Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bookshelf, Library Bag, or Donation Box

In Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box, our Tators give their verdict on the books they read, whether they're keepers for the shelves, one you borrow from your local library, or just give to your local used bookstore.

Love and Zombies by Eric Shapiro is a fun, hilarious, and horrific novella about Henry, a struggling producer in Los Angeles, who is convinced to help his friend Sam on a job he was offered from his dad. Seems simple enough. However, the job is to go to Las Vegas to meet with some seriously bad individuals who want the two friends to drive out to desert to find a living female zombie. Henry only accepts the job because he had believes that the government has already taken care of the zombie epidemic and there are none left. Even so, Henry feels concerned and conflicted because the guys who hire them want the female so they can create a zombie porn. Not only that, but they want a female who has been bitten, but hasn’t quite turned yet, which means the two friends must find a female, see that she is bitten by a zombie, and then bring her back to be held against her will to be filmed having sex, aka. raped, while turning into a full-fledged zombie. Suddenly, this job isn’t simple at all.

In addition to Henry having issues, and a conscience, about the task they are on, Henry has a girlfriend named Teresa, and a serious addition to strip clubs and strippers. Henry and Teresa have experimented together in threesomes with strippers, and now Henry feels like he may be addicted to the extra stimulation, and finds that he is less attracted to Teresa, who happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, because he can’t stop thinking about the strippers. While in Las Vegas, Henry worries that Teresa is seeing other people while he is gone, that he will be unable to keep himself from cheating on her in the casinos, and that he will die before telling her he loves her.

While reading, I found myself frustrated with the first half of the story because of the job itself. Not until more than halfway through the novella does anyone finally call what they have been asked to do what it actually is: rape. They talk about bringing an unwilling participant to a hotel to film a porn. They talk about having a female zombie chained and in the porn, but not until far into the story does Henry actually use the word “rape,” which is clearly what they have been hired to do. For a large portion of the complete ordeal, Henry’s only concern is whether he will actually see a zombie, and if so, will he survive the encounter.

In addition, I struggled with this book at times because I felt like it was unreasonable that Henry would just blindly go along for the ride with his friend, on an asinine mission that he is completely aware is immoral and deplorable. However, from the beginning, Henry tells us, the readers, that he is not a good person and that we shouldn’t like him. But between the moments where we want to beat him upside his head, he does things that actually make us like him. It was these moments in the book that kept me reading.

Verdict: Library Bag

Love and Zombies is a great novel for a short weekend trip, a plane ride, or when you just need something to get you reading that doesn’t need much serious thought. It is funny, twisted, and difficult to put down, but not because it is the best book ever written. The disturbing nature of the topic piqued my interest enough to want to find out how the passengers on this train wreck come out in the end. A fun read, worth your time, but not your money.

*Advance copy of Love and Zombies provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Friday @ the Forums

Every Friday we check out our forums and let you know what the most popular threads are.

Source: Jared Fagan
Anna Karenina Threads - We opened our Anna Karenina threads as the Tolstoy classic is our selection for May. Jump in and add any topics you think we should talk about.

August's Book Poll - We also have started our voting for our August book. The category is 1911-1959.

Classic Book Suggestions - Have a book suggestion to put on our polls? Check the shelves to make sure we don't already have it, then add it to this thread!

Playing With History

Playing With History is a monthly column dedicated to books that are history based, but with a fictional plot. I tend to gravitate toward Henry the VIII's England or the Italian Renaissance, but here or there I plan to step out of my usual if the plot sounds promising enough. I will use our usual rating of Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box.

 The Kitchen House is a novel by Kathleen Grissom about Lavinia, a young Irish immigrant who is sold into indentured servitude on a Southern tobacco plantation when her parents die aboard the ship on the way over to America. She's immediately put to work in the kitchen house alongside the slaves who are assigned there. They take her under their wing immediately, including Belle, the illegitimate daughter of the captain, who is the owner of the plantation. The novel tells both Lavinia's story as well as Belle's throughout the next thirteen years as Lavinia finds her place in plantation society and Belle fights to be free.

I haven't read a lot of books about the South, but I thought this one sounded interesting because I hadn't heard a lot about the indentured servants that came over to this country. Their plight was not nearly as terrible as those of the slaves, but it did open up an avenue we don't usually hear about. Lavinia's story is no different. She embodies the idea that hate is learned as it wasn't until she was a lot older that she understood the difference between her lot in life and those of the slaves. They were her family. That was that. 

The book does fall on typical stereotypes that come from this era, but I was able to forgive that because I liked the characters, even when I didn't. I felt a myriad of emotions for Marshall, the plantation owner's son was both heartbreaking at times, yet acted so reprehensible it was hard to remember that pity. Lavinia was a interesting heroine to follow as was Belle, the secondary narrator, who for all intents and purposes, becomes Lavinia's mother. The trials and tribulations of being the captain's daughter by a slave was tragic, especially as the captain's family had no idea of her relationship to him, thinking her his mistress.  

I would like to see a sequel to this story if even just to see Ms. Grissom leave the stereotypes behind and take us into a different direction and maybe a story that not so many horrible things happen that you become just a little desensitized. 

The Verdict

Bookshelf: I had a hard time picking between bookshelf and Library Bag, mostly because this book did have its faults; however, when a book stays with me even after I finish reading it, I think that gives it something extra. It isn't a perfect story, but one I would like to revisit.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box

In Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box, our Tators give their verdict on the books they read, whether they're keepers for the shelves, one you borrow from your local library, or just give to your local used bookstore. 

Ali Berlinski's a beautiful mess is a collection of essays showcasing the problem of never fitting in. Berlinski is Filipino on her mother's side, Polish on her father's, the oldest of her mother's children, the youngest of her father's, the middle of the whole brood, as well as an only child. She also spends more than a few essays talking about her failed love affairs and travels between Sacramento, New Jersey and Spain. 

I came into the book thinking it was an ongoing memoir, so the narration came off really confusing and repetitive. After finding out it is indeed a series of separate essays, it made more sense; however, I'm not sure if it made the whole thing better. I am perplexed on what feelings I was supposed to walk away with after reading this. Because it was a collection of essays, the last of the stories doesn't really feel like it wraps anything up; rather, it feels like it just suddenly stops. There was no conclusion after what was a very sad life. I would say the whole collection was just skimming the surface of something deeper. 

I liked the bit of humor that Berlinski inserted into the otherwise depressing prose. Her confusion over never fitting in had great promise, but it was soon eclipsed by her love affairs gone awry (specifically, the on-again-off-again relationship with a man the unfortunate moniker, Gums). I found myself reading these as a friend of hers, listening to her over coffee and wanting to dump my iced coffee over her head, telling her to get over these guys and that she could do so much better. She would have been better off going back to the first few essays about never fitting in, because the relationship essays were painful(and who could keep the boyfriends straight?).

I did find myself wanting to hear more about her relationship with her father, since it seemed healthy, as opposed to her relationship with her mother, which was just horrible, just to balance it all out. I'm not saying all stories should have happy endings, but this one just fell short on I was looking for: the dilemma of never having a specific place in the world.

The Verdict

Donation Box: The back of the book calls her "Carrie Bradshaw re-imagined as a third grade teacher." I would say she sounded more like a character off the show Girls, but it's not far off the mark. To me, that was a negative in her favor, since that mindset does not appeal to me. For fans of either show, they might find it interesting, so I'd say Library Bag for them and any others who enjoy a coming-of-age memoir mostly about failed relationships. Otherwise, it's a miss for me. 

*Review copy received from

Book Association

Turns out the latest Young Adult books do not own the rights to literary love triangles. Anna Karenina laid claim to it long before Peeta, Katniss, and Gale were in amorous angst. The following conflicted couples (triouples?) also not only did it first, they did it better. 

Here are some others.

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Everyone: This one is rife with twisted relationships, thanks to Puck and his magical goof. Who doesn't love watching Titania fawn over donkey-headed Nick Bottom?

The Great Gatsby - Gatsby/Daisy/Tom: Tom and Daisy are married, Daisy and Gatsby are old flames, and Tom's not too fond of Gatsby for obvious reasons. This one was doomed from the start.

Les Misérables - Cosette/Marius/Éponine: Pre "Team Jacob/Team Edward", there was "Team Cosette/Team Éponine." This one is a bit more dramatic than the vampire/werewolf feud.

What other classic non YA love triangles can you name? 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tator Tuesdays

Every week we interview our Tators and ask them bookish questions. This week's question:

What is your all time favorite book series?



I’m currently on the second book of A Song of Ice and Fire series. I like the author’s ability to develop characters and play with the reader’s emotions. I’m also working my way through two fantastic comic book series:  Chew and The Walking Dead -- and loving both!


The Dirk Pitt series


The Wheel of Time series


I read a lot of series so this is a tough one. Off the top of my head, the In Death series or the Women of the Otherworld series. Strong female characters in both.


What's your favorite series? 

Tomes for Tots

Chapter 2

A few months back, I started a semi-regular column about beginning a book club for toddlers called "Tomes for Tots." The concept is to start a book club for my four year old son and children his age and to introduce the idea of reading and discussing books. It would be a combination of a book discussion, which may only last 5 minutes, and play time with other children. 

Since the last article, I have taken some steps to attempt to gather a small group of Eastern Long Islanders for a children's book club. I was out sick for a few weeks, which caused me to lose some momentum, but I want to keep everyone up to date. So far, I put up a thread on our Goodreads site to see if any of our CWAtC members would want to get together. No response on that just yet.  Also, a mass e-mail to the parents of my son's classmates has not yielded much response, although that could be because most of the addresses came up invalid.  

I think I just need to get out from behind the computer and talk to people in person to see if they would like to participate in a club like this. Also, I will visit the library next and see if they would allow me to post an invite in their bulletin. It's difficult to execute plans when you allow your schedule to take over, but it's something I want to do, so it's a matter of making it a priority. 

Although there's not a whole lot of progress to report, I wanted to share where I was in my search, and also get some feedback from others. Please feel free to leave your ideas in our comments section. Thanks, all! 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Literary Loot

After a busy day of errands I decided to treat myself to a few books. I had to pick up Beautiful Ruins from Bookshop Santa Cruz where the author, Jess Walters, had visited last week and held a book signing. I wasn't able to go, so I had to order mine online. After picking up my book, it was off to the Santa Cruz Public Library. I was hoping to pick up a copy of Solaris for June's book pick. Alas, I didn't find it, but I did find a few other gems, including Night, which is a favorite of mine that I used to have a copy of, but have misplaced in over ten years of military moves. Another find that I was excited about was The Princess Bride. The movie is one of my husband's favorites so I thought the book would be a nice gift for him.
Source: Karena Fagan
I also picked up Geek Love which our ShelfTator Angie enjoyed recently. I'd also heard good things about Becoming Madame Mao and I'd read Min's Empress Orchid years ago and thought it was interesting. I was hoping to pick up The Joy Luck Club so I could re-read it, but walked away with The Hundred Secret Senses which I hadn't read so I was equally thrilled. I also found The Kitchen House which is about the plight of an Irish indentured servant in the South and sounded interesting.
And no literary loot trip is complete without a few classics. I picked up Vanity Fair and Cannery Row, neither of which I've read yet, but are bound to come up in our book polls for CWAtC. 

Did you pick up any literary loot this weekend? 

Angie & Laura Go to the Movies

Welcome to "Angie & Laura Go to the Movies," where we compare movie adaptations of classic novels we have read. For the ranking system, Angie and Laura will determine if you should "Go see it at the theater," "Rent it," or "Walk out." Enjoy!
*Angie and Laura read this novel several months ago now, so our account of details of the novel are not very fresh. Most often, we will watch the movie adaptation (if there is one) the same month we read the novel with the CWAtC book club. During months where there is no movie adaptation to a book we are reading (as in the case of Brave New World), we will filter in movie comparisons to books we have read in the past, as we are doing now.
The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton tells the tale of Newland Archer, engaged to May Welland, but in love with her cousin, Ellen Olenska. Unfortunately, Ellen married a Polish gentleman and moved to Europe, but her husband was unfaithful and abusive, so she left him to return to New York. Sadly, New York high society in the 1870’s is unforgiving to any woman who would consider leaving her husband, let alone attempt to get a divorce. And, because Ellen would suggest such a thing, she will never truly fit into this society. Even though Newland Archer loves Ellen, for various reasons, he is unable to break his engagement to May and run away with Ellen.

Angie says: Rent it!

Scorsese's film version of The Age of Innocence follows the book well and has wonderful actors/actresses. Winona Ryder plays May Welland perfectly; Michelle Pfeiffer, while not exactly like I pictured her, played Ellen Olenska amazingly; and Daniel Day Lewis, like every character he ever plays, was fantastic as Newland Archer. There is little to complain about and it is well worth watching, especially if you have read the book and wish to see it in action. Even if you haven’t read the book, the story is engaging, heartbreaking, and frustrating.

That being said, if this movie were out in the theater today, I would not run out to see it for $10. It moves a bit slowly, like the book. And, although I enjoy that quality in a story at times, it is not a quality that I seek out in a movie that I watch. However, I recommend renting the movie for only a couple bucks. It gives a great picture of high society snobbery in NY in the 1870’s. I’m so glad I missed that era!

Laura says: See it at the theater!

What struck me throughout the film was how well done the picture was made and how it stayed true to the novel. The Beaufort house for instance, is as I imagined it with ornate paintings, drapes, and intricate design. Usually the directors make many changes, as if they feel they can convey a better story than the actual classic author did, but this was not the case for The Age of Innocence. For instance, the costumes, which were first rate, only enhanced the feel of the story. May often wears white, representing her apparent naiveté, while Ellen, the more free-spirited and independent woman, is often seen in red with her blonde curls and red lips.  

The acting was fantastic. Winona Ryder captured the character of May Welland seems unsuspecting and does not reveal that she is at all perceptive until later in the film. Daniel Day Lewis portrays Archer as a lawyer, part of traditional old New York, who is conflicted by his passion for Countess Olenska. His advice to Ellen wavers as in the novel. First he supports her right to divorce then convinces her that due to the traditional mindset of New York society, it is in her best interest to remain married. When he waivers once more saying he would have married Ellen if he could, she made him realize it was his own advice that led to the impossibility of their being together. Through her anger and tears, she says "You don't know all the good you've done for me that I never knew....I can't love you unless I give you up." This scene itself was emotional and reminded me of what a fine actress Michelle Pfeiffer is.

For me the movie was the book come to life.  I would say see it at the theater to someone who enjoys stories of unrequited romance or enjoyed the novel.  

So, if you see The Age of Innocence, tell us what you think.  Is it worth paying money to see in the theater, only worth renting, or is it a movie you would walk out on?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bookshelf, Library Bag, or Donation Box

In Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box, our Tators give their verdict on the books they read, whether they're keepers for the shelves, one you borrow from your local library, or just give to your local used bookstore. 

Image courtesy of

Where Do the Animals Go When it Rains?

For this edition of Mom Says/Kid Says, my 4 year old son and I read Where Do the Animals Go When it Rains? by Janet S. Crown. The story is exactly what the title says. It's about animals and what happens to them on a rainy day. The author developed this concept from her bedtime conversations with her own children. The illustrations are also quite endearing as they show baby animals with their families, gathering together for shelter during the rain. I enjoyed the book, although I think it would be best for children under the age of four. The book didn't hold much interest for my son since it was a little too short for him, and he prefers books with more of a story line. Instead, we had more of a conversation about what he thinks animals do in bad weather. I enjoyed listening to my son's answers. He says that when it rains, animals go into their "houses," as a bird goes to its nest. We also discussed where animals go when it's sunny. Outside! Where do animals go when it's warm? Outside! So, although short, the book did make an impression on us.

Aside from the story itself, I am impressed with the fact that all proceeds from the book go to a charity called The Painted Turtle, which is a camp for children with serious medical conditions who can attend for free. Reading about this camp was very touching, and this factor alone would make me want to buy the book.  

Bookshelf for a younger age group.

*Mrs. Hoffman was provided with free galley from*

Book It: Events for Bibliophiles

Welcome to the second installment of Book It: Events for Bibliophiles. We hope you will enjoy the selection of book-related events we have compiled this week.

If you would like to see your city or event listed in future posts, please contact me via e-mail at: heather[dot]varanini[at]gmail[dot]com.

Without further ado, here are your book events for the week of April 29th through May 5th:

Monday April 29th

Lemony Snicket and John Klassen

Event: The author, Lemony Snicket, and illustrator, John Klassen, will be discussing their new book The Dark.

Learn more about the event by clicking here

Time: 3:30pm book purchase/4:30pm event
Location: Burlingame Library
480 Primrose Road
Children's Room
Burlingame, CA
Cost: The event is free, but if you'd like a signed copy of your book it must be purchased through Books, Inc.

Little America -- Co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Northern California and the Marines' Memorial Association

Event: Rav Chandrasekeran will be discussing his new book, Little America. Rav has spent over ten years reporting for The Washington Post, covering the war in Afghanistan. 

Learn more about the event by clicking here

Time: 6pm - 7pm
Location: Marines' Memorial Club & Hotel
609 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA
Cost: Free 

Tuesday April 30th

17th Annual Effie Lee Morris Lecture

Event: Eve Bunting will be the special guest speaker for this event.  Her theme will be: Picture Books That Can't Be Written: Social Issues in Children's Literature. Bunting has penned many children's books such as Green Apple and Fly Away Home.

Click here for more information. 

Time: 6pm - 8pm
Location: SF Public Library - Main
Koret Auditorium
100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA
Cost: Free

Barbara Rose Booker -- The Viagra Diaries

Event: Author and professor at San Francisco State University, Barbara Rose Booker comes to talk about sex and love after sixty.

For more information, please click this link.

Time: 7pm
Location: Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA
Cost: Free

Wednesday May 1st

RT 30th Annual Book Lover's Convention

Event: If you love all things bookish, you'll love this event. It's a five day event (runs through Sunday, May 5th) that includes speaker panels, author signings, writing competitions, and parties. There is something for everyone -- readers, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and writers.

To learn more about the convention please click here

Time: 8:45am - 11:55pm
Location: Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center
2345 McGee Street
Kansas City, MO
Cost: Call 800-989-8816 x12 for details

Vali Nasr: The Dispensable Nation

Event: Val Nasr will be sharing insights from his book as well as his time as an advisor to the State Department on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Click here to purchase tickets and learn more about the event. 

Time: 5:30pm check-in/6pm program/7pm signing
Location: Commonwealth Club of California
595 Market Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA
Cost: $20 nonmembers/$12 members/$7 students

Thursday May 2nd

Kim Wong Keltner, Author of Tiger Babies Strike Back

Event: Kim Keltner discusses her new book and shares her experience growing up in the Chinese community and the product of a tiger mom.

For more information about the program and an exclusive essay by Kelther, click this link.

Time: 7pm
Location: Green Apple Books
506 Clement Street
San Francisco, CA
Cost: Free

Search Inside Yourself: Chade-Meng Tan, Google's Jolly Good Fellow: I-House Speaker Series

Event: Tan, author of Search Inside Yourself, will be discussing his book as well as his experience working at Google.

To purchase tickets and learn more about the event click here.

Time: 7:30pm - 9pm
Location: International House at UC Berkeley
Chevron Auditorium
2299 Piedmont Avenue
Berkeley, CA
Cost: $10 public/free for IH residents and UCB students w/ID

Friday May 3rd

33rd Annual Steinbeck Festival

Event: Come and discover all things John Steinbeck during this three day festival that runs from May 3rd through May 5th in Salinas, California. The theme this year is "Home" -- the festival will explore the home of Steinbeck with tours, lectures, films and more.

Click here to purchase tickets and learn more about the event.

Time: All Day
Location: Steinbeck Center
1 Main Street
Salinas, CA
Cost: $10 - $175

Fabio Vivani -- Fabio's Italian Kitchen

Event: Fabio Vivani is most well-known for his time on Top Chef as a contestant during the show's fifth season. He now owns and operates two Italian restaurants in Southern California. This cookbook is his life's story in recipes.

Click here for more information.

Time: 6pm
Location: Book Passage
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA
Cost: Free 

Eisner Award-Winner Hope Larson at Books Inc. in Berkeley

Event: Come and see Hope Larson share a slide show of her illustrations and discuss her work.

Click here for more information.

Time: 7pm
Location: Books Inc.
1760 Fourth Street
Berkeley, CA
Cost: Free

Saturday May 4th

The Big Yes Society Presents Maggie Oman Shannon at Books Inc. in Alameda

Event: Author Maggie Shannon comes to share about her new book, Crafting Calm: Projects and Practices for Creativity and Contemplation

To learn more about this event, please click here

Time: 7pm
Location: Books Inc. Alameda
1344 Park Street
Alameda, CA
Cost: Free

Sunday May 5th

An Afternoon with Author Alan Fleishman

Event: Author Fleishman will be sharing from his new novel, A Fine September Morning.

Learn more about the event by clicking here.

Time: 3pm
Location: Belmont Library
1110 Alameda de las Pulgas
Belmont, CA
Cost: Free

An Evening with David Sedaris

Event: David Sedaris will be talking about his new book, Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls, and holding a book signing afterward.

To learn more about the event and purchase tickets, please click here

Time: 7:30pm
Location: War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA
Cost: $57 - $77

Required Reading

Our Tators are always reading. Here are their favorite books of the month.
April's Required Reading

More of our Tator's books »

Book recommendations, book reviews, quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists


My Favorite Match: WWE Superstars Tell the Stories of Their Most Memorable Matches: Robinson's book is exactly as promised: wrestlers telling the stories of their favorite matches. Even though I wasn't intimately knowledgeable about it when I began, I felt as though the stories taught me about the world of professional wrestling and inspired me learn more. Now, I can't get enough!

In Cold Blood: A must-read. It's  gruesome premise has been transformed into an expertly woven narrative; beautifully written and emotional. It has rocketed to the top of my favorites list and I highly recommend it.


When You Reach Me: Having lived in Queens, NY as a child myself in the early 1980's, I was able to identify with the main characters.  Back then, we were able to walk around the city in certain spots as children and still feel safe.  I felt that the author tapped into how a child around the age of 10 would think.  There are even references to "The $20,000 Pyramid."  I enjoyed it because there were moments when I was taken back to my childhood.


Brave New World: My wife made me.  Details on the next podcast. 


Life After Life: This book blew my mind. For people who ever wonder "What if I would have done x instead of y?" Sure, dying over and over again is pretty freaking extreme, but it was a very interesting concept. And with the very premise Atkinson uses, this story is never quite over, even when you run out of pages. 

Discount Armageddon: For a fun read, this one hit on so many levels. It was funny (religious mice!), action packed (free running across the roofs of New York City), and packed with smart dialogue (did I mention funny?). I had already been a fan of McGuire's with her Toby Daye series, but this one is even better.


Nickel and Dimed: About not getting by in America. A non-fiction that reads like a fiction. A little outdated but easy to follow with a great narrator voice. Anyone struggling to break into the non-fiction genre, this would be a gateway book for you.


They Don't Dance Much: James Ross, in They Don't Dance Much, does an amazing job of capturing life during the depression in rural North Carolina. Filled with sex, torture, and murder, this story is sure to keep you reading. However, please be aware that this novel was written in the 1930's and has language that truly captures the south at the time, including an over-abundance of the "n" word.