Adult Fiction

What’s In My Ear: Room by Emma Donoghue

So. I’m currently reading/listening to

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue

Don’t let the childish cover fool you!

This is not a kids’ book (although suitable for older teens). Here’s a blurb

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Wow.  I’m not sure if I can wait to finish it.

Adult Fiction

The Poisoner’s Handbook A Towne Book Center Book Club Pick

Have you ever thought about poisoning someone?

Naw me neither.

But apparently in New York in the Jazz age, lots of people died from poisonings.

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum

While The Poisoner’s Handbook wasn’t our favorite book club pick, it certainly brought about a lively discussion. Who knew there were so many ways to kill people? Oh sure, I’ve heard of arsenic and chloroform but the PH reads like a recipe for murder:  If this poison won’t do, use that one.

Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner’s HandbookBlum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime.

Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner’s Handbook—chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler—investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey’s Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can’t always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler’s experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed “America’s Lucretia Borgia” to continue her nefarious work.

From the vantage of Norris and Gettler’s laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren’t the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide; potent compounds, such as morphine, can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist’s war between bootleggers and government chemists while in Gotham’s crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time.

Sidenote: Typhoid Mary was real (shudder) she was employed as a cook for multiple families and wouldn’t wash her hands. ew.

There was also a PBS special about this.


Adult Fiction Books

Towne Book Center Book Club pick: Still Life with Breadcrumbs

Still Life with Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen is this month’s book club pick for Towne Book Center and Cafe book club. it’s my first time reading anything by Quindlen. I know she’s a prolific author and her autobiography is popular. As I’m not a fan of non-fiction, especially biographies,  I was glad to hear that this was fiction.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen


Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.

Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined.

Now I don’t know about you, but this blurb doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t tell me much about the book and what the point of it is. Sadly, after reading it (it’s a light quick read if that’s what you need) the book doesn’t tell you much about what the point of the story is either.

So Rebecca is a rich divorced socialite in NYC. She takes a cottage in the woods to do some soul searching I guess, and perhaps to take more of the photos that have made her famous. Along the way she ingratiates herself into the small town near the cottage. She’s a big deal and the folks kinda grow on her.

Meanwhile, Rebecca is sandwiched between her adult son and her elderly parents. There’s little emotion in any of the story and the stuff that’s really good, like everyone’s back story, gets the short shrift and your left with tidbits of information about why everyone is who they are. I’m not even sure about Rebecca and why she is the way she is. I guess I’m supposed to feel sorry for her because she’s single and has to support herself but I find myself not caring; mostly because she’s subletting her fabulous apartment in New York and doesn’t want to sell it. If you’re that hard up for money, honey, sell it!!

The narrative is disjointed at times and I can’t tell who is speaking or what she’s speaking about. Anyway, the end wraps up nicely. Too nicely, actually and she ends up being ok. Drink a bottle of wine with this book and it’s a great filler or even a light summer read: not too heavy.

Have you read any of Quindlen’s other books? What did you think?


Month in Review: January 2015

January in Review


How was your January?

Adult Fiction Books

The Dog Stays in the Picture by Susan Morse

The Dog Stays in the Picture

Dogstaysinthepicture Collage


Y’all know I’m a sucker for a dog, right? So you can imagine how happy I was to be asked to review Susan Morse‘s new book The Dog Stays in the Picture.  Morse is the wife of actor David Morse. You’ve prolly seen him in a lot of different things, apparently he gets around, but I mostly remember him from St Elsewhere. If you Google him you’ll be like, oh yeah, THAT GUY!

Anyway, Morse, like many of us, is entering into empty nest syndrome and needs to figure out what to do with herself.  Morse has been a housewife most of her life, and while there’s no shame in that, she’s also been writing books and doing other things which can be kind of tricky seeing as your husband is gone 6 weeks out a month.  I don’t know how she does it. Susan is one of those women you can relate to. And at times, I feel like I’ve known her a long time. She lives in suburban Philadelphia, like I do, she is  suffering from the empty nest syndrome, like I am dreading, she loves her dog, she recently got a new dog to nurture (I’m contemplating getting 9 more), and she’s got anxieties and other quirks that make her relatable.  Ok sure her husband is a famous actor but so what?   She feels like one of us. A woman, a mother, a quirky girl.

And I like that. Now lets get back to the dog. She adopts this anxious greyhound who’s never lived in a home and has zero idea what to do with stairs. Funny, but sad, poor thing, can’t stand to be away from Susan for more than a millisecond or she gets all nervous.  Been there, done that, right?

As Susan walks you through her journey and her quirky mental health habits (who am I to judge, I’ll eat a box of donuts in a heartbeat when I’m stressed) and fears, you realize something.

We are all the same.

And that a dog’s love is necessary. What would the world be without dogs?


And a bit less pukey, but that’s the price you pay for that kind of love.

Hey Susan, call me, I’d love to have a cup of coffee and a box of donuts with you. We can swap freaky overprotective mother stories.

Call me.

(call me)

Bring the pooch.

This is the perfect book club book, did I mention that?

Adult Fiction Children

#FLTW Summer Reading Challenge @fromleft2write


Wooot! It’s the From Left to Write Summer Reading Challenge!

Here’s what I’ve finished since the challenge began:

The Maze Runner, Stand Up to Bullying, F is for Feelings, David & Goliath,

Test your Dog’s IQ, Mr Zidderdeedee, Orphan Train

Maze Runner







I KNOW alot of books. But I’m all caught up with the challenge!

How are you enjoying the challenge?



Get 50% off your first 3 months at!

Books Young Adult

Phoenixville Rising by Robb Cadigan

What’s more fun than reading a book?

Reading a book about a town you’re familiar with?

Reading a book when you know the author?

Reading a book and then getting to talk tot he author about the book?

yes, YES and YESSSS!!!

That is what is so ding dang fun about being a book reviewer. I get to read great books and meet great authors! That’s why I’m thrilled to present my newest bestie to you today: Robb Cadigan, author of Phoenixville Rising!



Robb is a local guy who made good of himself. But maybe I’ll let him tell you that tale another time, he’s promised to come back and give an interview. Live. in front of the camera. SQUEE!

Anyway, I’m thrilled to present Phoenixville Rising to you because as you might know, I host a book club for adults at the Towne Book Center & Cafe,  just outside Philadelphia. We chose Phoenixville Rising as our June book club pick and the book was my constant companion during my travels to NYC for BEA14.

I’d heard the book was good. Everyone in the neighborhood raved about it. But you know me: I hafta see it for myself. I said: “I’ll be the judge.”

And you know what? It’s Good! I mean like RandomPenguinHouse you should pick it up and republish it good.

Yep. It’s a coming of age story set in Phoenixville PA, a sleepy mill town in suburban Philadelphia. Like many mill towns, Phoenixville was glorious in its heyday. I was born in Pittsburgh so I can relate to this reminiscence.  But don’t let the former mill town saga get you down. Phoenixville Rising is a story of a bunch of streetwise kids and how they cope with life in this town.  Think of it as a modern day Outsiders, by SE Hinton. There are a slew of reasons these kids should do better.

And a slew of reasons why you love them anyway.  Remember your first love? Your first fight? Your yearning to leave a legacy?

Yeah that.

Happens to us all.

And it happened in Phoenixville.

This book would make a great character study for high school classes and is an insightful look into the demise of the mill towns of the past.  If you every get a chance to meet Robb, he’s a Very Important Author; you just haven’t met him yet. Stick with me though, I can introduce you to him. Don’t let his superstar sunglasses intimidate you; he’s a super cool guy who is easy to get along with and can spin a tale that might make you have a feeling.

Wanna connect with him? Catch him on The Twitter: Robb Cadigan and Facebook.  Do let him know I sent ya!

Books Children

Tween Book Club Among the Hidden: Shadow Children


among the hidden

This month’s Tween Book Club pic is Among the Hidden: Shadow Children by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  I’m fangirling all over Haddix because she writes books for kids that make them THINK!

Check out my video review:

If you haven’t read it, put it on your TBR list.  You’ll be hooked!

Want more info?

PLOT: Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.

Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.

Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows–does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford not to?


I KNOW, RIGHT?? Have you read it? What about any other books from Peterson?

Adult Fiction

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd


I knew this book was going to be good after I heard the author interviewed on my beloved Fresh Air.

Invention of Wings


I picked up the audio version at work because I thought it might be delightful to listen to. And it was. The actress reading Sarah Grimke’s voices was perfect; she did a fabulous job of translating every character into a distinguishable voice. The other actress was nice and I liked her voice too, but not to the extent that I loved Sarah’s voice.

I anxiously listened to the book thinking that it was going to be a tale of slavery and  the anti slavery movement seen through the eyes of two women. Instead it turned out to be part epistolary and part treatise on women’s rights and slave rights. The feelings the characters have for each other are difficult which makes the coming of age tale so engaging.

Sensitive and endearing. I would love to see this as a movie.

Once again, Philadelphia is featured as a good place to live, woot!


A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Phillip Sendker, a FLTW Book Club Pick

A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Phillip Sendker


A Well Tempered Heart

I just finished reading A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Philip Sendker which is February’s pick for From Left To Write virtual book club.  I think you’ll laugh at the irony of how I came to read this book: Last year Thein-Kim (of FLTW) and I met Jan-Philip Sendker at a party at BEA, Book Expo America.  Kim was familiar with the author because the club had read his other book, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. I somehow had missed reading that book and since I’m always keen to connect with an author at a party, I tagged along with Kim to say our hellos. We made our niceties and as Kim and Jan-Phillip chatted I found his German accent and his personality appealing.  In a party of suits and ties, his suit was pretty appealing as well; he looked like a priest.

Anyway, as I listened to the two of them reminisce about The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, I felt like perhaps A Well Tempered Heart might make a nice addition to the books we read at the book club I host at work.  Kim and I chatted about the first book and I thought that perhaps I would need to read the first book before picking up the second.  I was disheartened because I know how busy my reading schedule gets and I doubt if I would have time to read a backlisted title. Onward and upward!

Imagine my surprise the next day as I’m roaming the conference floor at BEA and I come across Jan-Philip’s book signing booth!  The night before Jan-Philip and I had spent a few moments chatting about traveling or Germany or Austria or something which left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling, although it could have been the wine.  I stood in line to secure a signed copy of the book and what do you know, he remembered me and called me by my name! I was smitten all over again.

A Well Tempered Heart

Can you read his handwriting?

It says For Pam! I hope you will like it! yours jPS

Isn’t that great?  With those memories freshly unearthed I plowed into the book; fearful that, based on my chat with Kim, that I might not be able to follow the story because it’s the second in the series.

How pleasantly surprised I was.  Reading about Julia reminded me about my own wanderlust; always seeking that next adventure, that next place to discover a bit of myself in other foods (mostly) and cultures.  Kind of like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love without Javier Bardem and all her  whining.  The first item of business was to discover where Burma was (it’s in SE Asia near Thailand and now called Myanmar).  The second was to discover what a longyi was.  It’s an item of clothing , much like a sarong, that’s worn by both sexes, although for the life of me I cannot figure how they stay on!

But back to wanderlust. Perhaps it’s a romantic ideal but the thought of living longer than 6 weeks in another country is appealing.  Especially given that we are having a very snowy winter in the Northeast, my thoughts think of nothing but warm climates. I’ve heard it said that in order to truly appreciate something, you should live in another country for longer than a week to 10 days.  I’ve been fortunate enough to experience that: I lived in the Southern Czech Republic for approximately 6 weeks.  I traveled in and around Prague and some of the smaller provinces, learning Czech (difficult), accidentally learning German (easier than Czech), and immersing myself in their culture by devouring Czech writers:

  • Milan Kundera
  • Karel  Capek
  • Josef Skovercky
  • Jaroslav Hasek

Since I’d grown up as a musician I was already familiar with Czech composers Dvorak and Smetana but developed a deep love for Smetana’s symphonic poems Ma Vlast, which means my country.  When my brain needs quieting, these musical pieces sooth my nerves and settle my need to wander.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to Burma. I hear it’s not too safe to visit and I’m sure they don’t carry Zyrtec there for my allergies but you never know. Thailand is nearby; and “we are responsible not only for what we do, but also for what we fail to do.”

So there’s that.

Have you ever lived in another country?


This post was inspired by the novel A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker.  Feeling lost and burned out, Julia drops her well paying job at a NYC law firm. After hearing a stranger’s voice in her head, she travels to Burma to find the voice’s story and hopefully herself as well. Join From Left to Write on February 4 we discuss A Well-Tempered Heart.