Friday, April 30, 2010

Garth Stein Video Interview and Raven Giveaway

Last month, I reviewed Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein. Now I'm presenting a short video interview with the author, and a new giveaway (U.S./Canada only) for his first novel, Raven Stole the Moon, along with a "Raven" umbrella, to allow "the art of reading in the rain", compliments of Sarah from Terra Communications.

  • To enter the giveaway for the book and umbrella, simply leave a comment.
  • For another entry, watch the video (it's less than 3 minutes long), then leave a comment related to the interview.
  • 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 5 PM on Monday, May 17. One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, May 18. Good luck!

To find out more about this author and his novels, visit the Garth Stein YouTube Channel.

Winner of Anasazi Intrigue

Couponmom is the winner of Anasazi Intrigue, autographed by the author, Linda Weaver Clarke. Congratulations!

As I often say, if you didn't win this time, don't despair! I have other book giveaways posted here, and more giveaways are planned for next month, when I celebrate my two year blogiversary. Please stay tuned.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Party Girl

Ah, let's go to the hop
Let's go to the hop (oh baby)
Let's go to the hop (oh baby)
Let's go to the hop
Come on, let's go to the hop

Just call me a party girl! Even though it's still Thursday, I wanted to start the party early. Hosted by Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books, the Book Blogger Hop is a great way to learn about new blogs and meet new friends. And who can resist this adorable button? Hop over to Crazy- for-Books to join the fun!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Live a Life You Love

My all-time favorite self-help books are How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Your Erroneous Zones by Wayne W. Dyer, and The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol. I read them years ago, but refer back to them at times, and really feel that these books have helped me immeasurably with my relationships with others as well as with myself. That being said, though, I don't read a lot of self-help books, and I review even less. However, I was open to reading and reviewing Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You because I felt it might offer some degree of empowerment, especially to women, which is one of the purposes of this site.

"For the first time in twenty-eight years, my perfect mask fell off and shattered into a thousand pieces around me. I confessed everything: that I'd made a mistake choosing Emergency Medicine as a specialty, that I had had enough of the huge workload, and how the antidepressants had helped at first, but didn't seem to be working anymore."
~Live a Life You Love, Dr. Susan Biali, M.D.

Live a Life You Love is a very personal book by Dr. Susan Biali. In it she talks about how she changed her own life. While working as a doctor, she liked helping people, but felt harried and oddly dissatisfied. Surprising those who knew her, she decided to leave the medical profession and pursue her passion to become a writer--and a flamenco dancer!

In the book she encourages us to think about changing our lives as well. She asks us if we are truly happy in our jobs, in our relationships, with our lives. She talks about the importance of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. In a clear and simple way, she outlines seven steps to follow in sections titled:

  • Allow Yourself to be You
  • Learn to Love Yourself
  • Honor Your Body
  • Rescue and Revitalize Your Relationships
  • Get a Life!
  • Make Room for the Divine
  • Make "Someday" Today

The author presents many ideas in this book, in an easy-to-read format. Even if you're not contemplating changing careers or making other major changes, Live a Life You Love has valuable ideas for making smaller but important changes. I found it interesting and inspiring.

Special thanks to Lisa from Online Publicist for sending me this book. Live a Life You Love counts toward the Women Unbound Reading Challenge hosted by Aarti, Care, and Eva.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Winner of The Lotus Eaters

Many congratulations to Darlene from Peeking Between the Pages! She's won a copy of the novel The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli.

If you didn't win this time, don't despair! I have other book giveaways posted on this site, and more giveaways are planned for the near future, so you might win a book soon.

As always, thanks for visiting. Your comments are welcomed and appreciated.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Conversation with Tiffany Baker, and a Giveaway

About a year ago, I read and reviewed The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, a novel by Tiffany Baker.  I first saw this  book advertised in the NY Times Book Review, and the unusual cover and title caught my attention and interest instantly.  Today I'm quite honored to have the opportunity to present an interview with the author, and to host a giveaway for her book, which has recently been released as a paperback.

1) Welcome, Tiffany! Your debut novel, published in 2009, is one-of-a-kind, an offbeat but thoroughly engaging story about the life of a giantess, Truly Plaice. Please tell us about the inspiration for your book.

TB: Everything started with Truly. I knew I wanted to write a story about an outcast woman in a small town, but when I began trying to tell Truly's story, her voice came through the ether as a BIG voice. And that seemed like a problem for a woman who was outcast. So then I thought, why not make Truly physically big? Why not make her so big that no one even wants to look at her and she becomes invisible for all intents and purposes? And things took off from there. Truly became larger than life, and I found my novel.

2) Your book is a tale of two sisters, beautiful, petite Serena Jane, and Truly, abnormally large, who came into this world at the expense of her mother.  The contrast between the sisters is marked, and makes us think about inner and outer beauty. How--or why--did you decide that height and size, and beauty, would play an important role in this story?

TB: It seems to me that so much of our crazy and materialistic culture is so intent on shoving women into little boxes when it comes to issues of identity and beauty. Why are so many women getting breast implants and plastic surgery? Why do so many young girls develop eating disorders? Why are there so many diets out there? In a world where things are increasingly photo-shopped and airbrushed, it seems like women are supposed to erase all the individual, weird traits about themselves and try to mold themselves to fit some marketing target.

It makes me really mad, frankly, and I think it ultimately makes women terribly unhappy because they're losing the most unique and irreplaceable parts of themselves. In some extreme cases, you might even say they're losing their souls. I really hope that when women read this book they can go on Truly's journey of self-discovery with her and maybe reclaim some of their own inner beauty on the way. I know I did in writing this book.

3) The story features the use of herbs as remedies from nature.  How did you get interested in herbal healing, and how did you go about researching this?

TB: I did a lot of reading, both in books and on the Internet. It seems to me that as we make tremendous medical advances, we're also losing touch with the humanistic purpose of healing. All medicines originally derive from plants, after all, and once upon a time, all medicine was herbal. In the novel, the first Robert Morgan comes along and wrests the business of healing away from the local wise-woman, Tabitha, whom he later marries, and I wanted to show this transition from a folk-centered, womanly practice of healing to a more masculine and rigid practice. I wanted to show how that process is sometimes violent and also what is lost when we ignore the heart and simply pay attention to the intellect.

While I was writing this book, a number of people in my life died from illnesses--in some cases totally unexpected ones--and I was shocked by how central death is in life. Everyone goes through grieving at one time or another, and we all struggle with our own mortality. Yet again, however, our culture seems to take such great pains to ignore this. We focus on staying young, staying fit! Looking our best! That's not to say we shouldn't be healthy, but I think our larger culture is in serious denial when it comes to what people go through when they die.

4) Early this year, your book became a NY Times bestseller!  This must be very exciting to you, and give you extra validation as a writer.  What does this mean to you and your future as a novelist?

It was a dream come true for me to hit the NY Times list for a week, and it gave me a taste of what that can mean for a writer. Yes, it's totally validating because when you write novels, you spend long amounts of time locked alone in a room, and you're never really sure if you're ever going to connect with anyone. I'm so pleased to know that Truly's story is touching readers. She deserves the attention. As far as my future goes, well, let me put it this way: I promise to keep telling the best stories I can, and I hope people will keep wanting to read them!

5) How do you manage motherhood with your writing career, and what advice do you think is especially important for mothers who would like to write professionally?

Honestly, I have absolutely no good answer for this question. If anyone out there knows the secret to juggling working with mothering, please get in touch immediately! It's a total carnival. When I'm on a deadline, laundry piles up, the family eats take-out, and I skip soccer games. I just try to surf through it all, and deflect issues as they come up.

That being said, I love my family. They make me aware of how fragile life can be. I still can barely watch my littlest one trying to learn to ride his bike, and don't get me started on having to say goodbye on the first day of kindergarten. Having kids has made me so aware of how astonishingly deep the roots of love are sunk in all of us, and this is a very useful lesson for a novelist.

If you want to write while raising kids, I'd say it's important to take yourself seriously. Maybe you're only going to have an hour at a time, but make it YOUR hour. Lock the door. Leave the house. Sneak out if you have to. Ask for help from family and friends. If it takes a village to raise a child, I sometimes think it takes one to write a novel, as well. Also, learn to overlook the spilled milk, lint under the sofa, and that stack of pesky, unanswered mail.

6) Tell us one thing about yourself that may surprise or even shock us.

TB: Well, normally I'm pretty boring, but today--and I'm not even making this up--the supermarket caught on fire while I was shopping. Really. There I was, buying cucumbers and strawberries, and suddenly the store just started filling with smoke. I sighed, grabbed my bag out of the cart, and promptly left.

This makes the third fire I've been in. The other two times were in hotels. I've gotten really good at responding to theses situations now. If you're in a hotel and it catches fire in the middle of the night, remain calm! Make sure to put on your shoes, grab your coat and purse, take your computer if you're a novelist, and hustle to the nearest exit. Everything else is negotiable.

7) Please tell us about the book you're currently working on.

TB: It's a novel set in a salt march on Cape Cod, and it's about three women, two of them sisters, who all have a history with the same man. The first woman was his childhood love, her younger sister marries him, and then there's the pregnant teenaged mistress. It's juicy, it's atmospheric, and yes, fire is a theme.

Thank you for your questions, and thank you for featuring The Little Giant of Aberdeen County. I wish everyone out there lots of happy reading adventures!

Thank you, Tiffany! It's been a pleasure to learn more about you.

Terrific news! Newman Communications is offering a paperback copy of The Little Giant from Aberdeen County as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Thursday, May 13. The winner will be selected randomly and announced on Friday, May 14. Good luck!

Thanks to Tess from Newman Communications for arranging the interview and book giveaway.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Girls from Ames: Review and Giveaway

"My friends are my estate."
~Emily Dickinson
Early in life, I discovered the joys of friendship. I had a best friend starting in second or third grade, a girl named Patricia who lived in my neighborhood. Our first meeting was outside of a pet store, where we'd both stopped to admire some puppies playing in the window, while walking home from school one afternoon. We became inseparable friends after that, spending time together at school and outside of school. More often than not over the years, I've had a best friend, a deep friendship that lasted a year or two (or until I made a new best friend). While I don't belong to a large group of very close friends at this particular point in my life, I do have many female friends, and have been able to reconnect with a majority of my former best friends on Facebook this past year.

Friendship has been very important to me since childhood. However, I honestly didn't know if I'd enjoy reading about other people's friends. Would I find reading The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship tiresome? I grew up in NYC--could I relate to a story about growing up in Ames, a small, college-town in Iowa, filled with cornfields? Were the girls boring goody two-shoes? I wasn't sure if this book would truly hold my interest.

Published in 2009, The Girls from Ames was written by Jeffrey Zaslow, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, who also coauthored the inspirational book The Last Lecturewith Randy Pausch, which I read and reviewed. The book began because one of the Ames girls, Jenny, sent Jeffrey an email in 2003 about her group of friends. Three years later, he started an enormous project: to write a book about eleven girls with a forty-year friendship.
"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."
~Anais Nin
The author introduces each girl--Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny, Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, Diana, and Sheila--and provides a bit of family background. Most of the girls met each other in kindergarten or first-grade, and have stayed in touch in spite of moving from Ames to eight other states (all but one left Iowa), and starting their own families and careers.
"Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief."
~Swedish proverb
Throughout four decades, the Ames girls have remained very supportive of each other. Although they no longer live close to each other, they stay in touch through email and other means, get together for special events in their lives, such as weddings, have reunions, and celebrate the joys in the group, such as children born to members of the group. They also experience their share of sorrows, of death and illness, including cancer. (Why are so many relatively young women getting cancer--or is it just early detection? I have many friends and acquaintances who are cancer survivors.)

The Ames girls are not goody two-shoes, and were as adventurous as I was while growing up. Many of the girls are quite frank and talk about the past and present in candid terms--about boys, cornfield "keggers", men, marriage, divorce, jobs, depression, children--and openly reveal their feelings. I'm of the "same vintage", more or less, as the Ames Girls, so I could relate to a lot in this book. I cried near the end of Chapter 7, The Intervention, and at other parts of the book as well. I really felt the connection between these women, and as I became immersed in their stories, I thought about my own friendships over the years. Like the girls from Ames, I recognize the importance of celebrating special moments; this year I've been attending birthdays lunches for a group of about ten women (some of whom I don't know that well yet, but friendship takes time to develop and ripen). For me, friendship is an absolutely essential part of a healthy life, and I read the book with an eye toward how I could improve the quality of my own friendships, and help my children flourish in this area of life.

As a journalist, the author realizes the value of presenting honest stories about real people, and I was totally absorbed by this book. The events in The Girls from Ames are even more touching because they are true, and the book is wonderfully written, and quite humorous at times. If friendship is a subject near and dear to your heart, then this book is for you.

Terrific news! Penguin Group is generously offering a copy of The Girls from Ames as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For an extra entry, leave a comment about the role of friendship in your own life, or a favorite quote about friendship.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Thursday, May 6. The winner will be selected randomly and announced on Friday, May 7. You can also enter a different giveaway to win multiple copies of this book for your book club, so keep reading!

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC and Penguin Group for sending me The Girls from Ames. While reading this book, I thought it would be a great choice for book clubs. (I am not a member of a book club, although this book makes me wish I were.) If you take a few moments to register your book club with TLC by April 30, you could win up to 10 copies of this book in TLC's Book Club of the Month contest, a new feature at TLC! For more reviews of this book, visit the other stops on TLC's book tour for The Girls from Ames. To "meet" the Ames girls, please visit the official website for The Girls from Ames.

This book counts toward the Women Unbound Reading Challenge hosted by Aarti, Care, and Eva.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Interview with Linda Weaver Clarke, and a Giveaway

1) Welcome, Linda!  It's a pleasure to interview you a second time.  Please tell us about your new book, Anasazi Intrigue: The Adventures of John and Julia Evans.

LWC: It's about a devastating flood that takes out several homes in a small town, the importance of preserving ancient artifacts, and a few puzzling and mysterious events. Julia is a reporter, and when she finds out about a possible poison spill that kills some fish and neighbors' pets, she has a feeling that something isn't quite right. Before she realizes what is happening, Julia finds out that this incident is much bigger and more dangerous than she thought. With dead fish, a devastating flood, and miscreants chasing John and Julia, they have their hands full.

2) I'm always interested to discover the story behind the story. Where did the inspiration for Anasazi Intrigue come from?

LWC: It came from a true experience that really happened right here in my little valley in southern Utah. The Santa Clara/Virgin River flood in 2005 was a terrible disaster. About two hundred homes were seriously damaged and twenty-five were completely destroyed. The small five-foot-wide river, which could easily be crossed on foot or in a car, grew as wide as the length of a football field, and it was taking everything in its path. In three days time, it had dug into the earth's surface, carving away at the banks, creating ridges as high as forty feet deep. In fact, the river was moving at ten feet per hour, just like a plow pushing the dirt and trees down the river.

Everyone worked hard to help the residents remove what they could from their homes before the flood hit, but there were those who escaped with only the clothes on their backs. The experience of charity and compassion by the people was incredible. There was no prejudice of religion, race, culture, or status, just unconditional love and concern for everyone. Homes, clothes, and food were instantly found for the homeless. We all gathered together and tried to help in any way possible. Several weeks later, a man found his car thirty miles downstream from his home. It was amazing that he could find it.

3) What type of research goes into creating one of your mystery novels?

LWC: First, I find a subject that interests me. For example, with Anasazi Intrigue, I was interested in the Anasazi Indians right here in my valley. Who were they, where did they come from, how did they live? Many people wonder why they disappeared, leaving behind their belongings and valuables. Where did they go and why? There is much speculation about what might have happened. Some archaeologists believe that discord and tribal violence caused abandonment of the villages.

In my research, I found that archaeological thievery is becoming more and more of a problem every year. When an ancient ruin is discovered, it doesn't take long for thieves to find out about it. Did you know that an ancient funereal pit can be sold for $60,000 on the black market? Not to mention all the pottery, baskets, and pendants found by looters.

It's a very intriguing subject and I enjoyed learning so much in my research. I read an article in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper about a couple of men who were loading some artifacts in the trunk of their car. A ranger saw what they were doing and questioned them, not realizing he had accidentally stumbled upon the largest operation around. The article said that they recovered more than 11,100 relics. Did you know that looting is only second to selling illegal drugs? This is how I do my research and then I include what I've learned.

4) How does writing a mystery compare with writing historical fiction? What are the main differences, and what do these forms of writing have in common?

LWC: Great question! I have enjoyed writing historical romance but I've now turned to mystery. The whole process and concept of writing a mystery is so completely different than writing historical romance. While writing historical fiction, I research that time period and add historical events, newspaper articles from that time period, etc. as the plot thickens. With romance, you know that the hero and heroine are going to get together, but how? As you write, you develop some sort of charisma between the characters, making the reader feel excited that one day they're going to hit it off and fall in love. With mystery, it's totally different. You have to plan out the mystery, you may or may not allow your reader to know who the bad guys are, according to the plot.

Do you know the difference between a mystery and a mystery suspense novel? In a mystery, when a knock is heard at the door, the reader doesn't know who's behind it. With mystery suspense, the reader knows who's behind the door and yells to the heroine, "Don't open the door."

What do these forms of writing have in common? Well, if you mean how do I plan out my books, there is one thing they have in common. I write down all the conflicts and mysteries behind the scenes of both genre. I don't always use everything that I list and my characters seem to go in different directions than I had planned originally, but I do have a list. Ha, ha!

5) Who is your favorite mystery writer?

LWC: Betsy Brannon Green. I not only love her mysteries but she even wrote a foreword for my second book, Edith and the Mysterious Stranger. She also wrote some blurbs for Melinda and the Wild West and for Jenny's Dream. She's a busy author because she has 15 books out.

6) Tell us one surprising thing about your experience writing this book, or about something else related to your career as a writer.

LWC: It was very difficult planning out the mystery novels. I wanted it to be a mystery to my readers but I was worried that it would be too easy to figure out. That has been a difficult part for me. I usually don't read my novels to my husband until they're published. But I was so worried that my mysteries would be too obvious, so I read each one to my husband to see if he could figure it out. He was my guinea pig, so to speak.

7) What do you hope your readers get out of your books?

LWC: Entertainment and a little education! My goal is to uplift others and bring a little joy into their lives. If I can make someone laugh or fall in love all over again, then it's worth being an author. To read an excerpt from each of my books, visit these sample chapters.

8) Is another novel in the works?

LWC: Oh yes! In this mystery series, there are three books that deal with similar subjects. I have always been intrigued with the Mayan culture. Who were they and why did they abandon such magnificent structures in Mexico? The mysteries of the Mayan people have intrigued archaeologists for many years.

Mayan Intrigue is about the discovery of a priceless artifact, which puts Julia's life in great danger. From valuable artifacts to shady businessmen, the Yucatan Peninsula becomes a dangerous vacation spot for John and Julia Evans. While on assignment for the newspaper, the Evans try to enjoy a romantic vacation among the Mayan ruins, but when Julia accidentally comes upon a couple of suspicious men exchanging an item, she quickly turns and leaves but it is too late. The men have seen her. As a reporter, Julia does not easily give up and her curiosity gets them in a mess of trouble. Before John and Julia realize what is going on, they are both in danger and find themselves running for their lives through the jungles of the Yucatan.

Mayan Intrigue is now with the printer and will be released in three months. At this time, I'm getting ready to send book number three, Montezuma Intrigue, to my publisher. I'm hoping for the same editor because I really like her but one never knows who they'll assign.

Thank you, Linda! I enjoyed learning more about the mystery writing process, and about your new book. I had no idea that the looting of ancient ruins was such a problem, or that there's a black market for ancient funereal pits and assorted artifacts.

To celebrate the publication of her new book, Linda Weaver Clarke is generously offering an autographed copy of Anasazi Intrigue as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, 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.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Thursday, April 29. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Friday, April 30. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Am the Messenger

First published in 2002 in Australia as The Messenger, winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award (and numerous other awards), this young adult book by Markus Zusak was later released in the U.S. as I Am the Messenger. In 2008, I Am the Messenger was adapted for the stage by Ross Mueller, and was performed that year by The Canberra Youth Theatre.

If you read a brief synopsis of I Am the Messenger, you may be underwhelmed. I was. Before I read this book, which my 12-year-old daughter insisted that I read, the basic premise of the book didn't immediately lure me in: a young man stops a bank robbery, and his life is changed when he receives mysterious cards in the mail. The story is so much better than it sounds.

I Am the Messenger is the story of 19-year-old Ed Kennedy, an underage cabdriver who is hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey (who apparently cares about him too much to date him). Ed leads a pretty humdrum existence--driving folks around, playing cards with his mates, Marv, Ritchie, and Audrey--until the day when his luck suddenly changes. Standing in a queue when a bank robbery takes place, Ed accidentally foils the gunman's escape, and is called a hero. Soon after this event, he receives an ace in the mail from an unknown source, and the mystery begins. On the ace is a handwritten list of three addresses and times.

"Who would send me something like this? I ask myself. What have I done to get an old playing card in my letter box with strange addresses scrawled on it?"
~ I Am the Messenger, Markus Zusak

He doesn't know what awaits him at each address, and receives no guidance along the way. But this reluctant hero cares enough to find out what he needs to do, and completes his task at each address. This is a new beginning for Ed. Throughout the book, he receives different playing cards in the mail, which direct him toward new places, people, and tasks.

This book is incredible. I didn't expect to like it even half as much as I did. I loved the character of Ed Kennedy; his self-effacing and genuine manner won me over almost from the start. Ed has a dog named the Doorman, who enjoys drinking coffee. Humor abounds in this book, and the characters seem like real people. I hated Ed's mean mother, although I did understand her better after a while. The book is full of mystery, suspense, action, and also thought. It's the kind of book you don't want to put down, the kind of book you need to experience firsthand. The message of the book is about caring for others--but it's never corny nor clichéd. Does it sound like I loved this book? Because I did. Markus Zusak is an exceptional writer, and I was charmed by this book.

I Am the Messenger has some profane language (the author uses the word 'arse' an awful lot, must be Aussie slang), and references to sex, neither of which I knew about until after my daughter read it (how much should we censor the books our children read?), so although it's a book for young adults, it's probably best for older young adults--and adults, too, definitely.

Markus Zusak is an Australian writer, and the story takes place in suburban Australia. This is my first book for the Aussie Author reading challenge.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Winner of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Let's have a round of applause for Naida from the bookworm, the winner of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Congratulations, Naida!

I'd like to take a moment now to thank all of my readers. I know it can be difficult to take the time to stop by, read, and leave comments. One of the ways I show my appreciation is by hosting book giveaways, and I often post giveaways from other book blogs, too. Currently I have a giveaway for The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, so feel free to enter that giveaway if you haven't done so yet, and stay tuned for upcoming book giveaways. As always, thanks for reading!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mini Mailbox Monday

Hosted by Marcia from The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday is one of my favorite memes, where readers share the books they've recently acquired. Feel free to join in the fun, but be forewarned: "Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists".

Last week, I only received one book in the mail. Uno. But that suits me fine. I'm already behind in my reading and reviews. Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop arrived in the mail on Thursday, from Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House. I can't wait to read this new book! Next month, I'll post my review as part of the TLC book tour for this epistolary novel.

What books arrived in your home recently, by mail or from elsewhere?

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Conversation with Tatjana Soli

Having recently read and reviewed her debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, I am honored to present this interview with author Tatjana Soli.

1) Welcome, Tatjana! Please tell us about the inspiration behind your debut novel, The Lotus Eaters. Was there a "final straw" which compelled you to write this particular book?

TS: I was always fascinated by the war, probably because my mom worked for NATO and at Fort Ord during the war, so the military was something familiar to me from an early age. That said, two things triggered me to finally write about Vietnam. First, I came across the story of Dickey Chapelle, one of the first women photojournalists in Vietnam, actually she was also the first one to be killed there. I had never heard of women serving in the capacity of journalist, and I was fascinated. Through research, I came across another, Katherine Leroy. As fascinating and inspiring as both of these women were, though, they were the starting points. The character of Helen is a creation of a story I wanted to tell. The other element of the story came from living next to Westminster, one of the largest Vietnamese communities outside of Vietnam. I was very interested in the stories of immigration to the U.S. after the war. The story of the Vietnamese became equally compelling to me.

2) In your book the protagonist, Helen Adams, is a strong character, a woman driven by the need to make some sense of her brother's death, and also to realize her ambitions as a combat photographer. How does her drive compare with your own? How much of you is in Helen?

TS: I am a great admirer of the adventure narratives of Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene, and, well, because I am a woman, I wanted to write something where a woman was the main character. More than that, I wanted the woman to be complex, to have flaws, to grapple with big issues. In terms of finding a narrative stance, a woman in the particular setting of Vietnam during the war is a natural outsider, and that is a viewpoint that provides a perspective that allowed me to explore the issues I wanted to.

3) You realistically portray what it may have been like for the first woman photojournalist trying to record the Vietnam War. Are there prominent women combat photographers today, or is it still considered a profession for men?

TS: It is still a profession primarily of men, although I read that up to a fourth of the photojournalists in Iraq are female, so there has been a significant change. A few of the women that I have read about, Stephanie Sinclair, Andrea Bruce Woodall, Stacy Pearsall, and especially the late Margaret Moth, are especially prominent in the field. But when you read interviews of them, the issues that they deal with, the reasons that they do the work, are little changed from Vietnam.

4) You have included an extensive bibliography at the back of this book, and obviously did a lot of research for this book. How affecting was the research? How were you able to handle the horrors of war on an emotional level?

TS: It does affect you. I read Vietnam books, mostly non-fiction, for over a year, including books by Vietnamese writers about the war, but also about history and culture. The unrelenting violence, the suffering, the waste, were hard to stay with for that long of a period, and I did feel a real sadness. Even now it drives me crazy how the media ignores coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If our troops are there, shouldn't that stay in the forefront of the news? The biggest thing I've learned personally is that most of us don't know the first thing about real hardship. People endured so much then, all sides, anyone in that country, and I've tried to be really grateful for the ordinary joys of life.

5) On a lighter note, when a Vietnamese restaurant opened near to us, I was pleased, and soon became ecstatic because my kids actually liked the food as well. Reading your book, I had cravings for pho, mentioned several times, as well as other Vietnamese food. Do you have a favorite Vietnamese dish?

TS: Exactly! The ordinary joys of life. I have a local restaurant that specializes in Vietnamese baked catfish. If you come in a group, the fish that arrives is as big as your table! Then you wrap pieces in rice paper or lettuce, add herbs and sauce. This is making me hungry.

6) In addition to your writing, you also teach writing workshops. What advice do you think is most valuable for aspiring writers, especially women?

TS: I always tell my students that they have to develop both a regular writing AND reading schedule. It's so important to read everything, to see what has been done, what can be done, to join the dialogue of contemporary writing. That's absolutely essential in developing one's voice. The best writers in my classes are always the ones who are well-read.

7) Are you working on another book or project, and if so, can you tell us something about it?

TS: I am deep into a novel set on a citrus farm in contemporary Southern California. I purposely wanted to give myself very different technical challenges than in The Lotus Eaters. That's what keeps me getting up in the morning for the years of work it takes to complete a book.

Thank you, Tatjana! I enjoyed learning about "the story" behind the story, and appreciate your thoughtful answers. I expect to see The Lotus Eaters on the NY Times bestseller list before too long. Please keep me posted about the book you're currently working on.

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for helping to arrange this interview. For more reviews of this book, visit the other stops on TLC's The Lotus Eaters book tour. Please visit my review for an opportunity to win a copy of The Lotus Eaters. Comments welcomed.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Lotus Eaters: Review and Giveaway

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."
~Ambrose Redmoon

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. As the first woman combat photographer, Helen is teased and not taken seriously by some of the men in the profession, but she manages to persevere.

Published in 2010, Tatjana Soli's debut novel starts with the fall of Saigon in 1975, and goes back in time to Helen's arrival in Vietnam 12 years earlier. Helen is seduced by the beauty of this country in Southeast Asia, with its azure skies and white sand beaches, and also by the Vietnam War (1959 - 1975) itself. For many combat photographers, including Helen, the war is like a drug, a source of adrenaline, fueled by risk and the closeness and presence of death, which give a new, heightened urgency to life. Like the lotus-eaters in Homer's Odyssey, who become addicted to the narcotic fruit and forget about returning home, Helen and other combat photographers become intoxicated by the war in Vietnam and find it hard to leave, even though they risk their lives by staying. In fact, they become adrenaline junkies, who thrive on the excitement, which is followed by brief moments of relief at their survival. In this state, Helen begins a love affair with a seasoned photojournalist, Sam Darrow, and a friendship with his assistant, an enigmatic Vietnamese man, Linh, and the story unfolds.

While I have read literature about World War II, this was my first novel about the Vietnam War, in which 3 to 4 million Vietnamese, 1.5 to 2 million Laotians and Cambodians, and about 60,000 American soldiers lost their lives. For me, it's always difficult to read about the devastation of war, although the writing in The Lotus Eaters is beautiful, and the story kept me up reading late at night (so much so that I became temporarily nocturnal). The author uses descriptive language, but she doesn't overdo it, so my imagination was ignited. Although I struggled to get through some of the violent parts--injury and death are omnipresent--I was rewarded by a rich and layered reading experience, by images as uncompromising and haunting as war photographs in Life magazine. Like the characters in the novel--Helen, Darrow, Linh, Robert, Matt, and others--I was fascinated and repulsed simultaneously by the events in this affecting book. (After reading The Lotus Eaters, I may need to read a sweet romance, or an English novel about manners, to recuperate from my Vietnam adventure.) Along with the violence, destruction, and death, Helen finds love, and a real sense of purpose in life.

Above all else, The Lotus Eaters is a story about courage. A story about a young woman who breaks into a field previously off-limits for women. A story about a woman who risks her life to give the world an honest look at the atrocities of war, and a few glimpses of humanity. A story about a woman who chooses to love, even though she is not sure that she will live to see another day. The Lotus Eaters is a riveting novel about having courage and hope even in the worst circumstances.

The author is generously offering a copy of The Lotus Eaters as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).
  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For an extra chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, April 26. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, April 27. Good luck!

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for the opportunity to review an advance readers' edition of this novel (which is why I didn't choose a quote from the book; it's not the final version). For more reviews of this book, visit the other stops on TLC's The Lotus Eaters book tour. Please stay tuned for an upcoming exclusive interview with Tatjana Soli.

The Lotus Eaters
counts toward the Women Unbound Reading Challenge hosted by Aarti, Care, and Eva.

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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