Friday, December 26, 2008

More Giveaways!

OK, so still no reading on my part recently. I'm having a pretty tough time right now and can't concentrate, BUT as a consolation prize you get more giveaways! Yay for you, right?

Here are the books I'm giving away:

Audio book of Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Signed, paperback copy of Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas (my review of this book is here).

Pocket paperback of The Last Days of Krypton by Kevin J. Anderson (my review here).

If you're interested in any of these just leave a comment below telling me which book you'd like. If you would like to be entered for all of them you can do that too. Contest closes at Midnight on New Year's Eve. Best of luck to you all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where I've been

I know it's been quiet around here lately and I apologize. I didn't realize how hectic the holiday season was going to be for me and I haven't had much time to read lately, which explains why there haven't been many blogs as of late. I also haven't been able to keep up with any other blogs like I normally would, but this week is finals week at school, so I'll be finished up for a couple of weeks, which will hopefully get me back on track and back to blogging. I'll try to get some books read and some reviews posted during my five week break from school. It'll be such a relief to finally get some leisure reading in.

I hope you all are doing well and have a happy holiday season!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Up High in the Trees Winner!

Using Random.org I selected AMBER as the winner of Up High in the Trees by Kiara Brinkman. Thanks so much to all of you who entered.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Salon: Book club date moved

I feel terrible because I didn't get a chance to read the book club selection for this month. I was scheduled to post the review today, but with Thanksgiving and end of the semester projects due, I just haven't had time. I also started reading Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama last week, thinking I could read it simultaneously with The Tortilla Curtain, but I got too drawn into Obama's book and always choose to pick it up instead. I know, big mistake, right?

Anyway, I'm going to New York next weekend and plan to read the book on the plane rides there and back, so I should be posting on December 10 instead. I hope those of you who have read the book will stop by to leave your thoughts, or links to your own reviews.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose

I read The Reincarnationist last week so I could send it out as soon as I announced the winners. This was another quick and easy read that kept me in suspense throughout, however, I didn't like it quite as much as The Memorist. Overall I really liked the book but I just had a couple of problems with it.

First, the book is called The Reincarnationist, who is identified in The Memorist as Malachai Samuels, however Mr. Samuels is a VERY minor chracter throughout this book. I think the title is misleading because The Reincarnationist has nothing to do with this book. Maybe The Memory Stones or something else that at least hinted at what the book was about would have worked better for me.

Another thing that bothered me about this book was that a third story line was introduced at about Chapter 22. I was reading and enjoying Josh Ryder's flashes to the past when suddenly there's some girl Rachel having flashbacks in New York. I had to stop reading and flip through the chapters wondering if I had missed something somewhere. Her role comes into play later and it all ends up making sense, but I really needed her to be brought into the story much earlier for the book to flow better for me. That, or the author should have made some connections early on.

Anyway, enough negativity. Other than these couple of issues I really did enjoy the book. The flashbacks in this book are to Rome in 391 A.D., which is pretty awesome to read about. I thought it was interesting to gain a little perspective on how pagan religions were destroyed by the emperor at the time to make way for Christianity. It's obvious that M.J. Rose has done a lot of research about the time periods, as well as reincarnation. If you like thriller/mystery books and are interested in reincarnation, this will definitely be an interesting book for you. Just don't expect to learn much about The Reincarnationist until you get to The Memorist.

Monday, November 24, 2008

M.J. Rose Winners!

OK, so since some people got more than one entry for posting about this giveaway, I did this by listing you by number and then using Random.org to generate a sequence. The top five entries won books, with the first number chosen winning the grand prize, the second and third places getting The Memorist, and the last two getting The Reincarnationist. Here's the results:

GRAND PRIZE (a copy of each book): Literary Feline
Copies of The Memorist: Serena and Carol's Notebook
Copies of The Reincarnationist: Judi and Carolyn.

I don't have all of your e-mails, so if you don't hear from me then please e-mail me at bexadler(at)yahoo(dot)com with your mailing address and I'll get the books out to you! Thanks everyone for participating!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Is it Karma?

It seems that all the giveaways I've been hosting lately are paying off on the Karma scale because I just won five books from Book-Blog.com and Hatchette books! I'm so super excited for these books:


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Up High In the Trees by Kiara Brinkman

I didn't know much about Up High in the Trees when I ordered it from Amazon, nor when I began reading it. I chose the book because I had read posts by Kiara Brinkman on The Nervous Breakdown a while back and remembered liking them. When I heard she had a book out I ordered it purely based on that. So I was delighted to find that I actually liked the book.

Up High in the Trees isn't a typical novel. It's told in vignettes from the viewpoint of 8-year-old Sebastian Lane, whose mother has just died. Because I hadn't read the cover of the book, I first thought Sebby was autistic. He takes note of a lot of colors and intricate details of spaces. He also likes to sit under tables, in closets or curl up in small, dark places. It isn't until a few chapters in that we learn this is a coping reaction to his mother's death (this isn't a spoiler! The cover talks about his mother's death). Sebby learns to cope in other ways and even begins making new friends as the book moves forward. At the same time his dad has some type of breakdown and Sebby and his older brother and sister have to fend for themselves for awhile.

This book was particularly interesting to me because it takes place in the fall and covers an election year (1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected). I read the Halloween scene on Halloween and the election part near the election so it made it seem that much more real. Anyway, I don't feel like I've really done a great job of explaining this book. I enjoyed this novel because it was so different than other books I've read this year, mostly because the voice throughout is that of an 8-year-old, which makes it pretty unique. I enjoyed being in the mind of an 8-year-old for a couple of days. I think Brinkman did a great job of conveying how confused a child can be about something as tragic as a death, especially when everyone tries to help the child by keeping things from him/her. This book shows how a child might use their imagination to make up a different reality when the facts are lacking in his life.

If you're interested in reading this book, I'll be giving away my copy. It was already used when I bought it so it has a little wear, but it's still FREE. And who doesn't love free, right? So leave a comment below and I'll pick a winner Dec. 1. Also, don't forget to enter my M.J. Rose giveaway.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Interview with M.J. Rose and a Giveaway!

Today, as part of her TLC Blog Tour, M.J. Rose is here with some more insight to her newest novel, The Memorist, which I reviewed on Tuesday. In this interview we learn more about where Rose came up with the ideas for her novel, some of her own experiences in Vienna and how she came to be so interested in reincarnation. But first, a little about the author:

You may have heard about M.J. Rose through her first adventures in the publishing industry. Rose self-published her first novel, Lip Service, late in 1998 after several traditional publishers turned it down. Editors had loved it, but didn't know how to position it or market it since it didn't fit into any one genre.

Frustrated, but curious and convinced that there was a readership for her work, she set up a web site where readers could download her book for $9.95 and began to seriously market the novel on the Internet.

After selling over 2500 copies (in both electronic and trade paper format) Lip Service became the first e-book and the first self-published novel chosen by the LiteraryGuild/Doubleday Book Club as well as being the first e-book to go on to be published by a mainstream New York publishing house.

Today, she is the international bestselling author of 10 novels; Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, Lying in Bed, The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex, The Venus Fix, The Reincarnationist, and The Memorist.

Rose has appeared on The Today Show, Fox News, The Jim Lehrer NewsHour, and features on her have appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers in the U.S. and abroad, including USAToday, Stern, L'Official, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly. And now she's here today:

You noted at the end of The Memorist that you have spent time in Vienna and that the underground ruins really do exist – Did you get a chance to explore some of the abandoned city below the surface?

Yes I did, it’s an amazing thing to see.

What first interested you in reincarnation and binaural beats?

When I was three years old, I told my great grandfather things about his childhood in Russia that there was simply no way I could have known. He became convinced I was a reincarnation of someone in his past. And over time, after more incidents, my mother – a very sane and logical woman -- also came to believe it.

Reincarnation was an idea I grew up with that my mom and I talked about and researched together.

For years, I wanted to write a novel about someone like my mother – who was sane and logical – who started out skeptical but came to believe in reincarnation. But I was afraid if I did people would think I was a “woo woo weirdo”.

I tried to start the first book in this series ten years ago after my mother died but I was too close to the subject and missed her too much to be able to explore it objectively. Every once in a while the idea would start to pester me again but I still stayed away from it.

Then a few years ago on the exact anniversary of my mom’s death my niece, who was a toddler at the time, said some very curious things to me about my mother and I – things she really couldn’t have known -- and the pestering became an obsession.

That’s when I sat down and started in earnest to write The Reincarnationist – which was published in September '07 and is out now in paperback and is the first book in the series. But they don’t have to be read in order.

As for binaural beats- I came across them in my research I did in 2005 when I was searching out information for the first novel in this series.

Throughout the book there are quotes from famous people like Carl Jung, Tolstoy, and Goethe regarding reincarnation. Were you surprised to find that so many influential people throughout history believed in reincarnation?

Yes and it was one of the things that really helped make me decide to tackle these books on this complicated and amazing subject.

Are you a fan of Beethoven, or was he just used because of the location and his interest in this type of research?

Here’s a short essay I wrote about the inspiration for this book that explains all that…

Once upon a time, my husband and I went to Vienna on a vacation and fell in love. Not with each other - we'd already done that - but with the city.

Growing up in Manhattan you don't bump in to history on every street corner - mostly you're bumping into other people or great shopping or eating experiences. In New York you have to go out of your way to find eighteenth century history but it’s still alive on every block in Vienna. There’s so much of it you are literally breathing it in. Arts and sciences have flourished here for centuries and whatever your passion you can visit museums, monuments and memorials to art, music, architecture, literature philosophy and psychology.

And visit them we did including making visits to homes of many famous people who’d once lived there and since my husband is a musician the trip turned out to be what I now jokingly call our Beethoven pilgrimage.

There are several of the great composer's residences in the city proper and its environs and we visited every one of them as well as churches, cafes and music halls he frequented. We walked the streets he walked following the routes he took and spent one day wandering the woods he wandered during the summers he spent in Baden, a spa town an hour out of the city.

But it was in the Heligenstadt house that the idea for my novel, The Memorist was born.

The house at Probusgasse 6 is in a neighborhood called Heligenstadt at the bottom of the Kahlemberg, which in Beethoven’s time was outside the city and filled with vineyards that are still growing there. And it was here at the end of the summer of 1802 that the 31-year-old Beethoven wrote the heart-wrenching Testament to his two brothers documenting his anguish at the onset of his terrible deafness.

The upstairs of this small apartment is open to the public and we walked through the ordinary rooms where he lived. Wandering over to the window I looked down at a simple courtyard where there was a single tree growing.

I stared at the gnarled, twisted trunk and the rich healthy verdant green leaves and realized that Beethoven must have once stood there and looked down at that same tree. Suddenly the composer’s ghost was standing there with me looking out the window.

Later I told my husband what I had been thinking and he said: “You’re going to write about that aren’t you?” Until that moment I hadn’t thought about it but after he said it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

At home I read several biographies about Beethoven and in one discovered the great composer had been fascinated with Eastern philosophy, which includes a strong belief in reincarnation. His own notebooks contain quotes a number of passages from Bhagavad-Gita. As well as a quote from William Jones that was included in his Hymn to Narayena, We know this only, that we nothing know.

And with that piece of information the idea at the heart of my tenth novel revealed itself.

The Memorist is not about Ludwig Van Beethoven although he does play a small part in it. Rather it’s a suspense novel about a woman on a search for her own ghosts but it was Beethoven’s spirit that inspired the book and his everlasting gifts to us are at the heart of the mystery I attempted to unravel.

Is there going to be a third book in this series?

There is and I’m writing it now.

(Looks like Rose is going to leave us in suspense, but rumor has it the third book will have more details about FBI Agent Lucien Glass, who was one of my favorite characters in this book. Yay!)

Was it difficult to keep all of the timelines straight in this book? How did you manage them and the characters from each time period?

It’s a bit tricky to keep it all straight but I write a first draft and then go back and do a timeline outline and then do a second draft fixing all the dates and making it all consistent.

How long did you spend researching the Indus Valley and Viennese history before writing this book?

I have been researching the whole subject of reincarnation for many years and have read over 50 books – I did an additional 3 months of research before I started this book and then while I was writing the first draft kept doing more research.

I’m also curious about the references to Judaism and Kabbalah. Did you have to research this or is it something you have studied throughout your life?

I’m Jewish but knew nothing about the Kabbalah until I stared doing the research for this book.

One of my readers was also wondering about online marketing for books. She asks: What are some of the biggest mistakes inexperienced writers can make on the web while they're promoting their work? Is it possible to rectify them, or do mistakes follow us forever and ever?

I teach an online marketing class once a year that is of great help to writers starting out or those already out. It will be taught in Jan 2009 - more at this link.

And the biggest mistake is to spend your entire marketing budget on a website. The second biggest is to think you don’t need to do anything - that your publisher will do it all. At Authorbuzz.com we help authors do affordable marketing - and since we work with all the major publishers - authors can feel confident about working with us.

Also, do you have any easy tips for authors starting out who have decided to self-publish?

I’m sorry, I don’t. And unless it’s very niche marketed non-fiction I don’t recommend self-publishing at all. I think it’s a big mistake to self-publish fiction. I’ve written a lot about that online and you can read about why here.

On your Website you mention that The Secret Garden was the first book to get you thinking about writing. Are there other books that have influenced you along the way? And what are you currently into reading? Some favorites?

I hate to do these lists because I always leave too many books out. Here are some of my favorite authors: Paul Auster, Anne Rice, Robert Goddard, Michael Connelly, Arthur Phillips, Lisa Tucker, Douglas Clegg, Ruth Rendell, Sophie Kinsella, Alice Hoffman, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Steve Berry, Jeffery Deaver… and I’ve been influenced by: John O’Hara, Ayn Rand, Daphne DuMaurier, and John Gardner.

I’m reading Buddha by Deepak Chopra right now.

M.J. Rose, is the international bestselling author of 10 novels; Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, Lying in Bed, The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex, The Venus Fix, The Reincarnationist, and The Memorist. Rose is also the co-author with Angela Adair Hoy of How to Publish and Promote Online, and with Doug Clegg of Buzz Your Book. She is a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She runs two popular blogs; Buzz, Balls & Hype and Backstory.


And now for the giveaway! MIRA Books has been kind enough to send me extra copies to give away to FIVE lucky readers! Two winners will each receive a paperback copy of The Reincarnationist. Two winners will receive The Memorist. And the Grand Prize winner will receive both books in the series.* So here's how to enter:

1. For one entry you can leave a comment below answering the question: If you were a historian/archaeologist/anthropologist, what place and time would you most like to learn more about?

2. For an extra entry you can post about this giveaway on your blog OR if you don't have a blog you can send an e-mail about the giveaway to five friends. Leave a comment here letting me know you did this.

Also, feel free to leave comments about the interview and the book itself. I'd love to hear what you all think about the themes in this book.

Thanks so much for reading! And be sure to leave your comment by 11:59 p.m. on November 23. I'll be drawing winners on November 24.

*Sorry to do this to you international readers, but I'm super poor right now so this giveaway is only open to the U.S. and Canada.

Also, check out some of the other upcoming TLC Tours for more chances to win The Memorist:

Monday, November 17th: Booking Mama

Tuesday, November 18th: Books I Done Read

Wednesday, November 19th: Diary of an Eccentric

Thursday, November 20th: MommyPie

Monday, November 24th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books

Friday, November 28th: Frequency of Silence

Check out TLC tours for the entire list.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Memorist by M.J. Rose

When I first received my copy of The Memorist I was a bit freaked out that I wouldn't finish it in time for my interview with M.J. Rose because the book looks so thick. But all of that worrying was for nothing because I really enjoyed the book and finished it all in one day.

M.J. Rose's The Memorist is the second in The Reincarnationist series, but don't be distraught if you haven't yet read The Reincarnationist. I didn't read it before starting The Memorist and I didn't feel lost at all. I don't know which characters were used in the first book because they were all so thoroughly fleshed out in The Memorist.

I don't want to give too much away about the plot because The Memorist is a mystery book, but I'll tell you a little about it so you can get an idea of whether it's book you'd be interested in reading. Most of the book is set in Vienna as the main character, Meer Logan, pieces together parts of her past lives and her current life thanks to the discovery of a gaming box she'd been haunted by since she was a child. The emergence of the box makes her begin questioning her firmly held beliefs that the box was somehow lodged in her memory from an early childhood experience, even though her father had been trying to convince her for years that they were memories from a past life. The past life we're then introduced to is one in which Meer (who in 1814 was Margaux) befriended Beethoven in an attempt to steal a valuable relic she planned to sell in order to mount a rescue for her husband who had been lost in India uncovering ancient ruins.

There are a couple of other side plots that I don't really want to go into because I'm afraid of being one of those spoilers, so I'm just going to say you should read the book so you can find out. If you like books about the Free Masons or uncovering lost treasures, I think you'll enjoy this book. The story is wonderfully woven and the pace stays exciting throughout. Plus, you'll be inspired to listen to Beethoven and wish for an opportunity to travel to Vienna...at least I am anyway.

P.S. I'll be giving away three copies each of The Memorist and The Reincarnationist at the end of this month. Check back Thursday, when I'll be posting an interview with author M.J. Rose, for details!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Questions for M.J. Rose?

In my post about the upcoming interview with M.J. Rose, I received a comment from Lauri Shaw who had a question for the author, and I thought it might be fun to see if any of the rest of you had questions. SO if you have any questions about the book, the writer, or the writing process, feel free to leave your questions below (by Sunday evening) and I'll include them in the interview questions I send over to her.

Thanks so much!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Giveaway Coming!

Yesterday afternoon I received a box full of books to giveaway to you lovely readers. Super exciting, yes? I'll have three copies each of The Memorist and The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose available for a giveaway that will begin on Nov. 13 when M.J. Rose stops by my blog for a little chit-chat. I'll be posting my reviews of the books the day prior to give you all a little reminder, but I'm super excited to be a part of Rose's blog tour and I can't wait to get started on these books. Oh, and to get you excited too, here's a little preview of what The Memorist is about:

International bestseller M.J. Rose has written a gripping and unforgettable novel about a woman paralyzed by the past, a man robbed of his future, and a centuries old secret. The dreads are back. As a child, Meer Logan was haunted by memories of another time and place, always accompanied by the faint strains of elusive music.

Now the past has reached out again in the form of a strange letter that sets her on a journey to Vienna to unlock the mystery of who she once was. With each step, she comes closer to remembering connections between a clandestine reincarnationist society, a lost flute linked to Ludwig van Beethoven, and David Yalom, a journalist who understands all too well how the past affects the future. David knows loss first hand--terrorism is a reality that cost him his family. He's seen every solution promised by security experts around the world--and he's seen every solution fail. Now, in a concert hall in Vienna, he plans to force the world to understand the cost of those failures in a single, violent act. Because those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it...

Monday, November 3, 2008

November's Book: The Tortilla Curtain

Thanks to Diane and Beastmomma for your suggestions for this month's book club selection. I'd never heard of The Tortilla Curtain, which was suggested by Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea, so I decided we should all give it a try. I love book clubs because they get me to read books I may not have otherwise picked up. There wasn't much about this book on Amazon, so I took this description from the Penguin.com Website:

In this explosive and timely novel, T. Coraghessan Boyle explores an issue that is at the forefront of the political arena. He confronts the controversy over illegal immigration head-on, illuminating through a poignant, gripping story the people on both sides of the issue, the haves and the have-nots.

In Southern California's Topanga Canyon, two couples live in close proximity and yet are worlds apart. High atop a hill overlooking the canyon, nature writer Delaney Mossbacher and his wife, real estate agent Kyra Menaker-Mossbacher, reside in an exclusive, secluded housing development with their son, Jordan. The Mossbachers are agnostic liberals with a passion for recycling and fitness. Camped out in a ravine at the bottom of the canyon are Cándido and América Rincón, a Mexican couple who have crossed the border illegally. On the edge of starvation, they search desperately for work in the hope of moving into an apartment before their baby is born. They cling to their vision of the American dream, which, no matter how hard they try to achieve it, manages to elude their grasp at every turn.

A chance, violent encounter brings together Delaney and Cándido, instigating a chain of events that eventually culminates in a harrowing confrontation. The novel shifts back and forth between the two couples, giving voice to each of the four main characters as their lives become inextricably intertwined and their worlds collide. The Rincóns' search for the American dream, and the Mossbachers' attempts to protect it, comprise the heart of the story. In scenes that are alternately comic, frightening, and satirical, but always all "too real," Boyle confronts not only immigration but social consciousness, environmental awareness, crime, and unemployment in a tale that raises the curtain on the dark side of the American dream.


I'll post some discussion questions on Nov. 30. This sounds like a really interesting book and I think it will spark some interesting conversations. I can't wait!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November Book Club Selection

Does anybody have any suggestions for what we should read this month?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Club Discussion: Gregory Maguire's Wicked Series

This month I selected Wicked by Gregory Maguire for the online book club because I've wanted to read it for years and I thought it fit well in the month of Halloween. My only disappointment with this book is that I never read it sooner! I had put off reading the book because I was a little irked that Maguire took someone else's story (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum) and repurposed it for his own novel. I've always been one of those people who thinks it's unimaginative to take someone else's work and rewrite it, but that has all changed with Wicked.

Maguire weaves a wonderful tale of Elphaba Thropp, the woman many of us know as The Wicked Witch of the West, and the land of Oz from the time before the infamous Wizard arrives to Elphaba's untimely death at the hands of the unforgettable Dorothy. As Elphaba grows up we see her transforming into somewhat of a political activist. Upon entering college she is immediately drawn to helping Animals who have just been subjected to new laws limiting their rights and taking away their ability to be gainfully employed in anything besides manual labor. For her actions to aid the Animals she is considered a threat to the Wizard. Not to mention the fact that her sister, the ruler of Munchkinland, has seceded from the greater country of Oz, showing growing discontent of the Wizard's rule among the people of Oz.

And there is so much more. There's magic and talking Animals (animals don't talk, Animals do) as one would expect. Many of the mysteries of Oz are fleshed out and made very real. And we see another side to the story of the Wizard of Oz. The book was definitely a grown-up's fairy tale, but I thought it was wonderfully well written.

I also read Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men after finishing Wicked because I just had to know what happened (seriously, it's like Harry Potter for adults). However, I didn't like Son of a Witch quite as well as Wicked because it moved a bit too slow until it got to the end. I did enjoy it though and the ending made my heart smile in a big way. A Lion Among Men was even slower than Son of a Witch and left me wanting more. Liir (the son of Elphaba) was completely left out of the story with no accounting of him or his family, which I suppose was done in order to leave space for another book in the series, but I was still disappointed by it. In regard to A Lion Among Men, I almost felt like Maguire had a deadline and so decided to throw something together. And I was hugely disappointed that the Lion turned out to be such an opportunistic creep - and after Elphaba saved him as a cub! Have any of you read these sequels? What did you think? Am I being too harsh here?

Also, I want to know what you all thought of Wicked! I tried to keep my review short because I really want to know what you all though. Who were your favorite characters? What did you think of Elphaba? How about her sister? Did you think the author left any unanswered questions at the end?

Wicked was also reviewed by:
Beastmomma

Oh, and before I forget: I selected the winner for my copy of Janeology by Karen Harrington! I selected the winner using the list randomizer on random.org and got: REBEKAH E. Rebekah if you can send your mailing address to bexadler at yahoo dot com, I'll send the book out to you. Thanks to everyone who entered and check back in a few days because I'll be holding another giveaway then.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Giveaway Remnders and Moleskine Alternatives Contest!

First, I want to post a reminder that I'm giving away a copy of Janeology later this week, enter here by Oct. 30 for your chance to win.

Second, Trish gave a rave review of The Likeness on her blog and she's giving away a copy so don't forget to enter. I don't know when the deadline is though so you better do it soon just to be safe!

Lastly, blackcover.net is hosting a contest for free Picadilly notebooks. Each winner gets three little black notebooks (similar to the more expensive Moleskine notebooks you've probably seen around). Check out the site if this is something that interests you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Live Chat tonight with Water for Elephants Author

Tonight bestselling author Sara Gruen is doing a live online chat to discuss Water for Elephants on Gather.com. I thought some of you might be interested in joining in on that since it was one of our book club selections earlier this year. It might be fun for those of you who have been wanting to read the book, but haven't. Here's the information if you want to check it out:


WHEN: Wednesday, October 22, 8:00pm - 9:00pm ET
WHERE: The Gather Books Essential
COST: Free!


Also, you can check out my review of Water for Elephants here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why the Wind Blows by Matthys Levy

Why the Wind Blows was the first book I received as a review copy when I started this blog and I have to apologize here for taking so long to get to it. This book is really interesting, although it reads more like a textbook than I had expected. I think, in fact, it may have been designed for use in a physical geography class - a purpose for which I think it would be well suited.

Levy gives a lot of explanation about how weather patterns are formed, as well as the history behind weather tracking. From Magellan to the Titanic, he covers a great deal of history and offers many stories to break up the scientific explanations for weather, which I found to be refreshing. He also describes how hurricanes and tornadoes are formed and gives in-depth graphics to help explain both. I think the best thing about this book is that there are so many graphics to help explain what the author is talking about. I'm not very science minded so the illustrations really helped me out.

The one thing I didn't like about this book was the sub-title "A history of weather and Global Warming." The "Global Warming" on the cover is large enough that I had focused on that thinking it would be the basis of the book, but really Global Warming isn't even addressed until the 9th chapter and then it's not really talked about in-depth until we get to Chapter 14. Somehow, when I signed on to read this I had thought it would be more of a journalistic book about global warming and its causes, but it turned out to be more scientific (but not in a bad way!). Just different than what I had expected, which is probably why it took me so long to finally sit down and read it.

Having taken a couple of physical geography and life science classes, I already knew a lot of the things covered in this book, but, as I said, this book would be ideal for a life science or physical geography class because of its easy-to-understand explanations, charts and illustrations.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Interview with Karen Harrington and a giveaway

I'd like to introduce you all to Karen Harrington, author of Janeology, which I reviewed earlier this week. Harrington is a Texas native who has been writing fiction for more than twenty years. Her writing has received honors from the Hemingway Short Story Festival, the Texas Film Institute Screenplay Contest and the Writers’ Digest National Script Contest. A graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, she has worked as a speechwriter and editor for major corporations and non-profit organizations.

She authored and published There’s a Dog in the Doorway, a children’s book created expressly for the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Foundation’s “My Stuff Bags.” My Stuff bags go to children in need who must leave their home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.

She lives in Plano, Texas, with her husband and two children.

Harrington has kindly taken the time to answer some questions for this post:

How did you keep track of all of the branches of Jane’s family tree?

I used my genealogy software to create a realistic pedigree chart for Jane’s family. I referred back to it several times to ensure I was keeping my dates and places correct along the way. The chart can be found on my website, too, and my publisher is considering including it in the paperback version.

Why did you decide to tell this story from the husband’s point of view?

I chose Tom’s point of view because he could ask all the questions about his spouse that I would have if I were in his shoes. He was/is the person most interested in finding out the answers to all the “why” questions. So it seemed logical to follow his journey. Plus, I was initially undecided if the spouses of women who kill are responsible in some way for the death of their children. So I wanted to follow that path to its end until I was satisfied I had at least uncovered a few answers. I think I did.

Why add a clairvoyant to the mix?

That’s an interesting question. The short answer is that this character was the vehicle to time-travel into the past. Antiques have long provided intrigue for me. I look at them and think “What if this piece could talk? What if it could tell me what scenes it had witnessed?” So, I developed the idea of a person with retrocognition to give those family heirlooms and photos a voice. I wanted you, the reader, to have the experience of looking at a photo and leaping right into the moment the camera took the picture. Enter, Mariah the clairvoyant.

What inspired you to write this story?

Initially, I wanted to write a story about a woman from the perspective of her genealogy and explore all the dark traits she may or may not have inherited. My father and I share a passion for our own family genealogy. Growing up, I was surrounded by his research and a lot of family photos of relatives I never knew. I developed an early curiosity about who they were and the possibilities of genetic inheritance. Then, there were far too many Texas news headlines about mothers who kill. When I had my first daughter, those stories really kept me up at night. And when a question keeps you up at night, that’s when you know you are going to write about it. So, the two ideas of genealogy and a troubled mother merged. Voila – Janeology!

I really liked the idea that objects are what keep us connected to our past. How did that part of the story evolve?

As I mentioned before, so many family pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents surrounded me during my childhood. We also had a lot of well-preserved antiques passed down through the generations. So I was always curious about the origins of these heirlooms. For instance, the trunk and the necklace featured in the book (both shown on my website) are both family heirlooms passed down from my great-grandfather to my father and now to me.

What’s been the biggest challenge to you as a writer?

Managing the whole landscape of a story as it expands. It gets a bit unwieldy as it enlarges and you must constantly stay on top of it, making sure your facts are correct and that you are consistent. For me, working on the same piece every single day, even if it’s just to tweak one paragraph, over several months is the only way to stay in the story.

I’m also curious about the publishing house you chose. How did you find Kunati? And what was it like working with an independent publishing house?

I have to smile here when you say “the publishing house you chose.” It’s fortunate to be published at all when you consider the number of writers out there. So if your dog had his own publishing house and offered me a contract, I would have jumped at it. That said, my relationship with Kunati began by way of the typical submission process. I sent out my manuscript to dozens of agents and publishers and was thrilled that Kunati selected me; particularly, after I saw the types of bold stories they embrace. Plus, I think my experience with an independent publisher like Kunati has been great because of the level of communication exchanged from the editors and publishers directly to the authors. I’m not sure if the lines of communication are that open to the authors of larger houses. The best thing about my Kunati experience has been learning from the other talented authors on its roster.

Are there any other Karen Harrington books in the works?

Why, yes! I just got my next manuscript back from my freelance editor and I’m working on revisions now. I’m hopeful it’ll be at my publisher in January. (Unless, of course, your dog would like to have a look.)

Lastly, I’d like to know what you like to read. What are the three books you think everyone needs to read at least once in their life?

I think everyone should take on Homer’s Odyssey at least once. There are so many offshoots of this story in modern literature that reading Homer will make one’s reading experience richer.

The same is true for Shakespeare. If I had to pick a couple, I’d say take on Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.

And third, I think every writer should get a healthy dose of Hemingway to learn lean prose and Elmore Leonard to learn dialogue. Any books from these authors are terrific.

And what are you currently reading?

Fresh Kills by Bill Loehfelm and The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.

And now for the giveaway. One lucky reader will receive my copy of Janeology by doing the following:

1. Leave a comment here saying why you'd like to read this book.

2. You can earn a second entry by posting about this giveaway on your bl
og.

The deadline for entering is October 30th.

For more information about the author or the book, you can visit Karen Harrington's website, which includes a pedigree chart for the characters in her book. Also, below is back-of-the-book description of
Janeology.

Tom Nelson is struggling after the death of his son at the hands of his wife Jane. While Jane sits in a Texas mental hospital for her part in the crime, prosecutors turn their focus to Tom. They believe Tom should have known Jane was on the cusp of a breakdown and protected his children from her illness. As a result, he is charged with “failure to protect.” Enter attorney, Dave Frontella, who employs a radical defense strategy – one that lays the blame at the feet of Jane’s nature and nurture. To gather evidence about Jane’s forbears, Frontella hires a woman with the power of retrocognition – the ability to use a person’s belongings to re-create their past. An unforgettable journey through the troubled minds and souls of Jane's ancestors, spanning decades and continents, this debut novel deftly illustrates the ways nature and nurture weave the fabric of one woman's life, and renders a portrait of one man left in its tragic wake.

Book Club Announcements: New Release and Read Wicked for FREE

So, thanks to The Book Pirate, I learned that our book of the month has a new sequel being released today so if you've already read Wicked and Son of a Witch, you really have no excuses not to participate this month. Actually, I should say especially if you've read these books because I know you won't be able to resist getting the next in the series if you've already read the others. I started reading Wicked on Friday night and then shirked all of my real responsibilities in order to continue reading. I'm almost finished but have been forced to put it down because I have so many upcoming deadlines (I bribe myself by saying if I get one assigment completed I can read one chapter before starting the next). This is Harry Potter for me all over again.

Erm, sorry to go off on a tangent. I just wanted to point you all toward A Lion Among Men, the latest release by Gregory Maguire. I also wanted to let you know that if you're super poor like me and you somehow can't find someone to borrow this book from you can read Wicked for free by going here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Janeology by Karen Harrington

I haven't had much time for extra reading lately, but once I opened this book I had to make time. Janeology by Karen Harrington is a book that draws you in from the first page and you can't stop reading until you know what happens. The story follows Tom Nelson through a thorny criminal trial in which he is accused of having not paid attention to the signs of post-partum depression in his wife that led her to commit infanticide, killing their two-year-old son and nearly drowning his twin, two-year-old Sarah.

While Tom is still reeling from the death of his son, and young Sarah is confused about losing her twin and her mother, the state of Texas is looking for someone to blame for the deaths since the mother is found to be mentally ill at trial and is sentenced to a mental institution. As the story unfolds, Tom's attorney takes an unorthodox defense of his client, saying Tom's wife, Jane, was pre-disposed to this life because of her genes. They then go through the lives of past generations from Jane's family, with the help of a clairvoyant, and discover the unsavory details of her genealogy.

While the clairvoyant may be a bit of a stretch for some readers it actually seemed to be just a quick way for Harrington to get this story out. It wouldh ave been far less effective to have Tom and his lawyer digging through old newspaper articles for the entirety of the book as they unearth the details of Jane's family. The story moves at a quick pace, with each chapter leading into the next and making it impossible to put down.

I thought this was an interesting look at a subject that seems to be in the news more and more these days (very Jodi Piccoult-esque), as well as at how blame gets pushed around in the legal system. There was also an interesting underlying theme of how objects in our lives can keep us connected to pasts and memories we may wish to forget. And it will get you wondering how much of you is made up of your ancestors.

This book was also published by Kunati, and independent book publisher, so if you're interested in debut authors an independent booksellers you might check them out.

Also, you can watch a trailer for the book at Karen Harrington's site.

This book was also reviewed at:
Mysterious Reviews
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Books on the Brain
Booking Mama
Bold Blue Adventure
Maw Books Blog

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America

In her memoir, Funny in Farsi, author Firoozeh Dumas uses humor and candor to introduce her family to readers and describe the language and cultural difficulties that come with moving to a new country. Originally from Iran, Dumas moved to the United States at age seven. It was 1972, a time before many Americans had ever heard of Iran, giving the author a much different experience in her first years in California than perhaps is felt by Middle Easterners immigrating to the United States today.

Leaving politics out of her essays for the most part, Dumas is able to endear her family and her culture to readers. She also is able to help us see how the political climate in the Middle East has effected immigrants and American attitudes toward them.

Dumas also has a refreshing look at things I take for granted as both a Californian and an American. The essays from her younger years are filled with a child's sense of wonder and discovery, as well as mischievousness. For instance, when Dumas loses track of her family in Disneyland, she goes to the Lost and Found and waits for her parents to figure out that's where they should go to look for her. When they arrive she realizes her father will do just about anything for her because he's so glad to have not lost her forever, which she uses to her advantage to get all the goodies and balloons her penny-pinching father normally wouldn't allow.

I thought her descriptions of cultural differences were also very well done. At one point she describes her father's love of visiting Costco on "sample day" because of all of the free food he can get. Her father also insists on trying all of the latest boxed or frozen foods (despite the belly aches they get from it) because they are so different from what they would find in Iran.

Culture becomes a theme throughout the book as she grows older, spends time in France and eventually marries a Frenchman. As always, I loved reading about someone else's time in Paris. It always makes me feel better about my own experience because it confirms my belief that I'm not the only person ever to have a difficult time with Parisians.

All in all I really enjoyed this book. Dumas' writing style is fun and quick, and her descriptions of her family's quirks will take you back to your own teenage years.

For those of you in Sacramento, Dumas will be appearing at Sacramento State University on Wednesday, October 15th, at 7 p.m. for a discussion and book signing.

Also, she now has a second collection of essays out, entitled Laughing Without an Accent, if you're interested.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

October Book Club Selection: Wicked

I've been meaning to post this for a few days but life got too hectic there for awhile and I let it slip. This month I'd like to finally read Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I borrowed this book ages ago from one of my friends and still haven't gotten around to it. I thought it would be a good book for October too since it's about a witch. I don't like scary books too much so this is about as close as I could get to a Halloween theme. If you've already read this book, but want to participate, how about considering the sequel?

From Publisher's Weekly:

Born with green skin and huge teeth, like a dragon, the free-spirited Elphaba grows up to be an anti-totalitarian agitator, an animal-rights activist, a nun, then a nurse who tends the dying and, ultimately, the headstrong Wicked Witch of the West in the land of Oz.

Maguire's strange and imaginative postmodernist fable uses L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a springboard to create a tense realm inhabited by humans, talking animals (a rhino librarian, a goat physician), Munchkinlanders, dwarves and various tribes.

The Wizard of Oz, emperor of this dystopian dictatorship, promotes Industrial Modern architecture and restricts animals' right to freedom of travel; his holy book is an ancient manuscript of magic that was clairvoyantly located by Madam Blavatsky 40 years earlier. Much of the narrative concerns Elphaba's troubled youth (she is raised by a giddy alcoholic mother and a hermitlike minister father who transmits to her his habits of loathing and self-hatred) and with her student years.

Dorothy appears only near novel's end, as her house crash-lands on Elphaba's sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, in an accident that sets Elphaba on the trail of the girl from Kansas, as well as the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Lion, and her fabulous new shoes. Maguire combines puckish humor and bracing pessimism in this fantastical meditation on good and evil, God and free will, which should, despite being far removed in spirit from the Baum books, captivate devotees of fantasy.
As always, the book club discussion will be held on the last day of the month (October 31). Hope to see you all there!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Book Club Discussion: House & Home

First, I wanted to let you all know that after your encouragement I decided to go to my public library book club and I still enjoyed the discussion. Not only that, but I also was given a copy of the book by one of the other members so I won't have to check it out at the library again! Now hopefully I'll really find the time to read it, especially considering how many people there actually really liked the book.

Now, onto our own book club discussion here. This month we read House & Home by Kathleen McCleary (check out my interview with her here) Personally, I really enjoyed this book. At first I was uncertain as to whether I'd like it because it sounded a little far-fetched to me. I also got the feeling I wasn't going to like Ellen because, from the description, she seemed like an impetuous child - burning down her house because somebody else had bought it outright? Puh-lease! BUT I loved this book. I got through it quickly and what I found was that, despite the cover's description, the book was about much more than Ellen and her house.

House & Home is about learning to distinguish between what makes a house and what makes a home. The two words conjure up very different meanings in my mind, and I was glad that Ellen was finally able to see that what made her house a happy place was not necessarily the things that filled it, but the people.

I thought the characters in this book were really well developed and I loved every one of them. Sam was one of my favorites, despite his flaws (probably because he reminds me so much of my own beau). Some of Ellen's complaints about him really caught me off guard because I have had so many of those complaints myself.

I also found that I really connected with Ellen on a different level, in that she reminded me of my own mother in some of the passages. As a child I moved often, and I have to say I reacted much like her children. I threw huge tantrums every time we moved and would hold it against my parents for months afterward. Here is one passage that I highlighted in the text:

"And then Ellen simply refusted to move again. After years of putting off having children, and working endless hours to get her decorating business up and running in one town after another, she was done. She wanted to buy a house and paint the walls red, not some neutral rental color. She watned to get pregnant and have babies. She wanted to plant bulbs and know she'd be there in the spring to watch them bloom. She wanted to make friends and reminisce over shared memories that went back more than twelve months."

I think this one passage so encapsulates that desire, after years of moving, to stay put, to have some roots. I know I've felt this way as recently as March when I moved back to Sacramento from Paris. I absolutely had every intention of settling down here, finally. And I still dream of owning my own house and knowing it will be a place I can always come back to.

This book was very relatable in many ways. It's more than a story of a house - it's the story of a family. I really want that to come across in my review because I feel that some people may avoid this book as I did at first, thinking it was too far-fetched.

For those of you who read the book, I have a couple of questions in the hopes to get a conversation started:

What did you think of the book?

Who was your favorite character in the book? Who did you relate to most and why?

Have you ever felt this way about a move or a house?

Were you surprised by all of the turns this book took?

If this book was made into a movie, who would be your choice to play Ellen? And who would play her hunky husband, Sam? (I stole this question from Displaced Beachbums, hope you don't mind!)

Oh, and I almost forgot: We have a winner! I chose the winner of the House & Home giveaway using Random.org and it chose kamewh! Congratulations! Send your mailing address to bexadler (at) yahoo (dot) com and I'll get it out to you right away!

For other reviews of this book visit:
A Lifetime of Books
It's All About Books
Books on the Brain
Booking Mama

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Banned Books Week

Sorry for the double post today. I'd meant to post this yesterday (it's been on my calendar for months!), but I got caught up doing work instead. Who works on a Saturday, right? Apparently, me.

Anyway, I just wanted to send out a friendly little reminder that it's banned books week this week, so stop by your local library and give those banned books a little love. And, if you need a list of banned or challenged books you can stop by the list I made for the challenge I'll be hosting next year. Or, of course, you can stop by the American Library Association's site. I can't take on much extra reading these days so for me, I think I'd like to re-read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The last time I cracked that book open was in 4th Grade!

Giveaway Reminder!

I haven't received many entries yet for the giveaway of the book House & Home by Kathleen McCleary. I thought this might be because it was at the end of the post so maybe some of you missed it. I also wanted to put a reminder up since tomorrow (Sept. 29) is the last day to enter, so if you'd a chance to win a free copy of this book, please go here and leave a comment. Thanks!

Friday, September 26, 2008

I am a bad, bad book club member

So, as you know, I've been attending my public library's book club meetings over the past few months. I've really enjoyed the discussions and have been making the books for these meetings my top reading priority so I can participate. But this month I was a slacker. Not really a slacker so much as I couldn't force myself to read the book, which is Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Relin.

See, the thing is last year I read Leaving Microsoft to Save the World by John Wood. And, well, after looking at the cover of Three Cups of Tea I decided that the two books are pretty much the same book. And after that I read this review by Lisa over at Books on the Brain and I became even more convinced that I'd have to gouge my own eyes out to save myself the pain of reading this book. So I didn't read it. I did check it out from the library in a mock attempt to get into the book. But it just sat on my nightstand until it was due back.

This really is getting to a point, and that point is this: Should I still go to the book club meeting even though I didn't read the book? Or should I skip out on it?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sitting Down with Kathleen McCleary, author of House & Home

Today I am happy to host an interview with Kathleen McCleary, author of House & Home, as part of her blog tour put together by TLC Book Tours.

Kathleen McCleary has worked for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, USA Weekend, Good Housekeeping, More, Health, Martha Stewart Living, and Ladies Home Journal. She was a columnist for several years for HGTV.com. A 2004 job opportunity for her husband brought her reluctantly back to Virginia (which is a beautiful and friendly state that had nothing to do with her discontent other than the fact that it wasn't Oregon). The move sparked the idea for a novel, and she spent almost three years writing House & Home, while also working as a freelance writer and as a barista at the local, independently owned coffee shop in her town.

House & Home is "the story of a woman who loves her house so much that she'll do just about anything to keep it." And it's the book selected this month for our online book club, which will take place next week. I finished the book quite quickly and was surprised by how much I really enjoyed reading it. I hope some of you have already read the book. If not, perhaps this interview will peak your interest. Enjoy!

What was your inspiration for this book?

In 2004, I moved from Oregon to Virginia and had to sell the house we’d owned for 12 years. It was harder for me to give up the house than I could have imagined. I thought, “What if someone literally couldn’t give up a house?”

When you moved from Oregon to the East Coast did you face some of the same emotions as the main character, Ellen Flanagan?

Of course. Uprooting my kids from the only home they’d ever known was really, really hard. And I loved my house, in part because we had a close-knit neighborhood with many friends, and because so much of my kids’ childhoods were lived out in that house.

One of my favorite parts of this book was reading the children’s reactions to the move, especially Sara. When I was younger my family moved a lot and I have to admit I was a lot like Sara in that I fought tooth and nail to convince my parents not to move – every time. How did your children react to the big move when it happened?

My oldest, who was ten at the time, was completely opposed to the move, and of course her resistance was a knife in my heart. She even knocked down the “For Sale” sign on a couple of occasions! My youngest, who was seven then, was more accepting. I moved several times as a kid and just hated it, so the fact that I had to move my kids was very difficult. I think all kids hate to move. I got the idea for the little “I’ll be back notes” that Sara left around the house from taking a tour of the White House in D.C. The guide said that one of Eisenhower’s grandchildren had hidden little notes around the White House before his grandfather left office.

Why did you decide to set the book in Oregon, rather than your new hometown?

My heart—and my head—were still firmly entrenched in Oregon for quite a while after I moved. In many ways, the book is a love letter to Oregon. Writing it was also a way to help me process my feelings about the move.

In the book, Ellen says to Jordan Boyce, “This is the West Coast. You’re not supposed to ask what college someone went to here.” This is one of my favorite quotes in the book, not only because Ellen had the guts to say it, but also because it’s a difference I often notice when I meet East Coasters. Did you find it difficult to get used to this when you moved to the East Coast? What were some of the other differences you noticed between the East and West Coast?

I experienced real culture shock when I moved east, although I had lived in the East before and grew up in the Midwest. The pace on the East Coast is much quicker, for one thing. People drive faster, walk faster, even talk faster! I’m still not used to it. There’s also much more focus on what college you went to, or what college your kids want to get in to, even when they’re in middle school. People also always want to know what you DO and where you work. There’s a lot to love about the East, but I’ll always be an Oregonian and plan to return to Oregon full time one day.

Could you see any other way for Ellen to resolve her issues with her house and husband aside from the house burning down?

Sure. Ellen could have taken the time to really clarify her priorities before she rushed into selling the house and then regretting it. She might have decided she wanted to divorce Sam but also sell part of her business to keep the house. Or she might have decided she and Sam needed to reevaluate the way they worked together as parents and marriage partners, but still stayed together. I think Ellen, because she was so hyper-competent, really enabled Sam in some ways, contributed to his less responsible side. The fact that she finally had had enough did force Sam to mature. It also helped Ellen to let go.

How long was this book in your head before you put it down on paper?

It was a slow process that developed over several months. I finally wrote the first paragraph, then just let it simmer for a while. I kept thinking about it, so then I wrote a little more, and then it started to unfold.

Why the title House & Home? What’s the difference between a House and a Home?

I originally called the book simply “House.” My agent, Ann Rittenberg, came up with the title “House & Home,” which is perfect. A house, as Ellen comes to find out, really is just a house. It’s a vessel. A home is what’s inside the vessel—the lives that are lived there, the people who live them, how they care for one another.

What is your favorite part of your home and why?

It’s my living room and dining room, which open into each other. The rooms both have huge, multi-paned windows that let in sun all afternoon, and they’re where we spend the majority of our time together as a family—eating meals, doing homework, practicing guitar, folding laundry, reading, talking, entertaining friends. It all happens in those two rooms.

Do you have any other books in the works?

Yes! I’m currently hard at work on my second novel. It’s about a woman who gets so overwhelmed by what she perceives as the negative cultural influences affecting her school-age children that she decides to move them to a remote island off the coast of Washington state to live without shopping malls, cell phones, or traffic lights for a year. The novel follows Susannah Delaney’s quest to create a meaningful life for herself and her three children; her relationship with her husband, Matt, which has grown increasingly strained as they clash over how to best raise the kids; her confusion over a haunting love affair from her past; and finally the changes that take place during the family’s time on Sounder Island, which turns out not at all as Susannah expected.


P.S. I'm giving away my copy of House & Home since I've already finished it. If you'd like to win a copy of this book, please leave a comment below telling me why you'd like to read this book. The winner will be chosen on Sept. 30, so please enter by midnight on Sept. 29!

P.P.S. If you don't want to be entered in the giveaway, you can still leave a comment below ;-)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Drowning in a sea of jargon

I can't believe it's been almost a week since my last post! Grad school has completely taken over all of my reading time. I'm reading super boring books about learning/teaching methods and how to write research papers. There are only two books that I'm actually somewhat enjoying. One is about linguistics and the other is about teaching grammar. The biggest problem with all of these books is that they're so jargony. I don't understand half the words in them and end up running to my dictionary every five seconds - and even then I don't get it. This is why, today I invested in the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Now, instead of the generic definition of the words, I'll get the English Language Professional's definition. Hopefully it will help. Otherwise I'm going to spend this whole semester with my mind boggled.

A sampling of the stuff I'll be looking up constantly this semester:

Subsumption theory, equilibration, syntax, allophone, phoneme, copular verb, interlanguage, metalanguage...the list goes on.

Also, I'm pretty sure these linguist types have made up many a-word, like systematicity. Really?

No wonder it's so difficult to learn English. I've been speaking it my whole life and I feel like I'm in a foreign country now that I'm studying the language itself.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi

There have been countless times where I've read a book and commented that the ending ruined the book for me. I seldom finish a book and say that the ending made the book, but that was the case with Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel, Chicken with Plums.

This book is about her uncle, Nasser Ali Khan, a well known tar (a Persian instrument similar to a guitar) player whose tar is broken by his constantly nagging and belittling wife. He sets out in search of a new tar, but finds that he can no longer play. Without his music he decides to just lie down and wait to die, which takes eight days to happen. We then follow him through the last eight days of his life and in doing so we learn about the life he had before his final moments.

The book was a bit slow moving and as I was reading it I kept asking myself what was really going on. I didn't understand why he was giving up on life instead of going out to look for another tar. And I kept asking myself why this was worthy of a book, but when I got to the end I finally understood. I actually had one of those "Aha" moments when I got to the last few pages of the book and I was glad I had stuck it through. This is a sad little story, but it's fairly quick to read and gives more insight into Persian culture. If you're looking for more by Marjane Satrapi, I'd recommend it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Interview with author Raymond L. Atkins

As many of you know, I recently reviewed The Front Porch Prophet, written by Raymond L. Atkins. This was a book I really enjoyed and the author intrigued me, so I contacted Mr. Atkins and asked him to participate in an interview, to which he kindly agreed. First, a little about Mr. Atkins:
The author lives in Rome, Georgia, with his wife. They live in a 110-year-old house that they have restored themselves, and they have four grown children who drop by from time to time. Raymond has had a variety of occupations during the past thirty-five years, but now that the children are grown, he is pursuing his lifelong ambition of being a novelist and writer. His hobbies include reading, travel, and working on the house.

And now, on to the interview...

One of my favorite parts of this book was the names of the characters (including the cars). I loved the nicknames and double names scattered throughout the story. How did you come up with these names?


I spent my adolescent and young adult life in a small Southern town much like Sequoyah, and as anyone who has ever lived in that type of environment will attest, a great deal of time and effort generally goes into the naming of objects and people. It is the rare individual who does not have a nickname—mine was Old Great Longhair—usually based on some physical trait or habit. Thus my childhood was scattered with Rabbits, Squirrels, Gillas, Maggots, and the like, and I had a large selection of potential names to choose from when it came time to write the book. Additionally, it has always been a fairly common Southern practice to utilize the first and middle names. Thus you hear of Jim Bob, Joe Frank, Johnny Mack, John Robert, Natalie Ann, Mary Jean, and the like. Finally, in the culture of my youth, the naming of vehicles was common, as well. Some of the more memorable handles that still easily come to mind include The Green Hornet, The Chrysler from Hell, and the Love Mobile.

In the same vein, I'm curious about A.J. and Maggie's children's names, who were named after famous authors. Were the specific authors chosen because they are your preferred names in literature, or were they chosen at random? And, how did this idea occur to you?

I am not quite sure when I decided to name the children after famous authors, but I do recall that the decision was made fairly early in the drafting process. An acquaintance of mine had named a child after a rock star, and while I was not tempted to do that in the story, I think it must have been a short segue from that point to the introduction of the famous writers’ brigade. The actual authors were chosen based on novels I have enjoyed over the years.

I get a feeling you were a bit of a prankster like A.J. Were you a dad who told outrageous stories to explain simple phenomena to your children? If I'm right about this one, what's one of the famous Tall Tales of Dad from your house?

I have to admit that my children learned early in their lives not to take too much of what their father said as the gospel truth. The Wizard of Oz episode where the world turned to color before their very eyes was one I had great fun with. (Note from Becca: This is explained in the book, so read it to find out what The Wizard of Oz episode is!)

Why The Front Porch Prophet as the title of this book?

A long time ago, I wrote a very bad poem with that name. When I showed this sonnet to my wife, her advice was to “lose the poem, but hold onto that title.” As for why I decided to use the title for this book, Eugene physically resembles what I imagine an Old Testament prophet must have looked like, and some of his letters and meanderings do indeed prove to be prophetic. I have a mental picture of him on his front porch, holding forth—prophesying—on whatever comes to his mind.

On the inside cover there's mention of "a dead guy with his feet in a camp stove," but I don't remember that in the book. Was this something that was edited out? Or was I not reading carefully enough?

Estelle Chastain’s deceased husband, Parm, had a great many extras adorning his gravesite. One of these was an eternal flame (that was only lit briefly twice per year) made from the guts of a camp stove. (Oooooh! So, it was just me after all...)

Did you travel to Sequoyah, GA, to prepare for this book? How much of this town is true to life?

Sequoyah is a fictional locale that has some resemblances to every small Southern town. Rural Southern life is a distinct culture, and commonalities can be found between most of the communities.

What do you like most about living in the South? Have you ever lived elsewhere?

As I said in the book, I am a plowboy by conscious choice, not dumb luck. I was raised in a military family and lived a great many places in my childhood, but I have lived in the South since I was fourteen. I like the slower pace and the gentility of the life, although a little more of this lifestyle seems to slip away as each year passes.

What was your favorite part about writing this book?

Writing a novel is a great deal of work, but I enjoy each step of the process. It is quite exciting to be able to create a world, and then to have that world behave according to your own master plan. I suppose that my favorite part is when I re-read the previous day’s work—which I do every writing day as a prelude to beginning again—and discover that yesterday’s work accomplished what I wanted it to.

And why didn't you write sooner?!

My wife and I met while working in a cotton mill, and we married at age nineteen. We spent the next six years putting each other through college and the 25 years after that having and raising four children. So I guess you could say that life happened, which it will tend to do. And even though I always held the dream of writing close to my heart during those busy years, the time was just not available.

Lastly, can you tell us a bit about your next book and when it's scheduled to be released? Is it already completed?

My next book—Sorrow Wood—is completed and scheduled for release by Medallion Press in August of 2009. As with The Front Porch Prophet, it will be released in hardcover. Here are the cover notes for the story:
Reva Blackmon is a reluctant probate judge in the small town of Sand Valley, Alabama. She lives in a Rock Castle with turrets and a moat thanks to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, and she walks on one leg thanks to a drunken railroad engineer on the Southern Pacific. She sings Wednesdays and Sundays in the choir at the Methodist Church and believes in reincarnation the rest of the time. Her husband, Wendell, is the love of her life, and if she is to be believed, he has been her soul mate for many lifetimes, stretching back down the corridors of time.

Wendell Blackmon is the disgruntled policeman in this same small town. He rides herd on an unlikely collection of reprobates, rogues with names such as Deadhand Riley, Gilla Newman, Otter Price, and Blossom Hogan. Law enforcement in this venue consists of breaking up dog fights, investigating alien abductions, extinguishing truck fires, and spending endless hours riding the roads of Sand Valley. Unlike his wife, Wendell does not believe in reincarnation. Nor does he believe in Methodism, Buddhism, or Santa Claus. But he does believe in Reva, and that belief has been sufficient to his needs over their many years together.

But the routines of Sand Valley are about to change. A burned body has been discovered at a local farm named Sorrow Wood. The deceased is a promiscuous self-proclaimed witch with a checkered past. Wendell investigates the crime, and the list of suspects includes his deputy, the entire family of the richest man in town, and nearly everyone else who knew the departed. As the probe continues, a multitude of secrets are revealed, including one that reaches from the deep past all the way to the Rock Castle. Who was this woman who met her end at Sorrow Wood? Where did she come from, what were the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, and what did her presence mean to Wendell, Reva, and the remainder of the inhabitants of Sand Valley?

Thanks so much for the interview, Raymond! Have any of you read this book yet? What did you think of it?