Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #42: A Winner and a Wonderful Interview

(Photo courtesy of my daughter Angela)

Mugsy and I hope you had a lovely Christmas, and wish you a very happy New Year! Twenty twelve has a nice ring to it!

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Please congratulate Yvonne from Socrates' Book Review Blog and the Socrates' Cozy Café (the very title makes me wish I were curled up with a cozy mystery). Yvonne is the lucky winner of The CHICK-tionary by Anna Lefler. If you didn't win this time, please take a look at the other book giveaways listed on the right side of my blog.







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No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to make a dent in my to-be-read pile. But I was reassured a bit to learn that a very prolific author has a pile of to-be-read books on her own night table! Her novels center around the lives of women, feature magical realism and myth, and are read by millions worldwide. Please visit Lost in Fiction for a short but wonderful interview with Chilean author Isabel Allende by Lucy Hannau.






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Appearing on random Tuesdays, 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. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post. For another Really Random Tuesday post, please visit Vivienne's blog, Serendipity Reviews.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Soul Clothes, and Some Thoughts on Poetry

In the past, I've felt intimidated by poetry. In school, we briefly studied some of the work of Robert Frost, along with other poets, and I always thought that poetry, that understanding and writing it, were just beyond my grasp. For me, poetry was accompanied by a sense of mysticism, reflected in these lines by Robert Frost:


"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep"






It was no wonder that I'd picture the poet (or poetess, such as Emily Dickinson) dressed in black or grey from head to toe, wearing a somber expression, trudging through the woods reciting lines, seeing deeply and uncannily into nature and human nature.

Over the past few years I've changed my mind, at least a bit. As I've read more poetry (such as the prolific work of Sweta Srivastava Vikram, and Fiona Place, who incorporated pithy poems into her novel, Cardboard, adding another dimension to it), it's become more accessible to me. I also realized that my deep enjoyment of music, specifically song lyrics, which are a form of poetry, set to music, already assured me that I could appreciate and fathom the less literal beauty of poetry. In fact, I would welcome it wholeheartedly! There are numerous similarities between poems and lyrics--repetitions and refrains, using words for their sounds, using words to convey feelings rather than exact meanings. And when you think about it, we go through much of the day speaking in short phrases--some of them might sound more than a bit silly--and poetry echoes this natural, relaxed speech pattern and the beauty of language, which is often like song.
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"You wear my purple turtleneck sweater
made of wool
looped with love, laughter, and laziness"
~Soul Clothes, Regina D. Jemison

Published in 2011, Soul Clothes by Regina D. Jemison is a bold and down-to-earth collection of poetry. The author is also a lawyer, which means she must be adept at precise writing, along with poetic writing. Her evocative poems run the gamut from the act of writing to love to breast cancer and AIDS, and express a strong sense of self, of sorrow as well as joy, and are a true celebration of words, and of life.

"I'm writin' my prayers
on stone tablets
legal pads
and blue skies, writin' the blues
away, writin' "
~Writin' My Blues Away, Regina D. Jemison

I read this thin book over the course of a few days, savoring the inventive and absorbing use of language. I knew while reading this work that I did not have to understand every detail in a hyper-literal way, but that poetry is an art form open to the interpretation of the reader, which enhanced my enjoyment of the book. I unequivocally recommend this heartfelt book of poems, even to those who believe that poetry is beyond their comprehension.

Special thanks to Victor from Modern History Press for sending me a complimentary copy of Soul Clothes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The CHICK-tionary: Review and Giveaway

Can we increase our intelligence as we get older?

I enjoy reading the dictionary to learn new words or to study words I already know. On Wednesdays I often stop by BermudaOnion's Weblog to peruse her Wondrous Words Wednesday meme. Call me a geek or a nerd (or a logophile), but I love words, and routinely add new ones to my vocabulary list.

Published in 2011, The CHICK-tionary: From A-Line to Z-Snap, the Words Every Woman Should Know by Anna Lefler is a tongue-in-cheek collection of more than 450 words (and some phrases) in alphabetical order (like a regular dictionary). There were many terms in it that I'd never heard before, such as cankles, denim rage, Fauxga, and scrimmage marriage (popular in the state I live in, CA). I do feel smarter now, or at least more well-informed. I laughed out loud numerous times at some of the outrageous definitions. Anna Lefler skillfully uses exaggeration to make her book as humorous as possible (which helps to soften the sting of what she's describing).


The CHICK-tionary, noun
Droll and amusing source book for women of a certain age

Whether you're an alpha girl, bag hag, cougar, puma, or just a regular gal, contending with Aunt Flo, a baby bump, flapjacks, or just a below-average mood, this book will lift your spirits. It deserves a special place on the shelf near other reference books, or next to your chick lit.

Good news! The publisher, Adams Media, is offering a copy of The Chicktionary as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • 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 26. One lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, December 27. Good luck!


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For more reviews, please visit the other stops on TLC's The Chicktionary book blog tour. To visit Anna Lefler's blog, stop by Life Just Keeps Getting Weirder.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

First Lines 2011

Meme is meme is meme. While most memes are weekly, this special meme is done only once a year.


Can it be that 2011 is almost over? Clichéd or not--tempus fugit--and I'm grateful to have recorded at least some of my reading life in this blog. About two years ago, I discovered a fun meme, created by Melanie from The Indextrious Reader, on Kate's Book Blog. In Melanie's words, the idea is "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." While I wasn't certain that I'd repeat this meme, I always keep in mind what I learned in elementary school: "begin with a bang!" I decided to do this meme, for the third year in a row, skipping over quotes from books (and other sources), to form a collage of my blog this past year. To read more of any post, click on the month of the post.



January
Oprah is sagacious.

February
P ie c e s

March
Please be seated because what I'm about to reveal may shock you.

April
Usually I am not at a loss for words, but I'm not sure what to say about this book, Dancing with Gravity by Anene Tressler, published in 2010.

May
Is it possible?

June
Having read some poetry penned by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, Because All is Not Lost and Kaleidoscope: An Asian Journey of Colors (during which I experienced a breakthrough and started to finally understand contemporary poetry better, and even attempted to write some of my own), I was excited to have the opportunity to be among the first to read Perfectly Untraditional, the debut novel by this author, published in 2011 in New Delhi, India.

July
Having very recently read The Wooden Tongue Speaks ~ Romanians: Contradictions & Realities by writer and publisher Bogdan Tiganov, I'm honored to have had the opportunity to interview the outspoken author of this original, often arresting work.

August
Should I change the name of this blog from Suko's Notebook to The Really Random Tuesday Blog?

September
Prehistoric fiction was new to me until fairly recently, and now it has me completely captivated.

October
I am such a slouch.

November
Lady Luck has chosen a winner!

December
Move over, Dr. Laura!


My blog truly is an eclectic mix! If you'd also like to create a collage that represents your blogging year, please feel free to do this meme. As always, your comments are welcomed.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Don'ts for Wives

Move over, Dr. Laura! I discovered this little gem of a book on Petty's blog, Pen and Paper, in September. Enchanted by her review of it, I immediately ordered Don'ts for Wives from Amazon, received and read it, and have kept it on my nightstand ever since, reading a couple of pages often before bed to refresh my memory. Written by Blanche Ebbutt and first published in 1913, it's a charming book to read and contemplate. In the preface of the book, the author states that it takes a "perfect artist" to remain married (that could explain the high divorce rate), and then gives us her best tips for a solid marriage in the body of the book. Each statement in the book begins with the word "Don't". While some of it is antiquated (it was written nearly 100 years ago, in the days before women had much equality, during an era when wealthier people had servants), it's also fun to read, and full of sage advice, such as:

"Don't nag your husband. If he won't carry out your wishes for love of you, he certainly won't because you nag him."

How true! Throughout my marriage, I've always tried to avoid nagging my husband. If I tell him something once, I try not to mention it again, unless I absolutely must, because I know he hates to be nagged or "pushed". (For example, if his mother or another family member calls, I will ask him to return the call, but I'll only say it one time.)

Don'ts for Wives would be the perfect gift book for married women or for women who are about to tie the knot. The author also wrote a companion book, Don'ts for Husbands.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #41: A Beautiful Library, a Book Winner, and some Special Giveaways

I was expecting a hole in the wall, a tiny, creaky library with few books, reached by a narrow row of steps. Instead, I was treated to grandeur. While in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, earlier this month, I visited the library, and was seized by its great beauty and charm. La Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende is a cultural center, where you can read, learn conversational Spanish (or English), linger with a cup of coffee or tea, or even watch a movie (I saw a very touching documentary, Buck). These photos are not as sharp as I wish they were, and do not do justice to this magnificent library, but at least they'll give you a sense of the place. I could spend hours in this library!








































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Congratulations to Parrish Lantern, the randomly selected winner of Beyond the Scent of Sorrow, a new collection of powerful poetry by Sweta Srivastava Vikram. Thanks to everyone who participated in this giveaway--how would this blog exist without my faithful readers? If you didn't win this time, keep your chin up, as I have other giveaways listed on the right side of my blog, and a couple of brand new, generous giveaways to mention in this post.

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In February of this year, I reviewed Half in Love, a startlingly honest memoir by writer Linda Gray Sexton. Just recently, I was contacted about an upcoming giveaway for this book.

Half in Love Giveaway Contest

In celebration of the upcoming paperback release of Half in Love in January 2012, author Linda Gray Sexton is sponsoring a giveaway contest for signed copies of her book. Starting Monday, December 5th, readers who join the reader board on Linda's website to share their thoughts and stories will be entered in the giveaway. Winners who belong to a book club will also have the chance to meet the author for a club event in person, or over Skype, depending on location. Please stop by Linda's website for more details and to enter the giveaway.


This past April, I posted about The Note by Mike O'Mary, which was named Best Gift Book of 2011 in the Living Now Book Awards. The O'Marys would like to extend their thanks and appreciation this holiday season by offering free Note Project eKits to family and friends. Send free Note Project eKits to up to 10 people by visiting this Note Project page. Each eKit includes an e-book edition of The Note, along with free bonus gifts from Note Project sponsors. You don't have to sign-up or subscribe to anything to receive The Note (and you won't get any unsolicited email as a result)--simply download the free e-book and enjoy it!

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, 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. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post. For another Really Random Tuesday post, please visit Naida's blog, the bookworm. As always, thanks for reading!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Pact: Intense Fiction by Jodi Picoult

"There was nothing left to say."
~The Pact, Jodi Picoult


Whew! It took me forever to read The Pact: A Love Story, published in 1998, by Jodi Picoult. I started it about a month ago, and although I found the writing forceful, and read about fifty pages or so, I set it aside for at least a few weeks. It's a very intense book, and it was difficult for me to read it for any length of time. It would upset me greatly, and I had a hard time returning to it, even though I wanted to. Needless to say, suicide is not a light or pleasant topic, and this book, whose chapters alternate between the past and the present, revolves around an apparent suicide pact between two high school students, Chris Harte and Emily Gold. As Jodi Picoult states in the notes at the end of the book, she doesn't write books that are easy to read (or write, I'm sure!). The subject matter of this book is very disturbing, and as a parent it was even more harrowing for me to read. Still, that being said, I did eventually return to this book, and became thoroughly engaged and invested in The Pact, a story about two close friends who grew up together and grow to love each other in a romantic sense, which leads to tragic consequences. The families of Chris and Em were also very close, and although the relationship between the kids seemed desirable and inevitable, in hindsight there were grave problems caused by this very closeness, as well as from the outside world, and what happens is quite disturbing and profound. While reading, I knew that such a story could happen in real life, especially during the teenage years when every emotion seems to be greatly amplified. That is what is so frightening--this book is very realistic!

I wanted to know what really happened, I wanted to hear the truth, and I wanted Chris to have a chance to tell his side of the story, so I kept on reading, and was absolutely transfixed. Jodi Picoult handles many topics with aplomb--young love, ambivalent feelings, and taboo topics (in the book, Chris meets a remorseful young dad, Steve, in jail, who has allegedly shaken his baby to death in a moment of anger, an example of the author's ability to write honestly and sensitively about very difficult subjects)--and makes readers think deeply about tough questions, such as: how well do we know our own children, and who do we trust?

Kudos to Jodi Picoult! In spite of taking so long to finish reading this novel, I was rewarded by a book that is well-researched, believable, and full of suspense. The Pact is a must-read for tried and true Jodi Picoult fans, or for those who want a truly intense introduction to this prolific author, who writes so well that you are pulled into the story despite any initial resistance. I am now on a roll (well, sort of), and plan to read House Rules next for The Jodi Picoult Project. If you want to join this challenge, commit to reading at least one novel by this author before the conclusion of October 2012. Feel free to "grab" the button and use it on your own blog. I've just added a Page for this reading challenge, with a Mister Linky, so please submit any review links to that. Thanks!


As always, I welcome your comments.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Magpie Tales #93: Useless


Little red couch
Discarded
Left at curbside
Rejected by AmVets
Too shabby
Too dirty

Little red couch
Dropped at the dump
Homely and unwanted
Useless

Little red couch
Missing cushions
A loveseat
Haven for same sex lovers
Homeless vagrants in need of rest
Stained by Jack Daniels,
Bacardi 151

Little red couch
Under the overpass
Hidden from view


This poem was inspired by Tess Kincaid's Magpie Tales. Photo courtesy of Christine Donnier-Valentin. Your feedback is appreciated.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Speak Out

Today is the day to "Speak Out". Hosted by Kristin from Wanderlust, the purpose of Speak Out is to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence, which affects countless millions of people worldwide. Males as well as females can be victims of domestic violence.

Bloggers today around the world will post, tweet, share their own stories about domestic violence, and provide direct links to domestic violence resources. This event precedes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, on November 25.

Please stop by Wanderlust for links to the posts of participating bloggers, or if you or someone you know needs immediate help from domestic violence.

Comments welcomed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Beyond the Scent of Sorrow: Review and Giveaway

Beyond the Scent of Sorrow is the latest collection of poetry by award-winning writer Sweta Srivastava Vikram, published in October of 2011 as part of the World Voices Series. I've reviewed other poetry books by this author, interviewed her, and read her exquisite novel, Perfectly Untraditional, so I'm already acquainted with her and know that she's a very skilled wordsmith. Regardless, my goal was to "judge" this work on its own merits, as much as possible.

In this new collection, the author draws an interesting connection between nature and women. In the Alejandaro region of southwest Portugal, countless old eucalyptus trees--once considered protectors of the forest--are being removed and replaced by oak trees, depicting the unjust (sometimes violent) treatment of women, who are treated poorly in many parts of the world, merely because of their gender. Using the eucalyptus tree as a symbol, this poet creates many brilliant and powerful poems depicting the plight of women, as well as their strength and ability to endure. Sweta Srivastava Vikram's bold and vivacious style captured me as quickly and as completely as it has on previous occasions. Here are some lines from one of the author's favorite poems in this collection, Unholy Men.

"Like the cork oak
selectively stripped of their bark
every ten years of their lives
to quench a lover's thirst
for wine in Evoramonte, Portugal,
I am undressed
night after night
until my wounds mock
the myth of one thousand years--"
~Sweta Srivastava Vikram

While the author may be pro-woman, she is not anti-male, as she states in the Acknowledgements section of the book, where she specifically thanks her husband for understanding her position. I also think it's important to note that better treatment of women and more equality benefits everyone--not just women. And while the poems in this book are decidedly serious, they are not without glimmers of hope, mist that awakens and enables us to "walk away from the nightmare". I relished this collection of poems that features intense emotion and vivid images, and am thrilled to offer a copy of this book to a reader compliments of the publisher, Modern History Press (U.S./U.K./Canada).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • 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, November 28. One lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, November 29. Good luck to all!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #40: Three Smart Winners and a Few Words

Thanks to the hefty generosity of Algonquin Books, three intelligent women have won The Smartest Woman I Know, the new book by Ilene Beckerman:

Laura from Laura's Reviews,
Yvonne from Socrates' Book Review Blog,
and Zibilee from Raging Bibilomania.

Congratulations to all of the winners!

Each of these women writes a thoughtful and entertaining book blog, and I urge you to stop by and read their reviews (if you don't already do so).

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Autumn is here in Southern CA at last, cooling our days and nights, and of course it's now darker earlier as well, tempting me to read in a cozy spot, my cats and dog nearby. It may sound like a cliché, but it truly is a sublime pleasure. Competing with my nighttime reading, though, is a game I play on my iPhone, Words with Friends. I play several games simultaneously with friends nearby and across the country. It's great fun, even when I make esoteric words, or two letter words such as HM. But I have to watch my tendency to play the game at night instead of reading. I've promised myself that I'll read more, so please stay tuned for new book reviews soon.

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, 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. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post. For another recent Really Random Tuesday post, visit Naida's blog, the bookworm.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #39: A Bad-Dog Book Winner and the Judicious Use of Exclamation Points

Lady Luck has chosen a winner! Please congratulate Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania, the randomly selected winner of a very funny book, Another Bad-Dog Book by Joni B. Cole. Zibilee, the author will be sending you an autographed copy of her book soon. Congratulations!

If you didn't win this time, please take a look at the other giveaways listed on the right side of my blog.

Wednesday Update: All congratulations have been transferred to Carol N. Wong. I selected a new winner as Zibilee let me know that she received a copy of this book from the author because of her interest in it (and because her book blog is outstanding). Congratulations, Carol!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Grammar and good writing are changing. The rules I learned in school seem "old school" at times, as written language evolves to reflect and include various electronic social media, such as texting, email, blogs, Facebook (which I prefer to capitalize and do, but that's a discussion for another day), and Twitter.

"Cut out all those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes."
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

I try not to use exclamation points too often in the book reviews I post here--that would be like laughing at my own jokes, chronically underestimating the intelligence of my readers. Additionally, when exclamation marks are overused, it lessens their value and impact. But, I use them more and more in comments I leave on other blogs, and frequently when texting or sending brief, casual emails. In short communications, they work well. Without exclamation marks, my pithy statements may sound flat and expressionless, whereas when I insert them, my words spring to life and become lively, animated. They become more compelling, instantly. Yes, exclamation points are a shortcut, but they help to quickly communicate interest and enthusiasm.

Sometimes, far less often, guiltily, I use multiple exclamation marks in informal communications--my limit is usually two or three. I'm also a fan of "?!", which I use occasionally. I've heard it disparaged by traditional grammarians but I employ this configuration to express a sense of surprise and (usually) admiration: did she really go to Kazakhstan?! I think you get the picture.

What about you? How do you use exclamation points in various forms of writing?

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, 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. For other recent Really Random Tuesday posts, visit Avis' blog, she reads and reads, and Naida's blog, the bookworm. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Smartest Woman I Know: Review and Giveaway

Growing up in NYC, I had wonderful friends, many of whom were Jewish. During my years in junior high school, I often accompanied my Jewish friends to their grandparents' apartments after school, where I was treated to delicious snacks such as ice cold grapefruit soda and pretzel rods. Although I was a Gentile, I was always made to feel welcome, especially by their grandmothers, who offered me encouragement as I grew into a young woman, and I began to wish I had my own Jewish grandmother. (My own grandmothers were Armenian; one was loving and the other was hypercritical.) The Smartest Woman I Know is an ode to Jewish grandmothers everywhere, and to one in particular.

"THIS STORY IS MOSTLY about Ettie, all 4'10" of her. She was one of the smartest women I ever knew, even though she never made it past the third grade."
~The Smartest Woman I Know, Ilene Beckerman

While growing up in the late 1940s, author Ilene Beckerman lived with her grandmother, Lillie, nicknamed Ettie, and her grandfather, "Mr. Goldberg", for six years, while her older sister, Tootsie, lived with them for a year (until she got married). During this time, Ettie continued to work seven days a week at Goldberg's candy and stationery store, and Ilene, called Gingy, experienced firsthand the guidance and practical wisdom of her grandmother (''what you put in your stomach will make you feel better than what a man with a beard and an accent tells you about your mother"), which is lovingly shared in this funny, charming book. The Smartest Woman I Know features clever illustrations and photos, and is a lighthearted tribute to the author's grandmother. It brought back good memories from my own school days in NY--I love the city and always will. In my neighborhood in NY, we had a popular candy store called Stein's (not far from the pizza shop), that I visited all the time for red licorice rolls, LifeSavers, chocolate wafers, and other goodies (memory's selective--I mostly remember the candy, but they also carried other items, maybe even stationery like the store in the book). This book felt familiar and warm, and I spent part of a leisurely afternoon savoring it, and thinking quietly about my own past.

Terrific news! The publisher, Algonquin, is very generously offering a giveaway of this book to three lucky readers (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • 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.
  • For one more chance at winning, tell us about a smart woman you admire in your own life.

Enter by 5PM PST on Monday, November 7. Three winners will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, November 8. Good luck!


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For more reviews, please visit TLC's book tour for The Smartest Woman I Know.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #38: A Giveaway Winner and Something New

Congratulations to Darlene from Darlene's Book Nook, the winner of A Small Fortune by Audrey Braun, and Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed. These books were written by the same person; this author used a nom de plume for her first book, A Small Fortune (please refer to my interview with this author if you want to find out why). Darlene has an ample supply of great reading ahead!

If you didn't win these two books, "check out" the other giveaways listed on the right side of my blog. There's a plethora of book giveaways thanks to the generosity of many bloggers, authors, and publishers, so if you're a bonafide bibliophile or an empty-bellied bookworm, you might try your luck again.

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I wonder how many of you have switched to the new Blogger interface? I am trying it for the first time today, right now, a bit nervously, learning on the spot how to do things as I type up this post in a larger rectangle than previously (yay!). The new Blogger interface includes some nice, new features, such as underlining, which comes in handy for book titles (instead of inserting HTML code, the cumbersome method for underlining). You can also preview your post on your blog, to see how it will appear, so there are less surprises. At first, I was reluctant to use the new interface, because the old way is familiar and comfortable after using it for three years (even the different font throws me off, slightly),  but I must admit that Blogger has made some terrific changes. (I felt the same way about the updated StatCounter, a bit wary initially, but it took me very little time to get used to it.)  At this point in time, I'm still using both interfaces, switching back and forth.  Hopefully,  I'll learn all the ins and outs of the new interface before too long.  Have you tried it out yet?

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Appearing on random Tuesdays (and Thursdays, once in a while), 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. For another recent Really Random Tuesday post, visit Naida's blog, the bookworm. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Aloha Friday


Aloha readers! I discovered a new-to-me meme on Ann's Reading Corner today, Aloha Friday, hosted by Kailani from An Island Life. It's not a meme solely for book bloggers, but it caught my eye and I not only decided to try it, but added it to my Memes page as well. The idea is to take it easy on Friday, the start of the weekend, which is usually a time to relax. In keeping with this, the premise of this meme is to pose a simple question (one that doesn't require a lengthy response), and also to visit other participating blogs. For more details, and to read Kailani's post, please visit An Island Life.

Because this is a book blog, my question relates to reading. My question is (besides, how do I select a simple question?): how do I carve out some reading time when I know my weekend will be very busy in a social sense?

I'm sure I'm not the only book blogger or reader with this problem. I have some great reading to begin this weekend for my challenge, The Jodi Picoult Project--I just received my copy of The Pact in the mail and I can't wait to start reading it--but I'm not sure I'll be able to read much as this will be a very social weekend in a house full of people. I think I'll have to "play it by ear", to find moments when I can sequester myself and read for a bit (which is often how I manage to read, anyway). Or, I may have to postpone my reading for a few more days. Maybe my question is not that simple after all! If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Another Bad-Dog Book: Review and Giveaway

"At some earlier point in time, I remembered liking my speech, but now it seemed silly and trite, an Up-With-People message, only I was the opposite of a perky, talented teenager. I could just see it now: a room full of three-hundred Winning Women, all pretending to listen to me, but secretly multitasking. Five minutes into my fifty-minute talk, the organization's president would usher me away from the podium."
~Another Bad-Dog Book, Joni B. Cole

What can I say about the fifth book by Joni B. Cole, Another Bad-Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior, published in 2011? For starters, but perhaps most importantly also, it made me laugh. This collection of twenty-eight personal essays is filled with numerous observations and anecdotes, and much of this book resonated with me. I could really relate to it! I have kids who shun me sometimes, I've felt not quite good enough or up to the task at hand, and like so many other women, who are, shall we say, getting older, I want to look and feel good--and young. At times, I found myself surprised at how similar to the author I am, and I felt a kinship with her. The author's honesty is wonderful--honesty is one of the things I look for in any kind of writing--and her voice is down-to-earth and real. And although the author pokes fun at herself, I discovered a sensitive and smart woman who is passionate about her profession as a writer, teacher, and speaker, as well as her family, including her "bad-dog", Eli.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The only niggle I had with it was the part about "Super Joni", in the first story. To me, it seemed just a bit out of place, a little too cutesy for the rest of the book. Hopefully, that's not the author's favorite part of the book.

Good news! The author is generously offering a giveaway for a signed copy of Another Bad-Dog Book to a lucky reader (U.S. only).

  • To enter this giveaway for this book, simply leave a comment.
  • 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 PDT on Monday, October 31. One winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, November 1. Good luck!

Special thanks to the author for sending me an advance review copy (ARC) of this book. Because the passage I've quoted is from an ARC, it may change in the final version.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #37: The Jodi Picoult Project

I am such a slouch.

My first Jodi Picoult book, My Sister's Keeper, which I read and reviewed on my blog in June of 2009, was quite a touching novel for me. After I read the book I went to see the movie (which differs from the book in some ways), and I cried throughout the film, much to my embarrassment, anticipating the sad events that would occur. I vowed to read more books by Jodi Picoult, who writes about contemporary subjects--but I haven't. Recently, I discovered that my teenage daughter has read more Jodi Picoult novels than me! As for reading challenges, I'm also a slacker; I'm reading challenge challenged, and often opt to read the minimum number of required books: one. With this in mind, I created a reading challenge for the purpose of "catching up" with my daughter and reading more than one book for a challenge, The Jodi Picoult Project, during which I plan to read three novels by this author, who writes so well about many of the issues most relevant to our times. I've already ordered two books, House Rules and The Pact, to get started, and will add a third title, probably Sing You Home (due out in paperback later this month). If you want to join in, commit to reading at least one novel by this prolific author. This reading challenge will run from October 2011 through October 2012. Feel free to "grab" the button below (subject to revision) and use it on your own blog.


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Appearing on random Tuesdays (and occasional Thursdays), 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. For another recent Really Random Tuesday post, please visit Vivienne's blog, Serendipity Reviews. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Conversation with Deborah Reed, and a Giveaway




















1) Welcome, Deborah! I've just finished reading your books, A Small Fortune and Carry Yourself Back to Me, both published in 2011. I'd read an earlier version of A Small Fortune, and I must say that the newer version is even better than the first. Wow! Your writing is exceptional, and I enjoyed reading both books very much. Your first novel, A Small Fortune, is suspense fiction, which I found thrilling, while your latest book is literary fiction, which held my rapt attention. Why did you decide to write books in two different genres?

DR: I've been writing literary fiction for years and never tried my hand at mystery or any other genre. But in 2009 the publishing industry was in complete flux with most of the houses imploding and it was so difficult to get published as a new writer, especially in fiction. After reading an article about genre books weathering the recession, I decided on a whim to try my hand. I'd enjoyed books by Kate Atkinson and Benjamin Black and Lisa Unger, to name a few, so I gave it a shot. The result was A Small Fortune, which came to me very quickly and is, coincidentally, about a book editor who has gone from editing literary novels before the recession, to having to edit romance novels, as this is the only work she can find. As for Carry Yourself Back to Me, this is a novel long in the making, and a large piece of my heart.



2) Why did you write your first book, A Small Fortune, under a pen name (or nom de plume--it sounds so elegant in French), Audrey Braun, instead of using Deborah Reed?

DR: Originally, I used a pen name in case the book was a flop. That way no one would know it was me. Silly, for so many reasons, I know, but thank goodness the sales are doing great. And now that I have two books out in two different genres the pen name helps to differentiate between the two. A reader knows what to expect when they see Audrey Braun has written the book, and the same goes for Deborah Reed, who writes (now I'm writing about myself in third person--this can get a little confusing) character driven stories in a more careful prose style with a bit of southern Gothic thrown in.

(Deborah, your fears were unfounded. You can't go wrong with passages like this one in A Small Fortune :

"I've been an ungrateful, neglectful wife to Jonathan. A resentful mother to Oliver. They'll never know how sorry I am, how much I wish I could make it up to them. I'll never be able to tell them how in that moment my love for them wrenches my insides more violently than the fear of what might happen next.")


3) Of course, I usually assume that female protagonists are at least partially based on the character of the writer who brought them to life. How is Celia Donnelly from A Small Fortune like you? How is Annie Walsh from Carry Yourself Back to Me like you? Both characters are real and likable and strong women, and I rooted for them throughout the books.

DR: Celia Donnelly from A Small Fortune is like me in the sense that we're both raising a teenage son (I already have a former teenager out the door) who can be a challenge at times, and who wears ear buds all the time and plays the drums. I know all too well the stresses she feels while juggling being a mother and a wife and a professional. But I'd like to think her lack of self-awareness is not something we share. I do like how she takes the reins in this story and kicks some butt. I could do that. I think I could. I've also spent time in Puerto Vallarta and Zurich, and of course, I live in Portland, not far from where Celia used to live in the story.

As for Annie Walsh in
Carry Yourself Back to Me. Oh, Annie. I love her. She is in so many ways, the me who went in another direction. The one who followed her love of music and stayed in Florida after all. She is very much me from an emotional standpoint. Her sense of loss and melancholy, her take on nature and love and music. All of those things are a huge part of me. But I would also add that most of the characters in this novel are a part of me too. Flawed, fumbling, trying to do better, asking for forgiveness. That's me, but I guess it's all of us, too.

(I think you're right, Deborah. Like your protagonists, we fumble and we stumble, and we keep on trying.)



4) Which genre did you prefer writing, if either?

DR: Both are pleasurable in their own ways. Suspense is way more fun in the sense of entertaining myself. My imagination runs wild and I don't have to hold it back. It's great fun and the writing comes quickly. Literary fiction, however, is a lot harder to write. It's more time consuming, and painful, trying to get at the truth of something in a more meaningful way. It's more character (instead of plot) driven, and requires very close attention at the sentence level. But it is also more satisfying. The intent is that all the hard work should create something beautiful and meaningful and illuminate a truth or two. At least that is what I strive for.

(Your writing in Carry Yourself Back to Me is beautiful. Here's an example from early in the book:
"Cold fog quiets the birds and shifts like hot steam above Lake Winsor in the east. Minutes earlier hailstones sliced past Annie's bedroom window and skipped off the ground like pearls on concrete, escaping in all directions. The timer on the coffee pot had already gone off, and Annie dressed quickly in a fleece and jeans, her red rubber boots with the knobby black soles. She emerged onto the porch as if from a cave, coffee sloshing down her wrist, Detour stumbling at her heels the way old dogs do, scared old dogs, with no direction."
Gorgeous prose. I'm compelled to accompany literary fiction with a generous helping of ambiance, a cup of tea or cinnamon-scented coffee, a lit candle, and a pet or two nearby for quiet company. And when I read literary fiction, it incites me to improve my own writing.)



5) I think what made both books work for me is your exquisite attention to detail, which brought the characters and situations to life, but never became tedious. How did you achieve this?

DR: One of my favorite aspects of writing is portraying a sense of place. I love to immerse myself in the detail of the scene. I travel a lot and have lived in many different places in the world, and the detail of place always inspires me--the sounds and smells and sights--I try to make a point of absorbing it all in real life for my own satisfaction, and then recreating these things in my writing for the reader's satisfaction. And since I don't get to travel as much as I'd like, spending time in other places inside my head can be the next best thing.



6) Do you have a writing schedule or certain portion of the day or night allotted for writing? Are you a disciplined writer? Please share a photo of your work space with us.

DR: I'm an extremely disciplined writer. Mornings are best for me. My mind feels ready to go from the moment I wake up. It's a deeply ingrained habit to sit down with a cup of coffee and go. My mind and body expect it and respond to it as a natural part of the day. In fact, when I don't write I get a little cranky, and the whole day feels thrown off.


Deborah's work space is clean and classic, with a mid-century design. According to the author, it's no coincidence that the Swiss bank lobby in A Small Fortune features some of her favorite furniture designs. The dog you can see a bit of here always seems to get into Deborah's photographs. His name is Lou. Lou Reed.



7) What advice do you have for aspiring writers, particularly women?

DR: I wish someone had told me long ago that it's alright to write horribly. That most of what initially comes out isn't very good. I would have stopped beating myself up sooner. My advice is, let it out and then shape it into the thing you want it to resemble more closely. Rewrites are key to getting the manuscript right. Also, perseverance. It takes a long time to learn this craft and even when you're halfway decent there's still more to learn. Be a student of writing, always, and read, read, read.

(As for the second part of the question, Deborah didn't address my query specifically about women writers. In her words, "I tried to, but it just kept getting longer and longer. I could write an entire essay on that one, which says to me that it's best for another interview on such a hot button topic that fills me with frustration. In other words, don't get me started...;)")



8) Is there a new book in the works, and if so, can you can tell us something about it?

DR: There are two new books in the works. My Audrey Braun novel is close to finished. It's about the same characters in A Small Fortune, several years later. This one takes place in the south of France--a place I just went to for the first time earlier this year. The story focuses on Benny, Benicio's nephew. The novel is due out next year, but we'll see. I need to hurry up with it! The other project is a literary novel by Deborah Reed, and, like Carry Yourself Back to Me, it takes place in Central Florida, where I used to live. It's the story of three generations of estranged women and how an incident decades earlier changed the lives of everyone in as many ways. Family secrets, a cantankerous grandmother, and two adorable little sisters figure prominently in this one.

I'd hoped there' d be a sequel to A Small Fortune! And more literary fiction sounds wonderful! Thanks very much for doing this interview with me, Deborah. I truly enjoyed our conversation, and think my readers will, too.


Exciting news! The author is very generously offering a giveaway for a signed copy of both books, A Small Fortune and Carry Yourself Back to Me, to one reader (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway for both books, simply leave a comment.
  • 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.
  • For one more chance, answer this bonus question: what is your favorite genre (or genres), and why?

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, October 17. One lucky winner will be randomly chosen and announced on Tuesday, October 18.

Thanks for reading!

Special thanks to Deborah and Jessica for providing advance reader copies (ARCs) of these books. The passages quoted above may differ slightly in the final versions of these novels.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #36: A Book Winner and a Pretty Dwarf

Please congratulate Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea, the randomly chosen winner of Creating an Orange Utopia by Patricia Ortlieb and Peter Economy. Thanks to all who entered the giveaway, and special thanks to everyone who helped publicize this giveaway. If you didn't win this book, which tells the story of Eliza Lovell Tibbets, please take a look at the others I have listed on the right side of my blog, and stay tuned for more giveaways to be featured in the near future.




In honor of Eliza Tibbets, and in celebration of Patricia's birthday, I recently planted a dwarf navel orange tree on our property. This is our first navel orange tree, and I've named her Eliza in honor of this pioneer, who changed the course of history in Southern California. With any luck, Eliza will bear fruit within a few years.


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In the book department, I've been busy reading lately, instead of posting on my blog. (Some of you book bloggers are incredible; you read an enormous amount of books and manage to post quite frequently!) I've just finished two terrific books, A Small Fortune by Audrey Braun, and Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed. I'll be posting an interview with the author (yes, she is one person!) as well as a special giveaway for both books this Friday, September 30. Currently, I'm savoring a little gem of a book, Don'ts for Wives by Blanche Ebbutt, published in 1913, which I learned about on Petty's blog, Pen and Paper. My nightly reading has been a soothing antidote to the stress of my days. The bookmark featured in the photo is a handmade creation from BookQuoter. :)


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Appearing on random Tuesdays, 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. For other recent Really Random Tuesday posts, please visit Naida's blog, the bookworm, and Avis' blog, she reads and reads. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Creating an Orange Utopia: Review and Giveaway

If you savor the sweetness of California navel oranges (look Ma, no seeds!), you have Eliza Lovell Tibbets to thank.

Eliza
who?

A casual conversation with her granddaughter, Eleanor, led Patricia Ortlieb (my lovely stepmother-in-law) on a quest that would change her life in a profound way, and which should also change the presentation of California history. While working on a fourth-grade project, Eleanor asked Patricia about Eliza Lovell Tibbets' role in CA history, and Patricia started researching the life of her great-great grandmother with a new zeal and purpose. Eleanor's inquiry led to this highly-readable, informative book, and with the help of writer Peter Economy, Patricia became the author of Creating an Orange Utopia: Eliza Lovell Tibbets and the Birth of California's Citrus Industry, published in September of 2011.

Well-written and thoroughly researched (Patricia visited many of the places where Eliza had lived, and uncovered numerous official records and documents, as well as personal correspondence), this is a wonderful book for students and others interested in learning about the beginnings of the citrus industry in Riverside, CA, and about a great woman who was an ardent American Spiritualist and abolitionist. Creating an Orange Utopia pays tribute to a very important person in California history, especially with regard to Riverside and surrounding areas, Eliza Tibbets (1825 - 1898).

In 1873, Eliza Tibbets brought the first seedless navel orange trees, originally from Bahia, Brazil to Riverside, CA, and fostered the beginning of California's citrus industry. Given two young saplings from a friend at the United States Department of Agriculture, Eliza cared for the trees, watering them with leftover dishwater, as irrigation was not yet available. From this very humble, uncertain beginning, the trees flourished, the citrus industry grew tremendously, and soon Eliza became known as "the mother" of this industry.

"Once the navel orange was introduced to Riverside, the acreage devoted to the fruit expanded rapidly. In 1880, Tom Cover alone reported having budded seven hundred trees to the navel orange. Between 1880 and 1893, California's acreage devoted to navel orange production exploded from three thousand to more than forty thousand acres. "
~Creating an Orange Utopia, Patricia Ortlieb and Peter Economy

Patricia took on the task of researching Eliza's life in depth--I appreciate all the years of hard work and research that went into Creating and Orange Utopia--and the result is a book that's educational and a pleasure to read. What makes the book especially involving and intelligent are the bits of personal correspondence woven seamlessly into the book. It's difficult to ascertain events from the past, but through the use of letters and records the authors do a terrific job, and I was able to get a good sense of this pioneer. (I'd love to see a movie made about her life, using this book as a basis.) The book also includes some black and white photos of Eliza and family members.

It's time that Eliza Tibbets is recognized for her great contribution to CA history (women are so often overlooked or ignored altogether in history; we are not seen as contributing in any real sense; we are not explorers nor inventors nor conquerors nor kings). But, in the case of Eliza Tibbets, due to her desire to find a marketable crop for her family and Riverside, due to her vision and diligence, and due also to her "feminine" ability to nurture living things--in this case little tree saplings--she altered the course of history in a positive and lucrative manner. Navel oranges brought great wealth to Riverside, and the citrus industry expanded into new towns such as Redlands, Tustin, Corona, and Pomona, dramatically changing the landscape and the course of CA history. Creating an Orange Utopia is the first book I know of about the life of Eliza Tibbets, and I'm thrilled to offer a copy of this book as a giveaway at the conclusion of this post.

In addition to writing this book, Patricia has also highlighted the contribution of Eliza Tibbets in other ways.


Patricia is a talented artist. Here, she's pictured with the giant orange she painted to commemorate her great-great grandmother, called Eliza's Journey. This brilliantly-colored orange was part of a larger exhibition in 2006 of 32 oranges painted by various artists, and is on permanent display outside of the Riverside Metropolitan Museum in Southern CA.



Patricia helped bring an 11-foot bronze statue of Eliza Tibbets, Sower's Dream by artist Guy Angelo Wilson, to downtown Riverside, near to the elegant and historic Mission Inn in August 2011, the first public sculpture honoring a woman in Riverside.


In celebration of Eliza Tibbets and the publication of Creating an Orange Utopia, I'm having a giveaway for a copy of this book to a reader (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • 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 PDT on Monday, September 26. One winner will be randomly chosen and announced on Tuesday, September 27. Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #35: Winner of Zan-Gah Books, and BBAW

Prehistoric fiction was new to me until fairly recently, and now it has me completely captivated. I believe that Patti, the lucky winner of a set of three Zan-Gah books by Allan Richard Shickman, Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure, Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, and Dael and the Painted People, will feel the same way. This set of books is unique and very enjoyable to read. Congratulations, Patti!

If you didn't win these books, you may be tempted to enter the other book giveaways listed on the side of my blog.



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Book Blogger Appreciation Week is here, September 12 - September 16. I haven't done much in this regard yet, except to read a few of the related posts of others. To be honest, I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging, and am having a hard time catching up. But, BBAW is a great way to meet new book bloggers, and to show appreciation for "old" book blogger friends as well (make new friends, but keep the old. . . ). I know a great deal of effort went into the planning of BBAW, and I'll hopefully participate in an activity (meme?) or two this week. What are your favorite activities during BBAW?

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, 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. For other recent Really Random Tuesday posts, visit Avis' blog, she reads and reads, Veens' blog, Giving Reading a Chance, and Vivienne's blog, Serendipity Reviews. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

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