Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Lost City of Z

My reviews this week will be REALLY short as I work furiously to get caught up on everything I’ve read and listened to recently …

written by David Grann
audiobook: 10 hours
narrated by Mark Deakins

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon [Unabridged 8-CD Set] (AUDIO CD/AUDIO BOOK)This is a fascinating look at the world's obsession with lost cities and amazing treasures in the Amazon.  Tracing the exploits of one particular explorer, the author himself treks through the jungle in search of any trace of the man who disappeared over 80 years before.

I very much enjoyed listening to this book though I've realized that I don't have the same attachment to jungle expeditions as I do to polar expeditions.  The horrible things that can happen to your body in the jungle totally creep me out, unlike the horrible things that happen to your body in extreme cold.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mom & Son Book Club #16: The Battle of the Labyrinth

My reviews this week will be REALLY short as I work furiously to get caught up on everything I’ve read and listened to recently …

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Book 4
by Rick Riordan
384 pages

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4)Kiddo and I have been working on this book for months, reading just a few chapters each week. We both really enjoyed the continuing saga of Percy Jackson and his friends. I love how Riordan includes the Greek myths that I grew up loving and yet presents them in an entirely new way. But it is the fact that Kiddo is so into this series that makes me enjoy it as much as I do.

For me, the best part about this book was the character development. Up until now most of the characters have been pretty static but in this installment several of them change in rather significant ways. My favorite character is Nico, a boy that I didn’t like at all in the previous books. He began as a seemingly minor character but he’s now a major part of the story and I love that.

Normally I'd have Kiddo chime in here with his impressions for our Mom & Son Book Club but he's away at camp right now so you'll have to take my word for it that he really like this book.

Kiddo is really excited to get to the last book in the series but I think we’re going to take a break from Percy while so we can read some other books while we’re on vacation …


PS. As a side note, my mood really affects my reading ability. I read the last few chapters of this book to Kiddo late one night while I was dealing with my normal monthly mood swings (oh how I love PMS … not). We were at a part where there was a battle and several characters do some heroic things. I had to keep stopping my reading to take deep breaths so that I wouldn’t cry. I covered it up by coughing quite often. :) Yeah, I can see me trying to explain to Kiddo why a heroic battle scene is making Mama cry … ~LOL~

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Basque History of the World, by Mark Kurlansky

My reviews this week will be REALLY short as I work furiously to get caught up on everything I’ve read and listened to recently …

by Mark Kurlansky
audiobook: 12 hours
narrated by George Guidall

The Basque: History of the WorldI listened to this because … 1) Kurlansky’s other books, SALT and COD, are both on my TBR list and I have some interested in the Basque part of the world, and 2) it was immediately available to download from my library and my previous audiobook had just ended.

This book is a political, military and cultural history of the Basque people of Spain and France. I now know more than I ever expected to about their history and worldview.

Guidall is an excellent narrator (I’ve enjoyed his work in the past) and it was easy to keep listening to him even when the actual content of the book dragged a bit.

I can’t say that I truly enjoyed this book (honestly, it was rather boring in parts) but I am glad I listened to it as I did learn a lot.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Audiobook Week: Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains, by Charles Eastman

by Charles Eastman
first published in 1918
audiobook: 2.5 hours
narrated by Lorenzo Baca

*** About the Book ***

This is an excerpt from Eastman’s longer book by the same title. It contains profiles of five famous Native Americans who Eastman either knew first hand or had second-hand knowledge of. The profiles were written during their lifetime or shortly after their deaths. Profiles include Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Spotted Tail, and Red Cloud.

Each of the profiles in this audiobook was about 30 minutes in length and began with basic details of the person's early life and stories that illuminated his character.  Eastman then showed the way that each man led his people, be it in battle, by the council fires, or by inspiring them.

*** Why I Listened To It ***

A while back I watched the TV version of the book BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE. At the end of the film I realized that it was based on a true story. The main character, Charles Eastman, was a Santee Sioux who attended a mission school at the request of his father. He eventually graduated from college with a medical degree. His work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs brought him face to face with the degradation of his people and he began to write about his experiences and to lobby for Indian Rights.

Once I learned all this I immediately began searching out Eastman’s books; I had to see how his experiences affected his writing. I have several of his – and his wife’s – books on my shelf waiting to be read, but I always seem to get to my audiobooks before I get to my paper books.

*** My Thoughts ***

I found it fascinating to hear Eastman's first-hand impressions of these great Native American leaders.  It is obvious that he was writing in part to counteract the then-commonly-held opinion that Indians were violent, unpredictable, and not to be trusted.  And in fact his writing matches very closely the revisionist history that is popular today. 

Listening to this excerpt made me want to get a copy of the complete book so I could learn about even more great Native American leaders of this era.  And I'm also excited to read the Eastman books that are patiently waiting on my shelf.

*** About the Narrator ***

Here is a case where the narrator almost ruined the book for me. Baca’s narration was choppy, halting, and almost painful to listen to. It sounded to me like he maybe spoke English as a second language, so I did a bit of research to see if that was true. I found out that Baca is of Isleta Pueblo/Mescalero Apache descent, that he is a poet and musician, and that he has narrated many other books. That didn’t answer my language question but it did make it clear to me that perhaps I’m in the minority in not liking his narration … Still, this was a fascinating book despite the odd narration style.

This book also included some traditional Native American music and some of Baca's original music.  I loved the traditional music and felt that it added a great deal to the audiobook but Baca's music was odd and really pulled me out of the story.

*** Your Thoughts ***

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most of you have not read anything by Charles Eastman - am I right? But had you at least heard of him before?  Are you interested in reading/listening to any of his books? 

Here's a question for you: Have you ever read a contemporary first-hand account of a historical figure written by someone whose opinion went against commonly held beliefs?  If so, I'd love to hear about it!

Note: This review is part of Audiobook Week. Today I’m reviewing a Non-Fiction book; other genres will be featured throughout the week.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Audiobook Week: Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson

by Maureen Johnson
audiobook: 9 hours
narrated by Jennie Stith

*** About the Book ***
Suite Scarlett
Scarlett and her family live in an old art deco style hotel in New York City. The hotel isn’t exactly thriving and this means that the family has to run the hotel all on their own. When a new guest checks in, Scarlett is assigned to be her “assistant” for the entire summer. The guest, Mrs. Amberson, is rather eccentric and Scarlett soon gets pulled into a variety of schemes and adventures that soon involve her siblings, her parents, and even the boy she has a crush on.

*** Why I Listened To It ***

This audiobook was in the swag bag I received at the Book Blogger Convention in New York in May. As an audiobook fan I was THRILLED to see this, even though Young Adult (YA) is not a genre I generally read. The author, Maureen Johnson, was the keynote speaker at the Convention and she was hilarious. After hearing her speak I knew I had to check out this audiobook as soon as possible.

*** My Thoughts ***

This book is completely outside my normal reading/listening comfort zone. That said, it was a lot of fun to listen to. The characters were interesting and unique and the plot was zany and fun. It wasn’t exactly believable (Is it supposed to be? Probably not, but I like my stories more on the realistic side …) but it was very entertaining. I listened to it at various times of the day and always wanted to get back to the story to see what was going to happen next.

This book was a great break from my normal reading routine. It was light and entertaining and didn’t require much effort on my part to enjoy it. I probably won’t read/listen to Maureen’s other books (not due to any fault with the books but simply because they are not “my thing”) but I’m glad that I listened to this one.

*** About the Narrator ***

Jennie Stith did a fantastic job with this book. She conveyed the voice of a young girl perfectly and did pretty well with boys voices too.

I do have to say that I think Maureen Johnson could narrate her own books though; she was so much fun to listen to at BBC and she has a very expressive voice.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Since it was part of the goody bag at the Book Blogger Convention I expect that there will be reviews of this audiobook popping up pretty regularly. Here are a few I’ve seen so far:

Have you read any of Maureen’s books? What do you like about them? Have you listened to any of them on audio? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

*** Giveaway Details ***

I have two copies of this audiobook to give away to anyone with a US or Canadian mailing address. Please follow the instructions below to enter.

NOTE: This audiobook uses MP3 files. That means that it likely won’t play in your car or on your older CD players. It will play on your computer though, and you can also transfer the files to your iPod or other digital device.

To enter:
  • Leave a comment answering at least one of the following: Have you read any of Maureen’s books? What do you like about them? Have you listened to any of them on audio?
  • If your email address is not easily accessible through your profile or blog please include it in your comment.
  • I’ll use to choose the winners on July 8. Winners will be contacted by email and will have 48 hours to reply with their mailing address. If I don’t hear from some of the winners in that time period I will draw new winners.

Note: This review is part of Audiobook Week. Today I’m reviewing a Young Adult book; other genres will be featured throughout the week.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Audiobook Week: a short meme

We've hit the midpoint of audiobook week - yay!

To take part in today's short meme, fill in the answers on your blog add your post to the Mr. Linky at Devourer of Books.

Audiobook are you currently reading/you read most recently: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, by Kenneth Grahame, and also THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, by Tim O'Brien

Impressions?: WILLOWS is ok - I'm listening to it because I never read it as a child and wanted to know what it is all about.  I can't say anything about THINGS yet because I've only just started listening.

How long you’ve been listening to audiobooks: For as long as I can remember, probably since I was a child.

First audiobook you ever listened to: I have no idea ... I've been listening for longer than I can remember!

Favorite audiobook title: I can't pick just one ... I love the audio of the Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwell (I reviewed one of them today).  THE HORSE BOY by Rupert Isaacson was very powerful to experience as an audiobook, and I definitely got more out of it than I would had I read it.  I could go on and on ...

Favorite narrator: I don't have a favorite but there are a few who I seem to listen to more than any others, George Guidall being the most common. Lisette Lecat did a wonderful job with the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency.  And I love the work that Michael Kramer and Kate Redding do on Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series; with 14 books at approximately 30 hours each, I've spend a long, LONG time with their voices.

How do you choose what to listen to versus read? I go with whatever is available at my library, unless there is a strong reason to choose the print version over the audio version.  Also, there is one particular narrator who I dislike so much that I won't listen to any books he works on, so that influences my decision as well.

Audiobook Week: The Burning Land, by Bernard Cornwell

Book 5 of the The Saxon Stories
written by Bernard Cornwell
audiobook: 11.25 hours
narrated by: Stephen Perring

*** About the Book ***
The Burning Land: A Novel (Saxon Tales)

This book is part of the continuing saga of Uhtred, a 9th century Saxon warrior who was raised by the Danes (aka Vikings). He has sworn allegiance to the Saxon ruler, Alfred, King of Wessex, despite his hatred of the King and the King’s Christianity.

In this 5th entry in the series, Uhtred and the King have a severe disagreement that leads Uhtred to break his oath and flee to the Danes. There he rejoins his foster brother, a Danish jarl named Ragnar, and helps to plan the Danish invasion of Wessex. But when Alfred’s daughter sends Uhtred word that she is in trouble, he is forced to abandon his Danish family yet again and ride to her aid, thereby ensnarling himself in another of Alfred’s wars …

*** Why I Read It ***

A few years ago I randomly picked up the first audiobook in this series at the library and completely fell in love with Cornwell’s characters and their stories. I’ve written before about his skill in writing battle scenes and the fact that Uhtred is something of an unhero (not exactly, but he’s not exactly a hero either). I was surprised to find that there was a new book in the series as I thought it had ended, but it was a good surprise!

As as aside, my review of book 3 was one of the first on my blog and it is ridiculously short.  My thoughts on book 4 are quite a bit more thorough.

*** The Real History ***

Although Uhtred himself is a creation of the author, Alfred and many of the other characters are based on actual historical figures. The major battles in this book are all taken directly from history and are part of the story that explains how England became a single, united kingdom. The author provides a historical note at the end of the book that clarifies which characters he’s taken liberties with and where you can find more information on them. He also translates some of the ancient city names to modern ones so the reader/listener can associate them with today’s English cities. I just LOVE it when authors give me info like this!

*** My Thoughts ***

I’m already of fan of this series so I had high expectations for this latest installment. I was NOT disappointed. Cornwell carries on Uhtred’s tale as he has in the past; he makes it appear that Uhtred will finally get what he wants (to regain control of his family’s land), and then, like a child putting a stick through a spinning bicycle wheel, Cornwell throws something in Uhtred’s path that completely derails all his plans. The story moves quickly, the battles are vivid, the characters are compelling (though not all are fully developed) and it is a pleasure to listen to.

I really enjoy learning about English history through Cornwell’s books. Through this series I’ve gained a clearer understanding of the Saxon-Danish conflict during this 9th century, and also the way that Alfred’s kingship let to the development of an English-speaking nation.

My only complaint is that I waited too long between books so I’ve forgotten some of the character details. This doesn’t make the book harder to understand – each book could be a stand-alone novel – but I like recalling all the events that led each character to be who he or she is.

*** About the Narrator ***

The first four books in the series were narrated by Jaime Glover.  He did an amazing job creating voices for the characters and he has wonderful skills with accents.  After hearing his name pronunciations and particular voices for the entirety of the series it was difficult to get used to a new narrator.

Stephen Perring did a great job narrating this book, and I had I not gotten used to Glover I'd likely have had no complaints.  However, Perring's Norse accent - which is a huge part of the book - was simply not as good as Glover's version and this did bother me at times.  In all other areas Perring did a fantastic job; I'd definitely listen to his work again.

*** Your Thoughts ***

When I think of the term “historical fiction” my mind usually goes straight to the Tudor era, or to books with a romantic storyline. I feel like this genre is considered to be "girly".  I don't know why I think that, especially since that is not the type of historical fiction I usually read, but that is the simple truth. So books like this one are excellent reminders for me that all historical fiction isn't "girly".  When you hear "historical fiction" what do you automatically think of?  Have you read/listened to this series?  What historical fiction audiobooks would you highly recommend?   

Note: This review is part of Audiobook Week. Today I’m reviewing a Historical Fiction book; other genres will be featured throughout the week.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Audiobook Week: Try (a short) one right now!

I recently stumbled upon a new website that I really enjoy - Audiobook Community.  To celebrate Audiobook Month they are putting out (free) short stories and excerpts of longer books each week.  I've already downloaded a few of them and today I listened to a moving essay called Always Go To The Funeral (you can listen at that link) that was just 5 minutes long.

If you are unsure about audiobooks, hop on over to Audiobook Community and try a short sample.  You never know, you might really like it! 

Available downloads include Winnie the Pooh, a short stories by Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, a Sherlock Holmes adventure, an excerpt of Frank McCourt's memoir ANGELA'S ASHES read by the author, the first chapter of BLOODY JACK by L.A. Mayer, and many others.  Most are between 15-30 minutes in length - just right for a quick break.

Audiobook Week: Persuasion, by Jane Austen

written by Jane Austen
originally published in 1817
audiobook: 8 hours
narrated by Nadia May

*** About the Book ***

This classic novel tells the story of Anne Eliot who, as a young woman, was persuaded to end her engagement to Captain Wentworth as it would have been an unsuitable match. Eight years later Anne’s father has fallen on hard times and the family is living in reduced circumstances. Captain Wentworth is brought back into Anne’s circle of acquaintance in an unforeseen manner and Anne realizes her feeling for him are as strong as ever. But his continuing resentment of Anne is evident and he is actively looking for a wife elsewhere, while Anne is being courted by her father’s heir.

Can anything change Captain Wentworth’s feelings? Will Anne be given the opportunity to follow her own heart?

*** Why I Listened To It ***

I always say that I love Jane Austen, but in reality I’ve read only a few of her books – my plan is to remedy that. My new phone can play audiobooks from my library (using the Overdrive Media Console) and, since this book was immediately available, I downloaded it and started listening.

*** My Thoughts ***

I went into this book not sure what to expect. A Literary Odyssey recently raved about it, but when I talked to Laura’s Review Book Shelf last week she said she couldn’t stand it. I knew the story from having seen a TV version of it and was inclined to like the book, but still I was uncertain.

I’m glad to say that I really did enjoy this book. There are some genuinely unlikeable people in here (more so than in Pride and Prejudice, where - in my opinion - the characters are more humorous than anything else) and I felt bad for Anne much of the time. But I enjoyed the story very much and found it quite believable.

Note for Laura (spoilers included!): In our conversation you said you felt that Capt. Wentworth’s behavior toward Anne was horrid and that his change of heart was due mainly to jealousy. I looked for that in the story but I couldn’t see it. I feel like his behavior made complete sense (not that he wasn’t rude at times) and I didn’t have any issues with him. I guess this is one of those books where we’ll just have to disagree! :)

*** About the Narrator ***

I believe this is the first time I’ve heard Nadia May’s narration. I thought she did a wonderful job! I was never confused as to who was speaking even though she didn’t use a wide range of voices. I also enjoyed her accent.

*** Your Thoughts ***

I’ve heard mixed reviews of this book – which side do you fall on? Do you like this book better or worse than Austen’s others?

Have you listened to any Austen via audiobook? Is there a narrator you prefer or one you dislike when it comes to Austen books?

Note: This review is part of Audiobook Week. Today I’m reviewing a Classic book; other genres will be featured throughout the week.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Audiobook Week: Intro, Link, and Schedule

Intro ...

If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time then you know that I’m a huge fan of audio books. They make up about half of the books I consume each month. I’ve written about why I love them and how I choose them in the past, and soon I’ll get to spread the love again because …

Hosted by Devourer of Books, a fellow audiobook junkie

The details are available here and there is still time to participate at any level you like.  You can share your thoughts on the daily blogging topics, post audiobook reviews, or simply comment on audiobook posts - whatever floats your boat!

Link ... 

A few months back I wrote a post about why I love audio books and when I listen to them.  Since those are the blogging topics for Monday and Thursday I'm just going to direct you to that post - I do hope you'll check it out and answer the questions I posed at the end.

Schedule ...

Each day this week I’ll be posting an audiobook review from a different genre. Here’s what you can expect to see:
  • Tuesday: CLASSIC: Persuasion, by Jane Austen
  • Wednesday: HISTORICAL FICTION: The Burning Land, by Bernard Cornwell
  • Thursday: YOUNG ADULT: Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson – with a contest!
  • Friday: NON-FICTION: Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains, by Charles Eastman
I hope you enjoy this concentrated dose of audiobook love. I hope it will encourage you to try an audiobook or a genre that is new to you!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Club TV? Vote for it now!

Sounds exciting, right?! A show about the hottest new books, with author interviews, celebrity reader profiles, and more ... I'd watch a show like that, wouldn't you?

Here's your chance to make it happen!

Dana Barrett of is auditioning for her own show on Oprah's new network. Go watch her audition video then VOTE VOTE VOTE!

You can vote more than one time and you get get your friends to vote as well. Link to it on Facebook, tweet it on Twitter, share it in your Google Reader, email it to your friends and family, do whatever you can to help make Dana's dream a reality.  Then when she makes it big we can all watch her show and know that we helped make it happen!

Thank you in advance for supporting Dana - I knew I could count on all of you.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Finds: Kiddo's BEA Books

Last week I shared with you the books I picked up at BEA (Book Expo America) that I was really excited about.  This week I'm sharing the books that got Kiddo really excited when I brought them home.  Kiddo and I already reviewed one of those books (THE FOX IN THE DARK review is here) but there are lots more we haven't started yet ...

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne - GRAPHIC NOVEL - I was so impressed with the graphic novels by Campfire Publishers.  The illustrations are gorgeous but the best part is that they kept the original language from the book intact. You can check out a few sample pages at this link.  This story is one of Kiddo's very favorites and he's already started trying to read it.  The language is difficult but he likes the book so much that he's really working hard to read it himself.

Murder Afloat, by Jane Leslie Conly - (No cover image available since this doesn't come out until October)
I picked up this book because it is set in Baltimore (we live near there) and takes place partly on the Chesapeake Bay (which Kiddo loves). Here's the summary: Benjamin Franklin Orville is a boy without a care in the world. He has his own pony, he's caught the eye of the charming girl next door. He wants for nothing, until the day his mother sends him to market to get a chicken for dinner. Suddenly Benjy is caught up in a scuffle, kidnapped with a group of immigrants and forced to work aboard the Ella Dawn--one of the most ill-reputed oystering vessels in Baltimore. He tries to plead his case, but his captors are unimpressed by Benjamin's way with language. Soon the boy knows only hard work and hunger, a little bit of German, and a whole lot about injustice. It's more of an education than he ever got at home. And in between his growling stomach and his aching muscles, he also experiences the joys of the sea--a  gentle rhythm that rocks him to sleep at night and freedom he never felt between the fancy walls of his home. Will Benjamin ever see his home again? And if he does, will he know what to do there?

Planet Earth: What Planet Are You?, by Dan Gilpin

From Basher, the illustrator who showed the periodic table in a whole new light and gave us his fresh spin on physics, bioligy, astronomy and rocks and minerals, comes Planet Earth, a book that sheds light on this rock we live on, from its mountains and ocean depths to the storms that whirl around it.

Kiddo is fascinated with weather and science in general and he really got a kick out of the illustrations when he glanced through this book.  I'm thinking it will be good for our upcoming cross-country plane ride ...

Babylon Series - COMIC BOOK- I really enjoyed the time I spent at the Kingstone Media booth during BEA.  They have a variety of faith-based comics/graphic novel that I think Kiddo would enjoy, plus they were the ones who published SUDAN, which I picked up for myself.

This series tells the Biblical story of Daniel found in the Old Testament.  Kiddo knows this story very well already but it is always fun to try out a new format.

Bats at the Beach
Bats at the Beach, by Brian Lies - Kiddo and I both love this book (we talked about it here) so I was really excited to get a copy signed by the author.  I also got a baseball cap with the title of the new book on it: Bats at the Ballgame.

Bats at the Ballgame

Those are my BEA finds for Kiddo ... did I add to any of YOUR wish lists this week?!

For more Friday Finds please visit Should Be Reading.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

BBAW Nomination

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming soon! If you don’t know about BBAW you can check out the details here.  In short, it is a week to celebrate all the great things about being a book blogger and to connect with other bloggers around the world. It is a book-blogger-love-fest and a lot of fun to be a part of.

This year, to simply the awards process and make it fairer to everyone, bloggers must nominate themselves if they’d like to be considered for an award. Nominating your own blog doesn’t mean that you think you have the best blog out there; it simply means that you’d like the judges to take a look at your best posts and give them consideration.

The nomination process includes writing a post (like this one) listing your five posts from the past year that best represent the particular category. I’m nominating myself in two categories …

Best Eclectic Book Blog: This blog doesn’t specialize in any one book genre. It is known for consistently excellent reviews, recommendations, analyses, and other content in a variety of genres

The five posts I think best represent the “eclecticness” of my blog are:

Best Written Book Blog: This blog is consistently well-written, clear, and engaging, no matter what the subject.

In my opinion the following are my five best-written posts from this year:

There are tons of other fabulous blogs that fit into these categories but to me it's like the lottery: if you don't play, you can't win!

Even if you aren't interested in the awards, there are tons of great things to participate in during BBAW including blogger interviews, worldwide giveaways, suggested blogging topics, guest posts, and much, MUCH more. I hope all my book blogging readers will be participating this year!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest Review: Just Don't Call Me Ma'am

Please welcome today's guest reviewer, my friend and book club buddy, Melissa.  She is originally from Tennessee but lives in Maryland for now.  When I received a copy of this particular book I knew I had to pass it along to her to read - it seemed to be the perfect fit! I hope you enjoy her review!

by Anna Mitchael
248 pages

Just Don't Call Me Ma'am: How I Ditched the South, Forgot My Manners, and Managed to Survive My Twenties with (Most of) My Dignity Still IntactAs I plan the first of many of my summer adventures into New York City, this Southern girl feels the push and pull between my roots and the fabulousness of living close to everything! So Anna Mitchael's journey of self-discovery really hit home with me. The entire title speaks for itself - Just Don't Call Me Ma'am: How I Ditched the South, Forgot My Manners, and Managed to Survive My Twenties with (Most of) My Dignity Still Intact.

Her story begins in 2nd person, which was brilliant. She walked you through the awful break-up discussion we've all had. The memoir is then organized by what Mitchael will answer to. For example, each chapter is entitled, "Call Me a Foodie" or "Call Me a Partner in Cohabitation Crime." Each chapter meanders (and if I'm being honest, wanders a bit) through the mistakes of her twenties and what in her Southern roots caused these problems. Unlike a lot of chick lit, Mitchael doesn't whine about her current pickle; instead, her pithy writing speaks for itself. Exhibit A: "Other people had the kinds of grandmas who baked cookies with you, and grandpas who sat you in their laps  and told inspirational stories about the Great Depression. My grandpa encouraged my success with a plastic Minnie Mouse poolstick" (19). From this one sentence you can feel her mixed emotions about her childhood without a paragraph full of "Why didn't my family blah, blah, blah?"

Exhibit B: She discusses the universal loathing of being a bridesmaid. But in lieu of whining, she says, "Because really, is there anything better than spending a Saturday night in the middle of someone else's family drama? Raising a glass to the happy couple, the stoned younger brother of the bride, the overbearing mother of the groom - it's like being a fly on the wall of someone else's Thanksgiving Day pain" (51).

While the topics may be common chick lit territory, her spin is unique and funny!
In the end, Mitchael does come to a similar "happy to be myself" kind of resolution that most chick lit follows to the letter, but she is a warm, funny writer. And everyone can relate to the simultaneous love/hate relationship with wherever you're from. It's a fun summer read!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kids Picks: The Fox in the Dark (a BEA book)

written by Alison Green
illustrated by Deborah Allwright
31 pages

This is one of the only children's books I picked up at BEA in New York earlier this month.  It caught my attention because the cover art is so adorable.  I was lucky enough to have it signed by the author too!

The story: Rabbit is chased through the dark by a fox but he makes it safely home.  Shortly afterward, several of his friends knock on his door after being chased themselves.  Suddenly the fox is knocking at the door ... but he isn't exactly what they expected.

Kiddo and I took turns with this, each of us reading one page out loud. Here are his thoughts:
  1. Did you like this book?  Yes. I liked the book because it was fun.
  2. What was your favorite part?  When the fox came in.
  3. What was your least favorite part?  Didn't have one.
  4. What did you think of the illustrations?  I thought they were cute.
  5. Would you recommend this book to your friends?  To kids younger than me, like Johnny [that's Kiddo's almost-4-year-old cousin]
  6. Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book?   I thought it was really cute and funny.
Kiddo and I made a video to discuss this book a bit more and Kiddo also wanted to read a page to you.  Enjoy! [Note: This was recorded before the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last week.]

Kids' Picks is a monthly event hosted by 5 Minutes for Books.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil

by Yann Martel
224 pages

*** About the Book ***

Beatrice and Virgil: A NovelHenry's first book was a success and he's certain that his current project, a new way of looking at the Holocaust, will be as well.  He's spent years working on this manuscript and he is shocked when it is rejected by his editors.  After this, his desire to write dries up and he begins to lead a new life.  Eventually he meets an old taxidermist (also named Henry) who is working on a play about two animals.  The writer in Henry begins to come to life again as he assists the taxidermist with the play, but Henry suspects that there might be more going on than is readily apparent ...

*** Why I Read It ***

I expected to hate LIFE OF PI when I read it yet I ended up really enjoying it, so I was excited to hear that Yann Martel had a new book coming out.  I received a copy from the publisher a while back but I held off reading it until now because I wanted to have it fresh in my mind so I could call in to That's How I Blog! on June 15 for the book discussion.

*** My Thoughts ***

I can't decide what to think about this book.  I think bullet points will help me order my thoughts ...
  • It was very easy to get into even though it didn't seem like much was happening in the story.
  • There were certain sentences and phrases that I thought were beautifully written.
  • I loved getting to know Beatrice the donkey and Virgil the monkey.  I didn't expect to appreciate them as characters but I definitely did. 
  • If you asked for my opinion when I was 3/4 of the way through I'd have said it was a strangely fascinating book.
  • If you ask me what I thought of the last 1/4 of the book, I'd say that I'm somewhat confused and really don't know what I think about it.
  • I love the concept of the taxidermist's play - it is unusual, creative, and potentially effective in getting his message across.
  • I definitely did not like it as much as LIFE OF PI.
I'm really looking forward to discussing this book on That's How I Blog (June 15 at 9pm EST).  I feel like I need to bounce ideas off other readers and hear their interpretations before I can decide whether I like it or not.

*** Your Thoughts ***

People are really split on this book ...
Have you read any books that left you conflicted or confused at the end? What do you do to solidify your opinions about a book like that? And also, will you be calling in to That's How I Blog to discuss this?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Finds: BEA/BBC Books I'm Excited About

I didn’t mention all the books I picked up at BEA in my recap posts - and I’m not going to do that here either - but I do want to spotlight a few that are particularly exciting or special to me.  Be sure to tune in next Friday when I highlight the BEA books that got Kiddo really excited!

Zora and Me, by Victoria Bond and TR Simon 

Zora and Me"Whether she’s telling the truth or stretching it, Zora Neale Hurston is a riveting storyteller. Her latest creation is a shape-shifting gator man who lurks in the marshes, waiting to steal human souls. But when boastful Sonny Wrapped loses a wrestling match with an elusive alligator named Ghost — and a man is found murdered by the railroad tracks soon after — young Zora’s tales of a mythical evil creature take on an ominous and far more complicated complexion, jeopardizing the peace and security of an entire town and forcing three children to come to terms with the dual-edged power of pretending. Zora’s best friend, Carrie, narrates this coming-of-age story set in the Eden-like town of Eatonville, Florida, where justice isn’t merely an exercise in retribution, but a testimony to the power of community, love, and pride. A fictionalization of the early years of a literary giant, this astonishing novel is the first project ever to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not authored by Hurston herself."

I love Zora Neale Hurston so I was pretty excited to see this book.

Heart of Lies, by M.L. Malcolm 

Heart of Lies: A Novel"Leo Hoffman was born with a gift for languages. When his dreams for the future are destroyed by World War I, the dashing young Hungarian attempts to use his rare talent to rebuild his life, only to find himself inadvertently embroiled in an international counterfeiting scheme. Suddenly Leo is wanted across the European continent for a host of crimes, including murder. Left with no options, he must escape to Shanghai with his lover, carrying with him a stolen treasure that could be his salvation . . . or his death warrant. But the gangsters who control the decadent Asian city have no intention of letting him outrun his past. And when the Japanese invade, one wrong move could cost Leo Hoffman everything he holds dear. An epic tale of intrigue, passion, and adventure, Heart of Lies heralds the arrival of a remarkable writer."

I met Ms. Malcolm at BEA and she really got me excited about this book.

Forbidden Creatures: Inside the World of Animal Smuggling and Exotic Pets, by Peter Laufer

Forbidden Creatures: Inside the World of Animal Smuggling and Exotic Pets"On the heels of his acclaimed The Dangerous World of Butterflies, investigative journalist Peter Laufer is back to chronicle his worldwide quest to penetrate the underworld of international animal smuggling. In Forbidden Creatures, Laufer exposes the network of hunters, traders, breeders, and customers who constitute this nefarious business—which, estimated at $10 to $20 billion annually, competes with illegal drug and weapons trafficking in the money it earns criminals. Laufer asks: What is being smuggled, from where and why? What is being done to stop the illegal trading and irresponsible breeding? Taking readers to exotic and often lawless locales, Laufer introduces brazen and dangerous traders and wealthy customers whose greed and mindless self-interest perpetuate what is now a crisis of survival for a growing number of wild species. Woven throughout with riveting stories from law enforcement officials and federal prosecutors, Forbidden Creatures is a compelling, first-person narrative written in Laufer’s hallmark conversational, entertaining style."

I'm a non-fiction fan and this one looked fascinating.

The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, by Joyce Magnin

The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow"No longer able or willing to leave her home, where she is cared for by her long-suffering sister Griselda, Agnes has committed her life to the one thing she can do besides eat. Agnes Sparrow prays and when Agnes prays things happen, including major miracles of the cancer, ulcer-healing variety along with various minor miracles not the least of which is the recovery of lost objects and a prize-winning pumpkin.  The rural residents of Brights Pond are so enamored with Agnes they plan to have a sign erected on the interstate that reads, Welcome to Brights Pond, Home of Agnes Sparrow. This is something Agnes doesn t want and sends Griselda to fight city hall. Griselda s petitions are shot down and the sign plans press forward until a stranger comes to town looking for his miracle from Agnes. The truth of Agnes s odd motivation comes out when the town reels after the murder of a beloved community member. How could Agnes allow such evil in their midst? Didn t she know? Well, the prayers of Agnes Sparrow have more to do with Agnes than God. Agnes has been praying to atone for a sin committed when she was a child. After some tense days, the townsfolk, Griselda, and Agnes decide they all need to find their way back to the true source of the miracles God."

This was in the BBC swag bag. I'd never had picked it up on my own but it looks like it might be a lot of fun!

You'll Be Sor-ree!, by Sid Phillips

You'll Be Sor-ree!: A Guadalcanal Marine Remembers The Pacific War"Sid Phillips knew he was a long way from his home in Mobile, AL, when he plunged into the jungles of Guadalcanal in August 1942. A mortarman with H-Company (the same company as Helmet For My Pillow author Robert Leckie), 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division, Sid was only a 17-year-old kid when he entered combat. Some two years later, when he returned home, the island fighting on Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester had turned Sid into an "Old Timer" by Marine standards, and more; he came home a man. These are his memoirs, the humble and candid tales that Sid collected during a Pacific odyssey spanning half the globe, from the grueling boot camp at Parris Island to the coconut groves of Guadalcanal to the romantic respite of Australia. In this true story, Sid recalls his encounters with icons like Chesty Puller, Gen Vandergrift, Eleanor Roosevelt, and his boyhood friend, Eugene Sledge. He remembers a sense of helplessness as Japanese bombers and battleships rained steel on him, the brutality of the tropical elements, and the haunting notion of being expendable. This is the story of how Sid stood shoulder to shoulder with his Marine brothers to discover the inner strength and deep faith necessary to survive the dark, early days of World War II in the Pacific."

WWII is a huge part of my family background and I generally enjoy reading about it.

Crossing Antartica, by Will Steger and Jon Bowermaster 

Crossing Antarctica "The story of the first transverse of Antarctica by dogsled and ski, a 4000-mile, seven-month (July 1989-March 1990) journey by an expedition of six men from six different countries, is told in expanded journal form by co-leader Steger. His team survived whiteouts, crevasses, 100F windchill, erratic supplies, a pregnant sled dog, a monotonous diet, a hostile National Science Foundation, frostbite and runny noses, and were rewarded by magnificent scenery and a sense of personal and scientific accomplishment. This above-average polar account keeps the reader moving along with the hardy six."

I'm a huge fan of polar exploration books so this was a must-have for me.

Sudan, by Ninie Hammon and Art Ayris

"Sudan 2000. The largest nation in Africa has been turned into an immense killing field, with over two million lives destroyed in a brutal and ongoing civil war. Human rights journalist Ron Wolfson travels to the heart of Africa to investigate reports of modern-day slavery. When a raid by Bedayene guerrillas results in the capture of a young girl, her father, a simple village farmer, mounts an against-all-odds attempt to redeem his daughter. While Ron’s brother, a U.S. congressman, seeks to force international political pressure, Ron becomes an eyewitness to the horrors of slavery. His life will never be the same as he joins the father in his desperate search for the young girl—before it’s too late. Based on a true story."

I was actually picking up books for Kiddo at this booth and the rep suggested taking this one for myself. Again, not one I might have picked up on my own but it looks good.

Those are the books that I'm super excited about from BEA.  Did any catch your eye?

For more Friday Finds please visit Should Be Reading.
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