Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Monday, August 31, 2009

Beside A Burning Sea

Beside A Burning Sea
by John Shors
audio book: 14.5 hours

*** About the Book ***

It’s 1942 in the South Pacific. A nighttime explosion sends the US hospital ship Benevolence to the bottom of the sea. Of the hundreds on board only 9 make it to shore: three US Naval officers, three nurses, an engineer, a wounded Japanese prisoner, and a young stowaway. Can these very different people find a way to work together to survive on this tropical island? How long will they be stranded there? Will it be the Americans or Japanese who find them first? And will they figure out that there is a saboteur in their midst? You’ll just have to read and find out!

A quick note about the cover: this is not the same cover as on the audio book, but I can't find it anywhere online. I actually like the cover I had better than the one shown here ...

*** Why I Choose This Book ***

Hey Lady! reviewed this book back in May. In her review she said, "Bottom line: this will be one of my favorite books of the year.". I added it to my Friday Finds list based on that comment alone. When I saw that my library had an audio version available I reserved a copy right away.

*** My Thoughts ***

Although this book has some flaws I really enjoyed it. It has adventure, suspense, a love story, and it moves at a good pace. It kept my attention - I was never bored while listening. It is relatively light reading/listening and that is just what I needed this past week. I breezed through all 12 cds in just over 5 days, listening as I did the dishes, cleaned under my couch, and filed papers at work.

Minor Spoiler Alert: I’m going to talk about a few of the characters next. What I tell you is all stuff you find out in the first few chapters so I don’t think it spoils anything, but if you’d rather not read it, simply skip the italicized paragraph below.

As for the flaws, well … the 9 survivors are rather stereotypical. There’s Jake, the black engineer (African-Americans were not allowed to serve in most fighting units during World War II), from a rural farm town. There’s Akira, the wounded Japanese soldier, who just happens to be fluent in English and who never wanted to join the war in the first place. There's Ratu, the fun-loving and adventurous Fijian stowaway. And then there's Roger, the saboteur, a cruel creepy guy with no redeeming qualities. The plot is rather predictable too.

End Minor Spoiler Alert.

However, I still really enjoyed this book. It didn’t require any deep thought, it entertained me, and I’m glad I listened to it.

*** Poetry ***

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is the inclusion of many Haikus. I'm not a poetry person - I don't understand much of it, I don't really like much of it, and I'm not really interested in much of it. I've never been a fan of Haikus in particular - they are so short and always seemed to pair two unrelated ideas together. However after listening to this book I now understand the concept behind traditionally created Haikus and I have a much better appreciation of them.

*** Challenges ***

Although I didn't choose it with this in mind, this book does count for the War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge.

*** Other Reviews ***

I already mentioned Trish's glowing review above. Did I also tell you that she had absolutely NO complaints about this book? She thought it was just about perfect so please don't take my criticisms too much to heart - I really did enjoy this book in spite of them.

Has anyone else reviewed this book? I'd be happy to include your link here.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Non-Fiction Five Challenge Recap

I've completed the Non-Fiction Five Challenge!

The goal was to read 5 non-fiction books between May and September, with at least one being a different format than the others. Here's my original post for the challenge. Below are the books I actually read, followed by a brief description (links take to you my reviews).
  1. The Lost Men - story of survival in Antarctica - highly recommended
  2. The Island at the Center of the World - history of the Dutch colony at Manhattan - very interesting
  3. The Secret Doorwaycase for a creator of the universe - this was a DNF for me - great premise, but poor execution
  4. The Survivors Club - why some people survive disasters - very eye-opening
  5. Golden Boy - growing up in Hong Kong in the 1950s - I really enjoyed this one
The first two books were historical non-fiction, the third book was more of an opinion-based book, the fourth was a compilation of stories and science in support of a point, and the fifth was a memoir. So I definitely covered more than two formats!

The books below were also on my list but got bumped for various reasons. Hopefully I'll get to read them soon:
  1. Mistress of the Vatican
  2. The History of Celibacy
  3. The Greatest Generation Speaks

I quite enjoy non-fiction and this challenge helped me to see how much of it I really am reading. It also encouraged me to look at what formats work well for me. I'll definitely be joining this challenge again next year.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Passing Along the Challenge

When I accepted Chartroose’s challenge earlier this month, I asked if any of my readers were brave enough to let me challenge them to something. Three of you stepped up and said you were. Let me introduce those three brave souls:
  • Alex from One Day at a Time – She is my husband’s cousin and her blog is about her family, books, and whatever else is on her mind. We don’t see each other often so it’s great that we share a love of blogging.
  • Shawna from The Root of the Root – Her blog is about the fresh start she's working on, which includes an adorable son, her adventures in returning to college, and lots of other interesting things. I got to meet her when she came to Maryland for a wedding last summer.
  • Robin of My Two Blessings – Her blog is about her life as well, which includes homeschooling her son (who has the same name as Kiddo),running a business with her husband, reading, writing, and much more. She is the only one of the three who I have not met.
I find it interesting that of all my readers, not one blogger who focuses solely on books decided to take my challenge – go figure!

I told these three gals that I would browse their blogs and come up with challenges specific to each of them. However, once I shuffled through their posting history I realized that they all have something in common – they are sorely lacking in exposure to the classics of Fantasy/SciFi. CRISIS!!!

And so …

I, Heather J., dare you, Alex, Shawna, and Robin, to accept this challenge to increase your Fantasy/SciFi exposure. I dare you to complete at least 5 of the 10 items on the list below (though I triple dog dare you to tackle them all!) [And of that 5, at least 2 must be books.]
  1. Watch The Princess Bride
  2. Watch Willow
  3. Watch The Last Unicorn
  4. Watch Labyrinth
  5. Watch at least 3 episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess
  6. Read Dune by Frank Herbert
  7. Read The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
  8. Read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  9. Read Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
  10. Do a video blog about at least one of these items
This challenge must be completed in: 10 months (meaning by April 1, 2010). [I’m giving you lots of time because some of those books are a bit long especially if you are trying to do all 10 items and I realize that you DO have lives.]

If you fail in this challenge you must write a lengthy blog post about the value of Fantasy/SciFi books and movies in today’s world and why more people should be watching/reading them.

But if you succeed then I will send you a package of goodies including at least one book (plus lots of other stuff) AND I will dedicate an entire day to you on my blog – how’s THAT for a prize?!

If you choose to accept this dare you must follow these rules:
  • Blog about your acceptance and log in with Mr Linky on the correct Acceptance Post here.
  • Blog about your thoughts after completing each item. When you've completed the challenge check in with Mr Linky on the correct Completed Challenge Post on the I Dare You to Accept This Challenge Blog!
  • Once you accept (or complete) this challenge then make a list of 10 related items (ie all Bollywood movies, your favorite tv show or book series, favorite genre of books etc) and challenge one of your friends...even the one who challenged you!
  • Need help deciding on a dare? Check out what others are doing here.
I had a lot of fun thinking up these challenges. Every item on that list is something I love for one reason or another. I'm so looking forward to seeing how Alex, Shawna, and Robin react to these books and movies - will they love them like me? hate them with a passion? think I'm crazy for suggesting them? Who knows?! But I can't wait to find out!

PS. If I've intrigued you with my challenge and you want to join in, let me know!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Come to Baltimore! No, come to DC! What to do?!

Every year Baltimore and DC both hold their Book Festivals on the same weekend. It drives me CRAZY! How is a book lover to decide which to go to?! My decision is easy: I'm only a 20 minute drive from Baltimore and I'm moderating a book club panel there this year ... I think I'll stick with Baltimore, thank you very much.

To help the rest of you make a good decision, here's a quick pros/cons list for the two events:

National Book Festival in DC


  • it is a one day event (Sept. 26)
  • it's a HUGE event so lots of bloggers will be there
  • lots of big name authors will be there too
  • public transportation is easy to use and inexpensive
  • DC has lots of historical sightseeing and museums
  • a book blogger get-together is planned for that evening (details here)
  • it's a HUGE event - as in, crushing crowds, very long lines, enormous amount of people everywhere (this is not an event for those who don't like crowds)
  • chances for author interaction are very small - you could wait 2 or more hours just to get a book signed
  • if it rains, you're walking in mud
  • parking is difficult to find and can be expensive

Baltimore Book Festival


  • it is a three day event (Sept. 25-27)
  • it is not a "big crowd" event - people are definitely attending but not in overwhelming numbers
  • chances for author interaction are very good - crowds are not large and authors usually hang around to chat afterward
  • Baltimore has lots of historical sightseeing and museums
  • if it rains, you're walking on cobblestones not mud
  • parking is moderately priced and very close to the Festival
  • my panel, The Book Club Toolkit, is on 9/26 @ noon
  • a book blogger get-together is being planned for Friday evening (9/25) - we'll go to the YA panels and then who knows what we'll do! (Leave a comment if you'd like to be included.)
Baltimore Book Festival - Cons
  • public transportation is not as extensive as in DC
  • many participating authors are not very well known
  • it is a much smaller scaled event than the DC one
What? You say I'm little biased toward the Baltimore event? REALLY?! I didn't think so ... :)

So what's a blogger to do?!

I've heard from several bloggers that they plan to do the DC event on Saturday and the Baltimore event on Sunday. My plan is to do Baltimore both Friday and early Saturday (then leave for a beach weekend late Saturday afternoon). Trish from Hey Lady! will be with me on Friday night and she's also one of my panelists on Saturday. At this point I have no idea what other local and visiting bloggers are doing. If you are going to be at either of these Festivals please let me know your plans in the comments.

Everyone is invited to the Baltimore get-together on Friday night, especially those of you who are planning to be in DC on Saturday - I'd love to get a big group together so we can meet each other!

Complete details about the Festivals can be found at the following websites:





I'm a bit behind on my reviews and feeling somewhat overwhelmed. To keep from going crazy, my next few reviews will be much shorter than usual. I promise to get back to my "regular" reviewing style asap.

by Bernard Cornwell
audio book: 16.25 hours

The plot according to
Young Nicholas Hook is dogged by a cursed past--haunted by what he has failed to do and banished for what he has done. A wanted man in England, he is driven to fight as a mercenary archer in France, where he finds two things he can love: his instincts as a fighting man, and a girl in trouble. Together they survive the notorious massacre at Soissons, an event that shocks all Christendom. With no options left, Hook heads home to England, where his capture means certain death. Instead he is discovered by the young King of England--Henry V himself--and by royal command he takes up the longbow again and dons the cross of Saint George. Hook returns to France as part of the superb army Henry leads in his quest to claim the French crown. But after the English campaign suffers devastating early losses, it becomes clear that Hook and his fellow archers are their king's last resort in a desperate fight against an enemy more daunting than they could ever have imagined.

One of the most dramatic victories in British history, the battle of Agincourt--immortalized by Shakespeare in Henry V--pitted undermanned and overwhelmed English forces against a French army determined to keep their crown out of Henry's hands. Here Bernard Cornwell resurrects the legend of the battle and the "band of brothers" who fought it on October 25, 1415. An epic of redemption, Agincourt follows a commoner, a king, and a nation's entire army on an improbable mission to test the will of God and reclaim what is rightfully theirs. From the disasters at the siege of Harfleur to the horrors of the field of Agincourt, this exhilarating story of survival and slaughter is at once a brilliant work of history and a triumph of imagination—Bernard Cornwell at his best.

I hate to say it, but this book was just "meh" .... I wanted so badly to love it but I really couldn't get into it. Last month I wrote about my need for a personal connection when I'm reading epic historical fiction - that connection was lacking here. The story was really about the war and the way it led up to this particular battle, and the characters were simply vehicles to get the reader there. That isn't necessarily a bad thing but it didn't really work for me.

Imagine this: you're going to Disney World and there are two buses you can take there. One is the Disney Express Bus - colorful themed decorations, fun movies to enjoy, lots of happy chatting people. The other is a Greyhound bus - drab colors, snoring passengers, not much conversation. Both take you to the same destination but the process of getting there will be very different depending on which bus you choose.

In this case the destination, the battle of Agincourt, is fascinating and well worth reading about, but getting there was rather boring, like choosing the Greyhound bus. I liked the main characters but I didn't really get to know them that well and I never felt connected to them. It was like riding on the drab bus with interesting people a few rows up but never getting the chance to get to know them.

I should also add that there is a great deal of bad language in this book and lots of graphic violence. Both fit the theme of the book though so it didn't bother me as much as it would have in other books ... but you can't say I didn't warn you.

A quick note about the audio version - the narrator was Charles Keating and he did a great job. He was able to convey several different voices and handled the French phrases smoothly.

At this point I'm going to limit my Bernard Cornwell reading to his Saxon Chronicles series. I absolutely love those books and can't wait for the next one to come out. I won't be looking for any of his other books though.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

the author of that Guernsey book ... (and a giveaway)

I was THRILLED to be chosen to do a phone interview with Annie Barrows, co-author of THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. Her book is on tour through TLC this month but due to her packed schedule she was only able to guest post at a few sites. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to speak to her by phone when it was offered.

Picture this: I'm in my office at work (on my lunch break). I've got my laptop in front of me, a pad and pen to my right, and just behind the speaker phone I've set up Kiddo's tape recorder (I'm not going to miss a minute of this interview!). I speak to Annie for about 30 minutes, jotting down random notes, working through my list of questions. I thank her for her time, hang up the phone, and rewind the tape so I can listen to it right away. I hit play and ... nothing. ?!?!?!! I try again. Nothing. AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!

So what you see below is what I can recall from our interview plus the things I jotted notes about. I paraphrased everything from memory, unless I wrote down a direct quote. You can't imagine how incredibly disappointed I am at not having that recording to refer back to ...

Interview with Annie Barrows
co-author of
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
August 3, 2009

Q: I’ve read the basic story of how you came to be involved with this book. Is there anything you more you can tell me about that?
A: The whole family knew about Mary Ann’s book (she’d been working on it for 20 years) and they were so excited when a publisher bought it. It took a while for the editors to come back with the list of changes they wanted and by that time Mary Ann was getting sick. She couldn’t handle the task so she asked me to step in. I readily agreed but I was secretly thinking “how can I do this?! How can I get her voice right?” Ends up, that was the easy part. I grew up hearing Mary Ann’s stories and it turned out to be a simple task of remembering her voice through all those years and putting it on the page.
Q: Tell me a little about Mary Ann. She is your aunt, correct?
A: Yes, she was my mother’s sister. We always lived just a few miles away and our families saw each other all the time. “She was like wallpaper” – always there. I can never remember a time without her.
Q: Do you know what type of historical research (if any) Mary Ann did? What drew her to this story, this place and time in history?
A: She visited Guernsey in 1980 and has been researching the area, WWII, resistance fighters, and much more ever since. She had so many books relating to these topics and I have many of them now. She finally began writing the book in 2000 and finished it 7 years later. She was very interested in resistance fighters and read all she could about them.
Heather's note: Annie talked a bit about the actual German occupation of Guernsey and how it was difficult to say who was an enemy and who was not. I mentioned that part of the book reminded me of SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky and we discussed the similarities between that story and this one for a while. Then it was back to the official questions.

Q: Which (if any) characters do you identify with or feel strongly about one way or the other? Why?
A: Adelaide is based on a real person, someone I always had to have Christmas dinner with. Many of the other characters are compilations of real people. Isola isn’t one particular person, but she IS the kind of "complete wacko" that Mary Ann loved. Amelia (Heather's note: she is my favorite character) is based partly on Mary Ann’s grandmother whom she loved dearly. Her looks are patterned after her, and much of her personality as well. Kat is based mostly on my now 9-yr-old daughter Esme. When Esme was 3 & 4 she and Mary Ann were very close. Esme has a very strong personality. Remember the line in the book about the spinach, when Kat put up her hand stopping the food from coming near her plate, and said “Not for me”? That came directly from Esme. Juliet is the most like Mary Ann – she is witty and her love of people’s stories is very much like Mary Ann.
Heather's note: We also discussed a post Annie wrote for ReadingGroupGuides called Literary Meandering. We agreed that you find the most interesting and unexpected books that way. It is a great post and I hope you'll go read it.

How do you feel about all the publicity that the book is getting? Has it surprised you in any way? Any amusing stories to tell?
A:Not really “surprised” but definitely pleased. The book is so charming and so much like Mary Ann that of course people are going to love it.
Q: Have you been to Guernsey? Or do you plan to go?
A: Yes, I went there last summer. “What was hard was writing about a place I hadn’t been.” I went just 3 weeks before the book was published so it was too late to change anything, but I feel that anything I said "definitely" is correct. There is one part where Eben and 5-year-old Eli are walking to a beach and I realized that the walk is probably too far for such a small child, but that was the only thing I'd change.
Q: What has been the response from the people of Guernsey?
A: Most of the response has come from people who were children there during the war. Some of them were evacuated, some stayed. There has been little response from present-day residents. However, one intrepid reader is planning a trip to Guersney and she has promised to be my spy and let me know what they’re saying about the book over there.
Heather's note: Before her work on this book Annie was already a successful children's book author. She writes a series called Ivy & Bean which is simply adorable. Go read the description of the books here and tell me you don't completely identify with those first few sentences. Annie is currently working on the 7th Ivy & Bean book.

How different was your experience with this book from your work on the Ivy & Bean books, or your other children’s books?
A: It is like having two completely different freeways in your brain. Each type of book uses a different part of the brain and I can only work on one type at a time. I’ll usually spend a few days on an Ivy & Bean book, take a break for a day, then dive into an adult book project. The two types of writing are so different that it takes a while to transition from one to the other.
Q: What do you want people to know about the Guernsey book, or about Mary Ann? What do you wish people would ask but they never do?
A: I wish people would ask more about the actual occupation. What were the Germans DOING there? Why were they there? What was their plan? And I wish people would ask more about the culture of Guernsey. It is very different from England. They are much more focused on seafaring and they are much more French. They even had their own language but it has almost died out now.
Heather's note: Annie also mentioned that the film rights have been optioned but both she and I agreed that doesn't necessarily mean anything. She's hopeful though, as am I.

I had such a wonderful time speaking with Annie. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for arranging this interview. You can see my review of "that Guernsey book" here and a recap of my book club's discussion of it here.

*** Giveaway ***

I have five - that's right, FIVE! - copies of this book to give away to my readers. Here's how to enter:
  • Leave a comment saying why you'd like to read this book - the cover? the summary? a review you've read? something else? A simple "enter me!" won't get you in.

  • If your email address is not available through your profile or your blog, please include it in your comment.

  • The publisher is only shipping books to readers with a US or Canadian mailing address. Sorry to all my international readers!

  • I'll choose the winners next Friday morning (9/4) so be sure to get your comment posted before then.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jane Eyre

I'm a bit behind on my reviews and feeling somewhat overwhelmed. To keep from going crazy, my next few reviews will be much shorter than usual. I promise to get back to my "regular" reviewing style asap.

Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Bronte
audio book: 18 hours

This is a book that I loved as a teen and always think of fondly. I recently saw a newer version of the movie that reminded me how much I loved this book so I decided to revisit it.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, this is the story of Jane, a plain girl, orphaned at a young age, and left without a friend in the world. Her cruel aunt sends her off to a poorly-run charity school to be rid of her. While there, Jane blossoms into a competent young woman. Eventually she leaves to become a governess to a young girl. Once she is settled in at her new home she meets the master of the house, Mr. Rochester. He is a strange and gruff man, not very attractive himself. And there is something strange going on in the house - creepy noises at night, someone sneaking around. As for the rest of the story, you'll simply have to read to find out.

After listening to this book over the past two weeks I've found that I love it just as much now as I did way back when. However, I must say that seeing the movie has messed with my memories of the original story. As I listened to the audio book I was constantly thinking, "oh, they changed that part in the movie! And that part, and THAT part too!" I'm so glad that I revisited the original story - even though I do love the movie versions, the book simply has so much more depth to it. And I love the fact that at the end of the book, Jane updates the reader on what is going on with all the different characters - that is my favorite kind of ending.

This book counts toward the 1% Well Read Challenge. That's not not why I read it but hey, I'm not complaining!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Voyage of the Narwhal

I'm a bit behind on my reviews and feeling somewhat overwhelmed. To keep from going crazy, my next few reviews will be much shorter than usual. I promise to get back to my "regular" reviewing style asap.

The Voyage of the Narwhal
by Andrea Barrett
audio book: 13.25 hours

This is the story of a fictional Arctic expedition in the 1850s. The main character, Erasmus, is in his early 40s and feels that his life has been one failure after another. When young family friend Zeke decides to travel to the Arctic in search of a lost exploring expedition, he asks Erasmus to travel with him. Erasmus sees this as his chance to finally succeed at something and decides to go. The voyage doesn't go as planned however, and the crew soon realizes that Zeke is really out to make a name for himself rather than find the missing explorers.

Eventually Erasmus makes it back home but the story doesn't end there. Instead it follows the reaction of his family and the town in general to his return and his physical and mental recovery.

On the whole I enjoyed the book but I did feel that it bogged down in places. But then something happens near the end of the story that I totally did not expect, and I was completely drawn into the it again. In fact, that final few chapters made all the slow parts worth it for me.

In the end I must say that I liked this book but I didn't love it. The ending was great though, and that made up for some of the other problems.

I heard of this book from Dawn at She Is Too Fond of Books in a comment she made on my Friday Finds post back in December '08.

PS. I forgot to mention that the narrator of this audio book was George Guidall. I've mentioned before that he is an excellent narrator and his work on this book was no exception.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lovely Links #19

Here are the things that have caught my attention lately - hope you find some of them interesting as well!

Reality & Life
  • The first thing I have to share with you is a video. Rather than giving you the link I'm posting it here in the hopes that you'll actually watch it. :) This guy wrote a song in response to his bad experience on United Airlines - gotta love creativity!

  • My blogging friend Ranger Sarah just moved to a new house ... and you simply MUST see the office that she now has! Book lovers will be swooning.

  • The new Lego Toy Story figures are really cute!!! Go here to check them out.

Books & Bookish Events
  • Have you ever had a "book hangover"? One of my blogger friends used that term in this short post and I had to laugh - that is the perfect name for what you get the morning after you've stayed up too late to read. Too funny!

  • Author Michelle Moran is promoting her upcoming novel, CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER, by having several contests on her blog. Some are targeted to teens since the main character in this book is a young woman. And she's giving away Roman artifacts - very cool!

  • The first review of the upcoming "Wheel of Time" book THE GATHERING STORM (by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson) is up at Dragonmount. Spoilers are clearly marked so you can easily avoid them, so do go over there and read it.

  • Buzz Aldrin preps Buzz Lightyear for his space flight in this cute video. The real Buzz (Aldrin, that is) will be at the Baltimore Book Festival in September - hopefully I'll get to meet him!

  • Has a REVIEW ever brought tears to your eyes? This one by Maw Books did that to me. The book is a children's book called 14 COWS FOR AMERICA. I'd heard of it before but the quote and videos included in this review really touched me.

  • A series of fascinating podcasts about Henry VIII. I listened to all of them and really enjoyed the one by Philippa Gregory and several of the David Starkey ones.

  • Speaking of Henry VIII, the English government helped fund the breathtaking restoration of Dover Castle pictured here. The castle now looks as it did when Henry ruled there. I so wish I could see it in person!

  • Here's a video compilation of 500 years of female portraits that is quite beautiful. It even won an award on YouTube. My aunt shared this video on Facebook and I thought it was amazing.

  • This blogger posted the two clips from New Moon that were shown at ComicCon - all the screaming girls made me laugh so hard!

  • Remaking The Secret of NIMH?! I'm heartbroken over this news. I loved this movie as a child and Kiddo loves it now - why mess with something like that?!

  • Have you seen the trailer for the Johnny Depp Alice In Wonderland movie yet? What do you think of it? Personally, it kind of creeps me out ...

  • Are you familiar with the story THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY? It's been adapted into a horror movie called Dorian Gray and you can check out the trailer here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sept/Oct Read Along Reminder

A while back I invited anyone interested to read along with me when I tackle CRANFORD and FRANKENSTEIN for the 1% Well-Read Challenge. A bunch of you jumped on that bandwagon and I'm really excited to get started!
  • We'll be reading CRANFORD, by Elizabeth Gaskell, in September. No rules for participation, just plan on reading it next month and posting about it. I'm going to browse some reading guides and maybe post questions to consider just as a guideline. My review will go up later in the month. If you'd like, you can read this book online (or print it out) through Project Gutenberg at this link.
  • In October, just in time for Halloween, we'll be reading FRANKENSTEIN, by Mary Shelley (Project Gutenberg link here). I was able to get my hands on a SparkNotes guide to this book and I'm hoping it has some interesting info inside. Again, I'll post questions/info early in the month then do my review close to the end of the month.
If you didn't sign up to read along with me but you are interested now, please join us! Let me know in the comments if plan to participate for either book.


Friday, August 21, 2009

BBF: The Baltimore Book Festival "Book Club Toolkit" Panel (part 1)

I'm moderating a panel at the upcoming Baltimore Book Festival on Sat. Sept. 26th. I'm really excited about this because it is completely my project - I suggested the panel topic, chose the panelists, and in general put the whole thing together. AND it is a topic I love: book clubs. What could be better than that?!

*** About the Panel ***

The Book Club Toolkit: Tools and Tips for Starting and Improving Your Book Club

Join veteran book clubbers for an hour of ideas guaranteed to help you bring out the best in your book club. Topics will include choosing the right books, enhancing your discussion, dealing with problem members, and much more. Bring your questions – we’ve got answers!

*** More Info ***

Here's a link to an interview with me (cool, right?!) about the panel done by Anna of Diary of an Eccentric. Gotta love Anna!

You can see the panel on the Festival's schedule at this link. It is at 12:00pm and called The Book Club Toolkit.

*** Coming Soon ***

Over the next few weeks I'll be introducing you to my panelists and sharing some of the topics we'll be discussing on the panel. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Read the rest of this series - part 2, part 3, and part 4 (coming soon).

Friday Finds 08/21/09

Before I get to my list, remember earlier this week when I talked about the upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie? Go here to find out how to get updates about the movie (as part of the viral marketing campaign). It opens on Christmas Day - I can't wait!

And now, here are the books I've added to my TBR list this week ...

*** Books for Me ***

Whatever You Do, Don't Run, by Peter Allison - found at At Home With Books who says "Peter Allison's stories about being a safari guide in Africa are pure entertainment. Whatever You Do, Don't Run is filled with fun-to-read stories ranging from idiotic things that tourists do, to dangerous face-to-face encounters with lions. [...] If you have ever wondered what it would be like to go on safari in Africa, then I would recommend this memoir."

Twilight of Avalon, by Anna Elliott - found at Things Mean A Lot - this is a reimagining of the story of Tristan and Isolde, based on the "twelfth-century version of the myth: a version in which Lancelot is absent, and Guinevere’s famous love affair is with Arthur’s illegitimate son and nemesis, Mordred. Isolde is the child of that union. [...] It’s a complex book, and I really liked that. There’s no “us” and “them” dichotomy; there are just people, some well-meaning, some greedy and selfish, some confused and scared, some angry and hurt. But they’re human, all of them, even the villains."

Hell Is Other Parents: And Other Tales of Maternal Combustion, by Deborah Copaken Kogan - found through a Facebook post by Hyperion Voice - reviews on say it is an "edgy, insightful, and sidesplitting memoir about surviving in the trenches of modern parenting." And also, "For anyone who's ever been a parent, had a parent, or wanted to choke a parent, [this] book is for you. With obscenely funny and frighteningly dead-on insights, this book is so close to my heart I want to put it in a locket and wear it around my neck. I plan to buy Hell Is Other Parents by the carton and hand it out at the playground." It sounds hilarious!

*** Books for Kiddo ***

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norman Juster - I read and loved this book as a child and I think it would be a great read-together book for Kiddo and I. Thanks to Open Mind, Insert Book for reminding me about it.

The Kids' Bible Dictionary - This would be a great resource for Kiddo I think. A big thank you to 5 Minutes for Books for reviewing this one. "Barbour [Books] has really published a great tool here and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you as being worth every single penny (and then some)!" Now THAT is a good recommendation.

3-D Explorer - Oceans: A Journey from the Surface to the Seafloor - What kid doesn't like pop-up books about a topic he loves?! Kiddo is fascinated with the ocean, specifically sharks, but he is interested in all underwater life. 5 Minutes for Books wrote about this new 3-D Explorer series and said "We absolutely l-o-v-e these ... books." Be sure to check out their review to see what makes these books must-haves.

That's all for me this week. Have any of these books made it to your TBR list as well?


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Today's Random Thoughts (or The Things That Are Keeping Me From Working Today)

I don't have it together enough to do a "real" post today and I've run out of prescheduled ones. Here are the things that are keeping me from concentrating at work today, and other miscellaneous thoughts.
  • Thanks to my wonderful readers I was nominated for 3 awards for BBAW (so far). I've submitted my info for Best History/Historical Fiction blog and I'm working on my info for Best General Review Blog (much harder to do). I was also nominated for best YA Blog but I asked to be removed from the running (I don't think I fit that category at all but someone obviously does since he/she nominated me).
  • I have 2 recap posts to write about my last book club meeting and I'm simply not in the mood to do them. The meeting was great though.
  • There's a project I'm supposed to be working on for my job but it has been given such a low priority by the rest of the company that I don't feel motivated to do it. Ugh.
  • The Baltimore Book Festival is coming in Sept. and I'm still working on the topics for my panel to discuss. I'm really excited but I'd like to be done with the planning now.
  • Cub Scouts starts in a few weeks and I'm the Den Leader for Kiddo's Wolf Den. Of course that also requires tons of planning (of which I've done very little so far).
  • I'm hosting a 12-hour scrapbooking event on 8/29. Most of the planning is done but there's still stuff to do that I'm behind on.
  • Hubby and I are sharing one car this week. It requires lots of pre-planning ... and it's getting old real quick.
  • 18 members of my family went to the dinner theater last night to see "Oklahoma!" We had a great time. I'd never seen this play before so that was a bonus. Today of course I'm tired and would rather be home in bed.
  • I have a Zoo on Facebook that has become a HUGE time sucker - I think I need to be cut off. (Anyone else want a Zoo? I can show you how to get one - it's fun and easy! [Can you tell I'm completely addicted?!])
  • I've been at work for two hours and just now realized that I haven't had my tea-and-granola-bar breakfast yet. No wonder I'm out of it! Be right back ...

Ok, now I've had breakfast and I'm going to share a few pictures with you.

Kiddo at another Harry Potter event at our library - my mom made his robe, my dad made him a "real" wand, he chose to wear a ninja shirt that he says looks like Slytherin, and he had a lightning bolt tattoo on his head like Harry

My Gram and Grandpa, Eileen and Nick, at the dinner theater last night

My sister and a few cousins - some of us went with fancy dresses, others went with the western theme of the play

and finally, my sister and her husband with me and mine - I'd NEVER have fit in that black dress before my success with Weight Watchers

Ok, I'm going to TRY to get back to work now ...


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
audio book: 4.5 hours

*** Why I Choose It ***

Earlier this year I joined in the Baker Street Challenge to celebrate my love of everything Sherlock Holmes. A review posted during that challenge made me realize that I'd never read what seemed to be a classic Holmes adventure - A STUDY IN SCARLET. Now I've remedied that problem.

*** My Thoughts ***

This was the first introduction of Holmes by Doyle and I loved getting to know the detective from a fresh perspective. The story includes the first meeting of Holmes and Watson and is told mostly from Watson's perspective. Of course there is a mystery involved, but that is almost secondary to Holmes himself (at least it was for me).

I quite enjoyed this book although it was very different from the other Holmes stories I've read/listened to. The story begins with excerpts from Watson's journals. About halfway through it jumps to an omniscient narrator who gives the lengthy background story of the criminal and the cause of his crimes. The story concludes with a return to Watson's journal. At first the middle section really threw me off - it is so different from other Holmes stories - but once I realized what was going on I was fine. I don't think I'd like to have the majority of the stories written that way but this one time was good.

*** Minor Spoiler Alert (this section only) ***

If you've read this story you'll know that the middle section takes place in the American West and centers on a group of Mormons and Brigham Young. Had I not read THE 19TH WIFE I would have been clueless as to the history of the Mormon exodus and settlement in Utah. That knowledge was very helpful in keeping me connected with the story - without it I would have felt lost for a while. I love it when knowledge from other books comes into play in my current read!

*** The (Upcoming) Movie ***

I think it is likely that the upcoming Sherlock Holmes film starring Robert Downey, Jr. will draw much of it's characterization of Holmes from this story. Most of us tend to think of Holmes as an older man, highly intelligent, but not particularly tough physically. In this story however we learn that Holmes was an expert boxer and sword fighter, and that he had several other unexpected abilities. He is also a very young man in this story and is presented as such.

In his later life Doyle was very involved in spiritualism so I think the supernatural aspect of the film comes from Doyle's personal beliefs. To me it looks like the movie will pull together both Doyle and young Holmes to create their main character.

Personally I'm looking forward to it ... what about you?


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm nominated for an award!

I just got an email saying that I've been nominated for a Book Blogger Appreciation Week Award in the category Best History/Historical Fiction Blog - woohoo!!!

Thank you to all my readers who nominated me. I'll be sure to let you know when/where you can vote for me. :)


A Year In Stats

Back on June 11, 2008 I started using Google Analytics to track my blog's stats. Just for fun I decided to look back at my stats for one year and see what interesting things I find.
  • I had a total of 12,122 visitors during the year 06/11/08 to 06/11/09. Those visitors came from 113 countries or territories and they visited a total of 21,079 times.

  • The average reader spend 1.29 minutes on my blog per visit.

  • My first tracking month I had about 40 visitors per day, but it could be as few as 14 or as many as 79. That same month this year I averaged 50 per day with variances between 27 and 96. (This doesn't include subscribers who read my blog through Google Reader or another service.)

  • In that year I had two days with lots more visitors than any other days. My guest post by Laurie R. King drew in 213 readers in one day and my list of my favorite posts for last year's Book Blogger Appreciation week brought in 179 in one day.
I also looked at the posts that have gotten the most attention over the past year. These are the top posts that people arrive at through searches or continue to visit for various reasons. Here are the top 5 most popular from this first year of stat tracking:
  1. author Laurie R. King's first guest post
  2. the list of books my book club has read
  3. my review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - this is the one that gets searched for the most
  4. the list of books I reviewed last year
  5. author Laurie R. King's second guest post
Personally I find these results fascinating. I love seeing what interests people and why the visit - and return - to my blog. At this point I haven't given any thought to how I can use these stats to improve my blog ... I'm just having fun KNOWING this stuff.

How about you? Do you use a stat tracker? Which one? Do you use the results to change your blog in any way? If you don't track and don't want to, why not? I'd love you hear you thoughts on this.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Golden Boy

Golden Boy: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood
by Martin Booth
337 pages
published in 2004

A quick note on the two cover images below: my copy has the first cover and I really like it. I found the second cover interesting but not as appealing. In part this is due to the content of the book which relates better to the first cover, but it's more than that - I just like the first one better. Which do you prefer?

*** About the Book ***

When author Martin Booth was diagnosed with cancer he realized that he hadn't passed on the stories of his childhood to his adult children. This book is the result of that realization.

Martin was 7 years old in the early 1950s when his father's job moved the family to Hong Kong. As an only child - and hence without built-in playmates - young Martin spent lots of time getting to know the local Chinese people and exploring his new home. With the courage of youth he wandered the crowded streets, ate at roadside shops, explored the countryside, learned pidgin Cantonese ... and fell in love with Hong Kong. His mother was busy doing the same thing, much to his father's chagrin.

The book covers the three years the Booth family lived in Hong Kong.

*** Why I Read It ***

I first heard of this book through the non-fiction portion of the newsletter way back in August 2007. I added it to my Wish List at and received a copy in June 2008. It has been on my shelf waiting to be read ever since.

Earlier this year I joined the Read Your Own Books Challenge which encourages participants to actually read the books stockpiled around their houses. This book went on my reading list immediately. I'm glad to say that I'm making progress on that challenge - 8 down, 12 to go by the end of the year. This is also my final book for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge.

*** My Thoughts ***

I really enjoyed this memoir and would highly recommend it. It was very easy to get into and fascinating to read - I didn't want to put it down.

It was refreshing to read about a (mostly) happy childhood for a change, seeing as many recent memoirs seem to focus on horribly depressing childhoods. Martin recounts his numerous adventures through the eyes of his childhood self and occasionally adds adult commentary like 'I didn't understand it then but here's what was REALLY going on.' I loved the fact that he was street smart yet still innocent and I found myself cheering every time he narrowly escaped disaster.

I loved reading about the Hong Kong of the 1950s: the blending of cultures from farm life to city life, the religious and cultural life of the city, the refugees from the Japanese invasion, the growing influence of Communist China, the European & Russian expatriates. I'd never read a book set in this time and place before so much of this was new to me.

Martin was completely taken with the local culture and was surprising respectful of it for a child. This is due in large part to the example of his mother and in spite the horrible example of his father. His parents did not have a good marriage and those parts of the story were sad to read but on the whole the book is light and fun and very informative.

*** Additional Thoughts ***

Two random unrelated points ...

Speaking of respect for the culture, I have to point out that this is completely in contrast to the lack of cultural respect in DON'T CALL ME A CROOK!. If you were turned off by the racism in that book you'll definitely be encouraged by the openness to other cultures in this book.

My dad grew up in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the late 1940s/early 1950s, where his father was stationed after WWII. I don't know much about his life there other than the fact that he loved it. His family had a Chinese chef and person to do their laundry as well (not sure if that person was Japanese or Chinese); dad still remember the delicious food the chef would make, and the way he could never leave his shirt anywhere of it would disappear into the wash. My grandfather was the sole American in charge of a division (group? something?) of Japanese soldiers and he was well respected by them - so much so that when he was transferred back to the US, one of the men gave him a samurai sword that had been in his family for hundreds of years. Reading this book gave me a taste of what my dad's life must have been like. I'm giving it to him to read in the hopes that he'll be encouraged to tell me more stories.

*** Other Reviews? ***

I can't find any other bloggers who have reviewed this book and that is a real shame because it is very good. Have any of you read it but not reviewed it? Or have you even heard of it? Does is interest any of you? Tell me what you think now that you've read my review.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

what I'm wishing for (way in advance) ...

I just read that the release date for the latest book in The Wheel of Time series (see my left sidebar) has been moved up one week to Oct. 27, 2009. Why is this important? Because it means there is plenty of time for some caring individual to buy me this book for my birthday which is on Nov. 4.

I'm just putting that out there ... you know, just in case.

Friday, August 14, 2009

And the winner of "Homefront" is ...

Thanks to everyone who entered my contest for a copy of HOMEFRONT by Kristen Tsetsi. I hope you are all as excited as I am about Backword Books, the author collective she told us about in that post.

Without further ado, the winner of the book is ...

# 6 - Lit and Life


Look for an email from me shortly requesting your mailing address.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
304 pages

*** About the Book ***

Single gal and newly published author Juliet is on tour for her first book shortly after the end of WWII in Britain when she receives an unexpected letter. A man named Dawsey, a stranger to her, lives on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel and has acquired a book that previously belonged to Juliet. He is hoping to find other books by the same author but since there are no functioning bookstores on the island he's written to Juliet for help. So begins a correspondence which will change Juliet's life forever.

As Juliet learns about the experience of the Guernsey islanders during the war she is taken with the idea of writing a book about it. She begins exchanging letters with other islanders and eventually travels to Guernsey to learn more about these strange and unique people she's come to love.

And that's all I can tell you!

*** Why I Read It ***

My book club chose this for our August book and I was happy since it has been on my TBR list for quite some time. Then TLC Book Tours offered blog tour dates for this book the same month and I figured the stars were definitely aligned in my favor!

*** My Thoughts ***

I LOVED this book. Loved, LOVed, LOVED!!! Why, you ask? Let me count the ways ... um, I mean, let me share the reasons.
  • The time and place - My grandpa fought in WWII and landed in France on D-Day. My gram lived and worked in Coventry and survived nightly bombing runs. I love reading books that make their experiences more real to me and this book fits the bill.

  • The characters - Juliet, the main character, is likable but not perfect. She is aware of her own faults and she can laugh at herself. I feel like I really got to know many of the characters in this book despite the fact that the entire story is told through letters; the way in which each person writes and what they choose to write about tells so much about who they are!

  • The educational content - I love books that teach me things I didn't know but that are still entertaining. This book seems light and fun most of the time but there is an undercurrent of sadness and horror due to the German occupation of Guernsey and WWII itself. I learned SO MUCH from this book! I didn't know about the German occupation of the island, the Polish slave labor sent there, the fact that the island remained occupied even after D-Day .... And there are little things as well, things I'd never considered before. Like what did women in concentration camps due when they menstruated (before starvation stopped it)? That tidbit of info horrified me even more because it was something I simply never considered before.
There is so much more that I could say about this book but I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that for me, this book definitely lived up to all the hype.

I've already recommended this book to several people. In fact, my Gram is visiting for the month and she already co-opted my copy.* When I get it back it will have a permanent place on my new bookshelf, an honor that I reserve only for my very favorite books.

*** Coming Soon ***

I had the opportunity to speak with Annie Barrows by phone, thanks to TLC Book Tours. I'll be posting details of that interview on 8/27 ... and I'll have 5 copies of the book to giveaway (to US and Canadian addresses only).

Plus I'm working on the recap of my book club's discussion of this book. There were over 10 of us at the meeting and everyone had a slightly different opinion. I'll let you know when I get the recap posted.

*** Other Reviews ***

I know that many of you have read this but here are a few of the reviews I've seen lately. If you'd like to be included please post your link in the comments.

* Last summer my Gram read a book that I recommended, and it was the first time I'd seen her read a book in my life. I'm thrilled that she's interested in this book too!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I've been dared ... and it's all Chartroose's fault

I’m REALLY behind on this (sorry Chartroose!) but here goes …

There’s this great thing going around the blogosphere at the moment – it’s the I Dare You To Accept This Challenge. Here's the deal:
Maybe your best friend only reads romances or maybe all he watches is sports. You think that she/he needs to branch out, but what can you do? Well, what did you do when you were younger? You dared people to do things that they might not normally do. So, why not dare your friend to read your 10 favorite books by Stephen King? Or maybe your 10 favorite episodes of The Big Bang Theory. Or perhaps your 10 favorite Bollywood films? Or what ever else comes to mind.
Sounds like fun, right? Well the wild and crazy Chartroose has challenged me to – are you ready for this?! – "watch 10 original Battlestar Galactica episodes (starring Dirk Benedict & Lorne Greene)." HA! This should be interesting, seeing as I’ve never watched any of the old or new Battlestar Galactica nor have I had any desire to do so. I do, however, love scifi in general so I’m thinking I might actually enjoy this show ... other than the sure-to-be-horribly-outdated special effects. If I watch all 10 and write a post about it Chartroose will buy me a book of my choice - woohoo!

I’d LOVE to find some interesting challenges for my wonderful readers to complete. If you’re up for it, leave me a comment letting me know. I’ll do a serious perusal of your blog and combine that with whatever I know about you to come up with a challenge personalized just for you. Of course prizes will be awarded to any who meet their challenges so take me up on this!

You can read more about the I Dare You To Accept This Challenge at the dedicated blog and also see what challenges other people are giving and accepting. Now if I can only find episodes of BG on the web somewhere …
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