Literary Quote of the Month

“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences,” … Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

This One Is Mine by Maria Semple... A Review

Violet Parry = Anna Karenina with an L.A. Lifestyle

Back of The Book... Violet Parry is living the quintessential life of luxury in the Hollywood Hills with David, her rock-and-roll manager husband, and her darling toddler, Dot. She has the perfect life--except that she's deeply unhappy. David expects the world of Violet but gives little of himself in return. When she meets Teddy, a roguish small-time bass player, Violet comes alive, and soon she's risking everything for the chance to find herself again. Also in the picture are David's hilariously high-strung sister, Sally, on the prowl for a successful husband, and Jeremy, the ESPN sportscaster savant who falls into her trap. For all their recklessness, Violet and Sally will discover that David and Jeremy have a few surprises of their own. THIS ONE IS MINE is a compassionate and wickedly funny satire about our need for more--and the often disastrous choices we make in the name of happiness.

What Did I Think?! This One Is Mine by Maria Semple is wickedly funny, sassy and shocking, with larger than life characters that show us that having it all may not be all that it's cracked up to be, and having nothing has a whole set of other issues... When rich, snobbish, well educated very married Violet Parry meets Teddy Reyes, a down-on-his luck ex-drug addict over-sexed bass player, she thinks she's found something to fill that void, LITERALLY! And I think, what are you doing?! Violet seems to have lost her mind. There's nothing to make you like Violet's husband really, but Teddy seems far from the answer. As Violet throws money, gifts and food his way and herself too, I couldn't stop turning those pages. Then Maria Semple adds to the story one track mind Sally, Violet's sister-in-law, whose only goal is to snag a rich husband and have the perfect accessory. The only thing these two girls have in common is they're both train wrecks waiting to happen, and you can't help but hop on for the ride. While you're watching the scenery Violet and Sally develop into women that you can really empathize with... and that makes the story so much more than just "chick lit".

Maria Semple's writing is smart and fresh. Her story is lust, longing, and happiness. It's ultimately about friendship and the girl getting the guy and finding herself in the process. And it's a book you'll enjoy.

Learn more about Maria Semple at her website MarieSemple.com, read how she came to write This One Is Mine at the Hachette Book Group website and read about how This One Is Mine was an Indie Notable Pick this past January.

*I received a copy of this book to review from Marie's publicist. Thanks Gigi it was a fun read!

*P.S. This Book is Kindle Ready!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What's Cooking? Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy by Lidia Matticchio Basthianich... A Review & Recipe!


Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
and Tanya Bastianich Manuali

A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes

A cookbook can be just a list of ingredients and ways to prepare them, or it can be a much richer experience, an exploration of tastes and textures that can make our mouths water. Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, who is well known for her wonderful Italian cooking and sharing that knowledge on her public television show, has a new cookbook! And Lidia's newest cookbook, Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy, is the kind of cookbook that is not only a feast for the taste buds, but a feast for the heart as well. Lidia invites us along to explore little-known parts of Italy and the wonderful foods and recipes that come from them. The recipes are divided by the region of Italy they are from, such as Lombardy, Liguria, & Umbria, and Lidia introduces us to each region with the people and flavors that are rooted there. She writes snippets of history, such as how Apples have been a major product of Va id Non since the Middle Ages and how an 1856 nursery list listed 193 apple varieties and now there are over 8000! And at the end of each chapter Lidia gives us further places to explore in the region we are cooking in, such as the wonderfully romantic city of Sirmione in the region of Lombardy, or the antique shops in the Navigli quarter of Milan. Her passion for cooking is infectious, even in the the way she describes the food , " Just a small amount of saffron can imbue extra-virgin olive oil with the spice's captivating perfume and distinctive flavor", the recipes are easy to understand with thorough directions, even down to the recommended equipment to prepare it with, and with 175 recipes there is plenty of great cooking for everyone! Definitely a nice variety of recipes. Everything I have made from Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy has been delicious! And with permission from the publisher, Alfred A Knopf, I am able to share one of the recipes from Lidia's new cookbook that was a BIG hit in my house! Baked Penne & Mushrooms! I've also included Lidia's intro to the recipe. Here it is... (along with a couple photos of my cooking)

Baked Penne & Mushrooms (Pasticcio di Penne alla Valdostana) ©Lidia cooks from the Heart of Italy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)

The marvelous melting qualities of authentic fontina are particularly evident in baked pasta dishes such as this delicious pasticcio. When it is in the oven with penne (or other tubular or concave pastas, like ziti, rigatoni, or shells), the molten cheese oozes around each peice of pasta and is caught in all of its nooks and crannies. The cheese on top of the pasticcio melts and then becomes crusty and carmelized.

Recommended Equipment: A large pot for cooking the penne; a heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan, 12 inch diameter or larger; a 3 quart baking dish, 9 x 13 inches, of shallow casserole of similar size.

***********************************

Ingredients...

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 ounces fontina from Valle d’Aosta (or Italian Fontal)

1 cup freshly grated Granda Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano - plus more for passing

4 tablespoons soft butter

1 pound mixed fresh mushrooms - (such as porcini, shiitake, cremini, and common white mushrooms) cleaned and sliced.

1 cup half and half

1 pound penne

1 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Fill the pasta pot with 6 quarts of water, add Tablespoon salt, and heat to a boil. Shred the fontina through the larger holes of a hand grater, and toss the shreds with 1/2 cup of the grana (grated parmigiano-reggiano).



Put 3 Tablespoons of the butter in the big skillet, and set it over med.-high heat.

When the butter begins to bubble, drop in the mushroom slices, stir with the butter, season with 1 teaspoon salt, and spread the mushrooms out to cover the pan bottom. Let the mushrooms heat, without stirring, until they release their liquid and it comes to a boil. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occaionally,as they shrivel and the liquid rapidly evaporates. When the skillet bottom is completely dry, sitr the half and half into the mushrooms, and continue stirring as the sauce comes to a boil. Cook it rapidly for a minute or two to thicken slightly, then keep it warm over very low heat.



Meanwhile, stir the penne into the boiling pasta water and cook until barely al dente. Ladle a cup of the pasta cooking water into the mushroom sauce and stir. Drain the pasta briefly, and drop into the cream and mushroom sauce. Toss the penne until all are nicely coated, then sprinkle over them the remaining 1/2 cup of grana (not mixed with fontina) and the chopped parsley. Toss to blend.



Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish (13 x 9 or 3 quart) with the last tablespoon of butter. Empty the skillet into the dish, spreading the penne and sauce to fill the dish completely in a uniform layer. Smooth the top, sprinkle the mixed fontina-grana evenly all over.



Set the dish in the oven, and bake 20 - 25 minutes, until the cheese topping is crusty and deep golden brown and the sauce is bubbling up at the edges. Set the hot baking dish on a trivet at the table, and serve family-style. ©Lidia cooks from the Heart of Italy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)

This is a great cookbook! If you make this recipe, let me know what you think! Learn more about Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, her tv show, recipes and books at Lidia's website Lidia's Italy. In the meantime enjoy her recipe! Thank you to Caitlin of FSB Associates and Alfred A. Knopf for a copy of Lydia Cooks From The Heart of Italy to review!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter... An Audiobook Review

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
by Seth Grahame-Smith
The Audiobook Review...

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation...

Seth Grahame-Smith is a genius! How he seamlessly blended the historical facts surrounding Abraham Lincoln and his life growing up with the fictional history & superstitions surrounding Vampires is amazing! Seth had to be careful writing the story because Abe Lincoln and his life is so well known, but he has made Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter actually seem realistic. With absolute respect for Abraham Lincoln, Seth Grahame-Smith tells the story of the humble beginnings of Mr. Lincoln, being born on "an unseasonably mild" Sunday in February in a one room cabin in Kentucky, and follows his life, and the developing American frontier, until his assassination in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. In between "the pages" of the story, we float down the Mississippi with Abe as a young man, learn about his Baptist upbringing that taught him that slavery was wrong, watch him gain proficiency in using his axe (very helpful with Vampires), and watch him fall in love. We meet Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen Douglas, Dred Scott, and witness the start of the Civil War. Vampires have a funny way of being part of all this history, and we soon learn that looks can be deceiving...

It's important to note, these vampires in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter are not the semi-sweet kind you'll find in the Twilight series, these vampires are vicious... with the exception of Henry Sturges, who was begrudgingly made into a vampire long ago, befriends Abe, and helps him seek revenge on the "unnatural" souls who have caused him so much pain.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook narrated by the soothing voice of Scott Holst. Scott does a wonderful job of setting the mood with his pitch perfect delivery of the story. His voice captured my attention and the story grabbed it. The accompanying music played at the start of the discs and the ending of each disc did a nice job of setting the tone for the particular part of the story. And at the end of the audiobook, there is a wonderful interview with the author! PLUS, a bonus PDF of "historical photographic documents", which are strangely vampirish in nature!

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is like Anne Rice writing like Mark Twain with a heavy dose of David McCullough. Of course it's all Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and if you like historical fiction, you have to listen to this! It's Fact, Fiction & a lot of Fun! Hours of great narration and a great story to match! Listen to an excerpt of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and judge for yourself! *Warning, this is a vampire story, so there is a bit of blood & gore.

This audiobook is unabridged, 9 CD's, and approximately 10 listening hours! I want to thank Anna from Hachette Books Group for sending along the audiobook for me to review! Thanks Anna I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Memoir Monday... Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kerman

Graduated from Smith College... Found Herself in Exotic Places...
Landed in Federal Prison!?

Orange Is The New Black
A Memoir by Piper Kerman

From the Publisher... "When Piper Kerman was sent to prison for a ten-year-old crime, she barely resembled the reckless young woman she’d been when, shortly after graduating Smith College, she’d committed the misdeeds that would eventually catch up with her. Happily ensconced in a New York City apartment, with a promising career and an attentive boyfriend, she was suddenly forced to reckon with the consequences of her very brief, very careless dalliance in the world of drug trafficking.

Kerman spent thirteen months in prison, eleven of them at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, where she met a surprising and varied community of women living under exceptional circumstances. In Orange Is the New Black, Kerman tells the story of those long months locked up in a place with its own codes of behavior and arbitrary hierarchies, where a practical joke is as common as an unprovoked fight, and where the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailer is constantly and unpredictably recalibrated.

Revealing, moving, and enraging, Orange Is the New Black offers a unique perspective on the criminal justice system, the reasons we send so many people to prison, and what happens to them when they’re there."

How does an intelligent young lady who graduated from Smith College end up in a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut? By laundering money for an African drug lord of course. What?! Yes, Piper Kerman reveals her brief life of crime at the beginning of the book, and how she came to her senses before she thought it was too late, started a "new" life, (or got back her old one), but found out how certain things have a funny way of catching up to you...

Lot's of buzz about Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kerman, which was published by Random House earlier this month, and which is on my coffee table right now with a bookmark solidly placed 1/3 of the way through. Her story is fascinating, the writing is good (I had to pull myself away for coffee this morning) and I will have my full review later in the week! For now, you can read an excerpt of the book that is being called "A compelling, often hilarious, and unfailingly compassionate portrait of life inside a women’s prison" at Marie Claire Magazine. And that connection I mentioned in my Sunday Salon post? Well, I happen to have grown up in the town where Piper Kerman was "sent away" to...

Happy Reading! Suzanne...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Sunday Salon... Week in review, Books now in Paperback, and The Orange Prize for Fiction nominees!

I've got a cup of Joe next to me and a good book lined up for today, because it's another rainy day in western Connecticut. The week was beautiful though, and I had my head in a book and my ears in headphones ( listening to Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith)! I finished The Cradle by Patrick Somerville this week and really enjoyed it. Some books just surprise you, and this one is one of them. Patrick Somerville did a nice job of making a simple story into a more meaningful one with his talented writing abilities. I've also a giveaway going on for The Cradle, so make sure you enter! Speaking of giveaways, this coming week will wrap up giveaways for Glorious by Bernice McFadden, Forbidden Passion by Rita Heron, and Forget Me Not by Vicki Hinze...

In the paperback department, there are some great books that have just been released! One of my favorite reads last year was The Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips, a "dazzling novel of intrigue, passion and royal secrets that shifts tantalizingly between Restoration-era London and present-day Cambridge." Read my full review of The Devlin Diaries from June 29th, but trust me, if you are a historical fiction fan, this is a book you will definitely enjoy! Stephanie Meyer's Sci-Fi thriller for adults, The Host, is now available in paperback too! "The Earth, in the not-too-distant future, has been taken over by alien “souls,” parasitic worm-like beings that wish to experience life as humans. Some years after the occupation, only a few scattered human resistors remain..." In non-fiction, just out is The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zazlow (on my TBR list!), and Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda janzen, which I enjoyed and reviewed last December, "They say "you can always go home", and that's exactly what Rhoda Janzen does in mennonite in a little black dress. After a hysterectomy, a husband who left her for a guy named Bob at the age of "over 40", and a horrible car accident, Rhoda was having a bad stretch of luck! But instead of Rhoda crying in her pillow at night, she picks herself up and off she goes- back to her loving family who have more than few endearing quirks." Here is the LINK to the full review.

April 29th marks the date for The Edgar Awards, which is presented by The Mystery Writers of America and honors the best in mystery! Fiction and non-fiction! There is a link to the whole list of nominees at TheEdgars.com. A few of the novels up for an award are The Last Child by John Hart, which is on my nightstand right now, A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn, and The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf. There are 53 nominees in 11 categories though, so follow the link to see all the titles.

This week the short list for The Orange Prize was announced, and I thought we'd take a closer look at a few of those books today...

What is The Orange Prize for Fiction? It's one of the U.K.'s most prestigious awards, created in 1996 to celebrate, honor, and promote fiction written by women. The award itself is for the best novel of the year written by a woman in English, and the winner will receive $45,000 plus a limited edition bronze statue known as ‘The Bessie’. This years nominees must have first published their books in the U.K. between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010. The winner will be announced June 9th! Here's the shortlist...

The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

On the shortlist are a few books that have gotten a lot of buzz during the year already, most notably Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel which won the Man Booker prize this year. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver was also a welcome treat for Kingsolver fans because it's the first novel of hers in 9 years! 2 novels were new to me, and 1 novel was also nominated for The Edgar...

The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison... From the Publisher, "England, 31st August 1939: the world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unravelling relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes – and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair, with unforeseen consequences. A story of love, loss and complicated loyalties, combining a sweeping narrative with subtle psychological observation." This book was quietly published by a small independent press, Alma Books, (do I hear Tinker's?!) and was not reviewed by a single British national newspaper up until her nomination. What did the author think of that? "I was actually relieved," Alison says. "I had a slight terror of some poor reviewer with far too much to read picking it up and looking for a quick putdown. It's a very heartfelt book and if you don't tune into its emotional frequencies, it would be very easy for a cynic to write it off in a few dismissive lines." The Very Thought of You was also nominated for The Romantic Novel of The Year Award this year, although it did not make the shortlist, it's on my wish list!

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke... Back of the Book, Jay Porter is hardly the lawyer he set out to be. His most promising client is a low-rent call girl, and he runs his fledgling law practice out a dingy strip mall. But he’s long since made peace with his path to the American Dream, carefully tucking away his darkest sins: the guns, the FBI file, the trial that nearly destroyed him. Houston, Texas, 1981. It’s here that Jay believes he can make a fresh start. That is, until the night he impulsively saves a drowning woman’s life – and opens a Pandora’s Box. Her secrets put Jay in danger, ensnaring him in a murder investigation that could cost him his practice, his family, and even his life. But before he can get to the bottom of a tangled mystery that reaches into theupper echelons of Houston’s corporate powerbrokers, Jay must confront the demons of his past. This book was nominated for The Edgar Award for Best First Novel by An American Writer. It's gotten quite a bit of buzz, and for mystery/thriller fans this looks to be a great read.

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey... From the Publisher, "When George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England as young newlyweds, they have with them just a couple of suitcases and Sabine's prized green bicycle. Their intention is to stay for not more then three years, but George falls in love with the island. Sabine, however, is ill at ease with the racial segregation and unrest in her new home, and takes solace in the freedom of her green bicycle. George and Sabine become more entangled in their life on the island – in all its passion and betrayals – and Sabine's bicycle takes her places she wouldn't otherwise go. One day George make a discovery that forces him to realise that extent of the secrets between them, and is seized by an urgent, desperate need to prove his love for her – with tragic consequences. An unforgettable love story, brimming with passion and politics, set over fifty years in Trinidad – a place at times enchanting, and at times highly dangerous." I thought Monique Roffey's prose was enjoyable in the few excerpts I read. I haven't heard too much about this novel, but what little I have heard, people seems to like the book. Here's the link to an excerpt of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, so you can see if you like the writing. Plus, Bookhugger.co.uk has an excerpt available for all the Orange Prize shortlisters!

So, what have you been reading this week?! Have you heard any buzz about the Orange Prize nominees? Do you pay attention to award winners? Hope you found something to peak your interest this week! A few things on the plate for next week... we'll talk about that great audiobook I was listening to this week (and a giveaway for it too!), and I'll be reviewing Lydia Cooks From The Heart of Italy by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, and have a great recipe from that cookbook reprinted with special permission from the publisher (you won't find it anywhere else online!). And of course tomorrow is "Memoir Monday" and there's a great book I'm going to highlight that has a bit of crime,punishment AND a connection with Chick with Books!

Happy Reading! Suzanne

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Cradle by Patrick Somerville... A Review & Giveaway!

"There are two kinds of people in the world," Marissa said.
"There are people who understand that everything matters and people who don't understand that everything matters."

Congratulations to Linda, Darcy & Ashley who each won a copy of The Cradle! Thanks to EVERYONE who joined the fun, blogged and tweeted!

The Cradle by Patrick Somerville opens with a very pregnant Marissa describing "the cradle" that she was rocked in as a child, that was supposedly from the Civil War, and went missing after her mother abandoned the family when Marissa was 15, and a mysterious break-in occurred shortly there after. Marissa asks her husband Matt to find it. She wants the cradle for her baby, just as she had it as a baby. It is important to her... he wouldn't understand because he was an orphan... What this means is finding Marissa's mother, even though Marissa has no idea where she is... Matt is a hero to her, he's pretty good at finding keys, why should a cradle be so different?

The next chapter fast forwards 10 years to another family, Rene Owen and her husband Bill, dealing with their 19 year old son going off to war. Rene is desperate not to have her son go off to war. The reason is a deep down pain, a lost love in another war many years before, and a secret that she's kept hidden just as long.

How Patrick Somerville weaves these two stories together is what is magical. When I started reading The Cradle, I thought I was in for a light read. What I got was a deceptively complicated story, that surprised and delighted me. When Matt makes the simple gesture of humoring his wife and trying to find the cradle, little does he know that he's going on quite an adventure that will take him all the way to Antarctica! As he follows the trail of the cradle, he stumbles upon long kept secrets of Marissa's family, which stir his own childhood memories and dormant feelings. Rene Owen's story alternates with Matt and his search for "the cradle", and in doing so the anticipation of each story grows. Hints of a connection are sprinkled in both story lines and there are no earth shattering revelations, but that is what makes the story special- the seamless connection you find at the end. Along the way, the author challenges the reader to think about what being a family means, what being a parent means, and what value a human life holds. The characters are believable, the writing is good, and the story innocently captures your attention. Thought-provoking and at times heartbreaking, The Cradle by Patrick Somerville is a very satisfying read in a mere 200 pages. The search may have started out for the cradle, but everyone finds something different at the end of the story. One thing we all find at the end is hope...

The Cradle would make a great reading group pick. There is definitely great material for a discussion! Here's the Reading Group Guide for The Cradle. You can learn more about Patrick Somerville by visiting his website, and Patrick also has a wonderful essay about how the story for The Cradle came about at Hachette Book Group. I want to also thank Valerie of Hachette Book Group for sending me a copy of The Cradle for review!

Courtesy of Hachette Book Group I also have 3 copies of The Cradle by Patrick Somerville to give away! Here's how to enter...

To Enter this giveaway...
*For one entry leave me a comment with your email address!

*Get an extra entry for following my blog! Just leave a comment letting me know you're a follower! ( Not a follower yet? No problem, sign up by clicking on the 'followers" button on the sidebar to the right! Just let me know you became a new follower!)

*Blog or tweet about this giveaway and leave me the link.

This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only (No PO boxes). The books will be shipped to the winners directly from the publisher. Contest ends 11:59pm EST on May 8th. I will randomly pick the winners the next day and email them! (please check your email.. winner must reply to me within 3 days! Thanks!) Good Luck!

*P.S. This Book is Kindle Ready!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mark Twain, a Celebration of a Life on the Centennial of His Death

"Mark Twain"
1835-1910

Today marks the centennial of the death of Samuel Clemens, that famous Yankee author commonly referred to as Mark Twain. He was born November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri while Halley's comet flew overhead, and he died April 21, 1910 in Redding, Ct. while Halley's comet made another visit in the sky.

"I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet."

Well known for his wonderful writing and wry sense of humor. Roughing It, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court are a few of his amazing pieces of writing... until now. June 17th, Sotheby's auction house in NYC is auctioning off along with "200 personal letters, manuscripts and photographs" a never published story called " A Family Sketch". Lots of excitement for literary fans! The collection will be on exhibit at Sotheby's starting today and continuing for the next 5 days.

“‘A Family Sketch’ is certainly one of the gems of the Sotheby’s sale,” said David Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Papers & Projects at the University of California at Berkeley “Any Mark Twain archive or collector would be willing to go hungry for two or three years just in order to be able to buy it."

In addition to the excitement from the auction, and in to celebrate the life of Mark Twain, The Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut is having a seance and cake at 7:30pm. You can read more about Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens, and the celebration at The Mark Twain House & Museum website.

Have a favorite Mark Twain story?! I loved A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court!


First Lines...

"Bodies, bodies. The beach was crowded, Marcella had not expected all these people everywhere-- she had forgotten it was Saturday, forgotten, even, that it was June. Today, after Anthony's phone call, she had come here gulping for broad sky, a long horizon, a vast and indifferent emptiness;"
........The Swimming Pool, Holly LeCraw

Monday, April 19, 2010

Memoir Monday... Jenniemae & James, A Memoir in Black & White by Brooke Newman

Jenniemae & James,
A Memoir in Black & White

I heard a little chatter about this book, Jenniemae & James by Brooke Newman, and for Memoir Monday thought I would highlight what appears to be an interesting true story of an illiterate African American maid and her brilliant mathematician employer. But as with most friendships, the bond that they shared was not based on their race or how much education they had, but from a common interest and their mutual affection for one another. The Maid was Jennimae Harrington, the mathematician was James Newman, and the book is written by his daughter Brooke...

Here's what the Publisher had to say about Jenniemae & James: "James Newman was a brilliant mathematician, the man who introduced the mathematical concept “googol” and “googolplex” (aka “google” and “googleplex”) to the world, and a friend of Einstein’s. He was also a notorious philanderer with an insatiable appetite for women and fast cars, a man who challenged intellectual and emotional limits, and a man of excess who oftentimes fell victim to his own anxiety.

Jenniemae Harrington was an uneducated, illiterate African American maid from Alabama who began working for the Newman family in 1948—and who, despite her devout Christianity, played the illegal, underground lottery called “policy,” which she won with astonishing frequency. Though highly implausible, these two dissimilar individuals developed a deep and loyal friendship, largely because of their common love of numbers and their quick wits.

Theirs was a friendship that endured even during an era when segregation still prevailed. For James, Jenniemae provided a particular ease and shared sense of irreverent humor that he found difficult to duplicate with his beautiful, intelligent, and artistic wife, Ruth. And when the Newman home was darkened by the tensions of the political climate during the Cold War, or by James’s affairs, or by Ruth’s bouts of depression, it was Jenniemae who maintained the point of gravity, caring for the family’s children when their parents were often lost in their own worlds.

From Jenniemae’s perspective, James offered more than just a steady income. He became an unlikely and loyal friend. He taught her to read, and he drove her to and from his upscale suburban house and her home in the impoverished section of Washington, D.C. (and sometimes, much to her chagrin, in his Rolls-Royce), after she had been raped by a white bus driver. Intrigued by her uncanny wins at the lottery, James even installed a second telephone line in the house so that Jenniemae could keep track of her bets—a decision that raised a few eyebrows at the time.

It is this extraordinary relationship that the Newmans’ daughter, Brooke, reveals in Jenniemae & James, as she elegantly weaves together the story of two very distinct and different people who each had a significant impact on her upbringing. In doing so, she also paints a vivid political and cultural picture of the time—when the world was terrified by the possibility of nuclear war; when America was reeling from the McCarthy hearings; when technological advances like televisions, satellites, and interstate highways were changing the country; when America was just beginning to venture into Vietnam; and when African Americans were still considered second-class citizens with limited rights, before the explosion of racial tensions in the early 1960s. "

This sounds like a wonderful heartfelt story of an unlikely friendship that is filled with the history of the civil rights era. I think it's an interesting perspective coming from Newman's daughters' observations. This is definitely on my TBR list! Has anyone read this yet?! If so, would love to read your thoughts here!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Sunday Salon... Week in review, Books with Buzz, and Literary Awards You Should Know About!


It's been a busy week at Chick with Books with book reviews for the The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival by Ken Wheaton and The Girl on The Wall by Jean Baggott. A review & giveaway (for 2 autographed copies) of Glorious by Bernice McFadden and a review & giveaway for Forget Me Not by Vicki Hinze. Plus a giveaway for Forbidden Passion by Rita Herron. If you haven't entered any of those giveaways, there's still time! Don't be shy!

This week I "talked" with author Shana Mahaffey about having a "virtual chat" about her book, Sounds Like Crazy, with my reading group. So we'll be reading Sounds Like Crazy this month and it sounds like a fun read. This is what the publisher had to say about it... "Though she doesn't remember the trauma that caused it, Holly Miller has Dissociative Identity Disorder. Her personality has fractured into five different identities, together known as The Committee. And as much as they make Holly's life hell, she can't live without them. Then one of those identities, the flirtatious, southern Betty Jane, lands Holly a voiceover job. Betty Jane wants nothing more than to be in the spotlight. The rest of The Committee wants Betty Jane to shut up. Holly's therapist wants to get to the bottom of her broken psyche. And Holly? She's just along for the ride..." This will also test my skills at setting up Skype and actually using it! I'll be reviewing this book early June...

Friday night rounded out the week with a author event at my local Independent Bookstore, Books on the Common, starring Pete Nelson, who charmed the audience as he talked about his just released book I Thought You Were Dead. Author readings are interesting because you can really get a feel for the author and how he(or she) feels about their writing. Here's the publisher's synopsis of Pete's book, "For Paul Gustavson, a hack writer for the wildly popular For Morons series, life is a succession of obstacles. His wife has left him, his father has suffered a debilitating stroke, his girlfriend is dating another man, he has impotency issues, and his overachieving brother invested his parents' money in stocks that tanked. Still, Paul has his friends at Bay State bar, a steady line of cocktails, and a new pair of runningshoes (he’s promised himself to get in shape). And then there’s Stella, the one constant in his life, who gives him sage advice, doesn’t judge him, and gives him unconditional love." Well, I'm a sucker for dog books, so how could I resist Stella who literally tells her master when he's screwing up. I've been reading I Thought You Were Dead all weekend and loving it. One of the tidbits that Pete shared at the reading was that Stella was based on his dog Alice, and that made me warm up even more to the book- because I've got a furry guy at home that I talk to also- BJ! I'll be posting a review soon for I Thought You Were Dead, which BTW has gotten a lot of great buzz and is the Indie Next pick for April!

And Speaking of Buzz, there's been quite a bit of Buzz about Award Winners lately...

It's National Poetry Month so it's appropriate that there is a poetry award in April. That award is the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which honors a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. Established in 1986 by Ruth Lilly, the Prize is oneof the most prestigious awards given to American poets. This years award goes to Eleanor Ross Taylor, who turned 90 this year. Virtually unknown due to her dislike of poetry readings, and only publishing 6 books in the past 50 years. A collection of her selected poems, Captive Voices, was printed last year. And you can read one of her poems, Disappearing Act, from that collection from by following the link to the guardian.co.uk, who reprinted it this week.

Another literary prize this week was The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. That honor goes to Tinker's by Paul Harding. An interesting fact was that Tinker's was rejected by every major publishing house and gained in popularity by word of mouth! It was eventually published by a small non-profit publishing house, Bellevue Literary Press, who ran an initial printing of 3500 copies. The printing presses are rolling because this is going to be a BIG hit now, and it is out of stock everywhere I checked. BUT it is available now on Kindle!

And Today's Books with Buzz focuses on The Lost Man Booker Prize... What exactly is The Lost Man Booker Prize? In 1971 the Booker Prize stopped being awarded retrospectively and became a prize for the best novel in the year of publication. At the same time, the date on which the award was given moved from April to November. As a result of the changes, there was whole year's gap when a wealth of fiction, published in 1970, fell through the cracks. Now 40 years later those books that never got a chance are getting their recognition. The longlist consisted of 22 books. On March 25th the shortlist was announced, and here they are...

• The Birds on the Trees by Nina Bawden
• Troubles by J G Farrell
• The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard
• Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault
• The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark
• The Vivisector by Patrick White

The winner of The Lost Booker Prize will be determined by international voting! You can vote for your favorite at The Man Booker Prize website. Voting closes on April 30th. Not sure about them? Here are 2 that caught my interest...

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark... On the Jacket, "I aim to startle as well as please," Muriel Spark once said, and in The Driver's Seat (1970), her aim is all too true. Her most unnerving novel, this is a book to make the flesh creep. With fierce economy Spark focuses on her terrifying heroine Lise, who leaves her home in northern Europe for a southern holiday, apparently on the prowl for a lover: "If he's my type," she says, "I want to meet him." But of course appearances aren't everything. The New Yorker called The Driver's Seat "so stark as to be nightmarish". Muriel Spark, who wrote the classic The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, and who was short listed for the Man Booker Prize previously with 2 of her other novels, was known for "her finely polished, darkly comic prose." I look forward to reading what Muriel Sparks created in a mere 106 pages that prompted her to be nominated for The Lost Man Booker Prize.


Troubles by J G Farrell... Major Brendan Archer returns from the Great War to claim his fiancee, whose family owns the Majestic Hotel in Kilnalough, Ireland. She is strangely altered, however, along with the hotel, which is in spectacular decline — cats roam its upper stories, the Palm Court is a jungle, and the last guests are little old ladies with nowhere else to go. Outside the formerly grand hotel, the British Empire also totters. There is unrest in the East, and Ireland itself senses the mounting violence of its "troubles." This book has gotten quite a bit of praise. Interesting is the fact that J.G. Farrell won The Man Booker Prize for The Siege Of Krishnapur in 1973, and proceeded to denounce the organization. Would you like to read an excerpt of Troubles? Sophie from Orion Publishing sent along an excerpt for me to share with you! Here's the Excerpt of Troubles. Thanks Sophie! I'll also be reviewing this in the near future!

So, what are you reading this week? Share what's on your nightstand! Share what great authors you've listened to at a reading too! And what were you doing in 1970? Were you reading any of those Lost Man Booker nominees? I was a little young back then, but I'm going to be making up for it now... Have a great week!
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