31 May 2010

BEA 2010: Author Breakfasts

Both author breakfasts at BEA10 were terrific. The masters of ceremonies and the authors were incredibly enthusiastic and well spoken. Although I will likely not read every book introduced, I have the feeling each one will be hit.

Take a look at the eight books presented at the BEA10 breakfasts and decide which ones you need to read.

Children's Book & Author Breakfast (Wednesday)

The children's author breakfast was hosted by Sarah Ferguson, duchess of York. Each entry in her Helping Hands series deals with a specific topic important to young children. Here's the summary for Emily's First Day at School:
What a big day: Emily's going to school for the first time-and she's a little nervous. Soon, though, Emily meets new friends, and learns that school can be fun. Children will see exactly what to expect on their first day, and parents will find out how to prepare their child for this important transition.

Cory Doctorow's For the Win starts with the popularity of interactive, worldwide gaming and takes the phenomenon into new places.
At any hour of the day or night, millions of people around the globe are engrossed in multiplayer online games, questing and battling to win virtual “gold,” jewels, and precious artifacts. Meanwhile, others seek to exploit this vast shadow economy, running electronic sweatshops in the world’s poorest countries, where countless “gold farmers,” bound to their work by abusive contracts and physical threats, harvest virtual treasure for their employers to sell to First World gamers who are willing to spend real money to skip straight to higher-level gameplay.

Mala is a brilliant 15-year-old from rural India whose leadership skills in virtual combat have earned her the title of “General Robotwalla.” In Shenzen, heart of China’s industrial boom, Matthew is defying his former bosses to build his own successful gold-farming team. Leonard, who calls himself Wei-Dong, lives in Southern California, but spends his nights fighting virtual battles alongside his buddies in Asia, a world away. All of these young people, and more, will become entangled with the mysterious young woman called Big Sister Nor, who will use her experience, her knowledge of history, and her connections with real-world organizers to build them into a movement that can challenge the status quo. . . .
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins addresses real-world oppression in Burma. This novel is my top pick from Wednesday morning's panel.
Narrated by two teenaged boys on opposing sides of the conflict between the Burmese government and the Karenni, one of Burma's many ethnic minorities, this coming-of-age novel takes place against the political and military backdrop of modern-day Burma.

Chiko isn't a fighter by nature. He's a book-loving Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. Tu Reh, on the other hand, wants to fight for freedom after watching Burmese soldiers destroy his Karenni family's home and bamboo fields. Timidity becomes courage and anger becomes compassion when the boys' stories intersect.
Richard Peck's Three Quarters Dead focuses on teenage girls and that all-powerful desire to be part of the popular group. But this isn't your usual story -- it's "a new kind of ghost story":
Kerry thinks life has finally begun when she is noticed by the three coolest girls int he school. For once she's in on the jokes and sitting at the right table, and she is willing to do whatever it takes to be part of their clique.

But how much will it take? And after her life with the popular crowd starts to feel as cruel as death, what will she decide to do about it?
Adult Book & Author Breakfast (Thursday)

The adult breakfast was hosted by the wonderful and funny Jon Stewart. What a treat! His newest book is Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race. I'm sure it will be a winner.
Where do we come from? Who created us? Why are we here? These are questions that have sporadically interested people since the dawn of time, but whose answers have continually eluded us. Now, in a new book, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writing staff tackle these questions and more with their trademark wit, irreverence and intelligence. In it, they will take us on an intellectual voyage through time—a quest back to the very moment of creation—that will maybe, just maybe, help us to figure out exactly how and why everything got so irretrievably f***ed up. . . .

It's a heckava place. And who better to be our guide to this endlessly fascinating planet than Jon Stewart and his team of writers, as they answer all of life's most hard-hitting questions, completely unburdened by objectivity, journalistic integrity or even accuracy.
Everyone knows who Condoleezza Rice is, but do you know how her family became Republicans? Do you know anything about her parents and how they managed to help their daughter become world famous? Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family is an American story, crossing political boundaries.
. . . This is the story of Condoleezza Rice that has never been told, not that of an ultra-accomplished world leader, but of a little girl trying to find her place in a hostile world and of two remarkable parents--and an extended family and community--that made all the difference. On the shoulders of individuals both black and white, young Condoleezza Rice stood and looked out on a world where anything was possible--and in a way that is singularly fascinating, Extraordinary, Ordinary People takes us not just through Rice’s childhood but, also, her twenties and thirties as she builds a record of achievement that positions her for involvement in world-historical events.

Okay, confess (yeah, I had to go for it): You have read at least one, if not several of John Grisham's books or you have at least seen one of the many movies based on his work. The Confession (no cover image shown) is his newest, and it's based on the idea that a man is about to be executed for a crime he didn't commit. All through the trial and appeals, the real criminal watches with increasing amusement and satisfaction that he has truly gotten away with murder. But can he let an innocent man die in his place?

I love Mary Roach's sense of humor, her curiosity about how things work, her research abilities, and her writing style. Her Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void is my top pick in this group of wonderful titles. I am a fan of her earlier books and I know that I won't be able to put down Packing for Mars.
Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it’s possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.
Two absolutely fabulous events. We were entertained and informed while being exposed to eight must-read books being released in the next six months or so. Which ones will end up on your reading list?

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30 May 2010

BEA 2010: Editor's Buzz

Some of my favorite events at BEA are the various "buzz" panels and the author meals. This year's two-day format meant I had to make difficult decisions about how to best use my time.

I picked four events: the Editor's Buzz on Tuesday, the two author breakfasts, and the author lunch. (Note: I was unable to track down all cover images.)

Editor's Buzz (Tuesday afternoon)

At the Editor's Buzz, editors introduced us to some exciting titles for the fall book season. The speakers did their job because I ended up wanting to read almost every book on the list.

Chuck Adams from Algonquin: West of Here by Jonathan Evison.
An epic western adventure wrapped in the history of one small town, from the rugged mudflats of the northwestern frontier, to a rusting strip mall cornucopia, West of Here is a conversation between two epochs, one rushing blindly toward the future, and the other struggling to undo the damage of the past.
If the description doesn't sell you, watch this video. I bet you'll put West of Here on your wish list.

Susana Porter from Ballantine: Juliet: A Novel by Ann Fortier.
When Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy, she is told it will lead her to an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a winding and perilous journey into the history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo rocked the foundations of medieval Siena.
This novel is not just another book about Juliet. It's a fresh take and is historical fiction.

Mitzi Angel from FSG: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.
Have you ever wondered how one day the media can assert that alcohol is bad for us and the next unashamedly run a story touting the benefits of daily alcohol consumption? Or how a drug that is pulled off the market for causing heart attacks ever got approved in the first place? How can average readers, who aren’t medical doctors or Ph.D.s in biochemistry, tell what they should be paying attention to and what’s, well, just more bullshit?
FSG is bringing Ben Goldacre to the United States--apparently he is fairly well known in the UK and Europe. I've wanted to read more about him ever since I read Nymeth's review: "Ben Goldacre is my new hero. Everyone should read this book. Not so that you can be persuaded to take one position or the other, but because there is information here that everyone should have. Also, it’s fun! Really, it is."

Judy Clain from Little, Brown: Room by Emma Donoghue.
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. . . . Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.
I'll let the description do my work for this book, but you could also check out this video. This is a title I'm particularly excited about.

Nan Graham from Scribner: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
The Emperor of All Maladies is a magnificently written "biography" of cancer--from its origins to the epic battle to cure, control, and conquer it.
Doesn't sound like much from the description, but I am fascinated by this concept and can't wait to read more about a disease that has been on earth for millennia.

Gary Goldstein from Twelve: The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale.
Bruno Littlemore is quite unlike any chimpanzee in the world. . . . Learning of Bruno's ability to speak, Lydia takes Bruno into her home to oversee his education and nurture his passion for painting. But for all of his gifts, the chimpanzee has a rough time caging his more primal urges. His untimely outbursts ultimately cost Lydia her job, and send the unlikely pair on the road in what proves to be one of the most unforgettable journeys--and most affecting love stories--in recent literature. Like its protagonist, this novel is big, loud, abrasive, witty, perverse, earnest and amazingly accomplished. [The book] goes beyond satire by showing us not what it means, but what it feels like be human--to love and lose, learn, aspire, grasp, and, in the end, to fail.
Definitely a bit out there, but I'm curious!

Believe it or not, I walked away from the Editor's Buzz interested in all six books. West of Here and Room are at the top of list, followed closely by the others.

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29 May 2010

Weekend Cooking: A Stew or a Story by M. F. K. Fisher

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


As many of you know, I was New York City this past week attending Book Expo America (BEA). I was lucky enough to have some moments of free time, which I spent visiting bookstores (what else?).

Dawn from She Is Too Fond of Books was my navigator (see her blog for stories of our adventures in Central Park!), and one of the first stores we browsed through was McNally Jackson.

Guess what I found hidden in the food and cooking section? A Stew or a Story, a collection of essays and short pieces by M. F. K. Fisher. The book was originally published by Shoemaker & Hoard in 2006 and was compiled by Joan Reardon. I have had a hard time finding this volume, so I immediately snatched the last copy off the shelf and took it home with me (well, I paid for it, of course!).

Fisher is my favorite food writer, and this book gathers articles that originally appeared in women's magazines, newspapers, literary magazines, and food magazines. The essays are grouped into the following sections:
  • Fiction
  • Personal Gastronomy
  • Food, Wine, and Other Potables
  • Places and People
  • Seasons and Celebrations
I plan to read this collection slowly and will share my reading adventures with you. Shall I start with the piece titled "Coffee" or perhaps "Spoon Bread and Moonlight"? I have several dozen articles to choose from.

A Stew or a Story at Powell's
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Published by Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006
ISBN-13: 9781593761653

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28 May 2010

Book Club Choice: Day for Night by Frederick Reiken

This month my Skype book club is reading Day for Night by Frederick Reiken. We will be discussing it on June 6! I haven't yet started it, but doesn't the description look great?

If you look hard enough into the history of anything, you will discover things that seem to be connected but are not. So claims a character in Frederick Reiken's wonderful, surprising novel, which seems in fact to be determined to prove just the opposite. How else to explain the threads that link a middle-aged woman on vacation in Florida with a rock and roll singer visiting her comatose brother in Utah, where he's been transported after a motorcycle injury in Israel, where he works with a man whose long-lost mother, in a retirement community in New Jersey, recognizes him in a televised report about an Israeli-Palestinian skirmish? And that's not the half of it.

In Day for Night, critically acclaimed writer Frederick Reiken spins an unlikely and yet utterly convincing story about people lost and found. They are all refugees from their own lives or history's cruelties, and yet they wind up linked to each other in compelling and unpredictable ways that will keep you guessing until the very end.
I'm hoping this will keep me entertained on the train ride home from New York (today!)

Day for Night at Powell's
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Published by Reagan Arthur Books, April 2010
ISBN-13: 9780316077569/span>

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27 May 2010

Review: The Other Side of Dawn by John Marsden

Early last week, I listened to the last entry in John Marsden's Tomorrow series, The Other Side of Dawn. I can't tell you how sorry I am that the series is over. The good news is there is a follow-up trilogy called the Ellie Chronicles, which I plan to start listening to soon.

The Other Side of Dawn ties together some loose ends and brings the seven-book series to an end in a very satisfactory way. Marsden was able to keep the drama and action going, complete with the right amount of heartache, suspense, and happiness. I can say, without creating a spoiler, that the ending is fitting and realistic; there is no simple "and they lived happily ever after." If you've read my earlier reviews or started the series, you won't be surprised that Marsden tells it like it is.

I highly recommend this series, which is almost dystopian, but perhaps better described as alternate history. The audiobooks are read by Suzi Dougherty, who -- as I've said before -- is fabulous as Ellie.

If you click on the "authors" tab just under my banner photo, you will find links to fuller reviews of the other books in the Tomorrow series.

The Other Side of Dawn at Powell's
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Published by Scholastic Paperbacks, 2007 [originally published 2002]
ISBN-13: 9780439858052
Audio by Bolinda Publishing
Challenges: Young Adult, Audiobook, Buy and Read, 100+
YTD: 44
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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26 May 2010

Guest Post: Marg's Must-Read Australian Author

As many of you know, I am currently in New York attending BookExpo America (BEA), which is the major book publishing conference of the year. While I'm listening to panels and getting the scoop on the future of the business, I am struck by just how many fabulous authors and books there are. Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader generously offered to share her thoughts about an Australian author we should all add to our reading list.

Marg Speaks Out on an Australian Author

As everyone was getting ready for BEA, I saw a lot of posts and comments on Twitter about which authors people would line up for. Looking at the lists, it looked like there were a few clashes of author times, and so decisions would have to be made about which authors were “must meet” as opposed to “’would like to meet”, which made me ponder this question: If I could only line up to see one Australian author ever again, who would it be?

I know that there are plenty of fantastic Aussie authors out there – straight off the top of my head there was Markus Zusak (author of the amazing The Book Thief amongst other books), Garth Nix who writes really good YA fantasy, Jules Watson author of really good historical fiction with a Celtic setting, Geraldine Brooks who won the Pulitzer a couple of years ago, and the list goes on.

To be honest though there wasn’t a lot of thought required. Instantly my thoughts turned to Shaun Tan.

I first read The Arrival by Shaun Tan back in November 2007, and I have been recommending him constantly ever since. That book ended up being my favourite read of 2007. The thing that makes that surprising is that The Arrival is a picture book/graphic novel. There are no words whatsoever and yet the story that is told is powerful and moving. In fact, The Arrival is a book where there are only shades of grey, as all of the images were done in pencil. The detail is nonetheless incredible.

The story that is told in The Arrival is one of a recent immigrant to a strange country, alone and unsure and having to find a way to get used to living in this new land. One of my favourite things that I did with this book was to give it to my son, who was then 9 and get him to tell me the story that he saw in this book. Whilst there was some crossover with the story that I saw in the pages, there were also some aspects that he saw that I didn’t. Best of all, nearly three years later I was looking at something about this book, and he remembered reading it to me – it’s become one of our ‘moments’ if you like.

Since then I have read The Red Tree, Tales From Outer Suburbia and The Rabbits and found the imagery that he uses in his books fascinating and unusual. If I could only use one word to describe the imagery it would be incredible.

I really enjoy seeing other people get to know this author’s books, especially The Arrival, but also his other books. If anyone hears of appearances in Melbourne, let me know, because I want to be there!

In closing, I thought I would share a couple of videos with you.

The first is from a production that was done of The Arrival by Red Leap Theatre and seems to have stayed pretty faithful to some of the imagery from the book:

And the second is an animation that has been done of The Red Tree, which I am including as it gives you a really good feel of the kind of imagery that Tan uses.


Thanks so much, Marg! I loved these videos. Tan's artwork is just amazing and so is his storytelling. And you should know that you were influential in my reading The Rabbits and The Arrival. I loved both and now have Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia and The Lost Thing waiting here for me to read.

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25 May 2010

Today's Read: Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

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. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

Love, which he had not known before, tossed Etienne Relais about like a tremendous wave, pure energy, salt, and foam. He judged that he could not compete with the girl's other clients, more handsome, powerful, or rich, and so decided at dawn to offer what few white men would be prepared to give: His name. "Marry me," he said between embraces. (p. 21)
—From Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (Source: Review copy, see review policy; quotation comes from uncorrected proof and may be different in the finished copy.)

Island Beneath the Sea at Powell's
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24 May 2010

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951 there was no such thing as a patients' bill of rights or informed consent when undergoing medical procedures or being enrolled in a research program. When Heniretta Lacks sought treatment at Johns Hopkins charity hospital, entering through the doors for "colored" people, she had no idea that that the cancer cells that were taking over her body would still be living sixty years later. In fact, HeLa cells (named after their original host) have been used by almost everyone who has conducted any kind of biological or genetic research in the last half century.

In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot recounts her journey to discover just who Henrietta Lacks was. Skloot interviewed Henrietta's doctors, befriended her family, and conducted basic investigative research. The story takes tangents into medical research and the laws protecting patients. She raises questions about who owns the leftover tissues doctors collect from biopsies, blood tests, and surgery. The answers aren't easy once you take into consideration monetary concerns, privacy issues, and ethical dilemmas.

Skloot skillfully relates technical aspects of HeLa cells and medical research, making that part of the book as interesting as learning about Henrietta Lacks and her children. Although readers don't have trouble becoming absorbed by the story, they are left wondering about Skloot's methods and the ultimate consequences the book will have on Henrietta Lacks's family.

Note: I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for my Skype book club, which discussed the book in early May. Some of the thoughts expressed here were strongly influenced by that discussion.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks at Powell's
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Published by Crown Publishing, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781400052172

Challenges: New Author, Buy and Read, 100+
YTD: 43
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B

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23 May 2010

Becoming a Judge: Nerds Heart YA

Do you know about the Nerds Heart YA tournament for underrepresented young adult literature? If not, be sure take a moment to click on over to the tournament blog for more information.

The topic this year is diversity, and the books had to have been originally published in 2009. I'm pleased to have been asked to be a first-level judge for the tournament. Here are the books I'll be reading:

A Wish after Midnight by Zetta Elliot.

Genna is a fifteen-year-old girl who wants out of her tough Brooklyn neighborhood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a wish gone awry transports her back in time. Facing the perilous realities of Civil War-era Brooklyn, Genna must use all her wits to survive. In the tradition of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, A Wish After Midnight is the affecting and inspiring tale of a fearless young woman’s fight to hold on to her individuality and her humanity in two different worlds.
I like time travel stories and I like the Civil War setting, so that's two pluses right off the bat. The negative is that the book was self-published, which is sometimes a problem for me. Based on the great reviews I've seen, I'm have high hopes.

Published by AmazonEncore
ISBN-13: 9780982555057

The Rock and the River by Kekla Morgan
Set in 1968 Chicago, this powerful debut novel follows 13-year-old Sam Childs, the son of a known civil rights activist who questions the possibility of change after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I grew up in the Midwest and remember 1968, so I should be able to relate to the novel. I've read that the book paints a bit of an idealistic picture of the Black Panthers, but that a well-written author's note fills in the historical details.

Published by Aladdin Paperbacks
ISBN-13: 9781416978039

The books are ordered and will be waiting for me after BEA. Have you read or heard of either of the novels?

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22 May 2010

Weekend Cooking: Under the Tuscan Sun (Film)

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


The film Under the Tuscan Sun, starring Diane Lane, is just barely based on Frances Mayes's memoir, also titled Under the Tuscan Sun. In the movie, we follow the story of Frances, a San Fransisco writer, from the time she is divorced to the establishment of her new life in Italy. Along the way, we learn there are many meanings of the word family and that there are unexpected ways to find happiness and love.

The food lover in me particularly enjoyed the movie because Tuscany is home to some of my favorites: olives, fish, pasta, cheese, and wine. In the film, Frances puts her new kitchen to work when she cooks elaborate meals for her workmen friends. Those scenes helped make the movie for me.

Well, I also like Diane Lane and I love the setting. This is a fun movie, and you can enjoy the meals vicariously, even if the romance and humor are not quite for you.

The book Under the Tuscan Sun was recently reviewed at S. Krishna's Books, and she does a great job discussing the differences between the book and the movie. I highly recommend the memoir and suggest the movie for some night when you're looking for pure entertainment.

The movie trailer doesn't particularly highlight the food scenes, but take a look anyway.

Have you read or seen Under the Tuscan Sun? How about Mayes's other books?

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21 May 2010

Featuring . . . Amy Einhorn Books

Last Friday, I featured the final title in the current catalog of Amy Einhorn Books. I have now introduced you to all sixteen books that have been or will be published under the Amy Einhorn imprint thus far. I am looking forward to seeing the next batch of books, and as soon as the titles are released, you can be sure that each one will be featured here.

There is something for everyone in this imprint, and for many of us, there doesn't seem to be a single title that looks easy to pass by.

Here again is the list of current books in the imprint (alphabetically by year); the links take you to the feature post.

Books Published in 2009

Books Published in 2010
By the time you have read all the books on the list, you will have laughed, cried, been inspired, learned something, appreciated the little things, and certainly been entertained. Start anywhere, jump right in, and get reading.

It is not too late to join the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge (click for information). We already have forty reviews linked to the challenge pages, so be sure to check them out if you want a deeper look at a particular title. As more books are added to the imprint, I'll feature each title and then include it on the review link-up pages.

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20 May 2010

Thursday Tea: Charm City by Laura Lippman

I'm listening to Charm City, the second book in Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series (review of book one). Six months earlier, Tess was almost killed after she started nosing into a murder case, but with the coming of spring, her life is looking up. She has a full-time job by day and a cute younger boyfriend by night.

Well, life isn't completely wonderful. One of her uncles got robbed and beaten and is barely alive. And a journalist friend might be in trouble after he wrote a tell-all piece about a wealthy local businessman. I'm not far enough along in the book to see how or if the two story lines will come together, but a few more evening walks will give me the answers.

The Tea. It's been cold again in central Pennsylvania, and I've been drinking Stash Tea's Keenum Hao Ya. I bought a sampler of the tea, but I think I'll be ordering more next fall. Here's the description: "The narrow, tightly twisted black leaves brew into a brilliant reddish-gold cup with a full-bodied fruity, sweet flavor and a unique orchid aroma. Keemun Hao Ya tastes wonderful without milk or sugar and goes exceptionally well with baked goods like breads and cakes and muffins." I need to bake me some cookies!

The Assessment. Tess is more of a strong coffee in the morning and strong drink at night kind of person. I really doubt she'd give a second look to Keenum Hao Ya tea! That's okay, that means there's more for me.

What about you? If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope you're finally seeing some warm weather again. If you're in the Southern Hemisphere, hope it's a glorious fall. No matter where you are, what are you reading or listening to this week? What's in that mug?

Charm City at Powell's
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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.

FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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19 May 2010

Wordless Wednesday 79

Bird on a Wire

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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18 May 2010

Review: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Summary: Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin reads as a series of interconnected short stories that take place in New York City. The intersecting point is an August 1974 morning when a man walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers. The stunt occurred just days before Nixon resigned and months before the fall of Saigon. Here is part of the publisher's summary:

Elegantly weaving together . . . seemingly disparate lives, McCann's powerful allegory comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city's people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the artistic crime of the century. A sweeping and radical social novel, Let the Great World Spin captures the spirit of America in a time of transition, extraordinary promise, and, in hindsight, heartbreaking innocence. Hailed as "a fiercely original talent" (San Francisco Chronicle), award-winning novelist McCann has delivered a triumphantly American masterpiece that awakens in us a sense of what the novel can achieve, confront, and even heal.
Why I Abandoned the Book: I read almost half the book before I called it quits. There were several reasons I stopped reading, but one stands out. In the first ninety-seven pages I found four factual errors and that ruined the book for me. Instead of reading the fourth chapter for the story of two artists, I treated the text as if it were a literary treasure hunt: Did Pontiac really make a car in 1927? When was Max's popular in New York? Did Nixon really resign just days after the tightrope stunt? And when I didn't find an error, instead of relaxing, I started thinking that I hadn't read the story carefully enough. Time for this editor to put the novel down and move on.

I should note that I even tried the audio edition read by Colum McCann. McCann's narration was wonderful, but it didn't save the novel for me.

Here are the errors:
  • Alencon lace is a needlelace, it is not tatted. (And I won't question the probability that someone owned handmade Alencon lace curtains.)
  • Petunias do not have "gorgeous green stalks neatly clipped at the bottom" and really cannot be cut for putting in a vase. (They have floppy stems and tend to fall over.)
  • The thirty-six saints were really thirty-six righteous men from Jewish folklore from before the formation of the Catholic Church. In fact, at one point the church attempted to hunt down and kill the righteous men because they thought the Jews were no longer the chosen people.
  • Plastic bags were seen in the streets, but they were not in use until the late 1970s to early 1980s (caught by Dawn from She Is Too Fond of Books).
A Quick Look at Reviews: Do not listen to me. Let the Great World Spin won a National Book Award and has received high praise. Sandy, from You've Gotta Read This, says: "Have I convinced you that life will not be complete unless you read this book? Can anyone explain to m[e] why this did not win the Pulitzer? (no offense to the winner of course). This is by far the best book I've read this year, bar none." Amy, from My Friend Amy, wrote: "There were moments of sheer beauty in the writing . . . not beauty in the lyrical way, but rather in the way truth reaches out and grabs you while you read, almost leaving you breathless." Make up your own mind, the errors did me in.

Let the Great World Spin at Powell's
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Published by Random House, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780812973990

Challenges: New Author, Support Your Library, Audiobook, 100+
YTD: 42
Source: Review & Borrowed (see review policy)
Rating: DNF
Note: I received a copy of this book from TLC Tours for review and also borrowed the audiobook from the library.

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17 May 2010

The Pure and the Impure by Colette

Today I'm supposed to post my review of Colette's The Pure and the Impure as part of the Spotlight Series. This month, participating bloggers are shedding light on books published by New York Review of Books classics. This morning, I set my alarm for 4:00 A.M., thinking I could race through and finish the book and then write a quick review, meeting my obligation. After a half hour of reading, I realized that I was ruining The Pure and the Impure for myself so I could meet a blogging deadline.

I took a deep breath and stopped. I love Colette, but I wasn't going to love The Pure and Impure because I was starting to skim the words and had thoughts only of finishing, not of savoring. Then I thought about the work deadlines I have this week and wondered why I was giving up my sleep to read for my blog. Not a smart move. I will be starting this slim volume over again and will have a review some time very soon.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Colette herself considered The Pure and the Impure her best book, “the nearest I shall ever come to writing an autobiography.” This guided tour of the erotic netherworld with which Colette was so intimately acquainted begins in the darkness and languor of a fashionable opium den. It continues as a series of unforgettable encounters with men and, especially, women whose lives have been improbably and yet permanently transfigured by the strange power of desire. Lucid and lyrical, The Pure and the Impure stands out as one of modern literature’s subtlest reckonings not only with the varieties of sexual experience, but with the always unlikely nature of love.

The Pure and the Impure at Powell's
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Published by New York Review of Books, 2000
ISBN-13: 9780940322486

I will be reading The Pure and the Impure as part of the Spotlight Series, developed to "help . . . spread the word on quality books published by small press publishers." For more information and to join future spotlight projects, visit the series's blog.

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16 May 2010

Digital Discoveries; or What's in the Virtual TBR Pile

I love digital media for books, and I have a variety of mp3 players and an eReader. One of the worst and one of the best things about digital media is that the TBR pile is not visible. As a result, I sometimes forget what I own.

I am determined to keep an up-to-date list, and thought I'd share some of the books I'm particularly looking forward to listening to or reading. Here are some titles, in no particular order.


David Sedaris, Live: This short CD was sent to me by Hachette when I mentioned that I had never read or listened to Sedaris. I am saving this to listen to in the car with Mr. BFR, because I think we'd both like it.

Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed has gotten good reviews and is part of the Reagan Arthur imprint, and so will count for the challenge hosted by Kathy and Julie (challenge information here).

I've read only one Anita Shreve (Testimony) and enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to listening to her A Change in Altitude.

Who can resist Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. I can't! This is going to make great summer listening.

Finally, I am a huge fan of Jane Smiley, and Private Life is going to be my next listen.

Sony eReader

I have two books by Maggie Anton: Rahsi's Daughter's Book 1: Joheved and Book 2: Miriam. This historical fiction series takes place in eleventh-century France, For those who don't know, Rashi was a famous talmudic scholar.

I bought Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders for the Newsweek 50 project organized by Amy. I do plan on reading it . . . soon. Really.

Another title I'm looking forward to is Jacquelyn Mitchard's No Time to Wave Goodbye. I've enjoyed Mitchard's other novels, so I'm sure this will be good too.

MP3 Players

I'd forgotten about A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz. I'm really excited about listening to this one. Look at the video at the end of this post and see if you aren't hooked too.

Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone has been reviewed many times on book blogs, I really need to see what all the fuss is about.

All Mortal Flesh is the fifth in Julia Spencer-Fleming's mystery series that takes place in upstate New York. I've reviewed two of the books in the series.

Here is one that I know nothing about. I don't even know how I heard of it: Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd. It's young adult and it takes place in Ireland. Perhaps I picked it up for Carrie's Ireland Challenge.

Charm City is the second in Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series. I can't wait to get to it, and it counts for Trish's Lippman Challenge.

And now, the promised video:

I hope you see reviews of these books sooner than later, but I make no promises.

What have you discovered lately on your physical TBR pile or in one of your digital gadgets?

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15 May 2010

Weekend Cooking: Maple Granola

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


Whenever possible, I like to make my own foods rather than rely on store bought. Granola is so easy to make that I almost always take the time to bake up a big batch. The following recipe is one I've developed over the years. Hope you like it as much as we do.

This makes quite a lot of cereal, so you might want to make a half batch if you're not sure you'll like it.

Candace's Maple Granola
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (sweetened is okay if that's all you can find)
  • 5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup sesame seeds
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil (unflavored)
  • ¾ cup 100% maple syrup (I use grade B)
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups dried fruit (I use a mix)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line large baking sheets with parchment (for easier cleanup).

In a large bowl mix together the wheat germ, coconut, oats, nuts, and seeds. Add the oil, maple syrup, and vanilla and mix until the grains and seeds are evenly coated.

Spread the granola in the prepared pan in an even layer, about ½ inch thick. Bake about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown. Repeat for the remaining cereal. Place the warm cereal in a large bowl and let cool completely.

When the cereal has cooled, stir in the fruit and store in an air-tight container or plastic bags.

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14 May 2010

Featuring . . . Where's My Wand? by Eric Poole

This Friday and every Friday for the next couple of months, I will be featuring a book that was published under the Amy Einhorn Books imprint. I am starting with the 2009 books and will spotlight them in alphabetical order by year.

This week I'm featuring Eric Poole's Where's My Wand?, a memoir with the telling subtitle of One Boy's Magical Triumph over Alienation and Shag Carpeting. The release date for the book is just days away--May 27.

The publisher introduces us to Poole by putting him in the same room with Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris, and David Rakoff. Sounds promising, doesn't it? Here is the book summary:

Set in the Midwest of the 1970's, this memoir evokes that idyllic, old-school time before computers and cell phones, when people were horrible to one another face-to-face.

From an early age, Eric Poole was obsessed with Endora of TV's Bewitched. Just days after arriving at the family's new home in St. Louis, Missouri, eight-year-old Eric had staked out the basement as his special place: a spot where he could secretly perform magical incantations--draped in a tattered white bedspread he prayed his obsessive-compulsive mother wouldn't miss--as an antidote to his alienation.

This is a book for fans of Augusten Burroughs and TV's Malcolm in the Middle. Eric Poole's stories take readers on a hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking journey in which the magic in his life slowly morphs from childhood wonder to religious dogma to an understanding that the real, true magic is believing in yourself.
I've always had a soft spot for books that are set in my home territory. Although I didn't grow up in Missouri, I was raised in the Midwest, and I know how Midwesterners can be.

After I read the Kirkus review, I added this book to my must-read list: "The real charm of the book lies in the authenticity of the humor. There is not one forced moment in the book, nor is there a stitch of disingenuous manipulation to get a cheap laugh or manufacture a setup to a joke."

I also love Poole's biography (from Amazon): "Eric Poole is the secret love child of Fran Lebowitz and David Sedaris. But oddly taller. . . . Eric was once called "the best undiscovered writer I've ever met" by Tracey Ullman, an accolade he continues to live up to."

This book was featured as part of the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge (click to join the fun). For information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010.

Where's My Wand? at Powell's
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, May 27, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780399156557

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Spotlight On . . . Jeffrey A. Cohen

Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . Jeffrey A. Cohen. Today's featured Pennsylvania author is from the Philadelphia area, and he has been lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time in the heart of the old city. I want to introduce you to Jeffrey, whose debut novel, The Killing of Mindi Quintana, was published just a few weeks ago.

The book introduces us to Freddy Builder, the manager of the china department of a large retail store, who doesn't know how good he has it. When he falls for Mindi, the daughter of an ex-mob, ex-con accountant, he makes a, um, poor decision that finally brings him fame. It also gives him a close look at the Philadelphia legal system.

Jeffrey, a law school graduate, is no stranger to the courtroom; he's been listening to the gavel all his life. Let's take a look at his story.

Falling in Love with City Hall

In answering a recent question about why I set my courtroom novel, The Killing of Mindi Quintana, in Philadelphia, I referenced James Joyce’s famous remark on why he wrote about Dublin. He said that if he could get to the heart of Dublin, he could get to the heart of every city.

As a lifelong Philadelphian who traveled widely before writing my novel, I know Philly to be a city worth getting to the heart of. It has at its core what all great cities have: The fierce love of its inhabitants for its ways and ethnic neighborhoods, for its landmark buildings and unique culture, for the foods for which it is known (soft pretzels and cheesesteaks), and its one-of-a-kind personality. Philadelphia enjoys the pride and loyalty of those born and raised here. Even when life, love, or career takes them away, they always hearken back to Philly.

My father is a lawyer who had an office across the street from our imposing City Hall, built in the "General Grant" style and completed in 1901. As a youngster, it mesmerized me. Some of my favorite memories are of skipping school, taking the train to Reading Terminal—that great old station—and visiting my father at work. In his office, he’d circle trials listed in the Legal Intelligencer, then I’d negotiate Broad Street’s traffic to watch them at City Hall. Sometimes a judge who knew my father would recognize me, and one even asked me to stand while he said something nice about my father from the bench.

It was at City Hall that my love of trials began, my fascination with our adversarial system of justice. My love for the back and forth between Philadelphia lawyers began there and for the judge’s pronouncements and gaveling from the bench. Even the activity and routine of courtroom personnel enthralled me, as did the workings of the press during breaks in the proceedings. My reverence for it all, the old courtrooms themselves with their heavy wooden pews and the grand judge’s bench at the front, began at City Hall.

I know now that what I observed in those City Hall courtrooms, for all of the wonderful Philly color and nuance and idiosyncrasy, is what takes place in all American cities. What I observed was the administration of justice as we Americans do it—not always pretty, certainly imperfect, but always fascinating and something, indeed, to be proud of. This is why Philly is the perfect city for my courtroom novel.

Thanks so much, Jeffrey. I'm embarrassed to say that although my in-laws live in the Philadelphia suburbs and I've lived in central Pennsylvania since the late 1970s, I have not spent much time in Philly proper. Jeffrey's essay on his experiences in City Hall make me want to go to Center City on my next visit. His love for the building, courtrooms, and the trial process is clearly evident. It's no wonder his novel is set right there.

To read reviews of The Killing of Mindi Quintana, check out the TLC tour schedule. To learn more about the book and about Jeffrey, visit his website or facebook page; you can even follow him on Twitter.

The Killing of Mindi Quintana at an Indie
The Killing of Mindi Quintana at Powell's
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Published by Welcome Rain Publishers, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781566499583
Note: The photo of Philadelphia's City Hall is in the public domain and was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. Click the photo to enlarge it.

Jeffrey Cohen is a writer, trial attorney, and technology entrepreneur residing in Philadelphia. He has written on legal issues, including short stories and articles such as “The Black-White Disconnect: A Conversation with Author David Bradley,” on the O.J. Simpson trial, and “Eight Days a Week,” on legal ethics. A 1988 graduate of the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Cohen specialized in appellate, class action and mass tort litigation before entering the business world. He now writes full time and is currently at work on his second novel, A Plea for Leniency.

For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves for hosting this fabulous project.

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