Tuesday, December 29, 2009


"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
Groucho Marx

There is probably evidence all over Twitter, Goodreads, and the blogosphere that I love to drink a nice mug of hot tea, especially when I'm reading. So, even though I had resolved to only review books on this blog, I couldn't resist this product from Bag Ladies Tea when they approached me about reviewing their product.
The tea itself is a lovely English Breakfast tea, something that most tea drinkers will enjoy, and the product is very reasonably priced. But the best part of this product is the literary quote that comes on the tag of each tea bag. There are quotes from Alice Hoffman, Louisa May Alcott and C. S. Lewis. Usually I try to get two cups from a tea bag. But these are so fun, you want a new tea bag for every cup you drink. I only wish I would have found this product sooner--a pouch of this tea and a mug would have made wonderful gifts for book club friends! Next year!

Tricia McIntyre, of Bag Ladies Tea, wrote of her families deep affection for books when she sent this product which inspired this line of packaging. But the company also offers at least a dozen other types of packaging for the English Breakfast tea (including a set for teachers, one for mothers and one for birthdays) as well as other types of teas.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sunday Salon - Monday Edition

With three days left in the month, we've now had more snow in this December than any December in the past 62 years! Friday morning, we woke up to this drift on our patio. Miss H and friend built a tunnel through and then a cave inside big enough for them both to sit in. It was the one good thing, for her, about missing Christmas with the family. For me, the one good thing was how very relaxing it was. And the amount of time I found to read!

With everyone putting together year end recaps, I thought I could knock mine out in no time. Ha! I have my top five books always listed on the side of my blog but narrowing down a top ten is giving me fits. So that's a post for another day. I am enjoying reading everyone else's top ten lists as well as the lists from all of the major publications. I found Entertainment Weekly's top ten list of the year to be interesting. I would have expected to find more fluff on this list so I was surprised to find literary favs such as "Lit: A Memoir" by Mary Karr, "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett, and "Let The Great World Spin" by Colum McCann.

I'm off to read while I watch PBS's documentary about Louisa May Alcott. Have I mentioned how much I love her books? I do; I love them! I've got my National Book Award winner still to finish so I can complete that challenge before year end!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Cost of Dreams by Gary Stelzer

The Cost of Dreams by Gary Stelzer
296 pages
Published October 2009 by Decent Hearts Press
Source: Robin of Carol Fass Publicity and Public Relations

This is the tale of Flora Enriquez, who is first introduced to the reader as a thirteen-year-old living in a Central American village when American Kate Bowman comes to spend time as an aide worker with her nephew. A year later we pick up again with Flora as she and her siblings are preparing to cross the border into the U.S. in search of a better life. When Flora's sister dies during the crossing and her brothers are captured by border guards, Flora is left on her own. She eventually finds herself living in the shed of a wealthy family who hire her as a maid when they discover her. She makes herself indispensable to the family and convinces them to pay for her education as a teacher. When she is just 20, she meets Monte Erickson and soon finds herself married to him. Unfortunately, he carries the baggage of a very violent, criminal brother. Eventually the couple and their two children flee the apartment they have been renting from the brother and settle into a new life with Monte working in the mines and Flora working as a teacher. But when Monte's brother finds them, Flora's life takes a dramatic turn. Shot and near death, she is saved from the brother by a Mexican woman who has crossed illegally and is traveling in a boxcar to meet her husband. Marguerite believes that Flora is her deceased daughter, returned to her and convinces her husband that they must help her. Life becomes a daily battle as Flora needs much more care than the family is able to provide. Unable to speak, Flora is on an odyssey that will take her from Texas to the shores of Lake Michigan then all the way back to Mexico.

I have to admit that I was ready to put this book down after 30 pages. I found a number of glaring errors that were really distracting for me (one of Flora's brother's was 16 on page 13 then 15 on page 14 and Flora's height went from 4'10" to 5'3"). But I always try to give a book a 100 page chance to I pushed on. By the time I reached the 100 page mark, the writing had evened out and the story was unique enough that it kept me reading to the end.

Stelzer certainly has an epic story to tell; unfortunately, his writing style didn't work for me. Beyond the errors, I felt like there was just too much going on in the book and that the pacing was uneven. Stelzer has done his research on the Barrances del Cobre aborigines and was clearly well-versed in small planes and their operation. He also portrays a very believable picture of what life as an illegal immigrant must be like.

For a completely different opinion, please visit Cheryl's Book Nook. Cheryl found the book "wonderful" and was "lost in this book instantly." Beth, of Beth's Book Review Blog, also found the book "well-written and engrossing."

There is much more about the book at Gary's site. Thanks Robyn, for allowing me, once again to expand my knowledge of the way other people live.

Heartfelt Award

Thanks to Milka of Read, Read, Read for bestowing this award on me! Milka is a young lady from Finland, the same age as Mini-Me, and I really enjoy seeing the variety of books she reads. Plus she teaches me things about life in Finland. Just as I love to read books that expose me to new cultures, one of the expected delights of blogging for me has been to learn more about different cultures from so many of you! The description of this award is:

Do you reach for a cup of cocoa or tea when your relaxing, seeking comfort, sharing a plate of cookies with family and friends? You know the feeling you get when you drink a yummy cup of cocoa, tea, or a hot toddy? That is what the Heartfelt Award is all about, feeling warm inside.

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all of the awards I have gotten this year and how much I have enjoyed the chance to get to know other bloggers that they have given me. I'm supposed to be passing this along to nine other bloggers, but, to be honest, I have such a hard time narrowing these down. So I'm just going to say that I would bestow this to all of the bloggers I follow--getting to read all of your blogs always gives me a warm feeling inside. Unless I have let my Google reader reach new posts in excess of 300. Then I get a little panicked inside!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Guest Post by author Karen White

I'd like to thank Karen White, author The House on Tradd Street and The Girl on Legare Street (along with nine other books), for stopping by to let us in on what inspires her. I'm taking inspiration from Karen when I write my Christmas letters next year!

I'm always asked how I got that spark of inspiration to start my first novel and how I get my ideas for each book that I write. The answer to both is related, so bear with me while I try to explain.
My children are now 16 and 17, but when I was pregnant with my youngest I started writing a Christmas letter that I included in all of my Christmas cards to save me time writing the same thing again and again. Except my Christmas letters weren't what most people would call 'typical'. They were more Erma Bombeck-like, taking a wry look at life instead of the 5-page epistles of bragdom that these letters are typically like.
I started getting fan mail for my Christmas letters, from family and friends as well as from people I'd never met but who lived near somebody who'd shared the letter etc. It was funny, but inspiring, too. Teachers throughout my educational career had told me I should be a writer but I didn't believe I have the stick-with-it to write an entire book, or that I would be able to pull off something like an entire novel since I have the patience of a flea. Still, the positive feedback was one of the motivating factors when one day in 1996 I decided to sit down at my computer and start writing. I wrote a sentence first, and then a paragraph, then a page and soon after that, I had a chapter. And I began to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could write an entire book. That was 13 books ago and I'm just beginning to feel that I might have been right!
But how do I get my inspiration for each book? Again, let me refer back to my Christmas letters. As I mentioned, they are a slice of real life which is something I try to inject into all my novels so that the characters seem real to my readers. And in an indirect way, my children also inspire my dedication to my craft. It is their incessant bickering/demanding/sulking that makes me run to my 'happy place' throughout the day, giving me ample time at the computer to write yet another book. See? Living with teenagers CAN be a good thing!
I have several friends who constantly threaten to bind up my letters (which they've saved) and have them published. I'm not sure that I'm ready for that, but since it's the season I figured I could pour over them and share a sampling of the letters that got me started with this whole crazy writing thing:
1995: The most exciting news from 1995 is that there are now two of us wearing 'big-girl' pants…For those of you who are interested, my potty-training techniques will be published in the spring in a book entitled Potty-training At Gunpoint.
1997: Also in the small miracle category, I finished my first novel…It wasn't easy researching and writing with one child sitting in my lap playing with the keyboard and the other one spinning my chair around. For tips on writing with small children, allow me to refer you to another one of my non-fiction books, Childrearing With Duct Tape.
1998: This has been, well, another year in the life of a family with two kids and no dog. We've concluded we don't need the dog because the kids can get the paper. They also like to be scratched behind the ears and lick each other. It's hard to believe this is the way big people start out.
2000: This was the year of another milestone: Tim and I finally succumbed to our children's desire for a pet and let Connor have an ant farm. The children spend countless hours watching their ants dig tunnels and act like ants. Connor was a bit disappointed when he let them out to go fetch the newspaper and they never came back. I think we'll try a goldfish next year.
2006: Another year of growing older, growing wiser, and another year of our children becoming a warning to the world as to what happens when a right-brained person and a left-brained person breed.
Speaking of breeding, Tim and I took the plunge this year! Finally giving up all hope that the guinea pigs would one day learn to fetch the paper and cook dinner, and nixing the idea of a third child, we got a fluffy Havanese puppy. We figured it would be better than another child because he would never learn to talk back or ask for the car keys…After much discussion, we decided to name him Quincy (aka The Quincinator). Other top name choices were Guinness (Tim), Mr. Darcy (Meghan), Duke (Connor) and Uranus (me). I really wanted the opportunity to say, “Take Uranus out for a walk” or “I think Uranus has fleas.” Oh, well. Quincy it is. He still hasn't learned how to fetch the paper, but he's darned good at shredding it!
2007: Another year older, another year wiser, and another year coming closer to understanding why some mammals in the animal kingdom eat their young…My experiences have led me to write a follow-up to my surprisingly successful first self-help book Potty Training at Gunpoint with a new book about getting your teenagers to actually listen to you: Duct Tape: It's Not Just for Toddlers.
Our biggest milestone this year was Meghan getting her driver's permit. For those of you who haven't reached this point in your parenting careers, let me sum it up this way: it's just like childbirth, but without the painkillers.
2008: We're in our second year of living with two teenagers. I liken the experience to dressing a baby octopus in a sweater, only requiring more patience. It's been eye-opening soul-searching, rewarding in many ways, and has certainly made me appreciate my dog. Tim and I, while leading with a firm hand, have tried to make a few concessions so that the kids won't consider us old fogies but my attempts to have Tim introduce me as his “baby mama” haven't gone over too well nor has my insistence to be renamed Lil' K.
2009: I sit here writing to you once again to wish you the joys and happiness of the season, and to share with you a little bit from my new reality book series Duct Tape for the Parents' Psyche: Surviving Life with Teenagers. It includes 1,001 recipes for mixed drinks and the correct way to drink straight from the bottle…
I'm still writing for Penguin Publishing and had two more novels released in 2009, with two more scheduled for 2010. One of my proudest achievements this year was discovering a new lavender-scented fabric softener that the family just loves. Oh, and my 11th published novel, The Girl on Legare Street, hit the New York Times extended bestseller list. It was amazing how many books I had to buy to make that happen. J
I hope my words have made you smile, and have shed some light on the inner workings of a busy mom/writer. Despite the craziness and the exhaustion and the worry that I'll never be inspired enough to write another book, I wouldn't trade one single moment.
Have a wonderful holiday season, and best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!

The Girl On Legare Street by Karen White

The Girl On Legare Street by Karen White
335 Pages
Published November 2009 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and Lisa with TLC Book Tours

After receiving a deadly premonition, Melanie Middleton's mother has returned to Charleston to warn Melanie of the danger. Unfortunately, this is the same daughter she walked out on over 30 years ago and Melanie is not happy to see her mother. But, by pulling some strings, Ginntte is able to get Melanie to work as her realtor as she buys back her family's ancestral home, the very home she fled from all of those years ago. Both women know that this is much more than just moving back home. Because this house is very much haunted. And a very malevolent spirit is in the home and wants to harm them. Ginnette knows it will take both of them to conquer the spirit, along with the help of Melanie's father and her friends. In order to vanquish the spirit, there are a lot of mysteries to be solved. Fortunately there have also been plenty of clues left. Now Melanie, Ginnette and crew just need to solve the clues before it's too late.

This is the second book in a series, the first being The House On Tradd Street which introduced the reader to the majority of the characters in this book. The reader does not have to have read the first book; White fills in all of the details the reader will need to be up to speed. It sometimes felt like too much detail to me, but that may have been because I had no sooner finished The House On Tradd Street before I picked this one up. Jack, the man with whom Melanie has a love/hate relationship, returns in this book as does an old flame of his. And that's where the romance novel aspect of this book comes into play as the three characters try to figure what's what between each of them. Like most of the other reviewers, I also felt like the relationship between Jack and Melanie got annoying at times and I had a problem with Melanie being so trusting of the old flame in some instances, while at other times being to leary of her.

I did like this book better than The House On Tradd Street; for the most part the romance portions took a back burner to the mystery/ghost aspect. I felt like White did a good job with the mystery, laying out the clues and pulling the reader along as the clues unfolded. I kept thinking that if I had been taking notes, I might have been able to solve the mystery myself. This one has some great twists and keeps the reader guessing trying to figure out just who the "bad guys" are. Once again, White gives the reader wonderful history of the Charleston area; clearly it is a subject of which she is very fond.

The ending of this book clearly sets up for a third book in the series.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Favorite - December 18

In honor of my middle child's 18th birthday this week, I wanted to highlight some of the books that he (and I) loved when he was growing up. This kid (whom I will hereafter be referring to as Mini-Me) loves to read. His favorite books now include "The Count of Monte Cristo," "A Clockwork Orange," and the book he finished last night, "The Road." For his birthday he was thrilled to receive the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe.

I have no recollection of reading Crockett Johnson's "Harold and the Purple Crayon" when I was growing up but when Mini-Me was little I snapped it up for him as though I had known all my life that it's a book every child must read. The story begins:

"One evening Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight. But there wasn't any moon, and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moonlight. Fortunately, he had brought his purple crayon. So he drew a moon. He also needed something to walk on. So he drew a path..."

The only color in this book is purple. To begin with you have just Harold and his crayon. Everything else that appears in the book is drawn by Harold as the book goes along. Harold even creates frightening creatures then draws the very thing he needs to vanquish them. It's a marvelous story that teaches children to use their imaginations.

Maurice Sendak's "Where The Wild Things Are" is particularly special to Mini-Me because, well, even though I told you I would hereafter refer to him as Mini-Me, his name is really Max. And his copy of this book was given to him by family friends who wrote the most wonderful inscription in it for him. For a kid that grew up with a lot of fears, this book was a great way to for him to learn that things aren't always as scary as they seem. But most of all that, no matter what, you can always go home where someone loves you most of all.

When Mini-Me was eight, we discovered Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events through the book order forms he used to bring home from school (how I loved the days those came home!). I was intrigued enough to order "The Bad Beginning: Book the First." At that time, it was a bit above his ability to "get" everything in the book so we read it together. And we both loved it. So much so that he raced through the rest of the books that were already published then had waited, impatiently, as Snicket got around to writing the rest of the thirteen book series.

In "The Bad Beginning" the reader is introduced to the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, who are orphaned when their home is burned down and their parents are killed. They are left in the charge of Mr. Poe, a banker whose job it is to place them with a family member. His first attempt is with the villainous Count Olaf who uses them as slaves and attempts to trick them in an effort to get at their millions. Doesn't sound like a children's book, does it? To be honest, it can be frightening for some children. But these children are very smart and continue find ways to save themselves using their considerable smarts and Sunny's very sharp teeth. The books are exceedingly witty for both children and parents.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The House On Tradd Street by Karen White

The House On Tradd Street by Karen White
352 pages
Published November 2008 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

An old man practical realtor Melanie Middleton recently met has died and left her his old house on Tradd Street, along with a dog, a housekeeper and several ghosts. And a mystery that the old man asks her to solve in the letter he has left for her.

Melanie doesn't want the house nor the obligation to live in it for a year. To make matters worse, she's going to have to deal with Jack Trenholm, the handsome writer of unsolved historical mystery books and her father, Colonel James Middleton, an alcoholic who has been appointed the executor of the funds to restore the house. Toss in a quirky friend who just happens to specialize in historic home restoration, a hippy client who offers to help, a team of repairmen and builders and yet another handsome man, Marc Longo, whose grandfather also happens to be involved in the mystery.

I posed the question on Goodreads, "Is there a genre for romance/mystery books?" It was intended as something of a rhetorical question. I thought I was making it up just because it seems to fit this book. Turns out that, apparently, there is such a genre! At any rate, this book did read a bit like a romance novel to me. Two handsome men for the woman to choose from. One of them happens to bring out the cranky in Melanie at the same time as she is attracted to him. You know how this type of book reads. White does make watching Jack and Melanie spar great fun.

White builds the romance around the mystery and the very complicated relationships that Melanie has with her family. With so many characters and so much back story, it took a while to really get to the meat of the mystery. White does let the reader in on the clues as they are found and I wasn't altogether surprised by the ending because of it but I wasn't disappointed by it either.

There were times when I felt that the book got repetitive and some of the things that happened felt predictable to me. But White keeps the story moving along and she paints a lovely picture of the house and the city of Charleston.

Dar, at Peeking Between the Pages, really loved the book. You can find her review here. Up next for me it White's "The Girl on Legare Street" which is the next book in this series.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More Challenges for 2010

After recently admitting my inability to complete at least one of the challenges I signed up for this year, you probably thought I'd be smart enough not to sign up for too many in the coming year. Apparently rumors of my intelligence have been greatly exaggerated because this week I signed on for four more challenges. In my defense, I've really worked to pick challenges which will allow for a lot of crossover reads and even a fair number of childrens and YA books.

The You've Got Mail Challenge
, hosted by Stacy at Book Psmith, challenges readers to read the books seen and mentioned in the movie You've Got Mail. I love that movie so this was a logical one for me plus it allows me to read a lot of my childhood favorites again. Not sure exactly what all I will be reading for this but these I do know for sure:

1. James & The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
2. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
3. Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

The 451 Challenge is hosted by Elizabeth and this challenge is based on 451 Fridays, a weekly feature hosted at As Usual, We Need More Bookshelves. 451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive.
Here is how it will work: between January 1, 2010 and November 30, 2010, participants are challenged to read books on the 451 master list. There will be several levels of participation:

Spark - read 1-2 books from the master list
Ember - read 3-4 books from the master list
Flame - read 5-6 books from the master list
Blaze - read 7 or more books from the master list

I'm signing up for the Ember level on this one but am hoping to be able to reach the Flame level. My reading list for this one right now is:
1. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4. Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

The 2010 Reading From My Shelves Project is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea. For this one you need to decide how many books you want to read from your shelves (minimum of 20 - no maximum) then find a new home for the books once you read them. I haven't put together a complete list for this one yet. Things that are already on other challenge lists from my shelves will be my starting point.

Finally, I'm joining Aarti, of Book Lust, who is hosting 2010 Flashback Reading Challenge. This is a re-read challenge.

You can sign up for the following levels:
Bookworm - Up to three books
Scholar - Four to six books
Literati - Over six books

Within these levels, we have mini-challenges! These are:

1. Re-read a favorite book from your childhood
2. Re-read a book assigned to you in high school
3. Re-read a book you loved as an adult

My plan, as of now, for this one is to do the Scholar level. I'm planning to read:
1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
2. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. James & The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Of course, all of these challenges rely on me not taking on too many review books and also being able to work in book club selections. After looking at the ambitious plans some of you have for the coming year, I feel more than a little bit like a slacker!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Salon - December 15

It was a fun week to be checking out blogs this week. Between the holiday book reviews, the progressive dinner party and posts about holiday events, there was plenty to put me in the holiday spirit. Maybe too much good stuff to look at--I didn't get much reading done!

I did find a couple of interesting links this week. For a look at what reviewer's in the Midwest liked this year, check out KansasCity.com's top 100 books of 2009. "review," Barnes and Noble's dotcom newsletter compiled their editor's picks for the best books of 2009. And Publishers Weekly published their top 100 books of the year here. How many of these have you read? Any surprises here?

With the success of David Cullen's "Columbine" this year, attention has, once again, been focused on that tragedy. Every time I think about what happened, I have to wonder how the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold could not have noticed the road their boys were headed down. Up until now, they have been silent. But Oprah Winfrey was recently able to convince Susan Klebold to tell her story in this month's "O" Magazine. After reading this, my heart goes out to this woman who has to live with the knowledge of what her son did as well as the loss of her beloved son.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Winners of The 100 Followers Contest Are...

Thanks to everyone who entered the book giveaway to celebrate this blog reaching 100 followers! In the very scientific write-the-names-on-scraps-of-paper-and-throw-them-in-a-cup drawing, we have the following winners, drawn by Miss H:

Breaking The Bank does to Amanda at A Bookshelf Monstrosity
Somebody Else's Daughter goes to Jaydit
The Smart One & The Pretty One goes to Holli
The Secret of Joy goes to Coconut Library where you will find right now a giveaway for "How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly"

I'll be contacting the winners by email later today to get mailing addresses. Congratulations!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sometimes we're always real same-same by Mattow Roesch

Sometimes we're always real same-same by Mattox Roesch
320 pages
Published September 2009 by Unbridled Books
Source: Caitlin Hamilton Summie and  Unbridled Books

When Cesar's mother decides it's time to make a change, to get out of L.A. and away from her unreliable ex, her son who is in prison and the gang that Cesar has been running with, she takes the two of them to Alaska. Cesar's mom is from Alaska but hasn't been there in 20 years so neither one of them really fits in. As soon as they get there, Cesar is befriended by his cousin, Go-boy. Soon Cesar is wrapped up in the complicated world that is Go-boy's world and soon sees the beauty and hope that is the Alaskan village is finds himself in.

I always say that I love to read books about different cultures; generally when I'm saying this I'm thinking about different countries. Here's a story set in my own country but about a culture that I know almost nothing about. Roesch does a wonderful job of bringing the Eskimo culture to life and explaining how they have acclimated themselves to a world where they are combining the old and the new to a much greater extent than most of us do.

This book also takes a fascinating look at manic-depression as the story explores love, family, and friendship and what it takes to make your way in life. The book is every bit as quirky as the title would suggest but I enjoyed it very much. I'm hard to surprise as a reader, but this one literally made me gasp and drop the book. But in the end, it's a book that left me with hope that, if we work together, we can all make our way.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Honest Scrap Award

I got this award from Milka at Read. Read. Read. I've gotten this award previously and passed it along but I missed the part, apparently, were there were strings attached. So I'm going to answer the questions I should have answered the last time!

10 honest facts:

1. My hair hasn't been it's natural color in 15 years.

2. I hate to talk on the phone.

3. I'm kind of a control freak (my family would say I'm more than "kind of" a control freak!).

4. I love musicals.

5. Chocolate is my favorite food group.

6. Just like Milka, I love to sing but don't have a good voice. Just ask my daughter!

7. I hate my job.

8. I'm a procrastinator.

9. I like to dance around the kitchen while I'm cooking. My daughter would tell you I'm not good at that either!

10. I only wear socks if it snows.

Wow, that was a lot harder to do than I thought it would be and probably much more than you could ever want to know!

Thanks for the award, Milka!

Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji

Rooftops of Tehran By Mahbod Seraji
368 pages
Published May 2009 by Penguin
Source: borrowed

In pre-revolutionary Iran, 17-year-old Pasha is spending the summer on his rooftop with his best friend Ahmed, talking about what teenage boys the world over talk about--the girls they're in love with, their crazy parents, the neighborhood bullies. Pasha is secretly in love with Zari, the girl next door. But Zari has been betrothed to Doctor since they were young children. And Pasha really, really admires Doctor who, as a student many years older, has ideas about the world that Pasha finds compelling. When Doctor goes away for a while, Ahmed hatches a plan to allow Pasha to spend time with Zari (and Ahmed to spend time with the girl he is in love with as well). Despite feeling guilty about being in love with Doctor's future wife, this is a wonderful time for Pasha. But when Doctor sneaks back to the neighborhood late one night, Pasha accidentally gives him away to the Shah's secret police and sets in motion a series of events that will change the lives of everyone in the neighborhood.

This story appealed to me on many levels. It was so interesting to learn more about another part of the world, another culture, another time. Seraji includes in the story the views that many Iranians had of the Americans at the time. They hated the U.S. for their interference in their country and for installing a despot. At the same time, they were entranced with the idea of going to the U.S. and the lifestyle and educational opportunities to be found there. The stories about how dissidents were treated were horrific but not over done and really used to make the reader understand the character' motivations.

The coming-of-age story of both Pasha and Ahmed includes, remarkably, a great deal of humor which makes it feel very realistic and believable as it balances out the heavier elements. The writing is clear but paints a vivid picture of the people and their surroundings.

Seraji's writing can sometimes get a bit cliched and occasionally even flowery. Periodically, the story seemed to drag. But not often and not for long; and, because the overall story was so good, this reader was willing to forgive those flaws.

I read this for my face-to-face book club which will meet to discuss it next week. I anticipate that it will lead to a lively discussion as there is much to talk about in this book. We are looking forward to getting to talk to Mr. Seraji as well; it specifically says in the back of the book that he is available to talk to book clubs.

For an author Q and A and an audio interview, click here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Giveaway at The Christmas Spirit

I don't usually post about giveaways on other blogs but Michelle, from The True Book Addict, has started a Christmas blog which is just lovely and which I wanted you all to know about. She's got all kinds of great information about the origins of Christmas, beautiful pictures, and this terrific giveaway. Michelle is giving away Richard Paul Evans' "The Christmas Box Collection," which is a collection of three holiday stories.

You know the beautiful song "Silver Bells?" Turns out bells were rung to ward off evil spirits as part of the pagan winter solstice festivities.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Soup's On!

Welcome! I'm so excited to be part of this week's Progressive Dinner Party; I'm picking up new recipes as quickly as I usually get new book ideas! Now that you've enjoyed your appetizers, please pull up a chair and we'll begin with the soup and salad course.

At my table, I'll be serving Southern Peanut Soup. My brother-in-law, who's quite a good cook, particularly of soups, first introduced me to this soup many years ago. Then he had the audacity to never make it again. But I still love him anyway; well, I do now that I know how to make the soup.

Southern Peanut Soup
2 T. butter
2 T. onion, grated
1 rib of celery, thinly sliced
2 T. flour
3 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1/4 t. salt
1 c. light cream
2 T. chopped roasted peanuts

Melt the butter over low heat in Dutch oven. Add onion and celery. Saute for 5 minutes. Add flour and mix well until blended. Stir in broth and simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat; strain broth to remove onion and celery. Stir in peanut butter, salt and cream until well mixed. Serve hot. Garnish each serving with a teaspoon of chopped peanuts.

For another soup course, visit:

Review From Here - www.reviewfromhere.com - Creamy Tomato Soup

And for salad, stop by:

Rundpinne - www.rundpinne.com - Grandma's Cranberry Salad
Bermudaonion's Weblog - www.bermudaonion.wordpress.com - Pear & Blue Cheese Salad
Booking Mama - www.bookingmama.blogspot.com - Strawberry Poppy Seed Salad

Be sure to check out Book Blog Social Club for all of this week's festivities. My family is going to be trying new recipes for weeks!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Salon - December 6

It's snowing here this evening with a big snowfall predicted for Tuesday. Looks like the kinds of days coming up that will mean curling up with books and hot tea. For tonight it meant going over my bookshelf inventory and seeing what's on the shelves that I can use for the challenges I've already committed to for the coming year. Thanks to my hubby for being such a pack rat--he minored in English so we have a lot of novels sitting on the shelves left from those classes that are going to be a big help!
For the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge, I think I would be a very bad host if I didn't aim for the top level so 20 books it will be. Here's what I've settled on so far:

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Sonnets From The Portuguese by Elizabeth Barret Browning
Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
Daisy Miller by Henry James
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
I'd like to pick up a couple of the non-fiction books to fill out the list.

For this challenge, I have to pick out titles with the following words in the title:
Food - Five Quarters of An Orange by Joanne Harris
Body of Water - Heather Graham
Title - Secret Lives of the First Ladies by Cormac O'Brien
Plant - In The Woods by Tana French
Place Name - Reading Lolita In Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Music Term - Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

For this one I needed to pick three to six books or movies written about, by or based on the Brontes. I'm hoping to watch a couple of movies which I've yet to decide on. My books, as of now, are:

Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Agnes Gray by Anne Bronte
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I'm going to re-read Chesapeake to start this challenge. After that, I'm not sure which one I'll read next--so many to choose from!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge - What's To Read?

Okay, when I was watching The Gilmore Girls on the WB network, I knew Rory Gilmore was an avid reader surrounding by a smart mom and spent a lot of time in school. Stands to reason that there would be a lot of books around. But I had no idea how many that was until a friend guided me to a list of almost 300 books.

Now I know I'm slow getting this challenge up, but the good news about this challenge is that with this many books to choose from, it makes a great crossover challenge.

If you're reading the Women Unbound Challenge, you'll find on this list "The Second Sex" by Simone de Beauvoir, "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf, "Out of Africa" by Isak Dinesen and and "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath. For "Woolf In Winter" you could also add Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway. Crossing over with All About The Brontes, you could read "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte and "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte. The Shelf Discovery Challenge has crossovers with "Deenie" by Judy Blume and the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene. If you're participating in the Really Old Classics Challenge, you can crossover "The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, "Bhagavad Gita," and "The Iliad" by Homer. Wow, I just figured out that I could sign up for about three more challenges!

For the Gilmore Girls challenge, there are three levels. The first level is "Emily." Emily Gilmore is the matriarch of the family and a pretty demanding old gal. But to reach her level, you'll only have to read five books from two categories between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010.

The second level is "Lorelei." Lorelei is a smart cookie who has devoted her life to making her daughter's life better. To reach her level, you'll need to read ten books from three of the five categories.

The highest level is "Rory." Rory is kind of a big deal in her small town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut and the person most responsible for all of the books on the list. To join Rory, you'll need to read twenty books from four of the categories.

There will be a couple of mini-challenges along the way and at the end of the year, there will be a drawing for a book of your choice from the list or a DVD collection of a season of the television show.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge

"Gilmore Girls" ran on the WB Network from October 2000 to May 2007. The "girls" were mother and daughter Lorelei and Rory Gilmore. Lorelei had made her share of mistakes but when the show started, she was doing her best to make sure her prep school daughter stayed on the right track. Which was complicated by Lorelei's wealthy, meddling parents and a small Connecticut town full of real characters who all seemed to think they had a say in Rory's life. Between Lorelei, Rory, friends, family and school over 280 books were seen, discussed or read during the shows six year run.

When a friend recently found a site that listed all of the books referenced on the show, by episode, I started to get the idea that it would be fun to see how many of them I could read. Until I really started to think about how many books that was. That's when I decided it would be more fun to have a lot of people read some of the books.

If you click on the button on sidebar, it will take you directly to the challenge blog (or click here) for all of the details and the very long list of books you can choose from. The challenge runs from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010 and there are five categories of books you can choose from and three levels of participation. Movies of any of the books count and crossovers from other challenges count. You could end up reading anything from "Eloise" to Sylvia Plath, from "Babe, the Gallant Pig" to Arianna Huffington's "Pigs At The Trough."

There will be a grand prize at the end (still working out the details on that) and some mini-challenges along the way. Hope you'll be able to work this into what I already know is your very busy year of challenges!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

100 Followers Giveaway!

Thanks to all of you who have helped me reach 100 followers! As a thank you, I'm giving away copies of Melissa Senate's "The Secret of Joy," Claire LaZebnik's "The Smart One And The Pretty One," Yona Zeldis McDonough's "Breaking The Bank," and Elizabeth Brundage's "Somebody Else's Daughter."

We're going to keep this simple. To enter, please leave a comment with a way for me to contact you by Tuesday, December 12th. U.S. addresses only, please.

I probably should match the day of the week to the actual calendar date! Oops. So, the drawing will be Saturday, December 12th!