31 August 2009

Monthly Wrap Up: August 2009

Total Books and Current Status

Since January 1, I've read 70 books and left 4 books unfinished. I have posted 65 full reviews and 13 mini-reviews and I have 5 reviews left to write. I am currently reading Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie and listening to Mind Scrambler by Chris Grabenstein.

What Did I Read?

Here's what I read in August. Click on the link to see my review; the letter in parentheses is my rating.

Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart (A+)
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (A)
Albert the Fix-It Man by Janet Lord (A)
Patron Saint of Used Cars Mark Millhone (C+)
Death of a Travelling Man by M. C. Beaton (B)
Inventing Montana by Ted Leeson (B)

Also read in August, but reviews to come:

Testimony by Anita Shreve
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Willow by Julia Hoban
French Milk by Lucy Knisley

I had a great reading month but not a good month for writing reviews. I had a very heavy workload in August, which meant that I was not very interested in staying on the computer at night to write reviews.

All three YA books were simply excellent in my opinion, and I would have a hard time choosing among them because they were strong in different areas. The beauty of the language of Nothing but Ghosts is not to be missed. I liked The Forest of Hands and Teeth for some of the larger questions it addresses. The realism of Willow and the way Hoban puts the reader so fully into a teen's world impressed me (review and author interview scheduled for after Labor Day).

Mini Reviews and Spotlights

I posted three mini reviews of books I read before I started blogging; two of these as part of the new A-Z Wednesday meme.

Blizzard by Jim Murphy
Bleeding Kansas by Sara Paretsky
Cod by Mark Kurlansky

I posted one mini review of a book I didn't finish.

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll

I spotlighted one book for a blog tour.

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

Author Interviews and the Literary Road Trip

I had two entries this month in the Literary Road Trip and both involved interviews. First was My Friend Amy's fabulous interview with Beth Kephart and second was my interview with Janet Lord.

Guest Posts

I was pleased to welcome Pam Ripling as a guest on BFR. She wrote a fabulous post about the connection between photography and writing.

Did I Complete Any Challenges? Join Any New Ones?

I completed the Cozy Mystery Challenge.

I joined two new challenges: the Vampire Diaries and R.I.P. IV.

I dropped two challenges: There was no way I was going to finish the U.S. Civil War challenge, although I love books that take place in that era, I wasn't making progress. I also dropped the U.S. Presidents challenge. I love the idea of reading one nonfiction book about each president and may keep that as a personal goal, but I wasn't keeping up with the challenge.

There is still time to join the first challenge I've ever hosted: The Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge.

What's New and What's Coming in September

August saw a couple of new features on BFR. I wrote my first movie review, which was of Lost in Austen. I also joined the A-Z Wednesday meme as a way of spotlighting books I can recommend.

I also make changes to my Review Policy. I added an explanation of my rating system and explained why there are so few "C" books on this blog. I also added a blurb about the Literary Road Trip to that page.

September is the month for BBAW. I am really, really looking forward to it. I volunteered to help out and spent quite a bit of time in August working behind the scenes for the event. I want to take this time to thank everyone who nominated me for an awards category. I was incredibly flattered and astounded.

I have author interviews, guest posts, blog tours, and Literary Road Trip posts planned for September, so look for those.

The Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge is off to a great start and in just two months we have almost 100 reviews and 116 participants. Click on the "Sookie" tab under my banner photo to learn more about the challenge and to see the review links.

How was your August? Did you meet your reading goals? Are you caught up on your reviews? Are you making changes?

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30 August 2009

Challenge: R.I.P. IV

Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the R.I.P IV Challenge. That R.I.P. stands for Readers Imbibing Peril. And although I swore I wasn't joining, here I am.

There are several levels, and I am committing to reading two books in two months. The idea is to read books out of the following categories: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, Gothic, horror, and supernatural. Although we are not required to compile and stick with a reading list, I thought I'd share some of the books I've been wanting to read:

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The Vampire Diaries by L. J. Smith
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

Surely I can read two books for this challenge by October 31. Some people have already started on the challenge, and you can find the links to their reviews at the R.I.P. IV Review Site.

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29 August 2009

My Shelves Runneth Over; Or What's New at Home

There are several ways that books make their way through my front door: I buy them, I borrow them, I beg for request a review copy, I accept a pitch, they magically appear. Here are some books that I have acquired over the last few weeks from all five sources.

I went to the bookstore the other night and came hope with the first two volumes (books 1-4) of the Vampire Diaries (don't they look weird next to each other?) and the latest two in the Gregor Demarkian mystery series.

Here we have urban fantasy (The Tear Collector), two historical fiction/fantasies (Lady Macbeth's Daughter and Dreaming Anastasia), and a horror (The Waking: Dreams of the Dead).

Next up is Moonlight in Odessa, which is women's fiction. The Fruit of Her Hands and The Aviary Gate are historical fiction (13th-century Europe & 16th-century Ottoman Empire, respectively), and Her Fearful Symmetry is psychological fiction.

Finally, we have general fiction (Ferris Beach), two fantasies (Genesis & The Resurrectionist), and a coming-of-age story (Blue Boy).

Have you read any of these? Do you own any of these? They all look good to me -- except the horror novel, which I'll probably be giving away during BBAW! I'm a bit of coward when it comes to horror.

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28 August 2009

Review: Inventing Montana by Ted Leeson

Ted Leeson's newest collection of essays takes us to one of the most famous fly-fishing areas of the country: the Madison Valley. For about twenty years, Leeson, his wife, and a group of friends have met every August to stay in the same rented farmhouse. Through twelve nicely paced essays, Leeson conflates the seasons to give us a sense of life in Montana through the eyes of a long-time visitor.

In the tradition of most outdoor writing, Leeson's reflections encompass much more than fishing. Several essays touch on the power of space, the meanings of house and home, and the easy rhythm of life among friends who have long since taken on comfortable summer roles.

Leeson is not insular, however, and also notices how Montana has changed over the decades from a sportsman's haven to the playground of the rich and famous. He explores the question of what it must be like to live in a town that is caught between needing the tourists in order to make a living and simultaneously resenting their intrusion. He observes the irony of the diminishing open spaces caused by the influx of people who have moved to the state to enjoy the wilderness.

But ultimately, Inventing Montana is about the fishing. In one section, Leeson ponders the differences between wading and floating the river:

The sense of promise in wade fishing originates in its deliberateness, in the potential for adapting to circumstances, and in the confidence that every local angling problem has a solution. . . . The drifting angler, by comparison, embraces the more innocent optimism of what lies ahead, the fresh hand dealt, the next card turned; it is poker hope, by no means inferior, but rather more easily purchased. (p. 53)

Through humor and good storytelling, Leeson takes on the hunt to find the perfect water, the quest for solitude, and the agonizing wait for the hatches. He also ponders the correct way to answer, "What's your favorite fishing spot?"

An honest reply would take some explaining, and I have learned that any response to a fishing question posed casually at a social function should be scrupulously brief, at least if you care to get invited anywhere again. (pp. 132-133)

And throughout it all, Leeson's love of the Madison River Valley is evident:

The first hours of light on a river are the most gracious of the day. Cool night air still lingers over the water, and there is seldom any wind. Shadows stretch out as the day uncurls in the yawn of morning sun, and the river is never more quietly spectacular or the landscape more vividly limned than in that slanting light. (p. 107)

Inventing Montana should appeal to anyone who fly fishes, enjoys nature, and who has been lucky enough to return year after year to a favorite spot with the best of people.

Note that all extracts come from an advance reading copy and may not exactly match the finished book. Thanks to Thomas Semosh for bringing this title to my attention at BEA.

Published by Skyhorse Publishing, September 1, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781602397965
Challenges: 999, 100+
YTD: 65
Rating: B

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27 August 2009

Giveaway Winner: Albert the Fix-It Man by Janet Lord


Thanks so much to everyone who entered and tweeted and blogged about this giveaway.

There were a total of 88 entries (individuals could have multiple entries). I went to random.org to find the winning number. Without further ado:

The winner is Molly from The Bumbles Blog, who needs to have her shed fixed. I'm sure Albert will know what to do!

Thanks again to everyone who entered and to Peachtree Publishers for sending me an extra book to pass along to my readers.

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Thursday Tea: Willow by Julia Hoban

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 Golden Spring tes: The company describes it like this: "A delicate black tea from Fujian Province. . . . The heady aroma of both the dried and infused leaves has a distinct savory-sweet note that transcends richly into the cup." I've been making sun tea this week. (Yes, we have enough sun to do this.) This is a mild but tasty tea, and as always, I drink it black and unsweetened.

The Book

I'm listening to Willow by Julia Hoban. The book takes its start from one of my favorite themes: the idea that one's life can change in an instant, whether from a poor choice, an impulsive act, or an accident. In this case, 16-year-old Willow is trying to cope with the aftermath of a car crash in which her parents died but she survived. Willow now lives with her brother, his wife, and his baby and goes to a new high school, leaving much that is familiar behind. This a frank and un-moralistic look into several difficult topics. Willow will likely be among my top books of the year; look for my review.

The Assessment

Willow lives in the city and grew up in an academic and well-traveled family, so I'm assuming that she may indeed have tried Golden Spring tea at some point. However, she, like many teens, would probably be drinking a flavored cappuccino instead. In any case, I think the tea is yummy!

What are you reading during these last days of August? Let me know what I should be adding to my wish list. Any good tea, coffee, wine, or whiskey recommendations?

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26 August 2009

A-Z Wednesday: Cod by Mark Kurlansky

Reading at the Beach is hosting this fun meme: Each week she invites you to spotlight a book whose title begins with the featured letter. This week we have the letter C.

My C book is Cod by Mark Kurlansky. Yes, not only did I read a book about cod but I'm recommending that you read it too. This is an amazingly interesting look at the relationship between cod and humans from Viking times to the present. Before reading Kurlansky's book, I had no idea that the cod fishing industry had such far-reaching effects on exploration, politics, wars, and the worldwide economy. Cod was one of my top reads for 2006, and if you have an interest in food, other cultures, colonial America, New England, or cooking (recipes are included), you won't be sorry to give this one a try.

For a look at Kurlansky's Salt, see my review. These are the only Kurlansky books I've read. Can you recommend any others?

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Wordless Wednesday (August 26)

Busy Bees

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25 August 2009

Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesday: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

I'm 22 and between college and grad school. I want more than anything to be a graphic novelist or a cartoonist. This year my mom turns 50, and the two of us are living in Paris for a few weeks. We see all the usual things, but we also discover bookstores and cafes and flea markets. We go to the movies, we eat and drink and eat some more. Along the way, not only do I get to know the City of Lights but I get to know my mom as well.

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.

Something I love about the art we see in all these beautiful old churches: the saints! St. Lucy (my fave) isn't very big in France, unfortunately. (She cut out her eyes, and they grew back!) p. 59

—Both from French Milk by Lucy Knisley

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24 August 2009

Review: Death of a Travelling Man by M. C. Beaton

Death of a Travelling Man is the ninth entry in the Hamish Macbeth series. This review assumes you've read the other books, but there are really few spoilers to the series.

Hamish Macbeth likes the quiet life and likes his adopted town of Lochdubh. He's not so sure he likes having been promoted to sergeant because now he's stuck with an assistant. Police Constable Willie Lamont is more than staff, however; he's moved in to Hamish's home in the police station. And Willie is not only gung-ho about the law but he's a clean freak and is always cooking. Poor Hamish, everything seems to be changing.

When Hamish comes across a camper illegally parked in town, he meets the handsome Sean Gourlay and his traveling companion, Cheryl Higgins. Soon after Sean moves the camper to the minister's property, life in Lochdubh becomes unsettled. Middle-aged women are seen bringing the drifter baked goods at a regular pace, petty thefts are reported, long-time residents put their house up for sale, and the minister seems to have lost his faith.

Before Hamish can gather evidence to solve the thefts, there is a murder. And this time it looks as if one of his friends and neighbors may be involved. Hamish is at loss of how to proceed; he believes in the law, but he trusts the townsfolk, no matter which way the evidence is pointing.

The Hamish Macbeth series is about more than the murder. It's about the easygoing Hamish and his life in the northern Highlands. It's also about his tentative relationship with the beautiful Priscilla Halburton-Smythe. Death of a Travelling Man doesn't let us down on any of these planes.

The murder mystery is nicely crafted in this entry, and I wasn't unable to figure it out any faster than Hamish was. One of Hamish's endearing characteristics is his ability to seem as if he were lazy and somewhat slow on the uptake when he is really way ahead of everyone else in solving the crime. The problem is that he doesn't want to be promoted because he's afraid that he'll be transferred to the city of Strathbane if he keeps doing a good job. He loves his simple small-town life and wants to have time to fish and visit with his friends.

This is a fun cozy series. The books are short but entertaining, and I highly recommend them. The audiobook was read by the fabulous Davina Porter. In fact, I started this series solely because she was the narrator. Porter is terrific, and I would listen to almost anything she read. I'm already looking forward to the next book in this series.

Print Published by Random House 1996
ISBN-13: 9780804112116
Audio Published by Recorded Books, 2005
ISBN-13: 9781402564819
Challenges: A-Z Author, Support Your Library, 999, 100+, Cozy Mysteries
YTD: 64
Rating: B

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23 August 2009

BBAW: Working Hard for You

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming up! The nomination long lists have been announced, and now the BBAW judging panels are busy reading posts and conferring to create the awards short lists. The short lists will be posted, and the book blogging community will then choose the winners by a vote.

Amy of My Friend Amy cannot of course do this all by herself. So Beth Fish Reads has volunteered to help. I am on three judging panels for BBAW. I have a ton and a half of blog posts to read -- and this does not involve skimming. Each post must be read carefully to see if the blogger meets the criteria for the award category. I take this job seriously.

So what does this mean to you? I may not be reading and commenting on your blog as often and prolifically as I normally do. I have not abandoned you. I promise I'll be back to normal when my BBAW duties are completed.

Thanks for your understanding!

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Awards! When It Rains, It Pours

As Book Blogger Appreciation Week draws near, I think we are all reflecting on how much the book blogging community means to us. Bestowing awards is just a part of the generosity and kindness found among bloggers.

Bingo Blog Award: This award is generally given to five blogs at a time for the following qualities: B = Beautiful, I = informative, N = neighborly, G = gorgeous, and O = outstanding. Carolyn from Book Chick City gave me this award for Neighborly. And Elena from With Extra Pulp gave me this award for Outstanding.

Humane Award: "This award is to honor bloggers that are kindhearted individuals. They regularly take part in my blog and always leave the sweetest comments. If it wasn't for them, my site would just be an ordinary book review blog. Their blogs are also amazing and are tastefully done on a daily basis. I thank them and look forward to our growing friendship through the blog world." Thanks to Velvet from vvb32 reads for thinking of me.

Let's Be Friends Award: "This award is given to bloggers who are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers." The generous Velvet from from vvb32 reads kindly gave me this award.

Who Loves You Baby Award: J. Kaye from J. Kaye's Blook Blog developed this one: "This award is designed with one purpose in mind. Pass this on to other bloggers who have awarded you in the past." Isn't that a great idea? I will be passing this along soon.

Queen of ALLL Things Awe-Summm Award: Serena from Savvy Verse & Wit passed along this super award. It comes with a meme: "Once you receive this award, you have to share 7 Awe-Summm things about yourself and then pass it on to 7 others." I just answered this meme a few weeks ago, so I'm going to rest on my laurels.

Thanks so much to all of you for thinking of me. When I started blogging last fall, I had no idea that the people in the book blogging community were so incredibly awesome.

As always, I encourage you to visit the blogs linked here. These book bloggers are some of the best, and you shouldn't miss their posts.

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22 August 2009

Challenge: Vampire Diaries

Yeah, yeah, I know. . . . There are still challenges I need to finish, there are even challenges I need to start. But when Amy of My Friend Amy suggested this one, I couldn't resist.

This is a multi-media event! We are reading L. J. Smith's Vampire Diaries series (which consists of six books) and are watching the Vampire Diaries show on TV.

The good news is that I like vampire books and I've always wanted to read L. J. Smith. The bad news is that I already own six Smith books -- but in a different series! Oh well, it's not like I ever held myself back from buying books.

If you have an interest in the challenge, be sure to stop by Amy's and check it out.

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21 August 2009

Review: Patron Saint of Used Cars by Mark Millhone

In everyone's life there comes a time that lasts six months, a year, or eighteen months when you pray the phone doesn't ring, you wish you weren't an adult, and all you want to do is escape. Mark and Rose Millhone went through just such a period when they had to deal with everything from sicknesses to deaths, births, near deaths, and traumatic accidents. Although some couples grow closer as a result of adversity, others, like the Millhones, seem to lose each other.

There are no rules for grieving or for recovering from stress and pain. Mark copes by becoming a super-parent, whereas Rose retreats into herself and her work. When Mark notices that Rose is disconnecting from him and their sons, he suggests that she see a doctor, but she refuses to even consider it. As time goes by, they seem to barely communicate.

As a last-ditch effort to save his wife, himself, and their marriage, Mark decides that buying a beautiful, like-new, low-mileage, metallic blue BMW will be the answer to all his troubles. After Rose surprisingly agrees, Mark and his father fly to Texas to drive the car back to New York.

In The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances, Mark not only tells the story of the cross-country trip he takes with his father but also reflects on the series of stressful events that lead to the unraveling of his marriage. In a desperate attempt to find some answers, he is sure that the car and/or the drive will give him the key to help Rose reengage with him and with the outside world.

In the end, however, the solution to the Millhones' problems turns out to be therapy. Although Mark's road trip with his father and the memories it triggers may have started the process of healing, the car was not the answer. Only after Mark faces the inevitable and forces Rose to seek professional help is the marriage saved.

Unfortunately, we are not given any insight into just what kind of therapy worked for the Millhones or how long it took them to recover. Instead, we are taken from rock bottom to healed at the turn of a page.

On the other hand, Millhone is an entertaining writer even when delving into difficult areas. There are painful, touching, and amusing scenes as he remembers his childhood, his early marriage, and his role as a father. But although the look into the Millhones' life is well crafted, it offers few concrete lessons.

Thank you to TLC Tours for asking me to review this book.

Mark Millhone has a website where you can learn more about him and his work.

Published by Rodale, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781594868238
Challenges: A-Z Title, 999, 100+
YTD: 63
Rating: C+

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20 August 2009

Thursday Tea: Death of a Travelling Man by M. C. Beaton

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's Pomegranate Raspberry Green tea: It "blends thirst-quenching pomegranate with the zing of natural raspberry flavor and green tea." This makes a super iced tea, which I'm drinking unsweetened. Very cooling during these hot August afternoons.

The Book

I'm listening to Death of a Travelling Man by M. C. Beaton. It's the ninth in the Hamish Macbeth series, which takes place in the fictional town of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands. Hamish has recently been promoted to sergeant, which means he is stuck with an assistant, Police Constable Willie Lamont. As always, the seemingly unambitious and lazy Hamish is two steps ahead of everyone else in solving the case. One of the charms of the series is getting to know the townspeople, especially the lovely Priscilla. Excellent escape reading. This is a fun series read by the fabulous Davina Porter.

The Assessment

Iced pomegranate raspberry may taste wonderful to me, but Hamish probably wouldn't touch the stuff. He'd be drinking coffee or "regular" black tea, preferably with a wee dram of Scotch added to the mug. But I'm in central Pennsylvania, where it is hot and muggy, and a cold drink is the only way to go.

What are reading or listening to this week? If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, what drink is helping you beat the dog days of August?

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19 August 2009

A-Z Wednesday: Bleeding Kansas by Sara Paretsky

Reading at the Beach is hosting this fun meme: Each week she invites you to spotlight a book whose title begins with the featured letter. This week we have the letter B.

My B book is Bleeding Kansas by Sara Paretsky. The novel takes place in modern times in a small town in Kansas and primarily focuses two families. The Schapens and the Grelliers have been farming the Kaw River Valley since the mid-1800s and cannot escape their shared history of violence from the Civil War era up through the turbulent 1970s. The novel explores how the community copes with contemporary issues of the Iraq war, changing sexual mores, political conflicts, and clashing religious beliefs. I read the book in spring 2008, and my notes are sketchy, but I remember that the characters were well developed and that the book provided the basis for some good dinnertime conversation. I rated this one a solid B.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Brilliance Audio) read by Susan Ericksen. My notes indicated that the reading was well done.

Sara Paretsky has a website that highlights Bleeding Kansas.

Have you read this book? A quick look around Library Thing and the commercial sites tells me that there are mixed feelings about the novel and the portrayal of the various religious groups discussed in the book. I remember liking the plot and thinking that the characters were fairly believable, but others say the characters were flat and stereotypical. Any opinions?

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Wordless Wednesday (August 19)

Woodland Bridge

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18 August 2009

LTR: Spotlight on . . . Janet Lord

Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . Janet Lord. I am so pleased to feature Janet this week as another Pennsylvania author for the LRT project.

Janet wrote the story for Albert the Fix-It Man, which I reviewed yesterday. I was so taken with her book that I asked Janet if she would answer some questions about Albert and about being a Pennsylvania author.

Beth Fish Reads Talks to Janet Lord

Beth Fish Reads (BFR): There were several good lessons in your book, but one I really liked was that it teaches children to respect a tradesman. So often the beloved townsperson is a professional (doctor) or a someone in uniform (firefighter) instead of a person who can help with normal, day-to-day problems. I loved the fact that Albert is a handyman who is able to save the day and who is everyone's friend. Did you think about this when you wrote the book?

Janet Lord (JL): I definitely thought about this as the story formed in my mind. It’s true, the professionals and the uniformed often get their day in the sun, but our communities are also peopled by valuable tradesmen who do hands-on work, who take pride in producing useful, tangible results that help people in all sorts of ways. They make our world infinitely better by building, fixing, and creating. These heroes come to the rescue to solve problems and make people’s lives better on the spot. And, through their attention to individuals, neighborhoods are woven together person by person. They are creative, self-reliant, resourceful, and possess a can-do attitude. I treasure such people including my husband who is a highly skilled carpenter. Additionally, I rebel against the whole idea of a throwaway culture and isolated living. I enjoyed showing a character that doesn’t settle for that approach, who finds new life for objects, and who illustrates the benefits to be gleaned from commonsense problem solving, and who helps those around him as he strengthens his neighborhood.

BFR: Albert is such a sweet man and knows how to fix everything. Is there an Albert in your family or did you know an Albert when you were growing up?

JL: Yes to both questions. Albert is my father. A mechanical engineer by training, he is just like the Albert in my book. He loves any challenge that involves helping a person, keeping an object useful, saving money, and involving some simple, though ingenious idea. He is never too tired, never too busy, and always comes up with a way to help. Albert (real and fictional) demonstrates the manliness of generosity, kindness, and strength of character. Albert’s neighborhood shows that everyday heroes are valued and beloved, and that everyone has some hero in himself or herself.

BFR: It is so interesting to me that you wrote the book and your sister, Julie Paschkis, illustrated it. Tell me a little about how you two decided to hook up professionally. Did you create books together when you were children?

JL: It has been wonderful to create this book with Julie. Our mutual childhood was a hotbed of books, art, building, talking, and writing, thanks in large part to the creative influences of our parents. Creating books was a natural dream for those with an imaginative, rich upbringing. We wrote, drew, and played make-believe, sometimes, though not always, together. Julie had become an established illustrator, and I was a graphic designer when we collaborated on our first effort, Here Comes Grandma. That sprang from a phone conversation. When I told Julie the germ of the idea, she could imagine illustrations. The rest is history. It was fun, and we wanted to do more. When the idea of Albert the Fix-it Man came to me it was a similar process. It works like this: I write the story and Julie creates a basic plan for the illustrations. I send the manuscript off, and soon it returns, with amazing, beautiful paintings by Julie, that are perfect. I believe there is a creative family core that makes our two parts work together well and we have been very lucky to have an opportunity to create books.

BFR: You currently live in the greater Philadelphia area. How has living in Pennsylvania influenced, helped, or hindered your life as an author?

JL: Living in the Philadelphia area has been a positive influence. At the center is a beautiful, diverse city. The city and surrounding area was home of the quintessential fix-it man, Benjamin Franklin; the Arts and Crafts great Henry Mercer; early botanists including John Bartram; authors/illustrators I loved including N. C. Wyeth, Marguerite DeAngeli, and Edgar Allan Poe. It’s where the documents that established our nation were written. The area was filled with individuals who exercised their creative muscle, took chances, learned from the world around them, and contributed, giving back in full measure. It still is an area that is rich with creative spirit and opportunity. Writer’s groups abound. In Philadelphia I am never far from a great museum, park, or library . . . inspiration is all around me, ripe for absorbing. There are no excuses here.

Thank you so much visiting with me, Janet. Albert the Fix-It Man is so authentic that I just knew he had to be based on a real person (or two). Philadelphia has been the home to so many important people and events in our nation's history and in our arts, I can understand how the area can be an inspiration for creativity.

Janet Lord earned her BA in graphic arts and advertising from Concord University and now works as a graphic designer. She is the author of Here Comes Grandma! and Albert the Fix-It Man, both illustrated by her sister, Julie Paschkis. She lives in Pennsylvania.

Here are covers of Janet's children's books.

If you would like read Albert the Fix-It Man with your child or all on your own, be sure to enter my giveaway. To enter, follow the directions on my review post.

For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page

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17 August 2009

Review: Albert the Fix-It Man Story by Janet Lord, Pictures by Julie Paschkis

Janet Lord has written a charming picture book about kindly, white-bearded, overall-wearing Albert, who just happens to know how to fix whatever is broken. There is nothing more Albert likes to do than to give his neighbors a hand, and no job is too big or too small for the fix-it man. Wherever he's needed, Albert and his toolbox save the day.

One morning, Albert wakes up, and he "feels dizzy and his bones ache." He can barely talk. Poor Albert! What will happen now? Once all the townspeople find out that Albert doesn't feel well, they join together to bring the fix-it man food, tea, and lots of good cheer.

This book is written for children aged 4 to 8. It is such a great story about helping others and respecting people of all ages and professions that Mr. BFR and I spent an evening going over the story, looking at the wonderful illustrations, and talking about the various lessons in the book: be kind to others, try to fix things before throwing them away, be respectful, and look for ways to help.

The beautiful folk-art illustrations were drawn by Lord's sister, Julie Paschkis. The cover illustration gives you just a taste of the sweetness of the pictures. The colors are bright and the people's and animal's expressions are immediately engaging. Paschkis was interviewed by Seven Impossible Things last year; that post has examples of her work.

Janet Lord lives in Pennsylvania and graciously agreed to be interviewed by me as part of the Literary Road Trip project. So please be sure to stop back tomorrow to learn more about the book and the people who inspired it. You truly won't want to miss this chance to get to know Janet.


I don't normally review picture books, but I absolutely love this one. In fact, before I sat down to read it, I thought I would pass the book along to a niece or nephew or a neighbor, but Mr. BFR and I decided that we really wanted to keep it.

But lucky for you, Peachtree Publishers kindly gave me another copy so that I can host a giveaway. This giveaway is open internationally. I will pick a winner when I turn on my computer in the morning of August 27. Here's how to enter:

1 entry for leaving a comment saying you want the book and telling me what you would like Albert to fix in your house
1 entry for either tweeting about the giveaway or mentioning the giveaway on your blog and (leave comment with link)
3 entries for being a subscriber or becoming a new subscriber (mention in comment)
1 entry for leaving a comment on TOMORROW's post on this blog, letting Janet and me know what you liked best about our interview together

That's a total of 6 entries per person. Be sure to leave an e-mail address so I can contact you and tell you that you won!

Published by Peachtree Press
ISBN-13: 9781561454334
Challenges: 999, 100+
YTD: 62
Rating: A

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16 August 2009

Review: Blizzard! The Storm That Changed America by Jim Murphy

In the years before I started blogging I took notes on the books I read. Every once in a while I like to share some of those books with you. This time I highlight nonfiction.

Before I read this short book, I admit that I knew almost nothing about the great blizzard of March 12, 1888, in New York City. I was aware that 1888 was a bad winter, especially in the prairie states, but this book was an eye-opener. In just a few hours, New York City was hit with 21 inches of spring snow with absolutely no warning.

Murphy relied on historical documents and firsthand accounts to tell the story of that horrific day on the east coast. The book is a fascinating short history of the effects of a major storm system in the days before modern technology and includes gripping personal stories as it takes us through the events of the storm.

Because of this storm, New York pursued underground public transportation and buried telegraph and telephone wiring, the nation was made aware of the importance of long-range weather forecasting, and the federal government started looking into emergency and disaster planning.

I listened to the book (read by Taylor Mali), and it wasn't until I finished it that I realized the target audience is eleven years and up. Don't be put off by the middle reader rating; this is a book for everyone. Blizzard! is the winner of at least eight awards. The print version has historic photographs, drawings, and maps.

Here's a website with some photos.

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15 August 2009

Social Media

Friends and Readers of Beth Fish Reads


  • Beth Fish Reads: I read all comments and try to respond to all direct questions. When I do respond, I will reply in the comments to the post, in an email, or on your blog, depending on the circumstances. If you leave a comment on Beth Fish Reads, I will visit your blog, not necessarily immediately, but I will visit.
  • Commenting policy: I read many more blogs than I comment on. When I am strapped for time, I read but don't comment; when I have the time, I like to comment, even if just to let you know I was there. I try to get to everyone in my blog reader at least every 10 days.
E-Mail: Reach me at BFish.Reads [@] gmail.com I have a full-time job, which limits the amount of time I can spend on e-mail. I answer all personal e-mail if an answer is required. I answer pitches if I am interested in the book. I do not answer pitches for books that do not interest me. If I don't respond to your e-mailed pitch, feel free to try again when you have another title for review. I do not intend to be rude, but I get about 800 e-mail messages a day from clients, mailing lists, publicists, and friends and family.

Facebook: I have a Facebook account as Beth Fish. I look at my wall a few times a week. I am not active on Facebook and have an account only so I can participate in promotional events with publishers. If you send me a friend request, I will friend you back (eventually).

Twitter: I am very active on Twitter as @BethFishReads. I used to automatically follow back every legitimate tweeter. Now I find I can't read every Twitter notification (more e-mail; see above), check out the profile, and then follow back. My current policy is this: If you send me an @reply or mention me in a tweet and you are a book lover, industry professional, publishing company, bookstore, book blogger, writer, author, foodie, or just someone I might like to know, I will follow you back.

Ning Sites: I have accounts at several ning sites under Beth Fish Reads. I rarely sign on to those sites anymore; when I do, I check out any friend requests and accept. I rarely answer e-mail sent from ning sites.

GoodReads, Library Thing: I have accounts on GoodReads (Beth Fish) and Library Thing (BFish). I used to keep up with Library Thing, but now I update only sporadically. I'm not sure I have any books listed on GoodReads, but I intend to import from LT one of these days. If you send me a friend invitation for these sites, I will accept!

FictFact I'm BethFishReads on FictFact and I'm happy to follow you there. I haven't added all my series to the site yet, but hope to over the summer of 2011.

I have a page on Lunch.com as Beth Fish Reads that I rarely update. But if you're curious you can check me out there.

Tumblr I am Beth Fish Reads on Tumblr and my blog there is called Beth Fish Reads Even More. I hope to post some fun photos and maybe talk about my lacemaking over there. So far I have very few posts.

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Awards! Creative Rock 'n' Roll

Stacy from Stacy's Book Blog give me this great award. Have you been to her blog? She's a fellow Ohioan, which should be enough of a draw, but her blog has interesting book reviews, movie reveiws, photographs, and author interviews.

Isn't this a cool button? Although the young woman is playing a Stratocaster and not a Gibson, it's fitting to put up this button just two days after Les Paul died. So wanna learn another little-known fact about me? I used to run the sound for a reggae band when I was in graduate school. (A bar band, not a band anyone would have heard of.)

I'd like to pass the Your Blog Rocks award along to Stephanie of Stephanie's Written Word to celebrate her recovery from what I'm hoping will be her last surgery ever.

Sandy of You've Gotta Read This passed along the Kreative Blogger award. Forgive this completely uncreative thought, but you GOTTA read her blog. Sandy has a nice variety of book and movie reviews, audio reviews, photographs, movie memes, and more.

This award comes with a meme in which you're supposed to list 7 of your favorite things. Argh. I've done this before and my favorite things really haven't changed much. This time, I'll pick seven fun activities:

1. Reading
2. Lacemaking
3. Walking / hiking
4. Photographing
5. Cooking
6. Gardening
7. Canoeing

I'm also supposed to pass this award along to 7 other bloggers. I'm giving this award to the last 7 people who commented here. We all love getting comments, so this my way of saying thank you!

J. Kaye from J. Kaye's Book Blog
Swapna from S. Krishna's Books
Cathy from Kittling: Books
Jackie from Farm Lane Books
Dorte from DJs Krimblog
Serena from Savvy Verse and Wit
Barbara from Melancholy Musings

Thanks to Stacy and Sandy for the awards! Be sure to click through the links and discover or rediscover the great blogs I've mentioned in this post.

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14 August 2009

Where Did I Get That Book?

Following Lenore from Presenting Lenore and Marie of The Boston Bibliophile (as well as many other bloggers), I thought I'd look back at how I acquired the last 20 books I reviewed. See Lenore's and Marie's posts for more information about revealing sources.

Books Reviewed on Beth Fish Reads

Here are books, with the sources in parentheses.

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll (audio library)
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (audio bought)
Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart (eBook bought)
Delectable Mountains by Earlene Fowler (audio bought)
Imperium by Robert Harris (audio rental)
Rapture in Death by J. D. Robb (audio bought)
Death Qualified by Kate Wilhelm (audio bought)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (print library)
Plainsong by Kent Haruf (audio rental)
The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand (print publisher--blog tour )
Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy (book club pick, print publisher--unsolicited)
Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris (audio library)
A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton (audio bought)
A World I Never Made by James LePore (print publisher--blog tour)
The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips (print publisher--requested)
The Game on Diet by Krista Vernoff and Az Fercuson (print publisher--pitched)
Magickeepers by Erica Kirov (print publisher--blog tour)
The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Eptstein (print publisher--blog tour)
Home Game by Michael Lewis (print publisher--pitched)
About Alice by Calvin Trillin (audio bought)

Bought: 7
Rented: 2
Borrowed: 3
Given: 8

Average rating of books I was given: B
Average rating of books I acquired myself: B-

I'd say I'm not that influenced by the source of the book. Do you think you are less critical of review books than you are of books you bought or borrowed?

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



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