Happy Release Day to Diane Daniels Manning!


When I saw the puppy on the cover of this book, I was a goner. I’ve read plenty of stories about dogs (eternal thanks to Aoife for passing along her copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain), and this one looks wonderful.

Here is what Beltor has to say about Almost Perfect:

An old woman who has given up hope and a boy who believes the impossible wonder if life would be perfect at the Westminster Dog Show.

Seventy-year old Bess Rutledge has dreamed of winning the Westminster Dog Show all her life. Despite her decades-long career as one of America’s top Standard Poodle breeders, she has decided she’s too old to hold on to her foolish dream. She sells off all the dogs in her once famous kennel except for the aging champion McCreery and his mischievous, handsome son Breaker. Part of her senses they might have been the ones to take her to Westminster, if only she’d dared to try.

Bess meets Benny, a teenager with mild autism who attends a therapeutic special school, and learns he has a dream of his own: to impress his self-absorbed mother. Benny is drawn into the world of dog shows and becomes convinced he has found the perfect way to win his mother’s attention. If he can win Westminster with either McCreery or Breaker, he just knows she will finally be proud of him. Getting Bess to go along with his plan, however, is not going to be so easy. . .

Kirkus Reviews had some very nice things to say about this book, and as an added bonus, Diane has committed 100% of her profits from this book to charities that serve animals and children. Lots of information about Diane, her book, and the real-life dogs who inspire her can be found on her website.

Top Five Friday: Great Illustrated Classics

Did anybody else have a set of Great Illustrated Classics growing up? I’ve realized that there are lots of classic stories I’ve never actually read, but I know the plots because I read the abridged version as a kid. My brother and I had a big box of Great Illustrated Classics, and they were our first exposure to stories like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Huckleberry Finn. I remember that, for a few years, it seemed to matter whose bookshelf each of these books got to live on. Some of the books were free to travel back and forth between my brother’s room and mine, but we both had our favorites that stayed in our rooms on a permanent basis. This week’s list is my Top Five Great Illustrated Classics!

little women 1. Little Women. I can still close my eyes and see the illustrations from this book. Jo had the most amazing hair. I loved Beth, got annoyed with Amy, and never quite understood why Jo and Laurie couldn’t make it work. I read the unabridged in middle or high school, along with a few others by Louisa May Alcott, but I’ve never tried any of the others that she wrote about the March sisters.
 robin hood 2. The Merry Adventure of Robin Hood. I’ve always liked Robin Hood stories. This story is a little different, because there is no Maid Marian. But all the other great stuff is still there – Friar Tuck, Little John, and the Sherriff of Nottingham. Again, I loved the pictures throughout, and I feel like the costume designers must have been looking at this when they designed Cary Elwes’ look for “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.”
 oz 3. The Wizard of Oz. I read this version so many times and seen the movie, but I’ve never read the unabridged version. I remember liking the idea of Dorothy’s sparkly shoes and the idea of the Emerald City.
 eighty 4. Around the World in 80 Days. I think what I liked so much about this book was the racing element, and the idea of switching back and forth between boats and trains. I realize now that it seems like something the guys on Top Gear would do for a Christmas special. I think I might actually enjoy reading the “real” version now.
 three musketeers 5. The Three Musketeers. I loved all the sword fighting and scheming from this book. I remember being fascinated by Milady de Winter and her fleur-de-lis tattoo. I also remember being really confused as to why the book wasn’t called “The Four Musketeers” if it was a story about d’Artagnan and his three friends.


Happy Friday!

All Roads Lead to Austen

I shouldn’t complain about getting free books.  That would make me no better than those people that I secretly scorn who complain about free food. “Why is it always pizza?” “But I don’t eat turkey sandwiches!”  Grr.  Free stuff is free stuff.  So I shouldn’t complain about Nook’s “Free Book Friday” program.  But what I will say is that it’s been months since there was a book on Free Book Friday that I actually wanted to download.  Maybe I’m just going through a lull.  For a while, I was downloading them every Friday and loving them!  Hopefully, things will go that way again soon.  For the time being, I can be comforted by the memory of my first ever Free Book Friday download – Amy Smith‘s All Roads Lead to Austen.


Embarrassing confession: I began reading after the briefest skim of the summary that Nook provided, and I had to stop several chapters in to confirm that this book is a nonfiction account of Amy Smith’s year-long trip through South America to see how Jane translates literally and culturally. I knew that trip was the premise of the book, but I had no idea that the trip was real – that this was a memoir. Maybe the idea of spending a year devoted to reading Jane and visiting beautiful counties seemed too good to be true.

Here is what Publishers Weekly has to say about All Roads Lead to Austen: In this humorous memoir, devoted Austen fan Smith, a writing and literature teacher, sets out to discover whether Austen’s magic translates for readers in six Latin American countries (Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina), where she organizes book clubs to discuss Spanish translations of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. Though Smith continuously calls attention to her limited Spanish language skills, she skillfully highlights how and why certain Spanish words are apt for describing Austen’s world and characters. Austen’s work provides a touchstone for surprising discussions about class, gender, and race, as well as history and literature. Smith’s account reads like an educational travel blog, full of colorful characters, overviews of the history and the traditions of each culture, as well as reflections on her own preconceived assumptions and stereotypes.

I thought this book was wonderful. It’s full of great moments where the members of Amy’s discussions say things about Austen’s characters that we just don’t have words for in English. Here’s one of my favorite examples: “‘[Lydia’s] behavior was una mulada but [Wickham’s] was una cabronada.’ There’s no way to translate these words exactly, but for starters, una mula is a mule and una cabra, a goat. The basic idea is that Lydia behaved like a stubborn mule, acting without a sense for the consequences, but Wickham behaved like a horny goat, with deliberate malice.” The members of Amy’s reading group brought great new perspective to the books, and it was interesting to hear all the responses to the one question Amy asks in every discussion: “Could Jane Austen’s novels have taken place in your country?”

Jane aside, I enjoyed reading about Amy’s travel experiences. She realizes again and again that, despite her best efforts, sometimes we just can’t help believing we understand things better than we actually do. There is a hilarious incident where she invites a doorman at her hotel out for coffee “just as friends,” and he responds by sweeping her off her feet and kissing her. Some of her cultural slip-ups are more sobering – she makes a casual remark to an acquaintance in Chile about how she loves to walk on the banks of the Rio Mapocho, and his reaction is stunning. He tells her, “After the coup, that river is where people went to look for their brothers, their children. Their mothers… The banks were stained with blood because that’s where those bastards would throw the people they’d murdered.” Amy learns (and re-learns every time she moves on to the next place) that spending a few weeks in a country does not make you an expert on that country’s culture.

Other things I loved about this book: Amy’s style is quick, straight-forward, and honest. Also, the illustrations that mark each chapter are adorable, and they are different for each country Amy visited. Check out Jane in Guatemala:

ImageAnyone who is a fan of Austen or enjoys travel memoirs could find something to connect with in this book.

Release day!

I thought A Week in Winter would be the last “new” book I would ever read by Maeve Binchy. She is one of my favorite authors, and when she died in 2012, she had published fifteen books and ten collections of short stories. There is something about her way of writing that no other author has ever been able replicate for me – that feeling that her characters, instead of existing only in a book, are living and breathing somewhere very close by. I’ve read Circle of Friends more times than I could count (thanks, RB!), and the main characters of that book feel like my friends. I was surprised to see that more of her work is being published, but I’m so glad. She really was wonderful.


Today, Knopff is releasing Chestnut Street, and here is their description:

Maeve Binchy imagined a street in Dublin with many characters coming and going, and every once in a while she would write about one of these people. She would then put it in a drawer; “for the future,” she would say. The future is now.

Across town from St. Jarlath’s Crescent, featured in Minding Frankie, is Chestnut Street, where neighbors come and go. Behind their closed doors we encounter very different people with different life circumstances, occupations, and sensibilities. Some of the unforgettable characters lovingly brought to life by Binchy are Bucket Maguire, the window cleaner, who must do more than he bargained for to protect his son; Nessa Byrne, whose aunt visits from America every summer and turns the house—and Nessa’s world—upside down; Lilian, the generous girl with the big heart and a fiancé whom no one approves of; Melly, whose gossip about the neighbors helps Madame Magic, a self-styled fortune-teller, get everyone on the right track; Dolly, who discovers more about her perfect mother than she ever wanted to know; and Molly, who learns the cure for sleeplessness from her pen pal from Chicago . . .

Chestnut Street is written with the humor and understanding that are earmarks of Maeve Binchy’s extraordinary work and, once again, she warms our hearts with her storytelling.

Maeve’s husband, Gordon Snell has also written a bit about this book over on her website. I’ll be grabbing a copy of this ASAP.

Chestnut Street shares its book birthday with Christopher Moore’s new release, The Serpent of Venice. I’ve never read anything by Christopher Moore, but he’s coming to Quail Ridge Books on May 5, so I am going to go see him and give this book a try.


Here is what William Morrow has to say about The Serpent of Venice:

New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore channels William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe in this satiric Venetian gothic that brings back the Pocket of Dog Snogging, the eponymous hero of Fool, along with his sidekick, Drool, and pet monkey, Jeff.

Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal-Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters-the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago-have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of sprits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia.

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn’t even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he’s got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.

I do love Shakespeare. Worth a try!

Top Five Friday: Movies I Didn’t Know Were Books

Last week’s list of favorite movie adaptations got me thinking about a closely related subject – movies that I had no idea were based on books. When a new movie is based on a book, approximately one half of people with internet access start screaming about how a casting decision doesn’t match their picture of a character or how this or that plot change will ruin the whole movie for them. With that much attention, it’s hard to imagine that a movie could exist without me knowing it was a book first. But there are a few of these movies that were surprises when I learned about them, and here are the top five.

forrest gump 1. Forrest Gump. Seriously?? I know this movie came out when I was a tiny person, but you’d think at some point in the past twenty years I would have realized that this movie was originally a book. It was published in 1986 and written by Winston Groom. I’ve never read it, but reviews generally say that the movie follows along pretty closely to the book. Groom does say that the film version sanitizes the character of Forrest a bit, or “smooths off his rough edges.” Evidently, Groom would have chosen John Goodman to play Forrest Gump rather than Tom Hanks. Something tells me that would have been a very different movie.
 Shrek 2. Shrek. This movie was beloved to me in high school. My friends and I went to see it multiple times in theaters. I still love it to this day, although it’s slightly tainted by the complete horror that was Shrek Goes Fourth. Ugh. We won’t talk about it. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I discovered that Shrek was based on a children’s book of the same name, published in 1990 and written by William Steig.
 mrs doubtfire 3. Mrs. Doubtfire. This is one of those movies that I never set out to watch “on purpose,” but when I come across it on tv, I always seem to leave it on through the end. Robin Williams really is hilarious. Evidently, a young-adult book entitled Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine was published in the UK in 1987. It was pretty well received and even won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Not sure how I never realized there was a book until I saw it on GoodReads last year.
 graduate 4. The Graduate. Charles Webb wrote The Graduate in 1963, shortly after graduating from Williams College. The movie version followed close behind in 1967. Webb wasn’t a big fan of the movie and never received any royalties from it. I think I’ve only seen the movie once, and possibly not all the way through, but again, how is it that I never heard about the book until just a few months ago?
 dragon 5. How to Train Your Dragon. Brad and I went to see this when it came out in 2010. I wept unashamedly near the end (which I’m sure comes as a big surprise to everyone, right Beth?) when the dragon Toothless is captured by Stoick and his Viking pals. I thought this movie was absolutely precious, and I’m thrilled there is going to be a sequel soon. I had no idea the movie was based on a book until I saw on the book blog Strange and Random Happenstance that a twelfth book in the series was being published last year. WOAH. Not only was this story a book first, it is a book with eleven sequels. That is impressive.  They are written by Cressida Cowell, and the first book was published in 2003.


I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Happy Release Day, Tatiana de Rosnay!

other story

About two years ago, I read Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Sarah’s Key is about the Holocaust, so it was difficult to read, but it was so worthwhile. Her storytelling is really beautiful. She has several novels published in French and English. Today is the book birthday for her newest novel, The Other Story.

Here is the official word from St. Martin’s Press:

Vacationing at a luxurious Tuscan island resort, Nicolas Duhamel is hopeful that the ghosts of his past have finally been put to rest… Now a bestselling author, when he was twenty-four years old, he stumbled upon a troubling secret about his family – a secret that was carefully concealed. In shock, Nicholas embarked on a journey to uncover the truth that took him from the Basque coast to St. Petersburg – but the answers wouldn’t come easily.

In the process of digging into his past, something else happened. Nicolas began writing a novel that was met with phenomenal success, skyrocketing him to literary fame whether he was ready for it or not – and convincing him that he had put his family’s history firmly behind him. But now, years later, Nicolas must reexamine everything he thought he knew, as he learns that, however deeply buried, the secrets of the past always find a way out.

Page-turning, layered and beautifully written, Tatiana de Rosnay’s THE OTHER STORY is a reflection on identity, the process of being a writer and the repercussions of generations-old decisions as they echo into the present and shape the future.

Sounds good to me!

Top Five Friday: Movie Adaptations

I found out a few weeks ago that a movie adaptation of The Giver is coming out in August. I remember really liking The Giver when we read it in school, and I’m excited to see the movie. Since it’s been so long, unless I reread it before I see the movie, I probably won’t have any kind of opinion on how good the adaptation is. This got me thinking about my favorite movies that are based on books (of which there are dozens, but this is Top Five Friday, not Everything I Ever Loved Friday).

much ado 1. Much Ado about Nothing: This is such a great play, and Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branaugh are absolutely amazing as Beatrice and Benedick. If you can overlook a very weird performance by Keanu Reeves as Don John, the whole cast is great. My favorite monologue of any Shakespeare play is Benedick’s speech when he finds out Beatrice is in love with him. If you’ve never seen it, you can watch the scene on YouTube.
 mice and men  2. Of Mice and Men: I saw this movie for the first time in sixth grade, and I remember sobbing loudly through the last twenty minutes while my classmates all gave me weird looks and wondered what was wrong with me. John Malkovich is the PERFECT Lenny. It’s his voice I hear in my head now as I reread the book. I just want to give him a big hug. When my students watched this movie, it was always funny for me to sit back and wait for them to realize that George was Gary Sinise. I think the longest I ever waited for someone to ask, “Hey, is that Lieutenant Dan?” was about 10 minutes.
 order  3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: I’m a huge fan of the HP books, but this book really rubbed me the wrong way. I thought emo, teenage angst Harry was incredibly annoying. So I was surprised by how much enjoyed the movie, and then I realized that most of Harry’s “nobody understands what I’m going through” nonsense came from internal monologues in the books – unless the director wanted to punish us with a lot of voice-overs and sad violin music, that all had to go in the movie. Harry still had some anger issues, but I had much more patience with them when I wasn’t reading about them constantly. Also, the scene where Harry & Co. basically destroy an entire floor of the Ministry of Magic was pretty awesome, even if I didn’t remember them wreaking quite as much havoc in the book.
 pride  4. Pride and Prejudice: I’m sure Jane Austen purists everywhere would be grabbing their torch and pitchforks to see this one on the list, but I adore it. I feel like you get a much clearer picture of how far apart Lizzy and Darcy really are on the class scale from this version. The Bennet house, the Bennet girls’ dresses and the ball at the ball at Meryton look a little shabby and really country when you compare them to Pemberley, Caroline Bingley’s gowns, and the ball at Netherfield. I don’t think you get that distinction with the BBC adaptation. This movie is beautiful to look at, it has a great cast, and I think it’s true to the spirit of the book.
 julie  5. Julie and Julia: Even though the movie has the same title as the book by Julie Powell, the movie is actually based on the book Julia and Julia and Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France. Amy Adams (who I love) manages to bring some likability to Julie’s character, and Meryl Streep is at her most adorable as Julia Child. Watching this movie makes me HUNGRY. There is food in almost every scene. It also makes me want to try some recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.


Happy Friday!