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!


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.


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!


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
Left at curbside
Rejected by AmVets
Too shabby
Too dirty

Little red couch
Dropped at the dump
Homely and unwanted

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).


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.


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?


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.

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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