Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Really Random Tuesday #14: CSN Winner and Random Posts

Congratulations to Mami2jcn, the randomly chosen, lucky winner of a $75 gift certificate from CSN stores. I will email you the details soon. Enjoy your shopping spree with CSN!

If you didn't win this time, don't despair. CSN is extremely generous and hosts many other giveaways online, and I have terrific book giveaways posted on the right side of my blog, so you might just try your luck again.

Christmas (and several family birthdays) have kept me ridiculously busy lately, and so I don't have a long post today. Instead, I'll list some of the most recent Really Random Tuesday posts (in no particular order) published by other book bloggers for your browsing pleasure.

Leslie from Under My Apple Tree:
First Day of Winter and a Wovel
Winners and Potatoes

Veens from Giving Reading A Chance!!!:
A Day Early with a Gush Fest!

Naida from the bookworm:
NYC, lots of tasty treats and Jane Austen
24 inches of snow and the top 10 books of 2010

Avis from she reads and reads:
Another Snow and Kitty Pic
Snow and Kitty Pics

Vivienne from Serendipity:
Really Random Tuesday

I'm appreciative of all the book bloggers who have done this meme over the past year. Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of. If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog. Leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 20, 2010

First Lines 2010

As 2010 draws to a close, we are about to start a new decade. This year has gone by too quickly, and I'm thankful to have at least recorded bits of my reading life in this blog. About a year ago, I discovered a fun meme for the end of the year on Kate's Book Blog. This meme is by Melanie from The Indextrious Reader. The idea is, in Melanie's words, "to take the first line of each month's first post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year." I did this, skipping over quotes from books and other sources, to form a collage that represents my blog in 2010. To read any post in its entirety, click on the month of the post.

When was the last time a book made you cry?

Admittedly, I have a problem.


Want to play?

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli is the story of a brave, young woman, Helen Adams, an untrained but talented photojournalist who travels to Vietnam during the war years, determined to somehow understand more about the death of her brother, who died as a soldier there.

My mailbox pales in comparison to certain book bloggers out there (you know who you are), but I'm not complaining.


I'm back!

When I first started blogging about books in May of 2008, I only dreamed of the day when I'd be sent books in the mail.

I almost feel like a child boasting about Christmas gifts!

Oh, happy day!

Welcome to another edition of Really Random Tuesday!

'Tis the season. . .already?

Having done this meme for the first time at the end of last year, I was more conscious of my first lines throughout the year, and even though I wasn't sure I'd do the meme again, I did put more effort into my opening lines (with varying degrees of success). If you'd also like to create a collage of your blog posts from the past year, why not try this meme yourself?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Giveaway from CSN Stores

Whenever the holidays approach, I do a lot of shopping. I shop for gifts for friends and family--mostly. While I'm browsing for others, I can't help but find a few things that I'd like to have for myself or for the house. For example, I'd like to get some new counter stools to spruce up our kitchen. I'd love to find a bookcase or two to house the many books I've acquired since becoming a book blogger. Or a mini crock pot, to make small portions of food for my vegetarian daughter, or salsa roja with a hint of chipotle.

I'm no stranger to online shopping, either. My mantra this year: why face the ridiculous crowds at the mall, shopping centers, and parking lots if I don't have to? Recently I discovered CSN Stores.com, which has over 200 sites online and offers free shipping on many items! The four items pictured are from CSN, and they have thousands more.

Exciting news! How would you like to win a $75 gift certificate that can be used on any CSN site? CSN is very generously offering this prize to one lucky winner who will be chosen randomly (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For an extra chance at winning, take a look at some of the goodies offered by CSN, at AllBarStools.com, Cookware.com, HolidayDecorationsDirect.com, toysandgamesonline.com, or any of their other sites. Then return here and tell me in your comment what you'd like to spend the gift certificate on.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by 5PM PST on Monday, December 27. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, December 28. Good luck!

Special thanks to Caitlin and Alexandra from CSN stores for offering this incredible giveaway to my readers.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Breaking Out of a Rut with The Friday 56

When it comes to memes, I am definitely a creature of habit. I do the same memes on a regular basis: Mailbox Monday, Really Random Tuesday (a meme of my own creation), Wondrous Words Wednesday, and the Book Blogger Hop. While I enjoy these memes and consider them to be my favorites, I know that there are other fabulous memes in the book blogosphere that I have yet to try. I decided to break out of my meme rut and try a new one that has recently caught my eye. It's called The Friday 56 and it's hosted by Freda's Voice.

Here are the rules:
  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56.
  • Find any sentence that grabs you.
  • Post it.
  • Add your link to the linky.

I looked for a final copy of a book (as opposed to an advance copy which we are not supposed to quote from). I found Mr. Darcy's Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson, which I won on Laura's Reviews, turned to page 56, and selected this sentence.

"Georgiana barely prevented herself from a very unladylike snort at this commentary on her cousin Lord St. George, but her training prevailed and she turned her attention back to the stage."

This sounds like a book I will enjoy!

I've just added this new-to-me meme to my post (and page) simply entitled, Memes.  If The Friday 56 also appeals to you, why not play along?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Really Random Tuesday #13: Magazines, Holiday Cards, and Oven Fries

As much as I love reading books, especially in bed, sometimes I just want to curl up with a magazine and relax. Or sit in the living room, feet propped up, and leaf through a magazine, looking at the pictures and reading a bit. Magazines that belong to waiting rooms often keep me calm or entertained before appointments, and at times I discover bright ideas in them; I may be inspired to try a different way of doing something, a new product, or a recipe. Once in a great while, I pick up a magazine that catches my eye at the check-out while shopping, but for the most part, I read what comes into my house in the mail, and so I thought I'd mention the magazines I get regularly in this fashion.

MORE is a monthly magazine, "for women of style and substance". My good friend, Eriko, gave me a two-year subscription to this magazine as a birthday gift. (I told her that she doesn't need to get me a birthday gift next year.) I've only read a couple of issues so far but have enjoyed this magazine, which has featured actresses Jane Lynch and Jennifer Beals in recent issues.

My husband started my subscription to The New Yorker many years ago when we were first married, because I'm from NYC. Now I have quite a collection, and still save as many copies as I can, although we're running out of room for them. I love this weekly magazine, and only regret that I don't spend more time reading it. I enjoy the fiction and in-depth articles in The New Yorker. I really do feel as if I should be reading more of the excellent writing in it, which would hopefully help me improve my own writing. I also like to read about the happenings around the city, which I don't visit often enough (maybe once a year) but always love reading about. And the cartoons in this magazine are insanely funny.

I also get Prevention, a health magazine geared toward women (because we are usually the ones who take care of the health of our families). It presents useful health articles, news and tips, and occasionally I'll find a great recipe in it. A few months ago, I found a recipe for a hearty chicken and chickpea stew which is much better than it sounds, and is actually quite delicious. (I've also made a vegetarian version using vegetable broth and zucchini instead of chicken broth and chicken.)

Many book bloggers get books in the mail, myself included. Many of us get many books in the mail, which is the whole idea behind one of my favorite memes, Mailbox Monday. Do you also get magazines in the mail (or from stores), and if so, which ones?


Usually, I go to Barnes & Noble to shop for books. This bookstore not only has a wonderful array of books, but also carries holiday cards. I ventured to my local Barnes & Noble because I remembered that last year, they carried UNICEF cards. I strongly believe in this charitable organization (and have a permanent link to UNICEF on my blog). This year, I found some UNICEF cards again at Barnes & Noble. They had a whole table full of cards, including some UNICEF cards, and many of the cards were marked 30% off. I also received a 10% discount because I have a member card. (Half-jokingly, I asked the cashier if they offered a book blogger discount. He said not at this point in time, but that you never know what the "folks back east" are thinking about doing!) Anyway, if you want to buy holiday cards I encourage you to go to Barnes & Noble and look for UNICEF cards (and maybe a book for yourself or for a gift).


For years, I've been making a healthier version of French fries by baking sliced up potatoes with a bit of olive oil and spices in the oven. But I recently learned the "water trick" in the book Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin, a book I've mentioned before.  Soak clean, unpeeled, sliced potatoes (any variety, such as russet, red, or yellow) in cold water for about half an hour before you bake them. Dry them off, then add a teaspoon or two of oil and sprinkle with salt and spices.  I've been using a bit of organic oregano and chili spice but you can get as creative as you'd like.

Oven-ready healthy fries

Bake at 400º for about 40 minutes, or until desired crispness.  Flip potatoes so that they cook evenly, and check them occasionally so that they don't burn. Serve with ketchup, salsa, or your favorite dipping sauce.


Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of. If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog. Leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

Please be sure to visit these other Really Random Tuesday posts:
Naida's post, NYC, lots of tasty treats and Jane Austen
Avis' post from last Tuesday, Boots, Kitty Pic, & Giveaway Winner, and from this Tuesday, Snow and Kitty Pics.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Conversation with Vanessa Morgan

Seems it never rains in Southern California, except when I am working on something related to this book, Drowned Sorrow, in which water plays a leading role. While I read the book, it rained steadily, and last night as I began to work on this interview it suddenly started to rain with a vengeance. Mere coincidence?

Having recently reviewed this eerie, chilling novella by Vanessa Morgan, I'm thrilled to now present an interview with the author.

1) Welcome, Vanessa! Please tell us a bit about your background and the inspiration behind Drowned Sorrow, a supernatural 
thriller. How did you begin your career as an author of horror fiction? 

VM: I’ve always been a horror girl. I’ve been fascinated with everything paranormal and horror since I was just a toddler. I don’t even know where it comes from; I just know it’s been there ever since I was born. I remember coming home from school and going to video stores just to watch the covers in the horror movie section. I could stand there for hours just looking at them and hoping that I could watch them one day. Oh, and I tortured my Barbie dolls and acted out horror stories with them. So amidst all this abnormality, I think it’s normal that I started to write horror fiction.

(In college, a friend and I would throw some of our dolls down the staircase from up above just to see the shocked reaction of the "proper" girls in the dorm. It was great fun to us at the time, and the thought of it now still makes me laugh.)

2) Megan, Jenna, Michael, Nigel, Eva, Kenny, and others are vivid, life-like characters in your book. Are your characters based on real people?

VM: I needed all these different characters because they had to show a clear image of the villagers and what they were capable of. It was difficult to link all of them together without making the story too complicated and without revealing the twist ending. It was important to get to know these people and their feelings, but just not quite well enough so they’d keep some secrets from the reader. Almost everyone in the story pretends; they are sometimes even lying to themselves. They weren’t based on real people though. On the other hand, the character of Jennifer in The Strangers Outside was entirely based on my sister; most of the dialogue and actions are things she actually said and done.

3) I shouldn't forget to mention a very unique character in your story. Water--Moonlight Creek Lake in particular--is also a character of sorts in your book, with the power to change people. Please elaborate a bit about how that evolved.

VM: It’s true when you say that the lake is as a character in Drowned Sorrow. All the characteristics of a character are present: it thinks, moves, kills… it’s the driving force behind the story and the people in it. I didn’t know it was going to be that way in the beginning; this is one of the things that evolved during the rewriting process.

4) Your short story, The Strangers Outside is being (or has been) filmed, and soon Drowned Sorrow will be made into a movie with Alison Carroll, to be directed by Drew Barrymore. I think that must be incredibly exciting! The setting and creepiness of the book set the stage for an unforgettable movie. When were you first contacted about this? Do you appear in any of your films?

VM: I got contacted for the movie adaptation of Drowned Sorrow right after the book got released in 2009. A movie producer had read it and thought that the visuals from Drowned Sorrow would make for a great movie. I have no idea how close they are to filming the movie. It’s a slow process. The Strangers Outside, on the other hand, got adapted at lightning speed because it wasn’t as ambitious in terms of budget. The shooting is now finished and the film is in the editing stage. I’ve seen a few rushes and I’m impatient to see the completed movie. I’ve posted photos of the filming locations on my blog. And, no, I don’t appear in any of my films; I prefer to be discreet. My cat Avalon appeared in The Strangers Outside though.

(Vanessa, please let me know as soon as Drowned Sorrow is released as a movie. Now I want to see The Strangers Outside as well, and find your fabulous feline in the film. I love that it was filmed in Belgium.)

5) Which songs, bands, or music would you like to include on the soundtrack for the film version of Drowned Sorrow?

VM: I love all sorts of music, but I don’t think that Drowned Sorrow is the kind of movie that would benefit from bands and singers. In my opinion, a minimal creepy soundtrack is the best option, something in the vein of The Shining maybe. Alex Corbi, who also made the soundtrack for the film adaptation of my book The Strangers Outside, is the first name on my list when it comes to finding a good composer.

(I also greatly enjoy many types of music, and agree that a minimal creepy soundtrack will be best for the movie.)

6) Who are some of the authors who have influenced your writing? Which horror films have had an influence on your work?

VM: I believe that every author influences my writing in one way or another. Every author has helped me on a subconscious level to determine what I want my books to feel like or what I want to avoid, but I think I’ve been influenced more by horror movies than horror literature, probably because I’ve seen almost every horror movie ever made, even the ones that no one ever heard of.

Some book critics have compared Drowned Sorrow and The Strangers Outside to the work of M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village, The Happening). I believe that Shyamalan and I have a lot in common – the human element that is as important as the horror story, the twist ending, the mystery… Other names that I feel have had an influence on me are Jaume Balaguero, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, John Hancock, David Cronenberg, Ahn Byeong-ki, Hideo Nakata…. Several Spanish and Asian names as you can see. But it’s the same as with books; I think every movie influences me in some way even when I don’t think about them when I write.

7) Do you like being compared to Stephen King?

VM: I have to admit that it has helped my career quite a lot. Stephen King is such a household name that people know immediately what they can expect from my books when they read that I’m the ‘female version of Stephen King’, so I’m certainly not going to complain about it.


You're a highly imaginative writer. Do you brainstorm for ideas? Do you carry around a notebook to jot down ideas? How do you refine your work? How many drafts do you typically write for any particular project? I apologize for all the parts to this question--but I am curious!

VM: Thanks. Coming up with creepy ideas is the easy part of the writing process. The ideas that I jot down in a notebook are almost always general story ideas for a next book. The brainstorming begins once I’m working on a new book, especially in the rewriting phase. I write at least four or five drafts of each book. The basis and structure of the book usually stay more or less the same; rewriting is more about character development and finding imaginative ideas that will turn the story into something special. My first drafts are already suspenseful and creepy, but they lack character development and substance. For Drowned Sorrow I also had to come up with a logical explanation to the story, but I didn’t want to explain the events in an obvious way. I wanted Drowned Sorrow to work on a subliminal level. There are many details and conversations in Drowned Sorrow that may seem irrelevant at first, but they are hints and explanations to what you will find out later. Therefore, I believe that Drowned Sorrow is a book that the reader will enjoy even more the second time around.

(Vanessa, I noticed some of the hints you speak of and am sure I'd enjoy reading your book at least one more time. I imagine I'll want to watch the movie numerous times as well.)

9) Where do you write? What advice do you have for aspiring authors, especially women?

VM: In my former apartment, I used to write at a desk with my guinea pig next to me, but now that I have a notebook and my guinea pig has left me, I write a little bit everywhere depending on my mood – desk, sofa, park, terrace, library, etc.

I don’t think there’s a difference between men and women when it comes to writing and pursuing a career. The best advice that I can give is: don’t give up. Your writing may be really bad in the beginning, you may even not be able to put a sentence together, but if you persist, you can accomplish great things. And also, write what you want to read. Constantly ask yourself: if I were to pick up this book from a bookstore without knowing what to expect, would I be happy with it? What would I want to see in this book that is not there right now? Asking these questions has really helped me in coming up with creepy stories.

Thank you, Vanessa. It was very gracious of you to do this interview for my book blog. You've whetted my appetite for horror fiction and movies. Please keep me posted about the release of Drowned Sorrow as a movie and your future work.

Thanks for reading!  Comments welcomed.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holiday Gift Giveaway Hop, Regular Hop, and a Winner

'Tis the season. . .already? I really can't believe it's December, time for the holidays. It's also time for a lovely surprise, the Holiday Gift Giveaway Hop, December 1 - December 5, hosted by the brilliant Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books (did you notice her adorable holiday blog header?). Kudos to Simply Stacie, Little Yayas, My Wee View, Review Retreat, and Stockpiling Moms for organizing this fabulous event. There are nearly 250 blogs hosting giveaways, many of which are international!

Speaking of giveaways, I've just chosen my book giveaway winner (drum roll, please). Lori L. from She Treads Softly is the winner of Anasazi Intrigue, the first book in a new, mystery series by Linda Weaver Clarke. Congratulations, Lori! If you you didn't win this time, I have other book giveaways posted on the right side of my blog, so you might just try your luck again. Please stay tuned for new giveaways, including one from CSN Stores.com. And don't forget to visit the Holiday Gift Giveaway Hop for giveaways galore!

This week's regular Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books, lasts from December 3 - December 6. This weekly BOOK PARTY is an opportunity for book bloggers to socialize, connect with other book lovers, discover new book blogs, and just have some fun! Sometimes we need a break from all of our reading and writing. :)

Each week, Jennifer presents a question for participating book bloggers to answer. This week's question was posed by Marce from Tea Time With Marce: What very popular and hyped book in the blogosphere did you NOT enjoy and how did you feel about posting your review?

Good question, which brings up all kinds of issues. After thinking about this question, I realized that I don't read many books that are wildly popular in the blogosphere. A lot of the books I read and review are newer books, and some have not yet been released to the public, so they haven't been "hyped" yet. Others are older books, which may not be read as widely today. Sometimes, I'll post a review and others will comment to say that they're not interested in reading the book I presented; although I'm not trying to "sell" the book to anyone, I may wonder why, but respect the fact that we all have individual reading preferences (and quirks). In my reviews, I try to be honest but also fair; I don't bash books, but try, with some degree of tact and hopefully skill, to write something worth reading about any particular book.

Thanks for reading! If you'd like me to visit your blog, please leave a comment.

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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