Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Martin Yan at the Book Fest

Hubby is the cook in our family. He's tell you that I burn water, but it's not that ... I just don't really like to cook. It's difficult for me and it's not fun. Did I mention that hubby is the kind of guy who can look in the pantry, pull out random ingredient, and concoct a fabulous meal without consulting a cook book? Yeah, I'm totally lucky (and jealous).

Why am I telling you this? Cooking is how I get hubby to the Baltimore Book Festival with me! He loves watching the famous (and not-so-famous) chefs demonstrate their techniques and he's always looking for more cookbooks. So Saturday at the Book Fest was hubby's day (Friday and Sunday were mine!).

We planned to be there in plenty of time for the 1:00pm appearance of hubby's childhood favorite, Martin Yan. (Remember him? He was one of the first TV chefs, and his catchphrase was "If Yan Can Cook, So Can You!") During the 20 minute drive to the city, the rain started. And I don't just mean a drizzle, I'm talking DOWNPOUR. Hubby and I looked at each other and said "Are we crazy?! We're going someplace outside in this weather?!" Then we laughed and kept on driving.

Traffic was snarled because you know people forget how to drive once the rain starts. That made us late for the demo so we ended up in the back. But thanks to my fabulous new camera I still got great pictures.

Here's hubby under the tent with his umbrella, because yes, the rain was so bad it was coming in the sides of the tent. But hubby was happy and that made me happy.

Martin was great fun to watch! He is funny, quick-witted, and all-around entertaining. He kept saying how lucky he was that it was raining because he had a captive audience, and how if it didn't rain no one would be there watching him. Here's a quick example:

Yes, that's right - Martin Yan took pictures of the audience. He said it was for his mom!

Here are a few pictures from his cooking demo. He was making a spicy shrimp dish (I can't remember what it's called) that was DELICIOUS.

Martin Yan is about 60 years old and has been cooking on TV for 30 years. If you've never seen him, you're really missing out. Several times during his demo he'd say "If Yan Can Cook ..." then the audience would join in with "So Can You!" But at one point he said "If Yan can cook, so can you! If Yan can't cook, don't even try it!" HA!

I had another video to share but I accidentally erased it. Ugh. But I do remember one of the things that Martin said. He was explaining that cooking should be fun and he said "The kitchen should be the 2nd most fun room in the house!" When everyone laughed he said something like "I think the bedroom is the most fun ... I do all my reading in my bedroom!" You gotta love this guy.

After the demo hubby purchase Martin's new cookbook, Martin Yan's China, and we got in line to meet the chef.

Can you tell how excited hubby was? He told Martin that he'd been watching his shows since he was a child. The chef was funny and gracious, signing hubby's book with a little note and a phrase in Chinese.

After meeting Martin, we had about three hours before hubby's next chef would be on. We wandered the book fest grounds, browsed the booths, bought some things, had our handwriting analyzed, and tried not to get too wet. While hubby took our books back to the car I had a chance to hear from the author of Lady MacBeth (I wrote about that here).

I'll get the rest of the Book Fest posts up over the next few days. Here's what you can expect: another chef/author, coverage of my panel, a list of the books I learned about, and a general recap. WHEW!

FYI, I'm still dealing with a crashing computer, a damaged laptop, and now no computer at work (we moved to a new office and they still can't get the internet up). So if I'm not a regular with my posts I'm sorry! But I'll (hopefully) be back on track soon!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Susan Fraser King (Lady Macbeth) at the Baltimore Book Festival

(You can read my other posts about the Baltimore Book Fest here and here.)

It was a VERY rainy day in Baltimore; unfortunately for the authors, that meant very few people in the audience for their talks. I sort of stumbled upon this author on Saturday afternoon. She was speaking in a tent that I was passing. The name of the book, Lady Macbeth, seemed familiar to me so I wandered in (plus it got me out of the rain).

Author Susan Fraser King had already introduced her book and explained what it was about, so I was a bit out of the loop (although the title is a huge clue). I was in time to hear her read from the prologue though, and that video is posted below.

A bit about the book ...

Here's the summary from the author's website:
LADY MACBETH by Susan Fraser King takes readers into the heart of eleventh-century Scotland, painting a vivid picture of Gruadh, the last female descendant of the country's most royal line. Married, pregnant, then quickly widowed, she is forced to wed her husband's murderer, the warlord Macbeth. Determined to protect her interests and those of her infant son, she vows to preserve her family's legacy at any cost.
I took lots of notes during Ms. King's talk. I'll share them in bullet form, since my notes are a bit disjointed.
  • Macbeth and his wife were married for 25 years, and ruled for 17 years. Although she had children from her first marriage (Macbeth killed her husband then married her), she and Macbeth never had children together. Despite that, he never put her aside even though it was his right (since she hadn't produced an heir for him). Instead he named her son from her first marriage as his heir.

  • Macbeth went off to Rome (how long that must have taken in those days is beyond me!) and left his wife in charge; she must have been a very strong regent for him to do this.

  • I don't know much (anything!) about Shakespeare's play Macbeth, but according to Ms. King Lady Macbeth "is not about the Shakespeare, but there are historical events where the two meet."

  • On the topic of Shakespeare, someone asked why he took so many liberties with the facts when writing his Macbeth. Ms. King explained that the new King was James I of Scotland, and the English people disliked him immensely. Some scholars say that Shakespeare's intention with Macbeth was to create another Scottish monarch who was SO BAD that James would look good by comparison.

I was interested in knowing how long it took to research and write this book. Ms. King explained that she has a background in academia (you can read about it on her website) which helped in greatly in her research. From the time she began gathering her facts to the time she submitted her final draft was two-and-half years. Being a stickler for facts, I was pleased to know that she sent her draft to a professor of Celtic and Medieval Studies at Penn State and asked him to correct any errors in it. Yeah for fact-checking!

I hope you enjoy Ms. King reading from Lady Macbeth ...

Have you heard of this book before? Is it one you want to read?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I Want Your Banned Book Reviews!

To celebrate our freedom to read, I'm going to fill this post with links to YOUR reviews of banned and/or challenged books!

Simply post a comment that includes the link to your review and I'll add it to this post. At the end of the week I'll republish the revised post for everyone to enjoy.

Not sure if you've read a banned/challenged book? The the American Library Association has lots of lists at the bottom of this page.

Feel free to include as many links as you want. Come on, celebrate with me!

Reviews of Banned and/or Challenged Books
... I'm waiting for your review!

Friend or Frenemy? ... at the Book Fest

If you missed the first part of the Ladies Night Out evening on Friday at the Baltimore Book Festival, you can read about it here.

The second panel featured authors Andrea Lavinthal and Jennifer Rozler discussing their newest book, Friend or Frenemy: A Guide to the Friends You Need and the Ones You Don't.

This isn't exactly the kind of book I usually read, but my friend and I were having such a good time that we decided to stay for the discussion anyway. Free wine and snacks will keep us captive for quite a while.

I'm so glad we did stay … because this book is funny! Snarky might be a better word though. Here’s what it’s about, according to
How do you finally break free from a fair-weather bud who flees the scene as soon as a new guy comes around? How do you know which friends make it into your framily? With tips for making and breaking, maintaining and sustaining your friendships, plus stories from real women, Friend or Frenemy? explores how great friends get us through hard times and dishes out advice about dumping the users, losers, and abusers. In this era of instant communication, relationships are not necessarily easier. Friend or Frenemy? also looks at how texting, MySpacing, and other modes of instant communication are oh-so-convenient but sometimes make it harder to make meaningful connections. With tons of wit and loads of charm, Lavinthal and Rozler are sure to get you thinking about friendship as if for the first time—reminding us why our BFFs are often the most important people in our lives.
And here are Jennifer (on the left) and Andrea (on the right) reading from the prologue of their book. Sorry that it's a bit echo-y ... we were in a museum lobby for this panel.

If you like the humor in that bit, then you'll love this book!

One point the authors brought up is that friend break-ups are often more emotionally painful than romantic breakups. I mean, you sort of expect to lose your love-interest (at least, you know it’s a possibility right from the start) but you don’t expect to lose your friends. How true!

Near the end of the panel I asked the authors if they had any tips for KEEPING good friends. Their answer? "Don't write a book!" Ha! Both gals work full time, so they did their writing on the weekends and evenings. They said that during the months of intense writing for this book, many friends invited them out and wondered why they always declined. "We're writing a book, sorry." It was just such a busy time for them ... and boy, do I know THAT feeling! Their more serious answer was to make traditions with your friends, commit to getting together - that is key to keeping your good friends.

Andrea and Jennifer are also the authors of The Hookup Handbook - another snarky-type book. Apparently some people didn't get the humor though ... the gals said they are constantly asked it it is based on their lives!

After the panel I introduced myself to Andrea (she's the blond) and let her know that I'd be posting a video on my blog. And guess what? She gave me HER COPY of their book so that I can review it here. How cool is that?! I've started it already ... I'll let you know what I think about it soon.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Show & Tell: The Power of the Internet

This is a totally non-book-related post, but it's really cool so I hope you keep reading.

Several months ago I started searching for the family of my Grandpa's friend, Joe Tofinchio (who was killed in WWII). Less than a month later I successfully found them, and spoke to his sister on the phone. Since then, I've exchanged emails with a few other members of the Tofinchio family. I was very pleased with the results; Joe's family was happy, my Grandpa was happy, I was happy.

But when you post something on the internet, it takes on a life of it's own. Info is out there for anyone to find ... and find it they do. Just this weekend I received an email from someone ELSE who was searching for Joe's family. I'm going to post the entire email exchange so you can share in my excitement:

Received on Sept. 6, 2008:
Heather, I am not sure if this will reach you or not. I can't tell you how excited I was to find your blog on Joseph Tofinchio! I do research for a group in Nomandy France called Les Fleurs de la Memoire. The members sponsor soldiers buried in the Normandy American Cemetery. One member, Monsieur Michel Drouel, sponsors Joseph. I have been trying to find information on Joseph and couldn't find anything beyond the information in the National Archives. He will be very happy to see the picture you posted as well as to know the little bit of information you provided.

Please let your Grandfather know that Monsieur Drouel takes flowers to his grave at least once a year, and cares very much about this man who gave his life for France's freedom. It would be also be great if you could let Mary and John know about him. Please email me if you have any questions or if John and Mary would like to get in contact with Michel.

My reply, on the same date:
Lynn - This is FABULOUS! Thank you so much for getting in touch with me. It is simply amazing how the internet can bring people together. I had no idead that there was an organization like Les Fleurs de la Memoire. It will mean so much to my family and Joe's family to know that someone is caring for his grave. Please let Monsieur Drouel know that we are very grateful for his sponsorship, and thank him sincerely for us.

I know Monsieur Drouel's efforts will be especially touching for Joe's sister, Mary; she is the one who has flowers sent to put on his tomb on the anniversary of his death each year.

I will forward this message to my grandparents and to Joe's nephew, John. I'll also print a copy and mail it to Mary and John. They will be amazed to hear about Monsieur Drouel.

Do you mind if I post a copy of your email on my blog? My readers have been so supportive of my search for Joe's family - I know they will share in my joy at hearing this news.

Thank you again.
- Heather
Reply, received same day:
Heather, This is fabulous! I just about fell over when I saw your blog! And please do share my email. I started searching for Joseph about a year ago, and of course all I could find was his record on the National Archive. I decided to give it one more shot and found you. And his PICTURE! I swear I had chills when I read your story about finding him.

The internet does bring people together. My Grandfather was killed in World War II and is buried in Normandy. Two other men were killed along side him. I wrote a story about my Grandfather that is on the internet, and a man in France found my sotry who just happens to sponsor those two men. I was so happy to be able to tell him everything I have learned about them.

Fleurs de Memoire is amazing. Their website is

I have met my Grandfathers sponsors, and they consider him to be their Grandfather now. They even have his picture in place in their front living room for everyone to see.

I will be sending along all of your thank yous and really do let me know if Mary or anyone else would like to contact him.

Thank you!
Lynn Taylor
Granddaugher of SGT Dallis Drake
KIA July 27, 1944
Isn't this just amazing?! I checked out the website for Fleur de Memoire and it really is unbeliveable. If you get a chance, go read this page and this page - if THAT doesn't touch you, you've got a heart of stone.

And here is a link to the story Lynn wrote about her grandfather. Again, very touching.

I hope my success inspires someone else to research their family history, or to connect in some way with the WWII generation. A large part of the world owes its freedom and lifestyle to those men and women who fought in the war. We should continue to remember and thank them every day ... especially since, in a few years, they will all be gone forever.

UPDATE (10/22/08): Thanks to DreamyBee, here's a link to a brief National Public Radio segment on Fleur de Memoire.

Update of on the Book Fest

I've been having a blast at the book fest, despite the POURING rain!

Within the next few days I'll be posting photos and videos from the authors of Friend or Frenemy?, Lady Macbeth, cookbook authors The Hearty Boys, and Martin Yan, and many more.

Please be patient though ... my home PC is crashing, my laptop has a cracked screen, and my office is moving so I'll be computerless at work for part of this week. UGH! But I promise to get them on here asap. :)

Banned Books Week ... some thoughts

It's here - Banned Books Week!
Sept. 27 - Oct. 4

I've got three posts planned for the topic of banned books this week:
  • My thoughts - you know you want to know what I think
  • A call for reviews of banned books - if you've got 'em, I want to see 'em!
  • Links to other posts on banned books
I love to read. (Duh!) I have ever since I was a child. No one ever told me that I couldn't read a particular book. In part, that is what helped me develop my love of reading - I could explore whatever caught my interest.

Kiddo loves books, even though he can't read quite yet. As he grows, we're starting to read a wider variety of books and I see his personal taste beginning to develop - it's a wonderful thing to watch!

At this point I still regulate what he "reads", sort of by proxy. I order books from the library for him, I remind him of the books we have at home, etc. If he expresses interest in a topic, we find a book to read about it. As he learns to read though, I fully expect him to find books on his own, and it's here that the banning of books discussion comes into play.

There I things I don't want kiddo to read about. Some are simply inappropriate for his age, with themes or situations that he'll only understand when he's older. Others contain language I find offensive or just in poor taste. And there are some that I just don't like because of the messages they convey. As the parent of a young child (he's only 6, remember) I feel that it's my job to regulate the books he has access to, to choose books that will help him grow, learn, and develop a love of reading.

But at the same time, I will not deny any other person the opportunity to read a book just because I disapprove of it. In fact, down the road I may even encourage kiddo to read some of those books. Then we can discuss the questionable or controversial areas of the book with a discerning eye.

So those are my thoughts on this, the first day of Banned Books Week. If you've reviewed a banned book, I'll want to hear about it in my next post so stay tuned!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Author Talk: Kathleen McCleary at the Baltimore Book Fest

I had a lovely time at the Ladies Night Out event at the Baltimore Book Festival this evening. My friend Melissa went with me (thanks Melissa for coming at the very last minute!) and we quite enjoyed the wine and finger foods provided for us. This part of the Festival was held inside the Walters Art Museum. I was glad about that as the weather was a bit iffy. In the end, it didn't rain 'til we were driving home, but I was glad to be inside all the same.

The first panel included three authors: Megan McCafferty (the Jessica Darling series), Norma Jarrett (The Sunday Brunch, and Sweet Magnolias), and Kathleen McCleary (House and Home).

My entire purpose for attending was to meet Kathleen. I enjoyed her book and have exchanged a few emails with her. Imagine my pleasure when she knew who I was as soon as I told her my name!

I videoed part of the panel discussion using my digital camera ... sorry if it's a bit bumpy. This first video is Kathleen talking about her book, and reading the first paragraph.

One of the first questions asked of Kathleen was "What website did you use for that novel writing class?" Here's her answer:

A question I loved was "What are you reading now?" Here are answers from all three authors:

Another questions was "Do you have another job, or are you a full-time author?"

  • Megan is a mom too! Her child will be 6 soon.
  • Norma teaches business law and ethics part time.
  • Kathleen is now a full time author.

After the panel I had a chance to speak with Kathleen again. She was kind enough to sign my book, and even wrote a little note rather than just her signature.

It was a lovely evening! I enjoyed hearing from the other two authors as well. I haven't read any of their books ... if you have, let me know what you think.

I'll be back at the Book Festival tomorrow - I can't wait!

We ended up staying for the 2nd panel, but that post will have to come later as I'm ready for bed now.

PS. Click here to read my review of House and Home. Also, Kathy did an interview at this blog - if you scroll to the bottom, you can read about her next book.

One Special Summer

How could I have not read this book before now?! It is so lovely, so fun, and so simple! Its just fabulous!

Oh, did I not tell you what book I’m raving about? Sorry - it’s One Special Summer, by Lee and Jacqueline Bouvier. Yes, that’s the same Jacqueline who later married John Kennedy.

It’s 1951 and Lee, age 17, has just graduated from high school. After months of begging and pleading, her mother has agreed to allow her to go to Europe for the summer, with big sister Jacqueline as her traveling companion. Upon their return the girls create a scrapbook for their mother as a thank you for the trip. Their mother was thrilled, and counted the book as one of her most treasured possession.

Fast forward to the early 1970s. Lee is planning to write a book that will include many family letters and other documents. She and her mother sort through boxes of papers and come across the scrapbook. Too big to be included in her book, Lee decides to publish it separately. The first edition came out in 1974; it was republished in 2005.

This book is simply fabulous! Both girls contributed to the scrapbook, writing stories and poems, adding sketches and photos. It’s printed in their handwriting, giving it a very personal touch – which was the point, since it was a gift to their mother. Jacqueline’s drawings are so much fun! She packs tons of expressions into such simple little sketches - many of them had me laughing out loud. And the stories were just as much fun. I read it in one sitting, in part because it was rather short but more because I simply couldn’t put it down.

How did I find this book, you ask? It's certainly not one I'd ever heard of before. You see, this month my book club is doing something different. Rather than reading one book, we’re reading on one topic: Jackie Kennedy. The plan is to read any biography of her that appeals to us (there are TONS). At our meeting we’ll discuss the various takes on her life, the image the author was trying to portray, and what was left out of each book. While browsing my library’s online catalog I found about 20 book about Jackie O, including this one. I ordered it not knowing what it was, and I’m so glad that I did! I’ll be reading a biography as well but this was a great intro to her life.

Have you read One Special Summer? Heard of it? Tell me, tell me! If not, you simply must read it. This book is a real treasure.

Friday Finds 09/26/08

What with Banned Books Week starting tomorrow and the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend, I've been doing at least two posts every day. I hope I'm not overwhelming any of you!

Here are my finds for this week:
  1. Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Hamila Bashir - this reviewer made it sound like a must-read, and I'm convinced
  2. Isolation: A Novel (Faithwords) by Travis Thrasher - Amy makes it sound deliciously creepy
  3. Raising Your Spirited Child Rev Ed: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka - I visited this blogger during Book Blogger Appreciation Week and saw her review of this book - I don't think kiddo is "spirited" in the way the book explains it, but good parenting tips are always welcome here
  4. Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop - Nan reads such lovely, homey books - most of the time they are not what I'd choose to pick up, but this one sounds quite interesting
  5. The Mystery of the Fool the Vanisher by David Elwand - I don't know if I really want to read this one, but Guys Lit Wire had a fascinating review - and the PICTURES! The uniqueness of the art really caught my eye. Go check it out and let me know what you think.
Only 5 for me this week! Here's kiddo's list:
  1. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick - I actually came across Rebecca's review a while ago but I keep forgetting to mention it - I think this would be fun to read with kiddo - has anyone read this with their kiddo?
  2. Holes by Louis Sacher - I've never seen the movie and neither has kiddo, so that's a good start (Valentina hadn't either). I'm trying to find books that we can read together than watch the movie together; I'm teaching him that there are always differences between the books and the movies. And idea how these two compare?
What are YOUR Friday Finds? Click here to check out other lists.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.

Odd title, isn't it? That's why I picked it actually. Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. by E. Somerville and M. Ross is on the list of 1,001 books and yes, I chose to read it based on the title alone. I've got a thing for Ireland - I readily admit it!

First, the basics. This book was published in 1899. It was written by Edith Somerville and "Martin Ross", aka Violent Martin (Edith's cousin). There are other books in the series as well, but I can't seem to find out how many.

, now to summarize. This is a bit tricky actually, because each chapter is almost a short story in and of itself. The entire book is told from the point of view of Major Sinclair Yeates, an English gentleman recently posted to Skebawn in Western Ireland. He holds the position of Resident Magistrate. Each chapter relates his (mis)adventures as he deals with his landlord, the residents of the town, and his wife. There is also a great deal of English condescension* toward the Irish, as you'd expect, as well as lots of that dry, situation humor you expect from the Brits.

I think what I enjoyed the most was the dialect. The authors really captured the sound of the Irish accent and the peculiar turns of phrase so common to Ireland. I loved how they used unique spelling to convey the sound of the words. A few of my favorites were: rosydandhrum (rhododendron), dhrownding (drowning), and charackter (character). There were lots more though.

It took me a few months to read this because I kept putting it aside to read other things. Much of it was quite entertaining though, and it really isn't a difficult read. The characters are all quirky and fun to read about. I never could guess where each story would take them. If you are a fan of short stories and old-fashioned adventures - fox hunting, balls, etc. - you'd likely enjoy this book.

To give you a taste of the writing style, here's a quick excerpt from Chapter 5: Lisheen Races, Second-Hand:

Had it not been for a large stone lying on the road, and had the filly not chosen to swerve so as to bring the wheel on top of it, I dare say we might have got to the races; but by an unfortunate coincidence both these things occurred, and when we recovered from the consequent shock, the tire of one of the wheels had come off, and was trundling with cumbrous gaiety into the ditch.

I recently learned that this book was made into a TV series in the 1980s. I'm glad to know that, because this book lends itself to being read (or acted) aloud. I'm including a clip from the show, but only watch it if you like British TV - otherwise you'll be bored stiff!

This book had a lot of words that I was unfamiliar with. Inspired by Open Mind Insert Book, I decided to keep track of those words. Unfortunately, I only wrote down a few. Here's my list though, along with the definitions:


  1. the use of two metals, ordinarily gold and silver, at a fixed relative value, as the monetary standard
  2. the doctrine or policies supporting such a standard


  1. an old-fashioned hooded chaise
  2. a rickety, old-fashioned conveyance

(noun) - actually, I knew this word from reading this book - it's a weapon used by various African tribes

So, has anyone else out there read this book? I'm guessing not, but maybe you'll surprise me. If not, would you consider reading it? Let me know what you think.

*In this context I do mean condescension in the modern sense (as in "looking down upon") and not the Jane Austen sense (as in "Mr. Darcy condescended to speak to Mr. Collins"). ~LOL~

A Full House – But Empty

Quick Overview

Angus “Gus” Munro was born in 1931 in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada). At age 3 his father became a single parent with three children. Gus grew up during the Depression, in a rather poor – but loving – home. After dropping out of school at age 14, he eventually got a job working for a railroad in their communications department. Later he moved to CA, then Alaska, then back to California, spending most of his career in the healthcare administration field.

My Thoughts

The beginning of this book was fascinating. I was quickly drawn into Gus’s story. His home life was unpredictable – his father, although a hard worker, liked to host parties ‘til all hours of the night. People were constantly in and out of their house. This was difficult for Gus, since he was one of those kids who like things to be in order at all times. Yet his father and sisters loved him and each other. They made the best of what they had at all time. I loved reading about the period where the Munro family shared a house with another single father and his kids – those kids really enjoyed their time together (although they fought, just like all kids do). As Gus grew, I enjoyed reading about his various jobs and his experiences meeting some distant relatives.

The middle of the book really dragged for me. This portion covered his career in the healthcare field. What I know about this field comes from my husband’s experiences as a tech in a hospital, and later as a paramedic; frankly, I know enough to know that it’s not the field for me! Perhaps that’s why I had a hard time with this portion of the book. But it’s more than that, really. I appreciate that Gus was able to work from the bottom up, to succeed without a high school education, to achieve while still feeling self-conscious about his background. At the same time, I was bothered by the “human-ness” that I felt was missing from this portion of the book. Many people were referred to by their job titles rather than their names; this may have been because Gus had less than positive things to say about them, but I’d rather he had given them fake names than no names at all. And he seems to me to be too preoccupied with the way people dress and present themselves. It’s important, yes, but it there was too much focus on it for my taste.

The end of the book pulled me back in though. I enjoyed reading about Gus’s relationship with his two nieces – he got involved with both of them from an early age, and seemed to encourage them wherever possible. Later, when Gus became a regular part-time baby sitter for his niece’s new baby boy (and eventually for her 2nd son as well) I was thrilled. What a wonderful relationship he has with those two boys! I’d love it if my son had that kind of bond with a relative from the older generation.

Reconsidering the Book

If you asked me when I finished reading this book if I liked it, I’d have said “No” right away. But writing out my thoughts reminded me that there is much that I DID like about this book. I was just frustrated with the middle section. To me, that’s what is great about book blogging – it makes you think more critically about the things you are reading.

As I considered what I didn’t like about this book, I realized that it’s the lack of family that bothers me so much. Gus did not have children with either his first or second wife (he says in the book that he never really wanted a family), and he rarely speaks about his wives, his sister, or any other relatives in the middle section of the book. He spends 60 hours a week at work by choice. He truly is a work-a-holic and he seems perfectly content with that.

I think that is the reason that the middle section of the book didn’t resonate with me. My family is such an important part of my life, and my career (although I love it) could never compete with that. At one point in the book, Gus cancels an important family visit – during which he planned to connect with his best childhood friend after 50 years – because of a situation at work. He points to this as an example of his sense of responsibility and commitment to his job. Personally, I would never have cancelled my trip. Not in a million years. That’s the difference between Gus and I, and it’s a huge part of the reason for my discontent with parts of this book.

In the End

I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. I loved the beginning and the end, but I hated the middle. If you have experience in healthcare admin, you might enjoy that section. If you enjoy reading about someone’s career, you might enjoy that section. If you want tips on how best to handle awkward situations with your co-workers or subordinates (he ran into lots of strange ones!), you might like that section.

Thank you to Pump Up Your Book for the chance to read and review this book, and a special thank you to Gus Munro for the signed copy of the book you sent to me. I appreciate the opportunity to read new books that I may otherwise not come across.

What do you think?
Would you read this book? Do you identify more with Gus or with me in regards to family and career?

Read another review at As the Pages Turn.

Check out this guest post by the author, all about his life during the Great Depression.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lovely Links #3 - Book Fest Edition

For this edition of Lovely Links I'm focusing on videos from or related to Book Festivals ...

You can find me at the Baltimore Book Festival every day this coming weekend. So, how 'bout it? Will you be attending a book festival this year? Tell me all about it!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Summer Reading Thing - COMPLETED!

I joined this challenge on July 25 (here's my original post) and it ended on September 21. Here is a list of my goals and the results:
  • I finished the Irresistible Review Challenge (albeit a bit late).
  • I finished the Historical Fiction Challenge! I finished this one early so I got the cool badge on my left sidebar.
  • I read/reviewed the following books for authors and publishers:
    • Matrimony, by Joshua Henkin - given to me by the author
    • Castaway Kid, by Rob Mitchell - from the publisher (this one never arrived, so I dropped it and substituted the following book: Genuine Men, by Nancy Bruno - from the publisher)
What I DIDN'T finish ...

I was also supposed to read Why the Wind Blows, by Matthys Levy (from Online Publicist) but I didn't finish it. I meant to bring it to the beach with me over the weekend ... unfortunately I left it at work. Oh well.

In the end, I only missed my goal by a half of a very short book. DOH! In total I completed 10.5 books for the Summer Reading Thing. My goal was 11 specific books. However I also read about 15 other books this summer so I'm quite pleased with myself!


Challenge host Inkspasher asks that we include our answers to the following questions in our wrap-up post:
Tell us which book you liked best (and why), which you liked least (and why), any new authors you tried and if you'll read more by them, and what (if anything) you learned from participating in this challenge.
Best: This is a hard one, but I'm going to say Dracula by Bram Stoker. I'm choosing this one because I never expected to like it much, let alone to love it. But once I was into the story I couldn't put it down!

Least: Easy ... that would be Matrimony by Joshua Henkin. It just wasn't my kind of book. I was bored through most of it.

New Authors?: All of them, actually. Oh, except for John Steinbeck - I'd read a few of his books in the past. I've said before that I don't really follow particular authors; I read whatever comes to my attention, regardless of who wrote it. So I may read more by these authors but not because I go out of my way to find their books.

What I Learned: I learned a few things from this challenge ...
  1. I learned that this is the kind of challenge I like to participate in. I get to choose how many books I want to read and there are no rules on which books I can choose. Other challenges are great for introducing me to new books but I already have a huge backlog and this type of challenge gets me to read those books rather than committing to new ones.
  2. I learned never to include that I want to complete other challenges as part of my Summer Reading Thing goal. I listed several challenges that I wanted to complete as part of my Summer Reading Things goals - I should have just listed the books I wanted to read. I was too confusing for me, and if I didn't complete those challenges then I would have failed this one as well.
  3. Don't forget about Mr. Linky! I forgot to post my reviews throughout the challenge so they all went up on the same day.

Thanks Inksplasher for this wonderful challenge! I'm sure I'll be back for the Winter session.

What's on YOUR Nightstand? (the Sept. '08 edition)

I love this monthly feature hosted by 5 Minutes for Books. It's fun to see how different bloggers respond to the question ...

I'm taking a bit of a different tack this month. I'm going to tell you what I'm currently reading, then I'm going to tell you which books are calling to me from various places in my house.

  • Some Experiences of an Irish RM (E. Somerville) - for the 1% Well Read Challenge - I've been working on this one for a few months, putting it down for a while in between. I finished it at the beach this weekend and should have a review up later this week.

  • The Mysterious Island (Jules Verne) - for the Lost Challenge - I'm having lots of fun with this book! I can't wait to read more Verne - stay tuned for a review within the next week or so. I carry this one wherever I go.
  • A Full House - But Empty (Angus Munro) - for an upcoming blog tour - I'll be reviewing this book on Thursday ... I'm not finished yet, so I've got to get reading. This is with me at work today.

  • Why the Wind Blows (Matthys Levy) - from the publisher for review - I keep this on at work in case I forget book #1 - so far it seems disjointed, but I'm hoping that things will come together if I keep reading
  • Delta of Venus (Anias Nin) - for the 1% Well Read Challenge - I've mentioned this one for the past two months, and I haven't picked it up since July. I really should finish it, but it's one of those you really need to be in "the mood" for ... if you catch my drift.

  • 12,000 Miles In the Nick of Time (Mark & Rae Jacobson) - just because - this one is stashed in a drawer near my bed ... I haven't touched it in several months

  • Paul of Dune (Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson) - from the publisher for review - Are there any Dune fans out there? I was SO EXCITED to be offered this book!!! It is the direct sequel to the original Dune, following Paul from his victory over House Harkonnen. I CANNOT wait to read this ... I may have to bump some other books out of the way so I can start is asap!

  • More Jules Verne! I have another of his books on the list for the Lost Challenge, and some qualify for the 1% Well Read Challenge as well. I'm just so enthralled with him at the moment ... I wish I could drop most of my other books and just work my way through his!

That's what's on MY nightstand (so to speak) ... what's on yours? Give me your list in your comment or head on over to 5 Minutes for Books to link up to your blog post.

Happy Reading!

PS. If you are wondering about any of the reading challenges I mentioned, there are links in my left side bar with more info on each of them.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I'm Back!

Just a quick note to say I'm back from the beach. I have 143 unread emails and 413 unread blog posts in my Google Reader. So much for 3 days without internet!

I'll be quite busy getting unpacked here at home and also caught up at work but I hope to get a book review or two posted shortly. I'll also be posting over on my book club's blog with a recap of our meeting Thursday night. Thanks for your patience - I should be back to my daily posts shortly!

And just a reminder for my local readers that the Baltimore Book Festival is THIS WEEKEND! I'll be there every day and my panel is on Sunday morning at 11am. Please let me know if you'll be there - I'd love to meet you!

Friday, September 19, 2008

BBAW: List of the Winners

Another blogger did all the hard work on this one so I'm just going to link there ... how's THAT for being lazy?!

Click here to check out the complete list of BBAW Award Winners over at OCD, Vampires, and Amusing Rants, Oh My!

In case you're wondering, I didn't win the award for Most Chatty Blog but I'm happy with the results anyway, as a great - and quite chatty! - blogger did win.

BBAW: Free Day, and About Blogging

Our last day of BBAW is a Free Day according to Amy, and that's good for me. This week has been CRAZY! Luckily I'm heading out to the beach for a long weekend in just a few hours. The weather is supposed to be perfect (high 70's, no clouds) so I'm looking forward to a lovely, relaxing weekend. No internet though. Ugh. But I'm sure I'll live! Not so sure how I'll catch up on all the posts that go up while I'm gone though ...

I don't usually do memes but APOOO tagged me for one that fits very well with the last day of BBAW.

Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.

This is easy-peasy, and a perfect way to end BBAW so here goes ...

1 - COMMUNITY - Wow, is there EVER a community?! In my real life I've always felt like my obsessive love of reading is strange. It didn't bother me to be different (in fact I revel in it!) but it was sometimes isolating. Once I started blogging I found out there there are TONS of people like me out there! It is wonderful to belong to a community of readers, to talk books with people all over the world, and to share an obsessive love of the written word that transcends our differences. So yeah, I'm all about the community.

2 - MY TBR LIST - I'm not sure if this is a positive or a negative, but my TBR list has grown exponentially. On the good side it means that I'm learning about fabulous new books all the time. One the bad side, will I seriously ever read all of them? I think not. But I keep adding to the list all the same!

3 - ADDICTION TO POSTING - Does anyone else have this problem? I have so much to say and all I want to do all day is write it and post it. I have to force myself to do other things whenever I'm at the computer.

4 - MOM & SON BOOK CLUB - I've always read with my son, and I've been a part of a book club for 3 years, but I don't think I would have started the Mom & Son Book Club if it hadn't been for blogging. I've written about the beginnings of our mini club before so I won't go into detail here, but it's one of the best things that has come out of my blog.

5 - EMPATHY - I've always tried to be there for my family and friends when they needed me, to support them in whatever they are going through, good or bad. But sometimes I just have no idea what is needed, what to say, or what to do, or I unknowingly say the wrong thing. The amazing thing about blogs (not necessarily book blogs, rather the more personal ones) is that you get to see what is going on in the blogger's head. They are more honest and open online than they are in person. I've learned so much about how to relate to people in trying circumstances from reading those posts, especially the ones that downright tell you what to do - they are wonderfully useful.


Ok, so those are my 5 things. You know I don't tag anymore but please feel free to tag yourself if you like. If you do post your 5 things please comment and let me know, and I'll add a link to you here.

Friday Finds 09/19/08

I did a LOT of blog reading this week, what with BBAW and all ... needless to say, my TBR list has grown quite a bit because of that.

I usually post links to each book from but if I try to do that today then this post will NEVER go up. I'm sure you can look up these books yourself if you are interested, right?!

  1. The Alchemyst (#1 in The Secrets of The Immortal Nicholas Flamel series) by Michael Scott- this is a YA book that looks like fun! I plan to read it first, then possibly read it with kiddo. I think he'll enjoy seeing a non-Harry-Potter take on Nicholas Flamel.

  2. City of Thieves by David Benioff - came to my attention through - it's set during the seige of Leningrad in WWII (just like The Madonnas of Leningrad - very different story though)

  3. A Pocketful of History by Jim Knowles - ever wonder about those new US quarters featuring the states? This book tells the story behind the images on each quarter!

  4. There's an Egg in My Soup ... And Other Adventures of an Irishman in Poland by Tom Galvin - this review caught my attention, plus I love all things Irish AND I just read a book set in Poland (The Pages In Between)

  5. Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival by Owen Matthews - this was on someone's Friday Finds last week - as a fan of Russian/Soviet history, I think this one sound fascinating

  6. After the War by Carol Matas - Stephanie posted a comment on my review of The Pages In Between saying that she thought I'd also enjoy this book - I love when my readers give me suggestions based on what I've just read!

And lest you think I'm neglecting kiddo's TRB list, here's what I found for him this week ...
  1. The Boy Who Was Raised By Librarians by Carla Morris - how much fun does THAT sound?! I just love this review.

  2. Peter and the Starcatchers (# 1 in the Starcatchers series) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson; narrated by Jim Dale - this is the backstory of Peter Pan, and it sounds like a great adventure - plus it's on audiobook now, and kiddo and I love us some audiobooks!

Whew! I'm glad I got that finished. Now I just have two more posts I've promised to get up today. Once they are done I'll be withouth internet until Monday evening (AAAAHHH!) but I'll be at the beach so hopefully that will make up for it. Have a great weekend all!

PS. This isn't exactly a Friday Find but it's fun anyway ... Today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day! I heard of this last year and it just makes me laugh (in a good way). Learn more about it here, and read some funny posts about it here (that one's about books) and here (that one is quite short).

UPDATE: I just came across this cool offer from sci-fi publisher It's only valid for today though, so be sure to head over there asap.
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