Naming one all-time  favorite book is like choosing your favorite song–nearly impossible. Even as I was thinking about this post I thought well, really, it’s a toss up between two. Then I stopped myself and said NO. You get one and only one.

Sometimes I can be really hard on myself.

So I thought about it a little more. It became pretty clear what the favorite was, and so I shall name it:

MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR by Herman Wouk

It’s about as far from crime fiction as you can get, but I so dearly love this novel that I kinda-sorta get choked up just thinking about it. The ending is so bittersweet that I’ve never read it and not cried. And I’ve read it many, many times.

It’s not a sad book, not at all. It’s the story of Marjorie Morgenstern, a 17-year old, beautiful Jewish girl growing up in Manhattan in the 1930s. Her Russian immigrant parents have worked hard to make certain she has the perfect future: marriage to a prosperous Jewish boy and a family. But Marjorie has no interest in living the dull life her parents lead and has a different idea; she wants to be an actress on the Broadway stage. The book is a chronicle of her road to the stardom she dreams of, her struggle between what she thinks she wants and what society expects of her, and what, ultimately, she really wants out of life and love.

I so wish there was something brilliant I could say to make you understand how great this book is, but alas, I feel I’ve failed.

I first read MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR when I was around 15 years old. One could argue that I still view it with the idealistic eyes of a teenager and thus it might not be worthy of the title MY FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME. I’d concede that might be true but it doesn’t change the fact that Wouk’s characterizations, his portrayal of pre-war New York City, and the world in which Marjorie lives are so vivid and charming I can only say “idealization be damned, this is a kick-ass book.”

What is it Liz Lemon says? I want to go to there. In Wouk’s deft hands, I can.

I’m turning 44 tomorrow so perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic, but MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR sums up much of what life is all about–endeavoring to achieve our dreams because we think that’s what will bring us happiness but realizing when it’s time to leave them behind.

See what I wrote there? Realizing when it’s time to leave your dreams behind.

I get misty just thinking about it.

But enough about me–I want to hear what your FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME is. And none of this toss-up crap. You get one and only one.

A few days ago I got an update from GoodReads telling me what my “friends” had reviewed that week. I don’t generally read them in depth, I just give them a cursory look to see if there’s any reviews by my actual friends or of books I want to read.

In this particular update, I noticed an author had rated his own book and gave it a 5-star rating, natch. In the actual review he indicated he was the author, so full disclosure, no problem, right?

I don’t know, I kind of have a problem with it. It seems like cheating, you know? I posted this question on Twitter and one of my author friends said the 5-star rating he gave his own book gives it a negligible boost in the overall rating. Said author friend further justified the practice by saying it kind of evens out the unfair, 1-star ratings a book gets, you know, the kind that say “I haven’t even read this book but I’m giving it 1-star because the cover is ugly.”

I’m not convinced. Still feels like cheating to me.

I’m not published yet so perhaps I will feel different when I am. But right now, as a reader, I don’t like it.

What say you?


Before_sleep

From the book's website:

Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle- aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.

But it’s the phone call from a Dr. Nash, a neurologist who claims to be working with Christine without her husband’s knowledge, that directs her to her journal, hidden in the back of her closet. For the past few weeks, Christine has been recording her daily activities and rereading past entries, relearning the facts of her life as retold by the husband she is completely dependent upon.

Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more un- believable it seems.

What happens when you've lost your memory and must begin every day without remembering the day before it? This is what's happened to Christine Lucas. The prospect seems disturbing, even horrible, at first, but as the book goes on you realize that it's truly terrifying.

If I had one criticism of this book, I'd say it wasn't fast paced enough, but then I generally read novels so fast paced I find myself gasping for breath. By comparison, this one moves relatively slow. However, it is full of suspense, and I quickly became completely invested in Christine, rooting for her to regain her memory, or at least understand what had happened to her. Ultimately, it's a thoroughly satisfying read.

I gave Before I Go to Sleep 5 stars on GoodReads.

Happy New Year!

I love the start of a new year. Everything feels all fresh and full of potential. Actually, I love smaller starts too: Mondays, Birthdays, whatever. I don't need much to motivate me to start something new or act on a plan.

That said, I do have a few goals for 2012. One of them is to read more books and another is to review more of those books. I'm not much of a reviewer though–I leave that to my friends like Jen Forbus, Elizabeth A. White, and Pop Culture Nerd.

Still, I do like to record my thoughts about books on websites like GoodReads, and occasionally, Amazon (though I would encourage you to purchase the book at your local independent bookstore, such as Mysterious Galaxy or Murder by the Book). Just a quick blurb about what I liked and/or didn't like about a novel. Starting this year, I'm also going to post these "mini reviews" here on my blog.

So, without further delay, here's my first review of 2012:

Vengeance

Overall, I loved this book, as I do all the Kinsey Millhone novels. Reading one is like visiting an old friend, and I always feel a tiny bit lonely when I'm finished, knowing it'll be two years before I get to see her again. With that said, V's plot was a little too convoluted and tied up a little too neatly at the end. It starts out strong, then sags a bit toward the end of the middle, without picking up again until nearly the very end. It's still a good book, and worthy of Kinsey, it's just not the best of Grafton's series.

 

This year I kept track of the books I read using Good Reads. I set an initial goal of reading 25 books, but upped it to 35 sometime mid-year when I realized I was way ahead of schedule. I'm at 33 now with three weeks to go until we ring in the new year.

Here are my top ten picks for 2011, in no particular order:

1) A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF by Lawrence Block

Drop

What can I say? This book was a treat. I thought we'd seen the last of Matthew Scudder, one of my all-time favorite private eyes in fiction, but thankfully, Mr. Block decided he had another story to tell about Matt Scudder and the result is one of the strongest Scudder novels yet.

Possess_coverMy friend Kate Carruth is a 13-year-old avid reader who was kind enough to stop by my blog today and give her thoughts about Gretchen McNeil's debut novel, POSSESS. Thanks, Kate!

The novel Possess by Gretchen McNeil is a unique and equally thrilling story. With a tough and rebellious heroine and a mysterious cast, the whole plot makes a great story that you just do not want to put down. McNeil does a skillful and artistic job of piecing everything together in her very first novel.

Possess starts off with a bang and no lag at all. The main character, Bridget, comes off as any other good Catholic girl who cares next to nothing about what people think about her. And then you realize, after you learn of her father’s murder and a demonic experience of banishment, she as far from your typical teenage girl as one can get. After hearing cold, monstrous voices in the walls and feeling the atmosphere around her change, she seeks out help from the exorcist Monsignor Renault, who teaches her how to use her newfound power. Everything changes when a suspicious character turns up, Father Santos. He warns Bridget of what she is and is surprised to hear that she doesn’t already know. Once a close friend of hers is murdered at her church, the only person she can trust is luscious, but annoyingly overprotective, Matt Quinn. That’s when the story really begins to take off and the mysteries unravel.

I’ve been super excited to start reading Possess over my Thanksgiving break. I am pleased to say that the story was simply astounding. The main character, Bridget, is loveable and somebody you can totally relate to (except for her exorcism powers, that is). The humor in this book is much like the humor Rick Riordan shows in his Percy Jackson series to ease the darkness and tension of some parts. Also, the right information is given to you at the right time, unlike some books that throw a boatload of knowledge at you out of the blue. Another one of my favorite aspects of this book is the romance. You really feel how the character feels for another character, and the love isn’t excessive’ cheesy, or sappy. This is finally a book that fits that criteria. If you liked Banished by Sophie Littlefield or the fantasy bits of the Twilight Saga by Stephanie Myers, I highly suggest this book. Possess is aimed toward people who love thrillers with dark humor. It is most definitely a book that will please everyone.

This novel is surely one that will please all who read it. Possess is an incredible story, the first book written by Gretchen McNeil. I am very impressed with her ability to write for she has a really special gift. If you’re searching for an exciting, captivating read that never skips a beat, look no further than Possess. Trust me, it’s seriously awesome and worth your time.

Dani Amore is the author of DEATH BY SARCASM and DEAD WOOD. Today she was kind enough to stop by the blog and tell us about her path to publication.

I decided to become an independent author because a famous writer gave his reason for why you shouldn’t self-publish.  Basically, he said that if you’ve written a novel and can’t attract interest from an agent, you probably haven’t written a good enough book. So don’t self publish.

I had written a novel that attracted attention from an agent. In fact, I’d written two different novels that had attracted two different agents.

The agents had several things in common:

1.  They both represented New York Times bestselling authors.
2.  They both believed in my respective crime novels.
3.  They each represented me (one in 2003, the other, in 2005)
4. They absolutely could not sell my respective crime novels.  Despite going out to many publishers.

So I after the second agent couldn’t sell the second book, I found myself without agent representation.

I’m feeling pretty low.  I’ve taken to calling myself Miss-Can’t-Sell-A-Book.

Of course, I can’t stay away from the blank page.  So I write a thriller.  My most ambitious work to date.  The manuscript is 600 pages or so.  110,000 words.  It’s dark. Gritty.  Bad-ass. I love it.