Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Embers (Hyatt Bass)

You know a book has you right where it wants you when you just want to get through your ordinary routine of a day to curl up with it. That is "The Embers" in a nutshell. What is so enthralling about the book, however, is not what happens. The plot takes a backseat to the four main characters. "The Embers" is purely a character study, plain and simple.

I am certainly not giving anything away by stating that by page two, the reader knows that one of the four members of the Ascher family is getting married and one has died. Bass alternately juxtaposes the time periods of 1993 and 2007 to tell the stories of the wedding planning and the death. There is very little surprise in the novel and one is not waiting on the edge of the seat to see what happens. You already know what is around the corner.

The reader grows to care about each member of the family, even through all of their faults (and believe me....there are many). I felt happiness for Emily Ascher as her wedding was approaching, but tremendous sadness for Thomas Ascher as his death was imminent.

It is truly hard to believe that this is the debut novel of Hyatt Bass. The prose is at times beautiful and heartwrenching, the cause of laughter and tears. Spend a few days with the Ascher family, and you may appreciate your own just a little bit more.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dismantled (Jennifer McMahon)

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Jennifer McMahon has the most disturbing covers in the book business.....real pictures of creepy children staring out at you. It's like a whole shelf of "Children of the Corn" and "Village of the Damned" at the bookstore. I told you before that I read "Island of Lost Girls" on vacation and did not want to do anything else but read. I was so anxious to read "Dismantled", McMahon's latest. Wow! It did not disappoint!

One of McMahon's strong points is going between time periods throughout her stories. With a less-talented author, this can be extremely jarring. In "Dismantled", the effect is seamless, alternating between the summer when four people formed the Dismantlers and a decade later, when two of them are unhappily married with child. This child, Emma, is desperate to get her parents back together. One seemingly innocent act sets off a chilling chain of events that will answer the questions about the summer of the Dismantlers.

Part murder mystery, part character study, part ghost story, I can easily see this turned into a movie directed by Hitchcock, if he was alive. The spine-tingling ending will make your heart beat out of your chest.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn)

After reviewing another Flynn novel, "Dark Places", a few posts ago, I was a little hesitant to do another one. Don't get me wrong. Flynn is a very talented author, but you really have to be in the mood for her. Her books are not frivolous beach reads, filled with rich girls shopping and sleeping around to their hearts content. Flynn's novels are dark and messy. The covers are jet black, with one small picture in the middle. I have to say that of the two, I preferred the book I am about to review, "Sharp Objects".

This is the story of Camille Preaker, a Chicago newspaper reporter. Camille is sent back to her hometown in Missouri to report on the murders of two preteen girls. While there, she must deal with family ghosts...a mother who never loved her, a half-sister she has never met, and a sister who died long ago. Her past is not pretty, but she must confront it if she wants to report on the murders and get on with her life.

"Sharp Objects" is hard to put down but not a fun read. Gillian Flynn just needs to go on vacation somewhere and relax to get away from her dark side. I will be reviewing "Twenties Girl" by Sophie Kinsella, the queen of chick lit, very soon! I need to get back into "summer" mode!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Notes From Authors Beatrice Colin and Allison Winn Scotch

I wanted to share two e-mails I received from Beatrice Colin ("The Glimmer Palace") and New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch ("Time of My Life"). I will share author e-mails as I get permission from them to do so.


Hi Harper!

Thank you so much! I sincerely appreciate it and am just tickled that you enjoyed it as much as you did! :) Now I'll have to pick up Picoult's newest on your recommendation.

Thanks again!


Dear Harper

Thanks for the great review! Nice site. My next book, The Songwriter, is published in the UK in March 2010.

With best wishes

Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult)

Oh, yes....another Picoult book. Get used to it. She is an outstanding writer and deserves every bit of her success. I am in the process of reading "Sharp Objects" by Gillian Flynn, so while I am finishing that, here is another Picoult to devour.

Think about a ripped-from-the-headlines issue that you feel sharply for or sharply against. Picoult takes these issues and, in her "I have no idea how she does it way", makes you see all sides. How can you possibly have even an iota of sympathy for some of the characters in her books? You just wait and see.

What can you do in nineteen minutes? Bake cookies? Dust the bedroom? What can you do that will change everything as you know it? Accidentally fall down the stairs? Jump off a bridge in a fit of despair? "Nineteen Minutes" is the story of a shocking, violent school shooting. Sterling, New Hampshire, is changed forever in nineteen minutes. Once the killer is identified, Picoult makes the reader feel uneasy. What role does society play in tragedies such as these? Most importantly, who has the right to judge anyone else?


Monday, July 20, 2009

Dark Places (Gillian Flynn)

I stumbled across "Dark Places" one day in the library. It immediately struck me how similar Gillian Flynn's style is to one of my favorite authors, Jennifer McMahon. There is one key difference, however. The reason you cannot stop reading a McMahon novel is because you just have to find out what happens. The reason you cannot stop reading a Flynn novel is quite the opposite. You actually DON'T want to find out what happens, but you are powerless to stop yourself. As the king of macabre, Stephen King, says in a blurb on the jacket of "Sharp Objects" (which I am currently reading and will review in a future post), "I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them."

Let's start with the main character, Libby Day. When she was seven years old, most of her immediate family was murdered in front of her. She testified that her brother, Ben Day, was the killer. Fast forward twenty-five years later. Ben is in prison, and Libby lives off the money she makes from her trust funds. You know Libby is a not-so-nice girl when she regrets new murders that occur because they will take attention away from "her".

The Kill Club, a group of people obsessed with famous crimes, contacts Libby when they become convinced that Ben did not commit the murders. Money-hungry Libby decides that this is her prime opportunity to make more money. She will tell the club what she knows and contact key players in exchange for hefty fees.

Who is the killer? What is the motive? What happened twenty-five years ago? Libby is certainly not a Pollyanna, and she is not a character you will root for. However, you will desperately want to find out the answers to these questions.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Body of Work (Christine Montross)

I'm going to start with a disclaimer. This book is certainly not for everyone, as the subtitle is "Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab". If you get squeamish easily, then scroll up or down for another review. If one of your favorite television shows is "Dr. G., Medical Examiner", then keep reading.

This work of nonfiction grabs you from the very beginning. Christine Montross (now Dr.) is entering her first year as a med student. She knows that her first class will be Gross Anatomy, and that she will be responsible for dissecting a cadaver throughout the term. She knows nothing about the person she is dissecting.... hopes, dreams, memories, cause of death, family, etc. All she knows is that it is female with no belly button. Therefore, she and her lab partners decide to name her "Eve".

This book is hauntingly beautiful as it explores the making of a doctor. The author intersperses the detachment needed in her lab dissections with stories of mortality in her own family and in other countries. I give this book the highest rating, but again, don't say I didn't warn you.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (Kate Summerscale)

Who is Mr. Whicher and what does he have suspicions about? How many out there have ever heard of him? No one? Now how many have heard of Sherlock Holmes? Everyone? Well, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would not have been inspired to write about old Sherlock if not for Mr. Whicher.

Mr. Whicher was a real person living in England in the mid-1800s. In fact, every word of Summerscale's thick book is true. The main thrust of the book is about a horrible crime that occured in an English country house. In 1860, a boy of toddler age was found murdered on the grounds. To make matters worse for the grieving family, suspicion fell on some of the inhabitants of the house, including the nursemaid and the owner's daughter.

To help local law enforcement, Scotland Yard sends its best detective, Mr. Whicher. After just a few weeks, he was sure of who had committed the murder, but could not attain the evidence needed to put the person in jail. In fact, he outraged people in the surrounding land with his, what they deemed, invasion of privacy.

First, I want to say that Summerscale should be applauded for her, obviously, very thorough research of this horrifying murder. The book reads like a novel, which is very hard to do when one is writing a work of nonfiction. When she sticks with the murder investigation, her book is riveting. However, she tries to take on too much when she ventures off into discussing other cases Whicher is investigating and stories about other members of the Kent family. I do not really want to read five pages about William Kent's obsession with coral at 1:30 AM.

I wanted to like this book....I really, really did. In fact, I read late into the night until my eyes closed. Then I realized that my eyes were not closing because I was tired. They were closing because I was bored.

MY RATING - 3 (for effort) and 2 (for keeping interest)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters)

Staying with the theme of "The Thirteenth Tale" (, "The Little Stranger" is a Victorian, English thriller that drips with suspense. We are first introduced to our male narrator, Dr. Faraday, who will competently take us through the story. He is called to Hundreds Hall, which once sang with grandiosity and now is just wasting away, to check on a new patient. Dr. Faraday has a history at Hundreds, as his mother worked there as a maid many years before.

Mrs. Ayers and her two grown children, Caroline and Roderick, own Hundreds and have vastly different opinions of what should be done with it in its ruin. The suspense builds as unexplained happenings begin to abound in the house. Caroline's dog, who has always had the easiest temperament, bites a child. Marks that cannot be explained begin to appear on walls. Fires begin with no cause. These events occur as Dr. Faraday finds himself increasingly entwined with the Ayers family at Hundreds.

"The Little Stranger" is not one of those books that need to be read with the doors locked and the lights on. The reader feels that something is just not quite right and has an eerie sense of foreboding....something is going to happen at some time, but what? Waters keeps the reader guessing throughout as her characters slowly drift into what possibly could be madness.

Don't expect the author to answer all of your questions. If you want to feel satisfied, this is not the book for you. It is purely psychological, and you are left to your own devices to figure things out.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Handle With Care (Jodi Picoult)

Well, now you will finally be introduced to my absolute obsession with Jodi Picoult's writing style. I started reading her books in the late '90s with "The Pact", and I eagerly look forward to her new title every March. Grisham and Picoult release their new books at about the same time every year. While Grisham used to write very, very thrilling material, he now seems to be following the unfortunate "write junk to make my deadline and more money quickly" protocol (like Patterson). Picoult, however, writes stories of quality every single year. What is so interesting about her is that she makes you have sympathy for characters who you can't believe you can have sympathy for. Picoult writes all of her stories from many different viewpoints. No character is 100% right and no character is 100% wrong.

"Handle With Care" is Picoult's newest. It is so difficult to determine her best, but I believe this is it. Willow is a child with osteogenesis imperfecta, a debilitating disease which makes bones break at the slightest strain. Normal childhood events like going to Disney World and the first day of Kindergarten are magnified 100 times with the possibility that a bone will break. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe are Willow's parents who desperately love their daughter. With mounting medical bills and the accusations of child abuse due to Willow's breaks, the O'Keefes are forced to confront some what-ifs. What if they had known about Willow's disease before she was born? What determines a valuable life?

I will be reviewing many of Picoult's books in this blog, but I wanted to do my favorite first. You will never regret reading one of her books. They will confront you with questions about your own beliefs and fears and will keep you up late into the night. There is a reason why she is on the bestseller lists every year.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Island of Lost Girls (Jennifer McMahon)

"Alice in Wonderland" was a book that I enjoyed in my childhood, but that somehow creeped me out. There is something very unnatural about someone named the Mad Hatter, who, by the way, will be played by Johnny Depp in an upcoming version (run to your local theater and see "Public Enemies"). While some kids (and adults) just fell into this world with no problem, the analytical side of me did not really want to read about a cat who smiled all the time and about two creatures named Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

McMahon masterfully takes this strange world that Carroll created and inserts it into "Island of Lost Girls". It begins with Rhonda watching, unbelievably, as a six-foot tall person dressed as a rabbit kidnaps a young child.

Feeling guilty about doing nothing, she helps the investigation. McMahon reminds me of Picoult; however, instead of telling the story from different viewpoints, she tells it from different time periods. The book chillingly weaves together the story of the present with the past....Rhonda's best friend, Lizzy, vanished years ago when they were kids.

It will leave you breathless as you try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Don't plan on reading this on vacation, as you will not want to do anything else but read!


Friday, July 10, 2009

A Trip Back In Time

Who among you has NOT read the Little House books? They are a staple of childhood, and I find myself rereading them now that I….ahem, am not a child. I also absolutely love, love, love the show. I have seen every episode so many times I can recite the dialogue and challenge anyone out there to an online Little House quiz.

My hubby is from the great Midwestern state of Minnesota. This past June, we took a trip to Minneapolis to visit family and friends. No sooner did we hear our first “Ya, ya betcha!” at the airport when I put a bug in his ear that Walnut Grove just happens to be in the state that we are currently standing in. So we loaded up on sunscreen and decided to make the 2 ½ hour trip there in our rental car. For those unfamiliar to the location of Walnut Grove (which I think is pretty much everyone), it is smack in the middle of nowhere. For Little House fans, it is like a mirage when you see the green sign. Some big dorks even pulled over to take a picture of the sign (oh yeah, it was us). We went to a great museum, with artifacts from Laura’s days and memorabilia from the show. I was most excited to see the actual fireplace from the show and Doctor Baker’s bag! The story of Laura’s life is so interesting, and the museum tells it in a very informative way. The teacher in me came out in the one-room schoolhouse when I ordered my husband into the corner.

We then drove to Oleson’s Mercantile. It doesn’t sell any souvenirs, but it sells some nice gifts. The highlight of the trip, however, was going to PLUM CREEK!!!! For $4.00 a carload (entirely on honor system…..gee, Pa, we’re not in Philly anymore), you drive down a long dirt road, park, and walk exactly where Laura walked along Plum Creek. The depression where the Ingalls dugout once stood is there. You can stand on top of it. We waded in the creek. During this trip, I was determined to reenact the opening of the show when the 3 girls run down the hill (even Carrie’s fall). However, there really were no hills to be seen, so my husband videoed me running in slow motion (like Chariots of Fire) on a plain. I even sang the theme song (well, it has no words, so I hummed it). Yes, you are truly meeting the biggest Little House fan.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)

This is my kind of book…..psychological terror that just drips with suspense. I picked this up a few years ago when it was a feature of the bookstore I was working in. Margaret Lea gets a letter from the most reclusive writer of the day, Vida Winter. Ms. Winter is an elderly, sick woman and wants Margaret to write her life story before she passes away.

As Margaret interviews the writer, she is captivated by her gothic stories. She does not entirely trust Vida’s account, as she has toyed with previous biographers. She decides to investigate the story in her own way, and what she finds is chilling.

This is a long read, but well worth it. Read it on chilly, rainy evenings in October to get the full effect of what Ms. Setterfield wanted.


Time of My Life (Allison Winn Scotch)

OK….sometimes you just need to zone out in a book and not think. When I saw the cover of this book and read the description, I thought, “Oh great…chick lit.” As I quickly made my way through this however, I realized that there can be really intelligent “chick lit” out there. This is it.

The story revolves around Jillian and her, on the surface, “Good Housekeeping" life… executive husband, a baby girl who she adores, an exquisite home in the New York suburbs, and gourmet meals. Never has she felt so “suffocated” and finds herself terribly sad when she hears that her ex-boyfriend has recently married.

Have you ever thought about what would have happened if you had gone down the “road not taken”? Jillian gets her chance and finds herself one day 7 years in the past….no husband, no child, no house in the suburbs, and again with her ex-boyfriend. She has the chance to take this road. Will she?

A thoroughly enjoyable read which comes highly recommended.


The Glimmer Palace (Beatrice Colin)

Ahh, my favorite genre….historical fiction. I read the first page of this book, closed it, and put it away…not interested. However, I HATE giving up a book when I start it, even when I just read the first page. So I decided to give it another try on the plane to Minnesota. I am so glad l did, as it was one of the best books I have read in a long time.

The Glimmer Palace is set in early 20th century Berlin and includes both world wars. Lilly Nelly Aphrodite was born at the turn of the century and promptly, through unforeseen circumstances, becomes an orphan. Lilly’s life is filled with unforgettable characters who consistently show up throughout the book, from the nun who becomes a mother-figure to her tragic friend. I haven’t read a book in so long that has been as character-driven and plot-driven as this one.

Lilly’s life is exciting yet fated from her first breath. I felt sad when this book ended and would recommend it to anyone at anytime.


Exposed (Alex Kava)

I am going to start with books that I have read so far in spring/summer 2009. Thereafter, I will keep a running blog as I read. Please send me your suggestions of books that you just could not put down. I want to say that I will read 1,776 books, but I know I have read at least that many in my lifetime, so I’m not going to count. Here goes…….

Exposed is the story of FBI agent Maggie O’Dell and her cohorts. It starts innocently with a box of doughnuts and leads to a murderer with an admiration of past killers (Unabomber, Anthrax Killer, etc.) and the most deadly biological weapon of all….Ebola Zaire. This strain is so deadly that it is called the “slate wiper”. Who will get the virus? Will they live? Who is the killer?

Here’s something you should know about me. I am not the biggest fan of mindnumbing entertainment and frivolity. I prefer to read something that’s going to make me think….psychological thrillers especially. I was able to guess the killer halfway through, and so will you.


1776 Books Rating System

5=Excellent. I would read it again in a heartbeat.
4=Solid. Worth the time invested.
3=Average. Nothing to write home about.
2=Fair. Consider reading it if it’s the only book in the house.
1=Poor. Don’t read it even if it’s the only book in the house.

Let's Start at the Very Beginning, A Very Good Place to Start

Books. Books. Books. What immediately comes to mind when you hear that word? Unless you stumbled upon this blog by mistake, you are probably a book lover. Did you read about Ramona's adventures with a flashlight under the covers when you were supposed to be asleep? Did you pray to get through puberty quickly after reading Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? Did you ever think about what you would do if you could become immortal like in Tuck Everlasting? This blog is for all those whose love of books has started in childhood and continues now into adulthood.

So how did this all come about? I am a history teacher from Philly (hence the name, 1776 books….get it?). What do I know about blogging? I am about to let you in on a little secret…..absolutely nothing. In fact, if my students knew that I was writing one they would laugh their heads off. I am, as my brother-in law loves to say, “technologically inept”. But I do love books, and I also found that I love reviewing them. I love to let everyone know when I come across something worth reading.

I have had a few jobs over the years, but at one time, I just needed a break from teaching for awhile. So I decided to try something new. After wracking my brain trying to come up with something to pay the bills, I decided to try to go into public relations. I had worked for many years on the side at a local bookstore as a cashier. I decided to give them a call, and lo and behold, they needed someone to work PR. It was a stressful, but exciting job, as I was the point person for all the famous authors who came to the store (Fun fact….Stephenie Meyer was the nicest person and deserves all her success). Every now and then (Christmas), they needed me to step down from my management position for a few days and help customers. That was where I felt my niche was…..suggesting books to them, writing “Staff Recommendations”, leading book clubs. Now that I am teaching again, I still buy “gold seals” every year. Kids can write a review of books they particularly liked and stick them on a display.

What do I do in my spare time? Read, read, and then read some more….usually 4 or 5 books at once in different genres. I practically live in my local library. I am not one of those who has to buy books, although I will on occasion. I take books everywhere….planes, trains, automobiles, the beach…you name it, I have a book. My spouse runs a blog of his own, so he suggested I think about starting one. After laughing so hard my sides hurt, I began to think. Why not use the fact that I know how to turn a computer on to my advantage?

So what will this blog be about? There will be a little of everything. I read all types of things, so after I finish a book, I will give my opinion of it. No bells and whistles, just good, solid reading. I will rate each book from a 1-5. Why Harper? All readers know why. But let me end with my first shout out to a book….run, don’t walk, and pick up Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. I’m not going to review this one because I read it so long ago, but what a complex relationship between Lee and Capote! A beautiful book!