Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Blogger Hop (and a Guilty Conscience)

Hosted by Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books, this Book Blogger Hop is a brilliant BOOK PARTY, and lasts from January 28 until January 31. It's a fun, friendly way for book bloggers to socialize, connect with other book lovers, and discover new book blogs. If you'd like me to visit your blog, please leave a comment and I'll be happy to hop by.






Each week, Jennifer chooses a question from those submitted by book bloggers for discussion. This week's question is from Aliyah from Des Absurdités: What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011? Why are you anticipating that book?

This is another great question, although it makes me a bit nervous as well. Here's my story.

A couple of years ago, I started to read a series of books I'd heard about but had never read. I fell in love with this series, and want to read the entire series. I am looking forward to The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party: The New No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Novel by Alexander McCall Smith, which is due out in March of this year. I adore this series, which features two clever, caring detectives in Botswana, Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi. I was on a roll with these books and read each and every one of them in order. That is, until last year, when I fell behind in my reading of this series. I had read all of the books up until the one published last year, The Double Comfort Safari Club. I will read that book before I read the new one. I am feeling very guilty that I haven't read Double Comfort yet. But my guilty conscience doesn't end there. There are many other sequels and series books that I have not yet read, and I feel bad about this. Some of the books that I blogged about in earlier days now have sequels (by Michael J. Fox, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Nora Ephron, for example), and I feel bad that I haven't read them; and there are series books such as the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, which are so beautifully written that I want to read more of them. Why haven't I finished reading the Millennium trilogy by Steig Larsson? I have all three books but have only read the first one, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I even have a "prequel", The Defector by Daniel Silva, the book that came out before The Rembrandt Affair, and provides the backstory--and I haven't read that one yet! Sometimes I feel as if I should stop getting any new books, until I read all of the books that I already have. Or maybe I should just try to spend more time reading! :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #17: Loyalty


An interesting discussion on a blog caught my attention last week, and instead of presenting sundry subjects in this post, I thought I'd talk about it. What does loyalty mean to you? We want our friends to be loyal, as well as our spouses or significant others, but what about in the book blogging world? We want our followers to be loyal, to keep following us (and not to "unfollow" us at the conclusion of a giveaway or on a whim). Do we also want to belong to a group of blogging friends who read and comment regularly on our posts? What is blog loyalty?

I've been thinking about blog loyalty because I read a post on Life's Not Always Fireflies & Hummingbirds that talked about cliques in the blogosphere, and I wondered if others might think I'm part of such a group. I may be part of a circle of blogging friends, but it doesn't feel like a closed circle, as they are quite welcoming to others (I am, too). I realized that I feel a sense of loyalty to the blogging friends that I've made. Rather than always trying to make friends with new-to-me bloggers, I instead try to keep the "old" friends. I have a blogroll on my blog, and these are the blogs I visit the most, out of a sense of loyalty. This blogroll lets me see at a glance when blogs are updated. I follow many blogs, but comment most often on the blogs in my blogroll. Of those blogs, I'll only occasionally add--or remove--one. Truthfully, unless I become extremely superficial, I can only read and comment on so many blogs, and sticking with the "tried and true" ones in my blogroll simply feels right to me. Of course, the exceptions to this "rule" are when I participate in a reading challenge or meme; then I typically venture to many more blogs.

When it comes to the memes I choose to do, I operate on the same principle. I tend to do the same memes over and over again, although I do branch out and try new memes once in a while. I feel that if I'm loyal to a meme I'll get better at it, and also get to gradually know the other "regulars". When I participate in the original Book Blogger Hop, I'm a bit more "promiscuous" and do meet new bloggers (it is a party, after all), and I've discovered wonderful blogs in the process (such as Leslie's blog, Under My Apple Tree, which I've already mentioned a few times), but I don't add too many blogs to my blogroll on any given day, because I don't have the time to be loyal to many more blogs.

What about you? What role does loyalty play in your blogging habits? Are you more apt to visit a blog due to a sense of loyalty, because of the topic of the post, or for another reason?

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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.

For other Really Random Tuesday posts, please visit Vivienne's blog, Serendipity, and Naida's blog, the bookworm.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Catching Up


I've been remiss in posting about the books I receive in the mail. Today's "mailbox" is my opportunity to catch up. The first set are books that I won on other blogs, and the second set are books for future online tours that I'm happy to participate in.

I won Charlotte Collins by Jennifer Becton on Laura's Reviews, Darcy's Voyage by Kara Louise and Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller on Anna's blog, Diary of an Eccentric, and Amy Inspired by Bethany Pierce on Renee's blog, Black 'n Gold Girl's Book Spot. If I can win books, so can you; I have several book giveaways posted on the right side of my blog if you're interested in trying your own luck.

Three books arrived from TLC for upcoming book tours, two novels and a memoir: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel, and Half in Love, a memoir by Linda Gray Sexton. Please stay tuned for my reviews.

I know some book bloggers get this many new books each and every week, but for me, this is a lot of new books, which I've received in the mail over the past couple of months. I'm extremely appreciative and excited about all this book loot. (I do, though, worry about actually reading all of the books I'm collecting. At some point, I may need to take off some time from blogging in order to read!)

Created by Marcia from The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday is currently on tour. This month’s host is Rose City Reader. What new books have you added to your shelves recently?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gardens of Grief

As a little girl I often heard the story of how my grandmother escaped the Turks by dressing like a boy in order to leave the old country, Armenia, which was then part of Turkey. Dressing as a boy gave her more of a chance to leave, unharmed. She left because of the Armenian Genocide in which about one and a half million Christian Armenians were slaughtered (out of two million in the Ottoman Empire), and eventually settled in America. In my mind I saw Atta, the name we called my grandmother, wearing baggy boys' clothing, with short or pulled back hair and a wildly beating heart, trying to pass as a boy to escape detection by the Turkish people, because Armenian girls and women were often raped, then killed, during this massacre, which began in 1915 (if not earlier) during World War I.

When I was asked to review an advance copy of Gardens of Grief by Boston Teran, which will be published in April of 2011, I was interested because of my personal connection to the subject of this book. It's a subject I've heard and read about for many years--my grandmother was 1000% Armenian, according to my Italian grandfather--and I was eager to read a contemporary, fictionalized account about the Armenian Genocide.

With spare and striking prose, Boston Teran (more about the author to come) presents a dramatic and believable story, which brings the horrors of the genocide to life. In Gardens of Grief, which is a short, pithy work of historical fiction, the latest novel in The Creed of Violence series, the story revolves around John Lourdes, a Mexican-American agent who is sent to Constantinople by the U.S. to help an Armenian priest, Malek, travel safely across the war-ravaged Ottoman Empire. The priest is revered by his fellow Armenians, but being hunted by the Turkish and German people. (What is it about old Armenian priests? They have an air of mystery about them, and command respect, and this character is no exception.) The story also features a bit of romance between John and a young Turkish-American woman, Alev Temple, who is trying to help the Armenians.

Gardens of Grief is well written and offers the perfect quantity of detail, which brings the story to life: the smoking, the quiet moments, the screaming and noise of shootings and explosions, the feet of the priest (I say no more), the brutality and horrors of the genocide, including death marches. Events are depicted with the right words and the right amount of words--there's nothing extraneous--and the imagination is left intact as a result. I'm not a smoker, but when they lit up their cigarettes I could see and smell the smoke. (That's what the men of that era did; that's how they calmed themselves and carried on.) The descriptions of the large piles of decaying Armenian bodies in the landscape are incredibly awful, incredibly revolting, but also incredibly necessary to the story, which is about the truth.

This epic novel will be made into a movie, which I can immediately visualize, and see as a good way to educate people about the first genocide of modern history. (As I've mentioned before, gorgeous Kim Kardashian may star in the movie. Let's also consider Cher Sarkisian for a role, and even Andre Agassi, now that he's given up tennis.) Although we may wish to deny or forget what happened, we really cannot--to do so is immoral. Adding another layer of tragedy to this event, the Armenian Genocide may have paved the way for the Jewish Holocaust of World War II. We must remember and never allow this type of religious or ethnic persecution to be taken to such an extreme again.

Who is Boston Teran? Is the author a relative of the famous Armenian-American author William Saroyan? Why did this man adopt a pen name? Or maybe the author is not a man, but a woman. Or a group of writers. Many times I asked myself why the identity of this author is kept a secret. (Was it my imagination, or was my blog suddenly getting more hits from Yerevan?) I wondered about the true identity of Boston Teran, author of seven novels. Who is this enigmatic author?

Special thanks to Jocelyn from Kelley & Hall for sending me this book.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Gardens of Grief














As a warm up for my upcoming review of Gardens of Grief by Boston Teran, I decided to do one of my favorite memes, Wondrous Words Wednesday, which I've been neglecting due to busyness--and laziness. Part word nerd, I visit the host site, Bermudaonion's Weblog, nearly every Wednesday, looking for new-to-me words in her weekly post to add to my ever-growing vocabulary list, as well as from other participants in this meme (even when I don't present words from my own reading, which feels a bit like cheating!). Anyway, I've just finished reading Gardens of Grief, a novel based on historical fact about the Armenian genocide, and will review it soon. In the meantime, here are a few words that I discovered while reading the novel. The book itself presents a definition for dragoman, and I also looked up each word on wonderful Wikipedia. I'm not supposed to quote from Gardens of Grief, as I have an advance copy of the book, which will be released to the public in April of this year.


1. dragoman: an official functionary, a sort of trading post politico and interpreter serviceable in a host of Arabic and European languages (from Gardens of Grief); title for interpreter, translator, and official guide between Turkish, Arabic, and Persian speaking countries. A dragoman was required to have a knowledge of many languages. This position was especially important during the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923).

2. efendi (also effendi): lord or master; title of respect used frequently during the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), equivalent to the English sir. In the book, this term was used repeatedly. I had a sense of the word from the context of the story, but wanted to know its meaning more precisely.

3. samovar: a heated metal container used to heat and boil water in Russia and many other countries, including those in the Middle-East. The heated water is usually used for making tea. Traditionally heated with coal or charcoal, many newer samovars use electricity and heat water and are similar to electric water boilers. Antique samovars are often displayed because of their beauty and craftsmanship. The book mentions a heavy, brass samovar that "clanged mercilessly" as they hiked on narrow trails.

Russian samovar (photo from Wikipedia)


What wondrous new words have you encountered during recent reading?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #16: Amaryllis and The Dreamer


For weeks now, I've been waiting for my amaryllis bulbs to bloom. Actually, this is not an amaryllis plant, but a hippeastrum, flowering bulbs frequently sold in the winter months because of their ability to bloom indoors. I thought it was an amaryllis plant--even the flower company called it by that name-- but a quick trip to Wikipedia proved me wrong. So I am taking some poetic license here by calling it an amaryllis. This Christmas gift from relatives is now starting to share its showy, bold blooms, a welcome reward after the frantic days of shopping, cooking, and celebrating, a reminder of the best parts of the holiday season.

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As I was skimming the newspaper today a column on a book about a Chilean poet caught my interest, having been introduced to Pablo Neruda on Naida's blog, the bookworm. Author Pam Muñoz Ryan received the 2011 Pura Belpré Award from the American Library Association for her book, The Dreamer, published in 2010, illustrated by Peter Sis, which is a fictionalized account of the poet's early life (childhood and adolescence). The author became intrigued by Neruda's life and spent about four years working on this novel, which has also won several other awards. I found a wonderful review of The Dreamer on Bookshelf: What We're Reading.

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Got crumbs? Please stop by my other blog, La Vache Intéressante, to enter a fun giveaway I'm currently hosting for a little cow tabletop vacuum. I also have an assortment of giveaways listed on the right side of this blog, so take a look when you have a moment.

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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.

For another Really Random Tuesday post, please visit Vivienne's blog, Serendipity.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Quick and Easy Blueberry Muffins



Do newly wed women still receive Betty Crocker cookbooks when they get married? It may sound a bit passé in this day and age, but when I was first married, someone gave me Betty Crocker's Cookbook. And I must admit that over the years, I've referred to it to learn the basics of cooking. Recently I consulted this cookbook to find a recipe for blueberry muffins, because we had guests and I wanted to bake something fresh for them in the morning. The day before, I had brought home a large package of big, organic blueberries from Trader Joe's.  I believe in getting whatever fruit is in season, and use organic produce as much as possible; we're lucky here as San Diego County has the greatest number of organic farms nationwide.

The recipe is easy to follow and the muffins take very little time to mix together, and about twenty minutes to bake. There is something so enticing about warm muffins made from scratch for breakfast, or at any time of the day. Here is the recipe:


BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh or drained canned blueberries, or 3/4 cup frozen blueberries, thawed and well drained

Preheat oven to 400º. Grease bottoms only of 12 medium muffin cups, or line with baking cups. Beat milk, oil, and egg together. Stir in flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, all at once, just until flour is moistened (batter will be lumpy). Gently fold in blueberries. Divide batter among muffin cups. Sprinkle muffin tops with a bit of sugar, if desired. Bake until light golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Immediately remove from pan. Makes 1 dozen muffins.

I like the fact that these muffins are not overly sweet, even though I sprinkled a bit of sugar on the muffin tops before baking them. They are very good--and very hard to resist. The cookbook also offers variations of this recipe, such as apple or oatmeal raisin, if you want to try baking muffins of a different flavor.



I've seen Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads numerous times on Bermudaonion's Weblog, and am happy to participate in this meme for the first time. In Beth's words: Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Crazy for the Hop

I'm crazy for the Hop! To my knowledge, and correct me please if I'm wrong, this is the original Hop, which has inspired others to pop up in the great, wide blogosphere. Hosted by Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books, this brilliant BOOK PARTY lasts from January 14 until January 17, and is a fun way for book bloggers to socialize, connect with other book lovers, and discover new book blogs. I discovered a wonderful blog in this manner a few months ago, Leslie's blog, Under My Apple Tree. If you'd like me to visit your blog, please leave a comment and I will try to stop (or hop) by.

Each week, Jennifer chooses a question from those submitted by book bloggers for discussion. This week's question hails from Barb from Sugarbeat's Books: Why do you read the genre that you do? What draws you to it?

Another good question! Mostly I read fiction, classic, older novels as well as more contemporary works (some before they are even published). I suppose I'm drawn to fiction because I like a good story, and find a lot of truth in fiction. However, I also read other genres, including non-fiction. To read only one genre would be too limiting. My interests determine what I read. Every once in a while, I will purposely read something outside of my "comfort zone", outside of the the usual types of books I read. For example, I read (and reviewed) Duma Key by Stephen King and Drowned Sorrow by Vanessa Morgan; both of these are horror fiction, a genre I do not often read; this departure from my normal reading was refreshing and exciting. What about you?

Magpie Tales #48: I'll Play it Cool


But I can't read music! What good am I as a pianist if I can't even read music? Even though my mom's a piano teacher, I never learned how to read notes, although I can play by ear and memory pretty well. Even Moonlight Sonata. At the recital everyone was spellbound when I played. I didn't just play, I performed! Everyone loved my piece. I can memorize pages and pages of music. I've even composed some tunes. But I wish I knew how to read music. I know, maybe Caitlin can teach me! I want to get closer to her anyway. She's a cutie! All of my friends think she's hot. And she has been playing piano since, like, kindergarten. I'm sure she would teach me. She likes to help people. Like that time she helped a little boy who was looking for his mother at Target and she asked him what his mother looked like. She held his hand and stayed with him until they were together again. (Caitlin told me his mom had tattoos all over her arms and was really upset about losing her kid in the store, and tried to give her five bucks as a reward.) Or that time she gave her sandwich to that nerd with the reddish hair, Michael, who'd left his lunch at home. And maybe after a few lessons I'll ask her out. Even if I don't learn how to read music it will be okay. Should I call her right now? Nah, I'll wait until I see her at school tomorrow or the next day. I don't want to seem too eager. I'll play it cool.

Again, I ask that you be gentle with me if you leave a comment. Go ahead and tell me the truth about my creative writing, which was inspired by the picture above from Tess Kincaid, as this is my second attempt at Magpie Tales. Your comments and constructive criticism are welcomed. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #15: Amazon Winner, Author News, and AMVETS

Congratulations to Carrie from In the Hammock Blog, the winner of a $25 gift certificate to Amazon from my Reading Resolutions Giveaway. Carrie, I will be emailing you very soon with the news. If you didn't win this time, don't despair! While a gift certificate is a nice prize, I have several other giveaways posted on the right side of my blog, so you might just try to win a book or two.

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In 2010, author Daniel A. Rabuzzi offered my readers a free e-book version of his 2009 book, The Choir Boats, illustrated by his wife Deborah A. Mills, during the month of July. You can still preview the first few chapters on his website. The author recently contacted me to let me know that the sequel to The Choir Boats, tentatively titled The Indigo Pheasant, will be out in the spring or summer of 2012. If any of you have read or plan to read The Choir Boats, the author is interested in hearing your feedback and impressions, which may help him shape the sequel.






Friend and author Mary Millar Siller has just published her book, Out of the Ashes: A Story of Common People Transitioning Through Uncommon Events, which is a personal account about losing her house in the 2007 wildfires that destroyed at least 1500 homes across Southern California. The book is about how Mary and others rebuilt not only their houses but also their lives, and is complete with photographs and stories from many fire survivors. If you are interested in more information or in buying a copy of this book, please email me and I will put you in touch with Mary.

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After the holidays and the shower of new things, I often feel the need to get rid of old stuff. A good way to do this is to donate things my family no longer uses or wants. When a card arrived from AMVETS in the mail, I called them and arranged to have a truck come by to pick up some of our old things. This works on so many levels. Instead of just throwing items away, you're recycling them, and at the same time reducing household clutter. AMVETS gets donated items to sell to others at low cost, and their stores raise money to help many others and also provide jobs in the community. I frequently bring discarded items to our local thrift stores but can only bring so much in at once; having the truck come by is really nice. It feels good to get rid of things we no longer use (and make room for things we do want, such as books). If you also have a surplus of things, why not arrange for AMVETS to take them off your hands? It really is a win-win situation.


Thank you, AMVETS!

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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.

For another Really Random Tuesday post, please visit Under My Apple Tree.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Magpie Tales #47: The Swirl


The push, the pull~hanging, breathless, jubilant~the swirl of human form in miniature~mini me, mini you~twirling, twirling~the dance~joyful~connected~continuing.


Please be gentle with me if you leave a comment, because this is my first attempt at Magpie Tales. Photo courtesy of Tess Kincaid.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Reading Resolutions Giveaway Hop

"Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right."
~ Oprah Winfrey

Oprah is sagacious. In 2011, we have the chance to start fresh with a brand new year. I've been cleaning and organizing my household for the past several days, and have also given some thought to refining my reading and writing goals for the new year. I intend to carve out more time for reading, and I hope to also write more (and more incisive) book reviews; I may even try my hand at writing some short fiction. It's exciting to be at the beginning of both a new year and a new decade. I hope that health, opportunity, luck, and meaningful work are in store for each of us in 2011.

It's not Friday, but it is time for the Hop! The New Year's Reading Resolutions Giveaway Hop is hosted by Candace from Candace's Book Blog, Lori at Pure Imagination, and Angel from Reading Angel, and lasts from January 3 until January 9th. Over 100 blogs are participating with their own book related giveaways! I am giving away a gift certificate for $25 from Amazon.com. Because I have readers around the world, my giveaway is international.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For an extra chance at winning, reveal a resolution you've made for the new year, about something important to you.
  • 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 Sunday, January 9. A winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, January 11. Good luck! After you've entered my giveaway, be sure to visit this linky for other exciting giveaways.

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Some of the books reviewed here have been provided
to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents,
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