Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Library Thing Tuesday (60) + picture of Emmy

This week, Wendi isn't asking about LT, but about Glue: Have you gotten Glue yet? If so, how do you like it? Do you follow Glue Genie on Twitter? Won anything in their quizzes?

I do not plan to get Glue, but I do follow Glue Genie on twitter. I have never actually finished a whole quiz, so I can't win, but I have answered random questions for the heck of it.


Emmy and Finn enjoying their new "cat palace".

Emmy exploring the whole palace (Yay! She likes it better than the box finally!)

Monday, June 29, 2009

First Chapter Challenge (1)

To kick off my first chapter challenge, a personal challenge this summer to whittle down my review pile, I read the first chapter of 5 books that have been sitting on my shelf a long time to determine if I would keep them on my shelf or give them away.

The School for Dangerous Girls by Eliot Schrefer
Publisher: Scholastic
Release date: January 2009
One sentence summary: Bad girl Angela is sent to a reform school whose methods are questionable.
First sentences: All of the girls fell silent. The woman took a few seconds to look around the room, making eye contact with each of us. When she finally spoke, her voice was cold, with a slight accent that said she had lived years in places beyond our reach.
First chapter review: In the space of 8 pages, we are introduced to Hidden Oak, the girls, and a Dr. Spicer who asserts her absolute authority over the girls. We are also teased with flashbacks of what Angela might have done to be deemed dangerous - which is possibly murder. It's a solid start, but it's nothing that can't be put down.
Verdict: Return to TBR. The reviews I've read of this have been mixed, but considering David Levithan edited it, I'll give it a chance.

Suddenly Supernatural Book 2: Scaredy Kat by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Publisher: Little, Brown for Young Readers
Release date: February 2009
One sentence summary: Kat, who has recently discovered that she's a medium like her mother, investigates the disappearance of a boy in the abandoned house next door.
First sentence: The truth is, I find it very embarrassing when my mother talks to plants.
First chapter review: Although this is the second book in a series, I didn't get the sense from the first chapter that I needed to have read the first one to understand this one. The voice is fresh and fun and although I could've done without the e-mail correspondence, this is a nice set-up to what seems like a quick read with some spooky elements.
Verdict: This is one I definitely want to pass on to my favorite 11 year old. If I manage to get to it before I see her again, I'll read it myself. If not, I will pass it on to her with a good feeling.

The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Release date: March 2009
One sentence summary: 15 year old Catherine Howard catches the eye of Henry the 8th who wants to make her his 5th wife.
First sentence: The Thames is a messenger of fortune, rippling smoothly beneath the prow of this barge.
First chapter review: The first chapter is a mere 2 1/2 pages and has a very reflective, dreamy tone. In order to get more a sense of Catherine, I also had to read chapter 2, which introduces the central tension of the narrative. She's proud of being chosen as Henry's next wife but also terrified (considering what happened to Anne Boleyn). She knows she has to deliver another male heir or else... The writing flows well, but knowing what happens to Catherine is basically a retread of Anne's story, I'm not that intrigued.
Verdict: Pass on to a friend who loves Tudor historicals.

The Dracula Dossier by James Reese
Publisher: William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Release date: October 2008
One sentence summary: Dracula author Bram Stoker is the prime suspect in a series of killings that will be attributed to Jack the Ripper and he must work to clear his name.
First sentence: You do not know me, and you never will.
First chapter review: This dossier starts out with a letter from an unknown collector to a senior editor at William Morrow. With the letter he includes a lost diary of Bram Stoker which tells of his involvement with Jack the Ripper. It's a pretty dry start. I probably would've been more hooked had it immediately begun with Bram's diary whose first line states "It seemed wise to hide the bloodied knife."
Verdict: Meh. It sounds like an ok book, but I have a pile of books waiting with some amazing premises, so I think I'll pass on this. I'll donate it to the library.

Suffer the Children by Adam Creed
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Release date: none in the US yet, May 2009 in the UK
One sentence summary: After a paedophile is brutally murdered, Inspector Staffe must question the families of his victims.
First sentence: Staffe raises his head as high as he can, sucks in the underground air.
First chapter review: To be honest, I couldn't even finish the first chapter. It is written in third person present, which is beyond awkward, and the subject matter is just not my thing.
Verdict: Didn't hook me. Will donate to library. I did like this cover the most of the 5 though.

Anyone want to weight in and tell me if I making a huge mistake keeping or getting rid of any of these?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Just Because

Today I talked to one of my best friends for the first time in a long time. It's hard keeping up with friends when you are so far away and you have so many that are scattered all over the globe. This particular friend is one that I've made an effort to visit at least once a year. Doesn't sound like a lot, but it takes a lot of effort to coordinate our busy scheldules, and though it's never enough, it's something. So today, when thinking about the book drive for Beth Kephart's new book NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, I thought of my friend and how she enjoys lyrical writing and women's stories and I decided to buy her NBG and another of my favorites NO ONE YOU KNOW by Michelle Richmond (which Beth won in my contest incidentally). There's no special occasion. Just because.

Speaking of book drives, I wanted to mention that Sarah Dessen's new book ALONG FOR THE RIDE debuted at the top of the New York Times best seller list. I haven't read it yet. I actually haven't read any of Sarah Dessen (I know - for shame). But I did feature it in one of my Penguin Prize Packs so I like to think I had the tiniest of parts in its' success. I'll also direct you to a contest going on over at SarahLand (until July 1st) where you can win 2 copies of ALONG FOR THE RIDE (one for you and one for your friend). Just because.

I was also thinking today how restless and unfulfilled I'd be if I didn't have access to books or the ability to read them. I look at my cats as they stare off into space and wonder how they can stand to laze around all day. They aren't even impressed by Taro Gomi's very colorful board book BUS STOPS (C'mon Finn, can't you find the dog?!) I know that's random, but I wanted to share. Just because.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review and Author/Character Guest Post: Milestones by Samira Armin Hodges

I hit a milestone today: This is my 500th blog post! Ironic that this milestone comes as I feature a book called MILESTONES, isn’t it?

Can you keep a secret? When 14 year old Faye Martin gets hit by lightening in front of Benji, the boy she’s had a crush on since the 4th grade, her parents inexplicably decide to send her off to summer camp. And not just any summer camp, but one that no one’s ever heard of, in the middle of nowhere where she’ll have no contact with the outside world for months. Her one small consolation is that Benji has been sent there too. Will they be able to unravel the mystery of the unusual camp before it’s too late?

Guest post by Faye Martin, main character of MILESTONESOkay. Introductions are in order. My name is Faye Grace Martin – though only my mother calls me that - and I’m fourteen years old. I’ve been asked to tell you all about my experience at camp Milestone. The thing is: I hate camp Milestone. Better yet, I loathe it. Despise it with every ounce of my soul. So I’d rather not write about it at all. Why should I give this poor excuse for a camp the satisfaction of writing about it? Or glorifying it? No thanks. Instead, I’ll write about another camp. The camp I wish I had gone to instead of camp Milestone. So here it goes. My informal essay about my ideal camp.

My ideal camp is not set in the middle of nowhere. It’s not isolated or secluded or whatever. It’s outside a big city where there are resources. My ideal camp is also “friendly”, and “comfy” and “lovely” and aesthetically pleasing. When you walk onto the camp grounds, you see beauty and nature and trees and you notice amazing activities taking place around you and you feel excitement. You want to be a part of it. You DON’T walk onto the grounds, look around and wonder where the hell you’ve landed. You don’t wonder if your cabin is made of rotting wood or some sort of straw. Because the cabins at my ideal camp are strong and sturdy and made of real wood .

Plus, my ideal camp is awesome. It has a hundreds of campers and dozens of camp counsellors. It doesn’t have a dozen campers and one counsellor. Cause that, my friends, would be weird. Weird and freaky. Oh! You know what else? You can so find my ideal camp on the internet. Yeah! It totally exists online. You can Google it, look it up and find out pertinent information about it. You can see pictures of previous campers and they all look like they’re having a blast. Like they’ve made friends. Awesome friends. The kind of friends you don’t want meeting your school friends. The type you want to keep to yourself and not share with anybody. You know that type, right? The kind you bond with and never let go?

On another note, my ideal camp is not the least bit scary. It doesn’t make you fear for your life. You don’t do crazy tasks and you certainly, certainly have some kind of access to your family and friends. I’m talking internet, cell phone…or heck, even a regular old fashioned phone. Furthermore, my ideal camp is not at all mysterious. What you see is what you get. Because people go to camp to have fun. I mean, isn’t that the entire point? To break free from school, stress and drama? And to have a summer romance or something? An unforgettable summer and yadda yadda? As opposed to freaking out, being more stressed than you ever knew you could be and wondering if you’re going to live? All the while trying to figure why in heaven’s name your parents (YOUR PARENTS!) would choose to send you to a place like this when you know for a fact that they love you? And you are constantly wondering, why, why, why they would this do this to you deliberately if they do in fact love you??? And you can’t help it but you find yourself obsessed!! Constantly second guessing! Constantly searching for evidence, for hints, for ANYTHING AT ALL that would explain why you’ve been sent to this hell hole…. without a phone………. without a clue……….without a paddle……….


THAT would be MY ideal camp in case you’re wondering.

Basically, it’s just a normal camp. A normal safe camp.

Not much to ask, is it?

My reviewOk, so here’s the deal. MILESTONES is incredibly clever and the concept/mystery is well executed and fun to try and figure out. Once you have that “a ha!” moment, everything clicks into place and what seemed pretty random finally starts to make sense. What I’m afraid of though, is that a lot of readers aren’t going to have that much patience. After the first chapter, a choppy, repetitive introduction to Faye where she complains (A LOT) about having to go to camp, I felt like Faye and I had something in common – she didn’t want to go to Camp Milestone and I didn’t want to read about her going to Camp Milestone. Fortunately, we both stuck it out, and in the end, I can say we’re both glad we did (despite what she says about it in her guest post today).

MILESTONES comes out in hardcover on August 1st. This post is a part of the MILESTONES book tour. For a list of the other stops and for more information about this title, go to http://www.eatabook.com/.

Let's discuss!
I attended many summer camps when I was younger, and the absolute worst has to be "Whistle Camp", a strict church camp in Michigan. I was looking forward to finally spending some quality time with my best friend Sommer who had been vacationing with her family for a whole month, but when we got there, they divided us into teams that shared activities, meals and cabins, splitting Sommer and me up, ensuring that we'd never see each other.

But that wasn't even the worst part - at anytime of day or night, the camp "elders" could blow their whistle and summon us to take our places at the designated spot for our team. Teams were rewarded for being complete and quick and punished for missing members and being slow. Not fun.

At one point, an elder suspiciously asked my friend Margie what she had in her water bottle. Margie being Margie (read: supremely sarcastic), she replied "It's my vodka. I need it to sleep at night." She tucked it in next to her pillow and left the room. When she returned, all her water (yes, it WAS just water) had been poured out.

How about you? Any camp horror stories to rival those of mine and Faye's?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review and Author Interview: Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart

After the death of her mother, Katie takes a summer gardening job at the estate of town recluse Miss Martine who hasn’t been seen outside since she was 16. Katie herself is burdened with grief, but she has to wonder what kind of tragedy would make you voluntarily disappear from life. With the help of two brothers and a glamorous librarian, Katie begins to decode the mystery and gain the strength to go on.

“Things disappear and vanish. That’s a fact. Before you’re ready for them to go, they go, and after that all you can do is keep the idea of them bright inside yourself.” p 80 ARC (may not reflect final published version)

I admit, ever since the death of my own mother when I was 19, I tend to shy away from books where the mother is recently deceased or dying. I’m just always afraid they’ll be too depressing, too sad to handle. But Beth has done a beautiful thing here – she takes us to the truth of what it’s like to deal with loss (the too-big house that feels empty, the withdrawing from friends, the keeping busy to dull the pain) and then lets her characters (and her readers) find comfort and a renewed sense of purpose.

The story elements, the well-drawn characters (Katie’s father, chic Ms. McDermott, and estate caretaker Old Olson were favorites), and spare, lyrical writing all contribute to making this a genuinely affecting reading experience. In fact, as far as books about grief go, I’d rate it up there with Kate DiCamillo’s THE TIGER RISING.

Beth will be doing a chat/reading/party at My Friend Amy’s blog on Tuesday June 30th at 9 PM EST. By attending or buying the book and sending in your receipt, you are entered into a massive contest with great prizes including amazon gift cards and a customized header by soon to be published illustrator Daniel Jennewein (IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN? Balzer and Bray/HarperCollins July 2010). Attending AND buying the book (which is out now in hardcover) will get you two entries.

Not only that, but Beth agreed to an interview (lucky me!) right here on Presenting Lenore. Let’s begin shall we?

Nothing But Ghosts is dedicated to the memory of your mother. Are there pieces of her in the narrative? Is there something of hers that you hold on to that keeps her memory alive?
My mother’s life, her qualities, her passions, her sudden, unexpected passing were hers alone, and I did not try to recreate them in Claire, Katie’s mother. It is the loss that Katie feels that is so true to my own life, and also all those things that occurred in the wake of my mother’s dying that assured me that the spirit of my mother remained—that she was near, not utterly vanished. A goldfinch would knock against my office window, repeatedly, and I sensed my mother near. A song would play in a nearly empty restaurant, and there she was. A warm breeze would kick up on a winter day, and I knew. My mother’s final words were for me, and I hold onto those. She said, in the very end, “I love you.” That was for me. That is what I will always have. Yes, my mother was a great gift giver, and all around my home are things she left to me. Her favorite painting hangs above my head as I work. But it’s those words that matter most, those words that I had yearned to hear.

Katie’s father throws himself into cooking after the death of his wife. Is cooking cathartic for you as well?
Cooking is cathartic for me. Absolutely. So is gardening, so is dance, so is photography, and so, of course, is writing. But Katie’s dad throws himself into cooking because my mom was the world’s best cook, and I worried deeply about my dad after she was gone. I cooked a lot for him, and I still do. But how would he take care of himself? How would he enjoy a meal again? My concern for my own dad is Katie’s concern for hers. My dad doesn’t cook yet, but in creating a character who finds his way, I was, in some small way, trying to heal my own dad’s future.

Katie recalls details from a family trip to Barcelona and refers to an ancient underground Roman city. Does this really exist? Is it open to the public? (I am going to Barcelona next week!)
Oh, gosh, you are going to Barcelona? Yes. This exists. The Barcelona and Portugal scenes come directly from my own life and travels. You’ll find this in the old city, easily marked, very central. Go down below. Tell me what you see when you return. I can’t wait to hear.

How do you balance writing novels, writing for your company, and writing your blog? What do you see as the perks/downsides of each?
I’m always out of balance, I think. I work on the blog and the novels early in the morning (except for when my UK client company calls, which can happen from about 5 AM on). I work on the business throughout the day. When there’s a break in the business, I go back to the blogging. There’s always a book on my desk that I’m reading as well. The business and the blogging keep me in touch with the greater world (not to mention, the business pays the bills for our small household and the blogging makes me happy). The writing keeps me in touch with me. I am often frustrated by my patchwork days and feeling as if I have not gotten enough done, or not enough done well. But I am grateful for a life that puts me on so many paths and forces me to use different parts of my mind. I’ve met people I value in all aspects of my life—CEOs and presidents who dream big, bloggers full of heart and soul, writers and editors and readers who demand more.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?
Hmmm. Well, typically I have one book in progress and one in revision and then a lot of books somewhere in my office that failed overall, but that have pieces to which I wish to return. I never measure the commercial potential of a book, though of course I should. I measure the quality of its song, the depth of its meaning, the authenticity of its characters. I have, for example, been writing a book that takes place in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War for years and years. I thought I had it, this past spring. When I looked at it again, I realized that the pacing is off in places and that some story lines have been left thin. That’s not something you just go in and fix. It is something that you let stew. Probably next spring I’ll go back and see what I might do, see if I can write that book right, after all this time.
It’s always a question. I have spent many years on books that simply just don’t work. But then I’ll find a piece — the Cascais piece in Nothing but Ghosts, for example — that can and should be adapted to a new use. The same thing holds true for the poems I write. A line of a failed poem can become the beginning of a successful story.

What's up next for you?
Next March, my fourth book with HarperTeen, The Heart is Not a Size, will be released; this tells the story of a group of teens on a mission trip to Juarez and touches on issues — anxiety, eating disorders — that have pressed down upon my own life. Next fall, with Egmont, I am publishing an historical novel about Centennial Philadelphia—it’s a very exciting book for me, a five-year effort, a new kind of writing. At the moment I am writing a novel for adults. And someday I hope to return to Seville. After that, the future is wide open.

Thanks Beth!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WoW topic: Which authors need to release new books ASAP?

Trish and I were recently discussing that we are both anxiously awaiting Tana French's next novel, as yet untitled (as far as I know), which is set for summer 2010 and is rumored to center on Cassie's former boss when she worked undercover. IN THE WOODS was very good and THE LIKENESS is one of my all-time favorite books, so I'm counting on book 3 to wow me as well.

I am also excited that Audrey Niffenegger is finally coming out with a new book, HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY, on September 29th (see Alea's WoW post about it to see the cover if you haven't already). A lot of money riding on that one, as well as Dan Brown's new one (which I won't pick up - anytime soon at least - though I have to admit to reading THE DA VINCI CODE and ANGELS AND DEMONS).

Some books keep getting pushed back. David Mitchell's new one (slated for 2009 but now pushed back to 2010) is on my radar - hope it's more CLOUD ATLAS than BLACK SWAN GREEN though.

And what's going on with book 2 in the Joy of Spooking series by PJ Bracegirdle? It was supposed to come out this summer, but it isn't listed anywhere.

I would also most definitely be interested in new novels by Marcus Zusak, Lionel Shriver, Barbara Kingsolver, Douglas Coupland, and Michelle Richmond. (I've read or own 2 or more books by these authors, just to narrow it down a bit).

So tell me, in your opinion, which authors really need to announce that they are releasing a new book? You don't need to mention series books unless, like Joy of Spooking, they are overdue.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Library Thing Tuesday (59) + picture of Emmy + Nothing But Ghosts Book Drive

Today's question from Wendi: What areas of Library Thing do you find confusing or frustrating? The team at LT seem to be continually updating things at the site. Is there anything in particular that you would like to see updated or changed?

You know...I can't really think of anything right now. I guess I'd like it if I could sort my books into LT authors and non-LT authors but that's only because of the LT author challenge. I think the LT team is doing a great job. I only wish I had more time to use the site to its full potential.


So it's official - new kitteh's new name is Finn. It's literary, evokes a bad-boy personality, and is easy enough to say in German and English. (Plus, we can call him Shark Fin as a nickname). As you can see, Emmy's become quite protective of our Finn.


Beth Kephart's newest novel NOTHING BUT GHOSTS releases today. I am in the middle of it and loving it so far (review up on Thursday). The amazing My Friend Amy put together a live chat/reading/party with Beth set for next Tuesday, June 30th at 9 PM PST/6 PM EST on her blog.

Not only that but we are both sponsoring a contest/book drive where the prizes get sweeter the more books are sold. Our goal is to sell 200 books to support this deserving author and show that blogs CAN have an impact on sales.

There are two ways to enter the contest - come to the chat/reading or send your receipt for NOTHING BUT GHOSTS to Amy (if you buy over amazon, use this link to make your purchase count automatically.) . Doing both gets you two entries. The prizes are:

At 25 copies sold, a paperback copy of Undercover along with a limited edition not available in stores My Friend Amy keychain!

At 50 copies, a 10 dollar Amazon Giftcard.

At 75 copies, a copy of No Such Thing as the Real World and a special limited edition My Friend Amy pen!

At 100 copies, a 15 dollar Amazon Giftcard

At 125 copies, a surprise box of 5 gently read books

At 150 copies, a 25 dollar Amazon gift card

At 175 copies, a custom designed blog header by my husband Daniel. (He's the one who did my header, as well as the header for Zombie Chronicles and Readingjunky.) Daniel has a book coming out in July of 2010, so you have your blog header designed by a world famous published illustrator! The book, Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? releases in July 2010 from Balzer and Bray (Harper Collins) Check out Daniel's drawings.

At 200 copies, a 50 dollar Amazon gift card.

Please help us spread the word! Thanks :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Book Review and Author/Character Interview: Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog

Morgan and Cam have been dating practically forever, and Morgan can’t imagine life without him. But shortly before their joint 16th birthday bash, Cam starts to distance himself from her, and Morgan discovers he’s actually a fairy who has to return to another world to take the throne as king. With recently returned Pip, the human traded for Cam at birth, Morgan plots to trick the fairies into letting Cam stay in her world.

I haven’t read many fairy/faerie novels other than THE STOLEN CHILD by Keith Donohue (not too impressed) and the ARTEMIS FOWL series (love them). Not sure why. I love fairy tales, but the current glut of fairy fiction never drew me in – until FAIRY TALE (formerly known as FAIRY LUST). It was one of the two books I begged for at last October’s Frankfurt Book Fair.

In any case, it was love at first page. Seriously, this is one of the most perfect first chapters I have ever read. It introduces Morgan as the class curiosity (she’s predicts her classmates futures with startling accuracy), establishes her enviable relationship with football star Cam, and ends on a killer hook.

So I thought – no way can the rest of the novel measure up. It has to start sagging somewhere doesn’t it? Nope. The tension rises so intensely that I was even tempted to do something I haven’t done since I was twelve – take a little peek at the end just to make sure everything works out.

Morgan is a super cool narrator and I enjoyed reading about her great relationship with her parents (“the world’s youngest senior citizens”), her closeness to Cam, and her growing appreciation for Pip. The voice is done so well, giving Morgan one hilarious one liner after another. Take one of my favorites:

I have absolutely no idea how I ended up a psychic. You’d expect someone with such a gift to have parents with equally thrilling abilities, like telekinesis or the power to see through people’s clothes. My dad can say the capitals of the fifty states in alphabetical order, but that’s where the magic ends.” (p 29-30 ARC version – may not reflect final text).

FAIRY TALE comes out tomorrow. It’s an emotionally-involving page turner with a great cast of characters (even the minor ones shine) and a reality-based fantasy element that even non-fantasy fans can enjoy.

And now…and interview with main character Morgan (who I want to be my new best friend):

Hi Morgan! So your boyfriend Cam is a fairy. The future King of the fairies. You’ve known him forever – were there clues that you can now see in retrospect or did it come as a complete surprise?
Yeah, like, no. I mean, he wasn't exactly the type of being I'd imagine running around, painting ladybugs or taking teeth from under kids' pillows. But in retrospect, he was a little odd. I mean, he's never had a zit in his life, and he could pull off impossible plays, like cutting through a line of defensemen, like magic. So maybe I should have seen this coming.

What about you? Were you ever particularly drawn to fairies? Nurse a crush on Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings, perhaps?
Not really. I never really thought about them until Cam told me he was one. I kind of thought of them as overgrown mosquitoes.

When did you first realize you could see the future? And what was your first vision?
I think I was 12, and watching Survivor and suddenly, I knew the order in which every one of the 18 contestants would be voted off. I could see them being voted off, clear as day. And so then I started testing the visions on other people, my friends, my family. And I realized I was never wrong.

Since you could predict who would win football games with 100% accuracy, were you ever tempted to bet on them to earn some extra money?
Yeah, but I'd never hear the end of it from Cam. He is too much of a goody-goody.

Did you ever wow your father by predicting General Hospital storylines?
I really am not very good at predicting what will happen in TV shows, especially soap operas. They're used to dropping completely unexpected bombs on their viewers. My gift has more to do with common sense, because most people don't use enough of their brains to see the obvious. I'm more like one of those British detectives, I guess. My gift is more about seeing human nature, which is why Cam surprised me so much... he's not human.

I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind doing some future predictions for us today. What is in store for Cyn Balog?
She will trip and fall and her dress will go over her head at her book launch party, and everyone will laugh at her.

How about Britney Spears?
I see... growth in her future... of her family and her stomach. She will likely fall head over heels for some other loser and pop out another 4 kids before she's 35.

Red socks. He will either wear red socks to his next public appearance, sparking a new trend among his minions, or he will throw out the opening pitch at a Red Sox game.

Um…how about me? (Just say pizza if you see a bunch of Precious Moments figurines, please).
You will win a contest and receive a lifetime supply of Banana Nut Crunch.

Oh YAY - I love cereal! Thanks Morgan for stopping by. Give my best to Cyn and the new baby!

Want more predictions from Morgan? She gives Fairy Fortunes to YA authors every week on Cyn's blog.

This has been a part of Cyn Balog's Traveling to Teens tour. To check out other stops, see the Cyn Balog tour page.

Win two upcoming YA books from a pile of 21 - your choice for the YA book carnival!

It is YA book carnival time! I have an awesome contest for you and you can find many others by heading over to the official list at Shooting Stars Mag (you have to click on the Mr. Linky to see them).

So what is my contest you ask? Well, basically, I let you pick any 2 ARCs from the following (unsigned) TBRs. I will move them to the top of my pile, read them, and then pass them on to the winner. How does that sound? Not only are you getting two really cool books before they are released, you are also dictating which of my books will be reviewed first!

Here’s my list:

AFTER by Amy Efaw (August 09)
ANOTHER FAUST by Daniel and Dina Nayeri (Aug 09)
THE ETERNAL KISS by various authors (Aug 09)
MY SOUL TO TAKE by Rachel Vincent (Aug 09)
AN OFF YEAR by Claire Zulkey (Sept 09)
ASH by Malinda Lo (Sept 09)
THE DEVIL’S KISS by Sarwat Chadda (Sept 09)
DREAMDARK SILKSINGER by Laini Taylor (Sept 09)
HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown (Sept 09)
THE MIDNIGHT CHARTER by David Whitley (Sept 09)
THE MILES BETWEEN by Mary E. Pearson (Sept 09)
SCHOOL OF FEAR by Gitty Daneshvari (Sept 09)
VIOLA IN REEL LIFE by Adriana Trigiani (Sept 09)
HOLD STILL by Nina LaCour (Oct 09)
HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick (Oct 09)
INTO THE WILD NERD YONDER by Julie Halpern (Oct 09)
THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner (Oct 09)
SECRET SOCIETY by Tom Dolby (Oct 09)
WANDERLUST by Lucy Silag (Dec 09)
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Jan 10)
THE SECRET YEAR by Jennifer Hubbard (Jan 10)

This is open internationally! I’m going to keep it open until July 7th at 11:59 pm CST. Please tell me which 2 upcoming books you are MOST excited for (do not have to be on this list) for one entry. One additional entry by linking to this post from your blog (sidebar is fine) or social media site and leaving a separate comment telling me you did so.

You can also leave intelligent comments (meaning I can tell you read them) on up to 5 of my book reviews (past, present or future) for up to 5 additional entries. Just write the following after your comment #extra entry for it to get proper credit.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Nerds Heart YA Decision Time!

Ali and I both read ALIVE AND WELL IN PRAGUE, NEW YORK by Daphne Grab and STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE by David Yoo for the Nerds Heart YA tournament (click on the titles to read my reviews). Read Ali's post with reviews of both.

As I mentioned in both of my reviews, these are titles which are solid YA offerings, deserving of a wider audience. But we could only choose one to move on.

Though they might not seem that similar on the surface – ALIVE AND WELL is a sober novel about dealing with a parent’s illness and STOP ME is a comedic look at a doomed first love – they actually have a few things in common. Both are realistic fiction set in small town high schools and poke fun at the high school social order, the minefield which is school lunch, and the sheer absurdity of pep rallies. Both have outsiders as narrators (who are alternately annoying and endearing). And both have some well drawn supporting characters (Hal, Marco, Violet and Matisse’s parents in ALIVE AND WELL and cancer-stricken Ryan, pitch-perfect in his vain villainy, in STOP ME).

I thought ALIVE AND WELL had a much tighter narrative and the predictably of the plot didn’t bother me as it did Ali. I had a hard time choosing a favorite, but if the choice were solely up to me, I’d give ALIVE AND WELL a slight edge just because I thought STOP ME dragged on way too long. Since Ali chose STOP ME as a clear favorite, due to its “excellent voice and characterization, and less predictable plot”, STOP ME will be the one that moves on to be read by My Friend Amy in the second stage of voting (up against FEATHERED by Laura Kasischke).

So far we know that the following books will also move on to the quarterfinal round:
Stephanie will be judging between THE CITY IN THE LAKE by Rachel Neumeier and THE LATENT POWERS OF DYLAN FONTAINE by April Lurie.

Heather will have to choose between MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR by Steve Kluger and THE LAST EXIT TO NORMAL by Michael Harmon.

Laza will decide if she prefers CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers or TBD.

Book Review: Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before by David Yoo

Korean-American Albert Kim blames his parents moving him twice in his formative years for his dismal social status. Instead of playing the fitting in game at Bern High, Albert spends his sophomore year intentionally being a loser. So when he has a summer “something” with the school’s reining sweetheart Mia, former half of a power couple, Albert thinks junior year is looking up. But then Mia’s jerk of an ex, Ryan, gets cancer and Al just can’t compete. Is their “something” doomed?

Albert tells us in the prologue that his love story ends badly, admits that he’s done some things wrong, and asks us to try to see the whole picture and try to understand who he is. It’s like an advance apology for the fact that he is about to go off on a lot of detailed (and often tedious) tangents during the following 370 pages. Albert is an unusual narrator – we don’t often get this much insight to the mind of a severe outcast – and he tries his best to put himself in the best possible light because “what is a story, really, but a narrator’s defense?” (p. 4)

So what does a girl like Mia see in a guy like Albert? No one can figure it out, not even Albert. In the microcosm of the summer hotel job, after one of the most painfully funny meeting scenes I think I’ve ever read, they are sweet together. But you know, both instinctually, and because you’re told on the first page, that their kind of “something” can’t last – Albert is just too much of a weirdo to ever successfully maneuver all the intricacies of the high school social scene (integral to the survival of any budding high school relationship). It’s funny – because of the title (a riff on the Smith’s song Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before I’d wager) – I kept thinking about the lyrics of the song whenever Albert (with increasing hysteria and dread) would ask Mia about their relationship status every couple of days:

Nothing's changed I still love you, oh, I still love you ...Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love

In another nod to the song, Ryan has his spleen removed. Good times.

Anyway, the highlight of the novel is the voice. Albert is just so delightfully dorky and immature but so observant and intelligent at the same time. His outsider insights on the ridiculousness of high school were spot-on. Many passages made me laugh out loud – especially the pep rally scene and the town’s overreaction to Ryan’s cancer.

But yeah, I’d say this is at least 100 pages overlong and often veers into outright parody (something like Tom Perrotta’s ELECTION). Still, it’s a nice slice of life love story from a perspective we don’t often see and that alone makes this worthy of a larger audience. Will this one beat ALIVE AND WELL IN PRAGUE, NEW YORK in the Nerds Heart YA tournament? Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Review: Alive and Well in Prague, New York by Daphne Grab

City girl Matisse is transplanted from Manhattan to small town Prague due to her father’s Parkinson’s disease and she’s none too happy about it. Instead of art galleries and indie films, Prague’s main attractions are the fall hay ride and a very bad tempered goose. But as her father’s symptoms worsen, Matisse’s attempts to ignore the grave situation and to push everyone out of her life come to a head.

This was the first of two books I read for the Nerds Heart YA Tournament (the other being David Yoo’s STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE) and I have to say that I do think it’s very deserving of a bigger audience. The subject matter is not that typical for YA lit and it fills a void in the “living with a sick parent” genre (with emphasis on living since no one dies). It is well written, well researched, and genuinely moving in parts.

Because the story is about Matisse’s journey from denial and rebellion to acceptance of her new life situation it is the kind of book that you know where the story is going from the moment you pick it up. Yes, it’s predictable, but I think it needs to go where you think it’s going to go to be effective.

You could chart Matisse’s journey by the lunches she brought to school over the course of the book. In the beginning she brings spinach salad, French Brie, edamame and other fancy foods as a way of both holding on to her city girl identity and subtly sending a message to her new classmates that she’s above them. By the end, she’s happily eating country vegetables such as summer squash and thinking about just how yummy Prague’s famous apples really are.

But make no mistake, it takes the bulk of the book for Matisse to grow from whiny brat to sympathetic fighter, and although the last few chapters are satisfying and enjoyable to read, you have to go through a lot of hard times with Matisse to get there. It’s great that Author Daphne Grab breaks up some of the heaviness with a few family flashbacks on happier times and comic relief subplots such as rebel without a clue Cranston/Dylan and the aforementioned goose, because otherwise this might feel too much like “required reading”.

Tune in tomorrow when I review STOP ME and Ali and I make our final decision about which book moves on in the tournament.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Fabulous! (12)

Things I am excited about this week:

1. The Nerds Heart YA Tournament: 20 bloggers are charged with picking one of 16 books from 2008 as the underdog title of the year. These are less well-known books that the panel feels deserve more attention. I am co-judging in the first round with Ali from Worducopia and we are reading ALIVE AND WELL IN PRAGUE, NEW YORK by Daphne Grab and STOP ME IF YOU THINK YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE by David Yoo (ummm..yeah...we got two of the longest titles). Look for reviews and our decision on Sunday. For more info including links to all the panelists' blogs and a judging bracket with all 16 titles, see Becky's fab post.

2. ChickLitTeens let me know that Shannon Greenland is offering up the 5th book in her SPECIALISTS series FIGHT TO THE FINISH for free on her website. Every Monday, she'll post a new chapter (so far, the prologue and first two chapters are up). I really enjoyed the first four books which I read last summer, and I think I can manage reading a chapter a week online.

3. Natasha of Maw Books Blog is hosting the Bloggiesta this weekend, a challenge to bloggers to catch up on their blogs. I can't participate because I am woefully behind on my "required" reading, but I've done some of the mini-challenges and plan to do some more.

4. I got a big box of books from Penguin this week to weigh down my sagging bookshelves even more. This gives me an extra push to get started on my First Chapter Challenge - so be on the lookout for that soon.

5. Ok, now the new kitty's name choices have been narrowed down to Sawyer or Finn. Finn is way ahead in the Facebook voting, but considering how his favorite new activity is chewing on all my books, I'd say either literary name is appropriate. Vote for your choice in the comments!

6. The Depeche Mode and All American Rejects concerts were both tons of fun. Depeche Mode played the Commerzbank Arena to a sold out crowd and my friend Tracy were on the 50 yard line so to speak. So we what we saw looked liked ants dancing, but energy was high.

All American Rejects played The Batschkapp, an intimate venue with a capacity of 700. Lead singer Tyson Ritter said it had been a long time since they had been so close to their fans (I was in the 3rd row - very, very close). As you can see from this picture, Tyson is hot, sweaty, and sweet (letting his fangirls hold his hand!). They didn't play a long set, but were very talkative and playful. Tyson even crowdsurfed.

Your turn! What are you excited about this week?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What fans would do to get Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (contest winner announced)

So I had this little contest to give away a BEA prize pack of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, and Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater - all highly anticipated upcoming books. I asked entrants to either share a great lie, tell me what makes them shiver or tell me what they'd do to get a copy of Catching Fire.

I got 365 entries and had so much fun reading the responses. Here are the most remarkable things people would do to get Catching Fire:

Extreme measures

A few people said they’d participate in Hunger Games to get a copy of Catching Fire… Really? For a 1 in 24 chance of getting a copy and a very good chance of DYING? I'd prefer to wait for the September 1st release date (unless I had a terminal disease, and then maybe).

Some would even sell their soul! Although Leah would not let a creepy lamia drag her to hell.

Lizzy might even go on a hunger strike until she got a copy.

Kasey would sell her little sister. [!!!]

Barbrafl would do anything but kill or die, because death would mean not knowing what happens.

Public humiliation

Liviania would do a highly public, silly dance and post it on youtube. [I'd love to see this!]

GreenBeanTeenQueen would fight her fellow librarians for a copy.

Maigan would travel around her entire town reciting passages from The Hunger Games and encouraging people to read it with signs and flyers.

Ella Press would parade through a huge avenue wearing nothing more than her underwear.

Sana would run around her school screaming "I'M A MOCKING JAY! I REALLY AM" while wearing a home made mocking jay costume.

Liz would try out for her school’s football team.

Danie88 would walk around town and hug everyone she saw.

Andalee would walk from one end of New York City to the other at midnight wearing only a towel.

Stacy would write “I Love Peeta” all over her body and run naked through the neighborhood.

Big sacrifices

Hillary would donate all her other books to the library.

Letter Garden would live without internet for 3+ months.

Dissectingperfection would give up carbs for life.

Robyn would give up her iPod.

ProdElektra would forgo talking for a whole year. [Now that's dedication!]

Stacey would give up her phone, computer and TV for a year.

Kayla D. would stay a virgin for the next 4 years.

Bold/dangerous acts

Janssen would walk from California to Maine for a copy.

Charlotte would jump into the ocean in January.

Robolobolyn_03 would do pretty much anything, including swim with the jellyfishes.

Tabitha would leap of a fifty-story building with a pocket sized parachute.

Rema would live in the woods for a year.

Sassy CC would learn to breathe fire while walking on hot coals.

Olympianlady would be willing to jump naked into the Kenai River (in Alaska) in the dead of winter.

Becky would participate on a reality tv show that pours bugs on you.


Emily would advertise Presenting Lenore in Barnes and Noble.

Lorin would send me homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Andrea would be my online slave for a week. [Very tempting!]


Hilly-wa would catch Halley’s Comet.

Astrid would fight off zombie moles.


Amy would drink an “anything smoothie” possibly including mustard and/or cheese.

The Book Queen would let spiders crawl on her.

Robin_titan would eat 5 worms.

Kiirsi would dive (or belly flop) into a pool of jello despite her hatred of slime.

Samantha would lick a stranger’s foot.

Bitterwhip would paint her room with ketchup (which she hates) and then lick it all off. [This has to be my absolute favorite answer!]

Tuan would sponge bath 50 old men. [ummm….ew!]

Rakela would eat a bucket of worms.

Enlisting outside help

Niki Nicole would hire Katniss from Hunger Games and Katsa from the Graceling to do what they do best to get her that ARC.

@llie would hire a certain boy wizard to help her get the book.

Permanent declaration of adoration

The Brain Lair would paint Flame tattoos on both arms and neck to pretend like she’s Katniss.

Grace would tattoo Peeta Mellark on her butt.


Oh and of course there is a winner (picked at random) and that is Mim! Mim said: "I would go without sleep for more than twenty four hours. I would camp out all night in a line to get it too. I might do some crazy dare of some kind. I would beg, borrow and bribe for a copy of that book." Well congrats Mim! Tell us about how the 24 hours without sleeping goes. Maybe you can read all three of your prize books in that time :)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Waiting On Wednesday (34) Pastworld by Ian Beck

What if Victorian London were really an amusement park, whose inhabitants were actors hired to entertain park visitors from the twenty-first century?

I am a huge fan of outdoor museums - I've been to "old" towns with actors in Denmark, Japan, Germany and even Wichita (Cowtown with a "real" saloon shoot-out). So I'm intrigued by Pastworld - especially since some of the inhabitants don't seem to realize they are acting...read on:

(Summary from the Fall 2009 Bloomsbury catalog)

Eve is a pastworld inhabitant who has no idea the modern world exists until she meets Caleb, a tourist from the present, whose visit goes horribly wrong when he finds himself accused of murder. Both Caleb and Eve have roles to play in the real murderer's diabolical plans - roles that reveal disturbing truths about their origins.

Narrow escapes, dark secrets, and moments of strange beauty converge to create a picture of a fascinating world within a world - and to offer a profound look at the thinning line between entertainment and reality.

PASTWORLD will be released in the UK in October and in the US in November. Visit the Pastworld website for a closer look!

WoW is hosted by Jill - head over there to see what other bloggers are looking forward to this week.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Library Thing Tuesday (58) + picture of Emmy

Today Wendi is talking about a new feature at LibraryThing: Collections!

I've always used my LT library to list books I've read, but now thanks to this new feature, I can sort my books into separate libraries including "read but unowned", "to read" and even "wishlist" (that last one is awesome, yes!). Now I just have to find the time.


As I write this, both Emmy and new kitteh are sharing my lap, purring. I am so relieved that they seem to be getting along. I have a picture of the first time they ever cuddled (on Sunday). It was supervised and lasted about 10 seconds, but it was a great start:

And then yesterday, I walked into the bedroom and saw this:

Bonus picture of new kitteh wrapped up in the blanket:

Name update: Still no name. What do you all think about Sawyer though? It's literary and a LOST reference. I'll have to see if Germans can pronounce it though. That's what killed my first choice (Jasper).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Review and Giveaway: Geektastic by various authors

According to the definition given on the back cover of my ARC of GEEKTASTIC, a geek is 1. A person of an intellectual bent who is disapproved of [in my circles we call such a person a nerd] 2. A person who is so passionate about a given subject or subjects as to occasionally cause annoyance among others [usually something comic book, sci-fi or fantasy related in my experience].

There are a lot of gamers, Buffy fanatics and Trekkies represented in these stories, but it was nice to see the definition expanded to include lit enthusiasts and aspiring paleontologists. I don’t have much geek cred beyond my love of bowling and the new Battlestar Galactica series, my perfect GPA, and my one year on the high school Quiz Bowl team. I don’t play any games other than Tetris and Bejeweled, I’ve never seen a single episode of Buffy, and the only Star Trek I could stand to watch was the one with Scott Bakula and that was only because I love Scott Bakula and will watch him in anything.

My favorite story of all was David Levithan’s QUIZ BOWL ANTICHRIST. Like the main character, I was the alternate responsible for lit questions and one of my main motivations for being on the team was my crush on a fellow quiz bowler (an arrogant Swedish exchange student). I was good, but I couldn’t name 4 Pearl Buck novels. The narrative arc is sweetly satisfying while the voice is uproariously funny. After reading this and chatting with David, I definitely understand why Khy is stalking him, and I now have the urge to read everything he ever wrote.

I also really enjoyed Tracy Lynn’s ONE OF US, about a cheerleader who pays her high school’s resident geeks to teach her to speak geek so she can improve her conversations with her sci-fi dabbling boyfriend. It’s a fun look at different aspects of “geekdom” (I even learned a thing or two) where the popular girl is humanized for a change.

I NEVER by Cassandra Clare, about a non-gaming girl who goes to a gamer meet-up looking for a possible romance with a guy she’s been chatting with online, completely immersed me in an unfamiliar world. I like the idea of I NEVER too – it’s a game I like to play at baby showers (strangely enough). I always win points by saying I’ve never driven a stick-shift (successfully at least), read Harry Potter, or had a cavity. The best I NEVER I ever heard came from a 12 year old girl in a room full of adult females – she said “I’ve never had a period.”

M.T. Anderson’s THE KING OF PELINESSE and Wendy Mass’s THE STARS AT THE FINISH LINE were also standouts in the collection.

THE WRATH OF DAWN by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith (about a Buffy sing-along) and DEFINITIONAL CHAOS by Scott Westerfeld (about attending a convention) were a bit TOO geeky for my taste. Barry Lyga’s THE TRUTH ABOUT DINO GIRL was a clever revenge fantasy but was perhaps a bit TOO mean. And surprisingly, FREAK THE GEEK by John Green and IT’S JUST A JUMP TO THE LEFT by Libba Bray couldn’t hook me into actually reading them.

In addition to the stories, there are also one page comics on various geek topics. The few that are in the ARC version are interesting 30 second diversions but nothing really remarkable.

I was lucky enough to get to attend Little, Brown’s Geektastic bowling party during BEA and hang out with a few of these fab authors including David, Scott, Cassandra, Barry, Libba, Holly Black, and Sarah Zarr (who’s story didn’t make it into the ARC version either). In fact, I have pictorial proof that David was stalking me during the entire BEA weekend (seriously - he was EVERYWHERE I was - TAC, BEA, Books of Wonder, bowling, my hotel room - j/k on that last one, ha!).

Want to read GEEKTASTIC before its release on August 1st? Just come up with a fun and geeky headline or caption for the stalking picture (yes – a merit based contest!) and write it in the comments. You have until July 7th at 11:59 PM CST. I will ship my extra ARC copy internationally. May the force be with you.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Review: Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I own a pair of Prada boots. Not heels. Never heels. I’d instantly fall on my face like Callie, the main character, does, but I’m pretty sure doing so wouldn’t transport me back to 1815 where I’d get to live in a mansion with a hot, green-eyed duke and wear fabulous dresses. So yeah. I’ll stick with my boots (even if they are several seasons ago by now).

Since I love time travel stories, Prada, and Jane Austen, this was a slam dunk premise for me. But the execution didn’t entirely win me over. I’m all about suspending belief, but I like the story to at least try to offer some logic as to the whole time travel component, and this one did not. It was bam!, she’s in the past, and bam!, she’s back. Are the red heels magic like in THE WIZARD OF OZ? Was it all a dream? I guess the fact that there were no rules frustrated me to the point that I had a hard time really enjoying the novel despite its undeniable charm.

Callie is a more complex character than you’d usually find in such a confection. Sure, she’s a clumsy, and at times clueless, blonde. But she’s also smart in math and science with a penchant for regaling her 19th century pals with all sorts of scientific trivia while they are riding around in elegant carriages on their way to fancy balls. She may not think things through all the way, but her heart is in the right place, and her brand of Girl Power just might start an Austen era revolution of sorts.

PRADA AND PREJUDICE just came out this week. Visit the author at http://www.mandyhubbard.com/.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Fabulous! (11)

Some things I'm exicted about since my last FF post on May 15th (wow, has it been that long?!):

1. Lots of new books thanks to BEA and my birthday! In addition to the signed books I snagged, there are a few others I am particularly excited about: HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl and ASH by Malinda Lo. And here's the big stack of books I bought for my birthday:

Four Major Plays by Henrik Ibsen
A MONSTROUS REGIMENT OF WOMEN by Laurie R. King (the second volume in Mary Russel/Sherlock Holmes mysteries)
THE SILVER BLADE by Sally Gardner (sequel to THE RED NECKLACE)
WINGS by Aprilynne Pike
THE AWAKENING by Kelley Armstrong (sequel to the THE SUMMONING)
(those with a sharp eye might notice Emmy chasing a fly behind the bookstack)

2. Got a ton of new blog awards which I diligently wrote down on a list which has now disapeared. I think Emmy ate it? In any case, I appreciate all the awards, so thank you for thinking of me.
3. I have a new kitteh (as yet nameless)! Today there was less hissing from Emmy's side than yesterday, but the atmosphere is still icy. New kitteh is very sweet though, he purrs at the slightest contact and he likes to curl up on my shoulder when I sit on the sofa. Awww!
4. I should mention that my twin cousins Kaitlin and Kaleb graduated from high school recently and are heading to Kansas State in the fall, both to study engineering. Congrats you two on all your honors!
5. I am going to see DEPECHE MODE in concert tonight!
6. I am going to see ALL AMERICAN REJECTS in concert on Tuesday!

What are you excited about this week/month?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Emmy meets the new kitteh

So we picked new kitteh up today. He was not scared one little bit. He wanted to run around in the car and not stay in his cage. The breeder also told us that he stole a cookie from her 2 year old daughter yesterday and defended it mightily. So he's definitely a brat.

I went up the stairs first to close off a "safe" room for the new kitteh, but Emmy heard his meows and raced out the door to meet him before I could catch her. We put him in the "safe" room in his carrier and let Emmy come in and check him out.

Here they look pretty friendly, but Emmy did hiss at him a few times, and we aren't about to leave them alone together for now. Emmy is totally stressed out, so I am spending time with her while Daniel is spending time with new kitteh. It wouldn't be fair to leave him all alone in a whole new environment, and every time one of us comes in, he purrs VERY loudly. It makes it hard for us to watch season 7 of 24. We are about halfway through and it is at a very exciting point! (At least I get to hang out in the room with the computer).

I'll keep you all updated on my exciting "kitteh theater" on twitter! Follow me at @lenoreva if you don't already.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Review and Author Interview: The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris

Africa is a fascinating continent. It has a wealth of natural resources and beautiful vistas as well as friendly people and exotic cultures. It is definitely a wild place too, unfortunately rife with corruption and marred by conflicts, many set off by an arbitrary setting of boundaries during European colonial times.

Sierra Leone, in Western Africa, has been a trouble spot in the region, never more so than during its recent bloody civil war. I’m no authority on the subject, but I do feel like I know a lot more about it after having read THE SECRET KEEPER. Author Paul Harris is a foreign correspondent who has covered many countries in Africa and here, he writes what he knows – in this case, the story of rookie journalist Danny sent to cover Sierra Leone’s 2000 political crisis and his return to a nation at “peace” four years later to investigate the murder of his former lover Maria, an aid worker with War Child International.

The novel begins with a torture scene that would do Jack Bauer (from the TV series 24) proud. Then, we discover how everything led up to this opening scene through a series of alternating flashbacks to 2000 and the recent present (2004). It is a nice structure that doles out the mystery of Maria (the titular keeper of secrets) in tantalizing pieces, while also giving us a sense of the absurdities of war and the very real danger that lurks under the surface of Sierra Leone’s brand of peace.

I thought it worked well to give Danny a personal crusade to discover the truth, although I was never fully invested in the relatively fleeting Danny/Maria romance. It seemed to be mostly sexual in nature, with Danny also being in awe of her independence and tenacious character. I would have liked to have seen deeper interaction and conversation between the two to really show me that were soul mates or something, because while I understand why someone as beautiful and passionate at Maria could get under Danny’s skin, I found it harder to understand why he would literally give up everything to find out what really happened to her.

Still, this is a fast-paced, intelligent thriller that educates and entertains. I’ll definitely be keeping it on my shelf and am looking forward to lending it out.

I’m thrilled to be able to welcome Paul Harris today for a chat about the novel and Africa in general. It’s long, but it is worth it!

When did you first start to realize you wanted to take your journalistic experiences and novelize them?
I have actually always wanted to write fiction. I loved to do it when I was growing up though that was mostly creating very pale imitations of JRR Tolkien’s books. Then, when I was living in Kenya in 1999, I tried to write quite a grandly ambitious magical realism novel. It did not work. It was after that that I firmly decided to stick closer to home and write about my own experiences as a journalist in Africa. Suddenly I found the writing coming very easily and the characters just leaping out of me.

What current event/crisis makes the journalist in you want to drop everything to go cover it?
I think that depends on one’s age and experience. I don’t really have any desire to do much conflict reporting anymore. But I always regretted never having made it to the Congo when I was in Africa. Out of all the ongoing troubles in the world, I think the Congo is the one that could actually tempt me back in. Aside from that I have to say covering a US presidential election is unbelievably fascinating. Last year especially so. It really is an amazing process from the beginnings out in the Iowa caucuses right through to election day, this is how the most powerful man in the world is chosen.

Your novel reminds me a bit of The Blood Diamond. Have you seen it? Based on your experience with the diamond trade, would you buy diamonds or encourage others to buy them?
A great question. I have not seen Blood Diamond as I wanted to avoid any danger of accidentally incorporating parts of it into my book. As for diamonds, I think like all products there are ways to buy them that are more ethically sourced than others. If you can, make sure that you know where/how your diamond was mined. There are numerous schemes for doing this. If you do that then you are encouraging ethical corporate behaviour. Do not buy a diamond ‘blind’ (unless it is a vintage stone, I suppose).

You’ve said in other interviews that the character of Kam is based on your own driver in Sierra Leone. Did you send your driver a copy of the book? Is he aware of the homage?
Kam is the one character in the book who is simply written entirely from my own memory. Sadly, I lost touch with him when I finished my assignment in Sierra Leone. I regret that greatly.

Tell me a little about your experience in Zimbabwe. I went to Victoria Falls in 2007 for a week and fell in love with it – but the stories I heard broke my heart. And what I’ve heard since has not been encouraging. What is your stance on tourists visiting countries controlled by dictators? Are they helping or harming?
I have visited Zimbabwe numerous times. The last time was back in 2003, which seems like years ago, but at the time the country was already in deep crisis. The fact that Mugabe is still in power six years later shows just how deep into crisis the country has gone. I was there to report undercover on how opposition figures were being beaten and tortured. I posed as a tourist, flying in from Malawi on my US passport not my British one. I stayed in a quiet hotel for the first two nights until I noticed that a man next to me at the hotel bar was literally taking notes on the conversations I was having with people. Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Organisation is not subtle! After that I contacted a friend of a friend and stayed in a private house. Much safer and under the radar of the thugs.
As for tourism, that is a tough one. I guess in some ways it is the same answer for diamonds. Don’t do anything ‘blind’. Visit the country but stay in places and buy things that are run by or made by ordinary people. Avoid putting any money into things run by the state or by members of the government. That helps ordinary people stuck in terrible circumstances but avoids helping the government.

Is there a question you’ve always wanted to be asked but never have been?
I am going to use this excellent question to harp on about a key pet peeve of mine that I am always amazed never gets any political attention in America. So the question is: What simple thing would most improve America for Americans? My answer is: give everyone a minimum of four weeks vacation a year. Ideally, five. In Europe we are generous with our vacations. In America many people only get two. I find this astonishing. Sometimes newspaper columnists here in the US even laugh at the French/Germans/Italians for their long summer vacations and their smaller Gross National Products. Well, the joke is on them. Because those French/Germans/Italians are too busy sunning themselves on the beach, spending quality time with their families, reading great books and eating lovely food, to worry much about their country’s latest GNP. It is all a matter of getting your priorities right. The benefits of giving Americans two more weeks extra holiday are huge.

1) Productivity does not fall. Workers would simply do the same work in less time i.e. work harder but for not as long. Some of the most productive workers in the world are German and they get massive holidays. American companies would find their workers happier, more dedicated and just asproductive.

2) Four weeks vacation would allow Americans to travel more in the world. They would learn more about the world and the world would learn more about them. Excellent for everyone. Global prejudice on all sides would be reduced.

3) With increased leisure hugely important domestic industries like hotels, resorts, restaurants and tourist sights would get a massive boost thus creating jobs. American jobs.

4) It would soften America’s culture of working so hard, encouraging people to see life’s achievements as happening away from the office or simply getting up another pay grade. No one lying on their death bed ever thinks that they did not spend enough time behind their desk.

Thank you Paul!

Visit the author at his website and check out the other stops on his TLC blog tour.

Waiting On Wednesday (33) Half-Minute Horrors by various authors

How scared can you get in only 30 seconds? That's the question this compliation of short, short stories by many of my favorite authors asks. I love reading short fiction such as the 1 page works found in FLASH FICTION and SUDDEN FICTION, and how can I resist a line-up that includes M.T. Anderson, Margaret Atwood, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Lethem, Gregory Maguire, Melissa Marr, Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson, Francine Prose, Lemony Snicket and many more? Plus proceeds benefit First Book. I will be pre-ordering this and anxiously awaiting the August 25th release date.

So grab a flashlight, set the timer, and get ready for instant chills! (Note: It is middle grade fiction, so I don't expect it to be too scary for me.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Library Thing Tuesday (57) + picture of Emmy

Today's question from Wendi: How often do you find yourself struggling through a book (if you HAD to estimate)? How far will you read before you stop and consider it a DNF (Did not finish)? Will you skim ahead and see if it gets any better? Once you put it down, do you still write a quick review? What do you do with the book when you are done?

I have a good instinct about what books I'll like, so I don't find myself struggling through a book that often. This year, I've invoked the 50 page rule twice, and I wrote a post called I'm just not that into you... These two books are still on my shelf, but they may not be for long.

You see, I have a bigger problem than DNF and that is DNS (Did not start). I have a bunch of review copies of books that I picked up at book fairs, received unsolicited or won in contests that are gathering lots of dust. I am making it a summer project to read the first chapter of any review copy that has been on my shelf more than 9 months and then decide to keep it or purge it. I'll keep you all updated on my progress of course! Anyone want to join me? The more the merrier! I'll call it the First Chapter Challenge. Unofficial of course.


This week, you are going to have to work for your Emmy fix! I did a guest post over at Heather Zundel's blog about how I got started blogging, and Emmy is posing with the first books I ever reviewed on my blog. It's very cute, I promise.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Book Review: Darling Jim by Christian Moerk

Three sisters - Fiona, Róisín and Aoife – and their aunt all fall under the spell of “Darling” Jim, a storyteller in the Irish seanchaí tradition who speaks of wolves and predatory men. The result of this enchantment is that at the start of the novel, most of the main characters are dead and the rest are missing. It is up to mailman Niall, who finds Fiona’s diary in his dead letter bin, to find out what really happened.

The foreboding but fascinating fairy tale Jim tells over successive nights (which we read about in Fiona’s diary) permeates this mystery story. Is there something paranormal afoot or is Jim simply a really nasty human specimen? Especially impressive is the very authentic Irish atmosphere – amazing, really, when you consider Author Moerk is Danish and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

As far as the characters, we get a good sense of Fiona and Róisín by reading their diaries, but Aoife, the aunt and even Jim remain slippery, their motivations somewhat understandable but still quite puzzling. Unfortunately, the mailmain, Niall, seems more like a device to hold the narrative together than a fully formed, relatable character.

Things may wrap up a bit too neatly for such a haunting premise, but the story sticks with you. I’d recommend it to readers of “darker” novels such as John Connelly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS or Michel Faber’s UNDER THE SKIN.

Thanks to the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program for providing me with an ARC of DARLING JIM. You can visit the author at http://www.christianmoerk.com/ and buy the book in hardcover.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

New York City in Books

I still have a couple more NYC posts in me, and today I wanted to give a quick shout out to some of the books I used as reference for my trip.

First up, the full color New York City guide 2009 from Fodor's. I didn't get this in time to actually plan my trip with it, but I did browse through while I was there. It is organized by area and provides a great overview of things to do as well as places to stay, eat and shop. There is a nice balance of information and entertainment in the writing and I especially enjoyed the "close up" features such as the one on the history of Times Square. I will definitely use this to plan my next trip!

At BEA, I grabbed a copy of Lonely Planet's New York City Encounter, which claims to allow you to discover twice the city in half the time. It is a small format, 280 pager that can be easily carried with you when you are out and about. Organized by neighborhood, it presents a few must-sees as well as some "hidden gems". No listing for The Strand bookstore, so it loses some points with me. I liked the interviews with NYC residents and would have like to have seen more of these.

Speaking of The Strand, we picked up a copy of the classic children's picture book This is New York by M. Sasek. It give a lot of fun stats about NYC then and now such as how many elevators operate in the city, how many churches there are, and how many miles of streets need to be policed (6,000 miles). I love the illustrations - especially of the squirrels in Central Park.

We also bought a copy of the recently released A Walk in New York by Salvatore Rubbino. In it, a father and son spend a day in Manhattan starting in Grand Central Station and moving downtown visiting The New York Public Library, The Empire State Building and Union Square Park (all places I visited as well). It's both fun and full of interesting trivia.

What are your favorite NYC guidebooks or books set in NYC? I'd love some recommendations!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Club Report: The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos

I met with my new book club for the second time on May 27th to discuss The Night Gardener.

Short summary:
When a teen is found murdered in a Washingtion DC garden, it reminds veteran police officer Gus Ramone of a case he worked on as a rookie cop. Could the same killer, dubbed The Night Gardener, be on the loose again?

The group verdict:
The group is all women and we agreed that this novel seems more suited to men. Not only is there is grusome premise and a gritty setting, but the focus is on the male characters, the pages are full of men bragging about their sexual conquests in colorful language, and there is a primarily action driven plot.

We all expressed our frustration at the lack of real closure and the introduction of ancillary characters that had nothing to do with the main story. Perhaps they were there to show that the author has some familiarity with the DC criminal scene, but all the superfluous characters were just confusing to most of us.

I did enjoy the interogation scenes, and specifically that those being interogated always asked for the soft drink Slice and had to make due with Mountain Dew. I guess Slice is the criminal drink of choice in the DC area.

Up next:
Undecided. The next meeting is a movie night to watch Slumdog Millionaire.