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?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I've been tagged...

Yesterday I was tagged by Sophisticated Dorkiness (whose blog you should totally check out by the way) to do this meme about how blogging has changed me (for better or worse). I hope you all don't mind a little break from all of my super long (as of late) reviews. First, the rules:

1. Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.
2. Link back to the person who tagged you (and leave a comment on his/her blog after you do the tag).
3. Link back to this parent post.
4. Tag a few friends or five, or none at all (and inform them about it).
5. Post these rules— or just have fun breaking them.

Now, for my response.

How blogging has affected me? Oh, let me count the ways:

1. My book blog has encouraged me to read much more than I otherwise would have, in addition to getting me to read a wider variety of books.

2. Unfortunately, it has grown my TBR pile to well over 200 books. I don't think I'll get through all of the books I want to read within this lifetime (especially if I keep getting more in the mail each week!).

3. Blogging, in general, has allowed me to keep in touch with friends and family with whom I may have otherwise lost contact. It has also given me a great outlet for all of the stuff floating through my mind on a daily basis.

4. And it has given me a terrible, terrible addiction that also helps feed my need to procrastinate. Bad, bad blogging!

5. Lastly, it has allowed me to "meet" a huge community of people with the same interests as me (which of course has lead to my Google Reader being jam-packed all day every day...).

OK, so now I have to tag people (hopefully people who haven't already been tagged before). So let's see, how about beastmomma, Laura, and CJ.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Last Days of Krypton

I'm normally not a sci-fi reader. In fact, the only sci-fi I've ever read was the Ender's Game series and the Hitchhiker's series, both of which I read and adored in high school. I have otherwise never been interested in the genre. Somehow, even though I loved these other two series, I thought I couldn't get into sci-fi books. Plus, I thought they were way too technical for me. I don't know anything about warp drives and whatnot. BUT Kevin J. Anderson was able to draw me in with his latest book, The Last Days of Krypton, which was just released in paperback on August 28.

I may not be a sci-fi fan, but I am a HUGE Superman follower. I've watched all the TV Series and seen the movies - and Superman comics are the only ones I've ever collected. See, my geek side is coming out now. So when I heard there was a book coming out that finally put all of the pieces of Krypton together, I jumped at the chance to read it. And I wasn't disappointed, although I guess I'm easier to please than some of the reviewers on Amazon. The hard thing for any book that backtracks on an already in place mythology with a huge following is that it will have critics who thought it should have come together differently. Many fans will already have a picture in their minds of what happened and if it doesn't add up then, well, they just won't like it regardless of how well done it is.

With Superman this may have been slightly easier to avoid because the mythology regarding Krypton has been so scattered over the years. Readers have seen several potential causes for the end of Krypton, including the sun going supernova, major geological pressure causing the world to explode and civil war breaking out causing Kryptonians to destroy themselves. The awesome thing is that Anderson addresses all of these in his book. It's obvious the author did his research and tried to include everything in the plot line.

In The Last Days of Krypton, we follow the last year or so of the history of Krypton, home planet of Superman (Kal-El, Clark Kent). It is told from the perspectives of many of the main characters - Jor-El (Kal-El's dad), Zor-El, Zod and Aethyr to name but a few. We learn of the great war in Krypton's past, which gives us the reasoning behind their world's fear of space travel and connecting with alien species. We discover how Jor-El came across the spaceship in which he eventually sends Kal-El to Earth. And we learn the origins of the green Kryptonite. We also have questions answered about the phantom zone and General Zod, which is huge if you're a Superman fan.

I, for one, have been confused about a lot of these things for a long time and was happy to have these questions addressed in such a gripping book. While I enjoyed most of the book, I thought the part about General Zod's takeover of the Kryptonian government was a little long, but it was also suspenseful and kept me reading. And I was thoroughly confused by Aethyr's turn-around. She starts of hating the authority of Krypton and researching its past. She is non-conformist to say the least, but then becomes an adamant Zod follower, even as he leads Krypton to near destruction. Somehow, I didn't get this abrupt change. Being non-conformist doesn't necessarily mean you'd want one person to take over the whole country and be OK with them killing off anyone who disagrees. Other than those two things though, I thought the book was well done. And the cover rocks (it's a hologram!).

Oh, and if you're unfamiliar with Superman lore, don't feel like you couldn't pick up this book. Anderson does a much better job of explaining each character's role than I have done here. Plus, there's a list of characters in the front of the book, along with a description of who they are in relation to each other, in case you get lost. I don't think you'll get lost though. The book follows a fairly linear timeline, introducing characters as you go along as with any other book.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Some recommended reading about Darfur

Even though I just started grad school last week, I've made a commitment to also read some books about Darfur for Natasha's effort to raise money for aid in that area. For each book I read and review, she will be donating one dollar to the cause. This of course is in addition to the many other ways she is raising money this month, including writing her own blogs, counting each comment she receives and encouraging her readers to donate a penny for every page she reads this month. This may all sound like small amounts, but with the number of readers she has, and the number of pages I know she reads in a month, this can really add up to a decent sum of money.

Today I picked up four books from my public library about Darfur. I thought I'd share them with you, in case you're interested in the cause but aren't sure where to start. Perhaps a brief summary of the books I'm planning to read will help you to find one you'd enjoy.

First on my list is The Devil Came on Horseback: bearing witness to the genocide in Darfur by Brian Steidle and Gretchen Steidle Wallace. This book was on my list anyway, but after reading Natasha's review of it yesterday, I've moved it up the stacks. I highly recommend checking out her post on it and watching the videos she included. If you don't have time for that though, here's a brief description of the book:

Where is the horror? Where is the outrage, asks Brian Steidle, bewildered by the lack of international response to what is clearly the genocide of Darfur's black population. As an ex-marine and member of the African Union's monitoring team, he witnesses firsthand the government of Sudan's attempt to systematically eliminate all but the Arab population. Echoing Steidle's personal narrative, Jeff Cummings's voice moves from naïve hope that something can be accomplished to anger at the senseless slaughter and surprise at its political complexity. Deeply frustrated at the inaction and even indifference of the rest of the world, his contract up, Steidle grabs his laptop, his notebooks, his camera, and heads for home, hoping to alert the public and awaken its moribund conscience.

Next up is The Translator: A tribesman's memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari. From the cover:

I am the translator who has taken journalists into dangerous Darfur. It is my intention now to take you there in this book, if you have the courage to come with me.

The young life of Daoud Hari–his friends call him David–has been one of bravery and mesmerizing adventure. He is a living witness to the brutal genocide under way in Darfur.

The Translator is a suspenseful, harrowing, and deeply moving memoir of how one person has made a difference in the world–an on-the-ground account of one of the biggest stories of our time. Using his high school knowledge of languages as his weapon–while others around him were taking up arms–Daoud Hari has helped inform the world about Darfur.

Hari, a Zaghawa tribesman, grew up in a village in the Darfur region of Sudan. As a child he saw colorful weddings, raced his camels across the desert, and played games in the moonlight after his work was done. In 2003, this traditional life was shattered when helicopter gunships appeared over Darfur’s villages, followed by Sudanese-government-backed militia groups attacking on horseback, raping and murdering citizens and burning villages. Ancient hatreds and greed for natural resources had collided, and the conflagration spread.

Though Hari’s village was attacked and destroyedhis family decimated and dispersed, he himself escaped. Roaming the battlefield deserts on camels, he and a group of his friends helped survivors find food, water, and the way to safety. When international aid groups and reporters arrived, Hari offered his services as a translator and guide. In doing so, he risked his life again and again, for the government of Sudan had outlawed journalists in the region, and death was the punishment for those who aided the “foreign spies.” And then, inevitably, his luck ran out and he was captured. . . .

The Translator tells the remarkable story of a man who came face-to-face with genocide– time and again risking his own life to fight injustice and save his people.

I've also checked out Not on our Watch by Don Cheadle. I was surprised to see that this book had been written by a celebrity, but after reading the Publisher's Weekly review of it I think I understand a little bit better. Here is the description from Publisher's Weekly:

Over the past five years, youth groups, religious organizations, politicians and individuals have responded to the crisis in Sudan in increased numbers. This book is a guide for these already involved, as well as those who are interested in taking action, or speaking out against the mass killings that continue to occur in the country's Darfur region.

Coauthored by Cheadle, actor and star of the film Hotel Rwanda, and Prendergast, senior adviser of the International Crisis Group, the book is a pastiche of practical information, instructions, memoir and history. As a handbook for budding activists, it's informative and, at times, inspiring. The combination of charts, lists and first-person accounts create a simple and reasonable path to action. But as a source for information about the conflict in Sudan, the book falters.

The history is neither clear nor succinct, and there is not much of it. Furthermore, although Cheadle and Prendergast's personal anecdotes are entertaining, they overshadow the few anecdotes about the Sudanese living through the crisis. The book's most interesting moment, besides the useful advice on how to get involved, is its delving into the government's excuses for inaction.

And, lastly, I've checked out Darfur: A Short History of a Long War by Julie Flint and Alex de Waal. Hopefully this one won't read like a textbook. I mainly checked it out because I think it's important to know a bit of the history behind the current conflict. I think it will help me to be not only more informed, but possibly will help me to understand better how this crisis came about.

A brief description from Amazon: "Darfur traces the origins, organization and ideology of the infamous Janjawiid and other rebel groups, including the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. It also analyzes the confused responses of the Sudanese government and African Union. This thoroughly updated edition also features a powerful analysis of how the conflict has been received in the international community and the varied attempts at peacekeeping."

OK then, I hope this helps and I'll be sure to post my reviews as I finish the books. I doubt I'll finish them all this month though (sorry Natasha!), but I do plan to get through them.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins

The Front Porch Prophet is a debut novel by Raymond L. Atkins about a fictional small town in Georgia. The story is told through its main character, A.J. Longstreet, and opens with the tale of how he came to know Eugene Purdue, his childhood best friend who is now dying of cancer. Eugene and A.J. had a tumultuous relationship in recent years, nearly ending their friendship after a drunken argument three years ago. But A.J. runs into Eugene's ex-wife and is told Eugene wants to see him up at the cabin, which is really just a jumble of pieces (including an old school bus Eugene and A.J. stole in their wild high school days). Not one to hold a grudge, A.J. decides to go and while there finds out about Eugene's cancer (and Eugene's expectation that A.J. will help him die before the pain gets too bad).

While the premise of this book may sound a little heavy, Atkins is able to add some levity to the situation and give us a well-rounded view of A.J.'s life and friendship with Eugene. We also learn about many secrets in their past and we meet a whole cast of lovable Southern characters. I would recommend this book solely for its ability to poke fun at Southern living while also endearing us to such a life.

As the book moves forward we watch Eugene's quick deterioration due to his illness and we see his life go full circle. We're introduced to Johnny Mack, Termite, Brickhead, Wormy and Hoghead - some of the colorfully named characters in the book (with colorful lives as well). Atkins is a natural storyteller, making the scenes unfold with wonderful descriptions and well placed humor.

I'm not certain this would be a book for everyone, but I quite enjoyed reading it. It has been awhile since I've read a book that so fully captured my attention that I wasn't able to put it down until the end. For that alone, I give this book my star of approval. And I'm looking forward to Atkins' next book, which is due out next year.

Read another review of this book at:
Book Zombie

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

September Selection: House & Home by Kathleen McCleary

This month I've chosen House & Home by Kathleen McCleary for our book club selection. This is a book you'll be hearing a lot about this month in the book blogging community because McCleary is doing a blog tour, which started yesterday at the Hooked on Houses blog. There you can read an interview with Kathleen McCleary and watch a trailer for the book. The best part is that McCleary will be stopping here at my blog as well! She'll be here to talk to you all on September 24, which will hopefully have given you enough time to have read some of the book and leave some questions of your own for the author.

Here is a description of the book from its inside cover:

Ellen Flanagan has two precious girls to raise, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop to run, terrific friends, and a sexy husband. She adores her house, a yellow Cape Cod filled with quirky antiques, beloved nooks and dents, and a million memories. But now, at forty-four, she's about to lose it all.

After eighteen roller-coaster years of marriage, Ellen's husband, Sam--who's charismatic, spontaneous, and utterly irresponsible--has disappointed her in more ways than she can live with, and they're getting divorced. Her daughters are miserable about losing their daddy. Worst of all, the house that Ellen loves with all her heart must now be sold.

Ellen's life is further complicated by a lovely and unexpected relationship with the husband of the shrewish, social-climbing woman who has purchased the house. Add to that the confusion over how she really feels about her almost-ex-husband, and you have the makings of a delicious novel about what matters most in the end . . .

Set in the gorgeous surroundings of Portland, Oregon, Kathleen McCleary's funny, poignant, curl-up-and-read debut strikes a deep emotional chord and explores the very notion of what makes a house a home.

As always, we will be discussing the book on the last day of the month, September 30 this month. For more information about the book feel free to visit McCleary's Web site.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Thank you to everyone who answered the discussion questions either in the comments or on your own blog. I'm not really sure how to get more participation with the online book club, especially since so many of you belong to real-life book clubs and have tons of personal reading challenges going on, but I'm enjoying the experiment nonetheless. It gives me a deadline for at least one book per month, which helps me with my year-long goal of reading one book per week.

This month's book, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, was my first-ever graphic novel. I'm not sure I'd like to read just anything as a graphic novel, but I thought it worked well for this book. Satrapi deals with some heavy subjects in this memoir, which includes a great deal of information about Iranian history over the past thirty years, and I think the illustrations really helped to enhance the telling of those stories. It also made for easy and quick reading. Although Satrapi covers a lot of material in this book, it doesn't take long to get through it because she doesn't have to painstakingly describe the anguish on someone's face, or the horrors of torture. Instead she's able to show us how specific comments or incidents directly affected her and her family.

I think this is an important book for Americans to read, especially as we march toward (most likely) war with Iran. I think understanding something about Iran's history and culture will help us to relate better to the Iranian people, rather than demonizing them as could be the case.

The one thing I disliked about Persepolis was the abrupt ending. She leaves us hanging with some pretty major questions about her future and her family left unanswered. I realize there are four books in this series though, so I'm sure they'll be answered eventually...and now I have to read them to find out what happens!

While the illustrations are minimalist in nature, they do their job in helping to give life to the story at hand. Since this is my first graphic novel I don't have much to compare it to, but I'd recommend it all the same.

My one regret in reading this book was that I didn't wait until I had the money to purchase the French version. I thought it would be a good personal challenge to attempt reading this in its original French form. Perhaps I'll have that opportunity with the sequels.

Other thoughts on this book can be found on:
Beastmomma's blog
Plus, le blog
Reading Room

P.S. The book for September is going to be House & Home by Kathleen McCleary. I'll be posting more information about the book and author tomorrow. Just wanted to give you a little sneak peak.