Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What I've Been Up To ...

It's been quiet around here lately but that's because summer is in full swing and I'm doing everything BUT reading.  To see what crazy adventures I got myself up to last week, check out my guest post at Wordsmithonia today.  I can just about guarantee that my week was more ... um ... dangerous? ... than yours!

Monday, June 20, 2011

BEA Book Spotlight: Gluten-Free, Anyone?

Over the next few weeks I will feature books that I received at Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention.  In most cases I have not read the book yet, but simply want to share with you my first impressions from the conventions and let you know why the book attracted my attention.

Kiddo is, among other dietary restrictions, on a gluten-free diet.  Have you ever tried to find gluten AND dairy free cookies that actually taste good?  It's quite difficult (and expensive, but that's another story). So I was pretty excited when I saw this book:

Gluten Free Cookies, by Luane Kohnke
(You can check out the first few pages on

Not only are the cookies in this book delicious LOOKING but I'm pretty certain most of them will be delicious TASTING as well, at least for Kiddo (who is used to gluten free foods).  Why?  Because Ms. Kohnke did her homework.  She tested her cookies using four different types of gluten free flour, and her taste-tasters were both gluten and non-gluten eaters.  She explains all this in the introduction to the book and I have to say that I am impressed - I can't wait to try out some of these recipes!

Kiddo and I rarely (as in maybe once a year) make cookies together.  That's because there aren't that many cookie recipes that we can make from scratch that actually taste good.  I'm really excited about some of the recipes in this book though - each recipe has an accompanying picture and they all look delicious!  I'll have to do some substitutions (non-dairy milk and butter are the biggest issues) so I know that our cookies won't be exactly the same but I trust that they will be good anyway!

If you know of anyone who is living gluten free, consider this book as a gift to them.  Good gluten free desserts are hard to find!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fire On Dark Water

by Wendy K. Perriman
326 pages

Fire on Dark Water Book Cover

About the Book

Lola was a young child when she was stolen from her gypsy family in England and sold into prostitution.  Through a combination of spirit and luck (both good and bad) she eventually finds herself indentured to a wealthy family in the southern United States.  Learning quickly that she can rely on no-one but herself, Lola finds a way to strike out on her own and she heads for Nassau.  It is there that she meets (and falls for) the dread pirate Blackbeard ...

Why I Read It

This book arrived in the mail as an unsolicited review copy.  Generally I donate all unsolicited books to charity but this one caught my attention for some reason.  I guess I was in the mood for a pirate adventure!

My Thoughts

The cover is very eye-catching, don't you think?  I'm not usually one to notice a book cover but this one is pretty striking.  A friend saw me reading it and was enthralled by the cover so apparently I'm not alone in this.  What do you think of it?

Okay, on to the actual review ...  Do you remember when I wrote about the Bloody Jack books?  I couldn't help but compare those books with this one since they have a lot of the same subject matter. Whereas Jacky seems to catch all the breaks (at least, all the ones having to do with her "virtue"), Lola's story is much more realistic. Bad things happen to Lola again and again, but - sad, but true - they are the kinds of things you would expect to happen to a young, pretty girl without family in this time and place. My heart broke for the situations she found herself in (some of them were truly horrible). Still, Lola is a great character and I was rooting for her throughout the book.

Another thing I really liked about the book was the fictional set-up in the first few pages.  Apparently Daniel Defoe (author of ROBINSON CRUSOE) saw Lola and heard that she was Blackbeard's last wife. He became fascinated with writing her story, and the book is the extensive interview he conducted with Lola. I don't always like it when real people are pulled into fictional stories but in this case it worked really well for me.

I'm not at all knowledgeable about piratical history but there is a great deal of it in this book.  It has the ring of truth so I suspect that the author did a great deal of research. However, not having the background knowledge myself, I can't say whether the historical details are correct or not.  They do make for a fascinating story though, and if the ARE true then there was some craziness going in in the Caribbean in those days!

There were parts of the story, especially near the end, that seemed rushed or that didn't fit so well with the rest of the book, but in spite of that I still enjoyed this one a great deal.

Oh, one more thing! There's a line on the cover that reads, "Life isn't kind ... Neither is she." I really don't like this line.  Having read the book, I don't feel like it fits Lola at all. She was hard, yes, but I wouldn't say she was unkind.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Language of the Sea

by James MacManus
295 pages

About the Book

Leo Kemp, professor of marine mammal studies, is fascinated by seal communication; it is his life's work.  His dedication to the subject has led to problems in his marriage and even (in a roundabout way) to the death of his 10-year-old son.

A freak wave results in Leo being swept overboard during a research trip and he finds himself in the midst of a seal pod.  Through some strange miracle he is able to swim and survive alongside the seals.  Now he has a choice: will he return to his family on shore or spend the rest of his life in the sea?

Why I Read It

Seals have been my favorite animals since childhood but they don't appear in many stories so I was excited when I received a pitch for this book.  The pitch also mentioned the Celtic legend of selkies (seals who come on land, shed their skins, and become human for a time). That was enough to get me hooked.

My Thoughts

I've got mixed feelings about this book so I'm finding it hard to write a review.  Let me start by telling you what I liked, then I'll share what didn't exactly work for me.

The characters in this book are fantastic.  The main characters (other than Leo) are fleshed out in enough detail to make them interesting and real.  Leo's wife was especially well-written - I feel like I know her.  And Leo's friend Sandy was endearing to me because he is literally addicted to buying second-hand books.  The secondary characters weren't as developed (of course) but they also weren't stereotypical; each was unique and I could picture them as real people.

I loved the idea of this story but the execution fell flat at times.  I was hoping for an explanation of how Leo was able to survive with the seals but it wasn't given.  That really wasn't a big deal though - I think it was meant to be unexplainable, and I'm okay with that.  What WAS a big deal was Leo's reason for wanting to live with the seals in the first place. I felt like I didn't know Leo enough before the boating accident and therefore I had difficulty understanding his actions afterward. For example, he had a dream since childhood of disappearing into the sea but that doesn't come out until much later in the book, and by the time it does come out it seems like an afterthought to explain the way the plot developed.

I really enjoyed the epilogue. The story progressed in a way that made complete sense based on what had come before, and I liked the ending a great deal.

As I said, I'm torn on this book.  I can't recommend it whole-heartedly but I can't say not to read it either.  I'd love to know what other people thought of it, so if you've read this one please do let me know!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hobbit to Hobbit

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien
audiobook: 11.1 hours
narrated by Robert Inglis

A few weeks ago Sheila @ Book  Journey mentioned that she was starting the audio of JRR Tolkien's classic, The Hobbit.  As luck would have it I had just checked out that same audiobook from my library so I suggested that we review it together.  And thanks to Sheila we even have a cool header with our pictures in it for this review!

About The Book

I assume that just about everyone has at least HEARD of this book before but here's a quick description anyway:  Bilbo Baggins is a slightly adventurous hobbit living a quiet life when Gandalf the wizard arrives on his doorstep and convinces him to help a group of dwarfs steal their treasure back from a dragon.

My History With This Book

When I was in the first grade I saw my dad with this book and asked him to read a little of it to me.  He didn't think I'd like it but he agreed to read aloud for a while.  When he finished I asked him if I could borrow the book and read it myself, and he said yes (I'm pretty sure he didn't think I'd actually read it).  I sped through it in a very short time, and then moved on to the rest of the Lord of the Rings books.  From there I picked up books by David Eddings, and my addiction to reading and fantasy was born.

My Quick Thoughts 

I absolutely loved listening to this book.  I remembered a lot more of it than I expected to but there were also things I did not remember at all.  One thing I found interesting was the way the author spoke directly to the reader throughout the book. I'd forgotten that, but it definitely made the book seem more like the children's story it was written to be. In fact, it reminded me of being told stories as a child.

One thing that was odd to me was the way the elves were portrayed.  They came across as extremely light-hearted and almost silly at times.  My vision of the elves has, of course, been influenced by the movie productions of the Lord of the Rings books; in the movies the elves are very serious, but I honestly cannot remember how they were portrayed in the actual books.  Does their description in The Hobbit match their description in the rest of the series or is it different?  It's got me in the mood to listen to the Fellowship of the Ring next just to figure it out!

Sheila's Questions For Me

1. What did you think of the narration? (Can you think of another narrator who would have done a good job with this read?)  I'm picky about my narrators but I can say that Robert Inglis did a very good job.  He was able to convey a lot of different characters but he didn't do all sorts of vocal tricks to do it, and that's a good thing.  The only other narrator I can think of off the top of my head who would do a good job with this is George Guidall - he's got an excellent voice and is very talented. If you haven't listened to any books he's narrated, definitely look for one!

2. Favorite part to listen to? I always enjoy the parts with Gollum, but to be honest I enjoyed most of the book. I'd be listening and suddenly remember parts from the cartoon movie or from when I read the book as a child, so that made the entire thinng a lot of fun for me. (If you want to listen to Tolkien himself reading the Gollum section you can do that here:

3. I know you listened to this with your son, did he have a favorite part?  I originally got this book so that Kiddo could listen to it but then he found the beginning boring so I continued without him.  As the story progressed he got into it more.  He really liked the parts with Gollum (he remembers Gollum from the movies) and was very excited to get to the parts with Smaug the dragon.

4. Having read the book, what are the benefits to finding a book you once read and enjoyed and listening to it on audio? What different perspectives does this bring to the surface?  For me, listening to this book was a trip down memory lane.  I LOVED the cartoon as a child (I've included an excerpt below) and as I listened I realized that much of the narration of the cartoon was taken directly from the book. That made me very happy!  But more than that, I love to revisit my favorite books on audio. Having read them once, I'm familiar with the story and the characters, so listening to the audio is like visiting an old friend.  Many of us enjoyed being read to as children - for me audiobooks give me the chance to experience that joy again.  And just like when I was a child and wanted to hear the same stories again and again, I love to listen to my favorite books again and again.

You can check out Sheila's answers to my questions at her blog - hop over there and check it out!

The Cartoon

This movie came out in 1977 and I watched it again and again as a child. I still have a copy of it on VHS ... unfortunately I no longer have a VHS player. *sniff* Here's a clip from the beginning of the movie in case you haven't seen it before.  The description of Bilbo's house is a direct quote from the beginning of the book. And the song that I always remember starts at the 8:10 mark.

Thank you so much to Sheila for reviewing with me! Please hop on over to her blog to see what she thought of this book.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Audiobook Midweek Meme

Current/most recent audiobook: Last night I finished WHEN THE KILLING'S DONE, by TC Boyle.

AudiobookWeek picture
Impressions: This is a book I need to review ASAP.  I loved the last book that I listened to by this author - THE TORTILLA CURTAIN (mini review here) - and was very excited about this one, but I ended up being disappointed by some of the choices the author made.  I'll explain more when I review it, hopefully within the week.

Current favorite audiobook: This is a hard one!

One narrator who always makes you choose audio over print: I love George Guidall for historical fiction, Katherine Kellgren is fantastic for accents, David Case for British books, and I could go on an on ...

Genre you most often choose to listen to: I really like non-fiction in audio but I can't say that I listen to more of that than anything else.  The genres of the last few books I listened to were: fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, historical fiction, and paranormal.

If given the choice, you will always choose audio when: I love the narrator, or when I know I'll be doing lots of chores or driving and won't have a lot of time to read.

If given the choice, you will always choose print when: I always check who the narrator is before deciding to listen to a book, and if the narrator is one I don't like I'll always get the book in print.

For more on Audiobook Week, click here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Something Missing

by Matthew Dicks
audiobook: 9 hours
narrated by Jefferson Mays

About the Book
Something Missing: A Novel
Martin has made quite an interesting career for himself, stealing from the same "clients" for over ten years.  Through meticulous research he has learned about these couples in detail - their likes and dislike, their routines, their schedules - and he feels like he knows them even though he's never seen them face to face.  He usually steals small things (half-empty bottles of salad dressing, vegetables on the verge of going bad, drain cleaner from the back of the closet, etc.), but occasionally he'll take something bigger if he knows it won't be missed.  Through the years he's come to care about his clients, so when he suspects that one of them is in grave danger he knows he has to do something to protect her.

Why I Read It

This is not the kind of book I'd have picked up on my own, but I heard the author speak on a podcast and was totally captivated by him.  He's hilarious!  He talked about how he feels that more people should be writing because so many people have stories to tell.  At one event an 80-something year old woman came up to him and told him that one day she was going to write a book because she had a story inside of her.  His response? That she'd better hurry up and get started! LOL  You can listen to Matthew Dicks on the Books On The Nightstand podcast at this link: You won't regret it!

My Thoughts 

This book is quirky and unique and oddly fascinating.  It doesn't move quickly and not a great deal happens, but it is strangely enjoyable all the same.  I couldn't help but like Martin in spite of the fact that he is a criminal (and an OCD criminal at that!) and I was always hoping that things would turn out well for him.

One side effect of listening to this book? Whenever I can't find something in my house I immediately think that it could have been stolen by someone like Martin. Odd, right?!

If you want a book that is a bit out of the ordinary but still a great read (or listen), give this one a try.

Monday, June 6, 2011

BEA Book Spotlight: A Unique Cookbook

Over the next few weeks I will feature books that I received at Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention.  In most cases I have not read the book yet, but simply want to share with you my first impressions from the conventions and let you know why the book attracted my attention.

I'm not a foodie.  Not to say that I don't enjoy good food, but I don't like to cook, I'm not good at it, and I don't often eat fun and exciting food at restaurants.  Part of that is just me, but a big part of that has to do with Kiddo's allergies.  When you have a kid who is so allergic to so many foods that he needs a feeding tube to get nutrition, you find that you don't eat out as a family all that often, and you tend to eat the same few foods at home.

All that said, there was a cookbook featured at BEA that I knew I wanted to get my hands on.  I don't think I've ever been excited about a cookbook before but I was definitely excited about this one!

by Richard Hetz

First of all, I love the concept of this cookbook. The author is the executive chef at the Mitsam Cafe in DC and has created these recipes from traditional Native American recipes and ingredients.  The historical aspect behind the recipes really appeals to me.

Second, the fact that the recipes feature "old-fashioned" ingredients led me to hope that there would be things in here that Kiddo could eat.* And boy, was I ever right!  A quick browse through the book showed me recipes featuring quinoa, bison, corn, and potato, and Kiddo could eat most of them with just a few ingredient substitutions. WOOHOO!

Most of the ingredients in the book are standard items you can find in your grocery store but there are some unique items as well (dried hibiscus flowers, yucca, fiddlehead ferns ... just to name a few). Thankfully the back of the book suggests places to purchase these less common items. I'm confident that I could find the items I need without too much hassle.  

I haven't made any of the recipes yet but I hope to do so within the next few weeks.  [Who am I kidding?! It will be my husband who actually makes these - he's the chef in our house!]  When I do I'll be sure to post pictures and let you know what Kiddo thought of each dish.

In the meantime, definitely check out this cookbook if you are into traditional foods, foods with history behind them, or you simply want something a little out of the ordinary.

*As a reminder, here are the foods Kiddo is allowed to eat: rice, potato, quinoa, carrot, corn, broccoli, shellfish, bison, apple, orange, grape, mango, peach, berries, and a small handful of other foods. Everything else is off limits.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The "Bloody Jack" Series - 7 books (so far)

The "Bloody Jack" Series
by L.A. Meyer

I can't remember where or when I first heard of the book BLOODY JACK but I do know that I didn't think it would be my kind of read.  It was supposed to be a young adult story of an orphaned girl on the streets of old London who dressed as a boy and went to work on a ship where she had all sorts of adventures.  Now why I wouldn't like that I'm not certain, except maybe because it was YA?  Anyway, when I got laid off back in November I simply couldn't stand to read or listen to audiobooks for quite a while. My life was crazy and everything was turned on it's head.  One day I decided that I needed a light, fun audiobook to entertain me as I cleaned the house.  I saw that BLOODY JACK was available for download from my library so I decided to give it a shot. HALLELUJAH! I found a jem of a book! This series is exactly what I was looking for at the time and I'm thrilled that I found it.

This series is laugh-out-loud funny yet filled with enough historical detail to seem (at least somewhat) realistic. Jacky is tough and wiley and downright lucky, plus she's got attitude and to spare. You can't help but love her and hope for the best for her.

Rather than review each book individually I'm going to give you a few sentences on each one all in this post. I'll do my best to be spoiler-free but there might be a few minor things in the later books that might be considered spoilers for the first few books (nothing that would ruin the story though!).

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy (Bloody Jack Adventures)
Bloody Jack - This is the book that made me fall in love with the series.  It is fun and funny, yet historically detailed and interesting.  It follows Jacky from the streets of London on to the HMS Dolphin where she disguises herself as a ship's boy.  She forms a brotherhood with her fellow ship's boys and does her best to keep anyone from figuring out that she's a girl (which becomes more difficult as she hits puberty).  (7.36 hours)

Curse of the Blue Tattoo: Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady (Bloody Jack Adventures)

Curse of the Blue Tattoo - Jacky navigates new waters when she finds herself enrolled at the Lawson Peabody School For Young Girls in Boston.  Can a wild and willful orphan/ship's boy learn to be a lady?  Maybe, but it will be VERY difficult ...  (14.15 hours)

Under the Jolly Roger: Being an Account of the Further Nautical Adventures of Jacky Faber (Bloody Jack Adventures)Under The Jolly Roger - Jacky's back at sea in this book, and she's in a bit of trouble (no big surprise by this point!). Can she keep herself clear of a creepy captain who wants her as his prize? And will she make it back to London to be reunited with her true love?  And how does Lord Nelson and the Royal Navy play into the story?  (14.73 hours)

In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being an Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber (Bloody Jack Adventures)In The Belly Of The Bloodhound - The girls from the Lawson Peabody are ALL in trouble this time around.  The focus of this story is slavery in its many forms, and there were parts of this book that actually brought me to tears (chills first, then tears).  Although this wasn't one of my favorites in the series I have to admit that it packed more of an emotional punch than the others. (15.35 hours)

Mississippi Jack: Being an Account of the Further Waterborne Adventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman, Fine Lady, and Lily of the West (Bloody Jack Adventures)Mississippi Jack - Jacky finds herself on a journey down the Mississippi River in what may be my least favorite book in the series.  There was one particular character who drove me crazy in this book, and I also felt like coincidences were stretched to their breaking point quite often.  It wasn't nearly enough to put me off the series but I was glad to move on to the next book.  (17.4 hours)

My Bonny Light Horseman (Bloody Jack Adventures)My Bonny Light Horseman - Several characters from previous books make appearances in this adventure which finds Jacky as a spy in Napoleon Bonaparte's army. Again, chance and circumstance are stretched beyond belief in this book but I still quite enjoyed it.  Jacky seems to be turning into a deeper character as she grows up a bit and I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.  (12.01 hours)

Rapture of the Deep: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Soldier, Sailor, Mermaid, Spy (Bloody Jack Adventures)Rapture of the Deep - I couldn't believe how this story started out (one of those crazy coincidences again) but once I got past that I really loved this book.  It incorporated both treasure hunting and scientific discovery and the story was downright entertaining.  (12.33 hours)

I really do love this series in spite of the flaws.  It is fun and entertaining, it makes me laugh and cry, and it is simply a good series of books.  If you can take it just as seriously as it takes itself (which is not very) then you will probably enjoy it as much as I did.

The next book, The Wake of the Lorelei Lee, is out in hardcover but not in audio yet. I'm still deciding whether I want to read it now or wait for the audio ...

A quick note on the narrator: Katherine Kellgren narrates all the Bloody Jack book and she is AMAZING.  She has a great ability with accents and voices and also with songs (there are lots of songs in these books). I will definitely be on the lookout for other books she's narrated; she is incredibly talented and versatile and she's a joy to listen to.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - mini review

by Rebecca Skloot
audiobook: 12.5 hours

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThis book made all sorts of waves when it came out (last year, I think) and I really wanted to read it but of course it got put off and put off. Finally I decided to get the audio from the library and just listen to it rather than reading it. Boy, am I glad I did - I can't believe I waited so long to dig into this book!

Here's part of the summary from (since I'm feeling really lazy right now - still recovering from BEA!):
Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories?
This is one of those knock-your-socks-off kind of books.  As you read (or listen) you are constantly thinking, "How did I not know this story before?" and "How did this actually happen to these people?!"

By the time you gather in all the science, the history, and the people, there is a LOT going on in this book.  The author did a great job gathering all the threads of the story and weaving them together into one.  I never felt confused about what was going on or who someone was.  I also cared a great deal about the people in the story, though there were times when I was amazed at the author's patience with Deborah (Henrietta's daughter, and the main contact for the story) - I am certainly NOT that patient!

I realize this isn't really much of a review.  Unfortunately it's been about a month since I finished listening to this book and though I really enjoyed it I didn't make any notes about what I wanted to write. Instead I can just give you my lingering impression of the book, which is this: this is a story EVERYONE should be familiar with and I cannot recommend it enough.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

NYC Recap - A Few More Pictures

I don't have it in me to do a full recap of the lunches and dinners I attended during my time in NYC so I hope you'll enjoy these pictures and quick notes - I think they give you an idea of the great time I had!

Tuesday Night: 
The Bookrageous Bash at Lolita Bar was a hot and crowded affair, but since I'd arrived early I was able to snag a seat in the corner with some fabulous bloggers and authors.

 me, Alma Katsu (author of THE TAKER), Katie from One More Page (bookstore), and Jenn from Jenn's Bookshelves

Reagan from Miss Remmers' Review, Cass from Bonjour, Cass!, and Amy from Amy Reads

Megan from Leafing Through Life (aka my roommate) and Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness

Wednesday Night:
I organized a dinner for a group of bloggers, some of whom I'd been wanting to meet, some of whom I wanted the chance to chat with again this year.  We ate at an Italian place called Bice that was just down the street from the Harper Collins reception we were coming from.

Florinda from The 3 R's, Michelle from Red Headed Book Child, and Alie from Alison's Book Marks

Ann Kingman from Books on the Nightstand, Stacy from A Novel Source, and Natalie from Coffee and a Book Chick (with her husband, Jason)

Reagan from Miss Remmers' Review, me, Megan from Leafing Through Life, Sheila from Book Journey, and Florinda from The 3 R's

a view of the entire table of bloggers, taken by Jason (Coffee and a Book Chick's lovely husband)

Thursday Afternoon:
I joined a group of bloggers for a hike through the city to a lunch spot called The Ginger Man. It was quite tasty!  Two other bloggers didn't get in the pictures but they were there: Memory from Stella Matutina, and Jenny from Jenny's Books.

Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness, Theresa from Shelf Love, Anastasia from Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog 

Rebecca from Rebecca Reads and me
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