Sunday, August 31, 2008

Book Club Discussion: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

As you know, this month we read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a graphic memoir about her childhood in war-torn Iran. However, this month I'm going to try something a little different to see if we can get more participation in the comment section. Today I'm going to post a couple of questions to see what you all thought of the book and you can feel free to ask your own questions as well. Then tomorrow I'll post my review of the book. So, here goes:

What did you think of the book?

Were you surprised by the ending? Were you hoping for more?

If you saw the movie, how did it compare to the book?

What do you think of Satrapi's decision to write this book as a graphic novel?

How much did you know about the history of Iran before going into this book?

What did you think of the illustrations? Were they what you had expected?

Do you plan to read the sequels? Also, do you think you'll read other graphic novels?

What were your favorite parts of the book? What surprised you most?

Feel free to answer only a couple or all of these questions. The idea here is to get you thinking and talking about the book. I want to know what you thought and felt as you read this book. Also, please let me know if you've already reviewed this book so I can link to it in tomorrow's post.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reading for Awareness: Maw's Books Challenge

One of my most favorite book bloggers, just became even more dear to me. Natasha over at Maw's Books has been reading a lot of nonfiction lately about major social issues lately, one of which is the genocide happening right now in Darfur. Those of you who have been reading my personal blog for the past few years know that this is an issue I've personally been following for some time. It's also something I think is very important and that is not being addressed well enough within the main stream media. I commend Natasha for her ongoing efforts to learn about this issue and bring it to people's attention. And I love that she's not just talking about (as I often do), she's doing something to help.

Natasha has dedicated her book blog (which is quite a popular one) to reading and blogging about Darfur for the entire month of September as a way to raise money for the many aid organizations working to help the Sudanese displaced by this war. For each person who posts about her, she's giving a small donation to the cause. In addition, she's asking her readers to commit to making donations in the form of one penny per page she reads during the month of September, or 50 cents per blog she writes. In addition, she's going to be encouraging her readers (that's me!) to read and review books about the crisis in Sudan - and for each one, she'll be donating $1 to the cause. This is by far my most favorite part of her month-long project. I love that Natasha isn't expecting her readers to just take her word for it. Instead she's encouraging us to get involved and educate ourselves on this issue. And by doing so, I think more of us will be motivated to give, not only our money, but our time to the cause.

Please check over at Maw's Books Blog for more information. You can also click here to see a list of books Natasha has recommended to get yourself informed about Darfur. And best of luck to you Natasha! I can't wait to see how much money you raise!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

I've read a couple of Sedaris' books and I think When You Are Engulfed In Flames is now one of my favorites (previously, it was Naked). As always, it's a collection of essays about the author's life, but this time I finally got why he selected these specific stories in this order. In some of his other books I haven't understood how the different stories were connected, but in this one it somehow made sense. Perhaps this was because I read them in a more spaced out period. Most of his books I read straight through, but this one really took me about a month. I would read one essay and then come back to the book a few days later. That's the one plus to reading essay-style books: You don't have to worry about losing the momentum of the story if you put it down for a few days.

While I had read a number of poor reviews of this book and I think that may have been part of the reason it took me so long to get through it, I personally enjoyed the book. I envy Sedaris his ability to find humor in everyday interactions with people. I particularly liked the last section of the book when he described his stay in Japan. His accounts of the Japanese people were not cliche and I felt he was able to really give a glimpse of what life would be like there.

Toward the end he describes a scene that unfolds one day when he's riding the train with his boyfriend, Hugh. A Japanese couple is riding with their young child, who insists on standing up to look out the window. The mother removes the child's shoes and places a towel on the seat where the child will stand. The child proceeds to leave handprints and smears all over the window as it looks at the scenery. But rather than leaving the window all smeared up at the end of the ride, the mother cleans the window before leaving, puts the child's shoes back on and folds up the towel. It's this respect for other people that I think Sedaris conveyed well in his stories about Japan.

And, of course, I'm always a sucker for his stories about Paris and Normandy. I love that Sedaris doesn't sugarcoat his experiences in France the way many authors do. He acknowledges the Parisians' disdain toward him and his accented French. His realistic stories of living in Paris give readers a taste of what it would be like to be an expat. And I love that Hugh is often in these stories. He's one of my favorite characters to show up in Sedaris' books.

If you're a Sedaris fan, you've likely already read this book. If you haven't picked up one of his books before I'd suggest this one or Naked. I enjoyed them both.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jumble Pie: Yours For Free

Over on Melanie Lynne Hauser's site she's giving away free downloads of her new book Jumble Pie. I downloaded it yesterday and it only took a few minutes. I'm not sure how I feel about reading 347 pages on my computer, but it will be something new at least.

Melanie Lynn Hauser is the author of Confessions of Super Mom and Super Mom Saves the World. Her newest book, Jumble Pie, was actually the first book she wrote, but she was unable to get it published at the time. She's still hoping to publish it someday, but in the meantime she's giving it away for free here.

From her site: "JUMBLE PIE is the story of the elusive nature of friendship, sometimes clinging, other times liberating; a story for any woman who has ever lied to her best friend just to make her feel better - and who has been brave enough to tell the truth, even when it hurts. And of course, it's a story about the remarkable healing power of pie."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Matrimony Winner!

The drawing for a signed paperback copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin is now closed. The winner was selected using's list randomizer. And the winner is windycindy! Congratulations! If you'd please e-mail me (bexadler at yahoo dot com) your mailing address, I can get it to Mr. Henkin and have the book sent to you.

Matrimony was released today in paperback with this new fancy cover. For more information about Matrimony you can check out Joshua Henkin's Web site here, read an interview between him and I here or read my review of the book here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Matrimony Giveaway Reminder!

I just wanted to remind you all that tomorrow is the release date for the paperback edition of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, which means it's also the day I'll be giving away a signed paperback copy of the book! So be sure you've left a comment here for your chance to win.

Good luck!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Reminders and a new book

Yesterday I began reading The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins. Although normally I wait to finish a book before I begin raving about it, I thought I'd mention it here because I'm really liking it. The book is a debut novel and was released on July 1 of this year. I'm not too far into the book, but I can already tell that Mr. Atkins has that wonderful storytelling gene. The book is also based in the South, which I love. I don't have too much experience with the South personally, but I love books based there. There's something about southern life that feels really homey to me.

From the inside cover:

What do a trigger-happy bootlegger with pancreatic cancer, an alcoholic helicopter pilot who is afraid to fly, and a dead guy with his feet in a camp stove have in common?

What are the similarities between a fire department that cannot put out fires, a policeman who has a historic cabin fall on him from out of the sky, and an entire family dedicated to a variety of deceased authors?

Where can you find a war hero named Termite with a long knife stuck in his liver, a cook named Hoghead who makes the world’s worst coffee, and a supervisor named Pillsbury who nearly gets hung by his employees?

Sequoyah, Georgia is the answer to all three questions. They arise from the relationship between A. J. Longstreet and his best friend since childhood, Eugene Purdue. After a parting of ways due to Eugene’s inability to accept the constraints of adulthood, he reenters A.J.’s life with terminal cancer and the dilemma of executing a mercy killing when the time arrives.

Take this gripping journey to Sequoyah, Georgia and witness A.J.’s battle with mortality, euthanasia, and his adventure back to the past and people who made him what he is - and helps him make the decision that will alter his life forever.
And here's a little about Raymond L. Atkins (this makes my heart smile too):

Raymond L. Atkins resides 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. His stories have been published in Christmas Stories from Georgia, The Lavendar Mountain Anthology, The Blood and Fire Review, and The Old Red Kimono.

Anyway, if you haven't heard of this book, you can check it out on Amazon. Or hop on over to Raymond L. Atkins' Web site. The book was also reviewed by Shana over at Literarily. And read the prologue to the book here (This is what hooked me).

Also, I have a little bit of housecleaning to do. First, there are only five days left to enter for a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin. To enter go here and leave a comment.

And I wanted to remind you all that we'll be discussing Persepolis at the end of this month. If you've already read the book, please leave a comment linking to your review so I can include it in my review on Aug. 31.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Today I met with the public library book club for the last installment of the Banned Book Series they were putting on. This month we read Beloved by Toni Morrison. While I thought the book was beautifully written and heartbreaking to read, I could definitely see why parents would challenge this book as part of school curricula.

Even as an adult I found the mistreatment of humans to be chilling and difficult to get through. That and the mention of bestiality and a couple of scenes with sexual abuse were shocking. However, I feel the reason I was so uncomfortable with these scenes as they played out in the book was that these stories were taken from a very real history of slavery in the United States. Today it's unimaginable, but it was a reality for many people only 150 years ago in this country.

Toni Morrison got the idea for writing Beloved when she came across the true story of an escaped slave who killed her own daughter to keep her from being taken back into slavery. She wrote briefly about the woman at first, but was then encouraged to build upon that story. And from that came Beloved.

Beloved is the tale of Sethe, an escaped slave who is haunted by the memory of her baby girl. Sethe escaped while pregnant with her fourth child, and shortly after birth her owner shows up with the Sheriff to take her back. But before he is able to lay a hand on her, she gathers her four children in the barn and attempts to kill them all in an effort to save them from a life of slavery. She is only successful in killing her third child, whose tombstone reads nothing more than "Beloved" because Sethe couldn't afford to have a real inscription etched into the rock.

As the book proceeds we are taken back through time to see what led Sethe to escape. We also meet up with others from her past and we watch as her youngest daughter, the one she birthed during her escape to freedom, grow up in a world where freedom no longer exists but continues to haunt those who lived through it and the Civil War. And we also see the incarnation of Beloved come back to haunt Sethe.

This book is one I find fairly difficult to explain well. I thought it was beautifully written and it was an interesting story that kept my attention throughout. I particularly liked the time period because it shows the transition caused by the Civil War. It was a time where people saw a lot of change and for many it must have been a difficult thing to deal with. I think this book conveyed that predicament well. I also appreciated Morrison's decision to show that not all white people were cruel toward slaves during that time period.

I thought I'd share one of my favorite passages from the book as well, just so you can get a taste of the writing. This excerpt is found on page 89, just after the birth of Sethe's fourth child, Denver, which she birthed during her escape to freedom:

Spores of bluefren growing in the hollows along the riverbank float toward the water in silver-blue lines hard to see unless you are in or near them, lying right at the river's edge when the sunshots are low and drained. Often they are mistook for insects - but they are seeds in which the whole generation sleeps confident of a future. And for a moment it is easy to believe each one has one - will become all of what is contained in the spore: will live out its days as planned. This moment of certainty lasts no longer than that; longer, perhaps, than the spore itself.

This book can be difficult to understand at times. In fact, many people at the book club meeting said they didn't finish it because they found it too confusing. I, too, found it confusing at first, but if you persevere Morrison explains things more fully. And it's definitely worth the read.

Check out other book bloggers posts about this book:
Desert Rose

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Giving up after 13 dates

My computer is finally "fixed" (in quotation marks because they actually replaced my hard drive, they didn't fix it, but I'm not going to complain too loudly), but now I don't have anything to review. What?! Nothing to review? you ask. Well, it's because I got mired in a book and refused to move on until I finished it. Unfortunately, two weeks later and unable to renew it at the library because I've already renewed it three times, I'm still not finished.

The book, Around the World in 80 Dates by Jennifer Cox, was recommended to me by a friend so I really wanted to like it. And I really did like the premise of the book. I LOVE travel essays and I've always, always, always wanted to take a trip around the world. The problem wasn't even that it was about finding Mr. Right (OK, maybe a little. What can I say, I'm a cynic), it was that I didn't connect with Ms. Cox. In the beginning I thought she was super funny and I liked that she didn't completely disregard all of her accomplishments in her career and in life just because she didn't have a man to stand by her side.

But as the story went on I found myself just being really annoyed with her. She wasn't whiny or anything. I mean, I can't really put my finger on it. I just didn't like her. Maybe it was just because I was jealous that she has the means to travel around the world looking for her Soul Mate (which seriously, by about Chapter 3 I was ready to strangle her for using Soul Mate - even if she believes we have more than one - and Mr. Right repeatedly). And perhaps a little because I didn't think of the idea first. I mean what better way to get a trip around the world paid for than to come up with a way to turn it into a book?

Anyway, if you don't hate women who are looking for love, you might like this book. She puts in tons of facts about the places she visits and even interviews some really interesting people and has some funny dating experiences. But I just cannot get through the book. Sorry I didn't like it Layla. I really tried though.

Huh, I guess I had a review in me after all.

Also, I want to give a shout out to my roommate Brian. I've been been reading his new blog and I pretty much love it for the way he captures (in photos) the spirit of my hometown and the California coast. He's a photographer and does tons of fun outdoors stuff that he documents with words and beautiful snapshots. So, check it out.

Friday, August 8, 2008

More Giveaways!?

I kind of feel like this blog has turned into giveaway central. I figured you all wouldn't mind though since you're the beneficiaries, right?

So, first off I wanted to announce that Matrimony by Joshua Henkin is being released in paperback on August 26. And to celebrate, he's offered to give away a signed copy to one lucky reader of my blog! All you have to do is leave a comment here saying you're interested in reading the book. And, for additional chances to win, you can write a post linking to this blog. Just be sure to leave the link here so I know to give you a second entry. The drawing will be held August 26, the day the book is released in paperback.

For those of you who haven't heard about Henkin's book, you can check out his Web site here, read an interview between him and I here or read my review of the book here.

Secondly, I'd like to promote another blog's giveaway. Literarily is giving away a copy of First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader. If you're interested, head over there and leave her a comment.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

August Book Club Selection

With everything else going on, I completely forgot to announce the book club selection for August! Sorry about that. Hopefully you'll still have time to pick up a copy and enjoy the book before the end of the month.

This month I've chosen Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi based on the recommendation from beastmomma. I've heard a lot of great things about this book. I've also never read a graphic novel, so I thought this would be a great way to launch myself into a new genre of books. Hopefully it will be a fun experience for those of you who have also been putting off picking up graphic novels. Also, if you don't want to spend money on this book, be aware that it IS available at public libraries. I requested my copy a couple of days ago and it's already in!

OK then, here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about the book:

Satrapi's autobiography is a timely and timeless story of a young girl's life under the Islamic Revolution. Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi is nine when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. While Satrapi's radical parents and their community initially welcome the ouster, they soon learn a new brand of totalitarianism is taking over.

Satrapi's art is minimal and stark yet often charming and humorous as it depicts the madness around her. She idolizes those who were imprisoned by the Shah, fascinated by their tales of torture, and bonds with her Uncle Anoosh, only to see the new regime imprison and eventually kill him. Thanks to the Iran-Iraq war, neighbors' homes are bombed, playmates are killed and parties are forbidden. Satrapi's parents, who once lived in luxury despite their politics, struggle to educate their daughter. Her father briefly considers fleeing to America, only to realize the price would be too great. "I can become a taxi driver and you a cleaning lady?" he asks his wife.

Iron Maiden, Nikes and Michael Jackson become precious symbols of freedom, and eventually Satrapi's rebellious streak puts her in danger, as even educated women are threatened with beatings for improper attire. Despite the grimness, Satrapi never lapses into sensationalism or sentimentality. Skillfully presenting a child's view of war and her own shifting ideals, she also shows quotidian life in Tehran and her family's pride and love for their country despite the tumultuous times. Powerfully understated, this work joins other memoirs-Spiegelman's Maus and Sacco's Safe Area Goradze-that use comics to make the unthinkable familiar.

I hope you all enjoy it and I look forward to hearing what you have to say at the end of the month!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A quicky for The Zookeeper's Wife

My computer is still broken. It's the saddest thing EVER. I've lost all of my music and photos, but was able to recover my work files (thank goodness!). I'm just waiting on a new hard drive to arrive in the mail before I can start using my less-than-a-year-old computer again. On the plus side, I've gotten tons of work done this week without the Internet here to distract me. I don't want this little blog of mine to die though, so I wanted to at least post something to say, "Hello."

SO last week I read The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman. Before picking up this book from the library, I didn't really know what it was about, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was the true story of a zookeeper and his wife living in Warsaw during the German occupation of Poland in WWII.

Prior to reading this book I didn't have much knowledge about Poland and Warsaw during World War II. Of course I'd heard of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Warsaw Uprising, but I didn't actually have any context to go with it. In Ackerman's book, she gives us a history lesson along with a beautiful story about how a couple and their young son saved hundreds of Jews during the five years their country was occupied. The zookeeper and his wife use the zoo (now void of animals and partially used as a sort of storage depot for German weapons) to hide Jews right under the Germans' noses. The couple also seeks to find ways to make the zoo profitable during wartime, first turning it into a pig farm, then later using it for public vegetable gardens.

While I really enjoyed this book and read through it quickly, I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been written as a historical novel (similar to Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks). I understand the author's desire to stick to the facts, but I think a novel-type telling would have given me more attachment to the characters. I didn't like constantly being reminded that this was a story based on research the author did (i.e. passages that read, "At this point Jan may have... or perhaps he...). I think the story would have been just as compelling if the author took ownership of the story by writing it in the first person and filling in the blanks where her research was lacking.

Regardless, this is a wonderful book and a fascinating story. Each time I read an account of World War II I'm reminded of the strength of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Many, many people during that time risked their lives to help others for no other reason than that it was morally right. To me that's a worthy lesson in humanity.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Contest Winners!

Sorry I didn't get this  up yesterday. My laptop has had a major breakdown and won't be  back up for the foreseeable future. Note to self: Apple computers may look super sleek and be super popular, but they live up to the reputation PC users have given them. I haven't even owned the laptop a year and I already have to have the hard drive replaced? SO not OK with me.

Anyway, what you're really here for is to see who our winners are, so let's get down to business:

When you are engulfed in flames goes to icedream
A short history of nearly everything goes to Shana.
and The Richest Season goes to Amanda.

Please email (bexadler at yahoo dot com) me with you mailing addresses so I can get these books out asap. 

If you didn't happen to win this one, be advised there will be more giveaways to come. AND Jocelyn at Book Finds is giving away a copy of Sisters of Misery. So head on over and check that one out.

Reviews and book club announcements will be soon to follow, but I'm sleepy right now and borrowing this computer so I don't want to take too much time.