Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Real-life hilarity

Possibly the most hilarious real-life thing that has happened in recent memory ...

Background: Kiddo LOVES Michael Jackson. He listens to MJ's music all the time and practices the dance moves too.  He even dresses like him on occasion (note the hat and gloves in the video).

The Setup: While walking on the boardwalk during our beach weekend we heard a radio playing Michael Jackson songs.  It belonged to a street performer who was on break.  He'd left it playing and left his tip bucket sitting next to it.

The Event:

Yes, that is me wheezing, snorting, and cackling like a maniac in the background - I could NOT stop laughing!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dueling Monsters ... back again!

It's that time again ... time to take on a monster!

Last year we took on two true monsters, Dracula and Frankenstein. This year we will battle the "monster inside us" by taking on The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde (hosted at Fizzy Thoughts) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson (hosted here).

Jill and I are trying to be overachievers and read both books this month (are we crazy?!). You can do the same or you can choose just one book to read. 

Posting Schedule
  • 10/1 - we begin with a list of questions to consider as you read - Dorian Gray questions will be at Fizzy Thoughts, Jekyll/Hyde questions will be here
  • 10/15 - we'll each do a check-in post to see how everyone is coming along
  • 10/31 - we'll each post a recap of the read-a-long with links to your reviews

Sign Up Now

If you want to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with me, leave a comment on this post letting me know (yay!).  If you want to be monstrous traitor and read The Picture of Dorian Gray with Jill (NOOOOO!) then hop over to Fizzy Thoughts and sign up with her there.  Oh, and grab one of the buttons below to use on your posts!

Happy - or maybe I should say CREEPY - reading.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Zombies, Unicorns, and In-Real-Life Bloggers

Friday night kicked of the 15th Annual Baltimore Book Festival. Oh how I wish all of my blog readers could have been there with me this weekend!

My plan was to hang out with any bloggers who might be in attendance this first night.  It so happens that my BEA roommate - Monica @ The Bibliophilic Book Blog (that's me and Monica to the right) - was there with her husband to see the Zombies vs. Unicorns panel.

Now here's the thing ... this is not a book I would ever pick up.  In fact, the only author from this panel whose books I've read is Holly Black, and I only read The Spiderwick Chronicles because Kiddo wanted to. So I wasn't particularly excited about this panel and I didn't think I'd really enjoy myself.  BOY WAS I WRONG!

I knew things were a bit odd when someone started handing out zombie-themed poetry to anyone in the audience who was on the side of Team Zombie.  To counteract this, Holly Black began tossing out packets of glitter to anyone siding with Team Unicorn.

To the left you'll see Holly Black in action, tossing a packet of glitter ... which proceeded to smack me right in the chest just as I snapped the picture. HILARIOUS. Holly was laughing when I told her that I'd be tweeting that picture!

The panel began with introductions of the opposing sides.  Team Zombie consisted of Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth), Scott Westerfeld (The Uglies trilogy, Leviathan,) and Justine Larbalestier (Liar).

Battling for Team Unicorn were Kathleen Duey (The Unicorn's Secret), Diana Peterfreund (Rampant), and Holly Black (author of more things than I can mention).

The next twenty minutes were filled with a back-and-forth debate about the relative merits of zombies vs. unicorns, with each panelist having three minutes to share their points.  Here's a picture of Scott Westerfeld totally slamming unicorns by reading an excerpt from some horribly lame book about unicorns in estrus. I kid you not.  He finished his segment by reading from World War Z - quite the contrast to be sure!

Diana Peterfreund countered with the point that unicorns aren't always cute and cuddly, citing her own book as proof (it has killer unicorns of all things!).  Holly Black admitted that unicorns are often symbols of hope and joy and closed down the debate with a rousing cry of "What's wrong with hope?! What's wrong with joy?!" ... to the immense pleasure of the Team Unicorn fans in the audience, who responded with loud clapping and whooping.

I had such a good time at this panel!  Never would I have expected to laugh so hard or cheer so loudly.  If you have a chance to see any of these authors promoting this book you really ought to check them out - it will definitely be worth your time.

I couldn't stick around to see which team won the debate but later on Twitter I asked Monica who won.  Here's her response:

Monica Schroeder bibliophilicboo @Age30Books stupid unicorn :(

YAY! I'm so excited that Team Unicorn won! I'm not even really a unicorn fan (other than Peter S. Beagle's classic, The Last Unicorn) but I thought that team was fantastic during the panel. Oh, and if you ARE particularly attached to either Team Unicorn or Team Zombie, my lovely blogger buddy Shannon @ Chick Loves Lit has t-shirts for sale on her site in support of both teams!

Anyway, I had to leave early because I was having dinner with two other bloggers: Nicole @ Linus's Blanket and Allie @ Hist-FicChick.  They came all the way from New York City for the Festival (and to do some sightseeing).  We had dinner in Baltimore's Inner Harbor at The Rusty Scupper.  The view of the harbor at night was gorgeous and we all enjoyed the food and wine.

Allie, Nicole, and me after dinner

The following day (Saturday) was the National Book Festival in DC.  I couldn't go to that Festival but I did head into the city to meet a group of bloggers for dinner that evening.  A huge thank you to Swapna @ S. Krishna's Books for organizing this!

 above, starting at the left: Celeste @ The Baltimore Bibliophile, Cecelia @ Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia, Candace @ Beth Fish Reads, Deborah @ Books, Movies, and Chinese Food, and me

above, starting at the left: Sondra @ Sonderbooks, Swapna @ S. Krishna's Books, Julie @ Booking Mama, Meg @ Write Meg! and her boyfriend Spencer

I had such a wonderful time hanging out with bloggers on Friday and Saturday.  Seriously - if you ever have a chance to attend a blogger get-together, do everything in your power to be there! Book bloggers ROCK and you will definitely want to rock along with them.

By the way, my husband is truly a saint - he volunteered to keep Kiddo busy all weekend and shuttle him to his hockey game so that I could attend all these events.  THANK YOU HONEY!

This brings us to Sunday, the date of my two panels at the Baltimore Book Festival. But that will be an entirely new post, hopefully coming soon ...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Naked In Eden

by Robin Easton
264 pages

*** About the Book ***

Robin has always felt disconnected from the world around her. Mildly autistic but not knowing it, she wanders through her life not able to settle down, not able to “take root” anywhere. When she meets Ian, an Australian man visiting the United States, the two have an immediate connection. They eventually get married and Robin moves with Ian back to Australia. On a whim they decide to camp out in the rainforest for an undetermined amount of time, completely on their own.

Once in the rainforest Robin comes face-to-face with her fears of the unknown (and of all the deadly critters!). As she learns to conquer her fears she comes face-to-face with nature and she begins to see the beauty in the life and death around her. Eventually she begins to strip away the trappings of society and truly know her own self.

*** Why I Read It ***

I read the description of this book at TLC Book Tour’s blog and immediately signed up for it. I love books about people connecting with nature, plus Robin’s story reminded me of The Horse Boy (a book I truly loved).

*** My Thoughts ***

Oh, do I have mixed feelings about this book!

I truly loved the very first page and I was excited to get into the story. When I was a child my family went camping at least once every summer, always alongside the same river, miles from the nearest town. There were usually 10 or more of us, including my cousins’ families, so we had quite a little encampment. We’d dig our own “bathroom”, bathe and wash dishes in the river, and enjoy the peace and quiet of nature. All those memories were revived when I read the first page of this book.

The early part of the book deals with Robin’s life before her rainforest experience. Although I didn’t identify with Robin’s disconnectedness from her own life I certainly understood what she was saying. I could see how she was in desperate need of a big change. When Ian comes along he provides not only the push to make the change she needs but also something to connect with.

Robin’s early experiences in the rainforest were where I identified with her the most. I too am afraid of just about every creeping, crawling critter out there. Seeing how she conquered her fears was inspiring. I kept thinking, “I could do that!” Then, of course, she’d do something else and I’d think, “No WAY could I ever do that!” *smile*

As the book progressed Robin began to communicate more and more with the living rainforest around her. I understand that feeling of connectedness (though it’s not something I experience often), of feeling like you are only a very small part of a very large and living world. I too have experienced aliveness, freedom, openness while alone in the forest.  Robin's desire to be naked and free in the rainforest was completely familiar to me.

It was when the trees began to talk back to her – in actual sentences – that she started to lose me.
Not only did the trees talk in sentences but the content and structure of those sentences was rather odd in my opinion. The sentence structure I could partially forgive; it seems to be a common issue throughout the book, as Robin tries to convey the meaning or intent of a situation by forcing it into conversational phrases. But the content … that was a bit beyond me. The trees told her she was autistic, and used that word? Again, a bit beyond the realm of my belief.

And although I understand that crying can be a very cleansing and refreshing activity, it did get a bit tedious to read that Robin was crying yet again - it seemed to happen every few pages.

I was disappointed that the book ended where it did. The note about the author on the TLC page discussed Robin’s musical abilities after she came out of the rainforest but this isn’t mentioned in the book at all. Also, in the acknowledgments at the start of the book Robin mentions her husband Stephan. Stephan? What the heck happened to Ian? I’d really have liked to know more about those two things.

I wanted to love this book and I did truly love many parts of it. If Robin had merely shared about her connection with the rainforest without directly quoting her conversations with the trees I’d have enjoyed it much, much more.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Is this the kind of book that appeals to you? Would you have picked it up, like I did, based on the description? If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?

Friday, September 24, 2010

This Weekend ...

Cool things to do at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend:
  • Literary Walking tours: Take this guided 90-minute walking tour with the Maryland Humanities Council past Mount Vernon’s elegant mansions and majestic cultural institutions and follow in the footsteps of the many famous authors, poets, and editors who sojourned in Baltimore’s cultural hub.
  • Meet authors you love, and have the chance to really chat with them
  • Visit A Likely Story Bookstore and meet some fabulous childrens book authors.
  • Debate the merits of Zombies versus Unicorns: Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier lead their teams of authors in a debate inspired by their new short story collection Zombies versus Unicorns.
  • Hang out with other bloggers at The Wonderful World of Book Blogging panel
  • Snack on funnel cakes and soft serve ice cream and watch cooking demos from famous chefs
  • Bring your little kiddos to be a part of the storybook parade where they can meet their favorite costumed characters and march around the festival to fun music on Saturday at noon.
  • Chat with blogger-friendly authors like Sarah Pekkanen, author of The Opposite of Me (hi Sarah!).
Come on Sunday and - bonus! - you get to meet me!  Hope to see many of you there!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Outcasts United

by Warren St. John
336 pages

*** About the Book ***
Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference
The full title of this book is Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference.

Around the world people are being pushed out of their homes by war and famine. Millions of people live in refugee camps and rely on the thin hope that they will be given the chance to emigrate to a safer place. The southern American town of Clarkston, Georgia is meant to be one of those safer places; hundreds of refugees from over 50 countries have been resettled there over the past ten years. The social dynamics of this 1.1 square mile town have changed in drastic ways and the original residents do not always welcome those changes.

Despite being different races and nationalities and speaking many different languages, there is one thing the refugee children in Clarkston have in common: soccer. When Jordanian immigrant Luma Mufleh sees the boys playing in a vacant lot one day, she impulsively volunteers to make them into a team.

This book tells the story of an immigrant woman and an oddly matched group of refugee boys and the way that together they are making a new life for themselves.

To get a better idea of this book, check out this video of the author:

*** Why I Read It ***

I first heard about this book at 5 Minutes for Books last summer and I put it on my TBR list then. When it was chosen as the 2010 One Maryland One Book I knew I’d read it this year. A few months back Alyce @ At Home With Books volunteered to send me her review copy – yay! I finally read it this month because the author is speaking at the Baltimore Book Festival (on 9/26) and I hope to see him there.

*** My Thoughts ***

This is exactly the combination of history and “story” that I most enjoy – I loved it!

The author intertwines a variety of stories to form this book. He looks at the town of Clarkston itself and how it has developed and changed over the years. He examines the refugee aid organizations, exposing their weaknesses while showing the determination and heart of many employees. The stories of individual refugee families are recounted and they exemplify the plight of all the refugees. Townspeople who have adapted to the refugee population and those who have not both get their say. These stories, like threads, come together to form the complex pattern that is Clarkston today.

The story focuses on the soccer team created by Luma Mufleh. Her efforts to make the boys into a coherent team despite their tremendous differences meet with varying degrees of success, just as the town’s efforts to adapt to the refugee population do. Luma’s battle with the mayor for a home field for her team mirrors the refugees’ battle to create a new home in Clarkston.

St. John’s background as a journalist is apparent in his writing style; each chapter reads almost like a separate article. For the most part this is a successful format, but there were times when it felt a bit disjointed. I was reading an ARC* though, so there is a chance that additional edits may have smoothed things out.

One thing that would have made this book better is the addition of phonetic spellings of the African and Middle Eastern names, either in the text or in an appendix at the back of the book. I hate not knowing how a name is supposed to be pronounced. One example that comes to mind is the name Kanue. Is is pronounced like the word canoe? Or KAN-oo? Or kan-OO-eh? I have no idea, and this kind of thing is distracting to me. It didn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the book though; it's more of a pet peeve of mine.

I truly enjoyed this book and I didn’t want to stop reading it. I was so excited to get to the end and see that there was an epilogue! I couldn’t wait to find out what was currently happening in Clarkston, and with the boys on the team, and with their coach. I excitedly turned the page and .... nothing.  The epilogue hadn't been written when the ARC was printed! NOOOOooooooo!  So now I'm on the hunt for a final edition of the book so I can learn what happened to everyone in the end.

UPDATE (10/25/10): I finally had a chance to read the epilogue! Check out my brief thoughts here.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Were you aware that a town in Georgia has basically become "refugee central"?  What are your thoughts on this?  How do you think your town would adapt to a sudden influx of refugees from various places?

Does your town/city/state do a "one book" program?  What books have they chosen recently?

* For those unfamiliar with this term, ARC means Advanced Readers Copy. It is a version of the book sent to reviewers before final edits are made.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


by Thor Heyerdahl
304 pages
first published in 1950

*** About the Book ***

Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by RaftWhile living in Polynesia during the 1930s to do zoological research, Thor Heyerdahl came up with a theory.  He suggested that the reason art and architecture is so similar in Polynesia and Peru is that Polynesian legends are actually based in fact, and that the original inhabitants of the island arrived there via boat from Peru.  This theory was laughed at by scientists around the world.  The outbreak of World War II put a break on his plans but just two years after the war ended Thor went into action.  To prove that his theory was plausible he planned to build a raft according to ancient Peruvian specifications and sail it 4,000 miles from South America to the Polynesian island.  And he did it.  This book is the story of that adventure.

*** Why I Read It ***

Way back in June 2008 I read a review of this book on Guys Lit Wire that began with this quote from the book: "Once in a while you find yourself in an odd situation. You get into it by degrees and in the most natural way but, when you are right in the midst of it, you are suddenly astonished and ask yourself how in the world it all came about. If, for example, you put to sea on a wooden raft with a parrot and five companions, it is inevitable that sooner or later you will wake up one morning out at sea, perhaps a little better rested than ordinary, and begin to think about it." That definitely got my attention!  The review goes on to describe the author and his companions as "the heroic nerd[s], men so driven by the urge to know, to see and understand, they make bold, mad leaps into uncharted territory. The creed of the heroic nerd is, No experiment is so insanely dangerous that it can’t be made slightly more insanely dangerous with a side experiment."  If that doesn't intrigue you, there is something seriously wrong.  

I could go on and on but I'd rather you just go over to Guys Lit Wire and read the review - it's a good one!

*** My Thoughts ***

Have you ever read something that so intrigued your imagination that you couldn't get it out of your head?  Something that you just HAD to talk to other people about, HAD to find out more about?  That is what this book was for me.

Thor's writing is simple, to-the-point, and still beautiful when he wants it to be.  I was right there with him when his theories were rejected by the scientific community.  I traveled alongside him as he gathered the materials and began building the raft.  Then his time on the ocean ... oh his time on the ocean! I loved reading about the months he and his companions spent on board the raft simply enjoying life. (Not that I'd EVER want to do it myself - his writing isn't THAT seductive!)

While part of me went along for the adventure another part of me simply couldn't get past the (unintentional?) cruelty to some of the ocean's creatures.  For the most part the men on the raft had the greatest respect for nature but they were victims of their own lack of knowledge and their ingrained fears.  One example of this that really broke my heart was their encounter with a whale shark.  This animal was completley unknown to them and they assumed it was a deadly predator.  After it bumped the raft several times in what they took to be an aggressive manner, they stabbed it with a harpoon.  If they only knew what we know today, that this is possibly the most gentle large fish in the world!

Yet even with all that I still loved reading this book.  It is a true adventure story, and practically a modern-day one at that. It shows what people can do when they really want to - as both Thor and the ancient people he emulated proved..  I'm still a bit in shock that this story was unknown to me before now.

One thing really bothered me about this book though - my copy was too small! The photo to the left shows my hand holding my copy of the book.  The book is approximately the length of my hand and about as wide as the length of my thumb.  This made it very hard to hold the book open wide enough to read it. 

*** More Info (stuff you'll find fascinating!)***

When I finished reading the book I knew I wanted to see the documentary that the men made while on board the raft. While searching my library's catalog for a copy of it I came across a copy of Kon-Tiki Man: An Illustrated Biography of Thor Heyerdahl and immediately checked it out.  I spent the next few days browsing through the pages and found out that crossing the Pacific was only the first of Thor's adventures.  His next quest was to prove that the ancient Egyptians could have sailed their papyrus boats to the east coast of South America, thereby explaining the cultural and archeological links between Egypt, Peru, and Polynesia.  And guess what? He build a papyrus boat and sailed it across the Atlantic - successfully.  AND THEN he built a reed boat and sailed it from the Middle East and over to Africa to prove that the cultures of the Fertile Crescent could have spread that way.  This guy is freakin' amazing! Seriously, how did I not know about him before now?!

Kon TikiI also watched the documentary, also called Kon Tiki, made from the film footage taken during the original raft journey across the Pacific. There wasn't really anything new in there but it was still fascinating to see the guys I'd been reading about.

*** Your Thoughts ***

First off, are you familiar with Thor's adventures?  (If so, have I been living under a rock?!) Second, have you ever been so captivated by a book that you had go find out more, like I did with this book? I want to hear all about it!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kiddo's Picks

Kiddo has been reading on his own much more over the past few months.  Today he's going to tell you about 4 books he's recently finished.

To recap, here are the four books he recommends:
  • What Planet Are You On? Planet Earth, by Dan Gilpin - brought home from BEA - Kiddo recommends this to kids who like science and who are on a grade 3 reading level
  • Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin - from the library - Kiddo says this was an easy, fun read
  • Big Nate, by Lincoln Pierce - brought home from BEA - Kiddo says it is funny and fun to read
  • Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich, by Adam Rex - I bought this years ago and Kiddo didn't like it, but now he loves it - after I told him about the Dueling Monsters Read-a-long I'm co-hosting in October he decided this would be a fun book for kids to read if they wanted to do their own Dueling Monsters event [FYI: the sign-up post for this year's Dueling Monsters Read-a-long will post here on 9/29]
Find out what other kids are reading - and share what the young people in YOUR life are reading - each month in Kids Picks, hosted by 5 Minutes For Books.
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