Friday, March 30, 2012

Nina Siegal: "This paper writes the first draft of history."

A Little Trouble With the Facts (Amazon) by Nina Siegal is a surprising story about a former up and coming reporter named Valerie Vane who has been banished to the obituary section. As anyone who's read books about a newspaper knows, the obituary section is exactly where a reporter doesn't want to be. However, after an embarrassing scandal, Valerie is mostly content to cool her heels there, just grateful that she hasn't been fired. That is, until she writes an obituary without completely checking all the facts. It's not long until she finds herself investigating a murder.

I mostly liked this book. There were a few slow moments where I found myself not caring and a couple of scenes where I didn't quite understand what was going on. However, the overall plot, while not the most original (newspaper-person turns PI) definitely had a unique twist on it. Valerie's history (hint: she's not a city girl, as much as she wants her peers to believe she is) definitely gives the story a unique perspective.

I couldn't find any contact information for Nina Siegal, unfortunately. Oh well! I'm not sure what I'm going to read next. I still have School for Brides, but I'm not entirely sure I really want to read it... ever. I'm going to the library tomorrow though, so I'll probably find some new books then. As always, any recommendations are welcome!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Giveaway: Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

So, in the spirit of many book blogs that I follow, I have decided to do a giveaway of a book I have reviewed, Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin. Check out my original review of it here for a bit more information. Only entrants in the US/Canada please. This giveaway ends April 5, 2012. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Shelfari: "A community powered encyclopedia for book lovers."

Shelfari, by Amazon, is a tool for readers to organize their bookshelves. There are dozens of these tools around the internet, and some are better than others. I've decided to write a quick review about it today, in lieu of a book review (truth: still not done with a book, though A Little Trouble With the Facts looks promising).

I want to start by saying that there is a lot to Shelfari. It provides ways to organize your books as well as detailed, user submitted information about each book. Some of the books do not have complete information, but it's easy to edit any book's page and editors are even ranked, so that you have a sense of accomplishment when you contribute. You can choose what cover displays on your bookself, include when you finished a book, rate the book, and other things.

Shelfari also contains a few other features. One of them is groups-pretty self explanatory, ways to connect with other users. Another feature is recommendations. Recommendations are a great idea in theory, but unfortunately they don't seem to have much of an algorithm going on. They make simple recommendations at best. Still, better than nothing. Shelfari also has the ability to ask and answer questions about a book. This has the potential to be useful, though most of the questions I saw were just of the "Should I read this book" variety. If you've ever tried to answer such a question before, you know it's not an easy task.

The last feature I want to discuss is reading stats. This has to be my favorite thing, simply because I love numbers. If you visit your personal reading stats page you can see all sorts of fun information, such as how you usually rate books, the subjects you read, and the page count of the books you've read.

Shelfari is definitely complex, and it can be a little hard to figure out at first. However, if you're looking for a way to organize all the books you've read, then it is definitely worth checking out.

Do you use an online tool to organize what you've read? What is it? Have you used Shelfari? Let me know!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Author Reply: Thomas Kaufman

Thomas Kaufman, author of Drink the Tea (original post) wrote back to me to tell me that Steal the Show, his second book, is even better. He's also working on a third Willis Gidney book called Face the Music, which is due in 2013.

Have I mentioned how much I love it when authors reply? Also, sorry-I still haven't finished School for Brides. It's a pretty heavy romance novel, and I just haven't been in the mood for that lately. I have another book that I might pick up instead though. It's called A Little Trouble with the Facts and it's by Nina Siegal. It's more of a mystery novel, so I'll probably be able to get through that better.

Hope you all are having a great weekend!

On My Wishlist (111)

On My Wishlist is a weekly event hosted by Book Chick City (click banner above or here to visit their website!)

My wishlist is never ending. However, I figured I'd post a few books that I've been eyeing lately. My usual method for finding books these days has been going to the library and pulling random books off the shelves. However, for my next library visit I think I'm going to try to be a little more organized and maybe look for some of these!

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

I admit, mostly I want this book for the title. I mean, come on-it's adorable. However, the story sounds delightful as well. It's about a girl named September who gets invited on an adventure by a Green Wind (who looks like a man in a green jacket). I've been eyeing this book for quite some time, but just never got around to purchasing it. I'll definitely have to see if my local library has it! (Amazon)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Futuristic fairy tales? What's not to love? This book stars Cinder, a cyborg & gifted mechanic who lives with her stepmother and is blamed for her stepsister's illness. Suddenly, her life becomes intertwined with a prince named Kai and she finds herself trapped in an intergalactic struggle and victim to a forbidden attraction. I have to admit, when I first saw the cover I was a little skeptical-redone fairy tales are very hit or miss. But reading the description makes me think this is definitely one worth picking up! (Amazon)

Summer Morning, Summer Night by Ray Bradbury

I really enjoyed The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, as well as Fahrenheit 451 and a few other assorted short stories. When I saw this cover I was immediately attracted to the book-finding out it's a Ray Bradbury book is just a bonus! This book is a set of short stories set in Green Town, Illinois, a common locale for Bradbury's tales. Hopefully I can find this at my library! (Amazon)

Have you read any of these? What's on your wishlist? Let me know! I'm always looking for new books!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lara Tupper: "It started on a cruise ship, where nothing was exactly real."

A Thousand and One Nights (Amazon) by Lara Tucker is a book I read a few years ago, way before I began this project. However, I didn't finish the book I was going to review today, and so I decided to write about this instead.

A Thousand and One Nights is the story of a woman named Kate who dreamed of being a professional entertainer. So when she gets hired aboard the MS Sound of Music, it seems like her dreams are coming true. Before long, she meets Jack, a charming British man. They sing together and eventually fall in love. Then four years pass and all of a sudden Kate is a lounge singer, traveling the world with Jack. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near the life Kate wanted-it turns out being a lounge singer isn't as glamorous as it looks. Eventually Kate has to decide: Will she keep this life or find another?

This book is definitely a guilty pleasure sort of novel, no question about it. I would say it's the perfect beach read. However, it definitely goes deeper than the average guilty pleasure novel-Kate deals with some very real issues, and not all of them are about getting a guy to notice her or anything like that. Pick up this book if you're looking for something substantial but not too heavy.

Lara Tupper has a contact box on her website and this is what I wrote:
I read A Thousand and One Nights some time ago, and I just decided to write to you to tell you how much I enjoyed it. You combine the elements of a guilty pleasure novel with the journey of a young woman growing up very well. I hope to read more from you!

Maybe tomorrow I'll have School For Brides done! Who knows?!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Joe Meno: "Everything is good when your dad bothers to be around."

Hairstyles of the Damned (Amazon) by Joe Meno is a story about wanting to belong. It's narrated by Brian, a teenager at Catholic school who doesn't fit in and never has. His best friend is Gretchen, a girl known for her pink hair and tendency to get into fist fights with other girls. The story is told over the course of a year (October 1990-October 1991), and chronicles everything that Brian has to deal with during that year, including fighting parents, a crush on his best friend, and deciding how he feels about racism. It's pretty much just the story of how one boy grows up.

I really enjoyed this story. It's actually very similar to How I Paid For College (original post), but targeting a different set of people-punk rock kids instead of theater kids. I think that this book was a pretty accurate depiction of what kids go through in order to fit in, and what teenagers deal with in general. Anybody who feels like they don't fit in, or who felt that way in high school should check this book out.

There's no contact information for the author on his website, so no email today. I think next I'm going to read School For Brides by Cheryl Ann Smith, which will be a huge departure from the theme I seem to have lately. I'm kind of looking forward to it!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Author Updates

Hey everyone, I just thought I'd make a quick post with some news about various authors we've featured in the past.

Ally Condie, author of Matched (original post) released the sequel to Matched, called Crossed in November of last year. Check it out on Amazon. This is part of a trilogy. The third book will be called Reached and will be available in November of this year. Check out her blog post about it here.

John Green, author of Looking For Alaska (original post) just released a book called The Fault In Our Stars. It's about a young girl with cancer who falls in love with a boy she meets at a support group. I've heard it is incredibly sad, but very good. Apparently film rights have already been bought for this book! Check it out on Amazon.

Ransom Riggs, author of Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (original post) will soon release a book called Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past, which is a non fiction book about found postcards. It's due to be released in April. Check it out on Amazon.

I'll try to do posts like this about once a week, maybe more, maybe less depending on the news. Don't be afraid to tell me what you think or tip me off on some new release!

Marc Acito: "This is how I paid for college. This is how I misspent my youth."

How I Paid For College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater (Amazon) by Marc Acito is a unique coming of age story, set in the eighties, about a boy named Edward Zanni. His dream is to go to Juilliard and become a famous actor. As if typical of a high school theater student, he's fairly eccentric and runs with a very eccentric pack-Paula, a girl with strong morals and shoes that never match, Kelly, his surprisingly preppy girlfriend, Doug, a jock turned theater nerd, Natie, an annoying tag along computer geek, and Ziba, a snobbish girl unfazed by anything. What better group of friends could a person have?

So, overall life is good for Edward Zanni. That is, until his father decides to marry Dagmar, a gold digging, outright evil woman. Then his father suddenly decides that he doesn't want to pay for Juilliard, leaving Edward-about to start his senior year of high school-in quite the lurch. Lucky for him, he has friends willing to do anything to help.

I really enjoyed this book. I think it captured the essence of being a teenager very well. Besides the main plot line, there is also a lot of discussion of sexuality, which is definitely something on the forefront of a lot of teenagers minds. I think that this book is worth a read by almost anybody, parents included. Perhaps especially parents, because the various parent-child relationships throughout the book are something that parents might be able to appreciate from the other side of the fence, so to speak.

The author does not have an email posted on his website, just a twitter account-which looks like it doesn't exist anymore-and a facebook page. However, his website is definitely worth checking out-the About Marc Acito page is fairly humorous-so check it out here!

Tomorrow or the day after, expect a review of Hairstyles of the Damned! If a review isn't posted, an author reply will be.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Interview: Haywood Smith

As promised, here is the interview with Haywood Smith, author of Wedding Belles among other things. This is a lovely interview, and she was very thorough in answering my questions. Check out her website here if you're interested to hear more about her.

Your newer books-what your website deems "Hell Hath No Fury" books-are about very realistic women. Do you draw inspiration from the people around you? Are there any notable scenes or plots that are based on true stories?

First, let me stress that there are no new stories, despite what people think. Even though we consider ourselves unique, there are always others who have shared our experiences, plus or minus the technology. That's why archetypal characters exist and are so successful in fiction. We all fall into one of a few basic personality types and life situations. Writing teachers have told me that there are only seventy-nine basic plots, or some such number, and every story is either a version or a derivative of one of those classic plots.

The same goes for characters. Every writer is influenced--consciously and unconsciously--by everything he or she has experienced, read, or seen. So when we create characters, we draw from that reservoir of experience, whether consciously or unconsciously. But the characters I create are always fictional in my mind, whether they're archetypes or stereotypes. Though some people have told me I can use their stories, I learned the hard way that I must get written permission to do so. Someone once said I could use some stories from her divorce, than conveniently "forgot" giving me permission and sued me and won some money. (Fortunately, it was covered by E&O insurance.) So now I am very careful to get written permission if I use anyone's anecdotes. Even when I do, though, the character is always someone I have made up in my mind to satisfy certain needs for the story. My purpose in writing is to entertain and uplift. I never wrote anything with the intention of hurting or depriving anyone, and I never will.

Is there a large difference between writing historical fiction and your newer books? Which do you find more difficult?

Writing an historical novel is a completely different experience from writing humorous contemporary Southern women's fiction, though I use the same production process, the objectives for each are distinct and very different. With the historicals, I focus more on the relationship between hero and heroine and the actual historical characters and events, using more action and adventure. With comedy, I focus on creating a memorable main character, then taking the reader along for the ride while the heroine endures exaggerated trials and tribulations, then ends up better in the end, despite everything. The situations in comedy are often exaggerated for dramatic effect. As far as difficulty, I find each genre has its own demands, and I always end up having to work very hard to produce each book. It's a real challenge writing complex stories that are easy to read.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

The best advice I can give any aspiring writer is to find a writers' group that allows you access to professional, published authors and learn everything you can. If you want to be published, you must be able to learn and grow, detaching from what you write and considering it product. As for the craft of writing, writing is rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting. I had to rewrite my first novel six times before it finally sold, and another time for my editor. All writers are in a constant state of becoming. We learn and grow and hone our craft with every revision and every book. I never would have succeeded without what I learned from Georgia Romance Writers.

What are your favorite books?

My favorite books are the ones in the Bible, and anything by Thomas Hardy, Pearl Buck, Aristophanes, Philippa Gregory, Taylor Caldwell, Hemingway, Shakespeare... I could go on and on. I like writers from every genre but erotica. But I no longer read "downer" books, because the challenges of my own life have been significant enough; I don't need anything that drags my spirits down, no matter how wonderfully written it is. (Cold Mountain comes to mind.) My imagination is so vivid, I live what I read and write. That's why I write books that offer hope, humor, and encouragement to my readers, even though I deal with deadly serious woman's issues.

Is there anything you can tell us about your new or recently released projects?

I have just finished rewrites for my next book, out January 2013, titled OUT OF WARRANTY. It's a send-up of the heath insurance industry, the medical profession in America, and falling apart physically ten years before Medicare. When my widowed heroine is diagnosed with a rare form of arthritis (same as mine), she spends all her money and then some trying to get well, then decides she needs to remarry for better healtlh insurance. Needless to say, her efforts at fix-ups and e-dates don't pan out, so she ends up marrying a one-legged curmudgeon with the same condition, and they live platonically ever after in her mold-remediated house.

I am currently working on a sequel to my first women's fiction best seller, QUEEN BEE OF MIMOSA BRANCH, titled QUEEN BEE GOES TO COLLEGE.

I'm also working on two non-fiction books, one of my grandmother's wise and funny sayings, and one that's a wheat-oat-milk solids-gluten-rice-soy-free cookbook of recipes I've developed for my strict medical diet.

That's all! I hope you enjoyed the interview-I certainly did! I have another author who has agreed to do an interview, so stay tuned for more information!

Author Reply: Pamela Klaffke

I'm actually pleasantly surprised at the recent promptness of author replies. I have another one to share as well, though I'll probably leave that for tomorrow. For today, I'll just post this reply and the interview with Haywood Smith later. Tomorrow I'll probably post a review of How I Paid For College and the other author reply.

Anyway, Pamela Klaffke sent me a very interesting reply. She said that she agrees that Mason is difficult to deal with, but that she is more interested in writing interesting characters, not characters that are necessarily always likable. She said she's most interested in inner dialogue and that she doesn't think there's a woman out there whose thoughts aren't occasionally nasty. She also said that her relationship with her own mother is very good, and that she thinks her mother was a bit horrified when she read Every Little Thing, because Britt is very different than her mother.

What a wonderfully thorough reply! I definitely think you should write to her if you've read something by her. I'm sure she'd love to hear from you! If you want to learn more about her, check out her website.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Author Reply: Haywood Smith

I got a lovely reply from Haywood Smith, author of Wedding Belles (among other things). She informed me that Wedding Belles is part of a trilogy, called the Red Hat Club trilogy. She also told me that so far all of her other books are standalone, and that soon she'll be releasing revised versions of her historical novels as e-books for younger readers. She said that these offer "accurate history, adventure, romance, strong heroines, and upbeat endings."

For anyone who's curious, her website can be found here. As I mentioned earlier, she agreed to be interviewed, and the interview will be posted either tomorrow or later in the week, depending on what I get done.

Other notes: The next book up for review is How I Paid For College by Marc Acito, and I updated my What I've Read So Far page. If anyone has any suggestions for books, please let me know in a comment. Thanks!

Pamela Klaffke: "They think they invented irony."

When I first picked up Every Little Thing (Amazon) by Pamela Klaffke, I was expecting a Gossip Girl-esque novel. I'm pretty sure this is because I didn't read the back cover carefully enough. Every Little Thing is the story of a woman named Mason, who has serious mommy issues. Her mother, Britt, was a columnist in San Francisco who loved to write painfully detail accounts of embarrassing moments in Mason's life. The story opens after Britt's death, and is the tale of Mason dealing with her strange new situation.

I have very mixed feelings about this novel. It has some shining moments, such as when Mason realizes that her mother truly cared for her. Unfortunately, Mason seems to suffer some sort of short term amnesia, as only a few scenes later, she is once again whining about how awful her mother was. That's really what killed the book for me. There's no way around it-Mason is a whiny woman. She does exhibit some character growth throughout the novel, eventually participating in various public-spotlight activities to empower herself, similar to her mother. However, Mason stubbornly insists the whole time that she is not anything like her mother, and even gets into huge fights with her friends when they dare to compare the two.

Overall, I thought that the concept was good, and there were definitely moments when I was on Mason's side. However, by the end of the book, she did start to get on my nerves. However, other readers may find the character more relatable and sympathetic, so my description should not dissuade any interested readers. If you've read the book, please feel free to comment and let me know what you think!

I wasn't entirely sure if I should write to this author or not, but in the end I decided to.
"I just finished reading Every Little Thing. I found this book to be a very interesting dissection of a mother-daughter relationship. Unfortunately, I was unable to sympathize very much with Mason, but that could perhaps be because I have a very different, and healthier, relationship with my mother. However, the book definitely kept me reading, wondering what would happen in Mason's life next."

Later today, I'll post the author reply from Haywood Smith, who also graciously agreed to do an interview. Tomorrow either the interview or another book will be posted. Have a great day!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thomas Kaufman: "Why would I ask you to find a daughter I don't have?"

Drink The Tea (Amazon) is the tale of private investigator Willis Gidney, a man who spent most of his childhood in the foster care system. This has given him a set of unique skills and a keen sense of street smarts. One day, a friend of his asks him to find a daughter. A daughter whose existence is only a rumor. Little does Gidney know, his search for her will lead him into troubles he could never have predicted.

Drink The Tea won the PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition, and I can see why. This is a fascinating tale with numerous twists and turns. I would almost say too many twists and turns-2occasionally it was hard to keep up. However, the characters were believable and interesting, and there was never a dull moment to be found. This is definitely a must read for anyone who is a fan of the genre.

In searching for the author's contact information, I discovered that there is a sequel called Steal the Show. I'll have to pick that up too! Anyway, here is the note I wrote to the author:
"i just read Drink the Tea, and I must say, it was excellent. I didn't have any strong expectations going into it, but as I read, I found myself not wanting to put the book down. I plan to pick up Steal the Show, and I hope that there are more WIllis Gidney books to come!"

I actually received a reply from Haywood Smith, so I'll probably post that tomorrow, because I don't think I'll have my next book (Every Little Thing by Pamela Klaffke) finished by then. Until then, have a great day!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Haywood Smith: "Other people's secrets, I could keep, but not my own."

I have to admit, I am a complete sucker for books about groups of women getting together and talking, a la Divine Secrets of The Ya Ya Sisterhood and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Wedding Belles (Amazon), by Haywood Smith is another delightful addition to this genre.

The basic plot is this: Georgia, Linda, Diane, Teeny and Pru are southern women in their fifties who have been friends since high school. They meet once a month at a local restaurant wearing red and purple to discuss their lives and provide one another support. This time, Georgia, the narrator, is the one with a problem. Her 27 year old daughter, Callie, is engaged to Georgia's husband's best friend, a man that the group went to high school with. He was known as Wild Man Wade, and has a history of alcoholism, among other things. Together the group sticks together and helps Georgia through this unforeseen situation.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It is definitely a comfort food/guilty pleasure sort of novel, which is exactly what I needed when I read it. Occasionally, the religious references got a bit heavy handed-but hey, it's the South, right? Religious references seem to come with any book set there. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a comforting story about mothers, daughters, or weddings.

I wrote a quick note to the author:
"I recently read Wedding Belles, and I just have to say, I found it absolutely delightful. I absolutely love books about mother-daughter relationships and the friendships of women. I was having a rather bad day when I picked up your novel, and it was just what I needed to perk me up. Thank you so much for writing it!"

That's all for today. I'm hoping to start posting to this blog much more regularly again. I have a lot more time to read right now. Hope to see you soon!