Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Monday, November 30, 2009

Read Your Own Books Challenge - Recap

I was so excited to sign up for the Read Your Own Book Challenge back in January 2009. Here' s my original post for this challenge. The goal was to read 20 books that I already own, that were at that moment sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. The deadline for completion is Dec. 31, 2009 ... but I'm calling it quits now.

I made my list in January with high hopes, but so many other books kept getting in the way. This first list includes the books that I DID actually read (all links go to my reviews):
  1. The Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie - it was ok
  2. Being Written, by William Conescu - I really liked this book
  3. Island, by Aldous Huxley (also for the "Lost" Challenge) - I absolutely hated this one
  4. Homefront, by Kristen Tsetsi - not bad
  5. People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (audio version) - loved it!
  6. The Lost Men, by Kelly Tyler-Lewis - fascinating non-fiction
  7. Golden Boy, by Martin Booth - it was ok
  8. A Sense of the Mysterious, by Alan Lightman - very interesting essays
  9. A Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell - difficult for very good
  10. Two Histories of England, by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens - fun and insightful
  11. The Blessings of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel - practical
And this second list includes the books that I simply never got around to but which I DO (probably) intend to read:
  1. Vivaldi's Virgins, by Barbara Quick - I started this but put it aside for now.
  2. A History of Celibacy, by Elizabeth Abbott
  3. Mistress of the Vatican, by Eleanor Herman
  4. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
  5. Where She Came From, by Helen Epstein
  6. Ireland: A Novel, by Frank Delany
  7. The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan
  8. The Greatest Generation Speaks, by Tom Brokaw
  9. How the Irish Became White, by Noel Ignatiev - might not read this after all
Some of these might make it on to challenge lists for 2010 but others will definitely not.

If you participated in this challenge, how did you do? Are you still trying to complete it? Which book from your challenge list was your favorite? For me, I loved quite a few of them. My favorites would have to be THE LOST MEN and GOLDEN BOY, though I also really enjoyed PEOPLE OF THE BOOK and A THREAD OF GRACE.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ivy & Bean (and US/Canada Giveaway)

Ivy & Bean
Book 6: Doomed to Dance
by Annie Barrows
136 pages

*** About the Book ***

Ivy & Bean are two 2nd grade girls who don't have much in common but who have become best friends. In this book, their 6th, the girls convince their parents to let them take ballet lessons. As usual, things don't turn out the way the girls expected and now they will do just about anything to get out of ballet. Throw in a trip to the local aquarium (and some great illustrations) and you've got the latest Ivy & Bean adventure!

*** Why I Read This Book ***

Regular readers of my blog are probably scratching their heads and saying "You don't have any daughters and you don't usually read children's books, so what's up with this review?!"

Here's the deal ... Back when I read THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY I found out that the co-author of that book, Annie Barrows (interviewed here), also writes a children's series called Ivy & Bean. I checked out the website for the series and found this:
One of the big problems of being a kid is that your parents often try to make you play with people you don’t really like. My parents were forever trying to get me to like the kids of their friends. These kids were often weird. I didn’t want to play with them. It was a problem.
Oh yes, THAT was my life as a kid. How true, how true!

When the opportunity to review the new Ivy & Bean book as part of the Official Blog Tour came up, I jumped at the chance to snag a copy for myself. I figured it would be a fun and easy trip into my childhood ... and who knows, Kiddo might just enjoy it as well!

*** My Thoughts ***

I started reading this book just hours after it arrived in the mail. After the first few chapters, I stopped reading, got Kiddo, and started reading aloud from the beginning - THAT is how much fun I was having with it.

This book is adorable. It is smart, and fun, and perfect for little girls. I laughed out loud several times and had a smile on my face the whole way through. This series would make a great addition to any young girl's book shelf ... and moms and dads will enjoy reading along as well.

The reason I decided to read this to Kiddo, even though he is a boy, is that much of the story centers around a trip to the aquarium, and that is Kiddo's favorite place in the world. He really got a kick out of this book but not always for the right reasons ...

*** Kiddo's Thoughts ***

Spoiler warning: My recap of Kiddo's thoughts will include some minor spoilers, so be warned.

Kiddo wasn't so impressed with the idea of ballet, but the concept of dancing someone to death (which is the reason the girls sign up for ballet to begin with) sounded good to him. He is, after all, an Irish Step Dancer, so dancing is not a foreign idea to him. Still, he wouldn't have gotten into this story at all if it were not for the girls' visit to the aquarium.

At the aquarium the girls get a bit freaked out by the deep sea fish in one very dark room. Kiddo on the other hand was naming the fish that were scaring the girls. A bit later Ivy & Bean see a video of a giant squid swimming right at them and they run away screaming, afraid that the squid wants to eat them. Kiddo thought the girls were crazy. "Squid's are cool, not scary" he said. "Maybe it just wanted to play with them." HA!

There's a part in the book where the girls are in art class and they are using a dead fish to make "fish prints" with paint. Bean thought this activity was lots of fun. Kiddo said he would do it because he doesn't want to touch a dead fish. But "I would like to pet a squid though," he told me.

So, yeah, this book was lots of fun to read to Kiddo ... but not, I'm sure, for the reasons intended by the author.

*** Giveaway ***

I have one copy of this book to give away to a lucky reader in the US or Canada (sorry, this one isn't worldwide, per the publicist).

To enter this contest ...
  • Leave a comment letting me know if the kids your parents made you play with turned out to be your good friends in the end. Or you can tell me who in your life you'd like to share this book with.
  • 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.

  • I'll choose the winner on Friday morning (12/4) so be sure to get your comment posted before then.
Good luck, and happy reading!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Recapping My Blogging Year

My birthday earlier this month marked the end of my blogging year. I've already recapped my reading stats so now it is time to recap the other big events/posts that occurred on my blog between 11/4/08 and 11/4/09.

My blogging year in a nutshell:
  • Loss: When I got back from Thanksgiving vacation last year I was met with the news that beloved book blogger Dewey had passed away. Here's what I posted that day.
  • Fun: I had fun coming up with 10 "D" things that I love when Chartroose challenged me to do it.
  • Question: Do you cry in books or movies? That is what I asked my readers in this post and this poll.
  • Fun: Another blogger wanted to know how my blog got it's name; I answer that question here.
  • Issue: I aired my issues with last season's Dancing With The Stars contestants in this post. I love DWTS so their choice of "stars" last season was highly disappointing.
  • Health: There were big changes in Kiddo's health this past year. I talk about the start of those changes here.
  • Loss: When one of my favorite authors, David Eddings, passed away, I wrote about my love of his books.
  • Award: I was so honored to win the BBAW Award for Best History/Historical Fiction Blog. Amazing!
  • Event: My panel about book clubs at the Baltimore Book Festival was a resounding success!
  • Reading: To help me get through the 2009 1% Well Read Challenge I decided to host a read-a-long for two of the books. Cranford and Frankenstein were the perfect choices for this and both were lots of fun!
  • Health: Kiddo had surgery to put in a feeding tube. He's been doing great since then.
  • Family: My gram is struggling through chemo right now but I'm enjoying sharing WWII-era books with her.
  • Event: I had a blast as a "Storm Leader" for the release of the latest Wheel of Time book, The Gathering Storm.
  • Challenge: I'm currently co-hosting the Really Old Classics Challenge which just began on 11/1/09.
And that brings us up to November 4, 2009. This year went by in a blur ... but on the whole it was a good one. I hope yours was as well!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Dare: Battlestar Galactica Classic

Back in July the lovely and hilarious Chartroose (who is currently on a blogging break ... *sob*) dared me to watch 10 episodes of the 1970s show Battlestar Galactica. I'm not sure why she chose this particular show for me to watch. Did she think I would enjoy it? Hate it? I can't say what her intentions were but I CAN tell you that I had a BLAST with this!

Before this dare I had never seen a single episode of either the original Battlestar Galactica (BG from here out) or the new version. I had very little idea what it was all about. I did know that there were bad guys called Cylons and that most of the humans had been killed, but that was all I knew.

I watched the shows on, at the advice of a coworker. It was the perfect solution! I'm so glad she suggested this, otherwise I'd have had to sign up for Netflix just to complete my dare. If you haven't tried Hulu yet (and I hadn't before this dare) you should definitely check it out - there are TONS of great shows, new and old, on there!

So what did I think of my 10 episodes of classic BG? They were so much fun! I was intrigued with the premise of the show right from the beginning. Of course, the special effects are all completely outdated but that is only to be expected.

Here are some random things I thought about as I watched the show:
  • Hmm, this is a lot like Star Wars ...
  • No, it is a lot like the original Stargate (movie and tv show) ...
  • No, wait, now it is more like Star Trek: Voyager!
  • What's the deal with characters named after Greek gods? Is that somehow significant?
  • Hey, is that Jane Seymour? Yes, it most certainly is!
  • Why does everyone else get goofy names and Jane Seymour gets "Selena"? That seems rather unfair.
  • The kids have the worst names of all. Boxy? Pupus? Ugh.
  • Oh boy, these special effects are ridiculous. One more close up shot of the fighter pilots control stick as they press the fire button and I'll fall off the couch laughing. Oops, there I go! And again. And AGAIN!
  • If I have to see another close up of that control stick ...
  • Starbuck is supposed to be the ladies man but I like Apollo quite a bit more (he's cuter to me).
  • The 1970s women's hairstyles must have really come back into fashion because these gals don't look outdated at all.
  • Man, these episodes just get cheesier and cheesier as the season progresses!
After watching these first 10 episodes of Season 1, I will certainly continue watching the rest of the series whenever I can. And I'll probably watch the entire new series as well. Yes, it is incredibly cheesy, but it is really fun too! And I'm guessing that the new series is a bit more serious than the old one ...

I'm so glad Chartroose dared me to do this and that I took her up on the offer. I only wish that she'd come back from her blogging break and share her crazy humor with us again. I MISS YOU CHARTROOSE!


Now that I've completed MY dare, I'm curious to know how my "darees" are doing with their dares (I'm talking about you Alex, Shawna, Robin, and Susan!). These ladies have until April 2010 to finish their dares, but I'm wondering if they've even started yet ...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Alex & Me

Alex & Me:
How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered
a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence -
and Formed A Deep Bond in the Process
by Irene Pepperberg
226 pages

*** About the Book ***

This is the true story of Dr. Pepperberg's 31-year research project based on Alex, an African Grey Parrot. Her research showed that this particular bird (and likely many others) can communicate verbally in much the same way that chimps do through sign language. The book is the story of how her research began, stumbling blocks along the way, and the untimely death of Alex at age 31.

*** Why I Read It ***

I first heard about this book from At Home With Books (I recently blamed her for much of my TBR problem ...) and I immediately added it to my TBR list based on my own experience with parrots. I'll tell you more about that below. So when this book went on tour with TLC Book Tours I immediately asked to be included. My copy of the book came shortly thereafter.

*** My Thoughts on the Book ***

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was written in an engaging and personal way that I found very appealing. For much of the book the author writes about her own life and, surprisingly, this is integral to the story of Alex; Dr. Pepperberg's childhood experiences and the obstacles to her career make her work with Alex that much more remarkable.

As you know, I really enjoy finding literary connections in the books I read. This book had two great ones!
  • Did you know that Margaret Atwood put Alex in her novel Oryx and Crake? In that book, a character named Jimmie watches a recording of a grey parrot identifying colors and shapes - that was based on video Atwood had seen of Alex.
  • Near the end of the book Dr. Pepperberg mentions the movie Out of Africa (and the book it was based on) and uses it to make some comparisons to her relationship with Alex. I love that movie and the book was already on my TBR list.
On Twitter @niteswimming asked if I thought this would make a good book club selection. I immediately said that it would. There are questions in the back that aren't so great on their own, but they would be a good place to start a discussion; those questions ask mostly about the reader's own experiences with animals. What I think a book club would really get from this is the chance to discuss the idea of animal-human communication. Is is possible? Why or why not? Once you really dig into this topic it could lead to a discussion of environmentalism and even
religion. Now THAT would make for some great discussion!

*** My Parrot Experiences ***

When I was in high school an acquaintance of my mom's gave her a parrot that he could no longer take care of. In reality, this guy had never really "taken care" of the parrot. It came to us lonely and traumatized from neglect. It was a Conure and should have looked like the image at the right. Unfortunately, due most likely to neglect, the bird had developed a habit of plucking out all the feathers he could reach. He looked more like the bird pictured below, except that THAT bird actually has a tail.

Anyway, this bird obviously had issues. We named it Skipper, but friends often referred to is as Satan. Skipper LOVED my mom. He'd sit on her shoulder, preen her hair, eat seeds from her mouth, (try) to clean her teeth, nuzzle the side of her head, and lay across her chest with his wings spread out. However, if anyone else tried to come near her Skipper (aka Satan) would lunge off her should to bite them as they walked past. And if mom started talking on the phone Skipper would begin to chew the cord and bite at her cheek until she either got off the phone or put him in his cage, at which point he would scream like mad.

Neither my sister nor I liked this bird very much, but we could see that it COULD be a very kind and lovable creature. Ever since then I've known that although I don't want a parrot (or any bird) as a pet, these guys are very smart critters and they deserve the proper care from the start. Reading about Alex only made me realize how much was wrong with poor Skipper.

(In case you're curious, here's the rest of the story. My mom was later given 3 parakeets by another friend. Around that time I found two African Grey parrots in our backyard - in Maryland, where they definitely do not appear naturally. At this point there were 6 birds in a house that never wanted even one to begin with. Things were rapidly getting out of hand. After several years my mom eventually found a reputable bird rescue group and took all our birds there. The woman who took them in had a house full of birds in various states of "plucked". Skipper immediately bonded with another bird and snuggled up next to it on a perch. It made mom cry to see how obviously happy he was. From what I've heard, all the birds adjusted well to their new home.)

*** Your Thoughts ***

Are you a bird person? Why or why not? Are you intrigued by the concept of human-animal communication?

For more opinions on this book check out the following reviews. If you've reviewed it as well please let me know.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Hot Zone

The Hot Zone:
A Terrifying True Story
by Richard Preston
audio book: 11 hours

*** About the Book ***

Fact: The most lethal strain of the Ebola virus kills 9 out of 10 people it infects.

Fact: If you contract the Ebola virus, your insides turn to mush and you almost certainly die within 7 days.

Fact: There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola or its sister viruses.

Fact: A new strain of Ebola devastated a monkey holding facility outside Washington, DC in 1989.

Question: What will happened next time Ebola breaks out?

This book tells the story of the discovery of filoviruses - thread-like viruses that include Marburg and Ebola. These viruses are referred to as "slate wipers" because if they were introduced into the general population they would wipe out almost all human life on earth. The book alternates between stories of outbreaks and information on the people researching these viruses. The culmination of the book is the 1989 outbreak of a then unknown virus in a monkey holding facility just outside Washington, DC. and how this outbreak was handled.

Note: I couldn't find an image that matched the cover on my library copy. I have to say that my cover is decidedly creepier ...

*** Why I Read It ***

Alyce mentioned this in a recent Friday Finds post and I thought it sounded fascinating. When I was looking for a new audio book from the library, this was readily available so I checked it out.

*** My Thoughts ***

Woah. This book is crazy. The fact that it is true is completely creeping me out. My desire to take an African safari or a trip into the rainforest has just about totally disappeared now.

Let me back up a bit and clarify some things. I do not read or watch horror. I don't particularly enjoy being scared. I can't watch medical shows where you see a doctor cutting into a person's skin. I don't like gore. Yet at the same time I am fascinated by stories of survival and disease. Go figure.

This book definitely has gore. The filoviruses are horrible. By horrible I mean disgusting, creepy, terrifying, and deadly. They basically turn your insides to mush and make you bleed from Every.Single.Opening in your body (including your salivary glands!). Autopsies performed on animals and people who die from these viruses show bodies whose insides look like they've been dead for several days. I listened to this book in the car going to and from work and most days I had a look of horror or disgust stuck on my face the whole time. Other drivers probably thought I was nuts.

I don't read zombie stories but this book reminded me of one. I'd listen to the description of what the virus was doing to a person and I'd think, "yes, and then the victim turned into a zombie, stood up and tried to bite the doctor's face off." Of course that isn't what happened but zombie stories could totally steal some lines from this book!

With all this horror and disgusting-ness, you're probably thinking that I hated this book but you couldn't be more wrong. I LOVED IT. OK, maybe loved is the wrong world to use but I found it completely fascinating and I took every excuse to be in my car alone so I could listen to it ('cause you KNOW I wasn't letting Kiddo hear any of this!).

If you can handle some truly horrible facts about what Ebola can do to a body (and remember, I am a big chicken and don't like gore at all) then you should definitely pick up this book. It is one that I will remember for a very long time to come.

Hmm, now I have a strong desire to watch that movie Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman ...

About the audio book: This book was narrated by Richard M. Davidson. He did a very good job with it and I have no complaints.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Are you brave enough to read this one? Why or why not? Are you generally a fan of "disease" books? Which would you recommend? I'm definitely in the mood for more non-fiction like this one so please share your suggestions.

I've only found one other review of this book:
  • Semicolon read it while waiting in the emergency room - she's braver than I would have been!
If you've reviewed this book as well I'd love to add your link here, just let me know in the comments.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thoughts on Audio Books

I listen to quite a lot of audio books so I thought I'd share with you why I love them and how I choose what to listen to. And I also want to get feedback from you so do check out my questions at the end.

*** Why Audio Books? ***

I love to read, but more than that, I love a good story. I also love to learn new things. My TBR (to-be-read) list has hundreds of books on it, and it is growing all the time. There is no way that I could read all these books in the time allotted to me, and besides, there are times that holding a book in front of my face just isn't possible (driving comes to mind ...). Enter audio books.

I grew up listening to reruns of the old time radio shows from the 1940s on the weekends with my parents, and I think my love of storytelling was nurtured then. Sunday nights in our house we'd have the radio tuned in to WAMU, the radio station from American University in Washington, DC and we'd all listen to shows like Gunsmoke, Lum and Abner, Dragnet, and others while we did homework, cleaned our rooms, or whatever. It was a weekly routine that I didn't want to miss.

Nowadays I take every opportunity I can to pop in an audio book and listen to a great story - it is a pleasure I wouldn't want to trade.

*** When Do I Listen? ***

Places that I CAN listen successfully: in my car (my very favorite place for audio books), at work while filing, at home while doing dishes/laundry.

Places that I CANNOT listen successfully: at work while actually working, at home while on the computer, in the car with Kiddo.

For me to really enjoy an audio book I have to give it my (relatively) undivided attention. This is especially true of books that I've not read/listened to before. Those require the most "effort" on my part because I truly do need to concentrate on paying attention to the story. If I am revisiting an old favorite, as I did recently with Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and the Wheel of Time series, I can listen anywhere, anytime, because it is fine if my mind wanders; I know the story so well that I won't really miss anything.

*** How Do I Choose? ***

You may think I have some super scientific method for choosing which audio books to listen to, and I do. Want to know what it is? Here's my secret:
  • open my TBR list
  • enter titles from the list into my library's website
  • search for any TBR titles that are available in audio
  • check out any that I find
Yup, that's it. That is all I do. Which is why you might notice that books that have been recently featured in my Friday Finds posts often are reviewed in audio format shortly afterward; I've already been through most of my TBR list looking for available audio books, and my Friday Finds give me new titles to search for.

Of course, this does sometimes lead to problems. There are some books that are simply MEANT to be read, not listened to. When I come across those I usually give up on the audio version and put the book back on my TBR list with a note that says to get the book next time.

*** Questions For You ***

Here's what I want to know from you:
  • If you are an audio book lover, what is it that you enjoy about them?
  • Where is the best place for you to listen? Why?
  • How do you choose which books to listen to versus which books to read? Is your method super scientific like mine? :)
  • If you are not a fan of audio books, why not? What can I do to change your mind?!
Please share your answers in the comments.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Finds 11/20/09

Before I share with you my Finds for this Friday I want to let you know that At Home With Books is the bane of my book blogging existence. It seems that every time I read Alyce's posts I end up with more books on my TBR list. Don't get me wrong, I love Alyce, and I love the books she recommends. But dang it! I can't visit her without coming away with a new list of books. Hmpf.

OK, end of rant. :) Here are my Finds for this week:

  1. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: The Illustrated Edition, by Dee Brown - I've been wanting to read this book since I saw the movie of the same name and now there is a gorgeous new illustrated edition. At Home With Books says: "[This book] should be required reading for every high school and college student in the country. Filled with horrific and heartbreaking stories from the history of the interactions between Native Americans and white men, it is brutally honest about both sides of the story. Dee Brown managed to take the documents and history of Native Americans, and recount them from the Native American point of view."

  2. Julia's Kitchen Wisdom, by Julia Child - I'm not a cook/chef/whatever, not do I particularly enjoy puttering around in the kitchen. But I was hooked when Rebecca Reads said Julia Child "made cooking sound easy. The best part is that I believe her: it is that easy. She’s not trying to give us recipes for a lifetime of cooking: she’s trying to share tidbits of the most important techniques that we may need over a lifetime." This sounds like a very practical book and I'd love to check it out.

  3. Art and Upheaval: Artists on the World's Front Lines, by William Cleveland - I'm not really into art or art history but this book sounds interesting to me. At Home With Books said it "is split into six sections, each of which discusses a geographic area which has dealt with some form of hardship, and then follows the actions and art of those in that area, reflecting on how that art has changed and helped those communities. The geographic areas and the hardships faced are quite diverse." One section is set in Northern Ireland, a place a love dearly, so that really caught my attention.

  4. Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier - This is the story of a 19th century female fossil hunter. I heard about it from The Book Case where this trailer was posted. It was the trailer that really hooked me.

I also added a few new titles to Kiddo's TBR list ...

  1. Eating the Plates, by Lucille Recht Penner - This Thanksgiving book sounds like the perfect thing for Kiddo. The Unsell Family says, "If you want to know all about the disgusting part of the Pilgrims journey to America, then this book is for you. LOL! Did you know that the biscuits on the Mayflower were full of weevils but the pilgrims were so hungry that they had to eat them?" Kiddo loves disgusting bits of info like that - I think he'll really enjoy this book.

  2. Oceanology - This is the latest in the "-ology" books I've seen. You may remember that Kiddo really enjoyed Wizardology and Spyology. Our recent trip to the library resulted in Kiddo checking out Monstorology. So I know that he will really like Oceonology, especially since undersea stuff is at the top of his favorites list. This book follows the "diary" of the only survivor of Captian Nemo's voyage on the Nautilus - and Kiddo LOVES 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea! Thanks to 5 Minutes for Books for reviewing this one.

    And finally, a book that I actually want to BUY for Kiddo to keep ....

  3. Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary - I'm so grateful to Books on the Nightstand for pointing this one out - it will be a treasure to Kiddo. He already has Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary, but "Lego Star Wars"?! Wow, that will be simply too cool. Kiddo is a Lego fanatic and he has an unimaginable amount of Star Wars Legos. This the the only type of book I can get him to read voluntarily. I showed the book to him on a recent trip to the bookstore and he could barely speak for the excitement. Needless to say, this will be on Kiddo's Christmas list this year (hey family - hint, hint!). And yes, I DO have to include a big picture of it ...

That's all for me this week. For more Friday Finds hop over to Should Be Reading.

I doubt I'll be posting finds next week as it is the day after Thanksgiving, so happy holidays to all who are celebrating this coming week. I know I'll be enjoying a few days off work - yay!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Wet Nurse's Tale

The Wet Nurse's Tale
by Erica Eisdorfer
272 pages

*** About the Book ***

The setting is the English countryside in the Victorian age, a time when the local manor house provided almost all the employment for the surrounding town and a good wet nurse was in high demand. Our main character, Susan Rose, grew up in a very full household. She was one of 10 children belonging to the family and there was always at least one paying child to whom her mother was a wet nurse. When Susan finds herself with a new baby of her own and minus a husband, she turns to the one thing she can depend on to get her by: her (rather large) breasts. Thus begins her career as a wet nurse, and also the majority of this book.

*** Why I Read It ***

I was contacted by the publisher of this book with the offer of a review copy. The title of the book caught my attention first (how could it not?!) and then I read this: "Featuring a bright and clever, sharp-tongued heroine in the business of nursing babies in Victorian England, this tale is endearing and gripping. Susan Rose is an atypical protagonist with a lovable personality that shines despite her low-class status." Doesn't that sound like fun? I agreed to review the book and received a copy in the mail shortly thereafter.

*** My Thoughts ***

I loved this book. It was a rather simple story, nothing particularly spectacular, but I loved it. Susan's personality is just fabulous. She is smart, tough, independent, and not particularly attractive - a combination that makes her irresistible as a narrator. I really enjoyed reading her story even when it was heartbreaking, or almost unbelievable, or verging on predictable. Regardless, it was fun to read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The concept of a wet nurse is pretty foreign to most modern women so I had never given much thought to it. In addition to finding out why Susan becomes a wet nurse, this book also goes into the stories of the women who sent their children to Susan's mother to nurse. Every other chapter is a quick story giving a different woman's reason for not nursing her own child. These chapters were fascinating as they illuminated the varying circumstances of women in the Victorian age.

I love learning things while reading a great story and this book fit the bill. If you want an entertaining story (and you don't mind reading quite a bit about breasts) then you will enjoy this book.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you ever read a book where the wet nurse was more than just a background character? Was she a main character, or at least an important minor one? If so, please share the title and let me know if it was any good.

Here are some other bloggers' thoughts on this book:
So what do you think? Does this sound like a book you'd want to read? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

As a side note, I'm sure I'm going to get some crazy people visiting this post because of my repeated use of the word breasts.... ~LOL~

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Woodstock Storybook

The Woodstock Storybook
by Linanne G. Sackett
photos by Barry Z. Levine

154 pages

*** About the Book ***

This book is a photographic record of the 3-day Woodstock concert event in August 1969 accompanied by a poem telling the story of the concert. Also included are occasional bits of additional info about the photos or the events.

If you are not familiar with what Woodstock is you can read about it here.

*** Why I Read It ***

This book was offered for review by a publicist. Something about the Woodstock phenomenon fascinates me (plus I love many of the bands that played there) so I really wanted to check it out.

*** My Thoughts ***

This book is really about the photographs so I'm going to start with them. Barry Z. Levine was the official photographer for the documentary "The Woodstock Film" that was being created during the 3-day concert. Because of that, he had access to just about everything that was going on. Some of the photos were amazing: the massive scope of the crowd, the performers on stage, the organizers behind the scenes. Woodstock was a truly unbelievable event and Levine captures some of that on film. However I had to keep reminding myself that 1) camera equipment simply wasn't as good back then and 2) photographing performances in the dark isn't easy. I'd have loved clearer, brighter photos of the performers but unfortunately that just wasn't possible given the circumstances.

Most of the text of the book is one long poem written by Levine's wife, Linnane G. Sackett. I'm not much of a poetry fan, so I don't know that I have an "informed" opinion to share here. I will say that the poem was rather simplistic and lighthearted, which seemed to be the goal.

The only other text in the book was additional info included alongside some of the photos. I'd have loved to see more of this, being the history buff that I am. There really weren't a lot of details provided about the organizers, their goals, the crowd, the performers, etc. and I'd have loved to read more about all that.

If you are interested in a high-level overview of Woodstock then this book fits the bill. You can get a feel for the crowds and the performances and enjoy lots and lots of photos. Don't expect to find many details however; rather, enjoy the book for what it is.

You can learn more about this book at Thank you to Lisa Roe for sending me this book to review.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mom & Son Book Club #12: The Sea of Monsters

Mom & Son Book Club #12:
The Sea of Monsters
Book 2 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians
by Rick Riordan
279 pages

About the book:

This is the 2nd book following the adventures of Percy Jackson, a modern-day boy who finds out he is the son of the sea god Poseidon. In this particular book Percy faces cyclopes, sea monsters, and some not-so-friendly minor goddesses in his quest to save his home.

Kiddo says:

(Mom's questions are in bold, Kiddo's answers follow.)
  1. Did you like this book? Yes, because I met more of Percy's family.
  2. What was your favorite part? The very, very end because of what happened on the last page.
  3. What was your least favorite part? When Percy thought one of his friends died.
  4. The only illustrations were on the cover, so what did you think of the cover? I like it but I didn't know that everything on it stood for something until we talked about it just now.
  5. Would you recommend this book to your friends? Some of them. Some of my friends don't like Greek stuff and some do. [Mom's note: Kiddo has recommended this book to LOTS of his friends - I've heard him talking to them about it when they're playing together outside.]
  6. Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book? The man-eating sheep were funny but scary. I am enjoying the series and I really, really want to get to book 4, The Battle of the Labyrinth, because the cover looks really cool and it looks like Percy is looking into the coffin of the Titan guy.

Mom says:

I really enjoyed reading this to Kiddo over the past month. As I mentioned in my review of Book 1, The Lightning Thief, these books are a bit juvenile for my taste but they are perfect to read along with Kiddo. Percy's adventures in this book draw heavily from THE ODYSSEY; that book was rather fresh in my mind so the references jumped out at me right away. I'm not sure what Kiddo enjoyed more, me reading this book to him or me telling him the original story of Odysseus!

On the whole, this series is a lot of fun and I'm glad that Kiddo and I decided to read it together. We can't WAIT for the movie to come out!

If you want to find out what other kids around the blogosphere have been reading lately, please check out Kids' Picks at 5 Minutes for Mom.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What is the Mom & Son Book Club?

Since I became a mom, I've always dreamed of sharing books with son, Kiddo. Like most parents, I read stories to him when he was small. He was a very wiggly child and would never stay on my lap, preferring to play on the floor while I read. As he grew, I encouraged him to look at books for himself. Unfortunately he wasn't really interested in books and he'd avoid them at all costs.

After I started blogging I began seeing mentions of Mother & Daughter Book Clubs on other blogs and I was envious. Why oh why couldn't I have a daughter to share books with like that?! Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: THIS was the way to get Kiddo interested in reading!

You see, Kiddo loves my blog (unless blogging means I'm not playing with him) and he loves to hear about other bloggers around the world. He does NOT like my book club though, because it takes me away from him when he'd rather I be home. So I gave him the opportunity to make regular appearances on my blog to discuss the books we read together in our own personal book club, our own special time together. He was thrilled!

Kiddo was 6 at our first "meeting" so I did all the reading. Afterward I asked him a series of questions that would become the basis of our book club discussions. I recorded his answers word for word and posted them on my blog. When my readers started responding to his posts he was convinced he was famous.

As Kiddo progressed through first grade I realized that reading doesn't come easy for him nor is it something he likes to do. Our little book club has become even more important because of this. I still do most of the reading, especially since we've moved on to books that are out of his skill range, but I do ask him to read chapter titles or short paragraphs from time to time. My hope is that by reading him books that he finds exciting and interesting, I will encourage him to try harder to read on his own.

I don't know if my plan is working but I treasure the time Kiddo and I spend reading together.

If you'd like to check out all the Mom & Son Book Club post, follow this link.

The winner of The Rage of Achilles is ...

The winner of the contest for THE RAGE OF ACHILLES by Terrence Hawkins is ...

# 4 - Sue from The Mickelson Family!

Congratulations Sue. Please look for an email from me requesting your mailing address.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

Thank you to truebookaddict for giving me the Kreative Blogger Award. The rules say to share 7 of your favorite things, then pass the award on to 7 bloggers ... so here goes!

My Favorite Things
  1. Kiddo (who is doing fabulous since his surgery by the way!)
  2. feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, especially on a cold winter day
  3. reading on the beach and dozing off to the sound of the waves
  4. music I can sing along loudly to in my car
  5. learning new things
  6. losing myself in a book
  7. hearing family stories from my parents and grandparents
And now I'm passing this award on to the first 7 bloggers who comment on this post to show my appreciation for those of you who ALWAYS take the time to comment here at my blog. Thank you!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cleaning House (er, Blog ...) in November

Just letting you know that there will be some random posts throughout this month. I'm doing my annual blog housekeeping and my goal is to get everything updated and organized. I'll be writing posts explaining my Mom & Son Book Club and other semi-regular features and adding links to these explanations in the sidebars. I'll also be updating the buttons to reflect the challenges I'm currently participating in. There will probably be other posts as well.

If things seem a bit odd around here this month, just blame it on Homer ...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sanctuary Cruises

This post is an advertisement of sorts but one that was not solicited (at least not exactly - I'll explain later), nor am I being rewarded in any way for writing it. I just want to share with you about an amazing organization that I truly love and want to support.

As you probably know, I live on the East Coast - just about as far from California as it is possible to get. However I do get a chance to visit there every few years and I love it. It was on one of those trips about 5 years ago that I found Sanctuary Cruises. We went on one trip with them and have been on their email list ever since, hoping that we'll get the chance to go back.

If you live in/near California or have plans to ever visit there, listen up!

Sanctuary Cruises is what whale watching should be. The main focus is on the safety and comfort of the whales and other marine life, but of course the passengers are very important as well. Heidi, Steph, and Noel KNOW THEIR STUFF and they will give you the very best experience it is possible to have. Cruises are limited in capacity so no one is crowded on deck and everyone has a great view. They are family-friendly and marine-life-friendly in just the perfect balance. Kids can even take a turn trying to steer the boat!

Here are a few samples of the things you might see on your cruise, taken from Sanctuary Cruise's website:

When we were there it was Gray whale migrating season. There weren't any big displays or splashes from the whales. Rather it was the most peaceful thing in the world to simply float along next to these majestic creatures as they steadily moved South.

*** Why I'm Telling You This ***

I've been subscribed to the Sanctuary Cruises newsletter for a long time so I've kept up with what's gone on in their business. A few years ago Steph and Heidi sold the company to a new guy so they could move to Northern California and open the Trinity River Adventure Inn (which looks SO COOL!!! I'd love to visit one day! Check it out here: Long story short, the new guy ruined the company and almost ruined their boat as well. So Steph and Heidi came back to take the business over again. BUT!!! They offered an amazing opportunity to long-time captain, Noel: for one year he will run the entire organization and make all the important decisions and at the end of that time, he can use the net profit made over the year to pay Steph and Heidi the down payment on the business.

I would love for Noel to succeed in this. He was on the boat during our cruise all those years ago, assisting Steph and Heidi with everything. Reading about him in the newsletter - how he's a single dad, how he loves being on the water, how much this opportunity means to him - makes me want desperately for this to work out. THAT is why I'm telling you about Sanctuary Cruises: to bring new supporters to this wonderful company and help Noel on his way to success.

*** Learn More ***

You can learn more about Sanctuary Cruises at their website: While there you can subscribe to their newsletter which will keep you up to date on the business itself and the marine life that recent passengers have seen. You can also become a fan on Facebook.

*** Thank You ***

I appreciate all who took the time to read this and everyone who will support Sanctuary Cruises in any way. Yes, this is a book blog, and no, this post isn't about books. But it IS something that is worth sharing and I hope that I'm able to bring some measure of success to Noel through what I've written here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guest Post for Veterans/Remembrance Day

I have a guest post over at Historical Tapestry today in honor of Veterans Day (aka Remembrance Day). My post is about how my grandparents' lives influenced my love of WWII-era historical fiction. I do hope you'll hop over there and check it out ... and please post a comment!

Learn more about why we honor this special day: learn about Veterans Day, learn about Remembrance Day.


Today I am remembering one specific person: Joseph Tofinchio. He was my grandfather's best friend in WWII and was killed on the third day of fighting after D-Day. I found out that his grave in Normandy is being cared for by a local Frenchman, and that makes me very happy.

Here's to you, Joe.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm
by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
783 pages

Book 12 of The Wheel of Time series
by Robert Jordan

Important Notes:
  • The first part of this review is spoiler free. The spoiler section is at the very end and is clearly labeled.
  • For details on Sanderson's book signing that I helped out with, scroll down to just before the spoiler section.

*** About the Book ***

The Wheel of Time (WoT) series revolves around the clash between good and evil, the conflicting forces of prophecy, fate, and free will, and the very human reactions of the characters to the larger forces around them. At it's heart, the series is about around a young man who prophecy says will destroy the world in order to save it; but that prophecy doesn't say he will win in the end, only that he will fight.

*** About the Authors ***

Robert Jordan, often referred to as the JRR Tolkien of our time, published the THE EYE OF THE WORLD in 1990. This was the first installment in the epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time (WoT), and additional books followed every one to two years afterward. In 2006, while working on the 12th book in the series, Jordan was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that required chemotherapy to treat. That treatment was unsuccessful and Jordan passed away in 2007. He left behind thousands upon thousands of pages of notes about the WoT series, included dictated notes on how the series was to end. After his death, his widow (who was also his editor) chose up-and-coming fantasy author and long-time WoT fan Brandon Sanderson to complete the series. Sanderson's plan was to adapt his writing style to fit the WoT, and also to complete the series in three final books.

*** My Thoughts ***

In the time leading up to the release of this book I was both excited and leery. I've been reading this series since the mid-90s ... could Sanderson really complete it in a satisfying way? Would I be able to tell the difference between what Sanderson wrote and what Jordan wrote? And most importantly, would the book be any good?! I'm both relieved and excited to say that the book was completely fantastic - I should not have been worried!

It took me just over a week to read this book, and that is only because I didn't want to rush through it. There were times I'd put it down after only one chapter because I wanted to savor what I was reading and not have it end too soon. The next book is scheduled for release in Nov. 2010 and I don't know how I'm going to wait that long ...

If you are a fan of fantasy I highly recommend this series to you. The books are best read one after the other, so go pick up THE EYE OF THE WORLD and get reading - you won't regret it! If reading this massive series is a bit daunting, the audio books are completely fantastic and a great way to get through the books at a faster pace - I highly recommend those as well.

I passed my copy on to my sister who will then pass it to our dad. He's the one that got us reading this series way back when. Once I get it back it will sit on my shelf until next fall when I will reread it just before the next book comes out - yay!

*** Meeting the Author ***

If you are a regular reader of my blog you probably already saw me gush over the fact that I was chosen to help out at Sanderson's signing event at my local bookstore. I wrote a recap of the event which was posted at It includes lots of pictures and videos, but I'll give you a sample of a few of them here. To view the rest - and hear about my amazing evening - please check out the recap post at Dragonmount.

Harriet McDougal, Brandon Sanderson, and Storm Leaders Mike, Matt, me, and Susan

Here are videos of the event beginning with a reading by Harriet McDougal (Jordan's widow), continuing with Sanderson's Q&A, and concluding with the goofiness in the line waiting to get books signed. The video is set up as a playlist so it will continue running until all the videos are concluded.

That's all for now, other than the spoilers I mentioned earlier. To avoid the spoilers, stop reading at this point.

*** Spoiler-ish Thoughts ***

Fair warning: Do not read this section if you do not want any plot spoilers!!! Proceed at your own risk ... and ONLY if you have read this book already!!!

Consider yourself warned ...
  • I was a bit leery while reading the prequel and the first chapter. I couldn't quite get into the story, and I was afraid that the entire book would feel that way. But chapter two was much better and hooked me for good. The writing seemed to improved steadily from that point on.
  • I've heard complaints about the way Mat's character was written. I agree that he didn't sound quite like himself, but I found him to be hilarious regardless. Yes, his humor should be a bit more subtle, but it really wasn't bad.
  • The Rand/Semirhage/Min thing = woah
  • Egwene in the tower battling the Seanchan - I actually teared up at the sheer awesomeness of it all. You GO girl!
  • I loved seeing Hurin again, but that poor guy got a raw deal.
  • The whole Verin plotline was The.Most.Awesome.Thing.Ever. I've loved her from the beginning and her plot ... well ... all I can say is that that her plotline is AWESOME.
I completely loved this book and would prefer to drop everything and read it again right now. Alas, I'll have to wait for a little while at least ...

*** end spoilers *****


Monday, November 9, 2009

Guest Post: The Rage of Achilles (and US-only giveaway)

As I hope you've already heard, RebeccaReads and I are co-hosting the Really Old Classics Challenge between now and Feb. 2010. One of the "extra credit" activities for this challenge is to read a modern retelling of a really old classic. I enjoy these kinds of books and would love to get more people reading them.

In keeping with that, I've got a guest poster here today who will tell you about his new version of Homer's Really Old Classic, THE ILIAD. I haven't yet read this new book, entitled THE RAGE OF ACHILLES, but it definitely sounds good to me! (Be sure to read until the end for the giveaway info.)

*** About the Book ***

The Rage of Achilles, by Terrence Hawkins

Blood. Guts. Pride. Wrath.

The ancient clash of armies outside the walls of Troy is a cornerstone of Western literature. In The Rage of Achilles, Terence Hawkins brilliantly reimagines that titanic encounter. His stunningly original telling captures the brutality of the battlefield, the glory and the gore, in language that never relents.

Raw and compelling, [this book] tells the story of Achilles, a monstrous hero, by turns vain and selfish, cruel and noble; of Paris, weak and consumed by lust for his stolen bride; of Agamemnon, driven nearly to insanity by the voices of the gods; and of Trojans and Achaeans, warriors and peasants, caught up in the conflict, their families torn apart by a decade-long war. [It] is an exhilarating story that has captured the imaginations of readers for thousands of years restored to immediacy.

Find out more at

*** Author Guest Post ***

The Rage of Achilles is intended as a realistic retelling of Homer’s Iliad. That is, I assume the war was fought at a real time, in a real place, by real men. In doing so I discovered why the original became the cornerstone of the Western literary tradition and has held our imaginations for three thousand years. It’s a hell of a story.

We all remember the outline: Trojan prince Paris steals Helen from Menelaus, King of Sparta; Agamemnon, Menelaus’ older brother and overlord of the Greeks, raises an army and invades Troy. Nine years into the war, Agamemnon humiliates Achilles by taking a girl Achilles himself had taken in a battle with the Trojans. Achilles decides he’ll sit out the rest of the war. But when his lover Patroclus is killed by Hector he gets back into the fight, kills Hector, and mutilates his body. It ends with Achilles, relenting in response to pleas from Trojan King Priam, returning Hector’s body to his father for a decent funeral.

That much we all remember. What we have forgotten----or at least I had forgotten----was much that was rich and strange. But I also found much that was missing. As I wrote the book I was struck by the fact that even though the dispute was between Paris and Menelaus, the war was actually fought between their older brothers, Hector and Agamemnon. That couldn’t have been easy for anyone. Homer made little if any mention of the relationships between the brothers, Trojan and Greek. In my account, I try to imagine the tensions that must have made the air between them boil. Similarly absent from the original is the relationship that started the war in the first place: Paris and Helen. After all, he kidnapped her for a reason. I attempt to show the relationship between them through Helen’s eyes. And I try to imagine as well what it must have been like to be Menelaus, on the beach before Troy, knowing not only that some young bastard is in bed with your wife in there, but knowing as well that every man in your army knows it as well.

I had also forgotten a great deal. There is a lot of very odd behavior in the original. And I exclude from that the exceptionally brutal nature of a war fought with edged weapons, which I describe in some detail-----not because I like it, but because the work’s original audience, living in those times, would have well known what that kind of war, looked, felt, and smelled like. No, by “odd” I mean things like Trojan Queen Hecuba exposing her breasts to her son Hector in an effort to dissuade him from taking on Achilles, or Priam worrying aloud to the whole court that if he’s killed his starving dogs will devour his genitals. Stranger still is Achilles’ execution of a dozen Trojans to be thrown on Patroclus’ pyre----we don’t associate human sacrifice with Homeric Greece.

Those who’ve read my other work are sometimes surprised by the brutality and strangeness of this-----but the really weird stuff is all Homer.

*** The Giveaway ***

The publicist who contacted me about this book has offered a copy to one lucky winner. Here's how to enter:
  • Leave a comment saying what intrigues you about retellings of ancient classics, or letting me know why you signed up for the Really Old Classics challenge (if you have signed up that is!). 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.
  • This contest is open to US residents only, per the publicist.

  • I'll draw the winner on Nov. 16 so be sure to enter before then! The winner will have 24 hours to contact me to claim the prize; if I don't hear from that person I'll select a new winner.
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