Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Summary: May

Now that I'm really into this whole blogging thing it seems like I'm reading more too! Maybe the what they say about a tree falling in the forest blah, blah, blah is the same for a blog without a community. When I was blogging just for myself it wasn't NEARLY as much fun as it is now. ;)

So here's what I've done this month:

Books - 7 (2,689 pages)

The Book Club Companion (352 pages)
Elantris (646 pages)
Year of Wonders (336 pages)
The Good Earth (344 pages)
The Avengers: A Jewish War Story (261 pages)
Water for Elephants (350 pages)
Stone Creek (400 pages)

Audiobooks - 0 (sort of)

I've been too busy at work to listen to audio books recently. I am still working through The Wheel of Time audio books though (see my sidebar for more on this). At the moment I'm on Book 7. There are 24 CD in this book which is causing a problem for me. It's not the # of CDs - usually there are more - it the fact that they ARE CDs. My car only has a cassette player but my library didn't have this particular book on cassette (it does have all the others though). SO ... I have to listen to this book at home amid the rest of my life, which isn't so easy.

Currently Reading - 2 books

Expect reviews soon for King Solomon's Mines and Cane River.

All in all, this has been a good month for me. Yea!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Stone Creek

First off, I have to say Thank You to bookclubgirl for sending me a copy of this book. Thank you so much!

I first heard about Stone Creek by Victoria Lustbader in this post. It's not the kind of book that I usually like to read (I'll admit ... I'm a book snob, but I'm trying really hard to reform myself!) but it intrigued me for some reason so I decided to give it a try.

Here's a brief overview from the back of the book:
Danny, a young widower, still grieves for his late wife, but for the sake of his five-year-old son, Caleb, he knows he must move on. Alone in her summer house, Lily has left her workaholic husband, Paul, to his long hours and late nights back in the city. In Stone Creek, she can yearn in solitude for the treasure she's been denied: a child.
It took me a while to get into this book. My biggest - and really ONLY - complaint is the point of view (POV). Stone Creek is told in the 3rd person by an omniscient narrator who relates what each character is saying/doing/thinking at all times. This was somewhat uncomfortable for me to read, although I can't say for sure why. I have a hard time with 3rd person narratives in general; I'd much rather a book be told in the 1st person, it just works better for me. However, once I got used to the POV and the flow of the story I really did enjoy this book!

As a side note, something that caught my attention at the very beginning of the book was the fact that Lily likes bats. I thought I was the only one! I know it's silly but that little fact made me love Lily even more. Bats are the coolest creatures ever, right? Anybody? Anybody at all???

But on to the real "meat" of the book ...

This book really touched me in a number of ways. Lustbader's descriptions of various interactions between characters and those characters' innermost feelings were excellent. Lily's hunger for a child is evident early on in the book; you can almost feel it along with her. At one point she is looking around at a party she's hosting and seeing it as if it were a play:
Lily's character is missing, of course, and from the perspective of her distant remove she sees yet another gaping absence in the cast. There should be a toddler. As comic relief, perhaps. Somewhere amid all that sizable flesh and bone there should be something about three feet tall with outstretched chubby arms and pumping chubby lets and wild dark foolish hair, alternately ignored or avidly gathered up, stumbling after everyone and trailing gleeful laughter. There should be their child. But all there is is the shadow that only she can see.
Man, if that doesn't catch at your heart strings I don't know what will.

Lustbader captures reality in her simple descriptions. At one point Danny is holding his son, Caleb, who suddenly falls asleep in his arms; then "Danny's body relaxes, his vulnerable parts ... all safe for the moment from the sharp weaponry of Caleb's arms and legs in motion." Anyone whose ever held a 5 year old knows all about those pointy elbows and knees - I could just FEEL my son on my lap squirming around as a read those words.

The tension in the novel builds steadily and I really did not know what was going to happen ... or even what I WANTED to happen. The tangle of emotions Lustbader creates is very real; it's easy to believe that this story could actually happen.

On the whole I truly enjoyed this book. It was an easy read (once I got used to the POV) and would be a perfect vacation read.

I was going to give away my copy in a contest but now I can't because I got it all wet. See, what happened was ... I was fighting the fact that I needed to turn on the air conditioning in my house. Instead I laid on my bed with a cool, wet rag across my forehead and pretended I was comfortable. Sometime during the night, the wet rag landed on my book and spent the night there. My lovely, perfect, NEW book now looks like it was dropped in the pool and left out to dry. :( Oops. Now I have the air conditioning on.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Summer Travel, Contests, General Updates ...

This is sort of a catch-all post since I've got lots to comment on ...

Summer Travel

Does anyone have big plans for this summer? Personally, I'll be quite busy ... a wedding in West Virginia, a 4th of July wedding in Boston, hosting all-day scrapbook workshops, baby showers (and my sister's due date!), VBS, my 10 yr wedding anniversary, book club meetings (one with an author) ... did I mention that I still have to work?! ... yeah, summer will just FLY by for me!

If you have time and plan to travel, why not add some literary adventures to your trip? Check out this post from the blog at for some great travel ideas. For more info check out the new book Novel Destinations. !

If you've never checked out the blog over there at I encourage you to do so. They have posts on a wide variety of book- and book-club-related topics by authors, librarians, book clubbers, etc. I've done two guest posts for the blog (click here and here to read them) and I'm thrilled to announce that I've been invited to be a monthly contributor! WooHoo! My first post goes up near the end of June ... I'll be sure to let you know when exactly.

On the contests front, I've got some cool news to share. In June I'm starting a monthly book giveaway here. What's better than a free book? Why, two free books! So to kick off the new contests I'll be giving away 2 books to one lucky person in June I've got some special things lined up for the next few months (ok, ok, just a sneak peek for later this summer ... how about a signed copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin and a signed Mary Higgins Clark book?!) I'll post the details of the first contest hopefully by late next week, but no promises there.

She Reads Books is running a contest right now and get this - she's giving away 5 books! Click here to enter her fabulous contest.

And here's a link for a really cool contest that you'll want to enter too. You can a BAGFUL of books including Novel Destinations (the one I talked about above).

General Updates
Thanks to my loyal readers (and in part to NaComLeavMo) I'm now getting between 50-100 visits per day to my site - way cool!!! Thank you to everyone who is dropping by. I hope you are finding things that interest you. Please add me to your blogreader so you won't miss out on the upcoming contests and fun reviews.

In other news, my book club is meeting with DL Wilson, author of Unholy Grail, in late July. He graciously offered to give copies of his book to each member of our club - and there are 17 of us! Plus he's coming to our meeting to explain the research he conducted for this book and whatever else we want to talk with him about. I'm excited about this meeting - I'm sure I'll have lots to post about it.

I'm taking part in three reading challenges at the moment. I expect to finish the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge first. If you're a fan of this genre, be sure to check out the blog we have going; all challenge participants are posting their reviews on it so you're sure to find something new that you'll like. I've also committed to the Irresistible Review Challenge which ends on Sept. 1 ... I've got quite a bit of work to do on that one still. And finally, I'm working on the 1% Well Read Challenge. Unfortunately I keep changing my mind about which books to read after checking out the other participants reviews!

So that's about all I have to say for now ... how about you? Any summer plans? Cool contests you know about? How are your challenges progressing? I'd love to hear from you!

How did YOU start your book club?

I recently did a guest post over at Books on the Brain about why I love my book club. Lisa is doing a series on that topic and I've loved reading the posts so far. I spent some time reading through the comments and it seems that everyone else is enjoying them too!

But I did notice one thing ... many commenters lamented the fact they they can't find a book club to join, or don't know how to go about starting one. So I thought "Why not do a post on how to start a book club?!"

What I'd like to do is hear from all of you out there. If you're in a book club, how did you find it? If you started one, how did you do it? Do you have any tips or suggestions for a person who wants to find or start a book club? Any do's or don'ts that you want to share?

I know that there is a wealth of info out there ... I just need to pull it OUT of all of you and put it INTO some kind of usable format! :) So please contact me with your ideas. You can post them in the comment section or email me at SharingMyStory at yahoo dot com. Once I get all the info organized I'll get the post up.

If you'd like to contribute, please contact me by June 12 (but sooner is better!). I hope to have the post ready to go later that week.

By the way, the photos are from some my book club's meetings. Can you tell we have lots of fun?!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Water for Elephants

After avoiding this book like the plague, I finally gave in and read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I finished the entire book in 3 days ... does that tell you anything?

For those who don't know, here's a quick summary of the book (no spoilers - don't worry):
Jacob is ninety-something and in assisted living. In his youth, he walked out of his final exams and a promising career as a veterinarian and hopped a circus train. His experiences on the train - and back in the present day - are the focus of the story.
First let me say why I did not want to read this book. Here is a list of my reasons:
  • I don't like the circus ... is it just me, or are clowns really creepy?
  • I'm not a 'go along with the crowd' person, so I don't like to read what everyone else is reading
  • It just didn't sound interesting and I thought it would be a waste of time.
What finally changed my mind were the excellent reactions I heard from people whose 'book opinion' I trust. So I gave in and borrowed this book from my aunt while I was at her house (of course, now I have to mail it back to her in CA ...). Plus it fits the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge criteria - yeah!

Let me just say that I LOVED this book. Since I'm in a list mood today, here a list of why I loved this book:
  • Gruen's portrayal of the main character as an elderly man in assisted living were amazing! I felt like I WAS Jacob, feeling what he felt, dealing with the indignities of old age. I would have read the book for that alone.
  • Life on a circus train was crazy and cruel ... I could have guess this, but reading it was even better.
  • My copy included an interview with the author in which she explains that all the crazy, far-fetched things she included in the book were based on facts. I LOVE IT when authors tell you what's true and not true in their historical fiction.
  • The Depression Era is fascinating to me. I doubt I would have enjoyed this book as much had it been set in another time period.
  • I really liked the ending. I mean I REALLY liked the ending. That's not giving anything away, don't worry!
For me, this was one of those books that you just can't put down. I co-hosted a bridal shower this weekend and forced myself not to bring the book with me. If I had brought it, I would have stashed in under the sink in the bathroom and hid in there to read whenever possible (and the party was NOT bad!). I stayed up late to read, avoided my family to read ... yeah, this was one of THOSE books for me.

Have you read this? Reviewed it? Let me know and I'll add your link to this post.
Here's a review by Devourer of Books. And this online book club did a blog-book-tour for this book. The Inside Cover chose it for one of her online book clubs. Passion for the Page shares her favorite passages and lots of other reviews too. There's a thorough review at My Year of Reading Seriously. It wasn't a hit for The Bluestockings though.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Update

For those of you who read my Memorial Day post, you know I was trying to come up with a way to commemorate this special day, especially after I got to thinking about my Grandpa's best friend (click here to read my post about him).

So here's what we did ...My husband, son (6 yrs old) and I went to the Maryland Veterans Cemetery in Crownville with 30 roses. We close a random row of gravestones and started at one end. At each grave, we lay a rose on the tombstone, then read the name of the person and which war they served in: WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or some combination of those three. Whenever we'd see WWII, my son would say "that's just like Grandpa Nick" (meaning MY grandpa) ... whenever we'd see Vietnam, he's say "that's just like Grandpa Hugh" (meaning my dad). Several tombstones mentioned the Bronze Star or the Purple Heart. We explained those honors to my son, and he recalled that Grandpa Nick has a Purple Heart.

It was a very moving experience for all of us. My husband's first comment after leaving was "We need to do this every year."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Weekly Geeks #5: Alternative Storytelling

Yet another great activity from Dewey for Weekly Geeks #5! Our task this week is to talk about some alternate form of storytelling (meaning other than in a book).

[For those visiting from the Weekly Geeks site, my Mr. Linky post was supposed to say Irish Folk Music, not Irish FOLD Music ... oops! LOL]

Music was the first thing that popped into my mind, specifically Irish Folk Music. This could be because I'm eagerly anticipating The High Kings concert in September, or because I'm a fanatic about songs that tell stories in general.

The first song I want to mention is Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore. This song is about the mass exodus from Ireland caused by the potato famine in the mid-1800s. My 6 year old son loves this song. After listening to it several times and learning most of the words, he started asking questions about what the song was all about. That led to an explanation of Irish history that included what starvation means, what people do when there's no food to eat, and how families were separated when some decided to come to America and others couldn't afford to leave. That kind of conversation is what a GOOD song - a song that really tells a story - can engender. My Gram was born in Belfast so Irish history is a big part of my family's history. I'm thrilled that my son is interested in history and that - like me - he really listens to the words of songs; music can teach us all so many things.

Below is the video of Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore. If you'd like to read the lyrics, click here.

On a lighter note, songs can also tell funny stories. The Wild Rover is a classic Irish pub song (and yes, my 6 yr old know this too ... does that make me a bad parent?!) that tells the story of a young man (supposedly) trying to change his ways. Here are the lyrics, and below is the video.

Another song I'd like to mention is called The Black Velvet Band. It tells the story of an innocent man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here's the video and you can read the lyrics here.

There are TONS of other songs about this specific topic. The first that comes to mind is Hurricane Carter by Bob Dylan. The video is fantastic - you've got to watch it.

Are there songs that you love that tell a real story? I'd love to hear about them! Feel free to join the rest of the Weekly Geeks and put up a post on this topic. Or just post a comment and share your favorites.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What Book Are You?

Today is Memorial Day and I'm out celebrating with my family. I posted my Memorial Day thoughts on Friday in case I didn't get to the computer today. Click here if you'd like to read that post. I also did another post in memorial of a fallen soldier.

I'm happily awaiting the mail these days, since I've got 5 - count 'em, FIVE! - books on the way to me! Thanks to bookclubgirl, I'm getting a copy of Stone Creek (actually it arrived on Friday - woohoo!). Thanks to Lisa Roe (onlinebookpublicist) I'm getting Live Your Road Trip Dream and Why the Wind Blows to review. And by using my points at PaperbackSwap I'm getting Cane River and The Planets. Those are a few of the reviews you can expect to see over the next month or two. Plus all the books I ALREADY have need to be read as well. Hmmm ... where will I find the time? No worries - I'm sure I can handle it!

So I took this quiz to find out what kind of book I am (how much fun is that?!). Turns out, I'm The Guns of August. Who new?! I've never read this before, but I did do an audio book by Barbara Tuchman which I thought was fascinating. And I do completely agree with the description of me ... pretty cool, huh?

You're The Guns of August!

by Barbara Tuchman

Though you're interested in war, what you really want to know is what
causes war. You're out to expose imperialism, militarism, and nationalism for what they
really are. Nevertheless, you're always living in the past and have a hard time dealing
with what's going on today. You're also far more focused on Europe than anywhere else in
the world. A fitting motto for you might be "Guns do kill, but so can

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

If you do the quiz, post a link to your results in the comment section, or just let me know what book you are.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

ISO the family of Joseph Tofinchio

I've spent lots of time lately thinking about Memorial Day and why we celebrate it. Click here to read my original post on this, in case you missed it. That in turn got me thinking about one specific soldier and I want to share what I know about him with you.

I never met Joseph Tofinchio of Gloversville, New York. He died on or about June 8, 1944 on Utah Beach in Normandy, France. What I do know is that Joe was my grandpa's best friend.

My grandpa, Nick Fontana, is 90 years old this year. That's him to the left above, in 1946. He landed on Utah Beach on D-day and fought his way inland over the next several days. After 18 days of combat, he was leading his team into the town of St. Lo when a German grenade exploded nearby. The shrapnel entered his leg in several places; that, in combination with an injured ankle, got him out of combat and sent to a hospital in England to recoup. While there, he met my Gram and fell in love. But all this is a story for another time (I promise, I'll tell it sometime ... until then, check out the note he wrote on the back of that photo of himself!).

What I want to write about is Joe. He was only 28 years old when he died; I know very little about him, but Grandpa remembers him clearly. Several years ago we took Grandpa to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. [If you haven't been, you NEED to go. It is the most moving memorial I've ever visited in my life.] It was on the way there that Grandpa began talking about his friend, Joe.

If I have the story straight, Nick and Joe met after boot camp when they were both on leave. Lots of soldiers were out on the town, drinking, gambling, and just having a great time. Joe was playing cards and ran out of money. For some reason, Nick offered to give him some, even though the two had never met before. After the card game ended, Nick and Joe kept hanging out. From that day on, whatever money one had, the other had as well. They shared everything. All the guys knew they were friends and they hung out together as much as possible.

Before they shipped out to England (where they would train continually, preparing to invade the mainland) Nick brought Joe home to Brooklyn to meet his family. This was the only time Nick ever introduced any other soldiers to his parents and siblings.

After several months in England the day of the invasion finally arrived. Nick and Joe were in separate units, and both survived the initial charge onto the beach. Once there, they were bogged down for several days (at least, that's what I recall Grandpa saying). On the third day of fighting, Joe was shot. The news passed from man to man, unit to unit, down the beach ... the message was meant to reach Nick, Joe's best friend.

As Grandpa told us this story, you could hear the sadness in his voice. There's a place at the D-Day Memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives on the beaches. That's a picture of it, on the right. Grandpa wanted his picture taken there. He stood as close to the monument as he could and said "This is my friend, Joe." It was enough to break your heart. If I ever find that picture, I'll post it here as well.

After we finished touring the Memorial, we went to the info desk to look up Joe's name. When we found it, Joe was listed as a private. Grandpa was furious. "He wasn't a private! He was a Sergeant." [Ok, I need to go back and confirm that ... I don't know what rank Grandpa said Joe was, but it was definitely NOT Private.] Our best guess is that he was promoted in the field, but that's not how Grandpa remembers it. He says Joe was promoted months before. Regardless, the military doesn't have any records of it as far as we can tell.

I searched the net for any references to Joseph Tofinchio. I found his name listed on a hometown memorial in Gloversville. I also found a basic file in the National Archives. I even found a copy of a Gloversville High School Football Program from November 1946 that lists the names of former GHS football players who lost their lives in the war. But that's it ... that's all I could find. I've never even seen a picture of Joe. Grandpa says he has one somewhere, but he can't find it.

I'd love to find someone who knew Joe or his family. It would mean so much to my Grandpa, and to me.

Here's one more picture ... my Grandpa and Gram dancing at their 60th Wedding Anniversary in 2007.
UPDATE: I found them!!! Click here to read about it!

Friday, May 23, 2008

What's so important about this Monday?

This Monday is Memorial Day in the US. For those who don't know why we celebrate, here's the story as told by an excellent website dedicated to this special day:
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day.... It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.... Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, ... and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
Unfortunately for many Americans, Memorial Day is now only a 3-day weekend that we use to kick off summer with picnics and family gatherings.
Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.
Not everyone has forgotten however ...
There are a few notable exceptions. Since the late 50's on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day. More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights. And in 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.
This year, take time on Memorial Day to remember WHY we have this holiday. Click here for activities you can do on your own or with your family to show respect for our fallen soldiers. Get your kids (or yourself!) to do this internet scavenger hunt to learn more about Memorial Day.

Of course, there are always books to read! Here are a few designed to explain Memorial Day to children:
And here are a few books for adults that tie in with Memorial Day:
I'm not sure what I'll do to acknowledge Memorial Day this year. Maybe I'll take my son to the local veterans cemetery to put flowers on the graves. But whatever we do, be sure that I will remind my son to say 'Thank You' to every soldier he sees and respect the memory of our fallen soldiers. How will you recognize this holiday?

Click here for another blogger's post on this topic. And here are a few great quotes and pics.

Update: If you'd like to see what we ACTUALLY did on Memorial Day, click here. And click here to read a true WWII story.

Blog help needed!

Ok all you Blog-savvy people out there, I need some help!

I'm trying to learn how to create a button, and I just don't get it. I've googled it and tried to follow the instructions ... no luck.

What I want to do is take an image that I already have and turn it into a button that I can use for the contest I'm doing in June. Can anyone help me?

Thanks in advance!

PS. Anyone who posts a comment with advice/tips/how-to's by Tuesday, May 27 will get an extra entry in my contest next month as a "Thank You!"

The Avengers: A Jewish War Story

I finished this book a few minutes ago and had to start writing about it immediately. This book was FANTASTIC! Ok, I'll back up and start over ...

My most recent read was The Avengers: A Jewish War Story, by Rich Cohen. It is the true story of three young Jews from Lithuania during and after World War II, two teenage girls - Ruzka and Vitka, and one young man, Abba. These three lived in the Vilna ghetto - along with 80,000 other Jews - and were part of a community of youth called the Young Guard.

Abba became the leader of the Young Guard in the ghetto and from early in the war he encouraged the Jews to fight back against the Germans. He could see that the Germans were trying to get rid of all the Jews, even when those around him could not. Little by little the Vilna ghetto was emptied of its population; thousands upon thousands were taken to the forests and shot, or deported to death camps.

When the ghetto was being liquidated, Abba, Ruzka, and Vitka fled with other members of the Young Guard to the forests and joined the partisan fighters there. Here too they met with hatred; the Russian and Polish partisans hated the Jews almost as much as the Germans did. So they formed their own Jewish Brigade and took on the most dangerous missions they could find.

As the war came to an end, the three worked together to take vengeance on the Germans. They hatched plots to slaughter thousands of German citizens en masse while planning for their future lives in Palestine. Eventually the three made their way - separately - to British-controlled Palestine and took part in the fight to create a Jewish state. Here they fought against yet another foe - this time the Arab world - intent on destroying the Jews. Come on! I mean just how much devastation can one people take?!

I'm a history buff and I like to think that I know a great deal about World War II but I learned SO MUCH from this book! It's given me an entirely new appreciation for the Jews who fought back during the war.

For example, I didn't realize the extent of the anti-Semitism that continued unabated after the war. I was raised in a world in which the Holocaust is a symbol of horrible evil and Jewish people are the ultimate survivors, to be respected at all times. But in the mid-1940s the majority of Europe despised the Jews. Shortly after the war, a riot broke out in a small Polish town. "A million Jewish children had been killed in Poland during the War and now, one year later, the people of Kielce were accusing the survivors of murdering a child." Forty Jews were killed in the riot surrounding this accusation. Many Jews made their way across Europe in an attempt to reach Palestine. On the way, they were often attacked by local peasants merely for being Jews. Former members of the Jewish Partisan Brigade served as guards for these refugees. "But the partisans who stood on either side of the refugees were not the same Jews the peasants had known in the past. These were instead the Jews the War had created, fighters and killers, once-gentle boys who had gone brutal in the forests of the East." The book makes a point of showing the post-war differences between the Jews who fought back and those who went into hiding or survived the camps. There was a hardness and a defiance about the fighters, an unwillingness to give in, that the others just didn't have.

And then, when the Jews finally get to Palestine and - eventually - establish the state of Israel, it's the Arab nations who try to wipe them out! Unbelievable! According to one member of the Arab League, the Arabs promised "a war of extermination and a momentous massacre." Hmm, sounds a whole lot like the Germans to me! My heart was aching for these people ... they made it through the horrors of the War in Europe - the ghettos, the camps, the forests - only to be faced with another war immediately after.

I also didn't know about the plots to avenge all the Jewish deaths by killing millions of Germans. Immediately after the war, while the situation in Germany was still chaotic, members of Abba's team (including Vitka) planned to poison all the inhabitants of several neighborhoods in major German cities. There was a backup plan that involved poisoning Nazi leaders being held as Allied prisoners - and this one did actually happen (in part).

For many Jews, this desire for vengeance was transformed once they reached Palestine. Instead of calling for the murder of Germans, they could begin to "think of revenge with a plow as we once carried automatic weapons and grenades." In other words, they began to LIVE and focus on life - and THAT was their revenge.

Can you tell I really enjoyed this book? It's definitely not a novel; it's told in brief blurbs, jumping from subject to subject, covering each story from various angles. That style works very well in this book. My husband wants to read this next, but as soon as he's done I'm including this in my first book giveaway. It just begs to be read and passed on!

And that was one of the goals of the author (who, by the way, is a relative of Ruzka). According to his comments in the Afterword,
"If the world remembers, then it [the Holocaust] will not happen again. In this way, some people believe, the future is under control .... But ... everyone living will soon be dead - people forget. What happens when the last survivor is gone? ... Right now we are at that key moment when the event moves from the recent past into history. Maybe that is why Abba, Vitka and Ruzka's story is so important. It proves that you can fight, no matter what people remember or forget. ... if you struggle, then win or lose, you win. ... One message of his [Abba's] story is this - whose who fought often survived."
I'll leave you with some quotes from the book that really caught me ...
Ruzka: "The War was strange that way - it took everything you had and gave back something in return."
During a secret meeting in the ghetto, the Jews could hear the Germans singing a Nazi anthem calling for Jewish blood. In reply, they began singing a Zionist song about enduring through the pain and keeping a spark of hope. "And the two songs ran together, words and melodies flowing through the wall, until it was one song, a single lyric blazing into the future."
"I am Anton Schmidt," said the [German] officer, "of the accursed German army." This was Abba's first meeting with the German office who would help him smuggle Jews from the ghetto.
Abba's last memory of his mother, as he left her behind in his escape from the ghetto: "In a voice Abba could barely hear, she said: 'What will become of me?'"
Crawling through the small, foul-smelling sewers on hands and knees in the pitch-blackness for hours: "At such times, the fighters were so close together they were like one being, each shiver moving from body to body. ... 'What's happening up there?' Ruzka whispered [after not moving for quite a while]. 'The boy is still passed out. Maybe he is dead.'"
Vitka: "In war, many things are acceptable.... You kill and there seem to be no consequences; but there are consequences - they just come after."
And finally,
"After a war in which the Jews were starved and degraded, in which millions of them were killed in factories, this ragged group, led by a fanatic named [Abba] Kovner, fought on. Their mere existence was their victory. More than anything, they left the legend of their struggle, a way to look back at history and say, 'Here there was a fight.'"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Good Earth

I finally finished The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I don't remember where I heard about this classic novel but I decided it was something that I had to read. Plus is counts toward the Historical Fiction Challenge. :)

First off, the style takes a bit of getting used to. I've never read anything else by this author so I don't know if this is her typical style or just the way she decided to write this book; either way, it was a little strange at first.

Wang Lung is a man living a poor farmer's life in early 19o0s China. Over time, through hard work and always holding on to his land, he becomes a wealthy man living in the town. He has two wives and several children. Although there are many hardships his refusal to sell his land sees him through and allows his family to prosper.

The story is told by a narrator who merely states what the main character thinks, says, and does. Ok, it doesn't sound so odd when I put it like that ... maybe I should say that this book was very 'dry' ... that might be the right world. To me it was a passionless telling of a man's life and his connection to his land. But having said that, I did actually like this book!

There are no judgments made in this book, although as a reader I found myself judging many things. The culture was just so different from what I know! I find it fascinating that a white female author in the 1930s could capture the Chinese culture without judging it in the least bit. The treatment of women and children, the starvation, the choices the family made to survive ... all these aspects of the novel are presented dispassionately to the reader.

I don't really know what to say about this book. I DID like it, but it was very dry and passionless ... which - if I read that in a review - would make me NOT want to read this book! Before you make up your mind about this book, check out some of the other reviews I found:

Lotus Reads draws an excellent conclusion about the meaning of the title ...
I think Pearl Buck meant the land to serve as a metaphor for one's value system, one's traditions. As long as Wang Lung stayed close to the land and tended to it himself, he was a morally upright man, but the minute he strayed away from it or handed over the tending to outsiders, his morals started to waiver. I think Wang Lung always knew that deep down inside and that's why he clung to his land
In Spring It Is The Dawn also has a review, and you can even listen to several readers review it on The Diane Rehm Show.

I didn't know that this is the first book of a trilogy. The second book, Sons, follows Wang Lung's 3 sons after their father's death. The final book, A House Divided, is the story of Wang Lung's grandchildren during a revolution in China.

There are several fascinating quotes by the author on Oprah's book club website ... come to find out, this was one of her book club picks. Hmmm ... not sure what I think about that.

If you've reviewed this book, let me know and I'll add your link in here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Great Contest at This Book For Free!

There's a great blog called This Book for Free that you should really check out. So far, she has given away about 40 books! Plus she's hosting a really cool contest - you can win the not-yet-released book from your favorite author! Here are the rules:

1. Blog about a book written by one of your favorite authors. Tell us why you like it, what’s good about it, and your favorite parts. Make sure to post my button/banner in the post, or mention about this game in your post.

2. If you have no blog, you can post about it in a bulletin/message board of your choice. Leave the link in the comment form below.

3. Mention this site at

4. Paste one of my buttons from the sidebar. (if you have questions about pasting buttons, please email me, or click on contact me at my navigation bar.)

5. Leave your comment with a link to your specific post to be eligible to win.

6. You can post more than once, about different authors, if you have more than one blog. (But only one blog post per blog).

Who can resist an easy contest like this?! If you win, you can choose any upcoming release by your favorite author (as long as it's from and costs less than $25).

Here's my post on the subject:

The book I want to win is A Memory of Light, by Brandon Sanderson, due out in 2009.

Since the mid-90s, I've been engrossed in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. If you've been reading my blog, you know that I've posted about this before. Plus I talk about it in the sidebar.

Why do I like this series so much? Jordan is a master of the "long narrative" form. There are 11 books so far in the series, and each one averages 900 pages. At the beginning there were a handful of main characters; over time, those characters split up and met more characters ... and Jordan follows the story of each of them. In a way, I feel like I've grown up with these characters since I've "known" them for so many years. There's no way to pick a favorite part ... there's just too much to choose from!

Unfortunately for all of us, James Rigney (aka Robert Jordan) lost his battle with a rare blood disorder in September 2008, leaving the last book of the series unfinished. Thankfully, he had literally thousands of pages of notes, many completed chapters, and had revealed the end of the epic story to a select few people.

Long story short, Brandon Sanderson will complete the final book of the series, entitled A Memory of Light. I can't wait for the release of this book!

If there are any other WOT fans out there, I'd love to hear from you. And if anyone decides to enter the contest at This Book for Free, please post a comment here and let me know!

Irresistible Review Challenge! (hey, that's what it's called!)

Ok, I'm up for another challenge, but only because it means I get to read exactly what I want to read! Darla at Books & other thoughts is running the Irresistible Review Challenge and I've signed up already. Here's how it works:
1. Read 8 books between now and Labor Day (September 1) that you were inspired to read after reading a fellow book-blogger's review. Ideally the books will be ones you'd never heard of or would probably not have considered reading had it not been for the review. If you expanded your horizons or went beyond your usual reading comfort zone because of the review, all the better!
2. Write a review of the book on your blog.
3. (The most important step) Make sure you link to the review that inspired you to read the book in the first place!
4. Books read for other challenges count.
5. There is no need to make a list ahead of time - for this type of challenge, it's probably best to remain open to serendipity in the bookblogosphere!
So instead of picking new books to read from a list, I just have to commit to reading some of the books I'm adding to my TBR list - how easy is that?!

For this challenge, I'll add titles to my list (in this post) as I decide on them. Of course, I'll have review posts for each book read, but my list will reside here.

My "Official" Challenge List
  1. King Solomon's Mines, by H. Rider Haggard ... because of the review from Books 'N Border Collie (added to my list on 05/21) - update: here the link to my review
  2. Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams ... because of the review by Things Mean A Lot (added to my list on 05/22) - update: here's the link to my review
  3. Bram Stoker's Dracula ... of course I've heard of it, but I've never wanted to read it until I saw this by The Sleepy Reader (added to the list on 5/28)
  4. Stone Creek, by Victoria Lustbader ... not sure why bookclubgirl's blurb appealed to me, but it is something I would NEVER have picked up on my own (added to the list on 5/20) update: here's the link to my review
  5. Life is So Good, by George Dawson ... never heard of it but the review on In Their Shoes was excellent (added to the list on 5/30) update: here's the link to my review
  6. Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie ... I've got several of his books on my TBR list since I figure I SHOULD read something by him, but this review on Musings really caught my attention (added to the list on 6/9) update: here's the link to my review
  7. In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan ... I've never wanted to read a "food book" but this one seems very "user friendly" according to The Inside Cover's review (added to the list on 6/16) update: here the link to my review
  8. Pyongyang, by Guy Delisle ... I've never read a graphic novel but I somehow came across this review at Naked without Books and had to add this one to my list (added to the list on 6/8) update: here the link to my review

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

NaComLeavMo: What?! and Welcome!


What exactly is NaComLeavMo you may (rightly!) ask? Well, I first heard about it while visiting, although now I can't find the original post about it. Then I visited the hostess's blog, Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters. (Weird name, yes, but it makes sense when you realize it's an infertility blog~ LOL)

NaComLeaveMo is short for National Comment Leaving Month. The idea behind this is to get more interaction between bloggers, especially those from different parts of the blogosphere. It started with the Infertility Bloggers last year but is open to EVERYONE with ANY kind of blog now.

You can read all the "rules" here, but basically here's what you need to know:
mark somewhere on your calendar that you are going to leave 5 comments a day and return one comment a day between May 25 and June 25. In other words, you will do your normal blog reading, but you will make sure that you leave at least 5 comments a day and regardless of how many comments you usually receive, you will return at least 1 comment by going to a commentor's blog and leaving a comment there. If you do not have any comments that day (perhaps you didn't write a new post or your blog falls into a strange, other-worldly commentless abyss), simply jump to the participant's list and pick a new blog and leave a comment.
Pretty simple. But brilliant, really. There are so many people out there with fascinating blogs yet most of us only stay within our comfortable little blogging groups. This is the perfect excuse to break out of your comfort zone and find new blogs to explore!

If you'd like to participate, sign up here, then get started commenting! As of today, there are 167 bloggers registered. I realize that most are from Infertility Blogs (scroll to the bottom for more on that*) but the goal is to branch out to include lots of other types of blogs so please get involved!

For those of you who are visiting me because of NaComLeavMo - thank you! Welcome! I encourage you to check out some of the blogs listed in my sidebar. Also, please visit The Hidden Side of a Leaf and check out the Weekly Geeks posts. Dewey has a great group of bloggers participating in this weekly challenge. Previous activities included blogging about your favorite childhood books, and posting about a social issue you are interested in. You can quickly visit lots of fantastic blogs, and I know everyone would love more comments!

Happy Commenting to all!

*On a personal note, I'm having a hard time visiting the Infertility blogs. Although I do have one child, I've tried for years to have another without success. We did 8 rounds of Clomid, three artificial inseminations, two rounds of in-vitro, and an exploratory surgery. Finally we resigned ourselves to having just one child and let go of the hope for more. In general, I'm ok with that decision ... but reading about it all over again is really hard for me. SO ... I'll do my best to visit those blogs but I can't say how well I'll do over the course of the month.

Contests and Other Info

I've come across a few contests lately and thought I'd pass on the info to all of you. Let me know if you win anything!

Name your Home Place, by Maggie Reads. Drawing to be held on May 30 for an autographed copy of Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.

Win a copy of The Blood of Flowers from Booking Mama. Check out my review of the audio book - I loved it!

There's always a book giveaway going on at This Book For Free. Get on over there and sign up to win!

Author Chat with Thrity Umrigar from Book Club Girl. Hear what the author of The Space Between Us has to say.

I'm also thinking of doing a contest here sometime soon. I'll keep you posted!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Year of Wonders (May '08)

I learned about Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks from Becca at The Inside Cover. It her online book club pick for May. It looked like just the type of book I love so I ordered it right away from PBS.

This book is based on the real town of Eeym in England. In 1665, the Black Plague broke out in this town. To protect the surrounding countryside from infection, the town agreed to isolate itself for the duration of the plague. During the year or so that they were cut off from the outside, about 1/3 of the population of Eeym died of the plague. This book is the fictional account - based on facts - of what happened in the town during that year. It's told from the point of view of Anna, an 18 year old widow with two children, who works as a servant for the minister and his wife.

This is also one of my books for The Historical Fiction Challenge. Here's the comment I posted on that group's message board:
I got this in the mail yesterday and I can hardly put it down! It's heartbreaking but an easy read at the same time. Although I must say, I had a REALLY hard time with the descriptions of the children's deaths. My son is only 6 yrs old, and these children reminded me so much of him ... then to read about their deaths in JUST enough detail that I could imagine it - WHEW! Almost too much for me, especially right before bed. :(
This really was an excellent book, despite the depressing topic. What really worked for me was the way Brooks gave just enough detail that you could imagine the situation without giving so much detail that you were completely depressed or disgusted.

It was a very quick and easy read, although I would recommend getting through the initial outbreak of the plague and a few more chapters before heading to bed. Like I said, trying to go to bed after reading about the children dying was enough give me bad dreams!

All is all, I would highly recommend this book. I'm thinking of doing a book giveaway sometime in the next few months, and I'm planning to keep my copy for that. If do a contest, are any of you interested in winning this book?

If you have a review of this book, post the link in the comments and I'll add it here. Here are some other reviews I've come across.

Devourer of Books
Books on the Brain
The Inside Cover

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Weekly Geeks #4: Food Allergies!

I have to admit, this Weekly Geeks task had me stumped for a while. The task is:
Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don’t have to books you’ve read, just books you might like to read.
But once I found my topic, I knew it would be hard to stop writing about it!

My "social cause" is food allergies. I know this is not a huge topic like biodiversity or poverty, but it IS a huge issue in my house. My 6 year old son has multiple food allergies. He's allergic to: milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanut, tree nut, beef, and pork. That means that he can't eat anything that contains - or has TOUCHED - these foods. Yes, I know - it sounds crazy. We've adapted to it in our house, but outside our house is a whole other story!

I need to pack food for him every time we leave the house because I can't just pick up fast food if we get stuck out at meal time. We can only eat at The Outback because so far it is the only restaurant willing to make my son's meals safely every time. And of course, restaurants can't heat up food for us so if we eat anyplace else, we have to cook at home for him and bring it with us (and hope we get our food before his gets cold). At school, his teachers have been wonderful, making the kids wash their hands any time they handle food (because merely the touch of milk on a table or someone's hands will make my son break out in severe hives, or worse). During lunch, his desk is pushed up to the edge of his class's table so he can still sit with his buddies without running the risk of an allergen being on his spot at the table.

I just want people to be aware that allergies are serious business, and that those severe peanut allergies you hear about are NOT the only severe allergies out there. In my son's case, milk is the worst of his allergies. If I eat something with butter on it, I have to wash my lips before I kiss his cheeks or he'll break out.

What do I want people to know about this issue? Kids with allergies are everywhere, and they are just like other kids. But, they do need a little bit of extra protection. Please wash your hands after eating - even after snacks - and before touching door handles or railings. Also, a food allergy is not the same as a food intolerance. Someone with lactose intolerance may get stomach aches if they drink milk ... food allergies are immune disorders so a person with a milk allergy who drinks milk will likely end up in the hospital in anaphylactic shock.

For restaurant managers, learn more about allergies and educate your chefs and servers - we want to eat out, but it's just to dangerous for us. If your restaurant can handle food allergies please advertise that fact! There are lots of us out here who will give you business. And for the medical community, please continue to research the causes of food allergies and search for treatments ... I'm hopeful that by the time my son is an adult, there will be a "cure" for his allergies.

I know this is a bit 'rambly' but this is a huge issue for me. It's stressful for our family. I always stay positive about it in front of my son, but his food restrictions really get to me and I feel SO bad for him at times. I hope you can all understand what I'm trying to say, even though I jumped around a bit here ...

If you need more info on food allergies, or know someone who is struggling with this, The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network is an excellent resource.

[The books pictured above are not exactly on my reading list ... I'm sort of "allergied out" after reading this stuff for the past several years. But they are excellent resources for anyone who wants to learn more about food allergies. I DO have The Food Allergy Cookbook though!]
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