Saturday, May 25, 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. 

The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic is about two sisters, Magdalena and Jadraka, who are raised their entire lives (apart from one traumatic year) primarily by their grandparents on a small island, Rosamarina, off the coast of Croatia. Jadraka leaves to stay with their American born cousin in New York to help with her cousin's children. One day, Magdalena gets a call from their cousin saying Jadraka is missing. At first Magdalena isn't concerned. Her sister has disappeared before, but this time she hasn't contacted Lena to let her know her whereabouts. What sounds like a lost person mystery evolves into a story of a family long suffering from the effects of war and the bonds of family ties.

I remember reading the synopsis when I was requesting from Netgalley; however, once it arrived, I had a few books ahead of it that I needed to get to first, and this one had to be pushed down the TBR pile. I happened to pick it up without rereading the synopsis, figuring, I must have been interested, or I wouldn't have requested it. So imagine my amusement when I figure out one of the main plot points is a missing woman? If you're following along at home, my last review was Where'd You Go, Bernadette. So I assure you this was not on purpose.

That being said, I think to call this a missing person mystery is selling the book short. It really is the tale of Magdalena's and Jadraka's family and how the war (when Communism fell in the 1990's) effected the members. An uncle who went missing when Lena was just a baby, as well as the girls' mother who makes choices that are harsh and brutal on her children, both have lasting effects on the girls.

It isn't until Magdalena and Ana (the women's mother) arrive in New York that things start coming together in the grand picture. This story spans three generations from Lena and her sister, to their mother Ana and her brother Marin, to the girls' grandfather Luka. I really enjoyed the parts from Luka's perspective and the line he tells the kids when teaching them to swim, "The first rule of swimming was to stay afloat," because it has such meaning in it. Aren't we all just trying to stay afloat?

The Verdict

Library Bag: This is actually a tough one for me to judge because this is one of those books that you'll either love right away or it will drag on. I enjoyed the story of their lives, but it almost masquarades as a mystery novel. Even though Jadraka is missing, you never get the idea she's really in peril until much later. At its heart, it is a story about family and what binds them together, even when it feels like they're being torn apart.

*Review based on a galley provided by

Classical Clairvoyance

At the end of each month we ask our Tators which book is going to win the next book poll a la Sunday morning football pre game show. Last month we all picked Fahrenheit 451. We are getting good at this!

We are doing a special Tators' choice this month to pick September's book. We picked off the bookshelf in our Goodreads group. To keep it to five choices, Jared sat this one out, letting Heather pitch hit. We're going to keep secret who selected which book, but here are our predictions of which will win. Our choices in the 1960-2003 category are: The Handmaid's Tale, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Master and the MargaritaA Confederacy of Dunces, and Perfume: A Story of a Murderer.


A Confederacy of Dunces


 A Confederacy of Dunces


A Prayer for Owen Meany


Perfume: A Story of a Murder


A Prayer for Owen Meany


A Handmaid's Tale

What book do you think is going to win and become September's book selection?

Friday, May 24, 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. 

“When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I'm five I know everything”

Told entirely from the point of view of a five-year-old, Emma Donaghue's Room is about a woman who is kidnapped and kept in a small shack in her kidnapper's backyard. In the years she was held captive she gave birth to her son, Jack. Jack spent his whole life knowing nothing but the one room, but when she is afraid that her captor's house would be foreclosed and the shack abandoned she needs to make an attempt at escape that would rely on Jack's bravery to venture into a world he knows nothing about.  

A very interesting novel that gave me goosebumps to read. I listened to this on audio and the narration was very well done, with several narrators. The suspense of the escape with very nail-biting, but the entire second half of the novel was just okay, but maybe could have been shortened. Regardless, it's a very good book. 

 The Verdict

Library Bag: I would recommend this to anyone who likes good general fiction reads. I also maybe recommend this book to anyone who likes crime books, even though this is not technically a crime book, it is centered around a kidnapping.

Friday @ the Forums

It's that time of the week where we look at what's going on in our Goodreads forums. I bet a lot of you had some old threads come up on your notifications a few days ago. I found out that happens when a person leaves Goodreads and/or the group. So no glitch on Goodreads or CWAtC's end. That being said,  let's move on to some forum news.
Source: Jared Fagan

August's book poll: Get your votes in! Just maybe one of the others can overtake Fahrenheit 451!

September's book poll: We're running this concurrently with August's at least for a week. Due to CWAtC turning 1 in June we are doing something special and letting the Tators pick the selections for the poll. They all look fabulous and hopefully you guys feel the same.

Anna Karenina: It's also the last week we'll be actively discussing Anna (we'll keep the threads open though!). So get your reviews up!

Book suggestions: Want to suggest a book for us to read? Here's the place. Note: please double check our guidelines and the bookshelf to make sure we don't have it! Say hi to our ShelfTator Angie while you're there!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A BookTator's Isabel Allende Experience

Source: Jeane Ess
My fellow BookTator Karena and I had the opportunity to go to a reading by Isabel Allende this week and I couldn't have been more thrilled. I liked The House of Spirits (her first novel), and it was definitely one of my most enjoyable, if not my most enjoyable assigned reading in high school, but Isabel really got me with City of Beasts. It's her only YA novel, but I love just about any adventure that has to do with the Amazon rainforest and all the mysteries that still lay untold there, plus it's a trilogy (The Eagle and Jaguar trilogy).
Source: Jeane Ess
Source: Jeane Ess

A few years later my Film Appreciation teacher gave a lecture on Zorro, and mentioned that Isabel Allende wrote a novel that really did the character justice. So, I checked out her novel, Zorro, and loved, loved, loved it! If you are any sort of Zorro fan, you will love it too. I digress, so Karena and I went to see her at a reading/signing put on by Bookshop Santa Cruz at Santa Cruz High School, and it was everything that I could have wished for! Isabel was absolutely a fantastic speaker, she made me laugh out loud, she made me tear up, basically she made me feel like I was reading one of her books! Really though, mostly she made me laugh my butt off.

Source: Karena Fagan
Please, please, please if you have not had the chance to read one of her books try and do so sometime, they are amazing. She is branching out in a new direction with her newest one, Maya's Notebook, and her next book which will be released next year which she said will be a thriller. And if you ever get the chance to go to a book signing, DO IT! You will (hopefully) not regret it!

Source: Karena Fagan
Do you have a favorite Isabelle Allende novels? Have you been to one of her events? Tell us about it!

Graphic By Nature

This is the place for graphic novel reviews, but you won't find any traditional superheroes here. If you're like me, you enjoy your comics funny, strange, and sometimes a little dark. But you also value an interesting story and captivating illustration. Sounds like you? Check out the review below.

Reviewing Capote in Kansas provided a great excuse to read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood: A True Account of Multiple Murder and Its Consequences. I'd heard of it, but never read it; one of those famous novels that sits in a toppling pile of to-read books. In Cold Blood was artfully crafted -- each line written with care. It's a rare novel that, for an avid reader, compels you to read and savor every word. In Cold Blood was emotional, telling the human stories of the victims, the townspeople, and the killers. Capote created a "non-fiction" novel; a retelling of the murder of the Clutter family, the investigation into their death, and the capture of their killers. Instead of the novel reading like a dry crime procedural, Capote turned the story into the page-turning classic it is today. If you haven't read it yet, I recommend stopping what you're doing and picking up a copy. Borrow it, buy it -- it doesn't matter. Just be sure to read it.

Photo courtesy of
After finishing In Cold Blood, I got to work reading Capote in Kansas -- written by Andre Parks and illustrated by Chris Samnee. The strength of this graphic novel comes from the talent of Chris Samnee. His use of fine lines to capture detail is stunning. But he also knows when to use simplicity in panels to tell the story. He knows when to draw in the fine lines, when to leave them out, and when to ink with solid black. There are many panels where detail is drawn into the background with the characters in the foreground, quiet and without facial details -- I found these to be some of the best and most impactful. Samnee is an expert in the use of light and dark to portray mood and feeling. He draws the characters close up -- an intimacy is created between the reader and the characters, especially Truman Capote.

I came to Capote in Kansas looking for hints of the compelling story that I discovered while reading In Cold Blood, but I didn't find them. 

Where the artwork of Capote in Kansas is it's highlight, the writing is its downfall. Andre Parks admits to using the basic time and structure as the skeleton of his story and building the rest with fiction. The story, as the title suggests, focuses on Truman Capote as he researches, writes, and publishes In Cold Blood. He arrives in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas with his snotty New York attitude, disappointed when the town can't offer him the comforts he is used to. The story follows his struggles to connect with the locals, the problems it causes in researching the story, the haunting of Nancy Clutter, and his troubles in maintaining his long-term, long-distance relationship with his partner. The story is superficial and awkward at times, especially in dealing with Capote's love life and sexuality. There is a scene where Capote is waiting with Perry, one of the two men convicted of the Clutter murders, before he is taken to the gallows. As they're waiting, Capote kisses Perry. It felt like the author was using Capote's sexuality as a gimmick, assuming it was the logical extension of Truman Capote's real life compassion for Perry. It's a shame because as you read the original novel, it's hard not to share some of that same compassion for him as well. The characters in Capote in Kansas aren't well developed and Capote's relationship with each of them barely delves beneath the surface enough to make emotional scenes work.

Capote in Kansas doesn't stand on its own, either. You have to have read In Cold Blood to understand the basic story at work in the graphic novel. There are too many pages without words, while well-drawn and compelling, that make it difficult to understand the context. Coupled with a weak storyline and the semi-development of only one character, Capote, the graphic novel doesn't leave a lasting impression.

For many, the story of Truman Capote and the story of In Cold Blood are inextricably linked. Looking back, one sees Capote's research and writing of his most successful book as colliding with his downfall -- he never published another novel. He frequented the talk show circuit, struggled with depression and alcoholism, and died from liver cancer in 1984. This linkage has created an obsession in America: there is a black and white adaptation of the film by Richard Brooks, In Cold Blood (nominated for an Academy Award). Capote and Infamous focus on the author and his relationship to the Clutter murders as he researches and writes his novel. There was a TV miniseries created in the mid-1990's featuring Anthony Edwards and Eric Roberts based on the book. There are many, many books devoted to the subject such as Capote by Gerald Clarke, George Plimpton's Truman Capote, and Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers. At the time of this review, there is only one graphic novel version related to the story of Truman Capote and In Cold Blood. I would suggest choosing from one of the many other, expertly created interpretations available if you're looking to satisfy your curiosity about Truman Capote that was inevitably invoked by reading In Cold Blood.


For many, this graphic novel belongs in the donation box. But for graphic novel lovers, it might be worth putting in the library bag -- flipping through Samnee's beautifully drawn panels is a treat.

*A digital copy of this graphic novel was provided by

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Book Association

Tolstoy warns the reader Anna Karenina is about a dysfunctional family right away with the quote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." So this week's theme is dysfunctional families, which really, aren't they all? I kid, I kid! Even our ShelfTator Angie stopped by to give her contribution of Great Expectations.

The Color Purple is taken from the viewpoint of Celie, a woman who is virtually sold into marriage to a man she only refers to as Mister, as she accounts for the next twenty years of her life through her letters. With stepchildren who treat her badly as well as a husband who not only beats her, but takes his mistress into their own house, Celie's family is as dysfunctional as it gets. 

I don't know even where to start with the dysfunction because it spans over several different families. I'm almost positive that every family in this book is screwed up somehow. Even the most normal family, the Starks, have the patriarch's bastard son who is hated by his father's wife. From everything to incestuous (adult) twins to a brother who virtually sells his sister into marriage in exchange for an army to everything in between, this book (and its subsequent sequels) has it covered. 

Great Expectations

While the story doesn't exactly revolve around Pip's dysfunctional family, it definitely fits the mold. Pip's sister, Mrs. Joe, who must raise Pip after the death of their parents, not only beats Pip, but also beats her husband, Joe Gargery. Setting aside the physical abuse, Pip, like most children, desperately wants to live a life different than the parents he has.  Specifically, he yearns to become a gentleman, rather than a blue collar worker like Joe. However, throughout the novel, Pip treats Joe, the one man that has treated him with respect and admiration his whole life, like he is an embarrassment and unworthy of any attention from the boy he treats as his own son.  Now add in that toward the end of the novel Pip realizes that he has feelings for his friend and old schoolmate, Biddy. Seems simple enough, but little does Pip know that since Pip's sister's death Joe and Biddy have developed a romantic relationship and want to get married. So, now, Pip's step-father/brother-in-law marries a young woman at least 20 years his junior, thereby making Biddy, his crush and old friend, his step-mother/sister-in-law. Hello, Mom??? If that isn't dysfunctional, I don't know what is...

So what books can you think of with some messed up families?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tator Tuesdays

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

What is one book you wish more people would read? 



Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I feel like a lot of people have opinions about it based on what they’ve heard about the novel but have never read it all the way through -- cover to cover. I think actually reading the book would help bring/ create better understanding and discourse about Ayn Rand, objectivism, and its place in the American economic system.


Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. They have to read it with an open mind and get rid of prejudices and misconceptions.


World War Z by Max Brook


A more recent find of my own, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The story both broke my heart and warmed it at the same time.


So what book do you wish more people would read?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Literary Loot

Living in San Francisco means I'm lucky: there are a plethora of great places to buy books. One such place is the San Francisco Public Library. A few weeks ago, I planned on stopping by the library to check out Readers Bookstore at the Main, the bookstore inside the main library run by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. It has a nice selection of books at affordable prices. But due to the maintenance being done on several of the Civic Center entrances/exits, I got turned around coming out of the transit station. I ended up at the Larkin Street entrance and pleasantly surprised by the Steps Sales. There were at least a dozen tables full of books -- all kinds of books! Cookbooks, new books, used books, nonfiction, reference -- and just as many different kinds of people browsing through them. I walked away with copies of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones; Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles; and The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War by Neil Sheehan, Hendrick Smith, E.W. Kenworthy, and Fox Butterfield. Back in 2010, I had the privilege of watching a screening of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers which was followed by a Q and A with Daniel Ellsberg, Senator Pete McCloskey, and moderated by Robert Rosenthal at the Marines Memorial Theatre. As someone who was previously unfamiliar with The Pentagon Papers and with only a mediocre understanding of the Vietnam War, the documentary was like a sucker punch. If you haven't seen it, you should pick up a copy. And that's what prompted me to pick up the old, yellowing paperback at the Steps Sale.

As for Tess of the D'Ubervilles, it's a classic on my to-read list and for $1, I just couldn't pass it up. Curiosity got the better of me when I came across The Lovely Bones. I didn't know much about it other than it had been made into a film, but when I started reading it I could hardly put it down. I finished it in less than 24 hours.

Other great places to buy and enjoy books in San Francisco are the many independent booksellers that call the city home. Green Apple BooksBooks Inc.Book PassageCity Lights, and The Booksmith are a few of the more well-known stores. I came across Jonathan Franzen's Freedom: A Novel on the "value books" cart outside of another San Francisco indie bookstore: the Alexander Book Co. I was on my way to a luncheon in the area, but since I was early I thought I would stop and explore the bookstore to kill some time before my event. I was attracted to the $5.99 sticker like it was a beacon.

The last three books were purchased on a trip to Barnes and Noble with my mom. We thought we would pick up a gift especially for my cousin as her baby shower was the following day. How often does the mom-to-be get a gift just for her? She likes romance novels, so we settled on a Nicholas Sparks title. As we were looking through the New Fiction section, I found a copy of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. The other Tators have been raving about it -- two of them cited it as their favorite read from 2012! As I clutched a copy, I came across a bargain table: buy two get one free. That table just so happened to have several books that were also sitting on my to-read list: Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral Story of the Zombie War and Christopher McDougall's Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. The table was also sporting a copy of a book that I was already carrying in my hand. It was fate! And that's how those three came home with me.

My bookshelf is now officially too small for all of the wonderful books I have purchased, I have read, and I want to read. There are definitely worse problems to face in the world.

Ep #12 Kevin Smokler's Kind of People

This time on the podcast the Tators find out what DTF stands for and how it relates to women's book choices when they travel (spoiler: not at all), geek out about Out of Print's Great Gatsby Game and share their bookmarks. Also there's a mini CWAtC on the Go as the Tators recount their recent visit to the Steinbeck House and National Steinbeck Museum.Then CWAtC has its first author interview with Kevin Smokler, author of Practical Classics:  50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School. To wrap it up the Tators discuss their assigned reading in school and the possible rereads that have occurred and are possible to come.

Where's My Bookmark and other books we mention:

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill

Websites we mention:
How to Tell If a Lady Will Hump You, Based on the Book She's Reading
Out of Print Clothing's Great Gatsby Game

Sunday, May 19, 2013

LitStarter: Bringing You the Best in Bookish Projects

Welcome to the first LitStarter! This will be a regular look at some of my favorite projects discovered through two popular crowd sourcing websites: Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The featured projects will be related to literature and comics but not limited to publishing or writing projects. For example, there is a video game being made by a small team of independent game developers called Edgar: The Great Victorian Adventure Game. It is an adventure platformer where you play as Edgar Allan Poe. The developers have plans to create a Kickstarter to help fund the rest of their development and publication. When the time comes, we will be promoting it here. Why? Because Edgar Allan Poe wrote many American classics -- and the game sounds like fun! 

The term crowd funding has been thrown around a lot in the last couple of years and refers to the way in which a group of people come together to collectively support a cause financially. The two most well-known websites utilizing crowd funding are Kickstarter and Indiegogo. There are a few differences between the two: Kickstarter is limited to the United States and the United Kingdom, while Indiegogo is international; a project creator using Indiegogo has the opportunity to keep the donated funds, even if the project does not succeed, while the creator of an unsuccessful project on Kickstarter will not receive any money. There are some other differences regarding usage and guidelines, but I wanted to simply cover the basics.

For the first installment of LitStarter features Book Riot's Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors, Vol. 2. We share the same mission with Book Riot -- making books accessible and enjoyable for everyone. They are doing this through the Start Here books, guiding readers to where to start with contemporary and classic titles. Each chapter will be written by different person; some bloggers, some critics, some well-known authors. 

I don't normally back projects like this one. I prefer to back projects that are mostly completed and are utilizing crowd funding as a way to turn their project into a polished product for distribution. For example, I backed A Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo. The author, Matthew Amster-Burton, had written a book about his experience living and eating his way through Tokyo one summer with his family. He was using Kickstarter as a way to pay a professional copyeditor, hire an artist to design the cover, and get his story published as an ebook. The project was successful, and backers began downloading the ebook about a month prior to his projected delivery date.

Despite Start Here: Vol. 2 not being a finished product that just needs a little polishing, I think you should support them. I did. And here's why: they have already completed a successful Kickstarter campaign with Start Here: Vol. 1 with only one minor setback courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. As I mentioned earlier, they are looking to make great books more accessible to everyone. How can you say no to that?

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. 

Courtesy of Goodreads

Where'd You Go, Bernadette By Maria Semple is a story about a daughter, Bee, who must piece together the mystery of her mother, Bernadette, when she suddenly disappears through emails, memos and other assorted correspondence. Bee starts finding out her mother is not at all who she thought.

I loved this book. There might have been some bias because Bernadette suffers from a bit of social anxiety as do I. So, a lot of the things she said and thought whenever she was out of public I have been guilty of thinking or saying myself. That being said, this was so smartly written. I was afraid of being put off by the fact that the majority of the story was told through letters, office memos, and faxes since the last book I read in this format was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and that book turned out to be painfully boring for me. The rest of the story is told through the eyes of Bee, Bernadette's fourteen year old daughter, who was remarkably mature for her age.

The story was really funny. Not side splitting humor, but that snide snarky humor that we've all been guilty of at least once. Bernadette's dealings with the "gnats" or the mothers of the other kids at Galer Street School had me chuckling in the oh-my-god-did-she-really-say-that-I'm-so-envious-I-wish-I-could-say-that. The insanity of her next door neighbor had me a little in fear since my oldest is about to start kindergarten in the fall and I know these kinds of mothers exist.

The Verdict

Bookshelf: Easily. I didn't find anything I didn't like about this book. It was well written, engaging, the characters interesting, even the "gnats." I read it in one day. It's a fun read that has really great dialogue, and I am now putting Maria Semple on my "Authors To Watch For" list.

*Paperback edition was provided by Goodreads in a giveaway.