Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux

The destruction was irresistible. When I was a young child, one of my favorite Beatrix Potter stories was The Tale of Two Bad Mice. For some reason, I loved the fact that these two innocent looking mice stayed in a doll's-house and wrecked the lovely furnishings and fake, porcelain food with glee (they do make some amends, however). The detailed watercolor illustrations are worth lingering over, and I read this book as often as possible. There is something about children and stories about mice, even today. Maybe it's because children can relate to mice--they are both tiny and usually a bit timid.

If you have children, or even if you don't but simply enjoy children's literature, I recommend The Tale of Desperaux, a 2004 Newbery Medal winner by Kate DiCamillo, a charming, off-beat book, which was recently released as an animated film, starring Matthew Broderick, Emma Watson, Signourney Weaver, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman, and others.

Here's the basic story of The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread. Despereaux Trilling, a misfit mouse, is born with courage, which a mouse should never possess. Despereaux can also read, which further sets him apart and introduces him to other worlds and great ideas. Because he's so different from the other mice, he's banished from Mouseworld, and the unthinkable happens--Despereaux is befriended by a rat, Roscuro, who's intrigued by Despereaux's stories of the faraway kingdom of Dor, where a king grieves for his late queen, and a princess feels lonely. In fact, all the villagers are suffering, in need of both rain and soup. Will this little mouse with the big ears be able to save the kingdom of Dor?

It is an enchanting book, and although the movie does not follow the book too closely, the movie is also quite entertaining. I really don't expect movies to follow the books they're based on all that closely, although some do. Stephen King sums it up well when he says that to compare a book with a movie is like comparing an apple with an orange. They are different fruits. That being said, though, I do wonder what authors think when their books are made into movies--hopefully, they are satisfied with how their books are translated to the silver screen.

Happy New Year to all of my readers!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Duma Key

Updated January 26, 2012:   I posted the following review in the early days of my blog,  before I had discovered the rich community of book bloggers; in those days I had many lonely posts.  I've changed the review only slightly, and just added it to The Stephen King Project, a new reading challenge hosted by Natalie from Coffee and a Book Chick and Kathleen from Boarding in My Forties. Although this review is probably best understood by others who have read Duma Key  (I use words and phrases employed by the author in the book, in an attempt to be humorous),  if you haven't read the book,  I hope it will stimulate your desire to do so.  At the end of this post,  I mention Lisey's Story, a chunkster I have on my shelf but have not yet read.  I also plan on ordering It very soon from Amazon,  and will read and review it in 2012.   After this review posted originally, I read a non-fiction work by Stephen King, and aspiring writers may wish to stop by my review of his book about writing,  On Writing: Are You Serious?


"I can do this," I told myself. I can end the year with a book by Stephen King. Believe it or not, I've never read a single book by the King of Horror Fiction (I wonder what Stephen King thinks of that title), although I've seen at least two Stephen King movies, The Shining and The Shawshank Redemption. Horror fiction is not my usual reading choice--not by a long shot--but we'd been given the thick paperback Duma Key as a Christmas gift and I picked it up, read a few pages, and thought, "I can do this". I could always stop reading it if I didn't care to finish it, as I do with other books which fail to engage me. But it did engage me--and quickly. Stephen King is a good storyteller, a master. His friendly, familiar style drew me in, mi amigo; his informal tone seems to balance the menacing events, liberal use of profanity, and gore of his books, muchacho.  He's also quite funny, and characters exhibit a droll sense of humor at times.  Edgar, the protagonist of Duma Key,  who's lost an arm in a horrific accident, makes jokes about his missing arm such as, "I was going to say I'd cut my own arm off first, but all at once that seemed like a really bad idea."

Quite briefly, here's the basic storyline of Duma Key, a bestselling horror novel published in 2008. Edgar Freemantle, a wealthy, 57-year-old contractor, suffers a traumatic brain injury and loses his right arm in a horrendous accident at a job site. Edgar also battle bouts of rage and forgetfulness during his recovery, and to make matters even worse, his wife wants a divorce. Depressed and suicidal, Edgar follows the advice of Dr. Kamen, his therapist, to "change his scenery", and moves from Minnesota to Duma Key, a small, nearly deserted island off Florida's gulf coast. Edgar rents Salmon Point--which he calls "Big Pink" due to its pink color--a unique house on the northern part of the island, where Edgar feels compelled to draw and paint, a compulsion he relates to the phantom limb sensations he has in his right arm, the itching and burning. His paintings, which are quite good, have a sinister side to them, and seem to foretell horrific future events. They are also somehow connected to the past, and to Elizabeth Eastlake, an elderly resident of Duma Key.

Duma Key was a good introduction to the novels of Stephen King,  and an auspicious way to end my year of reading, with a new-to-me author.  I enjoyed this story,  which is an inventive blend of the creepy and the "ordinary".

The author was born in Portland, Maine on September 21, 1947, the son of Donald King and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury.  Extremely imaginative and prolific, Stephen Edwin King wrote over 40 books, including a 7-part series of novels, a 6-part serial novel, and countless short stories, and is one of the world's most popular writers.  Obviously, he's heeded his true calling as a writer.  Here's a fascinating interview from Lilja's Library with Stephen King about Duma Key, before the book was published.  At least to me it's fascinating--I enjoy reading what writers have to say about their work and writing. Would I read another book by Stephen King?  Yes. While I can't say that I'll join a Stephen King fan club, I am interested in reading Lisey's Story, which King has called his best book.  I'm particularly interested in what writers deem as their best work.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Marley and Me

I'm a cat person, and agree wholeheartedly with Leonardo da Vinci who said, "the smallest feline is a masterpiece". But I'm also a dog person. I grew up in a household which seemed to favor cats. We were cat people, after all, and had two cats during the early part of my childhood, a gorgeous calico and a sweet black cat. However, one fateful day my family decided to change things, and suddenly we had a large, shaggy puppy as well, an Old English sheepdog we named Chaucer (even though she was female). As a child, it was difficult for me to break the news to my cat people friends. They wouldn't understand why we had gotten a dog, but somehow I managed to utter the words. Overnight, it seemed, I became a cat and dog person. Since then, I've had no qualms about this, adore my cat, and enjoy taking my wiggly, exuberant boxer, Jenny, for long walks in the park. To Jenny, it's not just a walk but a grand adventure. Together we get exercise, and socialize with other dogs and their friendly owners, and I marvel at the variety of dogs we meet, everything from Greyhounds to American Eskimos to adorable Pugs and mixes (formerly referred to as mutts). Jenny's favorite activity besides going for a walk is sleeping.

Obviously, I 'm a dog person (who also happens to be a cat person), so I suspected that I'd enjoy Marley and Me, a film based on John Grogan's bestselling book. In 2008, the novel was adapted into a family movie, also titled Marley & Me. Released on December 25, 2008, the film stars Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, and other talented actors, and is directed by David Frankel. The role of Marley is shared by twenty-two labs. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, which is a tearjerker. Marley and Me is not just a dog movie, but also a touching story about writing, following your dreams, unconditional love, and the passing of time.

Book wise, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog is a New York Times bestselling book written by journalist John Grogan. Published in 2005, this autobiographical novel portrays Grogan and his family during the years that they lived with their yellow Labrador Retriever, Marley, who's high-strung, rambunctious, and generally uncontrollable. From the start "the world's worst dog" is quite "a handful"-- always hungry, strong and active, often destructive of their property--and he remains a challenge to live with. Repeatedly, Marley misunderstands what's expected of him, but he's forgiven, because he's still lovable and has a heart of gold.

Marley & Me has been rewritten into three versions for younger readers, Marley: A Dog Like No Other, a picture book for beginning readers called Bad Dog, Marley!, and A Very Marley Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Avenging Angel

Shannon Wallace has hit rock bottom. First she's fired from her job, then her boyfriend is murdered. To make matters worse, she's implicated in his murder, is missing some private videos, and seems to be next on the killer's list. This is a very short summary of Kim Smith's mystery novel, Avenging Angel: A Shannon Wallace Mystery, Book 1.

Kim Smith is a fellow blogger I recently met online, who hails from the south, is passionate about writing, and hosts her own radio show. Having never before read an e-book novel, I didn't know what to expect. I've read a few e-books, but they were short and non-fiction, related to health or wealth. This is my first post about an e-book, Kim Smith's newly released novel Avenging Angel. A murder mystery set in the steamy south during the summer, it's a thriller packed with action and suspense. I don't usually read this type of book (although I did recently read a yet-to-be-published murder mystery manuscript), but I must say that I was thoroughly entertained and on the edge of my (computer desk) seat, as I read it on the computer screen (the print is large and quite readable, granny glasses not required). I downloaded Avenging Angel a few days ago and each night I read several chapters. I looked forward to this reading time, because this mystery is exciting, and the characters are like real people you might meet and befriend in everyday life. (Not the killer, of course, but I want a great friend like Dwayne!) Although the subject is brutal, there's enough friendship and potential romance in this book to keep you smiling just a bit. Kim Smith has made a great debut with her first e-book novel--congratulations, Kim!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell on Writing

"My writing model is my mother, who is a writer as well. She always valued clarity and simplicity above all else. If someone doesn't understand what you're writing, then everything else you do is superfluous. Irrelevant. If any thoughtful, curious reader finds what I do impenetrable, I've failed. My highest compliment is when someone comes up to me to say, "My 14-year-old daughter, or my 12-year-old son read your book and loved it." I cannot conceive of a greater compliment than that — to write something that as an adult I find satisfying, but also that manages to reach a curious 13- or 14-year-old. That's my model, and if that's your model, then you have to write in a way that's accessible. Clear writing is universal. People talk about writing down to an audience or writing up to an audience; I think that's nonsense. If you write in a way that is clear, transparent, and elegant, it will reach everyone. There's no idea that can't be explained to a thoughtful 14-year-old. If the thoughtful 14-year-old doesn't get it, it is your fault, not the 14-year-old's. I think that's a very important fact."
~ Malcolm Gladwell

Intrigued by some of the ideas in his newest book, Outliers: The Story of Success, I Googled this bestselling author and found this tidbit about writing in a recent interview with Malcolm Gladwell. These words from the author of Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers, express the importance this writer gives to clarity. I have always believed that good writing is clear writing. The point of writing is to be understood--not to confuse. (But what about poetry? Poetry is a different art, to be taken much less literally. I've never been good at writing poetry, or even deciphering it, although perhaps poetry is to be felt, above all else, as is music.) Of course, a fourteen-year-old doesn't have the same experience as a forty-two-year-old, so the understanding may not be as great, but the point is that writing should be clear and concise, and convey a story and ideas. What do you think?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Honest Scrap Awards

I've just received this award from Kim Smith from Writing Space, my very first blogging award. Thanks, Kim! I appreciate the gesture. Even though we've met online recently, Kim's quickly becoming a blogging friend.

Here are the guidelines I received from Kim:
1. List 10 honest things about yourself (have some fun with this!).
2. Pass the award on to 7 bloggers (I was told that you can give out fewer if you'd like; I'm only giving out four.)

Ten Truths About Me:
1. Lately I have to force myself to go to holiday parties, but usually end up enjoying them.
2. I love snow (so does Kim!), and find it very romantic.
3. I wanted to be a lion tamer when I was a kid. Ahem.
4. I'm a tea-aholic. Tea helps me to wake up, energizes me, and later provides calm; tea is "my drink".
5. I sweat the small stuff too much of the time.
6. I really do like to get compliments. :)
7. I'm a neat freak (not as bad as Felix Unger but I don't appreciate junk all over the place).
8. In spite of my attempts to proofread, I still discover embarrassing typos after I've published or emaiiled something. (See?)
9. I'm ambitious. This may come as a surprise to many, who consider me to be relaxed and easygoing.
10. I'm a bit shy, but can act confident.

I'd like to pass this award on to the following bloggers I admire; they're honest and speak their minds in a thoughtful manner. Without further ado, here's my list of award-winners:

To Christie for Losing the Low Carb Way
To Heidi for Single Parenting
To Mee for Books of Mee
To Myrthe for The Armenian Odar Reads

Congratulations to all of you. I enjoy reading your blogs, and hope you'll participate.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Comfort Food

Recipes found in books that are not cookbooks have extra appeal to me. They seem more special somehow, and more worth trying, perhaps because they're not expected, as opposed to having page after page of recipes (although many cookbooks are wonderful, and the photographs can be rather enticing). When my daughter was in second grade, we read a story together called Jalapeno Bagels in which there was a recipe for "chango bars", and we had to bake some, because they sounded (and taste) so good!

In The Friday Night Knitting Club and Knit Two, author Kate Jacobs offers a few tempting recipes, including "Dakota's oatmeal, blueberry, and orange muffins" and "maple apple muffins". Trying out the muffin recipes in these books will add another dimension to my reading experience of them. I haven't yet read Comfort Food, also by Kate Jacobs, but I've learned that it's the story of Augusta Simpson, a famous cooking celebrity on the Food Channel. Augusta, who's called Gus by everyone (this author often gives her characters off-beat, unisex names), is about to turn fifty-years-old, and starts to question who she is and what she has done so far with her life on a personal and professional level. Somewhat surprisingly, I read that this book doesn't have any recipes in it, although it talks a lot about food, especially Spanish food; perhaps the author thought it would be too predictable to include recipes in this book and wanted to focus more on the storyline. Still, my guess is that reading Comfort Food makes you head for the kitchen or out the door to a favorite restaurant. But let me return to my discussion of recipes in non-cookbooks or unexpected places. Here, I present a recipe in an unlikely place, in my blog about books, after a little background information.

I came up with this recipe for miso soup because I wanted my vegetarian daughter to be able to enjoy it again. I found three problems with the fresh paste, instant miso soups on the market. First of all, I couldn't find anything vegetarian--they all have fish in them. They also have MSG and a lot of sodium in them. I thought I could do better, so I asked the advice of friends and some family members, and also searched on the web. The result is my recipe for vegetarian miso soup, below.

Vegetarian Miso Soup ~ A Healthy Comfort Food
Serves 4

5 cups of water
1 teaspoon shredded dried wakame seaweed, broken up
1 dried shiitake mushroom
1 tablespoon of extra-firm tofu, strained, and chopped into tiny rectangles
2 to 3 green onions, sliced into small pieces
1/3 to 1/2 cup of miso paste, depending on taste (I prefer an organic dark miso paste that I order from the Asian Food Grocer in San Francisco.)

Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer seaweed and shiitake mushroom in the water for at least 20 minutes. The longer you simmer the seaweed, the less "fishy" the seaweed will become. I leave the top partially on the pot, to allow steam to escape, and keep the heat on low.

After simmering, remove shiitake mushroom, slice up, and return to the broth or "dashi".

Add sliced green onions, tofu, and smallest dash of soy sauce, and continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes.

Gently mix miso paste in a bowl with about a cup of the dashi, then add to soup pot and simmer uncovered for a couple of minutes on very low heat before serving. (Do not boil miso, because that destroys the flavor and healthful properties of miso, which is a superfood.) Soup is best enjoyed steaming hot.

As with any recipe, vary amounts of ingredients to taste. You can get creative and add small amounts of other things to your miso soup, such as edamame and sliced baby corn. To make miso soup for one, use about 1 cup of water, two teaspoons of miso paste, and reduce other ingredients as well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Becoming Finola

Finally, it's cold enough to wear the scarves I crocheted a few winters ago. After reading The Friday Night Knitting Club and Knit Two by Kate Jacobs, I appreciate my handmade creations more than ever. Though imperfect, they've got a bit of me woven into them, and I love wearing something I've made. But right now I'm wearing something else around my neck. It's a necklace, a pendant, with a small silver charm on it, that I purchased from a new-age catalog while in an optimistic mood. One side of the charm has Sanskrit characters on it, and on the other side is the English translation, "Fearlessness". You may wonder what this has to do with anything. Don't worry, I'll get to the connection soon enough.

I've just read Becoming Finola by author Suzanne Strempek Shea. I decided to read this novel from an author I'd previously never heard of, because my good friend, Eriko, a breast cancer survivor (and one of the most energetic, upbeat people you'll ever meet), told me she'd read Songs From a Lead-Lined Room: Notes--High and Low--From My Journey Through Breast Cancer and Radiation by this author, who's also a breast cancer survivor. Interested in learning more, I searched on the author's website for possibilities, and then looked on amazon for her work. I ordered Becoming Finola, because the premise of this novel--a woman who goes to Ireland and adopts a new identity, that of the legendary Finola O'Flynn--intrigued me. Without giving away too much of the story, here's the basic premise of the book. Sophie, a 30-year-old single American, accompanies her friend, Gina, to the remote, seaside village of Booley in Ireland. Gina has generously paid for the three-month trip for both of them, and has even bought them each a travel wardrobe. Gina has just suffered some recent losses and believes that Booley, rainy and mystical, is the place for healing. But the day after they arrive in Booley, Gina unexpectedly heads back to America, and insists that Sophie remain in Booley, in the cottage of Liam and Finola (who has left). Sophie does stay, blends in with the locals, and begins to work in Liam's craft shop, stringing bracelets which prove to be irresistible to the tourists. She makes one-of-a-kind bracelets with charms and beads, and puts labels on them that say things such as "gratitude" and "life" and "self-esteem". And that's the idea behind the pendant I'm wearing. Even though it doesn't really give me courage (who am I anyway--The Cowardly Lion?) it reminds me to face life fearlessly, or at least more fearlessly. In the book, Sophie a.k.a. Finola invents the powers that the labels on her bracelets suggest, but the wearers believe they are now empowered by the "magic" bracelets from Booley, and therefore, they are. This is the magic of belief. As customers in the shop, mostly tourists, assume that she's Finola, Sophie doesn't correct them and in fact soon adopts Finola's identity as her own. Sophie, who is now known as Finola, receives many letters thanking her for the magical effects of these handmade bracelets. (These letters from the customers are great fun to read!) Sophie realizes she's actually becoming the legendary Finola (whom everyone in the village has a story about), taking over her role in the shop and elsewhere, living in her home, wearing her clothing, and offering new words of wisdom.

While reading this book I had to slow down to appreciate the abundant humor in the author's sentences. I won't spoil the book by telling you more; I'd hate to have to add a "spoiler alert" to this post. But I definitely recommend that you read Becoming Finola and find out what happens. And although I've never really desired to be anyone other than myself, if I had to be someone else, it would be a toss up between Finola O'Flynn and Angelina Jolie.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Knit Two

"It's the friends you can call up at 4 AM that matter."
~Marlene Dietrich

Don't worry, friends, it's unlikely that I'll actually call you at 4 AM. I chose this quote because it dramatizes the importance of having good friendships, a central theme in Kate Jacob's new novel, Knit Two, and also because in the book friends do call each other at all hours of the day and night; they are truly always available for each other. Knit Two is the sequel to the novel The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. Last month, I was fortunate to post an exclusive interview with this very gracious author, who has just come out with her new novel. Knit Two celebrates something near and dear to the hearts of girls and women, friendship. True friendship. (The fairer sex is also the more social sex. Or at least we approach friendship and bonding differently than males.) Reading Knit Two made me think about the role of friendship in my own life, and recall the friends I've had over the years, starting in the second grade with my first best friend, Patricia. She was Argentinian with red hair and green eyes. We met while looking into the window of a pet shop, both admiring the irresistible baby rabbits, chinchillas, and kittens for sale. After that meeting, we walked home from school together daily and became inseparable best friends. Gradually, I got to know her family and she got to know mine. Since Patricia, I've had numerous best friends over the years, as well as many other good friends, and place a high value on friendship.

In Knit Two, the characters from The Friday Night Knitting Club--Dakota, Anita, Catherine, KC, Peri, Lucie, Darwin, and others--form new bonds as they continue to see each other, knit, and share experiences that bring them closer to each other, including a trip to Italy for some of them. Men are not completely overlooked in Knit Two; there's a concerned father, a wedding in the works, a passionate romance, as well as male-female platonic friendships. But the book does center more on women, and their many roles are explored: friend, businesswoman, wife, daughter, mother, and sister. Knit Two encourages girls and women to bond together, and also to follow their individual dreams and ambitions.

Knit Two is the perfect contemporary novel to get cozy with on a cool night, a cup of steaming tea or cider by your side, with an afghan wrapped around you. Preferably hand-knitted.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Glass Castle

Ever since I was a child, I immersed myself in stories about people who rose above harsh and seemingly hopeless circumstances. Books such as The Contender and Manchild in the Promised Land drew my attention. With determination, spirit, and hard work, I realized, you could rise out of the worst possible environment, and do something constructive with your life. Such is the case, also, with the book I recently finished, The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls. The author tells the story of her young life, one that was filled with adventure along with poverty and parental neglect. At the beginning of the book, Jeannette, age three, is cooking hot dogs and is burned so severely that she needs hospitalization and a skin graft. While recovering, her father grabs her from the "sterile" hospital so that she'll be "safe" at home. This is a telling way to start her memoir. Although Jeannette Walls portrays her parents not with bitterness but with compassion, readers cannot help but judge their "fitness" as parents. On the one hand, the children learned self-reliance and coping skills; on the other hand, the parents didn't feed or clothe them or take care of them, and were often selfish and put their needs above those of their children. It's hard not to judge them, although Jeannette presents their good qualities, too, such as their resourcefulness and love of adventure. But the children, including Jeannette, paid a high price, and suffered tremendously. Unfed, Jeannette would find discarded food in the trash cans at school to assuage her hunger. Her parents were blazing nonconformists who barely managed to support their four children, who were often starving, cold, and dirty, and had to learn while very young to fend for themselves. Her mother was an artist and writer who didn't earn much money and her father, who showed brilliance at times, had a severe drinking problem--both took a great toll on the entire family. In fact, later in the book the parents, Rex and Rose Mary, both "excitement addicts", actually choose to be homeless and live on the streets, even though they could live in their Phoenix house, or sell land or possessions for cash. Odd choice. In this stranger-than-fiction story, Jeannette and her sisters, Lori and Maureen, and her brother, Brian, struggle not just to grow up in the usual sense, but also try to cope with a threadbare existence and two parents who are more interested in adventure than providing care or security for their children. Forever restless, they move to Phoenix, Arizona, then to Welch, West Virginia, and eventually to the city of opportunity, New York. A true survivor, Jeannette even manages to help the rest of her siblings. Jeannette Wall's honesty is incredible as she tells the painful yet fascinating and inspirational story of her past.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Conversation with Kate Jacobs


I can't believe my luck!  Best-selling writers tend to be extremely busy people, so I'm very grateful that Kate Jacobs, author of The Friday Night Knitting Club and Comfort Food, took the time to do this interview with me via email right before the release of her new book, Knit Two.

1) Kate, my first question is which blog post title do you prefer,
A Conversation with Kate Jacobs, or An Interview with Kate Jacobs?  Or something else altogether?

KJ: Whatever works for you, Susan! Either title is just right.

(As you can see, I chose the first title, because Kate Jacobs is remarkably personable.  I felt as if we really did have a conversation, because her emails to me were so warm and friendly.)

2) Were you influenced by any particular (women) writers as a child? 

KJ: Well, I certainly loved to read! But I’m not sure I was influenced so much in writing style as in my awareness of the world and of ideas. That’s the great magic of books. Now I was a library kid growing up – I’m from a small town and there often wasn’t even a bookstore in town. And my mother is a big reader and we would often go together. When I was a little girl, I adored Anne of Green Gables – though that’s rather a prerequisite for a Canadian girlhood – and I also vividly remember a novel called From Anna by Jean Little. I essentially read everything I could get my hands on and continued doing that as a I got older, devouring everything from dramas to thrillers to Westerns to literary fiction. When I was an older teen, the novel that just hit me was So Big by Edna Ferber and to this day I often reflect on that novel, with its themes about the nature of success and the importance of creativity.

3) Are you on a writing schedule?  Do you write every day?

KJ: I intentionally do not write every day. My overall process is that I write, and then I recharge. So I prefer to go through periods where I’m thinking and absorbing and reading and being social, and then go through stretches of time where I stay in and wear pajamas and am just focused on the story all the time. I write in bursts. That said, I am always working on a story even if I’m not always doing that work at the computer. Also, I tend to write early in the morning or late at night, blocks of time when the house is quiet and I won’t be distracted. I love distractions! If my deadline is looming, I will definitely be sorting laundry or baking. It’s some combination of procrastination and stress relief.

4) Do you drink coffee or tea while writing? (As a tea guzzler, I had to ask this!)

KJ: I do enjoy a good cup of tea. I just love a nice cup of English Breakfast with a little lactose-free milk and sugar. Or homemade iced tea; that’s great. And a cookie tucked in somewhere. However, my real secret is that I love bubbles. Carbonation, to be precise. So I drink a lot of sparkling water and -- my big vice – nice, cold glasses of Pepsi. (My husband is a Coke drinker, btw.) I try to limit my soda in general, so no pop for me if I’m not typing. But the last few weeks of working on a book are just long, long hours and I exist in an endless Pepsi haze. It’s both glorious and awful – delicious but too much sugar and caffeine all at once.

(Kate, I've recently discovered lemon-flavored San Pellegrino, Limonata. It's transcendent!)

5) Do you listen to music, or prefer silence while writing?

KJ: Both – but not at the same time. I typically prefer to work in silence because I can concentrate. It’s especially nice when my dog Baxter snoozes under my desk and so I can just hear his little breaths. However, there are moments when the characters and I need a little buoying up -- it could be a sad scene or I could just feel frustrated with the story. And so I’ll put on some perky instrumental background music.

6) What advice do you have for aspiring writers, especially women?

KJ: Believe in yourself. Ignore the naysayers. Keep at it. Tell the stories you feel you want to tell and are driven to tell. And just keep putting one word after another on the page. That’s the only way you’ll finish your manuscript!

7) You lived in NY for ten years.  I grew up in NY, and feel as if you captured something very real about NY life and the cozy yarn shop which becomes an oasis for these women.  Did you enjoy living in NY?  Which experiences did you most enjoy?  What did you dislike about NY?

KJ: Well, initially I hated New York! Too busy and too loud. Overall, it was a big change from growing up in Canada. But then, once I’d made friends, I really began to get a sense of home. That was important. And after awhile I simply couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I didn’t always enjoy living in a small apartment, especially once I got married and my husband moved in with all of his boxes. What did I love? The restaurants. The people. The access to indie movies. The noise. I never sleep so well now as when I hear sirens and traffic, which is funny because that’s what drove me insane when I had first arrived. Of course, life is full of surprises, and change is always around the corner. I thought I’d never leave the city and now I live in southern California (because of my husband’s work). And you know what? I like warm weather. I like the people. And I love having my own washer and dryer which we were never able to have in our Manhattan apartment. So every experience has pluses and minuses.

8) Your new book, Knit Two, is coming out on Nov. 25, a sequel to The Friday Night Knitting Club. Was it harder or easier to write the sequel? 

KJ: Different. Just different. Writing is always hard and it can also be wonderful. On the one hand, it was a joy to return to the characters of The Friday Night Knitting Club – to Dakota and Catherine and Anita and so on. On the other hand, I had to stay true to who they were – the past experiences, how they looked, etc – and that requires a certain discipline. But, without question, I loved writing Knit Two. I intentionally made it soothing and upbeat, because I wanted to balance out some of the emotion from FNKC, and also because it just felt right. I am so excited to share this novel with readers; I can’t wait to go out on book tour in Dec. and Jan.!

And I can't wait to read Knit Two! Thank you so much for doing this interview, Kate! 

Comments are welcomed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This Blog is Rated. . .

Here's the official rating for Suko's Notebook.
You can even get your own blog rated.
It's fun, and takes but a few moments.
You might be surprised!

Update, August 2010: I tried this rating system again, and received a PG-13 rating. A few days later, I got another G rating. Next I tried a different rater, and received an NC-17. In other words, they are not reliable. :)

Monday, November 17, 2008


When my eleven-year-old daughter first received the book Twilight as a gift, I wasn't sure if I wanted her to read it. I'd heard it was "creepy", full of vampires, and thought it might frighten her and lead to nightmares. Or what if she wanted to make herself look like a vampire--or should I say vampiress--after reading the book? I've seen people on TV who've had their teeth sharpened into fangs in order to achieve the vampire look. Honestly, I didn't know if the book was a good idea. However, many of her friends (who don't resemble vampires) loved the book and were reading others in the series, and my daughter was eager to read it. As a parent, it's terrific when your child expresses an eager interest in reading--as long as she's not reading total garbage. Similar to the Harry Potter books, young readers (and others) absolutely devour the books in the series. Twilight is the first book in this bestselling series by author Stephenie Meyer. I haven't read the book but my daughter has read all four books in the Twilight Saga.
  1. Twilight (2005)
  2. New Moon (2006)
  3. Eclipse (2007)
  4. Breaking Dawn (2008)
Many fans already know that part of Midnight Sun, Edward's version of Twilight, was illegally posted on the internet and has been virally distributed without Stephenie Meyer's knowledge or permission, which greatly upset the author. Stephenie Meyer has now posted a partial draft for readers on her website.

In Twilight, seventeen-year-old Isabella "Bella" Swan moves from Phoenix, Arizona, to Forks, Washington, and discovers that her life is in jeopardy when she falls in love with a vampire, Edward Cullen. On Nov. 21, 2008, Twilight the movie is coming out. Here's the movie trailer. It stars Kristen Stewart (as Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (as Edward Cullen), and many others. We're going to the midnight showing on opening night.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Last Lecture

"I lectured about the joy of life, about how much I appreciated life, even with so little of my own left. I talked abut honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I hold dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring."
~ Introduction to The Last Lecture,
Randy Pausch (Oct. 23, 1960 - July 25, 2008)
Unlike many lectures, this book is anything but boring. With but a few months left to live, Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch gave his last lecture at the university on Sept. 18, 2007 before a full auditorium. In his lecture entitled, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," Pausch talked about the lessons he learned, and gave advice on how to achieve goals and dreams, and the importance of helping others to reach theirs. He decided to also put his stories into a book of fifty-three "lectures", for the family he'd soon leave behind, and the world at large.

I've just finished reading The Last Lecture, coauthored by Jeffrey Zaslow, a very touching book about the lecture by Randy Pausch, professor of computer science, human computer interaction and design; he co-founded Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, and was the creator of the Alice interactive computing program, used by students worldwide. Randy Pausch lost his life to pancreatic cancer at the age of 47, leaving behind his wife, Jai, and three young children. In his lecture, he talks a lot about the importance of his childhood dreams. I do not wish to spoil the book by telling you about each and every dream, but I will mention something notable from his childhood. As a teenager, he wanted to paint on the walls in his room, and his parents allowed him to express his creativity in this way. I mentioned this to my 11-year-old daughter, and asked her if she wanted to paint anything on her walls. Did she ever! The rainbow shown below was her first wall painting, and she's also added a couple of animals and is currently working on a tree. She loves painting on her walls! I think her room looks more unique with these paintings.

The filmed lecture and book are a way
for Randy's children, Chloe, Logan, and Dylan, who are now without their father, to "grow up" with him. For the rest of us, it's an inspiring book about living your best life.

You can listen to Randy Pausch's last lecture here. More than 37,000 Americans each year are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My good friend Gayle-Robin lost her brother, Alan, to pancreatic cancer. This post is dedicated to Alan, who was a wonderful brother, uncle, and friend. For more information about pancreatic cancer, please visit The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees, the Movie

Like many others, I loved the bestselling book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and headed to the theater with high hopes; I must say that the movie surpassed my expectations. The movie trailer is good, but doesn't do the movie justice, doesn't foretell the power of this must-see drama. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Without giving too much away, here's a synopsis. The movie is set in the south in 1964, when the the Civil Rights Act was passed, and a year before the Voting Rights Act became law. Lily, a girl of 14, is tormented by the fact that she accidentally shot her mother as a toddler. Lily develops a strange, puzzling affinity for bees. Her father is abusive towards her, while the black housekeeper, Rosaleen, is a mother figure to Lily. One day, Lily accompanies Rosaleen into town, because Rosaleen wants to register to vote. (Forty-four years later, we've elected an African American president--finally.) Racist white men confront them and beat Rosaleen viciously. Rosaleen is also arrested, and held in custody at the medical ward of the local jail. Outraged, Lily goes to the jail to free her friend. Lily and Rosaleen decide to "run away" and leave Lily's father's house. They chance upon a store in a small town, which sells jars of honey (with intriguing labels) from the Boatwright sisters. Lily and Rosaleen journey to Tiburon, South Carolina to meet the Boatwrights and end up living with them. Here, Lily begins to unravel the mysteries that enshroud her deceased mother.

This film celebrates love, and its power to transform lives in astonishing ways. Brilliant performances by the female leads--Dakota Fanning (as Lily), Jennifer Hudson (as Rosaleen), Alicia Keys (as June), Queen Latifah (as August), and Sophie Okonedo (as May)--make this movie exceptional, academy-award winning material. These strong, positive women are wonderful in their roles. They don't play empty-headed sex objects but women with strength, courage, independence, and kindness. We need more movie roles like this for women! While the actresses may steal the show, the acting by Paul Bettany (as T. Ray), Nate Parker (as Neil), and Tristan Wilds (as Zach) is also excellent. The Secret Life of Bees is both heartrending and uplifting, as a movie and as a book.

Monday, November 3, 2008

To the Lighthouse

After reading some lighter fiction, I decided to delve into something deeper, a novel by Virginia Woolf. I located the tattered copy from my school days and took a deep breath. Here is another phenomenal book by Virginia Woolf. Published in 1927, To the Lighthouse broke new ground and Virginia Woolf emerged as the chief figure of modernism--and perhaps feminism--in England.

The book begins as Mrs. Ramsay, mother to eight children, speaks to her youngest child, James, age six, about his wish to go to the Lighthouse on the following day:

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay. "But you'll have to be up with the lark", she added. To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled, the expedition bound to take place, and the wonder to which he looked forward to, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night's darkness and a day's sail, within touch. ~To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

However, Mr. Ramsay, as well as Charles Tansley, soon shatter the boy's hopes by saying that it will rain the next day, and that a trip to the Lighthouse is out of the question, which upsets both James and his devoted mother greatly. The setting for the story begins at the summer house at the Isle of the Skye during the summer, where the Ramsays entertain numerous friends in addition to their large family. Mrs. Ramsay tries to soothe the boy by saying that the weather may be fine, because she has a far greater understanding of her sensitive, gifted child than either her husband or his friend. Keenly aware of the beauty and brevity of childhood, she wants her children to be happy and hopeful, to be filled with light, in a world with ample darkness. The novel focuses on the intensity of childhood emotions, and accentuates the impermanence of adult relationships and the transient nature of everything. The issue of the trip to the Lighthouse is brought up time and time again in the first section of To the Lighthouse, The Window, in which through repetition and stream-of-consciousness writing (Virginia Woolf's trademark style), the interior monologues of various characters are presented, seizing fleeting moods, feelings, thoughts, and insecurities, and the transient nature of things and relationships, giving permanence to these moments in the book, making them immortal--which seems to have been the author's goal. Like our own thoughts, which are often repetitious (and dare I say dull at times), the characters seem to tire of their own cyclical thoughts. At other times, their disjointed thoughts are featured. Virginia Woolf captures the dual reality of thought in To The Lighthouse, thought which is alternatively repetitive and disconnected. (Think about your own thinking--isn't it also this way?)

Just as in the story the painter Lily Briscoe tries to capture beautiful Mrs. Ramsay in a painting (although Lily is scoffed at, and the male belief was that women could neither paint nor write) the book attempts to make the impermanent permanent, and portrays these fleeting moments brilliantly, especially those between husband and wife. This is Virginia's Woolf's most autobiographical novel, and her husband, Leonard Woolf, called it a masterpiece. Virginia Woolf broke from tradition in this three part book, a novel in which there's not much action or dialogue, but instead much thought, about the ordinary as well as about time and the fleeting nature of life. One of the book's main themes is the ubiquity of transience. Is there an antidote for this often disturbing transience? Virginia Woolf suggests to women that while family and human relationships are important (although difficult sometimes), creative work may hold the key--meaningful work that will engage and may even outlive us. In this way, transience may be transcended to some degree.

You can read all three sections of To The Lighthouse online, compliments of Project Gutenberg Australia. To the Lighthouse was made into a TV movie released in 1983, which stars Rosemary Harris, Michael Gough, Suzanne Bertish, and Kenneth Branagh.

1/30/10 Update: For another review of To The Lighthouse, please visit Absorbed in Words.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Friday Night Knitting Club

"Choosing your wool is dizzying with potential: The waves of colors and textures tempt with visions of a sweater or cap (and all the accompanying compliments you hope to receive) but don't reveal the hard work required to get there."
The Friday Night Knitting Club, Kate Jacobs

After reading this brilliant book by Kate Jacobs, I'm ready to take out my crochet hook (because I don't knit) and get to work again. While I don't know of any cozy yarn shops nearby such as the one in the book, Walker and Daughter, even Michaels (a craft store for those who don't know) has a dazzling array of yarns in all colors, which inspire creativity. I'd like to find some really gorgeous cashmere yarn and get started on some Christmas gifts.

In this novel, which was published in 2007, knitting is presented as a creative, empowering, calming, and uniting pursuit, rather than an expression of the supposed domesticity of women. In The Friday Night Knitting Club, the characters are believable--not perfect--and you care about them and want them to succeed. Each one has her own story (or in a few cases, his own story), so we may understand why they are the way they are. They also change and develop throughout the story. Thank goodness a sequel to this book, Knit Two, will be out on Nov. 25, because I want to know what happens to this close-knit (couldn't resist) group of friends. I hope it doesn't sound corny, but they've become my friends, too.

Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with Kate Jacobs, author of The Friday Night Knitting Club, Comfort Food, and her new book, Knit Two!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Coffee with Marge

Once upon a time, many years ago, when our children were very young, we were best friends, but as the years passed and our kids attended different schools, we saw each other less and less. Occasionally we'd see each other in town, and agree that we should get together, but our plans never seemed to materialize for one reason or another. On Saturday night I saw my friend, Marge, at a fundraising dinner for the YMCA. She said that we should meet for coffee, and this time, the plan sounded more definite. On Monday she called me, and on Tuesday we met at Starbucks. (Don't worry, this is not a plug for Starbucks, but it is a nice place to meet and talk over tea and whatever other goodies you desire. I also enjoy the music they play, and have been introduced to new musicians at Starbucks. Last summer, they had Damien Rice CDs for sale at Starbucks. In NY this summer, we went to Starbucks every day for breakfast and I pictured myself with a laptop working on my blog at a table alongside others doing the same, sipping tea.) Both of us ordered tea, rather than coffee, but no one really says "let's go out for tea", do they? We talked about all kinds of things, family matters and personal ambitions, and it felt really good to reconnect with Marge. She is funny, sharp, and original, and I enjoyed her company. I mentioned to her that I sell some books on amazon and she asked about setting up an account of her own. Later that day, she texted me to inform me that she'd made her first book sale on Amazon! That didn't really surprise me though, Marge used to collect and sell antiques, and is very gifted.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Message in a Bottle, Embroideries, and The Friday Night Knitting Club

Friday night I watched Message in a Bottle, the movie based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks. Now I've seen all four of Sparks' books which have been made into movies. This movie was a bit slow to takeoff but eventually does. The setting is supposed to be the Outer Banks in North Carolina, but apparently this was filmed in Maine. (I prefer a bit more authenticity, although the scenery is stunning. ) Of course, the movie is another romantic drama, ignited by love letters in bottles washed ashore which lead to a new romance. I thought Paul Newman's performance as Dodge Blake, the crusty father, was outstanding, and Robin Wright Penn's as Theresa Osbourne was also quite good (she has a remarkable crying scene). Kevin Costner's acting in Message in a Bottle was low-key but believable as Garrett Blake, the widower paralyzed by the loss of his wife.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi arrived in my mailbox sooner than expected--on Saturday--and I read it on Sunday. It's a graphic novel and doesn't take long to read. This is definitely a book for mature audiences only, preferably women. It's outrageously funny, and quite candid about marriage and the sex lives of Iranian women, who're often caught between tradition and modern times. The contents and illustrations are absolutely hilarious. Marjane Satrapi is also the author of a comic book style autobiography comprised of two books--international bestsellers--Persepolis and Persepolis 2.

I also had the opportunity to start the book The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs on Sunday evening, and am already very taken in by this book. (I just learned that Kate Jacobs has a new book due out on Nov. 25, Knit Two, obviously a sequel to The Friday Night Knitting Club.) Let me start by saying that I don't knit, nor do I desire to, although I do crochet (I was obsessed with crocheting scarves a couple of winters ago but that's a story for another day). Anyway, the action takes place in Georgia's knitting shop in NY, Walker and Daughter, where customers form an informal knitting club that meets regularly. As a former New Yorker I can easily picture the shop, customers, and characters who come by for more than yarn--for help with their knitting, as well as coffee and cookies, conversation, and companionship. This is the type of book to read on cool evenings, snuggled up indoors with a steaming beverage. I'm looking forward to spending time in this manner soon.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

When I mentioned that I 'd just read a copy of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsby Ann Brashares, a book I'd often heard mentioned, my teenaged daughter kind of grimaced, while my younger daughter said that she wants to read it after she finishes all four books in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Have I lost my "edge", or have I just realized, with the passing of days, that it's okay to enjoy books that are actually fun to read? Not every book has to be great literature. Anyway, this book does live up to it's reputation as a bestseller--it's both cute and clever. I enjoyed reading about the great friendship among these four friends, Bree, Carmen, Lena, and Tibby, as well as the pants that they share over their summer apart, pants that help them stay together, in a personal sense and as a group. All the teen turmoil and angst is a lot easier (and more humorous) to read about than to experience--perhaps you need to have safely navigated through those waters before you can appreciate and enjoy this book. Maybe I would have snickered at this book had it been out during my teen years--who knows? I was pretty sarcastic back then. But at this point in my life, I enjoyed just about every page of it, including the quotes, many of them humorous, which begin each chapter (call me corny but I enjoy a good quote). The quotes are superimposed on a drawing of the pants. Here's an example (without the pants):

"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them, and you have their shoes."
~Frieda Norris, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares

And from the text of the book, a few comforting words about happiness:

"Maybe happiness didn't have to be about the big, sweeping circumstances, about having everything in your life in place. Maybe it was about stringing together a bunch of small pleasures. Wearing slippers and watching the Miss Universe contest. Eating a brownie with vanilla ice cream. Getting to level seven in Dragon Master and knowing there were twenty levels to go.
Maybe happiness was just a matter of the little upticks--the traffic signal that said "Walk" the second you got there--and downticks--the itchy tag at the back of your collar--that happened to every person in the course of a day. Maybe everybody had the same allotted measure of happiness within each day."
~The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ann Brashares

Reading this book brought me many upticks, moments of increased happiness.

This book is the first in a series of four, listed here:
  1. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2001)
  2. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood (2003)
  3. Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood (2005)
  4. Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood (2007)
The first book was made into a movie in 2005, and stars Alexis Bledel as Lena, Amber Tamblyn as Tibby, America Ferrera as Carmen, and Blake Lively as Bridget (Bree).
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, the sequel to the original movie, was released on August 6, 2008. The sequel mostly follows the fourth book, although it also includes material from previous books in the series. You can watch the movie trailers here, for either the first movie or for the sequel. I may not read the entire series, but I probably will watch a movie or two.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Lucky One: A Sense of Destiny

I think The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks would make a good movie because this romance is filled with action and suspense. But I 'm getting ahead of myself here. I've just finished reading Sparks' latest book, which is a real page turner. Each chapter in The Lucky One is titled by the character whose perspective is featured, or by the characters the chapter focuses on, Clayton, Thibault, and Beth. Other characters are also important, Ben, Nana, Victor, Drake, and the dog, Zeus, but they are supporting characters rather than main ones. In this book, a strong sense of destiny leads U.S. Marine Logan Thibault out of Iraq and into the romance of his life in (where else?) North Carolina. Needless to say, it's not without problems, mainly in the form of Beth's ex-husband, Deputy Keith Clayton. Without revealing too much about the book, I'll say that while reading this book, I really wanted Thibault to be honest about everything from the start, to avoid future complications and misunderstandings, but knew it wasn't possible given how "unexplainable" things seemed. You can read more reviews of The Lucky One on Amazon.

I've now read every published book written by Nicholas Sparks, fourteen in all!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

"It takes honeybee workers ten million foraging trips to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey."
~Bees of the World, The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

Each chapter of The Secret Life of Bees begins with a quote about bees, a tidbit of information about these humming, hovering honey-makers. I loved this NY Times bestseller--it's warm, radiant, and one-of-a-kind--and when I read it a couple of years ago, couldn't help but think that it would make a great movie. Judging from the movie trailer, it will be. It's coming to theaters on Oct. 17 and stars Queen Latifah (who better to play the queen bee?), Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, and others. Set in South Carolina in 1964, the film is the story of Lily Owens, a 14 year-old girl haunted by the memory of her late mother, who comes to live with May, June, and August, a trio of beekeeping sisters. I can't wait to see it.

I'm still reading The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks and will post about it soon. Last night, I had another dose of Sparks, in the form of the movie, The Notebook, which was shown on TV on ABC Family.

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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