Review AND Giveaway: Up For Renewal by Cathy Alter

WIN A COPY OF UP FOR RENEWAL!  See the review for details. CONGRATS to JESS of Book Reviews by Jess; She’s the winner!

renewalTitle: Up For Renewal

Author: Cathy Alter

Genre/Pages: Memoir/336

Publication: Atria Books; July 2008/Washington Square Press (re-release); July 2009

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

A year in the life of a woman who has committed herself to change, taking advice from glossy magazines on the big Fs: fashion, fitness, food, finance, and, ultimately, FINDING herself.

I’m a huge fan of essays and memoirs–Jen Lancaster, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris–are some of my favorite nonfiction writers.  I have laughed my way through so many memoirs that deciding to review Up For Renewal was a no-brainer–it was a memoir AND the premise hooked me!

At the age of 37, Cathy Alter’s life wasn’t exactly going according to plan.  Recently divorced and spiraling down a bleak pathlittered with sexual conquests and take-out food containers, Alter commits herself…to change.

Over the course of one year, Alter focuses on improving herself.  Each month she tackles a different aspect of her life–fitness, finance, fashion, relationships.  Using the magazines as her holy grail and life map, she charts a new course for herself and learns that sometimes it’s necessary to cross choppy seas to get to a safe harbor. 

An entertaining read, Alter doesn’t sugarcoat her bad behavior, nor does she apologize.  She takes responsibility for her actions–good and bad–and is able to learn and move on.  Though I had difficulty relating to some of Alter’sbehaviors, I enjoyed the memoir and found her writing to be witty and easy to read.  Her tirades against Saran wrap had me snorting with laughter.

That said (and since there is a giveaway associated with this review), some readers with more Victorian sensibilities might be a bit put off by profanity and adult situations.  Consider this fair warning.  For the rest of you corrupt little scoundrels, carry on!

For a chance to win a  copy of Up For Renewal, simply leave a comment and tell me which magazines you love to read.  Contest ends Friday, September 4th at 8pm EST. 

Thanks to Minjae Ormes for the review copy!


Winner, winner! Chicken Dinner!!!

In the last six months, my book collection has increased exponentially.  Sadly, my lone bookshelf is filled to capacity and can’t hold one more page.  I’d been letting books pile up on my desk, nightstand, and (gasp!) on the floor in my office; things were spiraling out of control so I entered a giveaway for a new book shelf over at Bethany’s Dreadlock Girl

The punchline?  I WON IT.

i won!

Now, thanks to Bethany and her dee-lightful sponsor, CSN Office Furniture, yrs. truly can finally clean up the mess o’ books and organize it–by COLOR, of course!  I’m frothing, positively swooning with excitement! 

Not only have I won something, but I finally have SOMETHING TO TWEET on Twitter!  Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid and am a card-carrying member of Twitter (booklineNsinker)–be sure to add me…or follow me…or friend me…or tweet me…whatever it is that you do on Twitter.

I’ve won other things in the past–a few books here on the blogs, a few radio contests, including tickets to see MC Hammer (it was the 90s, what can I say?), two tickets to the 1995 MTV Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall, and $100 in a Super Bowl pool. 

But what I really want to know is about stuff that you’ve won!  A book?  A new car?  A trip?  The lottery?  Tell me all about it.

For the control freak in you: Choose Your Own Adventure books

In the mid-80s, my school librarian introduced me to the control freak’s dream series: Choose Your Own Adventure books.  I’ll be honest, it was a slice of Nirvana for me, a control freak from a tender age. 

Here I was, an essentially powerless kid, yet I could control the destiny of book characters.  I may have had to go to bed at 7:30 because my mom said so, but I could control the outcome of a book?!  Can I get an amen for my new God Complex?    


Admittedly, this series was a bit dated by the time I showed up on the scene–originally published in the late 1970s while I didn’t come upon it until 1985 or so.  To my chagrin, many of the plots seemed geared toward a more masculine readership, but a few years later I discovered Choose Your Own Adventure-style books with boy-crazy story lines…just my speed.

I’m guilty of rewriting my character’s destiny (many times over) by flipping ahead, turning back and weighing the outcomes of my options before making an ultimate decision.  I was a kid AND a control freak…what can I tell you?

Were you a fan of the CYOA series?  To tell me about it, turn ahead to page COMMENTS.  If you don’t want to tell me, turn back to another blog.

Review: The Texicans by Nina Vida

texicansTitle: The Texicans

Author: Nina Vida

Genre/Pages: Historical Western Fiction/296

Publication: Soho Press; October 1, 2007


The wide open skies and sweeping plains of Texas are the backdrop for this Western fiction saga that tells of one man’s journey through life and the impact of those he meets along the way.

In an effort to diversify my literary diet, I recently accepted Nina Vida’s seventh novel, The Texicans, for review.  I’d never read much, if anything, in this genre and had some misgivings.  My tally sheet of Western History authors was skimpy at best–one Louis L’Amour novel–The Last of the Breed–which was set in Siberia and had nothing to do with the wild American frontiers of the 1800s, and no Larry McMurtry (of Lonesome Dove fame).  Happily, this book was a pleasant surprise!

The Texicans  tells the story of Joseph Kimmel, former trapper and school teacher, traveling from Missouri to Texas during the 1830s to settle his recently deceased brother’s affairs.  Along the way, Kimmel is waylaid by myriad obstacles.  After an escaped slave rides off on his horse, Kimmel struggles to survive, eventually finding himself caught up in the development of a new settlement. 

Perceiving mismanagement in Castroville, a restless Kimmel sets off without a true course, encumbered by a new (and unwanted) bride.  As they travel, the wagon fills with a cast of disenfranchised characters.  Kimmel is helpless to resist the tears of one young Mexican woman who is rumored to have a bit of magic in her.  Aurelia and her young daughter ride along with Kimmel’s wife Katrin, and three adult slaves and their two children.  The motley crew continues on, under constant threat of attacks by Indians  and rogue Texas Rangers.

Finally, the group finds a parcel of land and they create their own ranch.  Before long, conflicts with Comanches and Rangers shatter their peace.  The second part of the novel focuses on Kimmel’s internal conflicts–his unrequited obsession with Aurelia and his desire for revenge on a Texas Ranger who brought pain and suffering to his front door. 

Character development was strong and even minor characters were well-developed.  The characters were realistic because of their flaws, but I had trouble with the Kimmel-Aurelia angle of the story.  Kimmel’s wife was desperate to please her husband but he was so enraptured by mere thought of Aurelia that he couldn’t appreciate what he had.  Additionally, a large cast of minor characters were a bit challenging to keep straight.

Nina Vida’s use of language helped provide vivid imagery and the struggles of early settlers came to life.  Her attention to detail helped me picture a world that I knew little about.  If you’re looking for an introduction to the Western Historical fiction genre, this might just be the book for you.

Are you a Western Historical fiction reader?  Have you read any L’Amour or McMurtry? 

Cen$orsh!p: Do you practice it?

In many countries, people are protected by laws regarding freedom of expression.  Thankfully, I’ve never been marginalized and have the liberty of expressing my opinions without fear of backlash or censorship.  For some, this isn’t the case–just ask Judy Blume, J.D. Salinger, or J.K. Rowling.  The banning of books is a hot-button issue for me (and for many others).

So, how has it come to pass that I find myself censoring someone else? 

Last week I wrote a post that loosely compared literary diets to the USDA’s Food Pyramid.  The feedback from readers was positive and people seemed to connect and see the humor and parallels…until Sunday night.

Sunday evening I found a ‘Pending Comment’ from a new reader.  I read the comment and couldn’t believe what I was reading.  Shut up!  This is lousy…” it read.  The comment went on to detail how my comparison of the Food Pyramid and a reading diet was essentially baseless. 

Reading it, the heat rose in my cheeks…indignation and a touch of humiliation.  My mouse arrow hovered over the ‘Delete Comment’ button for a long minute but I resisted.  I decided to post the comment–I didn’t want to practice censorship on my blog.  But in the end, I didn’t approve the comment and it’s still sitting in my ‘Pending Comments’ queue.  I’m not sure what to do with it.  The woman made some salient points, but the negativity and sheer meaness put me off.

I talked it over with my hubby and he said that I didn’t have to approve any comment I didn’t want to approve.  I argued that since I put myself (via my words) out there, I can’t be a Revisionista, approving only positive comments.  He disagreed, saying that the commentor disparaged me on a personal level, telling me to, “…shut up!”.  I worry that I’m compromising my (and Book, Line, and Sinker’s) integrity by ‘editing away’ this comment.

I guess my inaction could be considered ‘Passive Censorship’–not approving OR deleting the comment.  I’m hanging on to it for now…infringing on the commenter’s right to freedom of expression–censorship from the comfort of my own home.   

Have you had to deal with critical comments or emails related to your blog?  How did you handle them?  Am I compromising this blog’s integrity by blocking comments like these?  Or am I just too sensitive?!?

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

newspapersWhen I was a kid, we had the local paper delivered to our door seven days a week.  When my husband and I bought our first house ten years ago, I immediately ordered home delivery of The Asbury Park Press, our local newspaper.  (Incidentally, we made a joint decision not to have television hooked up in our new house, so we were counting on the paper to be our major news source.)

Initially, I was very good at keeping up with the paper–I would read it, clip the coupons, and then recycle it.  But then life started getting in the way.  I found with home ownership came more responsibility and less leisure time.  My weekends were spent raking the millions of leaves that fell from our trees, planting flowers, or washing woodwork.  The newspapers started piling up in a basket near the front door, their little plastic bags crinkling as I tossed yet another (unread) paper in the basket. 

Guilt drove me to cut my delivery to weekends only.  I saved a few dollars and still had the paper for coupons and the full-color comics–priorities, priorities!  By this point, the internet was really heating up and many news outfits were reporting news online.   I began reading all my news online and soon after canceled our subscription, relying solely on the internet for news–both global and local.

These days it’s rare that I read an ‘actual’ newspaper–usually only when we’re traveling–just to keep up on the rest of the globe.  Clearly, I’m not in the minority, as evidenced by the closure of several large newspapers in America.  I miss the feel of the newsprint and smell of the ink (I used to sniff mimeographs as a kid–I LOVE chemical aromas!), but it just isn’t feasible for me to get the paper delivered anymore.

So, how about you?  Do you still have a paper delivered?  What’s the name of YOUR local paper?  Do you even read a newspaper or do you get your news from the internet or television?  

Review: Spin: A Novel by Robert Rave

spinTitle: Spin: A Novel

Author: Robert Rave

Genre/Pages: Fiction/352

Publication: St. Martin’s Press; August 18, 2009


An all-access pass behind the velvet ropes of New York’s trendiest hot-spots, Spin: A Novel, dishes on the frenetic and cut-throat world that is PR. 

With a little bit of fast thinking and a white lie or two, twenty-something Taylor Green finds himself on the right side of the velvet ropes at the opening of Domino, one of Manhattan’s hottest new restaurants. 

Kismet is smiling down on Taylor–not only does he manage to fast-talk his way past the ‘door dragon’, but also scores a career coup in the same night.  Just by being in the right place at the right time, he’s able to swoop in and snatch up a coveted Assistant position at Jennie Weinstein Public Relations (JWPR), the PR firm of the city.

With his new job comes new responsibilities and fabulous perks.  Coveted party invitations and oodles of swag come Taylor’s way, but he also finds himself at despotic Jennie’s beck and call.  Reminiscent of Lauren Weisberger’s Amanda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada), Jennie Weinstein keeps Taylor hopping day and night with her imperious (and sometimes illegal!) demands and requests via calls, texts, and messages to his Blackberry.

As the novel progresses, a dramatic shift occurs: our provincial hero begins to assimilate to his boss’s nefarious ways.  Taylor’s family and friends don’t recognize him anymore; gone is the slightly bumbling, awww-shucks, guy.  In his place is a corporate assassin–he’s got some dirt on Jennie and isn’t afraid to wield the information, using it as leverage to secure himself better accounts and more responsibility within the firm.

Jennie Weinstein isn’t accustomed to people standing up to (or blackmailing) her, but just how far is she willing to go to shut Taylor Green down for good?  Will Taylor come to his senses and see that his new-found false values are only propelling him further from the people who care about him most? 

A gritty account of the not-so-nice aspects of the PR world, Spin: A Novel sheds light on how the industry (sometimes?!?!) works–journalists, gossip columnists, sales and marketing people, brand and restaurant owners, and PR firms enjoying their quid pro quo “moral” code.

So, is Spin: A Novel a Roman à clef?  Robert Rave did work for Lizzie Grubman, a well-know publicist who has been described by New York Magazine as, “…the most powerful girl (female publicist) of all.”  A few of Jennie’s more outlandish stunts seem to have been pulled from the headlines of the New York rags, but I’ll leave you to decide how much of Spin is based in reality and how much is spun from Rave’s imagination.

Thanks to Marnie at MB Public Relations for this review copy.