Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: Remembering Joe Tofinchio

In honor of Memorial Day here in the US - a day set aside to remember those who have died in war - I want to tell you a bit about Joe Tofinchio.

My Grandpa, Nick Fontana, met Joe Tofinchio when they were in the Army together.  They became great friends, and Grandpa even brought Joe home to meet his family before they shipped out to England.  After training there for what seemed like forever, they found out that they would be part of the assault on German-occupied France (aka D-Day).  On June 6, 1944 they landed on Utah Beach.  Three days into the fight, Grandpa got word that Joe had been killed.  After 35 days of combat, Grandpa was injured in the leg by exploding shrapnel and he was sent to England to recuperated.

Grandpa didn't know much about Joe's family, and it was years before he made it home himself.  By the time he did get home he was engaged to my Grandma, Eileen Hunt, who he'd met in England and he was busy trying to get her over to the US so they could get married.  Years and years went by during which he often thought about Joe.

Around 2004 or so my extended family took a trip to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virgina.  While we were there we helped Grandpa look up Joe's name in their files.  Grandpa was furious when he found out that Joe was listed as a Private - Grandpa KNEW he'd been a Sergeant.  That mistake bothered him tremendously and it came up in conversation many times over the next few years.  In 2008 I decided to do a bit of digging and see what I could find out about Joe.  Through an amazing set of circumstances I eventually got in contact with Joe's surviving sister and brother.  I exchanged letters with them and spoke to them on the phone.  It was unbelievable and fantastic.  I was able to share with them all the memories Grandpa had of Joe (Grandpa is hard of hearing and can't talk on the phone all that well, so I talked to them and passed messages back and forth) and tell them that Joe is still remembered all these years later.  They in turn were able to clarify the story of Joe's move from Sergeant to Private; apparently he asked to be demoted because he didn't feel comfortable leading his men into the battle on D-Day since he felt it would be a death sentence for them.  This news gave Grandpa a huge amount of peace, knowing that the official records hadn't made a mistake.

I was also able to learn that a man in France takes care of Joe's grave in Normandy as part of a project that pairs local families with the graves of American soldiers.  This was yet another thing that gave us all a great sense of peace and comfort, knowing that someone we (and Joe) didn't know cares enough to keep up Joe's grave.

I hope that you will take time today and throughout the year to remember the people like Joe who didn't come home from war.  These men and women left behind families who had to go on without them.  Years go by and fewer and fewer people are left to remember them, especially fallen soldiers from long ago wars.  I never knew Joe Tofinchio but I remember him today.

Kiddo carrying his Cub Scout Pack's flag in our local Memorial Day Parade

If you have a minute I'd love for you to listen to the words of this song. I can't help but think of Joe whenever I hear it, and it always makes me think of all the men and women whose memories are slowly fading away.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

NYC Recap - Friday Night

This was THE.BEST.NIGHT I had in NYC. Barbara @ Reading Group Guides, Candace @ Beth Fish Reads, and Jenn @ Jenn's Bookshelves joined me for dinner at Becco (an Italian place) in the theater district. It was a hot night but the food and wine were fantastic and the company was even better. After dinner we went to the bar at a nearby hotel where we had an amazing view of Times Square from 8 stories up. A lot of wine was consumed by all. Here's to doing it again next year - cheers!

NYC Friday Recap - BBC portion

For getting only 6 hours of sleep I woke up feeling surprisingly chipper Friday morning.  I had breakfast with some bloggers and an author at the BBC dining area then listened to the opening/keynote speech. Then it was time for the panels. I spent the first two hours flitting back and forth between the panel on time management and the one called Ask the Publisher/Publicist. One of the best things I heard in the P/P panel was that reviews of ARCs can go up whenever the book is available for preorder - now THAT is helpful to know.

I ate lunch with Raych from books i done read and her lovely artist sister. This made me very happy as Raych was one of the people I most wanted to meet in person.

After lunch it was time for my panel on the Grey Areas of Blogging. I hope someone took pictures because I didn't.  I'll write up a summary of what we discussed and post it later this week, but for now I'll say that it went smoothly and I hope people got something out of it.

The final panels of the day were on technology and niche blogs. I spent some time in each one but also hung out chatting with a few lovely bloggers.  Then it was time to go. SAY WHAT?!?! I cannot believe the day went by so fast.

- Meg @ Write Meg! & Ana @ Book Smugglers
- Raych @ books i done read, me, & Jenn @ Jenn's Bookshelves

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lost in Shangri-La

by Mitchell Zuckoff
audiobook: 8.5 hours
narrated by the author

About the Book

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War IIThe subtitle of this book is "A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II" and that really say it all.  It's the story of a plane crash in the remote and inaccessible mountains of New Guinea that left only 3 survivors, and the amazingly risky plan to rescue them.  Check out this video for a bit about the story and to see what the survivors (and the local people) looked like.

My Thoughts

I'm a fan of WWII stories, probably because of my grandpa's involvement in the war, so books set in that time and place - especially non-fiction books - always capture my attention.  But I have to admit that I'd never heard of this plane crash or the rescue before this book.  It's always great to discover new stories like this!

The author begins by introducing the people who found themselves on the fateful plane that day. I got to know a bit about their families, what life was like on base, and something of their personalities.  He then goes on to explain the discovery of the hidden valley of Shangri-La and the lives of the native population.  When the plane crash happened I felt so sad for the families of the people who died, families I'd just learned about a short time before.  

In addition to the people on the plane I also learned about the rescue crew, the reporters, and several other important players.  Knowing about their backgrounds and their families added a lot to the story for me.

The book is not all that long and it moves quickly.  It was over before I knew it and although the story comes to a definite conclusion I was left wanting more. Not to say that the book left out anything important, more that I was enjoying the experience of listening and could have continued for many more hours.  

Oh, and the book is narrated by the author - he does a very good job with it.


You'd like this book if you are a fan of WWII stories, tales of survival and/or rescue, of if you are looking for a little known bit of history.  I quite enjoyed it.

NYC Thursday Recap

Today I slept in and it was glorious. I had breakfast around 9:30am and made it to BEA around 10:30am. I wanted to get a book about Hank Williams so that was my one planned stop. After that I worked my way through every.single.row in the convention center. It was fantastic!  I got to see everything that was there and had a chance to talk with lots of new contacts at various publishers. This was the highlight of my time at BEA. I'll tell you about the books when I'm back at home - I finally found some interesting and unusual books that really appealed to me.

At 1pm I met up with a group, of bloggers and hiked a ridiculously long way through the city to have a lovely relaxing lunch. By the time we got back to the convention center it was time for the Book Blogger Convention reception.  It was a mix and mingle event with bloggers, authors, and publishing people.  It was here that I finally got to meet Raych from books i done read - woohoo!

From here I headed to a bar with some people from Tor and other publishers. That was an experience deserving of it's own blog post, which I promise to write once I'm home.

Today involved lots of cab rides, hence the picture of the view from the cab.

My next event was dessert at Serendipity with JKS Communications and some of their authors and bloggers. I had the chance to talk to author Chitoka Webb and found her to be a wonderful lady. I'm hoping to check out her memoir soon. (That's us in the very bad picture below.) My roommate Megan got a frozen hot chocolate - yum.

I was back to the hotel by 10:30pm, in bed by 11:30pm, and reading CROSSED until 12:30am.


NYC Recap - my hotel

I'm staying at the Best Western right near the convention center.  The room is tiny but just fine for me. It is literally a block from the convention center - so convenient!  The picture below is the view from the front of the hotel. The convention center is the big black building at the end of the street. As you walk from the hotel you pass the "stable" where the carriage horses are kept. Across the street is an auto repair shop.

I could not be happier with this hotel and I highly recommended it to anyone who comes to BEA next year.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

NYC Wednesday Recap - part 2

After a few hours I headed back to the hotel to do a book drop and ran in to a very exhausted man who couldn't handle the lines at BEA anymore.  He offered me his ticket for the Rick Riordan signing - going on at that very moment - and I gladly accepted since I'd missed the chance to get my own ticket that morning. I rushed back to BEA and got there in time to get one of the very last copies of his new book without having to wait more than 10 minutes.  Score!

Next I worked my way through the convention center to pick up a few specific books.  I felt like there were fewer review copies available compared to last year, but more importantly there were fewer books that really appealed to me. When I'm back home and able to blog from my computer I'll link up to some of the books that caught my attention last year, just so I can show you what I'm talking about. Still, I had a good time on the show floor checking things out. Oh, and I got to chat with author ML Malcolm - she's such a lovely lady. Check out our picture below.

That evening Megan and I FINALLY found a cab and made it to the Harper Collins reception about 30 minutes late. We had a good time chatting with other bloggers and authors but it was very crowded and rather hot so we weren't disappointed when it was time to go.

Our next stop was for dinner at an Italian place about a block away. There were 11 of us and we had a blast (at least, I did!). I took pictures on my camera rather than with my phone so I'll have to share those with you after I get home. And since I haven't figured out how to link to anyone's blog when I'm writing from my phone,  I'll just wait until I get home to tell you who was there too.

Back at the hotel I stayed up WAY too late reading CROSSED by Ally Condie then finally fell into a Benadyll-induced sleep (I forgot to mention that my allergies are going wacky this week, didn't I?).

More to come soon ...

NYC Wednesday Recap - part 1

It was an early morning for me - up at 6:30am to get author signing tickets - and I STILL missed one for Rick Riordan. Hung around and chatted until 9am when the exhibit hall opened then went directly to the line for Ally Condie's new book CROSSED.  Both Amanda @ Zen Leaf and I want to read this one but I could only get one copy so I'll read it then mail it to her.

For the next few hours I browsed the booths in search of books
... without a ton of success. It seems like there are fewer books I'm really interested in this year. I did pick up a few for Amanda though - Tayari Jones' SILVER SPARROW and Scott Westerfeld's GOLIATH.

More happened on Wednesday but I have to go to lunch now so I'll leave you with a few pictures.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NYC Tuesday Recap

I got New York by 11am and was checked into the hotel and BEA by noon. I hooked up with Florinda from The 3 R's and Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness for lunch at a diner, then Florinda and I went to the Discovery Museum Pompeii Exhibit.

The exhibit was amazing. The way it was set up allowed the plaster casts of the bodies to have maximum impact when you finally got to them.   No pictures allowed inside so I can't show you what I mean, but it was pretty amazing.

After a short break at the hotel I got to meet my roommate, Megan, from Leafing Through Life. We had dinner together at a little dinner down the street then got dressed for the Bookrageous Bash.

Megan and I met up with Reagan from Miss Remmers' Review and figured out how to take the subway to Chinatown. From there we walked to the bar where we met lots of other bloggers and chatted for hours.

I have photos on my camera that I'll share when I get home (I'm blogging via phone here) but here's a quick peek at some I took with my phone.

- the Pompeii Exhibit sign
- 42nd Street
- the subway in Chinatown
- me with Lori from TNBBC

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Good News and Bad News

I'm on my way to NYC! Well okay I'm at the train station getting ready to be on my way, but you get the idea.

Packing took less time and effort than I thought and getting here this morning by 7:25am was a breeze. I kept telling my husband that this all seemed too easy.

Then I checked my email and found out that, due to a cancelled flight, one of my roommates now can't make it to BEA at all - nooooo! So I won't get to spend time with Amanda from Zen Leaf after all. So sad!

Still, its going to be a great week and I'm so excited.  Stay tuned for quick updates and photos over the next few days.  NYC HERE I COME!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Red Thread & The Blessings of the Animals

by Ann Hood 
304 pages

The Red Thread: A NovelThis was my book club's pick a few months back, chosen by a member of my club who is currently waiting for her adopted son to come home to her from South Korea.*  It is the story of Maya (a mother whose baby daughter died due to an accident) and the adoption agency she establishes.  It is also the story of several couples, Maya's clients, and the daughters they hope to adopt from China.  

The book was a very emotional read for just about everyone in the club, though for a variety of different reasons.  One of the best parts for me was the story of each baby girl - how and where she was born, what her birth family was like, and why she was given up for adoption.  I have to admit that many of these stories made me cry.  The other emotion I felt was anger, though this was directly mostly at a few specific adoptive families.  There were definitely some unlikeable people in this book!  It was interesting to discuss with my club which characters we liked the least - very few people agreed with me on who the worst character in the book actually was.

As I read this book I realized that certain scenes would stay with me for a very long time.  It's a quick read but it packs an emotional punch.

* Update: My friend got the call from the adoption agency last week and is in Korea right now.  If all goes as planned, she and her husband will meet their son today!


by Katrina Kittle
428 pages

The Blessings of the Animals: A Novel (P.S.)This was another recent book club book, and one that I voted against reading.  It is just not the kind of book I would ever pick up on my own.  I don't tend to read womens fiction, books about divorce, or books focused on animals - all of which are good descriptions of this book.

Unfortunately this book met my rather low expectations.  It was easy to read but not at all memorable. I didn't identify with any of the characters nor did I find the story all that appealing or all that believable.  I know that a lot of people loved this book ... sad to say, I was not one of them.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Author Appreciating Bloggers on Wed. at BEA

I had the good fortune to meet M.L. Malcolm at BEA last year. She was a wonderful person to chat with and she had a very distinctive style of dress - you'll never see her without a gorgeous hat.  She'll be at BEA again this year so keep your eyes out for her.

Anyway, I received an email from Ms. Malcolm about something she's doing at BEA on Wednesday and I'm excited to share it with all of you, especially since it involves appreciating bloggers!

Here's what she wrote:

I’ll be signing “Heart of Deception,” Wednesday, May 25th, from 3:00 to 3:30 at Table Six in the main autographing area. I’ll also be at the Book Bloggers Convention cocktail reception on Thursday, from 3:00pm – 5:00 pm, in Javits Center, Hall E – Room 1E12, and at the “Speed Dating” event at BBC on Friday.*  As a thank you for all the support I’ve received from readers in the Blogsphere this year, I’d like to treat the first 25 Book Bloggers who come by my signing on Wednesday to a glass of wine at the BBC reception.  All they have to do is come by Table 6 at 3:00 on Wednesday, pick up a signed copy of “Heart of Deception,” give me a card with the name of their blog on it, and I’ll give them a ticket for a free libation when they come to the reception on Thursday.
What a wonderful idea, no?! You'll certainly find me in line to get HEART OF DECEPTION on Wednesday, but don't worry, I'll leave the drink tickets for someone else to claim - maybe you'll be one of the lucky 25!

*I'm sad that I'll miss the author speed dating session on Friday (I think it would be a lot of fun!) but I'll be moderating the "Grey Areas of Blogging" panel at exactly the same time.  

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Doing Our Part

Last year Kiddo got to go to a sleep-away summer camp for the first time.  This may not seem like a big deal to some people but for us it was huge.  A kid with a feeding tube and life-threatening food allergies can hardly spend the night at a friends house, let alone at a summer camp!  But then we learned about Victory Junction - a camp build just for kids with special needs - and we knew we were set.  Victory Junction was founded by the Petty family (of NASCAR fame) to give all children a fantastic summer camp experience in spite of any physical or mental challenges they may face.  Each week during summer the camp features 2-3 diseases/disorders so kids can spend time with others just like themselves.  And with a staff of doctors and nurses available 24/7, the kids are kept safe and healthy (the camp can even to chemotherapy for kids with cancer).  You can check out a video of the camp here: - it's worth watching!

Kiddo had the MOST AMAZING WEEK of his life last year.  He sobbed when we came to pick him up from camp - he absolutely did not want to leave, even though we were going straight to Disney World from there.  And we just got the news that he gets to go back to camp again this summer - woohoo!

Did I mention that camp is completely free for all children?  As long as a child qualifies and gets in (there is a waiting list), there is no cost to the family.

That said, running a camp like this isn't cheap.  If we had to pay for it, camp would cost us $2,500 for a 5-day session.  Because of this my family does anything we can to help raise awareness and money for Victory Junction, and on May 15 we had the chance to do just that.

We drove 90 minutes away to the race track in Dover, Delaware to volunteer with the NASCAR Foundation before the race started.  This year the Foundation is donating all of the profits from the sale of NASCAR Day Pins directly to Victory Junction.

We spent about an hour working the crowd outside the booth, encouraging people to purchase pins to support Victory Junction.  Having Kiddo there to talk to people - the child is NOT shy, that's for sure - and tell them about his time at camp was a great bonus!  I think we sold about 100 pins while we were there, and at $10 each, that's a pretty good donations for camp.  This sale is going on at every race track for the entire NASCAR season so that will add up to quite a hefty sum.

We had a great time helping out and are hoping we get the chance to do it again soon.  The fact that we're doing our part to say thanks to Victory Junction for Kiddo's wonderful experiences meant a great deal to us.

As a thank you for helping out we were given free tickets to the race - which we hadn't planned on attending. Kiddo has never been to a race (Hubby and I have gone several times over the years) so we decided to stay for a little while at least.  KIDDO LOVED IT.  The noise of the engines is simply unbelievable until you hear it for yourself.  It's too bad we couldn't stay, because we were all having a great time.

Victory Junction is a amazing, fantastic, inspiring place.  

If you know any child with special needs, please check out the camp - that child will thank you forever.  Oh, and for those not on the East Coast, they are building a new camp somewhere in the Midwest right now!

And if you ever want a new charity to donate to, please Please PLEASE consider donating to Victory Junction.  Your money will make a huge difference in the lives of special kids just like Kiddo.

Friday, May 20, 2011

BEA: What I Look Like

I post pictures of myself on my blog all the time but just in case you haven't seen me before, here's what I look like so you can find me at BEA next week:

I'm on the right, but my hair is a little big longer now ...

This time I'm on the left, with Jenn from Jenn's Bookshelves - do you think I should bring that outfit to NYC? Thoughts?

I'm on the left, with Monica from Bibliophilic Book Blog ...

Me reading ... you know I'll be doing a lot of that during BEA!

If you see me, please do come up and say hello.  Tell me about your blog, give me your business card, chat with me!  I have a horrible memory, so please don't be offended if I don't recognize your blog (or your face!).   I don't bite and I love to talk, so find me, introduce yourself, and let's talk books. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

BEA on Tuesday?

If you will be at BEA on Tuesday morning and you'd be willing to pick up a book for me, please let me know.  I really REALLY want Dava Sobel's new book - it's called A MORE PERFECT HEAVEN: HOW NICOLAUS COPERNICUS REVOLUTIONIZED THE COSMOS.  Sobel is one of those amazing authors who writes science as if it were art.  I've written about my love for her writing before so I'm really bummed that I'll miss her talk and the chance to meet her.  She'll be at the Midtown Stage from 10:30-11:00am and then at Booth 3358 between 11:30am-12:30pm. If you are willing to pick me up a copy, I'd really appreciated it!!!

I get to NYC late Tuesday morning and I'm planning to visit the Discovery Museum's Pompeii Exhibit in the afternoon.  I'd love to have company, so if you'd like to take a break from books for a while and wander through history, please let me know.

Forbidden Creatures

by Peter Laufer
272 pages

About the Book

Laufer examines the exotic animal trade - legal and illegal - and the types of people who keep "big cats, long snakes, and great apes" as pets.

Why I Read It

I picked this up at BEA last May.  The first thing that attracted me was the cover - that yellow snake is actually a shimmery, reflective color when you see the book in person.  I'm fascinated by people who keep exotic animals so the topic of the book intrigued me as well.  And since BEA is coming up next week I thought I'd better finish reading the books I brought home last year before I bring home another stack. :)

My Thoughts

The subject matter of this book is absolutely fascinating to me.  I'm a huge fan of TV shows like Fatal Attractions and Python Hunters and many of the stories in the book were ones I recognized from those types of shows.  Having a big dog is about all the pet I can handle so the idea of owning a tiger, a chimpanzee, or a 200 lb snake is rather beyond my comprehension.  Still, I do understand the appeal.

Laufer looks at the exotic animal trade from a variety of perspectives in order to understand what it is that drives people to capture, breed, sell, and/or own these very wild creatures.  He also examines the unique position of wild animals bred in captivity:
They're not wild. They're not domesticated.  They're not feral. They're not tamed.  Perhaps we need to create a new classification: captive bred, untamable, and latently wild.  It's awkward but descriptive. (p95)
As I said, I'm very interested in this topic so I found the book quite intriguing.  At the same time, I felt that Laufer's writing was somewhat choppy.  I also got the impression that each chapter was written more as an essay than as a chapter, which resulted in a lot of repetition at the beginning of the book; this did improve as the book progressed though.


If you find the idea of exotic animals living with people to be an "interesting" situation then you will likely enjoy this book.  Read it for the topic not for the writing and you won't be disappointed.

The debate between the exotic pet lovers and those opposed to their relationships with their animals polarizes participants and observers.  Like abortion, capital punishment, and the viability of Sarah Palin as a presidential candidate, there seems to be precious little middle ground or room for compromise among the participants. (p105)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kiddo's Hockey Yearbook Pictures

I just finished putting together photos from Kiddo's first ice hockey travel team season and, lo and behold, there is an option to share the photo book on your blog!  What fun!  So, for those of you who are interested, feel free to check out Kiddo's pics.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Upcoming Event: Gaithersburg Book Festival

For those in the MD/DC/VA area, do you have plans for this Saturday? If not, you should check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival!

Gaithersburg Book Festival Logo

The quick rundown:
-- appearances and signings by more than 60 authors, including dozens of national/New York Times best-sellers; winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Newbery Medal; and many excellent up-and-comers.  
-- workshops for aspiring writers and children
-- a Children’s Village full of fun readings and activities for the little ones
-- a Coffee House, where you’ll have a chance to sit back, relax, and enjoy a day’s worth of poetry, stories, and song
-- a slew of vendors

Get all the details at the Festival website: 

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