Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Blogger Retreat?

Trish over at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? is thinking of planning a book bloggers retreat, complete with authors ... cool, huh?

The idea is only in the "thinking about" stage now and she's looking for input from book bloggers everywhere. Click here to read her post and answer her polls.

I think this is a GREAT idea - sort of like BlogHer and Book Group Expo combined!

October Summary

Happy Halloween to all!

And now the monthly summary ...

Books – 5 (1,715 pages)

Plus one short story: My Mother, the Crazy African (6 pages)

My TBR list gained 27 titles this month plus 5 more for kiddo.

Audio Books - 1

  • The Glass Castle - to be discussed at book club on 11/15 (11 hrs, 14 min)
  • and I'm still listening to Book 10 of The Wheel of Time series (see my left sidebar)
Mom & Son Book Club
  • no meetings but we continue to read The Ark, The Reed, and the Fire Cloud (mentioned here) - kiddo really enjoys it, especially since the main character has a Scottish accent that I do my darndest to replicate ...
Challenges – 2 in progress
  • The Lost Books Challenge - reading books related to the TV show "Lost" - I'm almost finished my first book, have started my second, and have three more to go before the new season starts in February
  • The 1% Well Read Challenge - reading 10 books from the list of 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die - I've completed 4.5 books and have 5.5 to finish before the end of February
In reality, this month was the busiest in my recent memory. Between kiddo's school activities, my entire company moving to a new building and hosting an important client meeting, fall festivals and pumpkin patches, an unexpected trip and a death in the family, old friends in town, and three book-blog related events (1 and 2 and 3) I'm exhausted in every sense of the word. I keep telling myself November will be more relaxed but somehow I doubt it ...

So ... what was YOUR October like?

Friday Finds 10/31/08

Did you find any good books this week? I certainly did ...
  1. Champlain's Dream, by David Hackett Fischer - found in the Simon & Schuster newsletter - the true story of Samuel de Champlain, "spy, master mariner, explorer, cartographer, artist, and Father of New France" - one of the main explorers of Canada and the northern United States - read more about it here because I'm not making it sound nearly as exciting as it is!

  2. I Walked the Line, by Vivian Cash - also in the Simon & Schuster newsletter - the story of Johnny Cash's life with his first wife, Vivian - I originally didn't want to read this because I thought it would be an angry woman slamming her famous ex, but then I found out that Johnny encouraged her to write it before his death, so I'm willing to try it out - I'm a HUGE fan of Johnny's music

  3. Receive Me Falling, by Erika Robuck - I met Erika on Monday night and she told me about her completed-but-as-yet-unpublished historical fiction novel (if you click on the title you can read a summary of it on her website) - her format incorporates a variety of different sources, reminding me of The 19th Wife in that way - I can't wait to read this book!
Please share your finds in the comments, or click here to join in the fun.

Happy Halloween to all! I can't help posting a photos for the season ...

For those who aren't familiar with all the new Star Wars characters, kiddo is Jedi Master Plo Koon (and hubby is just hubby).

And this is my very favorite photo from our pumpkin patch visit in early October.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Helvetica Recap

Remember when I told you about the font film Helvetica a while back? I got to see it over a week ago but I'm just now getting around to tell you about it.

First off, there was a great turnout! My guess is about 100 people but I could be wrong. The nerd part of me expected to be practically alone in the theater except for a few of these guys ...

But I was wrong, thankfully. There was quite a diverse group in attendance, including quite a few graphic designers.

Second, the film was quite interesting. I learned quite a bit that I didn't know, both about the creation of fonts and their use in marketing. Seriously, I will never look at a street sign the same way again.

And finally, I really enjoyed the panel discussion that followed the film. Jed Dietz (Director of the Maryland Film Festival and President of the Producer’s Club of Maryland) gave a fascinating talk on the development of documentary films in recent years and the future trends he expects to see.

I'd love to tell more about what Jed and the other panelists said (and more about Helvetica itself) but I didn't take any notes. The film was just days after my emergency trip to see my uncle and was only one day before an important 2-day conference at work. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and frankly I'm lucky I made it there at all. That said, it was a very interesting film and I hope you'll take the time to watch it - I hear it's available through Netflix now.

I'll leave you with a photo from the panel. It's not great, but there's only so much you can do when taking pictures from near the back of a dimly lit theater ...

Bouchercon Recap

Earlier this month Baltimore hosted Bouchercon, the mystery/thriller conference. Carol Fitzgerald (of The Book Report Network fame) was in town and asked me to have dinner with her. I know Carol from my "job" as contributor to the blog at, but we've never actually met in person.

Last Saturday night Carol and I had dinner at a little restaurant in Federal Hill. The weather was still nice enough that we could sit outside - that was a nice bonus. We had a wonderful dinner and great conversation. Of course we talked books and book clubs (what do you expect?!) but we also talked about our families and our lives. All in all, it was a lovely evening.

After dinner we went to the bar at the convention hotel. There Carol introduced me to several author friends of hers: William (Bill) Lasher, Gayle Lynds, Joseph Finder, and Melodie Johnson Howe. Unfortunately, the bar was a bit loud. But we still managed to have some great conversations! I spent most of the time talking with Melodie since we were seated next to each other. She's a fascinating woman with quite an interesting history - she was a starlet for Universal Pictures in the 1970s among other things. Of course we spoke about the growth of book blogging. Melodie is a weekly contributor to the blog Crime Brief but blogging is still relatively new to her. And since I'm a novice when it comes to mysteries and thrillers, we both had things to teach each other.

Around 11pm I decided to head for home, since I did have to get up early the next day. The entire evening was quite enjoyable. A big thank you to Carol for inviting me out!

Carol and I at the hotel bar

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am a book snob. I hate to read what "everyone else" is reading, to be "part of the crowd" ... I'm very picky about what I read ... I'm often (internally) critical of what other people choose to read. Shame on me, I know, but at least I'm honest about it. :)

When my book club chose The Glass Castle for this month's pick I was not thrilled. I have a rule against reading personal tragedy/childhood abuse memoirs. Add that to the fact that "everyone" is raving about this book and you can see where this is going. I do have another rule though: read whatever book the book club chooses, and (try to) do it with an open mind. It's a good thing that I have that rule because this is a great book!

*** The Plot ***

This book is hard to summarize. I say that because everything I'd ever heard about it gave me a clear idea of what the book would be about ... and my ideas were completely wrong. Be sure to keep reading past my plot summary because I'll attempt to explain the book so that you really get it.

Jeannette is the 2nd of four children born to parents who can only be described as clueless. Loving, but clueless. Brilliant and talented, but clueless. Jeannette tells the story of her childhood from the perspective of herself as a child. Her family was poor - dirt poor most of the time. Her father, a charismatic and highly intelligent man, was an alcoholic. Her mother was an artist. Both parents could work but usually didn't. Jeannette and her siblings are left to their own devices most of the time.

The family moves around a LOT. Dad calls it "doing the skidaddle" and it usually takes less than an hour to do. Most of their homes are in the southwestern United States, along the edges of the desert. Eventually they settle long term in the mountains of West Virginia where their lives go steadily downhill.

After many years in West Virginia Jeannette moves to New York City. Eventually the whole family moves there, albeit at different times. Mom and Dad are homeless pretty much by choice.

This is just the most basic plot outline. And despite my best efforts, just reading my own plot summary would make me not want to read this book!

*** What's So Great About It? ***

Before I go on, I have to say that I listened to the audio version of The Glass Castle. I did this in part because I enjoy audio books on my drive to/from work, but more because (like I said above) I just didn't want to read it. However, once I popped that first cassette in my old car radio I was hooked. In my opinion the narrator of an audio book can make or break the book; this narrator definitely made it. She did an excellent job and I highly recommend the audio version.

Now, about the book itself. The Glass Castle is definitely not a "oh poor me" memoir, nor is it one that horrifies you with details of unimaginable child abuse. If I had to describe what happened to Jeannette and her siblings I'd call it neglect. But that's not it either. That word conjures up images in my mind that don't match this book at all. Maybe "forced independence" would be a better choice. Or not.

What I CAN say for certain is that the book is enthralling. The narrator is Jeannette as a child and she tells her story just as she experienced it, without any analyzing from her adult self. In that way it reminded me very much of Alexandra Fuller's memoir, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (which I highly recommend - it's fantastic!). Both authors tell the story of childhoods that could be completely heartbreaking and painful to read if not handled well. Luckily for us, these authors get it right.

I think what I found most fascinating is the intelligence of Jeannette's parents and the things they taught their kids. All four children could read before they started Kindergarten. The entire family spent lots of time reading together. If someone came across a new word, Dad pulled out the dictionary and they'd discuss the meaning. Sometimes Dad and the dictionary didn't agree, in which case Dad would write a letter to the publisher stating his case, and a heated debate-by-letter would ensue. There are many more stories like this and for me, that's what made this book so enjoyable.

Despite the situation it was clear that the Walls family loved each other. Parenting skills and good decisions were always in short supply but love was never lacking.

*** Great Links To Check Out ***

My book club is meeting to discuss this on 11/15; I'll add a link to our meeting recap once it's up.

Jeannette Walls interview by Stephen Colbert
article on MSNBC
link to lots of videos about this book

Other bloggers are sharing their thoughts on this book ... want to join in?
What Was I Reading?
The Book Lady's Blog
Rebecca Reads

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why The Wind Blows

Why the Wind Blows:
A History of Weather and Global Warming
by Matthys Levy

One of my main goals when I read is to learn and I hate to go too long without a "informational" book. That's the reason I requested this book from The Online Publicist.

Why the Wind Blows is definitely informative but I'm still not sure whether I like it or not ...

The Pros
  • It's brief (just under 200 pages) but educational.

  • The science of weather is paired with stories of weather in action. A few examples: explanation of the monsoon is followed up with the tale of how early seafarers learned to use this changing weather pattern to explore new lands ~ a look at polar ice caps and glacial calving leads into the story of the Titanic and it's history clash with the iceberg ~ a discussion of global wind patterns is better understood with the story of transcontinental global balloon flight ~ a chapter on clouds and precipitation is followed by the disastrous account of the Donner party.

  • The stories I mentioned above are quite entertaining. They were my favorite parts of the book.

  • I learned lots of little things as I read. For example: the first balloon flight around the world spanned 29,000 miles (46,400 km) and took 20 days ~ Heat "doesn't exist. [...] When we feel a rise in temperature, we are in fact feeling an increase in the speed of molecules around us." (p80) ~ most of Antarctica is actually below sea level due to the immense weight of the ice pressing down on it.
The Cons
  • Remember when I said I liked the pairing of science with history (above)? In some chapters it just didn't work. I didn't understand how the stories related to the science.

  • More illustrations would be helpful. There are a few, but for someone like me who is completely unfamiliar with the way winds, weather, oceanic currents, etc. work you can never have too many visual aids.

  • Global Warming is still a difficult subject for me (see below) and this book didn't really help me in any way.
Global Warming?

I don't know exactly what to believe about global warming. I do believe that people can have a huge and long-lasting effect on the environment and that each of us must be responsible caretakers of our world. But where I stand on the spectrum of global warming as a product of our current civilization is a harder spot to determine.

Below is a list of website on both sides of the issue. Maybe they will give you information that you haven't already heard. If you have other sites you want to share please post them in the comments.

What the "Majority" Says
Going Against the Grain
Showcasing Opposing Viewpoints
So there you have it: the "be all and end all" of the global warming debate. Not. This is just a starting point for a very long discussion. For that, I say thank you to Mr. Levy for his book; it didn't give me any answers but it did make me start looking for them on my own.

For more info about this book visit the author's website:

Also reviewed by ...
The Inside Cover
any others?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

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

It's that time again, time for the once-monthly "What''s on your nightstand?" carnival! I love this one for two reasons. First it is only once a month - that's enough for me. And second, it forces me to admit to myself how many books I need to finish. So here we go ...

*** On my desk at work ***

Why The Wind Blows, by Matthys Levy - I've finished reading it and just need to write my review - stay tuned, it should be up this week

Bedlam South, by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson - this is my 'read-at-work' book, the one I pick up at lunchtime - it's a civil war era tale

365 Nights: A Memoir of IntimacyBulleted List, by Charla Muller - a memoir of a woman who gave her 40 yr old husband a birthday gift of sex every day for a year - I haven't started reading this one yet (a coworker lent me this book, and I lent her The 19th Wife)

Crossroads of Twilight, by Robert Jordan - this is the audio version on cd, and it's book 10 in the series - I don't have much time to listen to it but I take every minute I can

*** In my bed ***

The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne - I'm halfway through this but I had to put it aside for a while to catch up on other things - I can't wait to get back to it though!

*** In my bathroom ***

The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James - funny story: when I put this on my list for the Lost Challenge I kept thinking it was The Taming of the Shrew. As I started reading I realized I was wrong. I'm not that far in yet, but I think I saw an old black and white version of this movie years ago and it was deliciously creepy.

*** Near my couch

The Ark, The Reed, and the Fire Cloud, by Jenny Cote - this is what I'm reading with kiddo now - it's the story of Noah's ark told from the point of view of the animals and it's great! Kiddo loves it so far. It's over 400 pages though, so I think it will take us a long time to get through it.

*** In my car ***

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls (audio book) - this is my book club book for November - I just finished listening to it so expect a review soon

Those are MY books ... what about yours? Join in the fun here or post your list in the comments. Happy reading!

My Seven Years in Captivity

My Seven Years in Captivity: Tails and Misadventures in the San Diego Zoo
by Bill Seaton

Bill Seaton worked as THE Public Relations guy for the San Diego Zoo in the mid 1960s. In short, essay-like chapters he shares his experiences with the crazy creatures and even crazier keepers he came to know.

Never a big animal lover, Bill came to his job at the zoo with a lot to learn. Today, because of TV and the Internet, most of us know what komodo dragon, a kiwi bird, and a wombat look like. In the '60s it was a different story. Most people - including Bill - saw these strange and exotic creatures for the first time when the visited the zoo. Imagine how exciting that must have been!

This time period was an exciting one for the San Diego Zoo. They added the moving sidewalk and the SkyTram. Their endangered species breeding program (including a rare horse I first read about here) was getting international attention. Animal activists like Jane Goodall made appearances, along with other celebrities.

Sea World was the newest attraction and it was drawing crowds away from the Zoo. Bill's job as PR guy was to bring those guests back. One of his suggestions was to have an pretty, young "ambassador" who could represent the Zoo at parades, events, etc. This resulted in the Miss Zoofari program. Are you familiar with Jack Hanna and his animals? Well, before there was Jack Hanna there was Miss Zoofari Joan Embrey and HER animals!

Bill's writing style is very conversational, making this an fun, easy-to-read memoir. It would be fun to read all in one evening and just as enjoyable to read short chapter or two each day for a few weeks. For me it was a much needed break from more serious reading, a chance to have fun and simply enjoy a book.

For more about this book go to

Writers Meeting Last Night ...

Last night I had the immense pleasure of speaking to the Maryland Writers Association Baltimore Chapter. Dave Rosenthal (the same Dave from the Baltimore Book Festival) and I talked a bit about the changes in printed media and the growth of blogging as an alternative information source.

We had a small but interested group of about 10 people. It was perfect for the meeting location* - just the right amount of space to make for a comfortable, easy going meeting.

Dave and I spoke for about 15 minutes then we opened the floor for questions. Personally I was thrilled with the response. The MWA members seemed genuinely interested and had lots of great questions.

I met several as-of-yet unpublished authors whose books I'm very interested in reading. Hopefully I'll be able to share more about them with you lovely readers sometime soon.

Thank you to all who attended - I'm so glad I was invited!

* The meeting was held at a little bookstore/coffee shop in Baltimore (near Camden Yards) called Baltimore Chop. Andy was an excellent host. Be sure to stop by and say hi to him if you're ever in the area!

Monday, October 27, 2008

In reply to The Daily Rant ...

Salena* over at The Daily Rant tagged me for a meme. I usually don't do memes for a whole host of reasons HOWEVER I am going to do this one because 1-I love Salena's blog, 2 - I just gave her an award last week and 3-I'm behind on book reviews but can't concentrate long enough to write them. So there.

* Her name is spelled SALENA not SELENA like I originally posted. Oopsie!

The Rules ...

1. Link to the blog that tagged you and list the rules on your blog. Hello to The Daily Rant!
2. Share seven facts about yourselves on your blog — some random and some weird. My list is below.
3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their name as well as links to their blog. Yeah, not so much. I don't tag but please feel free to play along if you want to. Seriously - please play along!
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. See my answer to #3. Oh, and if you DO play along please comment and let me know.


Seven Weird and Random Things About Heather J.

1. I like to edit things. If you ask me to read something you've written - be it a term paper or a letter to your momma - expect to get it back covered in "suggested edits." I don't use a red pen though ... that's just mean.

2. I talk a lot and I talk very quickly. If I drink a caffeinated soda, my words-per-minute climb exponentially. In those situations I sometimes talk so quickly that even I don't know what I just said.

3. After I eat I always get cold. My husband knows when I'm almost finished with my meal because I'll reach for a sweater or start rubbing my arms to warm them up. I tell him that my body has a limited amount of energy and when some of it is used for digestion, it can't be used to keep me warm. He just smiles at me in that way you smile at a crazy person and continues eating.

4. I've recently realized that I pronounce certain words incorrectly because I've only read them in books and never heard them said aloud. For example, unrequited; it's pronounced un-re-QUITE-ed but I always thought it was un-re-QUIT-ed. A coworker pointed out my error a few months ago. Since then I've realized that I'm probably guilty of mispronouncing lots of words. I chalk it up to reading so much as a child. But seriously, who ever says unrequited in real life?

5. Genealogically I'm a mutt: English, Irish, Italian, and an eclectic "American Mix". My mom's dad (who I've written about before) is 100% Italian (he was born in the US but his parents were both from Italy) and I identify most with that part of my heritage. I also have lots of love for Ireland since my Gram was born in Belfast.

6. I've been dipping my pizza in Ranch or Blue Cheese dressing since I was in elementary school. It's absolutely delicious. I had it for lunch yesterday.

7. I have a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and History, with a concentration in Russian/Soviet history. I work as a sales and marketing coordinator for a software company. Makes complete sense, right?

So those are my seven things ... hope you enjoyed getting to know me better!

The Pages In Between - Multi-City Book Tour

You may remember me raving about Erin Einhorn's memoir, The Pages in Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home a few months back. Click here for my review, just to jog your memory.

I received an email from Erin today listing the upcoming stops on her book tour. She'll be visiting cities across the country; check out the list to see if she'll be anywhere near you. Unfortunately, I will be out of town when she comes to DC so I'll miss my chance to meet her.

Upcoming Events

San Francisco, California*
October 27, 2008, 7:30 p.m.
San Francisco Bureau of Jewish Education
Jewish Community Library, 1835 Ellis Street, San Francisco

Los Angeles, California
October 29, 2008, 2 p.m.
Museum of Tolerance
9786 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California
November 2, 2008, 2 p.m.
Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles
Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus Auditorium
22622 Vanowen St., West Hills, California

Austin, Texas*
November 3, 2008, 7:30 p.m.
Austin Jewish Book Fair
Dell Jewish Community Center, 7300 Hart Lane

West Bloomfield, Michigan*
November 9, 2008, 3 p.m.
Detroit Jewish Book Fair
6600 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield, MI 48322

Ann Arbor, Michigan
November 10, 2008, 7:30 p.m
Residential College Auditorium
East Quadrangle, 701 E. University

Grand Rapids, Michigan
November 13, 2008, 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
3670 28th Street SE, Kentwood

New York City
November 17, 2008, 6:30 p.m.
Tenement Museum
108 Orchard Street
Hosted by Ira Glass, host of This American Life
Sponsored by 3G, grandchildren of Holocaust survivors

Washington, D.C.
November 23, 2008, 1 p.m - 4 p.m.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW

Roslyn, New York
January 22, 2009, 1 p.m.
Bryant Public Library
2 Paper Mill Road

Chicago, Illinois
February 12, 2009
Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies
Details to come

* Arranged by the Jewish Book Council
Here's what other sources are saying about this book:
“A detective story framed as a memoir.” —The Detroit News
“Jam-packed with reportage, interesting characters, unexpected humor.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“An important and haunting work” —Booklist

For more details check out the website:

Brandon Sanderson video & multi-city tour

I think you all know about my Wheel of Time/Robert Jordan addiction. (If you've somehow missed that, go check out my left side bar or read this post.) Anyway, here's a very brief video of Brandon Sanderson discussing his Mistborn Trilogy AND his work on the final book of the Wheel of Time series. Enjoy!

If you're interested in meeting Brandon, here's his tour schedule. Unfortunately there are no stops anywhere near me ...

Borders, Torrance, CA
3700 Torrance Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90503
Thursday, October 23, 2008 – 7:00 PM

Dark Delicacies, Burbank, CA
4213 W. Burbank
Burbank, CA 91505
Friday, October 24, 2008 – 7:00 PM

Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
Suite #302
San Diego, CA 92111
Saturday, October 25, 2008 – 2:00 PM

Borderlands, San Francisco, CA
866 Valencia St.
San Francisco CA 94110
Monday, October 27, 2008 – 7:00 PM

Dark Carnival, Berkeley, CA
3086 Claremont Ave.
Berkeley CA, 94705
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 – 5:30 PM

Books Inc., Mountain View, CA
301 Castro St.
Mountain View, CA 94041
Thursday, October 30, 2008 – 7:30 PM

Barnes & Noble, Fairfield, CA
1600 Gateway Boulevard
Fairfield, CA 94533
Friday, October 31, 2008 – 7:00 PM

Borders, Roseville, CA
2030 Douglas Blvd.
Roseville, CA 95661
Saturday, November 01, 2008 – 2:00 PM

Powell's Books, Beaverton, OR
3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd.
Beaverton, OR 97005
Monday, November 03, 2008 – 7:00 PM

University Books, Seattle, WA
4326 University Way N.E.
Seattle, WA 98105
Wednesday, November 05, 2008 – 7:00 PM

Borders, Redmond, WA
Redmond Town Center
16549 N.E. 74th St.
Redmond, WA, 98052
Thursday, November 06, 2008 – 7:00 PM

Third Place Books, Seattle, WA
6504 20th Ave. NE
Seattle, WA 98115
Friday, November 07, 2008 – 6:30 PM

Wordstock Festival, Portland (possible)
1500 SW 12th Ave
Portland, OR 97201
Sunday, November 09, 2008 – 12 PM Reading

Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Pittsburgh, PA
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 – 7:00 PM

Books & Co., Dayton, OH
November 12, 2008 – 7:00 PM

Barnes & Noble, New York, NY
Friday, November 14, 2008 – 7:30 PM

Thanks to Grasping for the Wind for bringing this video to my attention, and to Fantasy Book Critic for posting the tour info.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Finds 10/24/08

My list is quite short this week. I hate to admit it, but I've been so busy that I've been skimming the blogs in my Google Reader rather than actually reading them. Of course that means that I find fewer books that catch my eye. The result? I have just one title to share with you this week.

The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell

To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but Vowell investigates what that means— and what it should mean. What was this great political enterprise all about? Who were these people who are considered the philosophical, spiritual, and moral ancestors of our nation? What Vowell discovers is something far different from what their uptight shoe-buckles-and-corn reputation might suggest. The people she finds are highly literate, deeply principled, and surprisingly feisty. Their story is filled with pamphlet feuds, witty courtroom dramas, and bloody vengeance. Along the way she asks:

~ Was Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop a communitarian, a Christlike Christian, or conformity’s tyrannical enforcer? Answer: Yes!
~ Was Rhode Island’s architect, Roger Williams, America’s founding freak or the father of the First Amendment? Same difference.
~ What does it take to get that jezebel Anne Hutchinson to shut up? A hatchet.
~ What was the Puritans’ pet name for the Pope? The Great Whore of Babylon.

Sarah Vowell’s special brand of armchair history makes the bizarre and esoteric fascinatingly relevant and fun. She takes us from the modern-day reenactment of an Indian massacre to the Mohegan Sun casino, from old-timey Puritan poetry, where “righteousness” is rhymed with “wilderness,” to a Mayflower-themed waterslide. Throughout, The Wordy Shipmates is rich in historical fact, humorous insight, and social commentary by one of America’s most celebrated voices. Thou shalt enjoy it.

What do you think? Does this sound interesting to anyone else?

To read what everyone else found this week, click here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

~ Another Personal Update ~

I just wanted to let you all know that my uncle died early this afternoon. I received te call just a few minutes ago. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. Of course I'm incredibly sad, but also relieved at the same time.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's the original post.)

I'll leave you with this photo of my Uncle Nino (left) and my Grandpa Nick (right), taken in August 2007. At the time, Nino was 92 and Nick was 89.

Why the pointing, you ask? The person taking the picture asked who the best of the 5 brothers is, and they pointed at each other saying "He is!"

For my local readers ...

Remember that panel I was on at the Baltimore Book Festival? It turned out so well that we've been asked to do it again on Monday night at the Maryland Writers Association meeting.

The meeting is open to anyone and will take place at The Baltimore Chop bookstore (near Camden Yards) at 7pm this Monday, Oct. 27th. Full details can be found here. I'd love for some of my blogging friends to attend!

I am loved ...

Anna from Diary of an Eccentric gave me this award and so did Amanda from The Life and Times of A "New" New Yorker and so did Clark from I'll Never Forget the Day I Read A Book! ... can you tell I'm a bit behind on saying thanks? THANK YOU!

The idea is to pass it on to 7 other blogs. I follow a LOT of blogs so this is hard, but I'm going to pass it to a few that I haven't mentioned before (I think I haven't at least).

1,001 Books to Read Before You Die (Apparently) - this blogger is working on the 1,001 books list, but here's the cool part: each book only gets 101 words in its review - if you want to add a blog to your reader, this is a great one - it doesn't get updated all that often and the reviews are very short ~LOL~

Daily Mish Mash - I found Jen through the Movie Madness Carnival she does each month - I stick around for Friday Eye Candy and all her humorous looks at life

Imagine Alyzabeth An ... It's Easy If You Try - I found these bloggers a while ago, while they were still in their 2-yr wait for adoption approval from China - I've been following along as they finally got to see a picture of their daughter for the first time, as they went to China to get her (in Sept.) and as they are settling in back home - they post video all the time, so it is like you're right there with them - plus, this couple has adult children AND grandchildren, and they STILL adopted a 2 yr old girl!

Moxie Mama - She's got moxie all right! This month is Ghost Post month over at her blog - go check it out. [Update: I think there's a problem with the comment section of Moxie's blog ... I've been trying to let her know about this award all day but the comments just aren't working!]

The Daily Rant - this adventurous woman is a long-haul truck driver who travels the country with her boyfriend - they post photos and tidbits of info from whereever they are in the US or Canada - plus she's got lots of opinions to share

Spun By Me ... - looking for something calm, peaceful, and uplifting? Visit my in-real-life-friend Marie's blog. She writes about her life, her faith, her kids, and her grandkids.

Reading Adventures - I trust Marg's opinions on books - she and I seem to have the same taste in most cases - plus she's fun to read!

There you have it - 7 blogs I love. There are lots more (I do love you all) but those are the ones I'm showcasing today. I hope you go check them out!

Here are the "rules" that I'm supposed to post:
1) Add the logo of the award to your blog
2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs
4) Add links to those blogs on your blog
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book Club - Same Topic, Different Books

I've got a new post up at's blog. It's all about my book club's last meeting where we read different books about Jackie Kennedy. Click here to check it out - comments are always appreciated!

The Lost Diary of Don Juan

The Lost Diary of Don Juan
by Douglas Carlton Abrams

The Lost Diary of Don Juan is historical fiction of the most fun sort. You've got drama, sword-fighting, jealousy, revenge, romance (it IS Don Juan after all!) and true love, all wrapped up in a neat little 290-page package.

According to an interview in the Book Movement newsletter Abrams idea for this novel came to him one evening: "One night I went to bed asking myself a question that I believe every married man or woman asks eventually: How could I stay happily and passionately married to my wife for the rest of my life? The next morning I awoke as if I had been shaken. It was then that I first thought of Don Juan, the universal symbol of passion. What if he had kept a diary? What secrets would it contain? What could we learn from him about the nature of love and passion? And ultimately what might cause the world's greatest seducer to forsake all women for one woman?"

He goes on to explain that "it was as if Don Juan wanted to be vindicated from those who had portrayed him as nothing more than a sinful seducer and despoiler of women-for this Don Juan was no mere frat boy out to put notches on his bedpost. [...] This Don Juan desired to live life fully and to love fully-a man who felt the emptiness of life without love and saw that emptiness in many others-and empathized with them. Thus my desire in writing this book was not only to resurrect this greatest of historical lovers and to give voice to his true motives; I was also moved to write a book that would explore the tension between lust and love and that would confront the human question of how any man or woman can find lifelong satisfaction in one committed relationship-and how Don Juan himself was able to find such a love."

For me, this is escapist reading at it's most fun. Most of the time I read to learn but with this book I read for the pure pleasure. It was entertaining and easy to get into, and I stayed up WAY too late at night reading it! Since it's Don Juan, there are lots of sexy lover scenes but it definitely not a romance novel. The descriptions of his passionate encounters don't cover pages and pages in explicit detail; rather there's just enough to make you a bit hot under the collar, and (for women readers) envious of Don Juan's skills.

This book includes a Glossary, which I appreciate. In this case it wasn't necessary to my understanding of the book but having a glossary always enhances my reading experience. If the author includes one (in a book that I really enjoyed), I usually read through it once I finish the actual story; it helps me to stay "in" the book for just a little bit longer.

On the whole I quite enjoyed this book. It's not the best book ever written, but for me it was the perfect brief escape from the stress of my life at the moment.

Thank you to Pump Up Your Book Promotions for the change to read and review this book.

For more info about this book you can visit either of these websites:

And here are links to other reviews of this book:
Booking Mama
The Bluestocking Society
Bookish Ruth
Amatuer de Livre
some thoughts from the author, posted at Booking Mama

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife
by David Ebershoff

This book is a combination of two stories. The first – and larger – story is that of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Mormon prophet Brigham Young, in the late 1800s. The second story is that of Jordon Scott, a former member of a modern day polygamist cult, whose father was supposedly killed by his own 19th wife, Jordan’s mother. Sound confusing? It’s really not!

The structure of the story IS unusual though. Not only are the two stories intertwined, but additional “sources” are scattered throughout the book: excerpts from memoirs, Wikipedia entries, letters, etc.

I really enjoyed his book. It is well written and caught my attention very quickly. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to each of the characters as the story progressed. I especially liked the subtle way that the author linked the two stories to each other. In both cases the author just "jumps into" the story without giving the reader any background. At times I felt a bit confused, like maybe I had missed some vital piece of information, but I hadn't; the author basically brings you along and provides info through the narrative, rather than through long, expository paragraphs. It works well, once you get used to it.

The structure did cause me some difficulty though. I loved the way the stories and “sources” were intertwined – the problem for me was what to believe is true. Since I know very little about the history of the Mormon Church I couldn’t judge the validity of the events (historical and personal) in the Ann Eliza portion of the book. The format of the book leads the reader to treat this book as more “history” and less “historical fiction” in my opinion. The author does clarify his intentions in the Afterword but I’m not sure this is enough.

Rather than trolling the internet looking for answers I decided to email another blogger who I know is a Mormon (also known as Latter Day Saints, or LDS). Luckily for me she was also reading this book AND she was willing to answer my questions. Below are a few excerpts from our email exchange.

From me:
Thank you for your willingness to help! I'm so glad you're reading this too. It will make it much easier to discuss. ... As far as the LDS go, I know just about nothing - hence my questions. ... I am really enjoying the writing and the stories so far. My questions have to do with the factual basis of the Ann Eliza story. What is the LDS view of her and does it match up with her representation in the book? Do you know if the "facts" about her parents and their lives are based in truth? I know that the "documents" he presents are not real but as I understand it, they are meant to represent the type of documents you could find. Do they seem to you to present accurate information, or do they contradict what you know of LDS history? I'm thinking specifically of Chauncey Webb - as you read, I'd like to hear your thoughts on him.

Also, I understand that the LDS are against plural marriage now. Did they give a reason for their change in belief? Since their current stand is in contradiction to their previous one, how is this explained?

When my book club read The Da Vinci Code a while back it caused HUGE drama in our group. The non-Catholic members believed basically everything Dan Brown said about the Catholic Church while the Catholic members hated the book just on principle. Having a Catholic background ... I was able to point out the difference between facts and theories, truth and sensationalism, in the book. My concern in reading The 19th Wife is that due to my lack of knowledge about LDS, I could end up believing things that are not true just like the gals in my book club did. See my dilemma?!

Again, thanks for agreeing to help me out with this. I look forward to comparing notes with you!

Natasha’s response:
To tell you the truth, church history is really, really broad! I myself am ignorant of much of its detailed background. The LDS church has many scholars that make their careers studying church history. I'm afraid I don't have any good answers for your questions.

A full biography of Brigham Young can be found here. I have to tell you the truth that I'm just as ignorant about Eliza Ann as you are. I searched and searched and could not find any statement about the LDS view of Eliza Ann Young.


I also searched for information about her parents but couldn't find anything beyond a few basic, he was a blacksmith, etc. The LDS church has preserved all of its history and is available in its archives. They are currently digitizing their documents (a decade long project), but unfortunately it makes it hard to find info online. No news is good news?


Here are some links for you about the church's current view of polygamy:
Background of polygamy and is current view
Interview with Gordon B. Hinckley, past president and prophet


Hmm . . . I'm thinking I should be asking as many questions as you!
Again, these are just excerpts from the emails we exchanged, but I think you get the general idea.

If you’d like to read Natasha’s review of this book click here. I’m grateful to Natasha for her willingness to answer my questions – thank you!

I must say, I really did enjoy this book. I’ve already recommended it to a number of people. But I do caution you to read it as a work of fiction, not as historical fact. It will make you – and everyone you discuss it with – much happier.

Thank you to TLC Book Blog Tours for the chance to review this book! To read other reviews and also thoughts from the author be sure to check out the other blog stops scheduled for this month.

Wednesday, Oct. 15th: Maw Books

Friday, Oct. 17th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement

Monday, Oct. 20th: She Is Too Fond Of Books

Tuesday, Oct. 21st: Age 30 - A Year in Books

Thursday, Oct. 23rd: A High and Hidden Place

Monday, Oct. 27th: It’s All About Books

Tuesday, Oct. 28th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Thursday, Oct. 30th: Books on the Brain

Monday, Nov. 3rd: The Cottage Nest

Tuesday, Nov. 4th: B&B ex libris

Wednesday, Nov. 5th: Anniegirl1138

Thursday, Nov. 6th: The Tome Traveler

Friday, Nov. 7th: Educating Petunia

Monday, Nov. 10th: The Literate Housewife

Wednesday, Nov. 12th: Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, Nov. 14th: Book Chase

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