30 June 2009

Review and Interview: A World I Never Made by James LePore


Megan Nolan left her Vermont college after only a few weeks, running away to Europe to earn her living selling articles to American women's magazines. Learning how to become a journalist wasn't all that twelve years in Europe had taught Megan; she became an expert in manipulating rich men into becoming her sugar daddies, and she had the Swiss bank account to prove her success.

In the years after 9/11, Megan lost interest in writing fluff pieces and started engaging in serious research to learn more about the Muslim terrorist underground. When she met Abdel al-Lahani at a train station in Morocco, Megan felt as if she had hit the jackpot. Handsome, rich, and powerful, the Westernized Muslim could refresh her bank account while granting her access to important informants. Megan, who was always in control, had no reason to think that al-Lahani couldn't be played.

Just one year later, Pat Nolan, in a haze of shock and jet-lag, sat in a Paris police station reading his daughter's suicide note. The police were saying something about ovarian cancer, but Pat had no idea that Megan had been sick. When Detective Catherine Laurence pulled the sheet off the body, Pat gave a positive ID and asked that she be immediately cremated. But Pat Nolan had never seen the dead woman in his life.

A World I Never Made, is a fast-moving, double hide-and-seek game played out across two continents and involving police forces, terrorist groups, intelligence agencies, gypsies, and even the church. Westerners are sure Megan has been involved in recent terrorist attacks and hope to interrogate her; Muslim groups are sure she has sabotaged their plans and hope to kill her. Al-Lahani simply will not let a woman get the best of him.

From the false suicide note to a fortune-teller's prediction and a cryptic message from a young flower vendor, Pat is sure that he will be able to discover the fate of his daughter, if he can only find the clues, follow the trail, and stay alive. With the help of Detective Laurence, Pat begins his frantic search for the daughter he barely knows.

LePore has created a many-layered political thriller set within the world of Mideast terrorism. Although a few aspects of the plot were predictable, the overall arc of the story was not. The ending felt a bit rushed, but not enough to spoil the novel.

The descriptions of the people and places were vivid and believable. It is interesting that Megan Nolan, the central character of the novel, is an enigma—we aren't sure if we should hate her or pray for safety. Her father is no more transparent. Catherine Laurence, though, is somewhat disappointing. She is an experienced police detective; however, she makes several serious blunders that don't seem to ring true. In a couple of cases, I wondered why those actions were not made by Pat or another nonprofessional.

I recommend A World I Never Made as a promising debut novel. (Note: I read an ARC, and changes may have been made before publication.) LePore is already working on a second book.

Three Questions for James LePore

BFR: At first I was impressed that you had made several of the officers and investigators in the book women. But then I started thinking about the women in the novel, and I realized that not very many of them are warm and caring individuals. And several characters are motherless. Were you aware that you had mothers die young and that, except for Catherine, most of the women seem to have a low opinion of men or are just simply not nice (like Lalla)?

JP: I set out to make Megan not likable, but with the potential to be a true heroine, which I think/hope she proved to be at the end. Lalla I wanted to come across as a zealous accomplice to terror, a true believer who would do anything for Lahani and her husband. There was no intent to put the women in the story into any particular category. Genevieve LeGrand gave in to vanity but stood tall when she had to. Charles Raimondi was a true jerk. I see people’s flaws as not related to their gender but to their humanity.

BFR: From the flower seller we meet early in the novel to Annabella Jeritza, Francois Duval, and even the church, fate, fortune-telling, second sight, and miracles all play a part in the book. Are you a believer in fortune-telling and miracles?

JP: I believe that there is a higher power that plays a role in shaping our destinies that takes many forms, some obscure, some obvious. And yes, I do believe in miracles. You and I are miracles. A tree is a miracle. We take miracles for granted because we see them every day, but that doesn’t make them less miraculous.

BFR: You make references to several well-known terrorist attacks that have taken place in recent history. Is this novel meant to be your interpretation of the people behind those events or have you simply used history as a frame for your book?

JP: The answer is both. We’ll never know who exactly was behind many of the terrorist attacks that have taken place over the last 30 or so years. There has been mention of the Al Haramain Brigade and Salafist Jihad in connection with the bombings in Casablanca in 2003 and other attacks. Nineteen of the 21 9/11 terrorists were Saudi Arabian. I used history as a frame for fiction, but I tried to keep it close to the factual record so that the reader could identify the events of the novel with his or her understanding of world events.

Published by The Story Plant, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780981608723
Challenges: A-Z Author, 100+, 999
YTD: 52
Rating: B-

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29 June 2009

Review: The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips

In 1618, Spain was preparing to launch a surprise invasion of Venice. The plan was thwarted only because Alessandra Rossetti, a famed courtesan of the city, wrote a letter to the governing council exposing the plot. Afterward, the young woman disappears from history.

Claire Donovan has spent two years researching this event for her doctoral dissertation. Why would Alessandra risk her life and those of her clients to save her city? What happened to her after she wrote the famous "Rossetti letter"? Claire is hoping to answer these questions and thus start her academic career as the expert in the so-called Spanish Conspiracy. One big problem is that she can't afford to travel from her home on Cape Cod to Venice to study the historical records firsthand.

To make matters worse, Claire learns that a history professor from Cambridge, Andrea Kent, is planning to present a paper at a Venice conference on the very topic of the Spanish Conspiracy. If Claire's dissertation is scooped, her degree and career will be jeopardy. There is only one way she can get to Venice: by taking fourteen-year-old Gwen Fry along with her. Thirty-something Claire thinks, "How hard could it be to watch Gwen while attending the lectures and doing research?" It's obvious that Claire has not spent much time around teenagers.

Once in Venice, Claire attends "Andrea's" lecture and learns two important facts: Andrea is really Andrew, and Andrew thinks the Spanish Conspiracy is a hoax.

The Rossetti Letter is almost two novels in one. The historical aspects center around the fictional Alessandra Rossetti and her transformation from well-off merchant's daughter to orphan to high-class courtesan. Her story introduces us to 1617–1618 Venice, its foods, its sights and sounds, and its politics. The contemporary aspects focus on Claire Donovan as she races to save her academic future while finally learning to open herself up to others after her painful divorce.

The two faces of the novel work well. Although Alessandra's story could have stood on its own as historical fiction, it is interesting to see the difference between the "realities" of her life and what is available four hundred years later for Claire to study. Further, it is fun to follow Claire's discoveries; we groan when she skips over important information and are relieved when she gets things right.

The historical chapters are well conceived with a good balance of fact and fiction. The plot is nicely paced, and it is easy to get caught up in Alessandra's world. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to remember all the political players, but Phillips gives us a list of the characters, and a quick glance is all that's needed to clear any confusion.

Claire's story is a little less gripping, with maybe a few too many coincidences. The evolving relationship between Claire and Gwen is entertaining, and Claire's foibles while adapting to Venice provide a nice break. In the end, however, Claire is someone to root for: The trip to Venice not only helps Claire understand the Spanish Conspiracy and Alessandra's fate but also helps her find the way to self-discovery.

The novel ends with a author's note that tells us which characters and events were based on fact and which were conceived for the novel. Phillips also lists her major sources.

The Rossetti Letter is the first in the Claire Donovan novels. I already have the second book, The Devlin Diary, and can't wait to follow Claire as she conducts research into 1672 London.

The novel has it's own website, The Rossetti Letter, where you can learn more about the author and the book.

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2008
ISBN-13: 9781416527381
Challenges: 999, 100+
YTD: 51
Rating: B

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Review: The Game On Diet by Krista Vernoff and Az Fercuson

Let me put on my ex-university instructor hat: The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in. That's it. All diets are devised to help you meet this goal. If anyone tells you otherwise, he or she is trying to sell you something.

The Game On Diet works under this premise. It is not so much a diet as a way to help you learn how to make sane choices at the table: healthy foods in the correct portions. This is not a diet of deprivation: You are allowed a free day each week plus a free meal each week plus a 100-calorie treat every day.

Because everyone needs motivation to make changes and stick with them, the game part of the diet involves earning points, playing in teams, and getting prizes. The game lasts four weeks. After the month, you should be able to maintain your new healthy way of life without the game.

How to Earn Points

1. Eat five healthy mini-meals a day spaced 2 to 4 hours apart
2. Exercise at least 20 minutes 6 days a week
3. Sleep 7+ hours a night
4. Drink 3 liters of water a day
5. Add a healthy new habit
6. Get rid of a bad habit
7. Communicate with your team and the other players

How to Lose Points

1. Weighing yourself too often
2. Eating snacks
3. Talking someone else into cheating with you
4. Drinking alcohol on any day but your free day or free meal
5. Not doing your good habit or continuing to do your bad habit

What Can You Eat?

1 fist-size portion of carbs or fruits with every meal
1 palm-size portion of protein with every meal
1 thumb-size portion of healthy fat with every meal
2 fist-size portions of veggies a day and unlimited green veggies
1 (100-calorie) treat a day
Healthy sweeteners very sparingly

General Thoughts

I like the basic Game On Diet plan, and I love the way the book is written: lots of tips, recipes, Q&As, and personal stories from people who have tried the plan. The eating plan is sensible, and the exercise goals are reachable.

The list of no-no foods--called F.L.A.B.B. foods (for fat-loading and belly-bloating)--is quite reasonable and contains few surprises. F.L.A.B.B. foods include sugar, white flour, candy chocolate, lunch meat, fried foods, soda, and full-fat dairy products.

Negative Thoughts

I have an argument with the idea that fruit juices (as in 100%, no sugar added) are not allowed. The authors note that juices are high in calories, which is true. On the other hand, I really doubt that an 8-ounce glass of juice in the morning is making anyone fat.

Another problem I have is with the amount of water required: a whopping 3 liters. I am sure that I'd never be able to drink that much water. The diet will not let you drink decaf black or green iced tea instead. You can, however, substitute herbal iced tea. I have issues this: Herbs have physiological effects on the body, and the amount of active herbal ingredients is not regulated in teas. Thus I am not sure about drinking 3 liters of herb teas daily for a month. Because good-quality black and green tea is decaffeinated via a natural water process (no chemicals added) and provides important anti-oxidants, I really don't understand this rule.

The final problem I have is that the amount and types of recommended foods are the same for everyone. There are no divisions based on age, sex, weight, body size, general lifestyle, or general health. If I am reading the food chapter correctly, a 125-pound woman is supposed to eat the same amount of food as a 225-pound man, a 25-year-old is eating the same as a 60-year-old, a lactating woman is eating the same as a nonlactating woman, and a person with a desk job is eating the same as a person with a very physical job. At the least, most experts would adjust the portion sizes and types of foods based on age, sex, and lactation.

Positive Thoughts

One thing I like about this diet plan is eating more meals more often. This is an excellent way to even out your blood sugar throughout the day and is healthier than the typical peaks and valleys most of us experience.

Almost all of the foods on the forbidden list should be eliminated from most people's everyday diet. But because the diet includes a free meal and a free day, you can indulge when you need to (holiday, birthday party) or want to (weekend, meal in a restaurant). So really nothing is totally gone for life.

The free meal and free day serve two other purposes: One is you don't have to panic or stress over not eating your favorite foods because you have two chances each week. This makes it easier to stick with the plan the other days. The other is that the free meals prevent your body from going into a starvation or conserving mode, so you are less likely to hit a plateau if you are trying to lose weight.

Another bonus: Weight loss is not necessarily the end goal of the Game On Diet. If you are satisfied with your weight but just want to be healthier, this plan will work for you.

And I love the healthy habit aspect. Stress is a known contributor to weight gain and general ill-health. By picking up a positive habit and getting rid of a bad habit, not only can you feel better about yourself but you can relieve some of your daily stress.

Do I Think It Will Work?

I think this is a good, solid plan for most people, and it is based on the only known weight-loss formula (eat fewer calories than you burn). I think the vast majority of people in American will find it difficult to make the food changes and to commit to 6 days of exercise.

But I'll let you know what I really think at the end of July. I'm going to try the plan for a month with three teams of twitttering bloggers. So you'll see a dozen of us asking questions and cheering each other on.

Wish me luck!

Published by HarperCollins, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780061718892
Challenges: 999, 100+
YTD: 50
Rating: B

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28 June 2009

The Importance of Buying Books

Do you buy books? Besides promoting books and reading, interviewing authors, and reviewing ARCs, book bloggers should be buying books. Yes, I am a strong supporter of my library and, yes, I'm not even close to being rich, but if we don't buy books, good-quality, well-edited books will cease to exist or will be so expensive, only the wealthy will be able to afford to them.

I love going into a house that is filled with books. When I decided to take a photo of one of my bookshelves this morning, I realized that I could have taken a photograph in every single room of the house except the bathroom. I chose one of three bookcases that are in my living room (which is also home to many stacks of unshelved books).

Think about this: How does an author earn money? Mostly through book sales. Where do you think the $12.00 that you spent on a book goes? Here's a list of just some of the people who get a piece of that sale:

1. The author
2. The publicist
3. The publishing house
4. The agent
5. Editors (two to three)
6. Proofreader
7. Compositor
8. Designer
9. Cover artist (may be more than one)
10. Indexer (depending on book)
11. Photo researcher (depending on book)
12. Permissions (depending on book)
11. Legal (depending on book)
13. Paper company
14. Binder
15. Shipping
16. Bookseller

I may have forgotten someone or some chore, but based on this list, each person gets only 75 CENTS from each book sale. Of course, the money isn't divided evenly among the team, but regardless, you can start to see how little an author makes from each sale. An author has to sell a lot of books just to pay the rent.

So where am I going with this?

Amy of My Friend Amy is hosting a book drive, and I'd like you to participate. Here's what I'm asking. First, read all about the book drive and the prizes that will be given out. Then go read the review of Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart. Third, buy the book. Finally, send Amy the receipt. Did I mention that there'd be prizes?

Inquiring minds want to know

What was the last book (besides Kephart's!) that you bought? What stops you from buying books (cost, storage space)? How often do you buy books (once a month, once a week)?

⇒The last book I bought was Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris (in preparation for my Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge).
⇒Er, um, nothing ever stops me from buying books.
⇒I buy books several times a month, and I usually buy more than one at a time.

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27 June 2009

Challenge: Everything Austen

I am joining a new challenge. This one is so much fun, I don't think the word challenge even applies! Stephanie from Stephanie's Written Word is hosting the Everything Austen Challenge. And it is, of course, all about Jane!

Here's the deal: from July 1 to January 1 we need to read or watch six things that have to do with Jane Austen: books, book spin-offs, movies, movie spin-offs. All are allowed. How fun is that?

We are supposed to make a list of the six books or movies we're going to read or watch. I am stating right here: My list is tentative, I am not committing to these specific items. Why? Because when I read reviews or hear talk of something great that's not on this list, I want the flexibility to switch to that other great thing.

My Maybe List

1. Lady Susan (because I've never read it)
2. One of the big six on audio (probably Sense and Sensibility because I usually pick P&P)
3. A spin-off of Pride and Prejudice (Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife because I think I own it)
4. A spoof of Pride and Prejudice (Pride, Prejudice, & Zombies because I own it)
5. Pride and Prejudice DVD with Colin Firth (because . . . need I say more?)
6. Austen inspired (Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict because the first Rigler book was fun)

If you're a Jane Austen fan or if you'd like an excuse to reread the books or see the movies, head on over the Stephanie's blog and sign up! We will be discussing on Twitter! And there will be prizes. Don't miss out!

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26 June 2009

New Authors Challenge: Wrap Up

I have officially finished Jackie's 2009 New Author Challenge. To learn more about the challenge and to see what authors everyone else is reading visit the challenge page.

The challenge asked us to pick how many new authors we wanted to commit to reading. I picked 25. Because I love discovering new authors, you'll be see plenty of variety here on Beth Fish Reads.

Here are the new authors I read (in chronological order) as part of the New Author Challenge. Click on the link to read my review. My rating is in parentheses.

Completed New Authors List

The Demon of River Heights by Stefan Petrucha (B-)
The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar (C+)
Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith (B+)
The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly (B+)
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Peterson (C)
The Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer (B+)
Zig-Zagging by Tom Wilson (B-)
The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute (B-)
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (A+)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (A)
Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement (B-)
The Killing Tree by Rachel Keener (A-)
Zamora's Ultimate Challenge by M. K. Scott (B+)
A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow (B-)
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (C+)
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen (A-)
Wintergirls by Laura Halse Anderson (A)
This One Is Mine by Maria Semple (B)
No Angel by Penny Vincenzi (B+)
Starfinder by John Marco (B)
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White (B+)
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (B)
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt (A)
Home Game by Michael Lewis (B+)
The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein (B+)

This list really shows off my eclectic reading tastes: graphic novels, memoirs, young adult, middle reader, historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, chick lit, literary fiction!

My favorites at the moment are Keener, Marr, and Anderson. I definitely plan to read more of their works. But there are so many other great authors on my list, and I'll be reading more of their books too.

I have to admit that this wasn't much of a challenge because I really love discovering new authors. How about you? Do you tend to stick to tried and true? Read everything by a handful of authors? Seek out new authors? Or just pick up what looks interesting regardless of author?

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25 June 2009

Thursday Tea (June 25): The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips

Thursday Tea is hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. Here's how it works: Tell us what tea you are drinking (and if you like it). And then tell us what book are you reading (and if you like it). Finally, tell us if they go together.

The Tea

This week I'm drinking Stash Tea's Orange Spice Iced. I love fruit-flavored black and green teas for drinking cold in the summer, and this is a good one: "black teas, orange peel, and sweet spices." I make my iced teas as sun tea (well, when we actually see some sun!), and I never use sugar or sweetener.

The Book

I'm still listening to Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris (see last week's tea post), but wanted to highlight a different book today. I'm reading the Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips. It's a kind of academic mystery that takes place in modern times and in seventeenth-century Venice. Our hero is Ph.D. student Claire Donovan, who wants to know more about Alessandra Rossetti and why she risked her life and her lover's to embroil herself in Italian politics.

The Assessment

I've just started the book, but I imagine simple orange-spiced iced tea would appeal to Claire. She lives on Cape Cod, and I can see her pondering her dissertation on a warm summer's afternoon while listening to the seagulls and sipping some good, basic iced tea. She may want sweetener.

As always, now it's your turn to tell me what you're reading. I also want to know what is keeping you cool and refreshed this summer. Maybe you're smart and are drinking lots of water, or maybe you go for something more interesting.

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24 June 2009

What's on Your Desk Wednesday

What's On Your Desk Wednesday is a meme hosted by Sassy Brit at Alternative Read. I was tagged last week by J. Kaye of J. Kaye's Book Blog Here are the rules:

1. Grab your camera
2. Take a photo of your desk "as is"
3. List at least 5 bookish things that are on your desk
4. List at least 5 non-bookish things that are on your desk
5. Tag 5 more people

Okay, here is a photo of my boring desk as is.

Bookish things: manuscript.
Non-bookish things: glasses, pencils, pens, pencil sharpener.

Do I now win the prize for the lamest entry ever in this meme? Come on, I can take it -- boo and hiss me.

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Wordless Wednesday (June 24)

Black-Eyed Susan Bud

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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23 June 2009

Review: Magickeepers by Erica Kirov

Young Nick Rostov has spent his life in Las Vegas hotels. He is the son of one of the worst magicians on or off the Strip. If only his father were like the great Damian; tickets to his shows are sold out three years in advance.

On the night of his thirteenth birthday, Nick's grandfather takes him to Madame Bogdonovich's Magical Curiosity Shoppe, where the boy is given a chance to look into a crystal ball. Nick thinks his grandfather is crazy—everyone knows that crystal balls are a hoax. But to appease the old man, he takes a look, and to his amazement, he can see far back in time. Nick, however, is unable to foretell where this newly discovered skill will take him.

The magic in Kirov's novel is of three kinds: There are the familiar slight-of-hand magicians like Nick's father and Harry Houdini; there are the black magicians, or Shadowkeepers, such as Rasputin; and then there are the Magickeepers, or good magicians, like Damian. Until his birthday, the only magic Nick knew, was what his father had taught him. But within days, the boy would see firsthand the power of both good and evil magic.

Other themes in this fast-moving middle reader fantasy are the importance of family and learning to trust oneself. Older readers will get a kick out of the "true" stories behind Houdini's skills and ultimate death, the fate of Russia's Princess Anastasia, and why Rasputin seemed to be impossible to kill.

Don't look for wizards or dragons or unicorns; Magickeepers is all about the magic and takes place firmly in our world. On the other hand, there is much to spark a youngster's wonder and imagination, and the end of the book leaves us wanting to know more about Nick and his further adventures.

This book will appeal to nine- to twelve-year-olds looking for a new fantasy series that features a young boy who is easy to relate to. Girls will be drawn to Nick's cousin Isabella and several other woman characters. Magickeepers is a bit young for high schoolers, but fans of the genre shouldn't hesitate to read the novel.

You can learn a little more about Erica Kirov on Sourcebook's website.

Published by Sourcebooks, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781402215018
Challenges: A-Z Author, 999, 100+
YTD: 49
Rating: B

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22 June 2009

Review The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Pan Yuliang: The very name betrays the promise she made to never lie to Zanhua. She is not really Yuliang, and she is not really Pan Zanhua's wife. And every time she places the characters for Pan-Yu-Liang on a painting, she remembers what it cost her to become the Famous Western-Style Woman Painter of Shanghai.

Xiuqing was orphaned as a young child and sent to live with her opium-addicted uncle, Wu Ding. Little Xiu is happy helping with household chores and learning poetry. When she is fourteen, Wu Ding's debts become so great he starts to sell off his possessions, including his niece. It is then that Xiuqing begins to live in lies.

Known as Yuliang, the child serves the top girl at the Hall of Eternal Splendor and begins her training. She learns to deceive men and to pretend to herself that she is not a common whore. She buries Xiuqing deep inside and endures. When she is sent as a gift to Pan Zanhua, the new inspections officer, she has no reason to suspect that her destiny has changed.

Yuliang's transformation from pleasure girl to trained oil painter was possible only through her own stubbornness and talent as well as the love and support of Zanhua. It is often difficult to remember that Epstein's novel is based on the life of a real person. It is hardly believable that an orphan, a prostitute, a concubine could find the will and a way to escape absolutely everything. Yuliang's story is full of contrasts: who she really is versus who she is forced to be, bound feet and second wife played out against the communist revolution, woman as property becoming woman of independent means.

Epstein immerses us into Yuliang's universe, in which traditional culture tumbles into the modern world and where we can find inspiration and role models in the most unlikely places.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in art, China, historical fiction, and women's issues.

Jennifer Cody Epstein has a website where you can learn more about real Pan Yuliang.

Here is just one of many sites that show images of Pan Yuliang's works.

Published by WW Norton
ISBN-13: 9780393065282
Challenges: A-Z Author, New Author, 999, 100+, Art History,
YTD: 48
Rating: B+

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21 June 2009

Review: Home Game by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis is in between—in between generations, social expectations, and his own family. Fathers used to be the adults you'd see on the weekends or for a few hours at night. They were the ultimate threat: "Just wait until your father gets home!" So how is a modern father supposed to figure out his role in his own house?

Home Game is a frank, funny, and ultimately sweet look at Lewis's adaptation to the birth of his three kids. To some observers, he's the model of an involved father, but to others—like his wife, Tabitha—he's barely treading water. In his own mind, he is basically muddling through. But by the time his third child is born, Lewis has learned some important lessons:

Home life: If you don't see what the problem is, you are the problem. (p. 78)
At a school function: If everyone in the room is laughing, and you don't know what they are laughing about, they are laughing about you. (p. 92)
In the delivery room: Never underestimate your own insignificance. (p. 120)

Beneath the self-deprecating humor, we see the transformation that must take place after each birth. Lewis marvels at the almost instant bond his wife has with their babies. He finds he has to move from a kind of bewilderment to a feeling of inconvenience and finally to self-sacrificing love. And the real lesson Lewis learns is that the more involved he is as a parent, the stronger the bond and less he feels as if he were "doing the dirty work."

On this Father's Day, or any day, pour yourself a beer, turn on a ball game, and dip into this candid collection of linked essays. You probably aren't alone in that wilderness called modern fatherhood.

A video of Michael Lewis talking about Home Game with Charlie Rose can be found here.

Home Game was also reviewed at The Book Studio.

Published by WW Norton, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780393069013
Challenges: New Author, A-Z Title, 999, 100+
YTD 47
Rating: B+

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20 June 2009

Young Adult Challenge: Wrap Up

I have officially finished J. Kaye's 2009 YA Challenge. To learn more about the challenge, visit J. Kaye's YA sign-up post. To see what everyone else in the challenge has read, visit J. Kaye's YA review page.

The challenge asked us to read twelve young adult books. I think I met this goal a while back, but I'm declaring myself finished as of yesterday. I read lots of YA so there will be plenty more reviews to come.

Here are the YA books that I specifically designated as part of the YA Challenge. Click on the link to read my review. My rating is in parentheses.

Completed Young Adult Challenge List

Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke (C+)
The Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer (B+)
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (A+)
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (A)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (A)
Zamora's Ultimate Challenge by M. K. Scott (B+)
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen (A-)
A Killing Frost by John Marsden (B+)
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (A)
Rumors by Anna Godbersen (A-)
Starfinder by John Marco (B)
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt (A)

Judging from my ratings, I picked a good group of books. Wintergirls and Wicked Lovely are my top picks from this list. Swallows and Amazons was one my favorite childhood books, and I wholeheartedly recommend the entire series.

I plan to finish up both the Luxe series and the Tomorrow series (the John Marsden books). And I'm looking forward to reading more of Gary D. Schmidt's books.

All in all a very satisfying challenge. Thank so much to J. Kaye for hosting it.

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Review: About Alice by Calvin Trillin

In the years before I started blogging, I kept notes about the books I read. Every once in a while I post mini-reviews of books I read in my pre-blogging days. Enjoy.

A few days ago, Natasha at Maw Books Blog asked her readers if books ever made them cry. I blithely answered no and said that I didn't think any book had ever made me cry. I was wrong. There was one book that did make me cry (in fact, sob)—even on my third time through.

It's pretty much impossible to review About Alice. In mundane terms, it is Calvin Trillin's memories of his forty-year marriage to the brilliant, eccentric, and stunning Alice Stewart Trillin. In truth, it is the most personal and emotional love story I have ever read. Although sprinkled with Trillin's characteristic humor, the memoir is beautiful and heartbreaking.

I read this book in print once and in audio twice. I highly recommend listening to Trillin read his tribute—even if you never do audio. If you can get through About Alice without at least welling up, nothing will touch you.

For those of you who don't know, Trillin is a journalist and staff writer at The New Yorker. His humorous and unique look at everyday life, food, and politics is a delight to read.

And what about Alice? Here's what I wrote almost three years ago: "We should all be lucky enough to have had an Alice in our lives."

Published by Random House, 2006
ISBN-13: 9781400066155
Rating: A+

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19 June 2009

Review: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

What would Boston-born Turner Buckminster find in the small coastal town of Phippsburg, Maine? Being the minister's son is never easy, but Turner isn't even given a chance. Called out on the carpet by old Mrs. Cobb for touching her picket fence, the boy is forced to spend his first Maine summer playing hymns in her stuffy parlor.

Lucky for Turner, the sea breeze speaks to him, and when he listens, he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin digging for clams along the shore. Latin-reading, city-boy Turner had never seen the likes of Lizzie's home on Malaga Island. There the girl lives with her grandfather in a settlement established by ex-slaves.

Meanwhile, Phippsburg is facing an economic downturn and is finding it difficult to settle into the twentieth century. The town leaders believe the answer to their troubles is tourism, but before they can start to build inns, they need to rid the town of undesirables: nonconformists and poor blacks alike.

What can a thirteen-year-old boy do to open the eyes of the community when even his own father seems to be against him?

From the title, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, you'd think there were two principal characters. But Schmidt introduces us to another of Turner's best friends—the wind:

"The only thing that saved him from absolute suffocation was the sea breeze somersaulting and fooling, first ahead, then behind, running and panting like a dog ready to play." (p. 21)

"That night, after a quiet and still supper, Turner sat by his window watching the late dusk turn purple, and suddenly there was the sea breeze again, chuckling and rolling down Parker Head, whipping three times around First Congregational and then rollicking across the street, up the clapboards of the parsonage and to him, rustling his hair and scooting down the back of his shirt so that he shivered and laughed." (p. 101)
It's not surprising that Schmidt's tale, based on a historic event, is the winner of a both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor. The prose is poetically beautiful and begs for a second or third reading. But this middle reader novel doesn't flinch from difficult topics: aging and the elderly, municipal greed, racial prejudice, small town conformity, and the price of standing up for what you believe.

The book is emotionally complex and is an excellent choice to read with your children because it opens the door to important conversation. The lessons to be learned from the story of Phippsburg touch all generations and give adults an opportunity for self-reassessment as they discuss tough issues with the kids in their lives.

The audiobook was read by Sam Freed. The hurt and wonder, joys and frustrations of Turner Buckminster's life were skillfully conveyed through Freed's narration.

I could not find a website or blog for Gary D. Schmidt, but I encourage to you read the review at Bermudaonion's Weblog, which includes a video about Malaga Island.

Published by Random House Childrens Books, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780553494952
Challenges: New Author, Support Your Library, Young Adult, 999, 100+
YTD: 46
Rating: A

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Bloggiesta Mini Challenge!

Welcome to all Bloggiesta participants! This is home to a blog-improvement mini challenge. If you choose to take on this task, you'll not only have a great rainy-day post but you'll be eligible for one of the publisher-sponsored giveaways!

The Task

So what's your task? Write a post and save it for another day; this mini challenge will put you ahead of the game.

The Details

Okay, so what are you going to write about? You get a choice: Write either an opinion post or a list post. But don't get discouraged, I have some help for you from ProBlogger.

(1) Here's information about opinion posts.
(2) Here's information about list posts.

Don't forget to check out the comments to ProBlogger's blog: You'll find links to examples and some extra tips.

You must have an opinion on something: what makes a good review, why you love audiobooks, why you'll never own an eReader, the importance of libraries. You get the idea.

Lists are easy: gather up some good reviews or interesting blog posts, tell us about your TBR pile, tell us about yourself, list your favorite kids books, share some of your wish list.

Note: Although a book review is an opinion post of a sort, I encourage you to stretch yourself and tell us your opinion about something else. The whole event, however, should be fun as well as helpful, so don't stress too much.

Now What

Once you've written your post, go ahead and either schedule it for posting or save it to use when you need some backup material.

EDIT FOR January 2011: Don't forget to come back and link up with Mr. Linky so you can get credit for the mini-challenge. If you want to, let us know which option you chose (in a comment here or on your blog). If you connect with Mr. Linky, you'll have a chance to win a prize.

For more information about the Bloggiesta, see Maw Books Blog for sign-up information and other mini-challenges.

Please use the following Mr. Linky for JANUARY 2011. I have comment moderation set for this older post but will be approving comments as quickly as I can.


The following Mr. Linkys were for previous Bloggiestas.

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18 June 2009

Thursday Tea (June 18): Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

Thursday Tea is hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. Here's how it works: Tell us what tea you are drinking (and if you like it). And then tell us what book are you reading (and if you like it). Finally, tell us if they go together.

The Tea

This week I'm drinking Bigalow's Constant Comment. This best-selling tea is flavored with cinnamon and citrus and is available in tea bags everywhere. Apparently it was developed in the 1940s and helped launch the Bigalow Tea Company! My mom used to drink this tea when I was kid.

The Book

This week I'm listening to Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris. It's the fifth book in the Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire series. The second season of the HBO television series True Blood premired on Sunday, and I was inspired to read more about my favorite telepathic cocktail waitress. What's not to love about Sookie and her boss, Sam, and her vampire friends Bill and Eric? In fact, I have so much Sookie love, I started the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge! Maybe you'll consider joining in the the fun.

The Assessment

Constant Comment is perhaps a little fancy for Sookie and the citizens of Bons Temps, Louisianna. Would Merlotte's bar or Sookie's grandmother serve flavored tea? But it's as good of a match as I have in my house, so it'll have to do!

Not into vampires? That's ok, I'd still like to know what you're reading this week. And what's in that glass or mug by your side?

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17 June 2009

Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge: Sign Up

Welcome to the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge!

Here's your chance to catch up on Sookie and all her friends -- living and undead, fully human and not.

It's easy, it's fun, it's for you! And you have an entire year to complete the challenge.

The Rules:

1. Between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010, catch up on Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series. No matter if you're starting with book 1 or book 8, you have a year to read all about Sookie. Read Sookie in print, listen to the audio, read an eBook -- format is not an issue.

2. Sign up using Mr. Linky. Put your name in the top box. For the bottom box, please use the URL that links specifically to your blog post about this challenge, not to your blog's home page.

3. After July 4, I'll create a post with another Mr. Linky where you can link your reviews so everyone can read them track your progress.

4. If you don't have a blog and want to join in, sign up in the comments here. Later, let us know about your progress by leaving comments on the review link page.

EDIT: You can join any time during the course of the challenge.

The Books:

Dead Until Dark
Living Dead in Dallas
Club Dead
Dead to the World
Dead as a Doornail
Definitely Dead
All Together Dead
From Dead to Worse
Dead and Gone

EDIT: Don't miss the chance to win the first seven books from Melissa at Melissa's Bookshelf. Thanks, Melissa!!

EDIT #2: if you're on Twitter, the challenge is using the hashtag #SookieSRC (for Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge). Feel free to join in #SookieSRC conversations whenever you see them.

EDIT #3: Don't miss the chance to win the first season of True Blood! Michelle of GalleySmith is offering incentive to get you through this challenge: Sookie on your big-screen TV. Thanks Michelle!!

There are also Sookie and gang short stories and an up-coming anthology! For more, see Charlaine Harris's website.

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Wordless Wednesday (June 17)

Mermaid House, Maine

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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16 June 2009

Review: Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

In northern Mexico, the notorious girlfriends of the dusty, dying town of Tres Camarones work a variety of part-time jobs so they can buy clothes and makeup and go to the movies. After celebrating Tia Irma's victory as the town's first woman mayor, Nayeli realizes that the only close male companionship she, Yolo, and Vampi have is Tacho, the gay owner of the so-called Internet café. The men have all gone to that paradise known as the United States.

How will the town protect itself? And how can the young women date and marry? Nayeli decides to follow the example provided by the movie The Magnificent Seven, starring Mexico's favorite actor, Yul Brynner. She will go to America and bring back seven of her countrymen to protect the town and revive the population. And while she's there, she will find her father and bring him back home.

When Yolo, Vampi, Tacho, and Nayeli leave their familiar Tres Camarones, they are ill-equipped and unprepared to survive Mexico, let alone to cross the border and find help.

From the nightmarish bus trip through Mexico to the bittersweet drive across America, Urrea's skill as a storyteller shines, especially when he focuses on the spunky Nayeli. The plight of the truly poor who live in the towns just south of the border was heartbreakingly portrayed. And it was particularly interesting to see the people, culture, and geography of the States through the eyes of a new arrival.

Unfortunately, the circumstances that motivated the friends to set off on their desperate quest are underdeveloped and thus it was difficult to buy the premise. Some of the side stories lacked sufficient depth and became tangents rather than additions to Nayeli's journey. There was quite a bit of Spanish in the book, and readers unfamiliar with the language may not fully understand several passages. And, finally, the climax of Nayeli's cross-country trip was a letdown, either as a result of her choices or because her reactions were left to the reader's imagination, or perhaps a bit of both.

There is, however, a lot to like about Into the Beautiful North. Nayeli and Tacho were sympathetic characters, and Nayeli's intelligence, bravery, and determination were admirable. Although parts of the book focused on the difficult and sometimes horrific conditions for a particular segment of the Mexican population, the novel is not without humor, and this is another of Urrea's strengths.

Despite the flaws of Into the Beautiful North, I was not disappointed in Urrea as an author. He has written several other books—both fiction and nonfiction—as well as three collections of poetry. I recommend exploring this author's works.

Luis Alberto Urrea has a website where you can learn more about his books and watch a moving video about Into the Beautiful North.

Published by Little, Brown, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780316025270
Challenges: A-Z author, New Author, 999, 100+
YTD: 45
Rating: B

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Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesday: The Painter from Shanghai

I'm a Chinese painter living in France. It's been twenty years since I left China during political upheaval. When people ask me about my life and what I've had to do to survive, I don't reveal all. A little mystery keeps my clients interested. But sometimes when I'm alone, I remember . . .

For more Where Are You? answers, visit Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading.

MizB at Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Here's how it works: Grab your current read; let the book fall open to a random page; and share 2 “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

Yuliang loves painting in rain, loves how the rain makes the world feel close and safe. She'll grind new ink to thicken Leanne's hair, make grasstrokes glisten with the dawn. When it is done, she'll triumphantly place her name. In Chinese. . . . She signs for herself, to bind her work to her. To tattoo it with a message: she has won. (p. 20)

—Both from The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein

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15 June 2009

Cheerleading Pays Off in Books

Remember this spring's Readathon? Well guess what? I tied for the prize of most enthusiastic cheerleader. My co-winner is Eva from A Striped Armchair.

Thanks so much for the recognition. It hardly seems like I deserve it because I had a blast. If you didn't read about my escapades as cheerleader, check out my Readathon wrap-up post.

I did, however, accept the honor because it came with a $20 gift card to Powell's! (I'm not crazy!) I've already spent my gift, and I thought it would be nice to let you know what I got. Here's what appeared on my doorstep today:

The first is another collection by Sam Shepard (see my review of Great Dream of Heaven). This one is more personal and includes photographs, poems, and stories. The other two are YA books that I've been meaning to read.

Thanks again to whoever chose me as a prize-winner for the Readathon. I had such a blast, and I'll think of the event when I read these books. In the fall, I'll be faced with the dilemma of reading or cheering, but either way, I'll be involved.

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Reading by the Prizes

Here's this week's Musing Mondays, hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Do you feel compelled to read prize-winning (Giller/Booker/Pulitzer etc) books? Why, or why not? Is there, perhaps, one particular award that you favour? (question courtesy of MizB)

No. I never feel compelled to read any of the typical prize-winners. The exceptions are the Audie awards (for audiobooks) and AudioFile magazine's Earphone awards. And I don't feel at all compelled to listen to those books, it's just that I tend to pay attention to the audiobook awards when making buying and borrowing decisions.

How about you? Are prize-winners your thing?

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14 June 2009

What I'm Reading Now

Here's what's at the top of my TBR list. Look for reviews over the next several weeks.

The Case of the Missing Marquess is the first Enola Holmes mystery and is also the first ebook I downloaded from the library onto my new Sony eReader. Magickeepers is the first in a new middle reader fantasy series.

I'm really looking forward to these books in which historian Claire Donovan attempts to solve mysteries from the past. Both books move between modern times and the seventeenth century. The Rossetti Letter takes us to historic Venice and The Devlin Diary to London.

And what's summer without some good books about women and couples? Castaways focus on four couples and what happens after a devastating event breaks up their group. Every Last Cuckoo is about how a fifty-something woman copes with the loss of her husband. And Cutting Loose is about three women who meet in Miami, each trying to make a new start.

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13 June 2009


Thanks so much to Carrie from Books and Movies for the Literary Blogger Award. And thanks to Louise from Lous_Pages for the Lemonade Award.

If you haven't been reading these two blogs, I suggest you start now! They are both on my daily must-read list.

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12 June 2009

Review: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

Neil White dreamed of being the best or the first or at least rich and famous. By the time he was in his late twenties, he had it made: beautiful wife, two great children, and a publishing empire based on the Gulf Coast. He had a penthouse office, he served on important committees, and everyone knew his name.

Slow economy? Mounting debts? No worries. White was an expert at surviving cash flow problems and practiced at finding investors. But, in fact, he owed his public façade of leading citizen and successful business entrepreneur to his true talent: kiting checks.

Even as White walked through the prison gates of Carville (in Louisiana), he was thinking about how he was different from all the other inmates. He was special, and he was determined to let everyone know that he was not just a common criminal. What he didn't know was that Carville was also a federal medical facility. At the time White was given his prison number and entered into the books, the compound was home to two populations that society shunned: convicted felons and patients with Hansen's disease (leprosy).

In In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, White tells his story of a journey through the looking glass to a place where virtually everyone is anonymous but nothing is private. He holds little back: from his feelings of horror and disgust the first day he walked through the patients' cafeteria to the last day when he couldn't take his eyes off his friend Ella Bounds, who had spent almost sixty-five years at Carville as a patient; from the beginnings of his creative financing to the day he was caught; from his desire to be admired by society to his discovery that life is about the little things; from his determination to hold himself apart from the inmates to his feelings of kinship and friendship.

White fully recognizes how lucky he was to have been sent to Carville. Not because it was considered a country-club prison but because its unique blend of opposites provided the environment he needed to finally focus on his own flaws. He did not have a miraculous or religious transformation; instead, by talking to the patients and by trying to help his fellow prisoners better themselves through education, he gradually learned some of the more important of life's lessons: asking for help can be a strength, telling the truth can be powerful, and staying true to oneself brings freedom.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are earmarked for several advocacy groups and the National Hansen's Disease Museum.

Neil White has a website with photographs, videos, and more information.

Published by HarperCollins, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780061351600
Challenges: New Author, A-Z Author, 999, 100+
YTD: 44
Rating: B+

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11 June 2009

Thursday Tea (June 11): Lizzie Bright . . . by Gary D. Schmidt

Thursday Tea is hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. Here's how it works: Tell us what tea you are drinking (and if you like it). And then tell us what book are you reading (and if you like it). Finally, tell us if they go together.

The Tea

This week I'm drinking Adagio's English breakfast tea. It's a "black Keemun tea from the Anhui region of China." It's been raining almost every day here, and this tea (despite its name) is a great afternoon pick-me-up.

The Book

This week I'm listening to Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt. It's a middle reader book based on a true story of a Maine town at the turn of the twentieth century. Two young teens, Turner Buckminster and Lizzie Bright Griffin, develop an unlikely friendship as the relationship between the elders in their respective communities begins to deteriorate. Racial and socioeconomic prejudices and the difficulties of standing up for what you know is right are some of the issues Schmidt focuses on.

The Assessment

English breakfast tea is the perfect choice for this book. The conservative and proper citizens of Phippsburg, Maine, would not likely reach for anything more exotic.

Now it's your turn: What are you reading this week? What's in your glass or mug?

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2018. All rights reserved.



To The Blogger Guide, Blogger Buster, Tips Blogger, Our Blogger Templates, BlogU, and Exploding Boy for the code for customizing my blog. To Old Book Illustrations for my ID photo. To SEO for meta-tag analysis. To Blogger Widgets for the avatars in my comments and sidebar gadgets. To Review of the Web for more gadgets. To SuziQ from Whimpulsive for help with my comments section. To Cool Tricks N Tips for my Google +1 button.

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