassuring to read yet another woman's struggle. It validates most women's internal thoughts with the relief that "I'm not alone" and "Someone else feels this way?' or simply "Ok. So I'm not crazy."Alcorn quotes Arlie Hochschild  and Anne Marie Slaughter and references  many previous works that mothers have read in the hopes that there is a secret in there somewhere of how to make it all work. How to have it all. Alcorn provides several suggestions such as a "GI Bill" for parents wishing to reenter the workforce and list of ways each personal can individually work to bring about changes. So many mothers are struggling that they rarely have a free moment to pee alone, let alone bring about radical changes, but Alcorn provides small steps that can affect a big change. 
One quote from the book really stood out for me and I feel it encompasses a large demographic of mothers. When Katrina is negotiating with her boss, Sonya, (who is also a mother) over her maternity leave, Sonya states "I never had the luxury of working four days a week." But Katrina hears that "she didn't get this time; why did I think I was entitled to it?" The resentment of and jealousy among mothers is rarely discussed and instead the media turns out Mommy Wars pieces. If a mom had to pump breastmilk sitting in a bathroom it is understandable why she would resent that her company now provides lounges. Or when she's juggled child care for years and now the new mothers are able to bring their babies into the office. I would like to say that I would be thinking "Good for them" and "glad these changes are coming about" but I know that I would be silently seething and thinking "how unfair" because that was not an option for me. Ugly truth, but when you have been desperate for a break of any kind, and are "maxed out" it is going to be difficult to look at the big picture.  This demographic of women could be just as difficult to get on the side of change as the patriarchal corporations.
While this book does focus on mothers, it is important to acknowledge that changing family dynamics do not limit the maxing out of parents to mothers exclusively. However a family is structured, it needs support and flexibility to balance work and life. While families have changed, corporate practices have not and everyone is suffering. The current models are deficient. It is time to look to successful models and decide which policies can be incorporated.

I will definitely recommend this book to the multitude of mothers I encounter everyday. Maxed Out is an important contribution to the discussions of gender and the work/life balance and will become as referenced as its predecesors.


DragonCon Newbies 2013


My mom, me, and my daughter (we don't look AT ALL alike or anything)

My mom treated us all to DragonCon tickets and flew in from St. Louis to stay with us for a week. She wanted to meet some of the authors, my daughter wanted to check out the cosplays (which is when you not only dress as a character, you ARE the character,) and I am fascinated by people's obsessions. These are not just fans who list a TV show or book as a "like." These fans fully integrate themselves into an alternate world, which allows this event to take my people-watching pastime to a whole other level. You get to see things like this:

 and this---> 
DragonCon spans 6 hotels in downtown Atlanta so this is Every crosswalk. Every light. All weekend long. Masses of people but everyone happy and well-mannered.


 Thursday night Mom got her advanced copy of Sherilyn Kenyon's "Styxx" and then when migrated over to the Sheraton to pick up our badges. Sounds simple right? Suuuuure. We got in a line that wrapped around the entire block before proceeding into the hotel and entering a partitioned maze that can only be described as part Six-Flags and part hell. I had decided by this point I could easily justify paying an outlandish amount for a bottle of water. If a cart would have rolled up with $20 bottles of water I would have happily peeled off a bill and chugged that water like a not so Southern lady. (Note for next year, buy drink cart. Capitilize on parched attendees)  But after 2 hours spent with hundreds of our smelliest friends we make it to the badge counter.  I get my badge. Yippee!  Daughter gets her badge. Woohoo! Mom gets the computer that breaks down. WompWomp. But if there is any type of person in abundance, it is the computer geeks so we are printed and on our way. 

Mom and I took turns taking Daughter to events on Saturday and Sunday. She knows all the characters but I'm afraid I do not. I'll attempt to name them but they may be wrong. Here's a few of our highlights:

This is "Death" somebody ?          These guys were from Medieval Times
 
An Avenger? X-Men? HIs glasses lit up.     This girl was "Dave" from Homestuck
 
Daughter thought these girls were cool (Poison Ivy and ?)   Girl dressed as Mad Hatter

But this was Daughter's jump up and down squealiest moment: meeting "The Queen of Cosplay" Yaya Han.


All in all we had a lot of fun. We even rode MARTA (which could be a whole other blog post)




Oryx and Crake




Title: Oryx and Crake
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Anchor
Publication Date: March 30,2004
Pages: 374
How I Got It: Personal Copy

Back Cover: 
Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.
My Review:
This is the first book in the Maddaddam trilogy. I reread it (and plan on rereading The Year of the Flood)  to refresh my memory before reading the third installment, Maddaddam.  As the title states, the story centers around Oryx and Crake, but is told by Jimmy / Snowman.  Atwood overlaps details of her imagination with the cutting edge of science. It is just as believable to read about pigoons and Chicky Nobs as to read about skin grafts and genetic manipulations. Oryx and Crake spans topics such as online gaming, computer hacking, food politics, medicine,sex trafficking, plagues and the ultimate example of post colonialism.  Every example provided is a tongue in cheek nod to current events but just outlandish enough to expose the absurdity of the situation. As the blurb from the New Yorker states on the back of the book, Oryx and Crake is "towering and intrepid...Atwood does Orwell one better."  I could dissect this book line by line and never get tired of talking about it.


Here are a few Margaret Atwood links I've collected recently:
Telegraph Interview
The Star Interview
Maclean's Interview
Why I Wrote Maddaddam essay on Wattpad
Reveals her genre kryptonite on BookRiot
Article in Ottawa Citizen
Posters
and a great source of info on Twitter @AtwoodSociety

The Affairs of Others


Title: The Affairs of Others
Author: Amy Grace Loyd
Publisher: Picador
Publication Date: August 27,2013
Pages: 304
How I Got It: NetGalley

"Five years after her young husband’s death, Celia Cassill has moved from one Brooklyn neighborhood to another, but she has not moved on. The owner of a small apartment building, she has chosen her tenants for their ability to respect one another’s privacy. Celia believes in boundaries, solitude, that she has a right to her ghosts. She is determined to live a life at a remove from the chaos and competition of modern life. Everything changes with the arrival of a new tenant, Hope, a dazzling woman of a certain age on the run from her husband’s recent betrayal. When Hope begins a torrid and noisy affair, and another tenant mysteriously disappears, the carefully constructed walls of Celia’s world are tested and the sanctity of her building is shattered—through violence and sex, in turns tender and dark. Ultimately, Celia and her tenants are forced to abandon their separate spaces for a far more intimate one, leading to a surprising conclusion and the promise of genuine joy." 

It is difficult not to compare Amy Grace Lloyd's The Affairs of Others to Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking.  The main character, Celia, possesses a raw grief for her husband. Remembering small details and constantly wrapping herself in the past. Just as Didion wove poetry into her memoir, Lloyd gives Celia's thoughts poetic slants. Her realization of distance and street names in a particular scene when she is walking between Atlantic and Pacific streets perfectly encompasses how one can suddenly look at something they have seen many times before, and now look at from a new perspective. 
Celia doesn't want to move on. She wants to live on her memories and dismisses anyone wedging their way into her microscopic life. She can't stand that life and time move forward and exerts her control on the only thing she can: her apartments. She wants quiet tenants who keep to themselves. But when a subletter begins a loud affair, an elderly tenant goes missing and a couple's marriage shows signs of strains, Celia is forced to acknowledge the progression of time and other relationships occuring around her everyday. Although she is stubborn and numbs her pain, she is not weak. She is both resents and is protective of her tenants.
The Affairs of Others is a deeply moving novel focusing on the minutiae of grief, the desire to hold onto the past as the clock ticks, inevitably, forward. 


Just What Kind of Mother Are You?


Title: The Color 
Author: Aimee Bender
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Pages: 320
How I Got It: NetGalley


What if your best friend's child disappears? And it was all your fault.


A searing and sinister thriller for readers who liked Gone Girl.What if your best friend's child disappears? And it was all your fault. This is exactly what happens to Lisa Kallisto, overwhelmed working mother of three, one freezing December in the English Lake District. She takes her eye off the ball for just a moment and her whole world descends into the stuff of nightmares. Because, not only is thirteen-year-old Lucinda missing, and not only is it all Lisa's fault, but she's the second teenage girl to disappear within this small tightknit community over two weeks. The first girl turned up stripped bare, dumped on a busy high street, after suffering from a terrifying ordeal. 



Wracked with guilt over her mistake and after being publicly blamed by Lucinda's family, Lisa sets out to right the wrong. But as she begins peeling away the layers surrounding Lucinda's disappearance, Lisa learns that the small, posh, quiet town she lives in isn't what she thought it was, and her friends may not be who they appear, either.


Just as the above summary states, this novel is a perfect fix for those of us who loved Gone Girl. I was initial drawn to this novel for the fact that the main character is an overwhelmed mother. Lisa Kallisto runs the local animal shelter, is mother to a teen girl and two young boys, and wife to the local taxi driver. She is relatable. She forgets ingredients her daughter needs for a class and feeds her family chicken nuggets, chips, and cereal.  She admits she is jealous of the other mothers who don't work outside the home. Being so busy, she misses one phone call and her world falls apart. What parent's mind hasn't gone to the worst scenarios? But Lisa finds herself in the middle of a worst scenario situation. Where is her daughter's friend? What is really going on behind the closed doors of this community?
Paula Daly draws you into a "this only happens to other people" scenario. The story doesn't contain any loose ends, outlandish twists or slow chapters. "Just What Kind of a Mother Are You?" is a pageturner that feeds on a mother's insecurities and peels away the polished exterior of the local perfect family. 

Paula Daly was inspired to write this story "after treating countless exhausted working mothers in my physiotherapy practice" and realizing that "possibly the only thing worse than your own child going missing would be to be responsible for the disappearance of a friend's."

The Color Master



Title: The Color Master
Author: Aimee Bender
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: August 13, 2013
Pages: 240
How I Got It: NetGalley

In this collection, Bender’s unique talents sparkle brilliantly in stories about people searching for connection through love, sex, and family—while navigating the often painful realities of their lives. A traumatic event unfolds when a girl with flowing hair of golden wheat appears in an apple orchard, where a group of people await her. A woman plays out a prostitution fantasy with her husband and finds she cannot go back to her old sex life. An ugly woman marries an ogre and struggles to decide if she should stay with him after he mistakenly eats their children. Two sisters travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds.

I appreciate Bender's style and tried to keep an open mind, but I personally did not like the stories. Billed as a collection of grown-up fairy tales, I was hoping for something racy and dark but with a lesson. Like last year's release of Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm but for adults.  I found the stories unsettling and vague. To be truthful, I only read the first four stories and then gave up. I love a non-conformist style (House of Leaves is one of my favorite books) but this just left me scratching my head.

Read Beth Kephart's review in the Chicago Tribune. 

August Wrap Up (a few days late)


Due to a whirlwind week and holiday weekend, I am posting my August Wrap Up a few days into the month.  We all had such grand plans for #CTBS but many of us didn't accomplish all of our goals. I posted my Original Plan, an Update, and a Rearranged Plan, trying to keep up with my changes. I got off track and into a funk after falling into a few books that I didn't like and debated whether to finish or give up. All in all, I didn't complete a lot of books in August but found some major loves and some major dislikes.
My Loves:
 
My Dislikes:

My single #CTBS