Monday, April 29, 2013

The Experience of Writing: A Guest Post by Ann Whitely-Gillen, and a Giveaway

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming a new author, Ann Whitely-Gillen, to my blog.  I hope to read her recently published book, Last Train to Omaha, within the next few months or so.  The book has gotten some wonderful reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.  If you'd like to win a copy Last Train to Omaha, a story about accepting the past and moving forward, be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of this post.  You may even get to read the book before I do!  

Ann's guest post is about the experience of writing.  Whether you're an aspiring author or a professional writer--or are simply interested in reading about writing--you'll find her words both eloquent and interesting.


The Experience of Writing: A Guest Post by Ann Whitely-Gillen, and a Giveaway

Writing can be many things to many people, but to me writing has been unquestionably cathartic.  When we write about things, we can explore all angles of our subjects.  We can create new beginnings by dropping our thoughts and emotions onto a page and we can seal the deal on unresolved conflicts within ourselves and our relationships.  Human expressions printed on pages make us less vulnerable to our character flaws and frees us from the isolation we all feel when trapped inside of our own lives and personal adversities.  Writing is a means of giving and receiving knowledge, understanding, truth, love and fear.

In the words of French-born novelist Anaïs Nin (author of Little Birds and Henry and
June), “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

I certainly look to this quote as a means to not only write by, but to live by.

When I wrote Last Train to Omaha, I was recovering from breast cancer surgery and radiation treatments.  Creating a warm, comfortable environment to express myself through my book’s characters allowed me to reach the most pivotal point in my spiritual life.  Writing the experiences of each of my characters led me to the reality that I, too, had the ability to overcome my fears and anxiety not only about the inevitability of death--but more so, the challenges we all face when trying to weed through life’s hard lessons and pitfalls.  What I realized during the writing process is that life always wins over darkness.  We may not recognize this immediately, but eventually, life will present itself again with a new face and new opportunities.

By leading the protagonist of the book (James Milligan) through an incredible journey from the realm of darkness into light, I found myself holding on to him all the way.  You could say it was my way of tasting life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.

Thanks for letting me share these words.

Ann and her family at the book launch


Thank you, Ann, for your lovely guest post!  The quote by Anaïs Nin is superlative.

The author is graciously offering a copy of Last Train to Omaha 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 giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. 

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, May 13. One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, May 14.  Best of luck to my readers!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

For National Poetry Month

It's certainly not your grandma's poetry.  Last week Gill Sotu and a couple of other slam poets performed in my daughter's high school English class, in celebration of National Poetry Month.  The students then attempted to write some slam poetry of their own.  My daughter enjoyed this workshop quite a bit.

National Poetry Month began in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, and is now held every April.  During the month of April, schools, libraries, booksellers, poets, and  bloggers throughout the U.S. celebrate poetry by participating in readings, festivals, workshops, and other events.

All month long, I've noticed numerous posts devoted to poetry and National Poetry Month on various book blogs, including Savvy Verse and Wit and The Parrish Lantern.  This morning, I encountered  book spine poetry on Leslie's blog, Under My Apple Tree, and decided to try "writing" a poem in this way.  The idea is to form a short poem using the titles of books.

I am the messenger
Dancing with gravity
Outside the ordinary world
Perfectly untraditional.

Creating a poem from the titles on book spines was harder than I thought it would be.  At first, I had the idea to use titles from books of poetry, but I found that the ones I had on hand (several chapbooks of poems by Sweta Srivastava Vikram), were too thin to show the titles.  So I decided to use novels instead.  I've read each of the books shown here, and reviewed three of them (I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak, Dancing with Gravity by Anene Tressler, and Perfectly Untraditional by Sweta Srivastava Vikram).

Have you been celebrating National Poetry Month? Your comments, especially written as poems, are welcomed.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected

"Nella is going to bring together our family like never before."
~Bloom, Kelle Hampton

Being a mother has been the most profound experience of my life, and has transformed my life significantly.  There is nothing akin to bringing new life into the world, and the joy of raising children is unparalleled.  When I was contemplating motherhood, I would sometimes see parents with children who had Down syndrome, and my eyes would begin to fill with tears as I wondered how it would feel to be in their shoes.

Published in 2010, Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected by writer and photographer Kelle Hampton is a candid, absorbing, and emotive memoir.  This book touched me very deeply.  It made me cry quite a bit, for many reasons.  I felt the pain of this young mother as she discovers that her second baby, Nella, has Down syndrome.  I wept frequently because the author is so honest about her feelings and apprehensions about raising a child with Down syndrome.  I cried and I cried and I cried as I read (I seemed to have picked up Cryderman cry-ability while reading this book).  I also cried because like Brett, Lainey, Austyn, Brandyn, "Rik and Kris", Heidi, Katie, Dr. Foley, and everyone else featured in this book, I fell in love with Baby Nella, and I wanted to protect her.

Although I do not have a child with Down syndrome, and I do not mean to minimize the uniqueness of this memoir, the experience of giving birth and of being a mother is in many ways universal, and I felt a real kinship with Kelle, who, as a mother, simply wants the best for her children and family.  She worries about how the new baby will affect her two-year-old daughter, Lainey, as well as her stepsons, Austyn and Brandyn.  Kelle struggles to accept the unexpected, and this memoir covers the first year with Nella, which is an emotional, inspiring journey.  Surrounded by loving family and friends, Kelle recovers quickly from her initial shock, and grows stronger and more optimistic about the future.  A shift in thinking occurs: Nella is not so much a special needs child, but rather, a very special child.  And she's greatly loved by many.

What an incredible book this is!  Photos are an essential part of catching the fleeting moments of babyhood and childhood, and the photos in Bloom are exceptionally beautiful.  Bloom brought back memories of when my own children were babies and small children. Those were such happy days!  (Yes, they were rather demanding at times, but they were also suffused with immeasurable love and joy.)  Kelle Hampton manages to capture great heaps of this mother-joy in her memoir.  Children enhance the richness of life in a spectacular way.  I highly recommend this book, especially to mothers.  It's all about love.   Bloom is a book brimming with exquisite beauty!

Kelle Hampton is also a blogger!  She has a blog about motherhood called Enjoying the Small Things.  She's also an advocate for people with Down syndrome.

Special thanks to Trish from TLC for providing me with a copy of Bloom, and for including me in this book tour.  For more reviews of this touching memoir, please visit the other stops on TLC's Bloom book tour

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Really Random Tuesday #62: Mosaics and a Book Winner

I know some of you are still waiting for spring and I don't mean to rub it in, but yesterday was a gorgeous spring day here.  It was so nice out--I had to take a walk.  I strolled around the Arts Center and was inspired to take some pictures with my iPhone.  I love the camera on my iPhone!  I photographed some of the mosaic sculptures by renowned artist  Niki de Saint Phalle.  I have a wonderful book of her work from the Mingei International Museum, Niki de Saint Phalle Insider/Outsider World Inspired Art.

Update, April 2015: Another place to find photos of her work is on Artsy.



Seal eye

Other details

Colorful painted wall
Another wall

I have barely scratched the surface here.  I could've posted more photos; I could've taken a lot more photos.  The iPhone is an incredible, all-in-one phone that's invaluable in numerous ways.  Most of the photos I now use for my blog are iPhone photos.  In fact, I rarely use a regular camera anymore.


Please help me to congratulate Kelly from The Well-Read Redhead.  She's won a copy of The Paradise Guest House, a riveting new novel by author Ellen Sussman. Congratulations, Kelly!  If you didn't win this book giveaway, please take a look at the right side of my blog, where other giveaways are featured.


Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related matters you can think of.  If you have miscellaneous book news to gather up and are inspired by this idea, "grab" the button for use on your own blog, and add your link to the "master" Mister Linky on the Really Random Tuesday page.

As always, your comments are welcomed!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saturday Snapshot: Stealing Nuts

Inspired by Leslie from Under My Apple Tree (check out her incredible photos of a Great Horned Owl nest), I was hoping to capture a photo of a bird or two stealing nuts.  Of course, they are not really stealing; I often set out unsalted peanuts for these blue birds, which I believe are Western Scrub-Jays, to fly off with and store away. They are quick and circumspect when they fly over to the gate, because they know that they aren't the only creatures in town; nature is competitive. This is the best photo I could get of the jay with my camera--my phone--this morning.  The birds have become more bold over time and swoop over to grab the peanuts while I'm still outdoors, sometimes while I'm setting out nuts on a different part of the gate!  

No brigadier throughout the year
So civic as the jay.
A neighbor and a warrior too,
With shrill felicity
~The Blue Jay, Emily Dickinson

Saturday Snapshot is a meme hosted by Alyce from At Home with Books

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Paradise Guest House: Review and Giveaway

Published in 2013, The Paradise Guest House is the latest novel by Ellen Sussman, author of French Lessons and On A Night Like This.  This book is based on true events, the horrific 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali.  In the book, the protagonist, Jamie Hyde, returns to Bali for the anniversary ceremony of the nightclub bombings which took over 200 lives, including the life of her boyfriend, Miguel, who had just proposed to her.  Although she survives, these bombings change her life in an instant. The vision of Bali as a paradise has been obliterated, replaced by devastation, suffering, and loss.

The Paradise Guest House is divided into three parts, and is easy to follow.  In Part One (2003), Jamie Hyde, 32, a tourism guide for Global Adventures, returns to Bali from Berkeley, ostensibly for an anniversary ceremony; she also hopes to see the man who rescued and helped her after the bombings, Gabe Winters.  During her return trip, she stays at the picturesque Paradise Guest House in Ubud, which is run by a handsome native, Nyoman, who lost his wife in the bombings (he is comforted, somewhat, by the idea that his unborn child will have her soul).  Outside on the street, Jamie meets a boy, Bambang, who walks around with his dog, Tuk Tuk.  Bambang needs a job to survive and insists that he will help Jamie.  Although she is suspicious of the boy, she does accept his help.

This book is all about the setting, and all about the characters.  The setting is beautiful--it's Bali, after all--and excluding the site of the bombings, the locale is altogether stunning, lush, tropical, and exotic.  Due to the author's tremendous talent, I traveled to Bali, vicariously.  I was there. I also met the same people as Jamie did, Nyoman, Bambang, Gabe, Dewi, and others.  I loved how quickly and convincingly the main characters--Jamie, Nyoman, Bambang, and Gabe--sprang to life, and secondary characters are also well depicted.  (Larson, Jamie's boss and best friend, is kind of between a main character and a secondary character, whereas I saw Miguel, Jamie's deceased boyfriend, Dewi, Nyoman's niece, Rose, Jamie's mom, and Molly, Gabe's sister, as secondary characters.)  The feelings of the characters seem authentic and are understandable throughout the story.  Jamie experiences a lot of guilt because Miguel died in the bombings.  Larson, who has pancreatic cancer, feels guilty because he sent Jamie to Bali on a job assignment.  The book led me to consider a few things.  How do we reconcile our true feelings with what others want to hear?  How do we heal after such a traumatic event?   

Part Two (2002) goes back in time, and focuses on Gabe, and his meeting with Jamie after the bombings, when he rescues her and helps her to recover from her physical wounds.  Gabe has moved to Bali to start a new life for himself as a teacher in Ubud, because his 4-year-old son, Ethan, has died of spinal meningitis, and his wife, Heather, leaves him subsequently.  Part Two also features the brief yet intense romance between Gabe and Jamie. (Des'ree sings that "love will save the day".  Will it save Jamie and Gabe?) This book is a poignant and powerful love story, about romantic love, familial love, love of place, and love of life.  Part Three (2003) is what happens when Jamie and Gabe meet again, in Bali.  Have they both healed, physically and emotionally, at least in part, from the tragic events and loss in their lives?  Do they belong together?

The Bali bombing memorial, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Paradise Guest House is a stirring and well-crafted novel.  I raced through this book--not to get it read, but because it captured my whole attention, immediately (no texting or playing Words with Friends on the side).  The author spent a month in Bali researching the bombings, and met with many survivors and widows who shared their stories.  Ellen Sussman's writing seems effortless and flows beautifully.  Through her finesse with words, the author bestows this novel with honesty, intelligence, and liberal amounts of humor (for example, Jamie wishes her mother had "turned cougar", rather than marrying a relic).  The book inspired me to Google "Bali", and I viewed stunning pictures online, some of actual, appealing guest houses for travelers.  Ellen Sussman is a supremely gifted writer, and although the bombings described in this book are unspeakably awful, I was genuinely riveted by The Paradise Guest House.  I'd definitely like to read more of this author's work.

Wonderful news! Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, is generously offering a copy of The Paradise Guest House 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 giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, April 22.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, April 23.  Good luck! 

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me an advance reader's edition of The Paradise Guest House (which is why I haven't quoted from the book).  For more reviews of this novel, please visit the other stops on TLC's book tour of The Paradise Guest House.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Really Random Tuesday #61: A Winner, a Superstar, and Pho Chay

Really, really random.  Welcome to a new month, and welcome to another edition of Really Random Tuesday.  I think you'll soon agree that this Really Random Tuesday post is really random. 

First things first. As is often the case in these posts, I have a book winner to announce.  The winner of the Capital of the World by Charlene Mires is Harvee from Book Dilettante.  Congratulations, Harvee!  Thanks to everyone who participated in this giveaway.  If you didn't win this time, please take a look at the other book giveaways listed on the right side of my blog.


Flower power!  The humble geranium is actually a superstar: colorful, drought-tolerant, and generally easy to grow.  These bright, variegated blooms in the center of the picture are from a cutting I made.  New geranium plants take a long time to grow from cuttings, but are worth waiting for.  Gently push cuttings into soil, water, and wait.  (If you see a lovely geranium bush around town, why not break off a small piece to add to your own garden?  Shhh....)  In literature, there are several references to geraniums.  In the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, potted red geraniums are outside of the neglected house of a character, perhaps to symbolize that good that exists in everyone (even the most corrupt).


Beautiful Pho Chay

Fresh, fragrant pho.  My favorite is pho chay, Vietnamese noodle soup with tofu and vegetables.  I've posted about pho before.  My love for pho only grows.  Served piping hot, with a side plate of bean sprouts, Thai basil, and lime, you can also add spicy sauces, such as Sriracha, to this wonderful soup.  Pho restaurants seem to be popping up everywhere.  Have you tried pho yet?  I start to crave pho when I go more than a couple of weeks without it.  Wishing to somehow tie in my obession with pho with books and reading, I discovered a book on Amazon devoted to pho, The Art of Pho, a graphic novel by Julian Hanshaw, published in 2010.  


Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related matters you can think of.  If you have miscellaneous book news to gather up and are inspired by this idea, "grab" the button for use on your own blog, and add your link to the "master" Mister Linky on the Really Random Tuesday page

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

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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