Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #30: Another Book Winner, an Angel Cat, and a Button Contest

Nancye is the randomly chosen winner of Unfinished Business by Lee Kravitz. Congratulations, Nancye!

If you didn't win this time, please don't despair because there are other book giveaways listed on the right side of my blog, and more on the way.







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Really Random Tuesday is a good venue for pet pictures.

Mugsy with Angel Cats book

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BUTTON CONTEST

Help! I could use some design help. I don't have Photoshop, so I quickly designed a logo for this meme with CoolText many months ago. But, as I've mentioned before, I'd like to have a button for this meme. I will award a $25 Amazon gift card to the person who designs the best button for Really Random Tuesday, preferably one which reflects the random, eclectic nature of the meme and includes my blog URL on it, suko95.blogspot.com, if possible. I'll announce the winner on Tuesday, July 12, and feature the button in future Really Random Tuesday posts. Please email your button artwork by Monday, July 11 to me: suko95(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks! (If I don't get any suitable entries, I'll continue to use the current logo.)

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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. I use this meme frequently to announce book winners. 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. Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #29: Book Winner and The Lake

Please congratulate Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania, the winner of Thoughts Without Cigarettes by novelist Oscar Hijuelos. I think you'll enjoy reading this thoughtful book, Zibilee. Congratulations!

Thanks to everyone who entered this giveaway. I have many other current book giveaways listed on the right side of my blog, so be sure to take a look and enter the ones that interest you.




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Other bookish "news": I won four (!) books from a thousand Books with Quotes. Thank you, BookQuoter! I'm currently reading The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto for Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 5 (behold the gorgeous button, below). But why should you care what I'm reading? After all, I'm just a two-bit book blogger. Well, hopefully my review of The Lake will give you an idea of what the book's about and whether this book interests you. And Melville House Publishing generously gave me an extra copy of the book to give away, so please stay tuned for my review and giveaway.




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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. I often use this meme to announce book winners. 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 other Really Random Tuesday posts, visit Vivienne's blog, Serendipity Reviews, and Leslie's blog, Under My Apple Tree. Thanks for reading! Your comments are appreciated.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Unfinished Business: Review and Giveaway

"There were signs in these boxes that there had been a better me: a more curious, adventurous, and compassionate individual who had taken risks to do the right thing. Too often, though, my fears had taken over, creating the unfinished business that kept holding me back."
~Unfinished Business, Lee Kravitz

Ten boxes of stuff that have been stored for thirteen years lead to a unique and fulfilling year for Lee Kravitz, a workaholic who has just lost his job as editor-in-chief of Parade magazine. As he goes through the contents of the boxes, his trip down memory lane leads to the realization that there is more than a bit of unfinished business he needs to take care of, in the present day. Letters from relatives and assorted items remind him of the people and events from his past, and he decides to take action. He starts by visiting his Aunt Fern, who he has not seen in fifteen years, which is a heart-warming experience. After meeting with Fern, Lee Kravitz meets with many of the other people who were important to him from his past, and he describes these encounters in a clear and candid way in this book, which was published in 2010.

I enjoyed reading Unfinished Business: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things. This book is a good reminder that life is short and that the time to act is now. Reach out to others before it's too late, make amends, send notes (or email), reconnect. With all the means we have today, including social media, it's easier than ever to find the people we've lost touch with. (I try to do a lot of what's covered in this book already, on a regular basis, because I don't like to be weighed down by unfinished business.) Lee Kravitz's book is honest, touching, and inspiring.

Good news! The publisher, Bloomsbury USA, is generously offering a copy of Unfinished Business 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.
  • For an extra chance, describe some unfinished business you'd like to take care of.

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

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on the TLC's Unfinished Business book blog tour.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #28: Book Winners and Baked Greens














I've chosen random winners for my two most recent book giveaways. Leslie from Under My Apple Tree has won A Game of Character by Craig Robinson, and Amy from The House of the Seven Tails has won Perfectly Untraditional by Sweta Srivastava Vikram. Congratulations to both of you! I hope you'll enjoy reading these books as much as I did.

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

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Baked greens, anyone? The traditional way to cook Southern greens is to boil or simmer them slowly with a piece of salt pork or ham hock for a long time until they are very soft and no longer bitter. My friend, Eriko, told me how to bake them. I know--this has absolutely nothing to do with books. Zilch! But they are delicious and easy to make, and you can munch on them while reading, if you want a connection to books (however tenuous). To make them, you'll need mixed greens. I found a huge bag of turnips, mustard, collards, and spinach from Trader Joe's (for a bargain price, only $2.29!). They aren't organic, but if I ever see an organic version I'll get it, even if I have to pay a bit more. Rinse the greens (even though they are prewashed) and pat them dry. Spread greens on a pan and drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil over them (not too much or they will become soggy), mix them for a moment to spread the oil, and then sprinkle them with salt (and pepper and other spices, if desired). I use Himalayan pink salt crystals, also from Trader Joe's (one of my favorite grocers). Bake at 350º for about 10 to 15 minutes until they are somewhat crispy, turning them occasionally and making sure they don't get too brown. They are wonderful! They taste kind of like crisp seaweed, so if that flavor appeals to you then you will enjoy these.

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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. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post. For other recent Really Random Tuesday posts, please also visit Avis' blog, she reads and reads, Vivienne's blog, Serendipity, and Naida's blog, the bookworm. These terrific book bloggers "make my Tuesday" whenever they do my meme. Thank you, ladies!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thoughts Without Cigarettes: Review and Giveaway

"Now if you had met me during my adolescence, when I'd finally started hanging around with the other kids, you probably wouldn't have noticed any anguish in my face, and if anything, you might have judged me a pensive and bespectacled young man, prone to a somewhat nervous joviality. Still, I was an unsettled soul. Scared of heights, I'd go up to our rooftop, some six stories above, and hang over the edge, always clutching my glasses, to get over that fear. (It never took.)"
~Thoughts Without Cigarettes, Oscar Hijuelos
Operating on the principle that it is better to beg forgiveness than ask for permission (is it really?), I quoted from my copy of this book, although I'm not really supposed to, because it's an advance uncorrected proof. So, the above passage may be altered in the final version of the book, or may not even be included.  I hope it is included, just as it is.
While I haven't read any of Oscar Hijuelos' eight novels (furthermore, I should admit that I never even heard of him before being approached about this tour), Thoughts Without Cigarettes: A Memoir sounded interesting to me because the work of this internationally bestselling author is highly acclaimed, and because I also grew up in NYC.  Born in 1951 in Morningside Heights, Manhattan to Cuban immigrant parents, Oscar Hijuelos is the first Hispanic (or Latino) to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, in 1990, for his second novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.  In 1992, it was adapted for the film The Mambo Kings, and as a Broadway musical in 2005. In 2000, he received the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature. Credentials like that are hard to ignore.

One of the first things that I noticed and appreciated about the book is that it is full of parenthetical remarks.  I like to read them, and I like to employ them, too, in my own writing.  They add another level to writing, a subtle undercurrent of thought or feeling, and/or they make you feel as if the author is confiding in you.  (I wonder if young aspiring writers learn about or use parentheses much today? Hopefully, yes.)

Oscar Hijuelos is a natural.  (Do we say that about writers?)  The writing in this memoir seems effortless, organic (is that the right word?), although I know of course it must have been anything but during the actual process.   ("Effortlessness" is deceptive--actors who make acting look easy are actually very talented and skillful, and the same is most likely true for writers.)  Based on the naturalness of the prose in this book, I am certain that Oscar Hijuelos is a gifted novelist, able to bring people and places to life, as he demonstrates in his memoir with his family and various friends (starting with a friend who began smoking cigarettes at the age of seven or eight).  While reading the book, I could understand what he experienced/experiences as a writer--a lot of work that's accompanied by intense joy.   I consider myself fortunate to have read this memoir, which is full of anecdotes about the author's life growing up in NYC, as well as thoughts about writing and his career as a writer.   I think anyone with an interest in this author or writing would truly enjoy reading this memoir.

Exciting news! Penguin is generously offering a giveaway for a copy of Thoughts Without Cigarettes (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, June 20. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, June 21. Good luck!


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's Thoughts Without Cigarettes book blog tour.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Game of Character: Review and Giveaway

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.
~Michael Jordan


I am always eager to learn more about President Barack Obama. In the early days of my blog, I read and reviewed two of his books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. When I found out that the President's brother-in-law, Michelle Obama's older brother, college basketball coach Craig Robinson had written a book, A Game of Character, I was immediately drawn to it. Additionally, this book, a memoir published in 2010, is a NY Times bestseller which is touted as inspirational, so I was definitely not going to miss reading this one. Since childhood, I've enjoyed reading books about successful people, and often find them fascinating and inspiring, stocked with ideas that I try to incorporate into my own life. A book by the First Lady's brother was required reading, as far as I was concerned.

"To the best of my knowledge, my parents never consciously set out to develop a game plan for educating their children as to the importance of character. Nor, for that matter, would Marian or Fraser claim to have had any special knowledge or inherent parenting gifts for creating what I believe was the greatest start in my life that my sister and I could ever have wanted. And yet, the more time passes, the more amazed I am by how much they really did seem to know what they were doing."
~A Game of Character, Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson is an articulate narrator who talks honestly about his life and how he became involved with basketball, first as a player and later as a coach, and how the game of basketball continued to shape and refine his character. Born in 1962, he grew up in the Southside of Chicago, and learned about the importance of education, hard work, and discipline from his loving parents, Marian and Fraser. He excelled academically and in sports--basketball in particular--and attended Princeton University in the 1980s. Using basketball as a backdrop in his book, he discusses valuable life lessons, in chapters such as Meet the Home Team, Learn the Game, Not Just Your Position, and Luck Is Just Another Word for Hard Work, and infuses the book with intelligence and wisdom (which seem to go hand in hand). It truly is a brilliant book.

Having read A Game of Character, I now know that I'd sincerely enjoy meeting the Robinson family and the Obama family. In a sense, I do feel as if I've "met" them, due to this book, which is written in a friendly and down-to-earth manner, and features some family photos. I relished hearing about the Robinson family's initial impressions of Barack Obama, who had begun dating Michelle; they approved of our future president, who played basketball "with guts", right from the start. It's wonderful and reassuring to know that there are such caring, incredible families and people around, because strong family and personal values are at the core of character, on and off of the basketball court. Even if you don't know the "x's and o's, the nuts and bolts", of basketball, there is so much to learn from this book, and so much to be inspired by, that it shouldn't make any difference at all. Coach Robinson uses his life's passion, basketball, to talk about the development of character, and he does so in a very thoughtful and organized manner, making this a thoroughly enjoyable memoir!

Exciting news! Penguin is generously offering a giveaway for a copy of A Game of Character (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, June 13. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, June 14. Good luck!


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's A Game of Character book blog tour.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Perfectly Untraditional: Review and Giveaway

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.

Perfectly Untraditional is the narrative of a young woman, a daughter, Shaili Kapoor, who has grown up in India. As the title suggests, there is something untraditional about Shaili, the protagonist, although her Indian name means 'tradition'. The book begins and ends at Pashan Lake in Pune, India. In this novel, Shaili, a 37-year-old writer based in NYC, returns to India because her mother, Meena, has drowned herself in the lake. When Shaili was younger, the lake was a favorite destination for Shaili and her mother, who would often go there together, without the knowledge or company of her father, Suresh, or her younger sister, Tanisha.

"Shaili had dreamed of chopping off her father's tongue and arms one night when he was asleep. She stormed out of the living room and sat on her bed grumbling. Mrs. Kapoor followed her inside while Tanisha stood uninterestedly int he kitchen speculating if her arms needed waxing."
~Perfectly Untraditional, Sweta Srivastava Vikram

At Pashan Lake, Shaili meets her father in an attempt to comprehend her mother's suicide and to work toward a reconciliation with her father. Armed with two friends, Supriya, a longtime Indian friend, and Leila, a Persian friend from NYC, Shaili confronts her father for the first time in many years. It is a meeting fraught with tension and emotion. All along, she has had problems with her father while growing up, as she hated his treatment of her mother, which became brutal whenever he drank too much. The book goes back in time, and tells Shaili's story in the third person, although I felt as if I were experiencing Shaili's journey with her, and I rooted for her happiness and success.

Throughout the novel, Shaili is finding out things about her family and herself that were previously hidden. This process, as we know, is not always easy and often murky. In the book, Shaili has mixed feelings about marrying Sadhil, an extremely handsome Indian man her father has "found" for her to marry. Although Sadhil is very nice and would provide Shaili with an exciting new life in NYC, something does not feel quite right to Shaili. Her parents don't exactly force her to marry Sadhil, yet Shaili struggles intensely with her feelings and balks at the idea of marriage to this seemingly ideal man--and she is not sure why.

Sweta Srivastava Vikram presents a sensitive portrait of a young woman who is discovering who she is within and beyond the context of her family. The Kapoors are a traditional family in India, and Shaili herself is traditional in certain ways. For example, she expresses her love through food and cooking, which is especially important to Indian women. But, in other ways she is decidedly untraditional, and as she realizes that she's different, she also realizes that a traditional life is not in store for her.

Perfectly Untraditional is an enthralling, passionate novel about a young woman from a country and culture that I enjoyed learning about. I read it quickly over the course of a few nights, and recommend it to those who like character-driven fiction with strong female characters.

In celebration of the release of her first novel, the author is graciously offering an autographed copy of Perfectly Untraditional as a giveaway to a reader (U.S. 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 yet another chance, mention why you'd like to read this new novel.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, June 13. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, June 14. Good luck!

Special thanks to Sweta Srivastava Vikram for sending me her novel.

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Some of the books reviewed here have been provided
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