Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Really Random Tuesday #14: CSN Winner and Random Posts

Congratulations to Mami2jcn, the randomly chosen, lucky winner of a $75 gift certificate from CSN stores. I will email you the details soon. Enjoy your shopping spree with CSN!

If you didn't win this time, don't despair. CSN is extremely generous and hosts many other giveaways online, and I have terrific book giveaways posted on the right side of my blog, so you might just try your luck again.

Christmas (and several family birthdays) have kept me ridiculously busy lately, and so I don't have a long post today. Instead, I'll list some of the most recent Really Random Tuesday posts (in no particular order) published by other book bloggers for your browsing pleasure.

Leslie from Under My Apple Tree:
First Day of Winter and a Wovel
Winners and Potatoes

Veens from Giving Reading A Chance!!!:
A Day Early with a Gush Fest!

Naida from the bookworm:
NYC, lots of tasty treats and Jane Austen
24 inches of snow and the top 10 books of 2010

Avis from she reads and reads:
Another Snow and Kitty Pic
Snow and Kitty Pics

Vivienne from Serendipity:
Really Random Tuesday

I'm appreciative of all the book bloggers who have done this meme over the past year. 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.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 20, 2010

First Lines 2010

As 2010 draws to a close, we are about to start a new decade. This year has gone by too quickly, and I'm thankful to have at least recorded bits of my reading life in this blog. About a year ago, I discovered a fun meme for the end of the year on Kate's Book Blog. This meme is by Melanie from The Indextrious Reader. The idea is, in Melanie's words, "to take the first line of each month's first post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year." I did this, skipping over quotes from books and other sources, to form a collage that represents my blog in 2010. To read any post in its entirety, click on the month of the post.

When was the last time a book made you cry?

Admittedly, I have a problem.


Want to play?

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli is the story of a brave, young woman, Helen Adams, an untrained but talented photojournalist who travels to Vietnam during the war years, determined to somehow understand more about the death of her brother, who died as a soldier there.

My mailbox pales in comparison to certain book bloggers out there (you know who you are), but I'm not complaining.


I'm back!

When I first started blogging about books in May of 2008, I only dreamed of the day when I'd be sent books in the mail.

I almost feel like a child boasting about Christmas gifts!

Oh, happy day!

Welcome to another edition of Really Random Tuesday!

'Tis the season. . .already?

Having done this meme for the first time at the end of last year, I was more conscious of my first lines throughout the year, and even though I wasn't sure I'd do the meme again, I did put more effort into my opening lines (with varying degrees of success). If you'd also like to create a collage of your blog posts from the past year, why not try this meme yourself?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Giveaway from CSN Stores

Whenever the holidays approach, I do a lot of shopping. I shop for gifts for friends and family--mostly. While I'm browsing for others, I can't help but find a few things that I'd like to have for myself or for the house. For example, I'd like to get some new counter stools to spruce up our kitchen. I'd love to find a bookcase or two to house the many books I've acquired since becoming a book blogger. Or a mini crock pot, to make small portions of food for my vegetarian daughter, or salsa roja with a hint of chipotle.

I'm no stranger to online shopping, either. My mantra this year: why face the ridiculous crowds at the mall, shopping centers, and parking lots if I don't have to? Recently I discovered CSN Stores.com, which has over 200 sites online and offers free shipping on many items! The four items pictured are from CSN, and they have thousands more.

Exciting news! How would you like to win a $75 gift certificate that can be used on any CSN site? CSN is very generously offering this prize to one lucky winner who will be chosen randomly (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For an extra chance at winning, take a look at some of the goodies offered by CSN, at AllBarStools.com, Cookware.com, HolidayDecorationsDirect.com, toysandgamesonline.com, or any of their other sites. Then return here and tell me in your comment what you'd like to spend the gift certificate on.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

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

Special thanks to Caitlin and Alexandra from CSN stores for offering this incredible giveaway to my readers.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Breaking Out of a Rut with The Friday 56

When it comes to memes, I am definitely a creature of habit. I do the same memes on a regular basis: Mailbox Monday, Really Random Tuesday (a meme of my own creation), Wondrous Words Wednesday, and the Book Blogger Hop. While I enjoy these memes and consider them to be my favorites, I know that there are other fabulous memes in the book blogosphere that I have yet to try. I decided to break out of my meme rut and try a new one that has recently caught my eye. It's called The Friday 56 and it's hosted by Freda's Voice.

Here are the rules:
  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56.
  • Find any sentence that grabs you.
  • Post it.
  • Add your link to the linky.

I looked for a final copy of a book (as opposed to an advance copy which we are not supposed to quote from). I found Mr. Darcy's Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson, which I won on Laura's Reviews, turned to page 56, and selected this sentence.

"Georgiana barely prevented herself from a very unladylike snort at this commentary on her cousin Lord St. George, but her training prevailed and she turned her attention back to the stage."

This sounds like a book I will enjoy!

I've just added this new-to-me meme to my post (and page) simply entitled, Memes.  If The Friday 56 also appeals to you, why not play along?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Really Random Tuesday #13: Magazines, Holiday Cards, and Oven Fries

As much as I love reading books, especially in bed, sometimes I just want to curl up with a magazine and relax. Or sit in the living room, feet propped up, and leaf through a magazine, looking at the pictures and reading a bit. Magazines that belong to waiting rooms often keep me calm or entertained before appointments, and at times I discover bright ideas in them; I may be inspired to try a different way of doing something, a new product, or a recipe. Once in a great while, I pick up a magazine that catches my eye at the check-out while shopping, but for the most part, I read what comes into my house in the mail, and so I thought I'd mention the magazines I get regularly in this fashion.

MORE is a monthly magazine, "for women of style and substance". My good friend, Eriko, gave me a two-year subscription to this magazine as a birthday gift. (I told her that she doesn't need to get me a birthday gift next year.) I've only read a couple of issues so far but have enjoyed this magazine, which has featured actresses Jane Lynch and Jennifer Beals in recent issues.

My husband started my subscription to The New Yorker many years ago when we were first married, because I'm from NYC. Now I have quite a collection, and still save as many copies as I can, although we're running out of room for them. I love this weekly magazine, and only regret that I don't spend more time reading it. I enjoy the fiction and in-depth articles in The New Yorker. I really do feel as if I should be reading more of the excellent writing in it, which would hopefully help me improve my own writing. I also like to read about the happenings around the city, which I don't visit often enough (maybe once a year) but always love reading about. And the cartoons in this magazine are insanely funny.

I also get Prevention, a health magazine geared toward women (because we are usually the ones who take care of the health of our families). It presents useful health articles, news and tips, and occasionally I'll find a great recipe in it. A few months ago, I found a recipe for a hearty chicken and chickpea stew which is much better than it sounds, and is actually quite delicious. (I've also made a vegetarian version using vegetable broth and zucchini instead of chicken broth and chicken.)

Many book bloggers get books in the mail, myself included. Many of us get many books in the mail, which is the whole idea behind one of my favorite memes, Mailbox Monday. Do you also get magazines in the mail (or from stores), and if so, which ones?


Usually, I go to Barnes & Noble to shop for books. This bookstore not only has a wonderful array of books, but also carries holiday cards. I ventured to my local Barnes & Noble because I remembered that last year, they carried UNICEF cards. I strongly believe in this charitable organization (and have a permanent link to UNICEF on my blog). This year, I found some UNICEF cards again at Barnes & Noble. They had a whole table full of cards, including some UNICEF cards, and many of the cards were marked 30% off. I also received a 10% discount because I have a member card. (Half-jokingly, I asked the cashier if they offered a book blogger discount. He said not at this point in time, but that you never know what the "folks back east" are thinking about doing!) Anyway, if you want to buy holiday cards I encourage you to go to Barnes & Noble and look for UNICEF cards (and maybe a book for yourself or for a gift).


For years, I've been making a healthier version of French fries by baking sliced up potatoes with a bit of olive oil and spices in the oven. But I recently learned the "water trick" in the book Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin, a book I've mentioned before.  Soak clean, unpeeled, sliced potatoes (any variety, such as russet, red, or yellow) in cold water for about half an hour before you bake them. Dry them off, then add a teaspoon or two of oil and sprinkle with salt and spices.  I've been using a bit of organic oregano and chili spice but you can get as creative as you'd like.

Oven-ready healthy fries

Bake at 400º for about 40 minutes, or until desired crispness.  Flip potatoes so that they cook evenly, and check them occasionally so that they don't burn. Serve with ketchup, salsa, or your favorite dipping sauce.


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.

Please be sure to visit these other Really Random Tuesday posts:
Naida's post, NYC, lots of tasty treats and Jane Austen
Avis' post from last Tuesday, Boots, Kitty Pic, & Giveaway Winner, and from this Tuesday, Snow and Kitty Pics.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Conversation with Vanessa Morgan

Seems it never rains in Southern California, except when I am working on something related to this book, Drowned Sorrow, in which water plays a leading role. While I read the book, it rained steadily, and last night as I began to work on this interview it suddenly started to rain with a vengeance. Mere coincidence?

Having recently reviewed this eerie, chilling novella by Vanessa Morgan, I'm thrilled to now present an interview with the author.

1) Welcome, Vanessa! Please tell us a bit about your background and the inspiration behind Drowned Sorrow, a supernatural 
thriller. How did you begin your career as an author of horror fiction? 

VM: I’ve always been a horror girl. I’ve been fascinated with everything paranormal and horror since I was just a toddler. I don’t even know where it comes from; I just know it’s been there ever since I was born. I remember coming home from school and going to video stores just to watch the covers in the horror movie section. I could stand there for hours just looking at them and hoping that I could watch them one day. Oh, and I tortured my Barbie dolls and acted out horror stories with them. So amidst all this abnormality, I think it’s normal that I started to write horror fiction.

(In college, a friend and I would throw some of our dolls down the staircase from up above just to see the shocked reaction of the "proper" girls in the dorm. It was great fun to us at the time, and the thought of it now still makes me laugh.)

2) Megan, Jenna, Michael, Nigel, Eva, Kenny, and others are vivid, life-like characters in your book. Are your characters based on real people?

VM: I needed all these different characters because they had to show a clear image of the villagers and what they were capable of. It was difficult to link all of them together without making the story too complicated and without revealing the twist ending. It was important to get to know these people and their feelings, but just not quite well enough so they’d keep some secrets from the reader. Almost everyone in the story pretends; they are sometimes even lying to themselves. They weren’t based on real people though. On the other hand, the character of Jennifer in The Strangers Outside was entirely based on my sister; most of the dialogue and actions are things she actually said and done.

3) I shouldn't forget to mention a very unique character in your story. Water--Moonlight Creek Lake in particular--is also a character of sorts in your book, with the power to change people. Please elaborate a bit about how that evolved.

VM: It’s true when you say that the lake is as a character in Drowned Sorrow. All the characteristics of a character are present: it thinks, moves, kills… it’s the driving force behind the story and the people in it. I didn’t know it was going to be that way in the beginning; this is one of the things that evolved during the rewriting process.

4) Your short story, The Strangers Outside is being (or has been) filmed, and soon Drowned Sorrow will be made into a movie with Alison Carroll, to be directed by Drew Barrymore. I think that must be incredibly exciting! The setting and creepiness of the book set the stage for an unforgettable movie. When were you first contacted about this? Do you appear in any of your films?

VM: I got contacted for the movie adaptation of Drowned Sorrow right after the book got released in 2009. A movie producer had read it and thought that the visuals from Drowned Sorrow would make for a great movie. I have no idea how close they are to filming the movie. It’s a slow process. The Strangers Outside, on the other hand, got adapted at lightning speed because it wasn’t as ambitious in terms of budget. The shooting is now finished and the film is in the editing stage. I’ve seen a few rushes and I’m impatient to see the completed movie. I’ve posted photos of the filming locations on my blog. And, no, I don’t appear in any of my films; I prefer to be discreet. My cat Avalon appeared in The Strangers Outside though.

(Vanessa, please let me know as soon as Drowned Sorrow is released as a movie. Now I want to see The Strangers Outside as well, and find your fabulous feline in the film. I love that it was filmed in Belgium.)

5) Which songs, bands, or music would you like to include on the soundtrack for the film version of Drowned Sorrow?

VM: I love all sorts of music, but I don’t think that Drowned Sorrow is the kind of movie that would benefit from bands and singers. In my opinion, a minimal creepy soundtrack is the best option, something in the vein of The Shining maybe. Alex Corbi, who also made the soundtrack for the film adaptation of my book The Strangers Outside, is the first name on my list when it comes to finding a good composer.

(I also greatly enjoy many types of music, and agree that a minimal creepy soundtrack will be best for the movie.)

6) Who are some of the authors who have influenced your writing? Which horror films have had an influence on your work?

VM: I believe that every author influences my writing in one way or another. Every author has helped me on a subconscious level to determine what I want my books to feel like or what I want to avoid, but I think I’ve been influenced more by horror movies than horror literature, probably because I’ve seen almost every horror movie ever made, even the ones that no one ever heard of.

Some book critics have compared Drowned Sorrow and The Strangers Outside to the work of M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village, The Happening). I believe that Shyamalan and I have a lot in common – the human element that is as important as the horror story, the twist ending, the mystery… Other names that I feel have had an influence on me are Jaume Balaguero, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, John Hancock, David Cronenberg, Ahn Byeong-ki, Hideo Nakata…. Several Spanish and Asian names as you can see. But it’s the same as with books; I think every movie influences me in some way even when I don’t think about them when I write.

7) Do you like being compared to Stephen King?

VM: I have to admit that it has helped my career quite a lot. Stephen King is such a household name that people know immediately what they can expect from my books when they read that I’m the ‘female version of Stephen King’, so I’m certainly not going to complain about it.


You're a highly imaginative writer. Do you brainstorm for ideas? Do you carry around a notebook to jot down ideas? How do you refine your work? How many drafts do you typically write for any particular project? I apologize for all the parts to this question--but I am curious!

VM: Thanks. Coming up with creepy ideas is the easy part of the writing process. The ideas that I jot down in a notebook are almost always general story ideas for a next book. The brainstorming begins once I’m working on a new book, especially in the rewriting phase. I write at least four or five drafts of each book. The basis and structure of the book usually stay more or less the same; rewriting is more about character development and finding imaginative ideas that will turn the story into something special. My first drafts are already suspenseful and creepy, but they lack character development and substance. For Drowned Sorrow I also had to come up with a logical explanation to the story, but I didn’t want to explain the events in an obvious way. I wanted Drowned Sorrow to work on a subliminal level. There are many details and conversations in Drowned Sorrow that may seem irrelevant at first, but they are hints and explanations to what you will find out later. Therefore, I believe that Drowned Sorrow is a book that the reader will enjoy even more the second time around.

(Vanessa, I noticed some of the hints you speak of and am sure I'd enjoy reading your book at least one more time. I imagine I'll want to watch the movie numerous times as well.)

9) Where do you write? What advice do you have for aspiring authors, especially women?

VM: In my former apartment, I used to write at a desk with my guinea pig next to me, but now that I have a notebook and my guinea pig has left me, I write a little bit everywhere depending on my mood – desk, sofa, park, terrace, library, etc.

I don’t think there’s a difference between men and women when it comes to writing and pursuing a career. The best advice that I can give is: don’t give up. Your writing may be really bad in the beginning, you may even not be able to put a sentence together, but if you persist, you can accomplish great things. And also, write what you want to read. Constantly ask yourself: if I were to pick up this book from a bookstore without knowing what to expect, would I be happy with it? What would I want to see in this book that is not there right now? Asking these questions has really helped me in coming up with creepy stories.

Thank you, Vanessa. It was very gracious of you to do this interview for my book blog. You've whetted my appetite for horror fiction and movies. Please keep me posted about the release of Drowned Sorrow as a movie and your future work.

Thanks for reading!  Comments welcomed.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holiday Gift Giveaway Hop, Regular Hop, and a Winner

'Tis the season. . .already? I really can't believe it's December, time for the holidays. It's also time for a lovely surprise, the Holiday Gift Giveaway Hop, December 1 - December 5, hosted by the brilliant Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books (did you notice her adorable holiday blog header?). Kudos to Simply Stacie, Little Yayas, My Wee View, Review Retreat, and Stockpiling Moms for organizing this fabulous event. There are nearly 250 blogs hosting giveaways, many of which are international!

Speaking of giveaways, I've just chosen my book giveaway winner (drum roll, please). Lori L. from She Treads Softly is the winner of Anasazi Intrigue, the first book in a new, mystery series by Linda Weaver Clarke. Congratulations, Lori! If you you didn't win this time, I have other book giveaways posted on the right side of my blog, so you might just try your luck again. Please stay tuned for new giveaways, including one from CSN Stores.com. And don't forget to visit the Holiday Gift Giveaway Hop for giveaways galore!

This week's regular Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books, lasts from December 3 - December 6. This weekly BOOK PARTY is an opportunity for book bloggers to socialize, connect with other book lovers, discover new book blogs, and just have some fun! Sometimes we need a break from all of our reading and writing. :)

Each week, Jennifer presents a question for participating book bloggers to answer. This week's question was posed by Marce from Tea Time With Marce: What very popular and hyped book in the blogosphere did you NOT enjoy and how did you feel about posting your review?

Good question, which brings up all kinds of issues. After thinking about this question, I realized that I don't read many books that are wildly popular in the blogosphere. A lot of the books I read and review are newer books, and some have not yet been released to the public, so they haven't been "hyped" yet. Others are older books, which may not be read as widely today. Sometimes, I'll post a review and others will comment to say that they're not interested in reading the book I presented; although I'm not trying to "sell" the book to anyone, I may wonder why, but respect the fact that we all have individual reading preferences (and quirks). In my reviews, I try to be honest but also fair; I don't bash books, but try, with some degree of tact and hopefully skill, to write something worth reading about any particular book.

Thanks for reading! If you'd like me to visit your blog, please leave a comment.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Everything I Never Wanted to Be

"I do remember her weeks in intensive
care. . .her seizures and vomiting. . .her stays in detox and rehab. And I remember watching her when she was psychotic from meth and cowering in the corner of the dark laundry room because the helicopters were coming to get her. A ninety-pound stranger. Watching and feeling that I had lost her. The "her" she was--my beautiful, beautiful girl--now someone else, something else."

~Everything I Never Wanted to Be, Dina Kucera

I can't say that I enjoyed Everything I Never Wanted to Be: a memoir of alcoholism and addiction, faith and family, hope and humor by Dina Kucera, because I don't enjoy reading about the painful struggles of others, although the book is laced with humor (and made me want to sample the food of Albuquerque, and Hatch green chili). In fact, this book was quite difficult for me to read. As the parent of teenagers, I know that there are a lot of dangers out there, drugs and alcohol, and other things that I don't even know about. It's a scary time for teens as well as for their parents. I've had my share of sleepless nights, and I'm sure I'll need to endure more.

Everything I Never Wanted to Be, published in 2010, is a truthful memoir. The author, who lives in Phoenix, grew up in Albuquerque in an alcoholic family ('alcoholismrunsinthefamily'); both her grandparents and parents were alcoholics, and Dina is a recovered alcoholic who has also struggled with addictions to pills. The cycle of substance abuse continued with Dina's own daughters. Perhaps her worst nightmare of all began when her beautiful daughter, Carly, started using heroin at age fourteen. Not pot. Not cocaine. Heroin. The hard stuff. Her other two daughters, Jen and April, also suffered from substance abuse and related problems.

I must admit that this book held me captive from the very first page. The prelude includes statements such as "I share needles" written by Dina's youngest daughter, Carly, then age sixteen, that are extremely affecting and heart-wrenching. From a young age Carly is self-aware and reflective, and the title of the book comes from another statement written by her. In the book, Dina works as a grocery store checker and is also a stand-up comic. Her honesty and repeated efforts to help her daughters are nothing short of remarkable, a testament to her deep love for them. She doesn't give up but battles the "family inheritance" with strength and tenacity, with the help of her supportive husband, John. I admire Dina's great courage, openness, and ability to find humor in even the darkest situations, and for sharing her story with others.

"In my house we talk freely about alcohol, heroin, meth, coke, pot, OxyContin, and other drugs. We also talk about sobriety, rehab, hope, God, and faith. We make constant jokes about drugs and alcohol because it takes away the pain of the thing."
~Everything I Never Wanted to Be, Dina Kucera

Carly is also honest about her drug use and has been through detox and rehab numerous times. It is my sincere hope that Carly will realize her great potential and be able to achieve her dream to become a lawyer, or another type of professional, such as a psychologist or substance abuse counselor.

Special thanks to Trish from TLC for sending me this book. Please visit the other stops on TLC's Everything I Never Wanted to Be book tour for additional reviews. If you're interested in reading this riveting memoir, you can get a 30% discount off Dina's book at www.everythinginever.com by entering the coupon code "Dina" at the checkout.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mailbox Monday

Although it's one of my favorite memes, I haven't done Mailbox Monday yet this month. I've posted in the nick of time to report the two new books that I received in the mail last week.

Jocelyn from Kelley & Hall sent me an advance copy of Gardens of Grief by Boston Teran (publication date: April 2011), a novel about the Armenian genocide, soon to be a major motion picture (possibly starring Kim Kardashian). Many of my relatives were Armenian, and they traveled to America to escape the genocide, so I'm very interested in reading this book. Who is Boston Teran? Mystery surrounds the identity of this author. Some believe he's a well-known writer using a pseudonym, while others believe the name is used by a group of writers who write under one name.

Lisa Roe, the Online Publicist, sent me Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression (2009) by Ida Lichter, a psychiatrist and contributor to The Huffington Post. This book features the stories of Muslim women from around the world, "as they question ideology and culture, patriarchal and religious beliefs, and demand the social and political rights women lack in many Muslim countries." I've already skimmed a few pages and think this is an important book.

Please stay tuned for my reviews of these books.

Created by Marcia from The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday is currently on tour. During the month of November, Julie from Knitting and Sundries has been hosting this fabulous meme. What new books have you gotten recently in the mail or from elsewhere?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Drowned Sorrow

"Except for the few shops that had tried futilely to keep up, the village appeared as if it had been frozen in time. A large stone fountain graced what Megan loosely termed a town square, and around it sat four wooden benches. Though a gentle rain still fell, the few people she saw moving around it did so without umbrellas, as unmindful of the rain as if they walked in bright sunshine. They seemed extremely pale and moved at a slower pace than she was accustomed to seeing, but she only shook her head and grinned at whoever was looking in her general direction."
~Drowned Sorrow, Vanessa Morgan

When author Vanessa Morgan emailed me about reviewing her work, her novella, Drowned Sorrow, a supernatural thriller, captured my interest. Vanessa is also the author of The Strangers Outside (released in September 2010), a Kindle short story that's being made into a movie, filmed in Belgium.

Published in 2008, Drowned Sorrow is the story of a reporter, Megan Blackwood, who is anguished over the death of her 18-year-old son, Josh. Saddled with deep sorrow and guilt, Megan leaves her job, her marriage dissolves, and she decides to take a trip to a tiny, remote village called Moonlight Creek with her 14-year-old daughter, Jenna, and their dog, Oscar, in an attempt to reconnect with her daughter and begin healing. Although it was recommended to them by a friend, Moonlight Creek turns out to be a strange and ominous place, which always smells like mildew. Residents seem to possess an odd connection to the dark and sinister lake, the town's centerpiece. There is something supernatural about the lake that affects everyone in the village. For Meagan and Jenna, things go from bad to worse over the course of a few days stay at Nigel Matthew's damp, shabby hotel in Moonlight Creek.

After reading only a few pages of Drowned Sorrow, I was immersed in the story. Both the setting and the characters are well-crafted. Wonderful, creepy details abound, such as walls and ceilings that leak water around the corners and edges, and a grocery store that only sells water, which add to the menacing atmosphere. I can imagine this as a movie, with the eerie, icy cold lake that seems to have a mind of its own, the pallid, expressionless villagers, and the constant, dreary rain, dampness, and puddles. As I huddled with Drowned Sorrow and a cup of tea on my reading couch, the weather outside conspired with the book and it rained as I read (an unusual event for Southern CA at this time of the year). I was shocked not only by the chilling contents but by how great I thought this book was. It's everything horror fiction should be: creepy, scary, suspenseful, and yet also touching.

I thought this was a great read! Vanessa Morgan is a very talented screenwriter and novelist. Drowned Sorrow will be made into a movie, directed by Drew Barrymore. I can see this as the next The Shining, and will rush out to see the movie, even if Vanessa reneges on her promise to use me as an extra. ;)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anasazi Intrigue, Mayan Intrigue, and a Giveaway

Having read A Family Saga in Bear Lake Valley, a series of five novels by Linda Weaver Clarke, I felt fortunate to receive two of her new books to review. They are a departure for the author, whose previous books are historical romances (although the new books also include a healthy dose of romance). Published in 2010, both Anasazi Intrigue and Mayan Intrigue are set in present times, complete with busy schedules and cell phones, and tell the story of John and Julia Evans (John is the grandson of one of the characters in the last book of the family saga series). Author Linda Weaver Clarke draws from her own experiences as well as from extensive research in her newest books, which are mystery novels with a central theme: archaeological theft. I don't want to spoil the plots or mysteries from either book, so my reviews below are brief introductions to Linda's latest novels.
"She was a reporter and was supposed to write about the tragedy, but this was personal. Her valley and her friends' homes were being ripped apart. The destruction below wrenched at Julia's heart."
~Anasazi Intrigue, Linda Weaver Clarke
Anasazi Intrigue is the first novel in this series, which begins with a devastating flood that leads Julia, a reporter, to try to solve the case of the poisoned fish and cats. Soon after she starts to investigate, Julia and her husband, John, find themselves in danger, because Julia is "too observant", and the mystery unfolds. The disaster portrayed in the opening of the book is based on the actual Santa Clara/Virgin River flood of 2005 in southern Utah. The author weaves in many fascinating tidbits about the Anasazi Indians and their dwellings, which make the book an interesting page-turner.
"Instinctively, she knew that her life was in danger. Why, she did not know."
~Mayan Intrigue, Linda Weaver Clarke
Eager for more adventures with the Evans, I started to read Mayan Intrigue as soon as I had finished the first novel. In this book, John and Julia venture to the Yucatan Peninsula to take a relaxing vacation and nurture their marriage, which has suffered as a result of John's neglect (due to his work as a knife maker). Julia is also on assignment for the newspaper while in Mexico, and the couple is joined by their bachelor friend, Paul, a dedicated archaeologist. What starts out as a romantic trip quickly turns into a dangerous adventure among the Mayan ruins and jungles, and the vacationers are on the run from thieves--and wild animals! Excitement prevails, and this book is full of mystery and suspense.

Linda's writing is lively and down-to-earth; she has the ability to make you feel as if you're in these stories, along with John and Julia, trying to decipher the truth and escape from harm. Before reading these novels, I didn't know much about archaeological thievery, although I was introduced to artifact theft when I interviewed Linda this past April (please read the interview for more details).

When the third book in this series is published, Montezuma Intrigue, I hope to read it as well, because there are many things I like about these books, including the vivid writing, humor, and suspense, which kept me entertained. But to me what has been most outstanding about this series so far are the characters, especially Julia. She is a feminist in the best sense of the word. Julia is unafraid to go after what she wants; she is an equal partner in her marriage and has an adoring husband and three daughters, and an exciting job as a reporter (sometimes it's a bit too exciting). She's admired by others who perceive her correctly (even by some of the thieves). I think this is important because all too often, men seem to be the only ones admired, in books and in life. Julia is admired not just for her beauty but for her intelligence and resourcefulness as well. Julia's daughters, the twins, Sharlene and Faith, and April, are portrayed as strong young women, and we expect that they will also follow their dreams. They have a strong role model, Julia, and a loving father who is supportive of his wife.

Wonderful news! Linda Weaver Clarke is generously offering a copy of the first book in this new series, Anasazi Intrigue, as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For an extra chance at winning, read the first chapter of Anasazi Intrigue, then return here and leave a comment about your favorite part of the chapter, or about what first grabbed your interest while reading the excerpt. The chapter is short and should only take a few minutes to read.
  • For an extra 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 5 PM PST on Wednesday, December 1. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Thursday, December 2. Good luck!

Special thanks to Linda Weaver Clarke for sending me her books to review and for offering this giveaway.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Really Random Tuesday #12: The Beatles, Bookmarks, and Pita Pizzas

Welcome to another edition of Really Random Tuesday! This is a noteworthy Tuesday, because the music of The Beatles is now available on iTunes. I will celebrate the occasion by purchasing a Beatles tune or two, probably Don't Let Me Down if it's available, and another song. (Photo of John, Paul, George, and Ringo from Wikipedia.)

Congratulations to Freda from Freda's Voice, the randomly chosen winner of my international bookmarks giveaway!

Freda, I will mail these bookmarks to you very soon. Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway. If you didn't win this time, don't despair! Other giveaways are posted on the right side of my blog, and I will be hosting more of them in the near future, so please stay tuned.

I was in a "cookbook mood" when I reached for this book from the shelf and discovered a tempting new recipe. Published in 1992, Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin, a gift from my sister to my vegetarian daughter, features recipes for meatless meals ready in a jiffy. Over the years, when the craving for homemade pizza struck, I tried all sorts of pizza crusts--made from scratch, from ready-made dough from the supermarket or "pizza man", from Boboli bread, and from English muffins--but I don't remember using pita bread as a crust. In the book, the author calls this "the most popular lunch" in her house, "served at least three times a week". Now I know why! I've already made them several times this past week, for lunch and dinner, and have topped the sauce and cheese with healthy veggies such as thinly sliced tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, black olives, and spinach, and I want to try broccoli (don't tell George Bush). These pizzas are very easy to prepare, and are really so simple that all you need is the idea, rather than the recipe, but the results are surprisingly gourmet. What makes this pizza even more sensational is that you use a combination of mozzarella and Muenster cheese, because the latter adds creaminess.

I used larger pita bread and cut them in half after they were baked, but you could use smaller ones. You could get experimental and try whole wheat pita bread, or a red Thai curry sauce instead of tomato sauce for a more exotic pizza. Or you could even add shrimp or grilled chicken and change this into a non-vegetarian meal. The options are limitless.

Pita pizzas are ready to bake for 8 to 10 minutes in a 400º oven.

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. Please be sure to visit Naida's blog, the bookworm, for her terrific Really Random Tuesday post.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: A Challenge Taken to Heart

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event for bloggers and readers, a chance to socialize in a virtual way, to connect with other book lovers, make new friends and followers, and share an appreciation of books. Hosted by the brilliant Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books, this Hop lasts from November 12 until November 15, so there's still ample time to sign-up and enjoy the blogosphere's best BOOK PARTY! If you'd like me to visit your blog, please leave a comment.

Jennifer's Book Blogger Hop gets better each and every week! In addition to presenting a question-of-the-week, often submitted by other book bloggers, she posed a unique challenge last week. Admittedly, I was reluctant at first to take on her seemingly hefty challenge. To sum it up, Jennifer asked that we find a new blog and really get to know it throughout the week, to leave at least five comments on that blog, and then to post about the experience during the next Hop. Initially, I was not going to do this challenge, because I already have plenty to do, blogging-wise and other-wise. But I thought about it, and I realized that this was indeed the whole point of the Book Blogger Hop, to discover a new blog or two that you truly want to visit frequently. At that point, I decided to follow through wholeheartedly on Jennifer's challenge.

After some perusing, I decided to focus on Leslie's blog, Under My Apple Tree, which features mostly books, with a bit of nature, birds, flowers, food and photography, interconnected in an artistic fashion. These are some of my favorite things, so I thought this blog would be a good fit for me. I was undoubtedly also influenced by a book I recently finished reading, Heart With Joy. While I don't routinely read many young adult books, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, reviewed it, and even interviewed the gracious author, Steve Cushman. Anyway, in this book there's a wonderful character, "Old Lady Peters", who is an avid bird-watcher and teaches the main character in the story, Julian Hale, to also watch and care for our feathered friends.

To make things easy for myself, and to insure that I would, indeed, leave frequent comments, I added Under My Apple Tree to my blogroll (which allows me to know at a glance when a blog has published a new post). Throughout the past week, I visited this blog numerous times and left many comments. (Leslie may have wondered who I was and why I was suddenly leaving so many comments!) I will continue to follow this blog in an earnest fashion. Because really, as I've mentioned already, the point of blog hopping is precisely to discover sites that interest you in more than a superficial way.

Thank you, Jennifer, for giving me the push I needed, and for helping me to discover a very lovely book blog!

Each week, Jennifer presents a question for participating book bloggers to answer. This week's question is from Christina from The Paperback Princesses: If you find a book that looks interesting but is part of a series, do you always start with the first title?

Another interesting question! As a general rule, I do try to start with the first book in a series. For example, I've read all of the books in The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith in order, although I have yet to read the last book in this series (it sits patiently in my TBR stack). However, there are definitely exceptions to the "rule". I read--and enjoyed--the well-crafted thriller, The Rembrandt Affair, which is a part of the Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva, without having read any of the preceding books. I should add that this book "stood alone" quite well.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Conversation with Steve Cushman

Having recently read and reviewed a new, memorable, coming-of-age novel, Heart With Joy, I am thrilled to now present an interview with the author, Steve Cushman.

1) Welcome, Steve! Please tell us a bit about your background, and the main inspiration for your latest book, Heart With Joy.

SC: I was born in Massachusetts but grew up in Florida and moved to Greensboro, North Carolina in 2000 to attend the MFA writing program at UNC-Greensboro and have lived here ever since. I've been an X-ray tech for about 17 years and writing for about 15 years.

My first novel, Portisville, was published in 2004. In 2008, I published a short story collection, Fracture City. Heart With Joy is my second published novel. The main inspiration for this novel was basically me thinking about what happens when a mother leaves her husband and son. I knew this father and son did not get along very well and I knew that I had to somehow bring them together. It took me about six years to figure out to do this. All my fiction starts with characters in a situation and then I do my best to figure things out from there.

2) Heart With Joy is a character-driven novel. Julian, his parents, and other characters come to life in your book.  Are your characters based on people you know or knew, from your imagination, or both?

SC: I usually don't base my characters on people I know, but in this case the Mrs. Peters' character is certainly modeled after my neighbor, Barbara Hughes. Barbara is not in her nineties and has never run over someone's leg, but she is a big bird watcher and the two of us have spent a good amount of time talking about birds. While none of the characters are based on me per se, there are instances where my thoughts come out through the story. For example, many of the things Julian says or thinks about cooking are things that I have thought.

3) As a multi-genre writer, which of your three works did you find the most fulfilling to write, Portisville, a literary thriller, Fracture City, a collection of short fiction, or Heart With Joy, a novel for young adults?

SC: Each book is special to me for various reasons--Portisville because it was the first one. To hold your own book in your hand or walk in to a bookstore and see it on a shelf is a pretty big deal for a writer. Fracture City basically represents the span of my writing life. Some stories were written twelve years ago and others were written two weeks before the book was accepted for publication, so it was very cool to have this collection of my writing. Heart With Joy is special to me because it is a novel that I always believed in and because it allowed me to write about so many things that were important to me: cooking, bird watching, and writing.

4) I am intrigued by the writing spaces of authors (and perhaps a bit nosy!).  Would you please share a photo and a few words about your writing or computer desk?

SC: My writing desk is nothing fancy, just a large table with my computer and printer. You can see that the monitor doesn't match and that's because I've gone through a couple monitors during the seven years I've had the computer. The desk is located upstairs in our extra bedroom. This is fine except for when we have company and I can't get to my desk. I'm thinking about getting a laptop for two reasons--one is that I simply need a new computer as this one is terribly slow and the other is the portability a laptop would offer. I write on the computer as opposed to pen and paper and if I have a laptop I can set it up anywhere and write away. We'll see. The room and desk are special to me in that I've spent so many hours there over the years and I've gotten some good news as well as not so good news sitting there.

Steve's writing space looks comfortable and very organized.
 You can catch a glimpse of Lucky, his cat, in the photo.
(Steve said that all of his pets make it into his writing.)

5) How did you pay your "writing dues"?  What is the best writing advice you have ever received? What additional advice would you share with aspiring authors?

SC: I think to pay your dues you have to sit your butt in your chair and write. Also, you have to read, a bunch. I did attend two creative writing graduate schools: Hollins University and UNC-Greensboro. While I think writing programs do a great job of giving you a foundation on what makes good writing the real test is afterward when you are out there on your own and you don't have a piece of writing due and you have to do it because you want or need to.

As for advice given, I met Larry Brown (a favorite writer of mine who died in 2004) back in 2002 and I told him I was a huge fan of his and that I too was a writer and he said to me "just keep working and good things will come." Simple advice but true and helpful and that is the same advice I would give to aspiring writers: just work and read and try to figure out why you like certain books and keep writing and eventually good things will come. I've known many people who were much better writers than me who stopped writing for a variety of reasons. I believe if you want to do something, then you do it no matter what.

6) Which books or authors did you enjoy most growing up?

SC: I didn't read much growing up, no more than what was assigned in school. But when I was in my late teens and early twenties I was working at a record store in Orlando, Florida. The manager of the store, Jim Boylston, would come in every day with stacks of books. He was in his thirties and owned a record store, so I thought he was pretty darn cool. I asked what he was reading and he told me about Larry Brown and Cormac McCarthy and Raymond Carver, so I started reading them. It was through reading these writers that I got interested in writing. I thought hey if they can do it why can't I. So of course I wrote a ton of bad stuff for a few years but by then it was too late. I was hooked on writing and eventually I did get better.

As for now, I read all sorts of stuff but do lean toward literary fiction. In the last month I have read two books that I thought were simply amazing: Sherman Alexie's The Half-True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (this is actually considered young adult) and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Vergehese. Both novels blew me away for different reasons. Next, I plan on reading John Hart's The Last Child and Labor Day by Joyce Maynard.

(Steve, like good actors, good writers make the craft look effortless and natural.   It's only when you sit down and attempt to write that the reality hits you--it's a lot more difficult than it seems!)

7) How does living in North Carolina influence your work as a writer?

SC: I don't know that it does. I've been here ten years. Heart With Joy is set in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Hale's house and yard and neighborhood described in the book are essentially my home and neighborhood and the park at the end of my street. Most of my stories have been located in Florida because that is where I spent about 30 years of my life. So I don't know. I will say that Greensboro is a nice town--not too big, not too small.

Steve and his son enjoy a fall festival in North Carolina.

8) What writing project(s) are you currently working on?

CS: I'm working on some short stories and poems as I've been pretty busy promoting Heart With Joy. After the first of the year, I plan on working on a another YA novel that I wrote the first draft of back over the summer.   I'm looking forward to that.

9) Last but not least, please tell us something surprising or offbeat about your work or yourself.

CS: I played bass in a band back in the late eighties that opened for the Flaming Lips in Orlando, Florida. And yes, I had a mullet and wore it proudly.

Thanks for having me.

Steve, thanks very much for doing this interview. I wish you much continued success.

Your comments are welcomed.  Have I forgotten to ask Steve anything?  If you have a question for the author, please feel free to leave it in the comments.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Be Love Now

India is the perfect setting for a spiritual journey or an inner exploration, a glorious land of yogis, ashrams, flavorful foods, festivals, and temples. In 1967, when Ram Dass first ventured to India, he was still Dr. Richard Alpert, a distinguished Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr. Timothy Leary. While in India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, known as Maharaj-ji, who gave Ram Dass his new name, which means “servant of God.”

To a large extent, this book is about gurus, or teachers, and Ram Dass himself is a spiritual guru to many of the Boomer generation. Published in 2010, his new book, Be Love Now: The Path of the Heart, written with Rameshwar Das, is the third in a trilogy that includes Be Here Now (1971) and Still Here (2000). Be Love Now is dedicated to Ram Dass' guru, Maharaj-ji. Interestingly, Ram Dass says that he abhorred the idea of gurus initially. He was nearly panic-stricken during his first meeting with his guru-to-be, worried about someone stealing the car he had driven through the mountains of India, a Land Rover, and felt even more uncomfortable when Maharaj-ji asked him if he could have the car. Soon, though, Ram Dass had a keen awakening. He felt more love and understanding from Maharaj-ji than he had ever felt before from anyone. What was even more astonishing was that he also experienced a love for others beyond anything that he had ever before experienced. This presence of love affected him in a profound way, and was the start of his belief in gurus, in Maharaj-ji, and in a new kind of love as a state of being that radiates outward from within.

Pardon the vernacular but this is a mind-blowing book. I read--and reread several parts of--this book, but I still feel as if I have just scratched the surface, and won't claim to have completely understood all of it. Although this book is about 300 pages, it is pithy, full of profundity and insight. There is so much in Be Love Now to comprehend and to contemplate. I'd selected several wonderful paragraphs to quote, but I'm not supposed to quote from my copy of the book, which is an uncorrected proof. However, I did find this relevant quote, on Goodreads:
"The heart surrenders everything to the moment. The mind judges and holds back."
~Ram Dass
The author's writing is personal, engaging, and sometimes humorous, but his quest and his ideas are universal. The best way to read this book is to wrap yourself in a plaid blanket (or Snuggie), brew some chai tea, and open up your heart-mind to the limitless possibilities of love.

Special thanks to Trish from TLC for sending me this book. For more reviews, please visit TLC's book tour for Be Love Now.

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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