Sunday, August 31, 2008

Book Review and Giveaway: Far World Water Keep by J. Scott Savage

13 year old Marcus is not having a great day. First bullies try to beat him up and then he finds out that an evil otherworldly power wants him dead. Before the evil’s emissary can strike him dead, Marcus is pulled from Earth to another world, a magical world called Far World, by Kyja, a girl his age. He discovers that Far World is in danger, and it’s up to him and Kyja to save it which they can only do by getting the four elementals to work together. And so they set off on a quest fraught with danger and with the evil power and its minions nipping at their heels.

This is the first book in a series, so it details only the beginning of the quest: to find Water Keep, where the water elementals live. Marcus and Kyja face a variety of obstacles, some which feel slightly derivative (the Unmakers remind me of The Neverending Story’s The Nothing, the talking forest trees are similar to the Ents in Lord of the Rings), but the pacing is great and the story speeds along nicely.

Both Marcus and Kyja are appealing main characters though Kyja is just a tad too noble to be completely believable. Marcus’s character is the best thing about the book, and what elevates it from your run of the mill quest story to something more special. Marcus is disabled and confined to a wheelchair or forced to crawl. He has his moments of self-pity and self-doubt, but he’s able to overcome these to find the hero within. Disabled kids have a strong role model in Marcus and the rest of us gain a deeper understanding of the disabled experience.

Far World: Water Keep will be in stores on September 12th.

If you would like a signed copy of Far World, just let me know by this Saturday September 6th in the comments. The most impassioned plea gets the book.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Exciting Book Contract News

Daniel’s about to be a published children’s picture book illustrator! In fact, Harper Collins has offered him a two book deal to illustrate manuscripts written by Audrey Vernick. The first book will be released Summer 2010 and will be called “Is your Buffalo ready for kindergarten?” and the second is set to launch Summer 2011 and will be called “Teach your Buffalo to play the drums.”

So how did this miracle happen? Well, it all started with SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). We joined a couple of years ago when we first started working on our joint picture book project (still a work in progress). This year we decided to go to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and to SCBWI’s 2 day pre-fair conference. Daniel submitted 3 of his daily drawings (view them here, here and here) to the first look session (a panel of art directors from major publishing houses) and got great feedback. So great that most of the AD’s asked for his card…but because he wasn’t expecting anything to come of it, he didn’t come prepared. All he could give them was a link to his daily drawing blog.

Well, about 3 weeks later, Daniel got a cryptic comment on his blog from Martha Rago, Art Director at Harper Collins. Daniel wrote to her and she said she had a project that needed a fresh, quirky perspective and she’d like to see what he would do with it. Because he doesn’t have any sequential drawings in his portfolio, he would have to illustrate three spreads from the manuscript to prove he could handle it. So he did, sending in his samples at the beginning of May. At the end of July, the good news came – the team at Harper Collins loved his illustrations and they wanted him not only to illustrate the book he “tried out” for but also a second one with the same buffalo character.

And now that he has his foot in the door, and is officially a freelancer (as of today) that can concentrate on illustration, things are really looking up. And we are both on cloud nine.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Book Review: In the Woods by Tana French

20 years ago three children went missing in the woods near Dublin and only one was found – with no memory of what happened. The found child is now Detective Rob Ryan who keeps his past a secret. When a case comes up in which a murdered 12 year old aspiring ballerina is found in the same woods, Rob has the chance to solve both current and past mysteries.

In the Woods is a great literary thriller in the vein of Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories and Laura Lippman’s What the Dead Know. The two mysteries at the core of the narrative are both compelling and the plot twists and turns satisfactorily. The best part of the novel for me was the exploration of the close friendship between Rob and his partner Cassie. Although they met on the force, they have such a brother/sister camaraderie that everyone assumes they’ve known each other for years. Rob can crash at Cassie’s anytime, they imbibe and converse into the wee hours, and can set each other off into a fit of giggles with one look. But the case gets under Rob’s skin badly, and there’s a deep sense of foreboding as the story moves along that something irreparable is about to happen.

Although investigating murder can be a heavy topic, there are moments of lightheartedness and humor. The scene where Rob and Cassie interview the murdered girl’s sister’s alibi is downright hilarious. I also like how Rob describes the two years he bummed around between boarding school and Training College: “I’m not exactly sure what I did for those two years. I know this is one of the unthinkable taboos of our society, but I had discovered in myself a talent for a wonderful, unrepentant laziness, the kind most people never have after childhood. I read a lot. I always have, but in those two years I gorged myself on books with a voluptuous, almost erotic gluttony.”

In the Woods is now available in paperback with a gorgeously haunting cover. Tana’s second novel, The Likeness, is out in hardback and I can’t wait to read it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Library Thing Tuesday (16) + Pic of Emmy

Today's topic: LibraryThing authors. Who are your LibraryThing authors? What books of theirs do you have? Do you ever comment on an author's LT page? Have you received any comments from an author on your LT account?

These are my LibraryThing authors and the books I own/have read:

Randy Alcorn (RandyAlcorn) Deadline

Meg Waite Clayton (megwaiteclayton) Wednesday Sisters

David Ebershoff (Debershoff) The 19th Wife (read my review)

Mary E. Pearson (MaryEPearson) Adoration of Jenna Fox (TBR)

Jayne Pupek (JaynePupek) Tomato Girl (read my review)

Michelle Richmond (michrichmond) No One You Know (read my review)

J Scott Savage (jscottsavage) Farword (currently reading)

Melissa Walker (mewalker) Violet on the Runway, Violet by Design, Violet in Private (read my reviews)

Bill Walsh (wfwalsh) Lapsing into a Comma

Sara Zarr (sarazarr) Sweethearts (read my review)

I commented on Sara's page to tell her that I reviewed Sweethearts and she commented on mine with a thank you. Jayne invited me to join the Algonquin Readers Round Table. Meg thanked me for reviewing her book on LT. Michelle commented here on my blog and Melissa comes around here every now and then and comments.

I do think it's quite a nice feature and fun to see what books authors are reading.

What about you? Do authors ever comment on your blog or LT page?


So, because Dawn (and I am sure a few others) missed Emmy last week, here she is in all her book loving glory:

I've had to push all the books back because her favorite trick was to jump behind the books and send them crashing down to the floor. As you can see, I love all those "The Art of " type books especially for animated movies and especially for the concept sketches they include.


Don't forget to enter my contest to win one of 3 copies of The Big Splash by Jack Ferraiolo. It's the best time you'll ever have in a middle school! There are also details on that post about how you can get a free Squirt Gun (very useful - even if it's just to water plants).

Reviewer X's Young Adult Weekly column is back (YAY!) and now has a contest attached. This week you can be entered to win The Brothers Torres if you send her an e-mail by August 30th.

Monie is giving away an ARC of the graphic novel American Widow. Enter by August 31st.

The 3 R's is passing on some of her winnings from the big Hachette giveaway. Enter by September 5th.

And don't forget to get your nominations in for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. They close on August 31st and there are lots of categories including Best YA blog, Most Eclectic Taste and tons more. It's a great way to support your favorite sites. I'm doing a write-in nomination for Best Meme Host for our dear Tuesday Thingers host Boston Bibliophile. Who's with me?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Book Review: Like a Thorn by Clara Vidal

Melie feels like she has two mothers. Rosy Mother is sweet, loving, vivacious, and likes to bake cookies. Dark Mother is taunting, angry, impatient, and likes to dig her talons into Melie’s skin. Naturally Melie prefers Rosy Mother and would do anything to get her to stay, including trying to be as good as possible, performing strange rituals, and playing sick.

The slim volume chronicles Melie’s gradual descent from a normal 9 year old into a 14 year old suffering from deep depression and a serious obsessive compulsive disorder, both stemming from the emotional abuse she receives from her mother (who seems to have psychological problems of her own). The relationship between Melie and her mother is obviously toxic and both would benefit from therapy, but no one seems to notice or take Melie seriously.

This is a fascinating, almost trance-like look into the mind of someone suffering from mental illness, but it’s very one-sided and stacks the sympathy deck overwhelmingly in Melie’s favor. I would have liked to have seen the mother’s problems addressed as well to understand why she had such a split personality.

Like a Thorn was published in France in 2002, and was released in English translation this year in June.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Book Review: The Smart One by Ellen Meister

Three sisters all with their own role in the family: Bev, our narrator is “the smart one”, older sister Clare is “the pretty one”, and younger sister Joey is “the wild one”. Each is struggling to define themselves beyond these set roles with varying degrees of success. Bev wants to move away to escape her family’s disapproval of her career choices, Clare flirts with having an affair because her own husband doesn’t make her feel beautiful anymore, and Joey tries to stay clean and off drugs. Throw a couple of hot guys, a midget couple, and a murder mystery in to the mix and you have a novel that is as messy and unpredictable as real life.

There is a lot to like here: some laugh out loud funny scenes, well drawn characters, and sharp dialogue. The murder mystery is inspired by something that really happened on Long Island and gives the narrative a nice anchor. Trouble is, there were also a few things I didn’t like so much. There were a couple of incredibly preposterous scenes (i.e. the “Letterman” scene and a car wreck that induces burns without further mention of these burns) and love interest Kenny did some things that really rubbed me the wrong way. But what bothered me the most was the frequency with which the author goes off on unnecessary tangents that distract from the plot (and frankly made reading a chore).

I was drawn in by the cover (I just can’t resist apples), daunted by the length (358 slow going pages), driven to finish by my commitment to the Blog Stops Book Tour (go there for links to more blogger reviews), but ultimately disarmed by this story of three sisters and their bond. I am still thinking about them a few days later. My verdict? A tough read, but charming nonetheless.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Book Review, Contest and Author Interview: The Big Splash by Jack Ferraiolo

Matt Stevens, Middle School Private Eye, is hired by Vinny Biggs, Franklin’s Underworld Boss, for a seemingly simple job. But in a school where one well placed squirt gun shot can “kill” your reputation forever, Matt has only a few days solve a case with “more twists than a candy addict on a swivel chair.”

The Big Splash is a clever mafia/crime underworld spoof with a fast paced, twisty plot and a big heart. You have the boss and his goons who deal in forged hall passes and the like, his femme fatale squirt gun assassin Nikki Fingers (think a 12 year old Angelina Jolie), kids who dared to cross the boss and are now on the “outs” (social death), and even Pixy Stixers, kids who will do anything to get another (sugar) fix.

I absolutely adored the writing, the humor, the characters and the realizations Matt came to during the case such as, “Waking up at 5:00 means you’re industrious, an early riser; waking up at 4:45 means you have trouble sleeping.” And “Once you’re convicted by a jury of your peers, it’s hard to get a new trial.” And my favorite (because it is sooo true): “I had recently come to realize that it was extremely rare to find friendships in which doing nothing special was the most fun thing you could ever hope to do.”

I loved this novel so much that I begged author Jack Ferraiolo to let me share it with my readers. He’s agreed to provide 3 signed copies of the hardcover that comes out today! But before I get to the details, let’s have a little chat with Jack.

What is your one line pitch for The Big Splash?
The Big Splash is like a hardboiled detective novel meets Goodfellas set in a middle school.

Yes, your book does read just like a noir mafia movie – is it safe to assume that you got some inspiration from other classic films like The Godfather?
Yup, it’s safe... The Godfather 1 and 2 (let’s not talk about 3), Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Double Indemnity, Bugsy Malone...Also, old radio shows from the forties (particularly Pat Novak For Hire and Jeff Regan, Investigator). And of course, everything written by the “Big 3”: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald.

Were you witness to the kind of humiliating take-downs that occur in your book when you were in middle school?
Worse. And that was just the should see what the kids did to each other. By the end, everyone in school had been humiliated, and there was nobody left to be the bully. It was an interesting philosophical conundrum, akin to one hand clapping or empty forests full of falling trees.

Can you tell us a bit about the origin of the idea for the book and your road to publication?
I remember driving home from work one night, listening to an episode of Pat Novak for Hire in my car, and thinking that I’d love to write something like that...something fast and sharp and tough. For some reason, I thought it should be set in a middle school... I think it was because when I was a kid, I wanted to navigate my world as an adult would... I wanted my own mode of transportation, my own space (like Matt’s office), and my own place to grab something to eat (like Sal’s bar in the book) outside of adult jurisdiction, where I didn’t have to explain the who, what, or why of my being there...

So great, I had a book idea...I bought a bunch of steno pads and wrote it out long hand. When I finished, I stood back to admire my accomplishment. Unfortunately, I didn’t stand back far enough. It stunk. Luckily, I knew it stunk. Unluckily, I had no idea how to fix it. So I boxed it up and put it out of sight. In that time period, I worked on a couple of shows (O’Grady and WordGirl) in which I was forced to write and rewrite scripts under really tight deadlines. It was like going to writer’s camp.

One morning, out of the blue (about 3 years after the “Steno Pad Debacle,” as I like to call it), I woke up with the beginning of The Big Splash in my head. Rather than pull out the stenos and be embarrassed (which might have shamed me into not writing ever again), I decided to start from scratch. I finished the book in two months.

As to being published, I did a lot of research on sites like Ms. Snark, Evil Editor, and the Verla Kay Blue Boards. Then I did what most writers do: I sent out query letters to agents, got a bunch of full and partial requests, went with the agent who made an offer and I connected with the best (the amazing Stephen Barbara)... Stephen suggested some revisions, I revised, he sent it out and received some strong interest really early. The book went to auction, and Amulet won the bidding. My editor (Susan Van Metre) is incredible: sharp, funny, and full of great ideas. I’ve been very lucky.

Stephen Barbara is amazing. I am seriously going to read everything he agents. But back to you… You just won a daytime emmy award for your writing on the animated series WordGirl. Congrats! What was the ceremony like? Did you get to meet some celebrities?
Thank you! The ceremony was unbelievable... Black tie at the Lincoln Center in New York City. It was exciting... glamorous... I was more than a little out of my element. There weren’t really any “celebrities” there, as this was the ceremony for all the people behind the scenes on a production (writers, lighting designers, make-up people, etc.). However, I did see Elmo and Alex Trebek, and now I suppose I’ll begrudgingly admit they aren’t the same person...

Is your writing process any different when you write for TV as opposed to when you write a novel?
Yes and no. I approach it with the same discipline: start at the same time every morning, get the first draft out as quickly as possible. It’s all about rhythm and momentum. The difference is that scripts are more short, sharp bursts, whereas writing a novel is like long-distance running: pace yourself, try to string together longer scenes, describe everything (as there won’t be any visuals to help you out...). Either way, I’m a huge believer in the healing power of the revision process...which is drastically different between the two...

What projects do you have in the works? Will we ever see a Big Splash sequel (I hope so)?
I think the Big Splash will have a sequel...still waiting to get the official word. I stepped down as the head writer for WordGirl to have more time for other projects... although I’m still writing individual scripts. I’m also trying to invent a machine that will keep pace with (and hopefully tire out) my 2-year old daughter. It involves 16 hamsters, 12 pots of coffee, some Bon Scott-era AC/DC, and about 1400 rubber bands. I’m on the verge of a technological breakthrough...I can smell it...

Thank you so much Jack for stopping by!

Check out Jack’s websites (where you can get a FREE squirt gun while supplies last) and (where you will see a site still under construction).

Simply leave a comment on this post for your first entry. Sharing a middle school memory of your own will get you an extra entry. Linking to this contest from your blog (or Facebook/MySpace) will get you 2 extra entries. For each comment you make on any of my reviews, past, present, or future you get 1 extra entry (for a list of books read this year, look at my sidebar). One of top three commenters during the contest period is guaranteed a book (raising your chances to 1 in 3) while the second two winners will be randomly chosen from all eligible entries. So comment away. And trust me, it’s worth it!

Contest open for two weeks until Midnight CST September 3, 2008. US and Canadian residents only.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Library Thing Tuesday (15)

Today's question: LT and RL (real life)- do you have friends in real life that you met through LibraryThing? Have you attended any LT meet-ups in your area? Would you be open to attending meet-ups or is LT strictly an online thing for you?

I haven’t yet met any LT friends in RL and none of my RL friends is on LT (despite my urging), but I’d be totally open to meeting up.

I’ve actually met a lot of online friends in person and a few have even become best friends, Steve and Jeremy for example. I’ve had a ton of people contact me through my Virtual Tourist profile or through SCBWI and a lot of times we meet up for a drink or dinner. Just last week we had a lovely dinner with South African SCBWI advisor Jenny Hatton and her husband and she brought us 3 South African picture books and two YA novels.

Naturally, we’ve met a lot of interesting people this way. Like Wiley who sleeps in airports all over the world and has a photographic memory of every airline meal he’s ever eaten. Or the US military guy who was on leave from his post in Afghanistan who stood me up because he thought an enemy Afghani was tracking him and he didn’t want me to end up as collateral damage. Or Mei from China, a wedding photographer who came all the way to Kansas to attend and photograph my wedding (they turned out great by the way).




Win a signed copy of Penelope Przekop's Abberations at Bookish Ruth. Ends August 31st.

Fashion Piranha is having a Neil Gaiman extravaganza. Enter by August 31st.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Book Review: Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

The hard core sci-fi cover might make you think otherwise, but Zoe’s Tale is chiefly an empowering yet sweet coming of age story about 17 year old Zoe, both player and pawn in a complex interstellar battle between the Colonial Union (the human alliance) and the Conclave (an alliance of roughly 400 alien species). If you’ve read The Last Colony, I guess you probably know how it all turns out since this is apparently a novel with a parallel timeline told from a different perspective. If you haven’t, no matter, as this exciting tale can stand on its own.

Zoe, her adopted parents, her two alien bodyguards and about 2000 settlers from 10 different human colonies are sent off by the Colonial Union to colonize a new planet called Roanoke (and anyone who knows American history will appreciate the irony of the name). As it turns out, the Colonial Union has plans that don’t have the best interests of the colonists at heart. But fortunately, Zoe is not the type of girl who goes down without fight, especially when the lives of her parents, her new best friend Gretchen (with whom she has a great sarcastic rapport) and her new boyfriend Enzo’s lives are at stake.

I like sci-fi, but I’ve never been big on books where alien races make up a big part of the narrative because of all the exposition you normally have to slog through. Author John Scalzi is wise to keep this to a minimum and the aliens he does introduce even manage to be entertaining (picture big spider like creatures at a hoedown and try not to laugh). Don’t let the star trek like premise turn you off, because Zoe, an ordinary teenage girl asked to be extraordinary, is worth getting to know. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Although this isn’t a YA novel, Publisher Tor is actively courting the teen market. And with a heroine as appealing and strong as Zoe, I think they just might succeed.

Zoe’s Tale comes out this Tuesday August 19th.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Book Review: Rules for Saying Goodbye by Katherine Taylor

Kate Taylor escapes Fresno to attend a New England prep school and eventually ends up in a rent controlled New York apartment and having a series of overseas experiences. It’s difficult to give more of a summary because this reads more like a book of anecdotes than a cohesive novel. But Author Katherine Taylor (no doubt drawing inspiration for many of her stories from real life) excels at telling a good yarn – and the ones she tells you could sit around and listen to all night.

That said, this is not the kind of novel that lends itself to quick reading. In fact, it took me two weeks to read it and I read other books at the same time, something I just don’t ever do. It’s the kind of book you can read a few chapters of at a time without feeling lost when you put it down and pick it up again later – a perfect bedtime book.

My favorite parts were the hilarious chapter 15 (detailing a funeral no less) and her 11 rules for saying goodbye, a chapter that comes after she breaks it off with a boyfriend who’d risk her dying of altitude sickness rather than stop short of reaching the summit of an alp. An excerpt from rule eleven: “Do not go back to retrieve things you have forgotten, like your climbing shoes or laundry you left in the dryer. Once you are gone, be gone for good.”

Rules for Saying Goodbye is now out in paperback.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Interview with a Book Publicist

The idea for this interview grew out of two fronts – first the “anti-blog-reviewer” article at The Huffington Post online and the rebuttals by LisaLynne and Amy – and second the discussion over at Reviewer X’s blog about the author/reviewer matchmaking process in which several people who commented asked how to get in touch with publicists.

Courtney, a publicist with Penguin, was kind enough to answer some of our burning questions:

What genre of books do you represent?
I represent a lot of adult literary fiction, but also books written by politicians and historical books and biographies. Occasionally some “chick lit” too, so quite the variety!

How important are blog reviews to your overall publicity strategy?
I think blog reviews are definitely growing more and more important each day. It’s the kind of thing where you know if an author is googled, the more hits the better. I also just really appreciate what bloggers have to say. I find it always to be a fresh take on books, love the personalities that come through and what the people who comment have to say, and find as a consumer (if I’m looking for a non-work related book to read) I sometimes tend to get ideas from the web as opposed to the book review sections.

How do you choose which bloggers you ask for reviews? What qualities should the blogs where the review will appear have?
I try to follow a whole bunch of blogs to see what the popular and well written ones are. I read Maud Newton, Book Daddy, The Elegant Variation, Editorial Ass, About Last night, The Book Publicity Blog, Galleycat and a lot of others, and then usually end up reading a whole bunch more depending on what those blogs are linking to. I’ll usually send a book to a blog for the same reason I would read the blog – like I said, well written and well read, with a lot of personality and if I think the book would be a good fit for them and their site.

How do you feel about cold requests for review copies from bloggers? And how do bloggers find you?
I am open to cold requests from bloggers as long as it feels like they are not taking advantage of the free book and seem genuinely interested in it, even if it is a small blog – you never know who’s reading. I’m not sure how bloggers find me, other than my name being attached to press releases. I find myself doing outreach to blogs more often.

Thanks Courtney!

I also got some comments from other publicists I am in touch with that deal with the “cold request” question:

“We are definitely excited when bloggers reach out to us about a forthcoming book. We do check out the blog to see if it’s someone with serious intentions, someone who updates pretty frequently and if so, and we have extra copies, we’re happy to send them out.” – YA Publicist

“We have a database of reviewers, both traditional and online, and we keep a list of what types of books the reviewers like to receive and contact them when we have a book that might interest them. Someone who puts in a cold request will go into the database if we are able to send them a copy of the requested book, and we do try to follow up. If that reviewer sends us a link to their review, then they are more likely to be contacted about reviewing a book in the future.” – YA Publicist

So there you go – publicists confirm that blog reviewers are important and that it’s ok to ask for a review copy of a book. Any other publicists, authors, fellow bloggers want to chime in?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Library Thing Tuesday (14) + Emmy Photo Series

Today’s question: Favorite bookstores. What’s your favorite bookstore? Is it an online store or a bricks-and-mortar store? How often do you go book shopping? Is your favorite bookstore (or bookstores) listed as a favorite in LT? Do you attend events at local bookstores? Do you use LT to find events?

I buy most of my books at I have to admit. It's easy and it's almost always cheaper. is not allowed to give discounts because of the strict German rules so I don't buy much from there.

When I am in the states visiting, any bookstore I see will draw me in: on my last trip I went to Borders (bought 3 books - one with a coupon and 2 that were buy 1 get one 1/2 price), Barnes & Noble (multiple visits that garnered 10+ books and 3 design magazines) and Books a Million (7 YA and children's bargain books).

Here in Frankfurt, there are two English bookshops with pretty good selection - Hugendubel (part of a chain) and then an independent. When I special order, I do it with the independent but for impulse buying the chain gets more of my business because they simply have more variety.

Sadly, neither of them ever seem to have any events, nor are they listed on LT.


So this week, Emmy discovered something new:

It would of course have to be explored:

What's for dinner?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Review: Death by Latte by Linda Gerber

This second book in the Death by…mystery series finds Aphra Connolly flying to Seattle to visit her mother who she hasn’t seen in 4 years. Only, her mother didn’t know she was coming, and doesn’t seem the least bit happy to see her. Then her mother’s partner turns up dead (killed by the titular cup of joe), Death by Bikini love interest Seth shows up unexpectedly and they all end up on the run, unsure of who they can trust and who exactly is trying to kill them…

This exciting installment features non-stop thrills and leaves you guessing right up until the end. In between all the action, there are a few tender scenes between Aphra and Seth and between Aphra and her mother – both relationships that came off as very authentic. It ends on a HUGE cliffhanger that I was totally unprepared for, and book 3, Death by Denim can’t come soon enough for this impatient reader.

Death By Latte will be in stores September 18th.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Book Stack: Black and white and re[a]d all over!

This is my entry for the LibraryThing homepage book pile contest.

The Ambassadors by Henry James. I haven't read this yet, but I plan to someday!

Shiokari Pass by Ayako Miura. I read this powerful novel (based on a true story) about christianity in Japan while I was living there.

Looking for Alaska by John Green. I bought this a couple of weeks ago and look forward to reading my first John Green book.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. I read this a couple of months ago and reviewed it here.

No Logo by Naomi Klein. This is a non-fiction book about how we are constantly bombarded by logos, branding and advertising. I have read bits and pieces of it, but not the whole book.

The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French. This was the first LT Early Reviewer selection that I went out and bought myself. It just came out recently and it looks really fun.

You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon. I got this for free at the Frankfurt Book Fair a few years ago and read it earlier this year. I really enjoyed it!

Maus by Art Spiegelman. The German version of this famous graphic novel.

And lastly a book about art that inspired Walt Disney that we bought at the D'Orsay museum in Paris (in French).

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A couple of memes

I've been tagged!

Once almost a month ago (where does the time go?!) by Kathleen for the Classics meme, and once a few hours ago by Reviewer X for one of those "get to know you" memes.

What is the best classic you were “forced” to read in school (and why)? I had a unit on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” both in high school and college. Since then, I’ve read it at least a dozen more times.

What was the worst classic you were forced to endure (and why)? I had a class where we had to read “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens. I had really hard times reading it because it would put me to sleep – I could only read a couple of pages at a time. But I did finish, and I did think it was excellent – once I was done.

Which classic should every student be required to read (and why)? “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. I mean it’s a must read for the female gender anyway, but if men would read it too, maybe they’d understand women better.

Which classic should be put to rest immediately (and why)? I can’t think of any. Classics are classics for a reason.


WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO TODAY? My friend Charlotte is visiting this weekend so we plan to go out to the countryside and visit a monastery.
WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? Oatmeal Squares cereal.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? I watched the movie “The Bucket List” on the plane.
DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? If I write slowly, yes.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL?Refer to the question about what I last ate.
WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?I have thick ankles so I can’t wear capris.
WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING?I am wearing a brown skirt and no shoes.
FAVORITE SMELLS? Vanilla. Fresh baked bread. Ripening nectarines.
LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? X-Files: I want to Believe.
WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? "Rules for Saying Goodbye" by Katherine Taylor and "Death by Latte" by Linda Gerber.
WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? I have a couple from work lying around but I don’t use them.
WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON TV LAST NIGHT? I tried to watch CSI (actually Thursday night), but the sound went out on that station so I just turned it off.
FAVORITE SOUND? The ding that says I have a new e-mail. My cat purring.
WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? Hard to say, I’ve been so many places.

I'm too lazy to tag anyone today. So if you want to do one or both, feel free!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Book Review: Death by Bikini by Linda Gerber

Aphra Behn Connolly lives at a tropical island resort her father owns. Despite the rich and famous guests she mingles with, Aphra doesn’t find island life so exciting … until one day a mysterious family – which just happens to include a hot guy Aphra’s age – shows up and sets off a chain of events which includes one of guests being strangled by her own bikini…

This is a quick paced and satisfying teen mystery with some truly scary moments (a near drowning, claustrophobic moments in tight caves, and chases through the rain-soaked jungle at night), lots of intrigue and a dash of romance. The small island setting and the limited number of characters made spotting the villain pretty easy and left me with some nagging plausibility questions, but that is a small quibble. Aphra is an appealing, strong female character who has no problem jumping into dangerous situations to save those she loves.

Although the main plotline is wrapped up, there is an ongoing mystery that continues in the next installment – Death by Latte. I am super eager to read it, so it’s a good thing I won an ARC from author Linda Gerber’s site a few weeks ago. (Review coming up next!) If you too would like an advanced copy of Death by Latte, enter Linda’s Freebie Friday giveaway here. And if you don't win this week, keep trying - she's giving away copies and swag all month long!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Specialist Winners

The winner of the signed copy of Shannon Greenland's Native Tongue is... Lana!

The winner of all 4 books in the Specialists series is.... Chick-Lit Teens! (She also had far and away the most entries, so I'm glad that someone won who is obviously VERY interested.)

Send me an e-mail (address in the sidebar) with your mailing address so you can get your books.

Thanks to Shannon Greenland for donating the signed books for the contest and thanks to everyone who entered... I hope you'll pick up a copy of at least one of these great books.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

July Book Blowout Wrap Up

My realistic goal was 12 books, my fantasy goal was 18 books and I ended up reading 16.

YA and middle grade books read:
Evolution, Me, and other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
Joy of Spooking: Fiendish Deeds by PJ Bracegirdle
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Millicent Min: Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Oh.My.Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs
Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The Specialists: Model Spy by Shannon Greenland
The Specialists: Down to the Wire by Shannon Greenland
The Specialists: The Winning Element by Shannon Greenland
The Specialists: Native Tongue by Shannon Greenland

Adult Literary Fiction and Thrillers:
Down River by John Hart
No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer
Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek

This was an excellent month of reading as each and every book on the list I would rate with 4 stars or higher.

Some stats:
Checked out from the library - 5
Bought - 2
Review copy or ARC - 9

1. Did you discover a new author? Every single author on this list was new to me. I would definitely read another book from any of them.
2. Where was the most unusual place you found yourself reading? All the places I read were pretty usual for me.
3. Did you read more than usual? I think I probably pushed myself to read more than I would have this month normally.
4. Did you give up anything in order to read more? A couple hours of sleep here and there.
5. If you won the Amazon voucher what would you spend it on? More books of course! My wishlist is miles long.
6. Would you like to see a 2009 Book Blowout? Yes, please.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Library Thing Tuesday (13) + Emmy pic!

Today's question is: what other weekly memes or round robins do you participate in? Is this the only one? Why Tuesday Thingers and not some other weekly Tuesday meme? Or do you do more than one?

My answer: Tuesday Thingers is my only weekly meme and I started doing it because I was there when it was being formed. I've continued it because I really like the LT blogging community. I've seen other ones that I enjoy reading on others blogs, but for some reason, I never felt the urge to join in. Maybe it's because I'm such a free spirit, I don't want to be tied down to too many obligations. I also rarely join challenges. I've joined the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die challege, the 48 hr Read-a-thon, and the July Book Blowout, but that's it so far. There are still a couple of memes that people have passed on to me that I still haven't done (but I'm getting to them!).

And now for the latest pic of miss emmy! This was taken a couple of days ago, but I saved it for today. Like most cats, emmy sleeps all day and then gets really active in the evening. I told Daniel we needed to wear her out so she wouldn't jump on us all night long, and this was what happened next:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Book Reviews: Violet series by Melissa Walker

While Daniel was away at stick fighting camp (not joking), I had a fabulous Violet weekend, reading all three books in Melissa Walker’s series in one go. The third book in the series, Violet in Private comes out tomorrow, and Melissa's having a fun launch party over at her blog, where you can win tons of prizes.

First off, my thoughts on the first two books in the series:

Violet on the Runway introduces us to Violet Greenfield, a 6’1 high school senior in North Carolina who is not at all comfortable in her own skin and has being a wallflower down to a science. Enter Angela, a modeling agent who discovers super-skinny Violet working at the local movie theater and persuades her to give modeling a try. Will modeling finally help Violet get the self confidence she so craves?

What really struck me as I started reading was how engaging Violet’s voice is – she comes off as a normal, relatable girl who may not run with the popular crowd, but has two best friends to die for. And then she’s swept into this glamorous world of salon visits, swag, exclusive nightclubs, and gorgeous Prada boots. (Can I tell you a secret? I bought a pair of Prada boots with my first “real job” paycheck – and I love them even though they are several seasons old by now – hey vintage right?!) She does allow herself to get caught up in it – maybe a little too much even, but that’s all part of the fun and excitement of reading this book – it’s like celebrating with a friend who has a sudden success and keeping your fingers crossed that they’ll make the right choices.

At the start of Violet by Design, Violet has been seduced back into the modeling world by the lure of exotic locales – namely Brazil and then Madrid and Paris. This time, the pressure to stay stick thin is really getting to her and after airing her feelings about it on the web, she becomes the poster girl for healthy models. Will she have to betray her new ideals to stay a model?

Violet goes through a rough patch in this second book and a lot of her actions really frustrated me and made me want to shake some sense into her. Spending $2000 of her own money to escape a boyfriend who cheats on her when she could have contacted the airline about flying stand-by (this exact thing happened to me and such an impulsive action would have never crossed my mind) or ditching her lifelong friend Roger in Europe when she could have invited him along, no problem. And then just quitting jobs because she’s “bored” – what kind of work ethic is that?! But hey, I wouldn’t get so worked up about it if I didn’t care, right?

In this book, as in the first, there are a lot of wry observations that made me laugh, like this one, about travelling in business class with her not very kind agent: “Then I put on my eye mask and recline my seat a bit, but not as much as Angela’s, because if we were at the same angle it might feel like we’re in bed together. And that is not something I want to experience.”

And now for VIP:

Violet in Private is all about Violet trying not to be model Violet, but Vassar Violet. She has to deal with some fallout from the healthy model campaign as well as her own conflicted feelings about the fashion world. Can she figure out what she really wants for herself – is it modeling? School? True love? Can she have it all?

This third book explores some of the hard choices we all have to make, not only in life, but in love. A big part of the narrative deals with her relationship with BFF Roger who has secretly loved her forever. Now she has feelings for him, but he’s with someone else - think angst level “Rachel and Ross” from the TV series Friends.

Although she seems to have matured in a lot of respects and she’s starting to get over her body issues, she can still be pretty frustrating. Once a professional wallflower, she’s now a professional avoider. She avoids calls from her agent, she avoids promoting her big campaign with fellow model and now good friend Veronica, and she avoids Roger repeatedly, including one of the most over-the-top avoidance scenes I’ve read in a while. She may think new fabulously gay college pal Kurt (a hilarious character) is the drama queen, but Violet sure knows how to bring it too. It’s a pretty accurate picture of those tumultuous college years when you are searching for your identity away from your parents and what defined you growing up.

This may be the last Violet book, but if it’s not, I’d certainly jump at the chance to spend more time with her.

PS – I love Melissa’s author photo on the inside back cover, taken by someone with the awesome name of Quito. You look totally runway ready Melissa!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Book Vault’s Birthday Contest Riddle

Welcome to the next leg of The Book Vault’s birthday book riddle contest! For more information on the contest, go here:
Each correct answer counts as an entry into the drawing on August 29th!

Here's today's riddle: The main character, a boy wizard, whose name is also part of the title, outwitted the villain who tried to kill him numerous times.
We learn an interesting story and truth behind an oversized canine in this novel—what book is this?

Know the answer? Send Dominique an e-mail at with:

“BDAY CONTEST” in the subject line and:

The Riddle: The main character, a boy wizard, whose name is also part of the title, outwitted the villain who tried to kill him numerous times.
We learn an interesting story and truth behind an oversized canine in this novel—what book is this?
Answer: (full book title + author)
The name of the site where you found the riddle: Presenting Lenore
Your site’s URL: (if you have one)

Please send a separate e-mail for each riddle you answer!

Good luck!!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Book Review: Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek

Ellie is 11 years old, it’s nearly Easter and she’s excited about finally being able to take home one of the chicks from her father’s store. A sunny beginning, to be sure, but there are dark clouds on the horizon. Her mother’s behavior is increasingly erratic, and when she falls down the stairs and is admitted to the hospital, her father brings home the teenage “tomato girl” to help take care of things and things go from bad to worse.

Since the book is told from innocent Ellie’s point of view, a lot of the clues that adults pick up as to what is actually going on (her father’s affair, the police taking advantage of her mother, etc.) sail over her head. As the narrative progresses, it’s heartbreaking to have to see how events gradually cause Ellie to lose her innocence and force to her to grow up way too fast. Despite Ellie’s age, this is not a book for middle or YA readers (though more mature teens who seek out intense, challenging literature could handle it).

This novel is not in any way high concept (my favorite type of book) and most definitely does not fall in the thriller genre, but it sucked me in so completely that I lost track of time and read compulsively until I turned the last page. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what makes it so great - certainly the sure, authentic voice and the sympathetically rendered characters – but there is some intangible magic to it which every writer hopes to achieve and every reader longs to discover. Thanks to the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program for allowing me to discover this one.

Look for it on August 26th.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Book Review: Specialists: Native Tongue by Shannon Greenland

Despite initial assurances to GiGi that she’d be working from home base, book 4 of the Specialists series, Native Tongue, finds her preparing to go on her 4th mission, this time to South America to use a computer program she developed to translate some cave hieroglyphs that are supposed to reveal which of 15 indigenous tribes gets a vase said to have magical powers. Linguist Parrot, a Native American himself, is going along as the official translator. And wouldn’t you know it? One of the tribal elders, Talon, is an evil human trafficker from Parrot’s past and he has his own plans for the mystical vase.

In many ways, this was probably my favorite installment of the series so far, maybe because I relate to it the most. I’ve never been to modeling school (Model Spy) broken into a museum (Down to the Wire), or been to a cheerleading camp (The Winning Element), but I have ridden a horse named Diablo through the South American jungle! I was totally hooked by the linguistic aspect of the book. I envy Parrot’s ability to pick up languages so easily – it took me years to master Spanish and German – and although I could once get by pretty well in Japanese, I only have enough for party tricks now. Parrot gets a really cool language lab at the Specialists headquarters (all of the Specialists get their own tricked out labs) – it’s the one I covet the most for sure.

I also really like the way GiGi has developed as a character throughout the series. Once wholly absorbed in computer coding and not very social, she is now dating one of the other Specialists and has a flirt with Professor Quirk, a fellow blond genius who is charged with helping her translate the cave paintings. Her relationship with Parrot felt very authentic and it was sweet how she went out of her way to comfort him, something I couldn’t have imagined earlier in the series.

The mission itself wasn’t my favorite though (Down to the Wire wins there) because I never got a sense of what could happen if the mystical vase fell into the wrong hands. I mean obviously I was rooting for them to take down Talon, but I would have liked a tad more urgency.

I am very eager to read book 5, especially due to the teaser at the end regarding a possible relative of GiGi’s. I hope I will not have to wait too long for it to come out.

This is really an exciting series and one that anyone with a sense of adventure can enjoy.

Discussion question: What special ability do you have that the Specialists team could use to fight international crime? Both serious and wacky answers are accepted in the comments :)