Bookin' It My Way

Here you will find book related contests, links to reviews, and other fun, book related stuff.

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

I can't imagine a world with no books in it, which is why I read and write so much.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Book Review - The Other Boleyn Girl by Philppa Gregory

I picked up The Other Boleyn Girl the day before I left for vacation, thinking it would be a good airplane/beach read. It was all I hoped for and more. Not only was I thoroughly entertained by the steamy happenings of Henry the VIII’s court, impressed with Philippa Gergory’s deft writing style, and consumed with the Boleyn family and their endeavors, I have also become enthralled with England in the 1500s. I’ve found myself on my computer, combing sites like , , and , just to find out how historically accurate this novel is. What I’ve learned is that Henry and his six wives are fascinating, especially Anne Boleyn, her sister Mary and her brother George.
The novel focuses on the three of them. I won’t go into all the history, but here’s a rundown: before Anne and Henry ever go together, Henry and Mary were involved, and Henry allegedly fathered two of Mary’s children. In addition, George, who was a prominent member of Henry’s court, was (at the end of his life) accused both of incest with Anne, and of homosexuality. Nonetheless, Anne becomes Henry’s second queen. Unfortunately for Anne, the road she felt forced to go down in order to become queen is full of regret, and inevitably she is led down a much darker path. The joy of reading the novel isn’t in trying to figure out how it’s going to end, because most of us already know. Instead, it’s fun to read, in intimate detail, of how the Boleyns come to win everything at an incredible cost, and how they lose it all in agonizing turn of events. The book is told from Mary’s perspective, and she’s a sympathetic narrator. My research tells me that Mary did in fact have a reputation for being easy, and that Henry was not her only lover. But Gregory paints a picture of what life must have been like for Mary and other women like her, that as daughters their families afforded them no power nor choices, and that their only value was in capturing the hearts of important men. Mary and Anne were, according to Gregory, only obeying the wishes of their families.
It’s an interesting premise, and one that I doubt is often offered up in the history books.
At any rate, the book is really good, and I strongly recommend it.

Review by Laurel Osterkamp. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Book Review - Sammy's House

Sammy’s House, by Kristen Gore, is a sequel to Sammy’s Hill, and it picks up nearly two years after where the first one left off. Sammy is a low-on-the-food-chain white house official who specializes in health care and reports to the vice president, RG. She is still dating Charley, a reporter for the Washington Post, she still rooms with her relationship-challenged friend Liza, and she still obsesses over keeping her Japanese fighting fish alive.
But some stuff has changed. While Sammy is still prone to putting herself in embarrassing situations and making cringe-worthy gaffs, she isn’t as Lucile Ballish as she was in the first book. In fact, it’s completely understandable why this woman would be a valued member of the vice president’s staff; she’s loyal, hard-working, and competent.
But here is where Kristen Gore’s skill as a writer shines. She has created a loveable, funny, and smart character in Sammy, and she does so with aplomb. So many times I have read books about heroines who are supposed to super-intelligent, and I feel hit over the head with proclamations by the author about how genius the heroine is. (The Jessica Darling books by Megan McCafferty come to mind...) In contrast, Gore never ever tells us that Sammy is smart; instead, she includes us in Sammy’s thought process, which covers everything from healthcare reform, made-up holidays, interpersonal insights, and neurotic anxieties. Sammy’s brain is always in overdrive, and I find myself at once laughing and feeling in awe of how her mind works.
I’ll admit it; when I first heard that Kristen Gore got a book deal I was jealous and bitter. I was sure she was one more example of an undeserving author succeeding purely based off her connections. But then I checked out her first book from the library on a whim, and I realized how wrong I was. Sammy’s House is just as good as her first book, if not better.
In this one we learn about the inner-workings of the White House as Sammy becomes unwillingly privy to confidential information that could bring the administration she’s working for down. In addition, she’s struggling in her relationship after Charley moves to New York. With the perfect balance of political intrigue and romance, Sammy’s House is book not to be missed!

Copyright 2008 by Laurel Osterkamp. All rights reserved

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Book Review - Twilight

I know I’m behind the curve to just now be reviewing Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer, book one of a teen vampire series set in Washington State. This new series is topping the best seller lists and has gotten rave reviews, including being an Amazon “Best Book of the Decade….so far”. It has 1300 customer reviews on Amazon, and 1070 give the book 5 stars.
So it won’t matter a bit when I say – I don’t get it. I don’t get the hype, and I don’t understand why this book has been deemed incredible. It was entertaining, to a point. The premise is good. Bella, a high school junior, moves from the home she shares with her mother in Phoenix to Forks, Washington, a small town in the Olympic Peninsula. Forks has the distinction of being the cloudiest, gloomiest place in the U.S.
Bella likes warm weather and sunshine, so she’s not too excited to have relocated. Things look up for her however, when she meets Edward, this really, really, REALLY good looking guy who has equally good-looking adopted siblings and young adoptive parents (also good-looking). At first Edward acts like he can’t stand Bella, but then he saves her life, and the truth comes out. (Spoiler coming…)
Edward and his family are all vampires! Bella smells particularly good to Edward. So, it’s not that he hates her; he’s just torn between loving her and wanting to rip her to shreds and drink up all her blood.
Edward explains this to Bella, and she’s cool with it. More than cool, actually – she soon is addicted to Edward. But their relationship isn’t an easy one, and they now have to deal with all complications that come in a romance where the guy is constantly fighting his animal instincts to, you know, kill her.
Is that a metaphor for something?
Anyway, I’m not big into vampire stories, so hey, whatever. But what really bothered me was that in this 498 page book, nearly half of it was exposition, done in conversations between Edward and Bella. During these conversations they did nothing but sit and talk. My writing instructors would call them “talking head” scenes, and the author would be instructed to put in more action and details. My other big gripe is how whiney and clingy Bella quickly becomes. It’s hard to like her or sympathize with her plight to love Edward when he so desperately wants to eat her.
But I know I’m probably just jealous that my book isn’t a best-seller with 1300 reviews on Amazon.

By Laurel Osterkamp, 2008. All rights reserved

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Book Review - Tales From the Crib and The Queen Gene

Every now and then I hear snatches of the ongoing debate over whether chick lit is a genre of writing that is actually legitimate, or if instead, it’s trashy brain-candy that reduces the intelligent points of its readers. Both sides have passionate arguments, however irrelevant they may be. Because, really, it depends on the book. There is some really trashy chick lit out there, but there is literary chick lit as well. As for me, when I read chick lit (which is fairly often) I prefer it to be well-written and funny, but I also want the story to have some serious undertones. I like it when the heroine has some real-life challenges to overcome, so that I can vicariously learn from her journey. But to me the best sort of chick lit is the type that is that does all of the above without taking itself too seriously.
When I picked up a copy of Tales From The Crib, by Jennifer Coburn, at a library book sale, I wasn’t expecting it to so perfectly fit my criteria for good chick lit. My low expectations had only to do with the cover. There is a picture of a stylish and stick-skinny woman pushing a baby in a cart. None of the blurbs alluded to anything more serious than a zany story of a woman’s first year of motherhood. Since at the time I had just had my own first child, I thought, “Why not? It could be a fun read.” And it was, but I soon learned that in this case, I really couldn’t judge a book by its cover.
The story is about Lucy, a thirty-nine-year-old woman who has suffered several devastating miscarriages. The miscarriages have not only affected her emotional well-being, but also her marriage to Jack, a gallery owner and artist. For years they have suffered through disappointment and heartbreak, and while Lucy never loses her sense of humor, Jack accuses her of using laughter as a defense. Then it happens – Lucy gets pregnant again, and this time, she doesn’t miscarry. However, on the night that she tells him about her pregnancy, Jack tells her that he wants a divorce before she can break her happy news.
For several reasons, most of which have to do with money and convenience, Jack and Lucy decide to stay married, live together as friends, and raise their son. Jack starts dating other women, and Lucy deals with everything from problems nursing to sharing her son with her husband’s new girlfriend. In addition, we get to know Lucy’s family, including her eccentric mother Anjoli, and her loveable old aunts, Rita and Bernice.
I enjoyed this book so much that I had to read the sequel, The Queen Gene. (This one has an even more misleading front cover.) The story is equally good. It takes place pretty much immediately following Tales From the Crib, and all the major characters are back. Now Jack and Lucy, having patched things up (a transition written believably over the course of the entire previous book) have moved to their dream home and opened an artist’s colony. But things are not perfect; their home appears to be haunted by a spirit that injures every female who sets foot on the property, and keeps all artists, excluding Jack, from producing much of anything. In addition, Lucy’s mom, Anjoli, is constantly calling with updates about her dog and its variety of health problems.
It may sound like pure fluff, but it’s not. To be sure, these books are entertaining and light-hearted. But they cover a variety of issues, including birth and death, love and betrayal, and self-discovery and redemption. All the while, Coburn never loses her own sense of humor and while her characters remain consistent and believable, the writing never takes itself too seriously.
These books are not only good chick lit, they’re just good.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Book Review - Stars In Their eyes

Stars in Their Eyes, by Danielle Turchiano, is about two young women who are trying to make it big in Hollywood. Courtney appears on an evening soap-opera, but she is very serious about her work and has aspirations to be a film actress. Soon she leaves the stability of her regular gig to break into movies. The other woman, Leah, is Courtney’s friend/manager. She mostly takes care of things like party-planning and social engagements, all the while mooching off Courtney and using her star-power to score Hollywood perks.
It is when Courtney meets and falls in love with assistant director Jay that both women are tested. Courtney finds that nothing is simple when it comes to love, because Jay is at once possessive and jealous, and soon they are having explosive arguments and problems communicating. Leah feels the effects of this as well because they are such good friends.
Stars in Their Eyes offers a unique perspective on the superficiality of the entertainment industry and the fickleness of our celebrity-driven culture. Because the author has worked in the industry, she is able to provide all sorts of interesting details about living and working in LA. In addition, the dialogue is brisk and fun to read and the plot is intriguing.
Definitely an enjoyable read – Stars in Their Eyes will have you wishing for your own beach vacation in the middle of this cold, long winter!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Book Review - Anybody Out There?

Yesterday I took my three-year-old son to the library. We had just selected a stack of books and had sat down to read them together, when over the loud-speaker a librarian’s voice announced that I was to come to the circulation desk. I assumed I had left some paper with my name on it in one of the books I had just returned, so I calmly put my son’s books down, scooped him up, and made my way to the desk.
When I got there, there were two policemen waiting with the librarian, and all three of them had dour looks on their faces. I looked from one to the next, but they all seemed hesitant to tell me whatever news they had for me. It was only a moment of silence, but for an irrational space of time, I was sure that something terrible had happened to someone I love, and somehow these people knew and it was now their job to tell me. I remember thinking, “This is it. This is what it’s like to find out something horrible.”
It turned out to be nothing at all. I had parked my car too closely to another car that was owned by a very pregnant lady. She couldn’t get in, so I needed to re-park my car. I was happy to do it, mostly because I felt grateful that I had somehow averted disaster.
And the whole experience reminded me of a book I’m reading. The moment of certainty where you’re sure that your world is coming crashing down around you is beautifully expressed throughout the entire story of Anybody Out There? by Marion Keyes. For Keyes fans, this book is a natural progression in her series about the Walsh family daughters. Three previous books have focused on different siblings; this one takes up with Anna, the second-to-youngest “flakey” daughter. (Other books about the Walsh family include Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, and Angels). Anna was labeled as flakey in those other books, a branding from her sisters, and it seemed well-deserved at the time. Now, hearing from Anna’s perspective, I’m struck with two truths: 1. Anna is only a little flakey. 2. Marion Keyes is a master at both loving her characters and at writing about them objectively. Few authors are good at both.
Each book has improved upon the last, and each offers a whole new view of the loveable and eccentric Walsh family. Anybody Out There? begins in Ireland, where Anna is staying with her parents and her youngest sister Helen, while recovering from a horrible accident. Soon Anna returns to her home in NYC, a city she shares with her sister Rachel. I won’t give anymore details about the story, other than this: It is a brilliant tale of love and loss, because Keyes writes it in a way that forces the reader to experience the same emotions as Anna, as she is having them. It’s at once funny and heart-breaking, and it will leave you with the hope that it’s possible to survive the worst of catastrophes and still have your personality in check.
Whether or not you’ve read other books by Marion Keyes, you’ll be able to enjoy Anybody Out There? because it’s instantly relatable. Whether you’ve suffered a tragedy, or you’re like me (lucky enough to only have had a scare from time to time), this book is one to enjoy, learn from, cry over, and laugh at. How many books offer such promise? Read it – you won’t be sorry.

By Laurel Osterkamp
Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Looking for Books to Review

Do you have a book out that you'd like a review for? I'd love to read it.

I am especially interested in chick lit and women's fiction published by small and independent publishers, or print on demand. I would publish the reviews on my website, both of my blogs and on Amazon.

If you're interested please e-mail at


For more information about who I am, you can go to

Lesson a Lifetieme (Movies for Women) #4 - A Holiday Affair

When I started watching this movie, I wasn't aware that it was a remake of a 1949 production that starred Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum. The newer version stars Cynthia Gibb and David James Elliot, two stars who I've never heard of but were pleasant and good-looking enough to hold their own in the expected sort of way. Anyway, the premise is this: a young widow is still in love with her dead, heroic husband. In the Lifetime version the husband was a doctor who died saving people in a huge fire that he happened upon. Connie (the widow) still has pictures of him all over her apartment (in which he is always wearing his doctor's coat and stethoscope) and this is to let us know that she isn't over him, even though she's engaged to Tom Irwin, a nice but nerdy lawyer who is never seen without a tie on (to let us know that he's sort of uptight.)
Well, soon another guy, David James Elliot, enters the picture. He's a dreamer, doesn't hold a job, but he builds things. And while he wears vests a lot, he never wears ties (to let us know that he's a lot of fun). He falls both for Connie and her young son, and convinces her that she needs to move on and let go of the past. Then, after only having known her for a few days, he asks her to marry him.
All of this takes place during Christmas.
Anyway, in the end, Connie has to choose between security and safety (Tom Irwin) and love and excitement (David James Elliot). Any guesses what her decision is? I'll give you a hint – the final shot is of Connie, her son, and the fella she chooses, riding away on a train at the stroke of midnight, after having just shared a passionate embrace (the son was sort of a bystander for the embrace.)
I actually liked this movie; it was fun to watch and laugh at, yet at the same time I got into the story more than I wanted to admit to myself. Several days later I started watching the original version on TCM, and didn't enjoy it as much. Robert Mitchum, who was not the typical romantic-comedy hero, came off as sort of an ass. I know it's not very PC of me, but in this case, I'd have to say that the newer modern version is better.
But what did I learn? Well, here you go:
1. Health insurance doesn't matter, and it's okay to give up your own job and move away with your young son to live with some cute but aimless guy who you've known for less than a month.
2. I've grown cynical if that's what I'm thinking about while watching a romantic movie.
3. We really need to create universal health care so I can start enjoying romantic comedies again.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!