Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Salon - September 30

Happy last Sunday of September! I am thoroughly enjoying this fall - we've had wonderful weather, with enough cool days to break the extra blanket on the bed and pull on a sweater but also still warm enough that we are still harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers.

I'm taking great advantage of Bloggiesta this weekend, although a lot of what I've done doesn't show. I did redo my sidebars and move my challenge icons into a separate page but most of what I'm working on is to make blogging and keeping up with the blogs I follow easier.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Alexandra Fuller, author of Cocktails Under The Tree of Forgetfulness and Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight on The Story, hosted by Dick Gordon. This one's for you, Mom!

Watching: Andrew Sean Greer in conversation with Michael Chabon on City Arts and Lectures on my computer. On t.v. this week I watched Elementary, the new Sherlock Holmes series which I quite enjoyed; The Voice, which is our favorite singing competition show by far; and football, lots of football.

Cooking: Pumpkin cake mini-cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting. The cake was fine but we'll try a new recipe next time. The frosting was incredible!

Making: Not a darn thing right now but I'm looking for Christmas craft ideas for gifts and decorations to make in October.

Grateful for: my children all being in a really good place right now. School is going well, jobs are going well, and they are all very happy. I would never prevent them from venturing off to far-flung places if it were right for them, but I'm glad to have them all close.

Happy about: The Cornhusker's fantastic come-from-behind victory last night. You know, I love football as much as I love books, I really do.

Looking forward to: Watching my 24-yr-old get his "big brother" tonight. In going back to university, he's also joined a fraternity so today he'll be getting assigned his "big brother" for the rest of the school year. As funny as the idea of a 20-yr-old being his big brother is, the funniest thing is that it will likely be Mini-me's best friend who has been like a little brother to my guy for more than a decade!

This week at Lit and Life I've got reviews of Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken and Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue, a post in celebration of Banned Books Week, and some names to know on Fairy Tale Fridays. I'm finishing Telegraph Avenue and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter this week. What are you reading this week? Will you be picking up a banned book?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bloggiesta - OLE!

Another Bloggiesta has come to a close - and, as usual, I could really use another day. I did get a lot done and will continue to putter away at my to-do list for the rest of the evening so I can finish up the drafts. Didn't touch the list of books reviewed. This is going to have to be a priority next Bloggiesta! Thanks to our Bloggiesta hosts and the hosts of all of the mini-challenges!

1. Set up a Sunday Salon template
2. Clean up my sidebars - move challenge icons to new page
3. Change my "follow" options - decided to hold off on this for a bit
4. Work on my list of books reviewed
5. Set up drafts for all books to be reviewed this year
6. Clean up Google reader 
7. Get The Big Guy & Miss H to get their guest posts written & scheduled
8. Clean up draft reviews.

Mini-Challenges Completed:

1. 20+ Discussion Post Ideas For Your Book Blog from Tanya at Girlxoxo
2. Six Techniques That Will Revitalize Your Old Content from The Bluestocking Society
3. WordPress vs. Blogger at Books, Biscuits and Tea
4. How To Use Pocket To Save Time at The Book Vixen
5. Blogging Notebook and Calendar at Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity

Here's what I've done with Mini-Challenge #5 - I'm bringing back my beloved blogging notebook with a colorful twist:

Calendar pages so everything is together - different colors for different kinds of posts

Idea for a new challenge - different colors for different levels

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pin It And Do It: A Pinteresting Challenge

It's baacckk! Trish of Love, Laughter & A Touch of Insanity is once again hosting Pin It and Do It - yea, Trish! When she originally talked about doing the challenge again in October, I had planned to use it to really focus on Christmas presents. Lately, though, I've been pinning a lot for an anniversary weekend we're planning and there are foodie things I want to try. Right now, here's what's on my radar for October:

Homemade peanut butter based on the recipe used by Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis. We bought a smallish jar when we were there this summer; it cost $11. Surely I can make something that approximates that for much less!

Have any of you ever tried making homemade brown sugar? I ran out the other night and took to the Pinterest to see if there was any way to make it. I got so distracted on the computer, I never got back to wait I was going to make but I still want to try this.

Part of our anniversary weekend will be spent in Kansas City. We haven't been to the Country Club Plaza in a couple of years so it's definitely time to go back and see what's changed since we were last there. Three-story Barnes & Noble, you're still there, right? I've got more restaurants pinned than we could possibly visit in a few days and shopping and museums as well. I should be able to knock off half my pins in one weekend!

I will still need to make time for crafts; Christmas will be here before you know it. I'm thinking these wine glasses would make great gifts for a lot of people!

Miss H is always wanting to do Pinterest projects: she is going to be so happy when I tell her it's time for another Pin It and Do It challenge! How about you? Are you a pinner? You should definitely join us; there are several different levels. As usual, I'm going all in. I'll be signing up for the "Pin Obsessed" level, 8+ pins. It's going to be a fun and busy month!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam
Published August 2012 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

As a young man fleeing Japanese-invaded China, Chen Pie Sou travels to Vietnam, to Cholon, just outside of Saigon, where his father has settled years ago to find wealth in the rice business. Accompanying him is his young wife, a woman who has only married him as a way to leave China. When they arrive in Cholon, nothing is as Chen Pie Sou has imagined it. As the political climate changes in Vietnam, Chen must also find a way to change. With the help of a friend, Mak, Chen manages to keep the business afloat then remakes it and himself when the Americans arrive. As the headmaster of Percival Chen's English Academy, Chen has found a niche for himself. He knows just where to grease a palm, stays true to his Chinese roots and raises his son to the highest standards. But as the chasm between the North and South grows deeper, and suspicions abound, Chen will find himself constantly fighting to hold onto everything he loves but his passions may just be his undoing.

Like so many of the books I review for TLC Book Tours, I was quick to sign up for the tour for this book after reading many glowing early reviews. It is certainly everything it was purported to be and then some. I have only just finished reading it as I'm writing this review and I am exhausted. In The Headmaster's Wager, Vincent Lam brings things to a boil early and the tension never lets up. Even when long periods of relative peace pass, readers are on edge, knowing that this will not last and fearful of the awful thing that may be coming soon. Coming on the heels of Unbroken, where the Japanese takeover of all of Southeast Asia was a key element, I felt as if I were coming into The Headmaster's Wager, where that takeover is once again a catapult to much of the action, seamlessly.

It is clear that Lam, who is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, is writing from a place that is near to him, the conflict between loyalty to China but an unwillingness to leave what has been built in Vietnam. The Headmaster's Wager is a well-researched, well-written novel that seamlessly blends an incredible history lesson with a taut storyline that pulls no punches and constantly surprises the reader.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised to find that I've been able to write anything coherent about this book. As I read, I kept imagining that my review would come out something more like this:

", um, wow."

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full list of tour stops.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Where In The World Are You Reading?

This month for "Where In The World Are You Reading?" the hosts want to see where we read when we are waiting. At first I thought this might be a difficult task. When my kids were younger, I did a lot of reading while waiting: in the school pick up lane, in the doctors' and dentist's waiting rooms, waiting for school events to start and even between games of volleyball matches and during times outs at football games. These days I don't do most of those things. My "waiting" time, along with that reading time, has shrunk considerably.

Two days after this month's theme was posted, though, I found myself waiting, book in hand, while my vehicle had some maintenance done. It was one of those times that made me grateful that I have never given up the habit of carrying a book in my purse.

That got me to thinking - surely I'm still carrying that extra weight around because I do find myself needing a book often enough to make it worthwhile. So when am I waiting...and reading?

Well, if I happen to have a new book, or I'm reading a book where I've reached a particularly interesting part, I've been known to pull out my book at red lights.

I read in my car while I'm waiting for Miss H to get off of work, for The Big Guy to put gas in the car, for the pharmacist to drop my prescription into the slide out drawer.

I read while I'm waiting for dinner to cook, while I'm waiting for commercials to end when I'm watching tv, and even while I'm waiting for movies to start. I know, I know - I'm at the theater with other people so it would only be polite to interact but it's such great reading time!

Not all that long ago, I used to read while I was waiting for screens to update...back in the days of dial up. Thank evens we have lost that waiting time! Where are you waiting and reading?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Into Reading 2012

Well, sure, I have already bitten off more than I can chew this fall, even with my great plan to reduce stress and bring back the fun. But Fall Into Reading is actually going to help me. Hosted by Callapidder Days, all I have to do it make a list of the books I want to read between now and December 21st. That's it. A way for me to set a new plan for the rest of the year. I've decided that my original plan to get completely caught up on review books just won't work since it didn't allow me enough time to have any leeway to join things or add books just for fun. Thanks to Fall Into Reading, here's my new plan, a plan that allows me to work through review books while working in plenty of time for fun.

Books For Scheduled Review:
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Falling Together by Maria de los Santos

Book Club Selections:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

Review Books:
The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood
The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory
Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock

For R.I.P. VII
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

For Fall Feasting:
The Book Club Cook Book 
The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
5 Quarters of an Orange AND Peaches for Father Frances by Joanne Harris
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Extra Virgin by Annie Hawes
The Sharper The Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Finn
Chef by Jaspreet Singh

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Salon - September 23

Happy fall! I am, for the first time in a long time, thoroughly enjoying fall. I know, I know, it did just officially begin the other day, but it's felt like fall for a while now. I've fluffed the house to change out the decor for fall, football is on the tv almost constantly, I've pulled out the crockpot for something other than steelcut oats, and sweaters are moving back into the clothing rotation.

Friday night the Omaha Bookworms met to discuss Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Having some of our parents there to talk about the book with us was wonderful. If nothing else, it meant that people had made a real effort to read the book so they were ready to discuss it. As always, we did find plenty of time to talk about other things but we also spent more time talking about the book than we have in years. We'll definitely be looking for another book for 2013 that will allow for us to include multiple generations and men. I'll be reviewing the book later this week and will include some of the topics we discussed. Do you have any suggestions that would make good choices for this kind of group? Has your book club ever tried doing something like this?

I found this interesting article at about the effects of different kinds of reading on the brain. I'm delighted to see the Jane Austen's Mansfield Park was selected to test brain activity when two different types of reading are being done. The researchers were looking at the difference between pleasure reading and what they call "close" reading (reading for analytical purposed). It just goes to prove what I've known for years, Austen writes books that are fun to read but have great depth.

For all of you audiobook fans, Laura Miller, also at, calls Eduardo Bellarini's narration of Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins the best narration of 2012. Of the narration, Miller says "Ballerini’s handling of this fantastically complex narration is so accomplished you keep forgetting that it’s a performance." Incidentally, Miller also happens to like the book quite a lot, maybe even more than I did.

This week I'll also have a review of The Headmaster's Wager (which, thanks to falling behind on reading last week, I'll be racing to finish in the next couple of days). I've given up on The Little Stranger, for the time being, but will get back to that in a couple of week. Meanwhile, I'll be reading Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue and, hopefully working in Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber for R.I.P. VII. What are you reading this week?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fairy Tale Fridays - The Science Behind The Tales

There never ceases to be new ways to look at fairy tales. This week I discovered the science of fairy tales - who'da thunk it? Well maybe the Mythbusters. In fact, I think the Mythbusters have tested the strength of human hair - they even tested it to see if a prisoner could use it as a means of escape, although not in the same way that Rapunzel did.

Could the prince really have scaled Rapunzel's hair to rescue her? In fact, he could have, although it would have been safer for him if she would have had darker hair and safer for her if she would have tied her hair around something before throwing it down. An average strand of hair can hold three and half ounces, an average blonde has 140, 000 strands of hair, so the prince and a couple of his friends could have climbed the tower. If Rapunzel didn't tie her hair around something first, though, her hair would have ripped right out of her head.

Scientists have also discovered that it is possible to create a material that will bend sound wave around walls or enclosed areas. Sound waves generated in the enclosed area would never escape so if the witch in The Little Mermaid had used the material, she would not even have needed a curse to silence Ariel's beautiful singing voice.

Aladdin's flying carpet? Yes, that's possible, too. Not with Aladdin on it and only if it were a very small, very thin carpet. Scientific calculations show that small waves of air, repeated in fast pulses, could steer a carpet a foot per second.

Might the creators of these original tales have seen something in their lives that gave them the ideas for these tales?

Jocelyn Wildenstein
How might modern science affect the tales if they were written today? With genetically modified crops, it is possible to grown taller, stronger bean stalks than ever before, making the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk more believable. If plastic surgery and botox had existed centuries ago, though, the tale of Snow White might never have existed; the evil queen would just have gone to see her favorite doctor and she would once again have been the "fairest of them all." Assuming she didn't go so often she ended up looking like the Cat Woman!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken Harbor by Tana French
Published July 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

From 1994-2007, the Ireland enjoyed unprecedented economic growth. The so-called "Celtic Tiger" resulted in a massive building boom. In 2007 the bottom fell out. All over Ireland, enormous housing developments were abandoned, leaving the few families who had already moved in stuck in empty neighborhoods with homes they couldn't give away.

In Brianstown, one of these ghost estates, the Spain family (Patrick, Jennifer and their two young children) has been attacked and left for dead. Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, the top detective on Dublin's Murder Squad, is called in to solve the case and solve it quickly. Teamed with rookie, Richie Curran, Kennedy moves into action, playing by the rules, putting in the hours, and convinced that the answer lies with the simplest solution.

But there are so many things that just can't be explained by the simplest solution: five baby monitors stationed all over the house and focused on holes in the walls, erased files on the family computer, and a missing weapon in a case that keeps pointing to one of the parents as the perpetrator. Jennifer has miraculously survived but she doesn't have any recollection of the attack and Kennedy is convinced that she is lying to them.   When a suspect is taken in, it appears that Kennedy is right. But things aren't always what they appear to be and Curran and Kennedy soon find themselves with very different opinions on the case. Kennedy's further stressed by the untimely breakdown of his sister, Dina, and his own personal connection to Brianstown. Growing up, Kennedy and his family had vacationed every year at what was then known as Broken Harbor. It was the one place his mother was "right" and happy. It was also the place where she walked into the sea.

"Broken Harbor was nowhere, back then. A dozen scattered houses full of families named Whelan or Lynch who'd been there since evolution began, a shop called Lynch's and a pub called Whelan's, and a handful of caravan spaces, just a fast barefoot run over slipping sand dunes and between tufts of marram grass to the cream-colored sweep of  beach."
Broken Harbor is the fourth book in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, but my first (doesn't everyone start there?). While the stories don't build one upon another, each book ties back to another through a character. In Broken Harbor, Mick Kennedy returns from French's Faithful Place. It's not necessary to have read Faithful Place first, although there are repeated references to a previous case that may have been in that book.

I've been reading raves about French's books for years now so when I was approached to review Broken Harbor, I couldn't pass it up. Thank you, blogger peeps - you were so right about French! Broken Harbor is brooding and atmospheric, building slowly, pulling readers into the Spains' story. The selling point for me, though, was Kennedy. In an unusual move for an author, French focuses character development almost exclusively on Kennedy, giving the reader the rare ability to focus on one character. Not many authors could make this work - French does, never losing track of the rest of her characters and the murders they are all drawn into.

Now the question is, where is my copy of In The Woods, French's first book in the series?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Bookish People You Want To Meet

My first time participating in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish - how is it that I've never participated in this before? Thanks to BBAW for leading me to the blog! This week we're asked to list the top ten bookish people we want to meet (authors, bloggers, etc).

1. Jane Austen - I'm assuming I can bring people back from the dead, here, but I would just love to meet the person who wrote the repartee between Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy.

2. Thrity Umrigar - I have such a fan crush on Umrigar. Her books challenge me to think and her characters speak to me.

3. Caitlin Hamilton Summie - publicist for Unbridled Books, because she gets me. She is always bringing books to my attention that bring something new to the table and broaden my mind.

4. Jennie Nash (The Threadbare Heart)  - I love her books, it's that simple. Her books, her characters always ring so true.

5. Alexandra Fuller (Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness) - her stories about growing up British in Africa at the end of British rule are funny, shocking, sad.

6. Michelle (The True Book Addict)  - because I would love to see her book collection. Seriously, the woman has over 3000 books! Plus she balances more than anyone I know - I could use some tips.

7. Chicks On Lit - my Goodreads peeps, the first people who started reading my blog, and some of the people I still talk to the most online.

8. Trish (Love, Laughter & A Touch of Insanity) & Lisa (Books. Lists. Life)  - I suppose it's cheating to put two people together but if I'm meeting one, I'm meeting both. And their kids. I've loved watching their kids grow up and am amazed by the way they both balance so much in their lives.

9. Linda (A Rich Tapestry) - She lives in England. And Italy. Both, yes. And so if I was going to meet her, I would totally go visit her at her place. Both of them. And if you follow her blog and see her pictures, you will want to come with me.

10. Care (Care's Online Book Club) - because she recommends interesting books, has a great sense of humor, gets Omaha, AND she has the boat. You know - the one that a dozen of us on Twitter were suddenly going to cruise on with vats of wine, leftover party food, and rye whiskey. With our theme song (which, if you don't mind massive amounts of profanity, you can find at Fizzy Thoughts - Jill does the best bookish lyrics!). Also Care rates by slices of pie. Yum!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Salon - September 16

I can't read. There, I've said it. For the past couple of weeks, I've been making excuses to myself as to why I haven't been doing much reading of late. Yesterday I came to the realization that I'm not getting much read because I have just not been able to make myself sit down and read. I'm reading good books and mostly I'm reading things that I've chosen to read (as opposed to books I need to read for reviews on a set date). I've never had a reading slump before when I'm getting to read whatever I want. I'm very frustrated by it!

Had something odd happen last night. I was playing catch up with my blog reader. When I clicked on Misfit Salon, a blog I've been following for a couple of years, I got the message "Blog Not Found." Not found? Must be a glitch, I thought. Tried again. Nope, same message. I emailed the blogger to let her know something was wrong. But that came back with a message that the email account does not exist. So I have two questions: does anyone know what happened to Stephanie? and has this ever happened to you? After spending so much time talking about community last week, it feels so odd to have someone I've been talking to just disappear. Bloggers, I have a favor to ask. If you're going to be leaving us, please, please give us a chance to say goodbye!

This week I'm reading Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken for the Omaha Bookworms September meeting. We're very excited to be doing something different this month; we had gotten the idea that we wanted to find a book that would appeal to multiple generations, men and women. One of our members suggested this book and I think it will make for great discussion. I'm really looking forward to having some of our parents join us!

I'll also try to work in some more of The Little Stranger for the R.I.P. VII readalong hosted by The Estella Society. Of course, I'm behind already, what with my reading slump. What are you reading this week?

Even with my reading slump, I've been enjoying planning what I'm going to read. I can't wait to get to the other things I've planned for R.I.P. and for Fall Feasting. That means that I'm going to come out of this slump soon, right? Are there things that have worked for you when you've been in a slump?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

BBAW - Pimp That Book!

Today's Book Blogger Appreciate Week prompt asks bloggers to "pimp" a book we think needs more exposure.

This was a tough one for me - so many great books I've loved but I've talked about so many of them, a great many of them are classics you're all aware of, or they're well known to the world. I couldn't settle on one, really it's like asking me to pick a favorite child. Instead I'm just going to refresh your memory on some books I blogged about a long time ago that I think need to be mentioned again and a couple I love but never blogged about.

The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish by Elise Blackwell, published by my beloved Unbridled Books

It's been almost three years since I reviewed this book but it's one that has stuck in my memory. Beautifully written, vivid imagery, and a unique story combined to make this a winner. I loved the blend of historical fact and fiction and Blackwell managed to pull together a number of threads effortlessly.

The publisher's summary:

Set in southern Louisiana in the weeks preceding the great flood of 1927, this novel depicts a place and way of life about to be forever changed. On the verge of manhood and a stone’s throw of the rising Mississippi River, Louis Proby is pulled between his love of the natural world and the glittering temptations of New Orleans, between the beautiful Nanette Lançon and a father who no longer seems larger-than-life, between the simplicity of childhood and the complicated decisions of adulthood.

Louis comes of age at a time when the country is coming of age. In Louisiana, it’s a time when the powerful prove themselves willing to sacrifice the poor to protect their position. As the people of Cypress Parish go about their daily lives, bankers in New Orleans are plotting to alter those lives irrevocably. Like so many calamities, the one that befalls Cypress Parish has both natural and human causes.

In The Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White, published by HarperCollins

Just a few months after reading The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, which introduced me to the leper colony of Carville, I picked up this book, White's memoir of his time in prison, in a compound at Carville that also housed the leper colony. White's memoir is unflinching and honest and heartbreaking. 

I wasn't alone in my opinion of this one. My mom enjoyed it every bit as much (and you know how much I value her opinion). SouthernLitReview.comColorful characters provide a fast pace throughout this soul-searching tale, and White weaves a story that will stick with even the most judgmental reader. had this to say: "Colorful characters provide a fast pace throughout this soul-searching tale, and White weaves a story that will stick with even the most judgmental reader."

The Birth House by Ami McKay, published by Knopf Canada

I never reviewed this book (I read it before I started blogging) but I've mentioned it many times. It is the book that convinced me that the Omaha Bookworms was the book club for me. We had what still stands as the greatest conversation about this book we've ever had about any book. 

Publisher's summary:
"The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife's apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.

When Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau's methods - and after Miss Babineau's death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her."

Amazing characters and a unique plot in a book that takes the reader through the gamut of human emotions. Really, you will laugh and cry. Chrisbookarama felt the same way.  Booking Mama said " I read the entire book in less than 24 hours because I couldn't put it down -- I was hooked from the start." 

If you've read McKay's The Virgin Cure and enjoyed it you absolutely must pick up The Birth House. As much as I liked the former, the later is even better. I only wish McKay wrote books faster - except just as well researched and wonderfully written!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What Book Blogging Means To Me

Today's prompt for Book Blogger Appreciation Week asks us to tell you what book blogging means to us. I'm pretty sure I've covered this before in a serious way, in a post where I wrote about how much I love being exposed to so many books, having the chance to make friendships, and having the chance to take about something I love with other people who love the same thing. So I'm going to skip that bit today and think about this in a more light-hearted way.

What Book Blogging Means To Me - The Bullet Point Version

1. Twitter - yeah, I know I'm not all that active on it but seriously people, where else could I go from mentioning that I'm having a party where I might end up with a massive amount of leftovers and wine to a boat load of bloggers, vats of wine, rye whiskey and our own theme song. And to think that all happened while I was supposed to be working!

2. Midnight book reviews - all of you bloggers know what I'm talking about (at least I hope you do)! I can't tell you how many times I've been racing to finish a book the night before I'm scheduled to post a review only to have to write the review at midnight. My dad used to send me emails to let me know when I'd overlooked a typo or a "wood" instead of "would." Somewhere along the way, he gave up. Clearly I write too many reviews too late at night!

3. Books in the mail - I really do still get giddy when new books arrive in my mailbox, even after three years. I certainly don't blog because I get free books - but it's sure a great perk. Plus there's the added bonus of getting to watch The Big Guy roll his eyes every time a new book arrives!

4. Challenging myself - in oh so many ways! There are the usual annual reading challenges, the readathons and readalongs, the chance to read out of my comfort zone and even the Pin It And Do It challenge. It can all get a bit overwhelming, even stressful by the end of the year, but I really do love it. As I work to take the stress out of some areas of blogging, I hope that it frees up more time to do these fun things.

5. Imaginary road trips - I am not kidding when I tell you that one of these days, many of you are going to get a call from me letting you know that I'm heading your way. Many's the day I've planned a trip south, stopping along the way to meet Tami in southern Nebraska, Molly in Kansas, Lori in Oklahoma and Trish, Holli and Andi in Texas. Or a trip west. Or a trip east. Maybe even a trip to Europe. If you would have told me three years ago that I would feel like I knew any of you well enough to even think of this, I would have laughed. Just like I used to do when my daughter talked about her "imaginary" internet friends.

Once in a while, I beat myself up a little about this blogging business and wonder if I need to take a break. Then I get in involved in a great Twitter conversation, or one of you leaves a particularly lovely comment, or I go into Barnes & Noble and realize how many of the books I've read or own now because of blogging. Then I know there's no way I'm going to be giving this up any time soon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation Week - Interview

Please help me welcome Serena, of Savvy Verse & Wit to Lit and Life! I'm delighted to have, as my Book Blogger Appreciation Week interview partner, a blogger who is very instrumental in convincing other readers to read outside of their comfort zones. Serena is the co-host of the War Through The Generations Challenge (now seriously, how many of us would have thought: "I know - let's get people to read books about war!"). I'm in my second year with this challenge and very glad that Serena and her partner-in-crime, Anna (Diary of an Eccentric), had that very thought. Serena is also the host of the Fearless Poetry Exploration challenge, is a poet herself and is a new mother.

1. With your writing, photography, all of the things you're involved with in the blogosphere plus a little person to care for, you've got a lot on your plate. How do you find a way to balance everything?

Gosh, I have no plan whatsoever.  I try to keep a calendar of hard dates for certain books, but lately, it's been fly by the seat of my pants.  The War blog is a toss up between Anna and myself and who has time to get some posts of reviews scheduled and linked on the reviews pages...we tried to have a schedule, but life gets in the way and we just take over for each other when the time comes.  Photography is more on the back burner these days, unless its photos of the little one, and those get posted on Facebook for the families to see, etc.  I miss photography, but I have little time for it, but I do take the camera out with us when we go places.
Property of Serena Agusto-Cox
2. War Through The Generations is such an interesting challenge. You and Anna always have so many resources for participants to draw from - how far ahead do you start working to plan the challenge for the coming year? Where do you find your book suggestions? Can you give us a hint about next year's challenge?
When we started the blog, we knew the first year would be WWII and the second would be Vietnam War because those are the wars we were most interested in.  For the third year, we wanted to have the participants decide and Civil War won the poll.  For this year, we went with the other big war, WWI, which we figured out a couple months before.

As for book suggestions, those actually come from a number of places, recommendations from participants, publicists who email us books about wars we aren't currently doing, and our own shelves.  We've also done Internet searches to find book titles, and for Vietnam, we asked a former professor from Suffolk University, who taught our Vietnam and Literature seminar, for suggestions.

We've decided on next year's challenge, but will not announce it until mid-November.  We'll definitely be doing another read-a-long, but that's up in the air as to which book.

3. As the host of the Fearless Poetry Exploration challenge, are there any suggestions you might offer readers for getting the most out of a collection? For example, do you read straight through a book of poetry or do you prefer to read a few poems a day? Some people think that it's not necessary to "get" what a visual artist is trying to say in their work as long as it speaks to a person. Do you think poetry is the same way? Do you have any poets or collections that you always find yourself going back to?
To get the most out of a collection, I always suggest reading the first poem out loud.  I know that sounds funny, but it really helps to hear the rhythm of the poem, which often can lead you to feel the poem's meaning and understand it better.  I personally read poetry collections straight through the first time and mark certain poems that strike me when reading them, and those I go back and read first to find out why I liked them best or why they resonated with me.  Then I'll reread others to see what I missed on the first pass.

I think poetry can be about getting what the poet is trying to tell you, but also about what the reader understands about themselves by reading the poem.  It is a reciprocal relationship with poetry, which in its earliest forms was an oral tradition. 

Collections that I often return too are Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa, which is about his time in Vietnam during the war, etc.;  Blake's Poetry and Designs by William Blake, which has the original sketches he did with his poems and it includes criticisms of his work that I used when I began reading poetry before reading it in school; Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser, a collection I love to recommend to beginning readers because he has some great observations about life and death that don't get lost in technique; A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who in my opinion was the better Beat poet; and City of a Hundred Fires by Richard Blanco, which is an excellent look at the Cuban immigrant experience through the eyes of a younger generation trying to fit in with American society, while an older generation is trying to keep traditions alive.

4. You live right in the hot bed of politics. Does your interest in books include books about politics or those written by politicians?
Ah, yes.  Politics.  I do read some political books, but rarely review them.  They are more to inform me of the political world around me and to make more informed voting decisions.  I'm originally from the hot bed of Democrats in Massachusetts and loved reading about local Mass. politicians like Tip O'Neill, Ted Kennedy, JFK, John Kerry, etc.  I still love learning about the Kennedy mystic, etc., but I also have a greater sense of how flawed politicians are and how their ideals are less than ideal after being in office for a long time.  I'm not a registered Democrat and do read Republican books as well.

5. You read a lot of different kinds of books. Were you raised in a household of readers? Are there books that you find yourself recommending again and again?

I was not raised in a house of readers.  My nana was a reader and encouraged me to read by letting me pick out any book I wanted when we went to Spags, a local store, and she always made sure she bought me books for birthdays and holidays, etc.  My mom actually did not read much in front of me and my father does not read.  My mom does read more now that she's retired, and I always thank James Patterson for that because had she not picked up one of his books one day, she might not have read.

I recommend tons of books based on the person's likes in dislikes, but I'll mention some of my more recent favorites in poetry, YA, short story, and fiction:

Beth Kephart's Small Damages or Undercover
Thrity Umrigar's The World We Found
Alma Katsu's The Taker and The Reckoning
Carolina De Robertis' Perla
Joshua Graham's DarkroomPatricia Falvey's The Yellow House
Sarah McCoy's The Baker's DaughterEric D. Goodman's TracksJanel Gradowski's RevengeSusan Dormady Eisenberg's The Voice I Just HeardLaurie Soriano's Catalina
Osip Mendalstam's Stolen AirErica Goss' Wild PlaceNatalie Diaz's When My Brother Was an Aztec

Not only has Serena added to my list of books to pick up, I think she's talked me into giving poetry another chance. Of course, I hope she understands that if I don't "get it," I know where to find her now! Thanks, Serena, for the interview and for all you do to make the blogosphere a more interesting place!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Today kicks off Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2012 and today we've been asked to talk about some of the blogs we enjoy reading daily. If you read this blog regularly, you already know about some of the blogs I read on a regular basis because I've linked to them or talked about them a lot.

I like to think that book bloggers provide a great resource to readers but sometimes it can be hard to find blogs that speak to you. I follow a lot of blogs, a list that is constantly changing as I find new bloggers to connect with and sometimes make the hard decision to stop following others. I'm looking for a few things when I add new blogs to my reader: a blogger with similar reading tastes, particularly those who will also push me to look at books out of my comfort zone; a blogger I can establish a relationship with - a big part visiting blogs is about establishing relationships; and blogs that have that something extra to offer. That last one is hard to define - it may be a blogger that has a unique feature I enjoy, a fantastic voice coming through in the writing, or a particular style of writing that speaks to me. 

All of that being said, here are some of the blogs I enjoy regularly that I might not have talked about before and wanted to make sure you were aware of:

Diary of An Eccentric: Writings of An Eccentric Bookworm:  Anna reads a lot of historical fiction, with an emphasis on Austen-related writings and war-related writings. She is also the co-host of War Through The 
Generations. Anna's daughter also writes great reviews of childrens/young adult books.

Lakeside Musing: JoAnn and I almost always agree on books that we've both read so when she writes a review on a book I haven't read it, it's definitely getting added to my wish list. She brings "new" classics to my attention and definitely has a taste for literary fiction.

SurLaLune Fairy Tales Blog: One of my go-to fairy tale blogs. SurLaLune explores the tales, has articles about what's new in fairy tales, offers fairy tale-related products and even compiles books of fairy tales. It's an excellent resource! 

Mystica: In the world of book blogs, it's easy to get overwhelmed by all of the new books being reviewed. Here I get to find new-to-me older books and I love that. Even more fun, Mystica is located in Sri Lanka and she shares wonderful things about her life and the culture. One of my biggest surprises when I started blogging was the fact that I was going to get to know people internationally. 

A Bookish Way of Life: Another blogger who has very similar reading tastes, I really enjoy Nadia's reviews. She always tells it like it is; she is not afraid to gush nor is she afraid to tell you straight out if she doesn't like a book (but she is always very clear on why and never mean). 

If these are new to you, please stop by and say hello!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Salon - September 9

Not much reading done at Casa Shepp this past week - our air conditioner has blown its last blast of cooling air and I'm here to tell you that it was too hot in my house much of the week to focus. Thank heavens the temps are going down some. With football season now in full swing, that's going to cut into my reading time as well. Nevertheless, I have high hopes for my reading and blogging this fall.

This week is Book Blogger Appreciation Week. As usual, there will be interviews, guest posts, and a lot of talk about what makes bloggers tick. Later this month, bloggers world-wide will come together to work on their blogs and support each other during Bloggiesta. And coming in October, one of my favorite things, Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon.You and I both know, after all of the times I've done this one, that there's no way I'm going to stay awake reading for 24 hours and stay focused for that time I am awake. But that never stops me from trying every six months!

Sadly, I'm going to miss one of my favorite things to do in the fall as a reader, the Omaha Lit Fest. I can't tell you how bummed I am about that, especially now that I've seen the authors who are coming.

Throughout September and on into October, I'll continue to read for R.I.P. VII (Readers Imbibing Peril). Also in October and throughout November, I'm going to be doing my Fall Feasting reading again - the books I'm going to read in these months will, for the most part, be tied into food. I've got some books lined up for that I'm really looking forward to, some that I've been wanting to read for a while and a couple that have only recently landed in my mailbox, including Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee from Quirk Books.

The first week in October marks two events I'm looking forward to: Seasons of Reading's  "Frightfall Read-a-thon" (and since I'm reading scary books already for R.I.P. VII, this one should be easy, right?) and "Jump On The Banned Wagon" hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. I don't know that I'll have time to read a banned book before that week but I'll definitely be going on a rant against book banning again!

This week I'll finish Tana French's Broken Harbor and start either Sarah Water's The Little Stranger for the R.I.P. readalong or Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken for the Omaha Bookworms September meeting. How did I manage to "need" to read so many long books this month?? I'm going to have to work in some short stories for R.I.P. to mix things up a bit. Hello there, Angela Carter and Mr. Poe!

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Something To Think About

"For her part, my mother was probably more alike him than he suspected, the chief difference being that showing her husband affection was among her duties. Though she might harshly reprimand a servant or child, in his presence she was always soft-spoken and demure. She deferred to his opinions, flattered his vanities, and endured his rebukes with meekness. Love was a choice she made, and then made again daily for the remainder of her life. From her I learnt that a woman should not expect her happiness to come from the man himself, but from those acts of devotion she showed him." - Debra Dean The Mirrored World

You've often heard me say "this book really made me think" but I'm not sure I always do my job in explaining what it was in the book that made me think. Sometimes it's an entire concept or theme, as in The Book of Job. Just as often it's likely to be a particular passage that really strikes me, a passage that's not always the one that makes it into my review.

Then the other day I read the above passage in Debra Dean's The Mirrored World that really lit up my brain and made me wonder what you would think about it. The first three sentences raised my hackles; I am not a wife who walks on eye shells around her husband. Those last two sentences, though, I wonder if they wouldn't resonate with all married women. In all things, I truly believe that our happiness must come from our own actions, our own choices. What do you think?

I'm hoping to bring you "Something To Think About" periodically, as I come across other passages that I think might make for good conversation. I hope you'll join me!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Bookie's Son by Andrew Goldstein

The Bookie's Son by Andrew Goldstein
Published May 2012 by (sixoneseven) books
Source: the author and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

In the Bronx of 1960, life is tough for 12-year-old Ricky Davis. He can't remember his Hebrew lessons with his Bar Mitzvah bearing down on him, his mother is so unhappy that she is rarely at home, and his father is forever chasing a dream that never seems to come true. Now his latest dream gone bust has gotten him into serious trouble with a local mobster who wants his

While his father is at working as a cutter in the garment district and his mother as a secretary to a big-time promoter, Ricky is left in charge of his father's bookie business. Ricky would love to be out playing with the other kids but if he leaves the apartment, his crazy grandmother is liable to take a bet, something that is bound to cause problems for Ricky. Harry Davis is a man with a mean temper and living on the edge is making him even worse. Ricky spends much of his free time trying to figure out ways to get his father out of trouble. If only they can pay off their debt to Nathan Gluckman, Ricky hopes things will finally be better and his mother can finally be happy with the way her life has turned out. A bake sale, an attempt to convince his "girlfriend" to dance for the neighbor's for money, even an attempt to place a bet on a fixed race - Ricky is as busy trying to make a quick buck as his dad.

In his debut novel, Goldstein has done an incredible job of making the Bronx come alive, surrounding Ricky with a neighborhood full of real characters, a family of complete nuts (his grandmother is an extortionist, his mother concocts a plan to steal from Elizabeth Taylor), and descriptions of life on the Davis' street that gave me the feeling of a time and place that no longer exists. Despite all of their flaws, family and friends demonstrate loyalty and love that endear them to the reader. Goldstein manages, for the most part, to avoid the pitfalls of many first-time authors (repetition, an excess of adjectives, too many story lines), crafting a story based on his own real-life experiences that is clean and believable.

This is a book I knew nothing about, a book I took a chance on, the kind of book that makes me happy that I'm willing to reach out of my usual genres and to give new authors a chance. SixOneSeven is a micropress, where authors must take on more responsibility for their books than they might have with a larger publisher. Occasionally, this was obvious and distracted from my reading - the cartoon drawings at the start of each chapter, for example. Overall, though, I was impressed with this debut. Goldstein has mentioned that this is a book he's been writing for forty years. One can only hope that it won't take him that long to pen his next novel.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. For other thoughts on this book, check out the full tour.