Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

BBF Recap: Meeting Bloggers

I was trying to post my recap of the YA Panel at the Baltimore Book Festival first, since that actually happened first. However I'm unable to upload videos from the hospital where I am with Kiddo right now (he's recovering from surgery - more details on that later) so I'll have to do that post later.

Baltimore Book Festival Recap: Meeting Bloggers

I was so excited to hear that Trish @ Hey Lady!, Amy @ My Friend Amy, Nicole @ Linus’s Blanket, and Michelle @ Galleysmith were all planning to come to Baltimore to have dinner with me on Friday night after day 1 of the Baltimore Book Festival. Trish, Amy, and Nicole were all in town for the National Book Festival in DC, and Michelle lives in DC so she was their driver. How lucky am I?!

The original plan was for them to meet me for the YA panel … but traffic was horrible so they missed it. They did get there in time for the author meet & greet afterward though.

Amy and Nicole in front of David Levithan

Trish in front of David Levithan

Garret Freymann-Weyr was very excited to meet Trish – it seems they’ve exchanged many emails in the past. Don’t they both look so thrilled?

After the signing we headed out to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for dinner. Michelle was following me in her car but again, traffic was bad, so we got separated. Once I got them unlost, they found a parking garage on the opposite side of the street and we got back together.

Michelle, Nicole, Amy, and Trish waiting to cross over to my side of the street

It was a gorgeous night out. We walked the few blocks to Harborplace and had dinner at J. Paul’s Restaurant. The food was delicious, but the conversation was even better. Of course, I couldn’t stop talking since I was so excited (so sorry ladies, I’m sure you wanted me to shut up after a while!).

I had intended to do a video of our conversation and have each person introduce herself … but I was having such a good time that I forgot all about it. I did manage to get some pictures though!

Me, Nicole, and Michelle

Me, Trish, and Amy

I am so grateful to these ladies for taking the time to drive to Baltimore to meet me. I had a wonderful time hanging out with them and I can’t wait to do it again sometime!

Cranford Read-a-long: Reviews

I hope you all enjoyed our read-a-long of Elizabeth Gaskell's CRANFORD. Thank you to all the participants! Below are links to each of your reviews - I do hope you'll visit and comment on each others posts.

*** Reminder ***

October is Dueling Monsters month here and at Fizzy Thoughts. You can choose to read FRANKENSTEIN here or DRACULA there - which monster will YOU take on? Details and sign-ups will be posted at both our blogs tomorrow so be sure to check back!

Saturday, September 26, 2009


by Elizabeth Gaskell
148 pages

*** About the Book ***

The town of Cranford in the 1850s is inhabited solely by women. Well, there ARE some men, but they are the shopkeepers and the “lower class” people. The upper crust of Cranford society is all female. This odd situation has come about quite naturally, despite the way it sounds; the noble women of the town are all either widows or spinsters.

Young Mary Smith, a regular visitor to Cranford, is our narrator. She relates the events of the town, both small and large, in a series of stories loosely tied together only by the fact that they focus on the small group of women who “run” the town. Mary’s particular friend is the spinster Miss Matty, and her story is the main thread in this novel.

*** Why I Read It ***

When I chose books for this year’s 1% Well Read Challenge, I started at the bottom of the list (the oldest books) and picked titles that sounded interesting to me. I had no idea what this book was about, nor did I know that is was by the same woman who wrote THE NORTH AND THE SOUTH. I just figured I’d give it a shot and see how it turned out.

*** My Thoughts ***

This is why I love reading challenges: I picked a book I knew nothing about and found a story that I truly love. This is such a wonderful little book!

There isn’t much in the way of an overarching plot and normally that would really bother me. However each chapter is almost like a story in and of itself – which would make sense since this was first published serially. And it really works here.

The characters are charmingly written even when they aren’t so charming themselves. I would love to know Miss Matty in real life … but you can keep Mrs. Jamieson, thank you very much! I so enjoyed getting to know each character through their actions and their comments.

There are two currents that run throughout this novel just under the surface: humor and connection. At times the humor reminds me of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett’s conversations in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, those comments that weren’t meant to be funny by the speaker but that are totally hilarious. Other times it is the way the narrator tells the story itself. (For an example of this, read the quote I put in my read-a-long update.)

The second current is that of connections between people. With a town full of widows and spinsters, these connections are important but never really spoken of. Parts of the story really touched me, breaking my heart or filling it with joy depending on the situation.

This is a wonderful little book, very easy to read and even easier to fall in love with. I'm so glad that I read it! I hope to revisit it one day - and that's saying a lot. Now I just have to see if the TV version is a good as the book ...

*** The Read-a-long ***

I needed some motivation to keep myself on track to complete the 1% Well Read Challenge on time this year. What better way than to invite people to read with me?! So that’s what I did. A lovely group of bloggers jumped on my bandwagon and we’ve all read CRANFORD together this month. Be sure to check back on 9/30 when I’ll post links to all their reviews!

NOTE: If you are participating in the read-a-long and your review is done, please comment with the link so I can add it to the recap post – thanks!

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you read this book? Or maybe something else by Gaskell? What did you think of it? Does it sound like a book you’d enjoy? Please share your thoughts!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Welcome Baltimore Book Festival Readers! *** sticky post ***

Welcome to all the visitors from the Baltimore Book Festival!

This intro post will be up all week to help new visitors get acquainted with my blog. If you are looking for new posts this week, simply scroll down past this one and continue reading.

*** About Me ***

For those new around here, I'm Heather J. and this is my blog. I'm a wife and a mom, a part-time sales/marketing coordinator, and a book blog addict. I also run a book club in the greater Baltimore/Annapolis area called Storie delle Sorelle, and I do my best to promote book clubs in any way I can. Of course, if you met me during "The Book Club Toolkit" panel then you probably already know that. :)

If you have any questions or need to contact me please feel free - I'd love to chat with you. To get my email address from my profile, click here then right click on "Email" to copy my address.

*** What You'll Find Here ***

Most of my posts are book/audio book reviews of historical fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, etc. (you won't find much young adult or romance here, sorry). Sometimes you'll find author guest posts/interviews and contests. In addition, I have a Mom & Son Book Club with my 7 year old son, Kiddo; we do joint posts from time to time.

The next week will be a bit out of the ordinary around here. Kiddo has surgery scheduled for 9/29 so I'll be doing more personal updates than usual and less book reviews. However I do hope you will stick around - I promise to get back to "normal" soon.

*** For Those New To Blogs ***

I realize that not everyone is used to reading blogs. If this is a new experience for you, I'm so glad you're giving it a try! The basic idea is that I write book reviews, etc. and you read them and (hopefully) comment on them. If you think of a question or comment as you're reading, hold that thought until you get to the end of the post (article). There you will see a line that says something like this: "posted by Heather J. at 10:15am. 2 comments." Click on the word "comments" and a new screen will open. Scroll to the bottom of that screen and you'll see a place to write in your comment/question. When you finish writing click the "Publish Your Comment" button, and you're all done! I respond to all comments so be sure to check back if you are looking for my answer.

If you have any questions or need to get in touch with me, please use the contact info provided in my profile or leave a comment on any post asking me to contact you.

*** Upcoming/Ongoing Stuff ***
  • Every month you can read about my book club's current read at blog at

  • This month I'm hosting a read-a-long of CRANFORD, by Elizabeth Gaskell - all are welcome to join, even though the month is almost over (it's a really short book).

  • In October I'm co-hosting a Dueling Monsters read-a-long - you can read either FRANKENSTEIN or DRACULA. Details on that will be posted here on 10/1/09.

  • From November '09 through February '10 I'll be co-hosting the Really Old Classics Challenge. Details will be posted both here and at that blog in late October.

  • Once ABC TV's show LOST starts it's final season, you'll find me doing episode recaps for the LOST Books Challenge at that blog.

Thank you for visiting today - I hope you come again soon!

Friday Finds 09/25/09

Welcome to another week of Friday Finds, where I confess to all the titles that have finagled their way onto my TBR list. I've been trying to be better about adding books, to be more choosy ... but it isn't working very well.

Two Quick Announcements:
  • I'll be at the Baltimore Book Festival tonight and tomorrow morning - if you'll be there too please let me know!
  • I'm now on Twitter - please follow me @Age30Books if you are on there too.
And now, here are my finds ...

The New Global Student, by Maya Frost - "Ready to ditch the drama of the traditional hypercompetitive SAT/AP/GPA path? Meet the bold American students who are catapulting into the global economy at twenty with a red-hot college diploma, sizzling 21st-century skills, a blazing sense of direction–and no debt." I'd love to Kiddo to have this kind of new-fangled education. Seriously. If I can find a way to make it work, I'll do it in a heartbeat. Thanks to the BookBrowse newsletter for pointing this one out.

Miracle at Santa Anna, by James McBride - "Four soldiers from the army's Negro 92nd Division find themselves separated from their unit and behind enemy lines. Risking their lives for a country in which they are treated with less respect than the enemy they are fighting, they discover humanity in the small Tuscan village of St. Anna di Stazzema." I watched this movie for the first time and was fascinated with the true WWII history behind the story. The movie was a bit hard to follow (only because I wasn't giving it my complete attention) so now I want to read the book. Plus I read somewhere that the book goes into greater detail about many of the events (of course).

The Know-It-All, by AJ Jacobs - "To fill the ever-widening gaps in his Ivy League education, A.J. Jacobs sets for himself the daunting task of reading all thirty-two volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. His wife, Julie, tells him it's a waste of time, his friends believe he is losing his mind, and his father, a brilliant attorney who had once attempted the same feat and quit somewhere around Borneo, is encouraging but unconvinced. With self-deprecating wit and a disarming frankness, The Know-It-All recounts the unexpected and comically disruptive effects Operation Encyclopedia has on every part of Jacobs's life." S. Krisha's Books says, "Instead of writing it in pure memoir form, Jacobs organized the book like an encyclopedia. There is one chapter for each volume of the encyclopedia he read, and the chapters are organized into different anecdotes and stories that relate to words from that letter." She loved this book - and I'm sure I will too.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness - I think the title of this book is really odd and for that reason alone I've avoided all the reviews I've seen for it. However, here's what Chris had so say about this book: "Why didn’t you people make me read this book sooner? All I can say is that no one else will have that excuse! I’m telling everyone else now … go read this book! Take whatever measures are necessary to acquire it and read it. It’s just amazing." I won't even try to summarize it - just go over to Stuff As Dreams Are Made On and read his review. See if his enthusiasm doesn't catch you too!

The Winds of Dune, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson - I'd heard of this book but wasn't interested in reading it UNTIL I realized it was a direct continuation of the original books. It goes back to the characters and the story that I fell in love with all those years ago. YAY! Thanks to Tor/Forge Books for pointing that out to me.

The Queen Mother, by William Shawcross - I've never been particularly interested in reading about the British Royals but this book sounds amazing. Queen Elizabeth I lived from 1900 to 2002 - can you imagine all the things she saw in her life? But what really got my attention was what I heard in the Books On The Nightstand podcast - that she was reprimanded by the other royals for a comment she made in her first interview and because of that she never gave a public interview again for the rest of her life. Wow. I can't wait to read this book.

What did you find this week? Am I responsible for any of the additions to you TBR list?!

As always, hop over to Should Be Reading to find more posts or to join in the fun.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ines of My Soul

Ines of My Soul
by Isabel Allende
audio book: 12.5 hours

originally written in Spanish

*** About the Book ***

Ines Suarez was born in 1507 in Spain and became a conquistadora in the conquest of Chile in the 1530s-1540s. This book tells the story of her life from her childhood in Spain and her first marriage, through her journey to the Americas and her life as a mistress, to her part in the conquest of Chile and her final marriage. AND … it is all based on historical fact. I had no idea there were FEMALE conquistadors!

*** My Thoughts ***

It has been a few days since I finished listening to this audio book and my appreciation for it has grown over those days. There were parts of the story that dragged, where I didn’t give my complete attention to listening. There were parts that captured me, where I had to rewind to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. My first reaction when I finished it was “ok, this wasn’t a bad book but it wasn’t a great book either.” However, after thinking about it for a few days and doing a bit of research into Ines (see “The Real History” below) I must say that this is an amazing book.

Knowing what I know now about the real Ines, I am amazed at the way Allende infused the facts of the story with personality and feeling. I always enjoy learning about history through novels, but the plethora of facts she included (without me realizing it!) is simply amazing. Allende has written 14 other books but this is the first of her works that I’ve tried; I'm curious to know whether her other books are written in the same was or not.

One thing I need to point out is that there are descriptions of torture in this book (the Spaniards, like other conquerors, were not exactly kind to the native people) that may be too much for some readers. There is also a great deal of violence – this was a conquest after all. I didn’t think that either aspect of the book was overdone or that it didn’t fit into the purpose of the novel, but parts did make my skin crawl all the same.

*** The Real History ***

There is a wonderful article on that details the true history of Ines Suarez. I wish I had read that before listening to this audio book as I think it would have given me a greater appreciation for Ines. I didn’t realize that some of the more fantastical parts of the story are actually present in the historical record. I suggest that if you decide to read/listen to this book, you check out that post before reading, then read it again after finishing the book. It definitely added to my appreciation of the book.

*** Historical Fiction vs. Creative Non-Fiction ***

On the one hand, this book is clearly an example of Historical Fiction. The story is based in fact (more so than most historical fiction novels) but embellished to draw the reader into the tale.

On the other hand, Back when I read CANE RIVER I found that book described as “creative non-fiction”. According to Wikipedia, creative non-fiction “(also known as literary or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives.” Basically, it is when you make a non-fiction story read like fiction. I’m not sure that it was an accurate description of CANE RIVER, but if it was, then it is an accurate description of INES OF MY SOUL as well.

*** About the Audio Book ***

The narrator was Blair Brown and she did a good job. Not great, but good. I don’t have much to say either way on her performance.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Is this time/place in history familiar to you? Do you know of other books set in a similar time/place? This was the first time I'd read anything other than history textbook accounts of the Spanish conquest of South America.

Anyone interested in reading this one? Let me know your thoughts!

Here are other reviews of this book you might want to check out:
Did I miss yours? Let me know and I'll add it here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kiddo's Vlog Update

In case you missed my last post, Kiddo is getting a feeding tube on 9/29. Here's Kiddo to tell you about all this himself. And he wants to share his evil plan for our overnight stay at the hospital ...

Gotta love Kiddo!

The surgery to put the feeding tube in is pretty fascinating ... creepy, but fascinating. If you don't want to know the details SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH! What they'll do is take the endoscopy tool with the camera on the end of it and tie a wire to the end of it. They'll send the tube and wire down his throat into his stomach. Then they will insert a needle from the outside of his stomach through into the inside of his stomach. The wire will then be pulled out through that needle hole. At this point, the wire is coming out of his stomach and out of his throat. They will then tie the feeding tube to the wire coming out of his throat and start pulling on the part coming out of his stomach. They'll keep pulling until all the wire - and the feeding tube attached to it - is sticking out of the needle hole from his stomach. So there is no cutting involved! The tube will be held in his stomach by a round plastic piece the size of a quarter. Like I said, fascinating, but creepy.

As you can see in the video, Kiddo is doing pretty good on the whole. Thank you so much to everyone who has commented both here and on Facebook - your support means a great deal to my family.

If you have any questions I'm more than happy to answer them so please ask.

And now I'm off to clean the house while Kiddo and Hubby are at the Caps game. Oh joy.

My Antonia

My Ántonia
by Willa Cather
audio book: 8.5 hours

*** About the Book ***

From the book jacket:

Of Ántonia, the passionate and majestic central character in Willa Cather’s greatest novel, the narrator, Jim Burden, says that she left “images in the mind that did not fade–that grew stronger with time.” The same is true of the book in which Cather enshrines her heroine. On one level, My Ántonia is a straight-forward narrative, written in limpid prose of uncanny descriptive accuracy, about the struggles endured by a family of immigrant pioneers and the small community that surrounds them on the unsettled Nebraska plains. On another, it is a novel that represents a perfect marriage of form and feeling.

In its magnificent tableaux of human beings caught in the toils of an abundant and overpowering natural world, and in the quiet, understated sympathy it displays for life of every sort,
My Ántonia is a novel that effortlessly encompasses history and wilderness and the destiny of the individual–even as it lovingly and unsentimentally portrays a woman whose robust spirit and enduring warmth make her emblematic of what Cather most admired in the American people.

*** My Thoughts ***

Back in high school I read this book and didn't care for it at all. However I've read about it in several collections of classics or recommended books and thought I'd better give it another shot. Maybe I missed something as a teen that I'd appreciate now.

This book is a Did-Not-Finish (DNF) for me - I gave up after two CDs. Honestly? I was bored. I didn't find the story all that interesting back in high school and I still don't find it interesting now. I remember being very disappointed in the ending when I first read it, and I'd rather not be disappointed yet again.

I asked for input from my readers before I quit listening - I was hoping someone would tell me that there is some amazing reason to stick with is. You can browse the comments at this post to see what everyone said, but the gist of it was that most people didn't like it, and those who did couldn't really say why. So it went back to the library rather quickly.


BBF: The Book Club Toolkit (part 4)

This is the 4th post in a series about The Book Club Toolkit panel I'm moderating at the Baltimore Book Festival on 9/26 @ noon. You can read the first post here, the second here, and the third here.

The Giveaways

Thanks to the generosity of The Baltimore Sun's Read Street blog, author Kelly Simmons, and Reading Group Choices I have LOTS of books to giveaway during the panel!

Read Street is providing a selection of newly released books chosen specifically for book clubs.
Read Street, The Baltimore Sun’s book blog, is written by Dave Rosenthal and Nancy Johnston. Each day, you’ll find news and opinion about the world of books. Just go to

Kelly Simmons is providing 5 copies of her novel STANDING STILL to one lucky book club, along with a DVD to enhance the book club's discussion.
Publishers Weekly called Kelly Simmons' novel, Standing Still, “an electrifying debut” in their starred review, hailing it as "the perfect read for a stormy night." And Entertainment Weekly praised its “invigorating prose” and likened it to “Midnight Run featuring a female Charles Grodin character.”

This unique novel about kidnapping, panic disorder and immigration has been embraced by hundreds of book clubs across the country. It's been named one of Target Stores' Breakout Books, and tapped as one of Simon & Schuster's top book club picks for 2009. Kelly Simmons is an East Coast author who regularly travels to book clubs to join their discussion. She offers free chapter samples, free DVDs, and free autographed book plates for book clubs. Details on her website.
Reading Group Choices will give away Publishers Surprise Bags of Reading Group Picks! The “Bag of Books” includes various Advanced Reader Copies and finished books from Algonquin, Grove/Atlantic, HarperCollins imprints, Hyperion, Norton, Penguin imprints, Picador, Random House imprints, and Simon & Schuster imprints! Awesome – thanks to all!
Since 1994, Reading Group Choices has selected discussable books and provided resources for reading groups both in print and online. Even before Oprah, Reading Group Choices is proud to be the pioneer in enhancing the reading group experience. Check them out at

In addition, everyone who attends the panel will get a copy of Reading Group Choices 2010: Selections for Lively Book Discussions thanks to!

THANK YOU to my three "sponsors" for all the books. I can't wait to give them all away!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kiddo's Health Update - Big Changes

We interrupt this blog to bring you Kiddo news ... and I apologize in advance for the rambly-ness of it, but I can't seem to think straight at the moment.

Back in May Kiddo underwent additional testing for his food allergies and esophageal disorder (you can read about it here and here and here if you are new to my blog). As you may recall, Kiddo has Eosinophilic Esophagitis (for an explanation of it click here then click on "About EE"). Throughout the summer he was on a severely restricted diet and he had to drink 20 ounces of an amino acid-based protein shake every day. Two weeks ago he went in for another endoscopy to see if this treatment plan was working.

Unfortunately, it wasn't. In fact, Kiddo's EE is worse than ever.

We realize now that he simply can't eat any protein whatsoever. The next step is to put in a feeding tube so that he can get the nutrition he needs. He is scheduled for surgery on Tuesday, 9/29. It is a simple procedure but he'll be in the hospital overnight just to be on the safe side - and of course I'll be staying with him. At first he'll have a PEG tube and after three months they will remove that and put in a G tube (you can see examples of both tubes here). This is the point where I tell you how truly grateful I am that my husband was a paramedic for 10 years; he understands all this stuff and knows how to clean and care for Kiddo's tube once it is in. I, on the other hand, am completely clueless.

For the first 6 weeks Kiddo will not be allowed any food by mouth, but after that they will allow him to add about 5 foods per month back into his diet (provided that his esophagus heals the way they expect it to). No proteins though - not likely for a long time, if ever. He'll be able to add several fruits the first month, a group of veggies the next month, and so on. He's not happy about the no food thing, but considering that we thought it might be a permanent food ban, this really isn't that bad, and Kiddo realizes it. The doctors told him that he'd be allowed to add his favorite food back in after 6 weeks - Burger King french fries. He's practically giddy with relief over that.

You may wonder how we are all handling this news.

Kiddo is doing very well. He was scared about getting the test results because he thought he wouldn't be allowed to eat any more, ever. Now that he knows he will, he's surprisingly fine with all this. In fact, as we were leaving the hospital after getting the test results, he got in the car and started singing Bob Marley's, Three Little Birds: "Don't worry, about a t'ing, 'cause every little t'ing gonna be alright." Needless to say, that made us all smile.

Hubby is having a harder time. He likes to think he is in control of everything (ha!) and of course there is no controlling this. Plus with his medical background he is more aware of the potential risks and side effects of both the surgery and the tube. But he's adjusting and handling things better each day.

I'm doing pretty good with all this. I'm one of those people who don't worry about things in the future - I think about what is going on right now and figure out the best way to handle it. The feeding tube truly is the best thing for Kiddo right now and I'm ok with that. Kiddo is actually looking forward to it in a way because he hates drinking that protein shake and it will soon be pumped in through the tube. And when Kiddo is happy, Mamma's happy. On a more personal level, I completely trust that God has a plan for all this; I may not ever know what it is, but there IS a reason that we are in this situation.

Looking ahead, Halloween will be tough. I'm planning to ask the doctors if he can have at least a few pieces of candy that night. By Thanksgiving he should be allowed a few foods and I'm hoping to make him a nice (if limited) meal. Christmas will hopefully see even more foods, and his birthday in January should see more yet. I hope.

If you've stuck with this post until now, thank you for your concern. I'll definitely keep everyone posted via my blog, Facebook, and Twitter ('cause I finally gave in and joined - @Age30Books).

Kiddo wants to do vlog to tell you all about the latest developments and his evil plan to keep me up all night long at the hospital - hopefully we can do that tomorrow.

For those of you who are the praying kind, here's my list of requests if you wouldn't mind:
  • safe surgery for Kiddo on o9/29/09
  • easy adjustment for all of us, especially Kiddo
  • a few pieces of candy allowed for Halloween
  • continued healing once foods are added back in

BBAW Recap

Wow, BBAW '09 went by in a blur. It was an amazing week but incredibly busy as well. My Friend Amy and the BBAW planning team deserve a huge round of applause for the fabulous event they put together this year. THREE CHEERS FOR THE BBAW TEAM!!! I enjoyed doing a small part to schedule author guest posts and I look forward to helping out again next year.

I have some thoughts to share today as I look back over this week. I hope you’ll chime in with your comments at the end. And feel free to add a link to YOUR recap post in the comments as well – I’d love to see what you have to say.

*** My Goals for BBAW ’09 ***

I barely kept up with all the posting at the first BBAW last year and I knew I’d never be able to do it this year. So I set a goal for myself – visit every blog registered for BBAW at least once. BUT THEN! I found out there were 1,200+ blogs registered this year. AND … there was no list posted of all registered blogs. So my new goal became to read every single blogger-swap interview. As of the end of BBAW I’ve read (and commented!) on 160+ of the 257 interviews posted. I’m thrilled with my progress and plan to get to the rest of them in the coming days.

*** What I Loved This Year ***

As with last year, my favorite part of the week was the interviews. For me, they are the best way to meet new bloggers and decide if I want to add their blogs to my Google Reader. So far I’ve added about 20 new blogs … but since I’m not through with the interviews, I’m sure there will be more!

The guest posts on the BBAW blog were great this year. My favorites were Raych’s recap of the past year and the tribute to Dewey (I forgot she had won a BBAW award last year for Best Challenge Host). Completely different posts but both were fabulous.

*** The Awards ***

I also loved getting nominated for, shortlisted for, then winning (?!!!) the award for Best History/Historical Fiction Blog. This was a complete shock to me but an honor nonetheless. My blog is rather eclectic so I was surprised to be a contender in a genre-specific category. However after counting up my book reviews I can say that about 25% of the reviews I do are History or Historical Fiction books. I'm so glad that you all enjoyed those posts enough to think I deserved this award. Thank you all!

*** Next Year ***

I'm already looking forward to next year's BBAW ... although it can take it's time in coming, because I'm exhausted!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Emmanuel Kolini: Unlikely Archbishop of Rwanda

Emmanuel Kolini:
Unlikely Archbishop of Rwanda

by Mary Weeks Millard
228 pages

*** About the Book ***

From the press release:
Any pastor will tell you that no church is immune to conflict, whether the issue in question is a central point of doctrine or the choice of new carpet. But imagine serving a congregation made up of both the victims and the perpetrators of the most brutal massacre in recent history. In assuming his new post as Archbishop of Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocides, Emmanuel Kolini faced huge challenges. How was he to turn a sick, confused, and broken society full of widows, orphans, and prisoners and their families into a reconciled, cohesive society?
This book is a brief biography of Kolini's life, an overview of the ethnic conflicts in Rwandan history, and the story of how these two came together.

*** Why I Read It ***

It was offered for review by The B&B Media Group. I'd heard of Kolini before but I knew little about him, and I was very interested to see how he handled the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. In addition, this book fits the category of Politics for the World Citizen Challenge.

*** My Thoughts - The Good ***

To me, Kolini is a fascinating and inspiring man. He is one of those people who truly puts his beliefs into action regardless of the potential consequences to himself. This is perhaps the reason I enjoyed the book in spite of it's flaws; I was so interested in learning about Kolini that I could overlook the problems.

Why is Kolini so amazing? Here are a few random things I learned from this book. Kolini was the first religious leader to publicly apologize for his church's complicity in the genocide. He inherited a church whose leadership had (for the most part) abandoned the Rwandan people in their time of need by fleeing the country. Some church leaders looked the other way while their people were murdered while others were complicit in the murders. How can a person possibly attempt to restore popular faith in a religion after such horrors? Yet Kolini has done just that. In addition, he encouraged the various Protestant denominations to work together with Catholics and Muslims to bring healing to the country as a whole. In the past the various Christian groups never worked together, let alone worked with non-Christians.

*** My Thoughts - The Not So Good ***

My first minor critique is that I don't feel I'm the intended audience. Both Kolini and the author are Anglican and the book seems to be meant for Anglican readers. I've never been a part of the Anglican/Episcopal Church (though I am a Christian) so I don't know its history. There were times when I felt I was missing some background that was important to the story. However, this wasn't a big deal and it didn't hinder my appreciation of Kolini or his work. Don't let this specific criticism keep you from reading if you are interested.

Another minor critique is that this is a very high-level overview of Rwandan history since the focus of the book is Kolini's life and work. I would have liked a bit more detail in some sections since my knowledge of Rwanda is very sketchy. But again, don't let this stop you from reading this book - there are many other ways to learn about Rwandan history.

My biggest critique is that I don't think the book was particularly well written. It wasn't poorly written, but it wasn't well written either. The first few chapters were a struggle for me to get through; I kept reading only because I was so interested in Kolini's story. If I had to describe the writing, I'd say it was almost like reading a student's report of a famous person - does that give you an idea of what I'm talking about? I can't think of any other way to word it.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Has anyone else read this book? Or maybe you could recommend other books on the Rwandan genocide or the response of the African Christian community?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

BBF: The Book Club Toolkit (part 3)

This is the 3rd post in a series about The Book Club Toolkit panel I'm moderating at the Baltimore Book Festival on 9/26 @ noon. You can read the first post here, the second here, and the fourth here.

The Topics

Below is a list of some of the topics we'll discuss during the panel.

Setting Goals
  • Does your club have a purpose? if so, what is it? clubs are different, there can be many difference purposes
  • How often to meet - usually once a month, is your club different? how?
  • New book club vs. existing club - how to find members, how to choose members (based on club goals)
  • Is your club open to new members? Under what conditions?
Choosing Books
  • Does your club have rules or guidelines – paperbacks only? available at library? specific genres excluded? etc.
  • There needs to be something worth discussing in the book
  • How far in advance do you choose? Benefits/drawbacks to that system?
  • How does your club deal with this? one person or rotating leaders?
  • Responsibilities include what? why is this needed?
The Discussion
  • Research before the meeting – where to find info, what to look for
  • Keeping the discussion on track - tips/suggestions?
  • Dealing with books you don’t like - suggestions?
Keeping it fun
  • Book/movie tie-in, themed meeting, new meeting place, etc.
Dealing with Problems
  • Problems you've had in your club, and solutions?
  • List common problems, suggest tools for dealing with them
  • Ask for audience questions - what do they need help with

Are there any topics I've overlooked? I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Friday, September 18, 2009

BBAW: Welcome! ***sticky post ***

Welcome to BBAW 2009 - Sept. 14-18!

This intro post will be up all week to help new visitors and my current readers to keep track of wh
at's going on around here. To find new the posts each day, simply scroll down past this one and continue reading.

(For those who have no idea what BBAW is please click here.)

*** About Me ***

For those new around here, I'm Heather J. and this is my blog. :) I'm a wife and a mom, a part-time sales/marketing coordinator, and a book blog addict. I also run a book club in the greater Baltimore/Annapolis area and do my best to promote book clubs in any way I can.

*** What You'll Find Here ***

Most of my posts are book (or audio book) reviews of historical fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, etc. (you won't find much YA or romance here, sorry). Sometimes you'll find author guest posts/interviews and contests. In addition, I have a Mom & Son Book Club with my 7 year old, Kiddo; we do joint posts from time to time. I sporadically participate in a few weekly events: Friday Finds, My Favorite Reads, What's On Your Nightstand?, and Kids' Picks.

*** BBAW ***

*** Upcoming/Ongoing Stuff ***
  • Anyone in the greater MD/PA/DE/VA/DC area is welcome to join me at the Baltimore Book Festival on 9/26/09 at noon for the panel I'm moderating: The Book Club Toolkit: Tips and Tools for Starting and Improving Your Book Club.

  • This month I'm hosting a read-a-long of CRANFORD, by Elizabeth Gaskell - all are welcome to join, even though the month is half over as it is a really short book.

  • In October I'm co-hosting a Dueling Monsters read-a-long - you can read either FRANKENSTEIN or DRACULA. Details on that will be posted here on 10/1/09.

  • From November '09 through February '10 I'll be co-hosting the Really Old Classics Challenge. Details will be posted both here and at that blog in late October.

  • Once ABC's show LOST starts it's final season, you'll find me doing episode recaps for the LOST Books Challenge at that blog.

  • I also write for the blog at about my book club's monthly meetings.

*** A Few Final Thoughts ***

BBAW is a crazy week in the book blogosphere. I'll be doing my best to keep up but I know I won't be commenting as much as I usually do. Rest assured that I WILL visit every blog associated with BBAW (although it might take a few weeks). And I WILL reply to comments as quickly as possible. If you need to get in touch with me quickly, please use the contact info provided in my profile.

Happy BBAW!

BBAW: Goals & Love

Today's Topic: Share your goals for your blog one year from now AND say what you love best about your blog, each in 50 words or less.

One year from now I hope to …
  • be able to make my own blogger template improvements,
  • be a more vocal spokesperson for book clubs,
  • have even more bloggers I can call my true friends, and
  • have my TBR list down to a reasonable level!

I love that my blog …
  • brings me new friends I really connect with,
  • helps me encourage Kiddo to read and think about books,
  • has introduced me to books I’d never have found on my own, and
  • let’s me know that I’m not the only person like me out there!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two Must-Read Quotes from "A Thread of Grace"

I'm currently reading A THREAD OF GRACE by Mary Doria Russell and this book is fantastic.
I'm leading an online discussion of this book at the Google Group for Reading With Becky this month which means that I'm slowing down my reading pace and examining different passages more closely than I normally would. This book is so good that I could have sped through it in just a few days. Instead I'm splitting it up throughout the month so we can discuss it in reasonable chunks.

Anyway, I can across the following quote in the 2nd quarter of the book (page 114) and it has really stuck with me. The characters are a Jewish father, Albert, and his 15 year old daughter, Claudette. It is 1943 and they are in Italy, hiding in the forest from the Germans. Claudette is trying to convince her father that it is safe to go into the nearby town.
"They’re ignorant, Claudette. […] They think we poison wells! They think we murder babies and use their blood to make matzoh! They hate us–”

“Name two.”

Albert blinks.

“Whenever we said ‘they,’ Mama told us to name two. […] Mama said if you can’t name two actual real people, then you’re just being prejudiced. So name two peasants who hate us. […] Mama said.”

Albert sighs. “All right,” he says, capitulating to hunger, […] and the ethical precepts of a wife whose face is more difficult to conjure as each day passes.
Is it just me, or is that a powerful statement? What an amazing lesson Claudette's mother taught her. And Albert not being able to clearly remember his wife's face? Heartbreaking.

There is another quote I really love that can be found on page 177. It does have some profanity in it, so be forewarned. In this quote, Renzo, a Jewish Italian partisan, is talking to Don Osvaldo, a Catholic priest.
"You know what I think? Ten percent of any group of human beings are shitheads. Catholics, Jews. Germans, Italians. Pilots, priests. Teachers, doctors, shopkeepers. Ten percent are shitheads. Another ten percent – salt of the earth! Saints! Give you the shirts off their backs. Most people are in the middle, just trying to get by. […] You are a very dangerous man, Padre. You are an ordinary, decent fellow who aspires to saintliness."
I'm amazed by Renzo here. The Germans are harassing and murdering Jews - Renzo's family, friends, acquaintances - yet he doesn't classify the world as Germans vs. Jews. Instead he realizes that every group of people will have it's good and it's bad. Again, is it just me, or does this quote grab you as well?

BBAW: Found on a blog ...

Today's Topic: A Book I Read Only Because of Another Blogger

One of the great things about book blogging is the overwhelming number of books I've heard of that I never would have found out about otherwise. Most of the books that end up on my TBR list are ones that would interest me no matter where I heard of them - a blog, a bookstore, from a friend, whatever. Every once in a while though, there is a book review that completely captures my attention and makes me want to venture outside my "reading comfort zone" ... and that's what I'm sharing with you today.

I found it on a blog ... and I loved it.

I don't like scary movies. I don't like scary books. I'm not into mysteries other than Sherlock Holmes. So you can imagine my shock when I found myself adding Bram Stoker's DRACULA to my TBR list last year!

I came across a review of this classic horror novel at The Sleepy Reader and I was intrigued. For some reason I got the impression from her comments that the story would be quaint and almost funny. That isn't exactly what she said in the review, but that's what I got from it. I decided to read it, figuring that it wouldn't be scary at all and that I might even get a laugh out of it. Boy was I wrong!

Although it took me a while to get used to the flowery language (and I admit, I did skim some sections), when I read the description of the Count crawling straight down a cliff wall, clinging to it like a bat, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up ... and I was hooked. I couldn't put the book down after that. It was never really scary, but it was definitely creepy - and there was nothing to laugh about.

Never in my life would I have picked up DRACULA in a bookstore, not even to browse the back cover. And yet, because of one book blogger's review, I not only read it but loved it too.

Oh, and I had a ton of fun writing my review of DRACULA. I included clips from movies and answered questions from other bloggers - check it out here if you like.

*** Coming Soon: Dueling Monsters! ***

Because I had so much fun with DRACULA I decided to try reading FRANKENSTEIN as well. To make it more fun, I'm hosting a read-a-long of it in October. AND my friend Jill at Fizzy Thoughts is hosting a read-a-long of DRACULA. It will be a month of dueling monsters! Want to join us? Leave a comment here and we'll make sure you're included on the participants list.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cranford Read-a-long: Checking In

So how is everyone coming with CRANFORD? Are you enjoying it or wishing it would end? Has anyone finished early? Update me on your progress and let me know what you think of it so far.

*** Participants ***

Amateur Reader @ Wuthering Expectations - Suey @ Its All About Books - Ruth @ Booktalk and More - Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm - Becky @ Becky's Book Reviews - mel u @ The Reading Life

*** Your Links ***

If you've posted about the book on your blog let me know and I'll add your link here. It can be a link to your review, your thoughts on the book as you read-a-long, or anything else related.

*** My Thoughts ***

First off, I have to correct my original post in which I said this book has 27 chapters. Not sure where I got that from, but there are actually only 16 chapters. Now that we've got that cleared up ...

This quote, found in the very first chapter, made me laugh out loud and let me know that I was in for a real treat with this book:
When Mrs Forrester, for instance, gave a party in her baby-house of a dwelling, and the little maiden disturbed the ladies on the sofa by a request that she might get the tea-tray out from underneath, everyone took this novel proceeding as the most natural thing in the world, and talked on about household forms and ceremonies as if we all believed that our hostess had a regular servants’ hall, second table, with housekeeper and steward, instead of the one little charity-school maiden, whose short ruddy arms could never have been strong enough to carry the tray upstairs, if she had not been assisted in private by her mistress, who now sat in state, pretending not to know what cakes were sent up, though she knew, and we knew, and she knew that we knew, and we knew that she knew that we knew, she had been busy all the morning making tea-bread and sponge-cakes.
[That line reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Under the Tuscan Sun, the part where they're talking about the "creepy Italian trees": "it's like they know, and they know that we know that they know ...." That part of the movie always makes me laugh too.]

Then there was the story of what happened to Captain Brown because of his love of the Pickwick Papers - "poor, dear, infatuated man!" as Miss Jenkyns says. And Mrs. Forrester's adventure with her cat and her precious lace - HA!

The humor in this book is bubbling right under the surface and I just love it.

At the same time there are some parts that pull at my heartstrings. Do you remember the part where Miss Matty is burning all her old letters? My Gram and Grandpa exchanged love letters during WWII. As a teen, my mom found and read them and said they were absolutely beautiful. Gram caught her reading them though, and she was so embarrassed that she burned every letter. Doesn't that make you want to cry?! I would love to have those letters now, to be able to know my grandparents as they were when they were young. Reading about the burning of the letters in CRANFORD brought that story to mind immediately.

Those are my thoughts up to this point - I can't wait to see what each of you think about the book so far.

BBAW: Reading Meme

Today's Topic: A Reading Meme. Enjoy!

UPDATE: I've made it through about 100 of the interviews posted yesterday - if I haven't been to yours yet, don't worry - I'll get there!
  • Do you snack while you read? No
  • Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? No writing in books, but only because I give them away when I finish reading.
  • How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open? Whatever is handy – all of the above!
  • Fiction, Non-fiction, or both? Both
  • Hard copy or audiobooks? Both
  • Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point? I can stop anywhere but chapter endings are helpful
  • If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away? Nope
  • What are you currently reading? Cranford (for the read-a-long) and A Thread of Grace (for an online book club), and listening to book 11 of The Wheel of Time (getting ready for the release of book 12 next month) and also Homer's Odyssey
  • What is the last book you bought? Breaking Dawn (I simply couldn’t wait to borrow it, I had to have it right away) - UPDATE: yesterday Kiddo had me buy the newest Max and Liz book since it was on sale
  • Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time? I have lots of books going in different places (my bedroom, my car, my office, etc.)
  • Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read? Anytime/anyplace is good!
  • Do you prefer series books or stand alone books? Stand alones in most genres, but series books in SciFi/Fantasy
  • Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over? YES!!! Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Go read it RIGHT NOW!
  • How do you organize your books? On my new shelf I have them sorted mostly by color. UPDATE: Since everyone seems to be amazed by this in the comment section, here's where I got the inspiration - doesn't it look great?! Mine isn't that nice yet but I'm hopeful ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I WON!!!!

Are you KIDDING me?! REALLY?! I won?!

Thank you all SO MUCH for your votes - I am grateful to each of you whether you voted for me or not.

The other nominees in this category write wonderful historical fiction/history reviews and I'm thrilled to be included in their company. Please go check them out if you haven't already.

I'll have lots more to say later on (I'm supposed to be working right now) but I wanted to get this post us asap to say thank you to all of you for this wonderful honor. You ROCK!

Announcing the winners of the Michelle Moran 3-prize giveaway ...

Thank you to everyone who entered the 3-prize giveaway from Michelle Moran. I pleased to announce the following winners:
#28 - nightreader
Winner of a hardcover of the just-released

#10 - Amanda
Winner of a paperback of
THE HERETIC QUEEN, by Michelle Moran

#31 - Marie
Winner of the gorgeous Cleopatra earrings

A big thank you goes to Michelle for her very generous giveaway. I can't wait to start reading my copy of CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER!

BBAW: "I Am Nonfiction" Interview

Today's Topic: Interview a fellow book blogger.

My interview partner is Mik from I Am Non Fiction. This is a new-to-me blog and I enjoyed browsing through the posts Mik has written. I hope you'll hop over and say hi!

Q: Your blog is called I Am Non Fiction. At first I thought that was the theme of the blog - non fiction books - but after browsing around I think it is more about who you are. Am I right or wrong? What can you tell me about your blog name and why you chose it
A: You’re right. I wanted something that had to do with literature but wanted to be crafty about it. I’m not exactly sure when the name popped up, but once it did I knew it was a keeper.
Q: What are your favorite genres to read? Any that you don't like?
A: I like fantasy and contemporary the best. I can’t say I really hate any genres, though chick lit can bore me.
Q: What is the best book you've read since you started your blog back in June of this year?
A: Oh, that’s a hard one. But I think I’ll go with Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.
Q: What is a book you LOVE that you'd be embarrassed to be seen with?
A: Honestly, I’m not ashamed of what I read, so I’d have to say none.
Q: I see you like to read YA books, specifically fantasy and romance. So ... Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT: love it or hate it? (If you chose love, then Edward or Jacob?)
A: I’m in between. I started reading the series before the hype and I thought it was pretty good. But now, I think it’s overkill. The book isn’t meant for a younger audience and I see so many little kids reading it. I also though Bella was a whiny and sometimes unrealistic narrator. I won’t go on a whole spiel about the book though. And I think I’d pick Jacob, though neither sounds very appealing.
Q: What author's book would you buy ASAP knowing nothing about it but who wrote it? What's so great about that author?
A: Libba Bray! My favorite author. I think she’s an amazing author as well as a very funny person. Or else John Green.
Q: Are you a book keeper, a book swapper, a book borrower, or something other species of reader?
A: Book keeper. I love buying books.
Q: List three things that you like to do that are unrelated to books.
A: Listen to music, play the piano, write.
Q: Give me one book I absolutely have to read, one book blog I have to visit, and one strange-but-true tidbit about you.
A: Definitely read A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. And I’d say visit The Story Siren. Kristi is really nice and does so many book reviews. As for one strange but true fact, I am a complete neat freak when it comes to school, but at home my clothes are all over and books make up my floor.
Q: Anything else you want to share with my readers?
A: Nope. Thanks so much for having me!

Thanks Mik! I hope my readers enjoy getting to know you a bit, and I hope they all hop over to say hello.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Product Review: A Life Well Read

Today I'm reviewing a product, not a book, but it is a product that many book lovers will, well ... love.

"A Life Well Read" is a kit designed for those of you who buy books and keep them on your shelves (unlike me who relies on the library and book swapping sites to survive!). Here's the official description, since it explains things so well:
A Life Well Read is a mobile and easy to use solution to capture and share readers’ top picks in book content and “must reads”. Book lovers can take their portable note cards and use them as bookmarks as they curl up in their favorite reading spot – wherever that is! A Life Well Read note cards and dividers can be used in multiple ways—a single notecard can chart a journey from a “Book I Want” to tracking the loaned-out book, to a recommendation to a book club for their reading list ....

Rather than using a separate reading journal or writing in the margins of a book, readers can now have a place to record their most important impressions from each book they read. Each note card acts as a personalized record of their best book content. Readers can use each card as a bookmark, then jot down notes and key points while they read. And A Life Well Read makes gifting books a breeze with beautiful gift labels.
The kit contains enough cards to record 50 books, and also 56 gorgeous book plates to label your books. Plus there are 24 gift labels to personalize bookish gifts.

The box looks almost like a book itself, and mine blends beautifully in with the books on my shelf. This would be a wonderful tool for book-collectors - imagine no more forgetting who you lent your book to, or who you wanted to recommend a book to! All that info is right at your fingertips, on the shelf with your books.

So, the short of it is this: this kit is a gorgeous and simple way to keep track of your books, and it's something I will definitely be gifting to my book-collector friends.

If you are interested in purchasing this product for yourself or as a gift, the regular price is $29.95. Through October 11 you can get 25% off through this link.

Thank you to A Life Unplugged for sending me this product to review. I'm thrilled with it and hence am very willing to recommend it to my readers.

Full Disclosure: This is the first time I've done a promo like this and I wanted to be clear what I'm getting out of it. First, just like when I get books for review, I received a free copy of the kit pictured above. Second, there is a prize of a $25 Amazon gift card to the blogger whose post generates the most sales in one month. However, I'm not doing this for the prize (although it would be nice to win) - I'm writing this post because I actually liked the product and want to share with my readers about it. My regular readers know that I am honest in all my reviews (for books and products) and don't sugarcoat things - and I can honestly say that this is a very nice product, one I would recommend to my book-loving friends in-real-life.

BBAW: Spotlight On ...

Today's Topic: We encourage you to write a post thanking and spotlighting your favorite blogs that didn’t make the shortlists.

Although many of the blogs I read regularly did make the BBAW awards shortlists there are MANY MANY MANY I also read regularly that did not. Today I'm going to tell you about four of them. If you get a chance, I'd love for you to visit these blogs (and maybe say hello) - they are all worth reading, albeit for different reasons.

Spotlight On ...

At Home With Books - from the United States - I think I found Alyce (rhymes with "peace") during last year's BBAW, but I could be wrong there. She is responsible for quite a few of the books that I've added to my TBR list. Alyce hosts a weekly meme called My Favorite Reads where participants are asked to showcase a book read BB (Before Blogging). I've had the chance to share some old favorites through this meme and also discover lots of older books that are completely new to me.

The Armenian Odar Reads - Dutch, blogging from Armenia - Myrthe doesn't post all that often but when she does, you'd better believe that it is worth reading. She reviews books written in Dutch and English (and I think Armenian too). Through her reviews - which are always detailed and thought-provoking - I'm exposed to many books that were not written first in English, books that I'm not hearing about anywhere else.

Book Chatter and other stuff ... - from the United States - Ti (sounds like "tea") reviews books, shares about her family, reviews more books, causes me to add titles to my TBR list, and so on. We're now Facebook friends too. That's one of the things I love about many of the bloggers I read - that we connect over books, but that soon the connection goes beyond books.

Brandon Sanderson (author) - from the United States - Brandon writes Fantasy novels for adults and also a series for middle grade kids. I know of him through his work on The Wheel of Time (see the Wheel of Time blurb on my left sidebar for details) but his independent work is very good. He blogs about the writing process, progress on his various books, fan interaction opportunities, and more. He is very open about his work and that's why I love his blog so much.

These aren't the only blogs that I read regularly but they are ones that I truly enjoy. I hope you go check them out and consider adding them to your regular blog stops too.
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