Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Thursday, April 29, 2010

An Excellent Opportunity!

Remember that "what if?" book I told you about a few days ago?  The one designed to help you plan for the unexpected?  Check out this email I received from the author:

Thank you so much for such a thoughtful review. I'm happy to hear that the book is useful.

Please let me know a 501(c)(3) charity that's dear to you, so I can make a donation of 20% of total website book sale revenues from the next five days (today up through the end of Saturday).

Best wishes,

-Mark Gavagan
How cool is that?! Of course I knew right away which charity I wanted to support - the American Partnership for Eosiniphilic Disorders (  This is the organization that supports research for the disorder that Kiddo has.

Many of you commented on my original post that you were interested in these books.  I encourage you to seriously consider making a purchase of either the big binder or the smaller booklet between now and Saturday.  I'd love to be able to channel a bit more funding to APFED in Kiddo's honor!

Google Reader Sharing - are you doing it?

How many of you use Google Reader to organize the blogs you want to read? My guess is that most people do.

Of those who do use it, how many of you use the Follow and Share functions? If you don’t, you are missing out on a fabulous tool.

Why is it so fabulous? It’s like having your own personal shopper picking out the best of the blogosphere and bringing it to your attention!

Here’s how it works.
  • On the left sidebar of your Google Reader, click on People You Follow. You’ll then choose people to follow by entering their email addresses or blog names.
  • Now, whenever those bloggers click Share on a post in their own Google Reader, it will appear in your Reader (it will clearly show who shared it, so you know where it came from). The post they share may be from a blog you’ve never heard of or that you don’t subscribe to, or it could be from one you do subscribe to.
  • When you click Share on a post in your Google Reader, it will appear in the Reader of anyone who follows you. This is a great way to bring attention to posts that you really appreciate, especially when those posts are on blogs with a small following.
These Shared posts are often the cream of the blogosphere. Ones I’ve seen recently include details about BEA and other upcoming events, controversial bookish topics, beautifully written posts from a wide variety of (non-bookish) blogs, drawing attention to important causes, and many other topics.

On the right side bar of my blog, about halfway down the page, you’ll see a box titled Posts That Caught My Eye. These are the most recent things I’ve Shared on Google Reader, in case you are interested.

So, to summarize, using the Follow and Share functions is like having a team to scour the blogosphere for all the best posts. Why WOULDN’T you want this?!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Star Trek (the book) & a weekend getaway

The Getaway ...

This past weekend Hubby planned a romantic getaway for the two of us at an all-inclusive resort in the Pocono Mountains.  You know the kind of place: over-the-top cheesy-romantic room complete with champagne glass hot tub and heart-shaped plunge pool and mirrors everwhere? Yup, that's where we went, and it was wonderful. :)

It was a four hour drive from our house to the resort and since neither of our cars are in the best of shape, we decided to rent a nicer car for the trip.  Then we got lucky and were upgraded to a Mustang convertible for only a small additional charge - woohoo! The drive up was gorgeous: cool weather, bright sun, top down, heat on - FABulous.  It rained on the way back, but that's was fine since I'd actually gotten a bit sunburned on the way there ...

Of course, 4 hours up and 4 hours back equals 8 hours of audiobook time, right?!  The problem is that 1) Hubby and I like completely different books, and 2) we didn't think about this until 2 days before the trip.  So I scoured the local libraries in search of anything readily available that we would both enjoy that was about 8 hours long.  I came up with exactly ONE book ...

And now, an ultra short review of ...

by Alan Dean Foster
audiobook: 8 hours
narrated by Zachary Quinto

This book is a novelization of the movie script.  If you've seen the movie, then you know exactly what to expect from this book.  It has all the cheesy things that bothered me about the movie (in retrospect only, 'cause I really enjoyed it in the theater!) plus all the great parts that I loved. It gave a bit of insight into the characters' emotions that you simply couldn't get on film. AND AND AND! There was even a tiny bit added on to the end that I found hilarious and that definitely was not in the movie. 

It was narrated by the gorgeous and lovely-voiced Zachary Quinto, who played Spock in the movie (and who I totally fell in love with).  Quinto did a fantastic job - he definitely has the voice for narration.  He was able to do Chekov's accent brilliantly, and he gave personality to the voices of all the other characters as well.  His version of Scottie's Scottish accent was pretty terrible, but he did so well with everything else that I'll forgive him there.

Hubby and I laughed and smiled all the way up and all the way back, and I even shed a tear or two in the sad parts (sshh!! I didn't just admit that!!!). All in all it was the perfect, no-brainer book for our weekend getaway.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What if ...

This is not something I normally talk about to friends and family or write about on my blog, but I received a book pitch recently that I thought was extremely valuable and that filled a specific, important need in my life - a need that my husband and I have discussed but never acted on.  Please take just a minute to watch this video, then scroll down for my comments/thoughts. [If you're reading this in Google Reader you'll have to click through to my blog to see the video.]


Hubby and I have talked many times before about who we would give custody of Kiddo to if we were both suddenly gone.  Each part of our extended family has pros and cons; we have to consider who can best handle Kiddo's health issues, who shares our religious beliefs, and so on.  But we never considered the IMMEDIATE repercussions of us, say, getting in a serious car accident and ending up incapacitated or (God forbid) dead.  Who would know what time Kiddo gets out of school and where to pick him up?  Who would know how to mix the formula for his tube feeding, or how to order his medical supplies, or who his doctors are? Who else knows our plans for organ donation or a list of banks we use or which company holds the mortgage on our house?

These books, the ones that I received a pitch from the author for, are designed to get you to provide those all-important answers to the questions you never knew needed answering, and to put them all in an organized, and easily accessible place.

After checking out both the big book (It's All Right Here Life & Affairs Organizer) and the "mini" version (Twelve Critical Things Your Family Needs To Know), I can honestly say that not only am I impressed but I feel much better prepared to handle the "what ifs" that may come along.

Hubby and I decided that Twelve Critical Things Your Family Needs To Know was more than adequate for our needs.  I spent about 30 minutes filling out the basic info that I knew by heart.  Now I have to set aside a little time to dig up the other required info.  Then it will be time to discuss some of the topics with Hubby and decide what we want to do.

Although we didn't fill out the It's All Right Here Life & Affairs Organizer binder (ie. the big book), I did look though it and it is amazingly detailed.  If you own more than one piece of property, or have lots of assets, or are responsible for other people's living expenses (college students, elderly parents, etc.), this binder is the way to go. 

My point to all this is simple: no one likes to think about these topics but they are vitally important.  

These two books provide a simple and efficient way to get your wishes and affairs planned out in case the worst were to happen. I'm very glad that we've started filling ours out.

Do you have your life and affairs organized?  If not, what are you waiting for?!

For more info on these great resources, check out

A huge thank you to author Mark Gavagan for sending me the binder and the booklet.

UPDATE: Once you read this post, please consider purchasing one of these for your family.  The author will donate 20% of all sales between now and 5/1/10 to a charity I chose. You can see the details here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Old Man's War

by John Scalzi
320 pages

*** About the Book ***

In a not too distant future, Earth is only one of many inhabited planets in the universe, medical science has advanced the expected life span to approximately 90 years, and the planet is becoming overcrowded. The mysterious Colonial Defense Force is always recruiting for off-planet military service but you may only enlist on your 75th birthday. John Perry, like most people his age, is convinced that the CDF will somehow make him young again; after all, what possible use would an army of senior citizens with health problems be?

On his 75th birthday, John enlists in the CDF … and begins an entirely new life, far different than anything he ever imagined.

*** Why I Read It ***

When I mentioned in an email that I hadn't read this book, Dot from thought I'd really enjoy it so she sent me a copy.  I've had it on the shelf for a few months but I'm reading it now so it will count for the 2010 TBR Challenge and the Mind Voyages Challenge.

*** My Thoughts ***

I’ve been hearing good things about this book for a long time and I’m happy to say I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t what I was expecting but it was highly entertaining. The story is fast-paced and kept me wanting to turn the next page, and the next, and the next.

The best way to describe this book is that it is a mix of Starship Troopers, Avatar, and maybe Full Metal Jacket. Does that give you a clue as to what to expect?

This is the first book in a series. I don’t plan to continue on to the next book at this point, but I’m not adverse to picking it up down the road.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Are you a Scalzi fan? Have you read other books in the series? If you haven’t read OLD MAN’S WAR, do you think you might give it a shot?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

by Greg Mortenson, with David Oliver Relin
audiobook: 13.5 hours
narrated by David Oliver Relin

*** About the Book ***

This is the true story of mountain climber whose failed attempt to climb a mountain landed him in a remote Pakistani village where he was warmly welcomed and made to feel at home.  He was so touched by the hospitality of the community that he decided to do something to show his appreciation - he decided to build a school there.  It took a lot of work and a lot of time, but that one decision ended up leading to an entire network of schools being built in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

*** Why I Read It ***

This book generated lots of buzz when it was first published.  I really wanted to read it at first, but then I saw some poor reviews and decided against it.  It was my book club's pick for April though, so I gave it a shot.

*** My Thoughts ***

Greg's actions are admirable and inspiring but the book ... is boring.  I couldn't get into the story in the beginning at all.  In fact, I missed large parts of it because my brain simply kept tuning out the audio.  I'd realize what was happening and rewind a bit, but it happened over and over and over again and I finally got sick of rewinding.  I'm usually really good with audio books so this was really odd for me.

The best parts of the book for me were toward the end where I learned about particular students in the school and how their lives had been changed.  If the book had included more of that, I'd likely have enjoyed it far more than I did.

My book club met on Sunday at a tea house to discuss this book.  Having high tea was so much fun!  Most of us didn't particularly enjoy the book and two of our members had some truly exciting news to share, so needless to say we didn't really discuss the book all that much ...

*** Your Thoughts ***

If you've read this book, what did you think of it?  Have you ever read a book that had a great message behind it but that failed in the delivery?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Recapping CityLit

This past Saturday I attended the CityLit Festival in Baltimore.  Since I only had a few hours before I had to pick up Kiddo I didn't get to see the headlining author, Elizabeth Kostova, but I did have a great time nonetheless!

The Festival is held in the huge and gorgeous Enoch Pratt Central Library right in the heart of Baltimore.  If ever you want to feel happy walking into a library, you simply must visit the Pratt.  The main floor was a mass of tables featuring local authors, bookstores, literary publications.  I spent a good hour browsing around there.

At noon I headed upstairs to listen to a sports-themed panel.  Not my usual area of interest, but one of the authors had written a book about kids sports teams and the way kids really feel about them.  Considering Kiddo's passion for ice hockey I figured I'd better check this one out.  The panel featured a conversation between two authors moderated by Festival coordinator Gregg Wilhelm.

author Time Wendel with Gregg Wilhelm from CityLit

The first author was Tim Wendel; his most recent book, HIGH HEAT, is a look at the history and mystique of the fast ball in baseball.  I thought his name sounded familiar and sure enough he was the author of RED RAIN.  The second author was Quinn Cotter; his book, PLAYING TIME, was just released this past week.  And get this - Quinn is 17 years old!!!  He started taking notes at age 15 on coach and parent problems that he noticed while playing various sports and ended up submitting a manuscript later that year. It's taken two years to get to publication, but WOW. I was very impressed.

Gregg Wilhelm with author Quinn Cotter

Despite my non-interest in baseball (and the fact that I'm from Maryland and our baseball team, the Orioles, just isn't that great) I really enjoyed this panel.  Greg kept the conversation rolling and the authors both shared some interesting stories.  I purchased Quinn's book and hope to read it in the near future (note to self: do not leave this languishing on the shelf!).

I had hoped to meet up with some new-to-me bloggers there but it just wasn't in the cards.  I did run into Dave and Nancy from Read Street though!  Nancy was tweeting about the Festival and included a photo of Dave and I.  You can check out Dave's Festival recap here if you like.  Dave introduced me to a local gal named Celeste who has just started a book blog.  She took my card and I'm hoping she drops in to say hello (and to put her info in my local blogger database!)

It was a short day but a fun one.  It just makes me even more excited for the Baltimore Book Festival in September!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Time Bandit

by Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand, 
and Malcolm MacPherson
240 pages

*** About the Book ***

If you have ever seen the tv show Deadlist Catch on Discovery Channel then you will know exactly what this book is about.  If not, you're really missing out!  The show follows several boats in the Alaskan crab fishing fleet as they work in some of the most hostile conditions on the planet.  This book is written by the brothers who co-captain the Fishing Vessel Time Bandit, one of the boats featured in the show, and gives a glimpse into what their lives are like both on the boat and off of it.

You can get a taste of the show in these short videos on Discovery's YouTube channel but we aware that there are spoilers for this season in the comment on the videos.

*** Why I Read It ***

Hubby and I have been watching Deadliest Catch from it's first season several years ago.  Kiddo sometimes watches it as well.  When Dreamybee reviewed this book back March '09 I immediately requested it from When it came in Hubby (generally a non-reader) picked it up and read it in just a few days.  He really enjoyed it.  It has been sitting on my shelf for a very long time now, and I committed to read it this year for the TBR 2010 Challenge.

*** My Thoughts ***

A literary masterpiece this book is not, but it doesn't pretend to be one either.  It is a rough and tumble look at life as a crab boat captain in Alaska, and a darn good read.  If you've seen the show then you know exactly what to expect from the book.

I must say that I think I read this book at exactly the right time.  The current season of Deadliest Catch just began (and yes, I did plan my reading to coincide with it) and things are very different this year.  Fans of the show will remember that Russell Newberry got fired from Time Bandit last season.  He plays a huge role in the book, and it was really strange to realize that he is no longer part of the crew.  And the situation that played out in the season premier between Johnathan and Keith, captain of the Wizard, makes a bit more sense to me having read the book.

Speaking of the show, I'm looking forward to the rest of the season but it will be bittersweet.  From following news about the show in the off season I know what is coming this year and things will definitely never be the same.  (I don't want to say more in case there are fans out there who don't know what I'm talking about.)

In a nutshell, if you like the show then you will like the book.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Are you a fan of Deadliest Catch?  Which boat/captain is your favorite?  I'm partial to Sig and his crew on the Northwestern, but there are things I love about each of the boats and their crews.  Watching Phil Harris' boys Jake and Josh go at each other on the Cornelia Marie, seeing the pranks Johnathan pulls on the Time Bandit, and the danger and drama on all the boats (remember the Wizard's huge accident last season, and the many rescue attempts - successful and unsuccessful - by the Coast Guard?) makes me want to tune in every week and also reminds me of why I could never do what these guys do - nor would I want to even try it!

Also, which cover do you like better?  The one at the top is the one I have, but I really like this other cover better - it gives a clearer picture of what the book is about.  What do you think?

Monday, April 19, 2010

1% Well Read Challenge ... uh oh!

Ok, so ... I really jumped the gun on this one.  When this challenge ended back in December I assumed it would start up again in January.  So when I didn't see a post about it I decided I'd just start reading on my own.  What I failed to realize was that there was an extra credit option to the 2009 challenge, and that part continued through March 2010. 

The new challenge details were posted recently.  This time the challenge will go from April '10 to April '11 ... which means that the seven books I've read/listened to between December and now don't count. AAAAHHHH!!!!  Not that I mind that I read all these books, but THEY DON'T COUNT for my stats. Ugh.

Just so I can feel better about myself, here's a recap of what I read for this challenge that now doesn't count for this challenge:
  1. Out of Africa, by Isak Dineson - I loved the book, but more so because I'd learned about the author in another book.
  2. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway - This is a gorgeous little story.
  3. The Golden Ass, by Apulieus - I gave up on this due to a bad translation but I'd like to try another version sometime.
  4. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood - I'm glad I finally listened to it, but it isn't a favorite.
  5. Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood - Her writing is beautiful and the story is thought-provoking.
  6. On The Road, by Jack Kerouac - This is definitely not my kind of book.
  7. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson - Enjoyed this childhood favorite, but not as much as when I was a kid
The new challenges requires 13 books in 13 months.  Below is a list of books I'll likely choose from:
  1. Catch 22 - also for the LOST Books Challenge
  2. Candide - I'm listening to this one now
  3. Dangerous Liaisons
  4. Half of a Yellow Sun
  5. Kim (Rudyard Kipling)
  6. The Charterhouse of Parma
  7. The Color Purple – I’m hosting a summer read-a-long
  8. The Last of the Mohicans - I started this last year but put it aside
  9. The Lion of Flanders - I couldn't find this one last year but really want to read it
  10. To Kill A Mockingbird – for a read-a-long in June
  11. Wide Sargasso Sea
  12. The Picture of Dorian Gray – maybe for Dueling Monsters in October?
  13. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – maybe for Dueling Monsters in October?
  14. The Things They Carried - also for the War Through The Generations Challenge

So tell me, have you ever jumped the gun on a challenge and ended up having to read more than you expected?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Winner of Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show: A NovelThank you to everyone who entered the worldwide contest for Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show.

Congratulations to the winner, commenter #1, Julie P. aka Booking Mama!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Are you a MD/DC/VA-area blogger?

UPDATE: The directory is growing! As of September 2010 we have over 30 bloggers listed.  Please continue to invite local bloggers to add themselves to the database.

I'm compiling a list of book bloggers in the greater Maryland, DC, and Virginia area to us connect with each other for local bookish events.  Those of you in Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or somewhere else within easy driving distance are welcome too!

If you would like to be included please add your info to the form below.

The answers you provide will be shared only with the others on the list. 

Note: If you provided me with your info via Twitter I'd love it if you filled out the form anyway.  That way I know all the info is correct.

The answers you provide will be shared only with the others on the list. 

Note: If you provided me with your info via Twitter I'd love it if you filled out the form anyway.  That way I know all the info is correct.

(Please let your blogging friends know about this - I want to get as many bloggers as possible on my list.  Thanks!)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Finds: 04/16/10

Friday Finds is getting to be a once-a-month thing for me.  I'd like to do it more often but I never seem to have the time.  Ah well, here's my list anyway ...

It's been a while since I found something for Kiddo so let's start with that one:

The New Brighton Archeological Society, by Mark Andrew Smith and Matthew Weldon - found at The Book Smugglers - I've been trying to get Kiddo into graphic novels because I think it would help him to like reading more.  It's starting to work, so I'm on the lookout for new titles to introduce him to.  This one looks and sounds amazing! "Out of the ashes of misfortune will rise the next generation of great adventurers! After their parents are lost on an archeological expedition, four children begin to unlock the secrets of their parents’ mysterious lives, discovering a hidden world of mystical artifacts, mythical creatures, and arcane knowledge. Soon they find themselves drawn into a conflict over a great library that has kept two kingdoms at war for centuries, the children must save an enchanted forest, the birthplace of magic itself. Join us as these children become the latest members of the fabled New Brighton Archeological Society, and take their first steps towards their true destiny!" Be sure to check out the Smugglers' review - it has some up-close images of the illustrations and they are wonderful.

And now on to the books I found for me ...

The Lost City of Z, by David Grann - I thought this was already on my list but apparently not.  Swapna reminded me of it in her review: "This isn’t really an archaeological mystery; instead, it’s the tale of Percy Fawcett, and the puzzle of what happened to him after disappeared in the Amazon.  As the book progresses, the reader can tell that Grann is getting more and more sucked into the obsession with the Lost City of Z.  It’s funny that a lot of people’s interest in this subject starts with Fawcett, but ends up fixating on “Z.”  Grann falls prey to that, even as he is describing it happen to others in the book."

Clara's Kitchen, by Clara Cannucciari - found at She Is Too Fond of Books - This is the kind of cookbook I like, one that includes family stories and reasons for recipes. "Clara’s Kitchen is part memoir, part fortune-cookie aphorism, and part cookbook.  It is a comfort read in the sense that Clara Cannucciari reminds me of my own Gram, and both her stories and the food she serves bring pleasant memories of simpler times. The prose of her memoir may be transcibed recordings of an oral history – very familiar, conversational, and no-nonsense."

Abraham's Well, by Sharon Ewell Foster - found in an email from the author - "Until she is about seven years old, Armentia never knows she is a slave. She grows up in the southern Appalachians of North Carolina, watched over by loving parents, her older brother, Abraham, and Mama Emma and Papa, a married couple of white and Indian blood who treat her almost as a daughter. But an act of childhood mischief, and the arrival of whites who want the Indians’ land, makes their true relationship painfully clear. In 1838, Armentia’s family, along with thousands of other Black Cherokee – African Americans of mixed heritage, both slave and free – is forced westward on foot, accompanying their owners and other Indians along the Trail of Tears to what is now Oklahoma."

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, Heidi Durrow - found at The Book Haven - This isn't the type of book I'm usually drawn to but here's what caught my attention: "The daughter of a Danish mother and an African-American G.I., a family tragedy puts her under the thumb of her strict African American grandmother.  She moves uncomfortably in a new world where blue eyes and light brown skin are attention grabbers. [...] The publisher says the story is inspired by 'true events.'"

The Lotus Eaters, by Tatjana Soli - found at At Home With Books - "What is rare about this story is that while it is set during the Vietnam War, and you do get to read about some horrific events, the story remains one of love and relationships (and the effects of the war on those relationships).  It is nice that the story is balanced and written with an eye toward the beauty of the Vietnamese culture and countryside, which just emphasizes how heartbreaking it is to witness their destruction from either side.  No one side is vilified or glorified - there are evil acts perpetrated by soldiers on both sides, as the line between right and wrong gets blurred in the war zone.  The true villain in this story is war itself, yet goodness shines through from those selfless enough to act."

Matterhorn, by Ken Marlantes - found at The Book Case - I wouldn't have been captured by the book had I not watched this video of the author.  Now I really, REALLY want to read this.

Those are the books I've added to my TBR list recently ... are any on yours as well?

For more Friday Finds please visit Should Be Reading.  And have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Teacher Man

by Frank McCourt
audiobook: 9 hours
narrated by the author

*** About the Book ***

Frank McCourt, author of the memoirs ANGELA'S ASHES and 'TIS, returns to tell more of his life story in this third memoir.  TEACHER MAN focuses on his 30 year career as a high school teacher in New York City.  The book includes bits of his childhood and young adult life and the ways they influenced his behavior as a teacher. 

*** Why I Listened To It ***

I always meant to check out this book (and 'TIS as well) after I read ANGELA'S ASHES years ago but I never got around to it.  Since my car doesn't have a CD player I am limited in the books I can listen to in the car, so I was really excited to find that this was available on cassette at my library.

*** My Thoughts ***

Can I tell you how much I love Frank McCourt?  This guy is hilarious! Of course, much of his humor is self-deprecating and he definitely doesn't think that highly of himself, but he is still really, REALLY funny.

I loved hearing about his experience in the classroom.  The comments from his early students had me imagining the classroom setting in the movie Grease - you know, with the students all calling out and arguing with the teachers?  That is what most of his first years of teaching seemed to be like.  As his career progressed he became better at handling his students and keeping them on track, and I really enjoyed hearing how he kept their attention.

My favorite part of the book was when he talked about specific students.  The one that touched me the most was a boy named Bob Stein, a "Jewish Future Farmer of America" whose parents were flabergasted by his desire to be a farmer.  McCourt ran into Bob several years after graduation and was able to tell him how much he loved having Bob in class, and what an impact this student had on him.  It was incredibly sweet.

Although there are some sad and disturbing parts to this book I really enjoyed listening to it.  It had me laughing out loud again and again and I've already recommended to several people.

*** About the Narrator ***

McCourt narrated this book himself and he did a fantastic job.  He is one of those authors whose work benefits from being read aloud, and when you add the perfect narrator ... well, things can't get much better!

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you read any of Frank McCourt's books?  If so, which was your favorite?  I have his children's book ANGELA AND THE BABY JESUS on my shelf ... hopefully I'll remember to read it with Kiddo this Christmas.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Between Friends

by Kristy Kiernan
336 pages

*** About the Book ***

Fifteen years ago Ali and Benny were struggling to have a baby together. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was a new thing at the time and the couple decided to give it a shot. When Ali’s best friend Cora volunteered to donate her own eggs to the process, Ali was thrilled. Eventually Ali have birth to a beautiful daughter, Letty. Benny and Ali have raised Letty to understand the entire process that led to her birth, and to have a close relationship with “Aunt Cora” whenever she is in town.

Now Letty is a teenager and things are changing. She is sneaking out, seeing a boyfriend her parents don’t know about, and generally heading down the wrong path. And Cora is back in town for an unexplained visit, hiding a huge secret from Ali and her family. What does all this have to do with IVF? You’ll just have to read the book to find out!

*** Why I Read It ***

Kristy Kiernan wrote a book called MATTERS OF FAITH that I read a while back. She did an excellent job portraying the realities of living with a child who has severe food allergies. [In case you are new here, Kiddo has enormous food allergy issues.] When we exchanged emails after her interview on my blog, she mentioned that her next book dealt with fertility issues. I immediately asked to review it when it came out because this is yet another subject that I have firsthand experience with. If you want to read about my personal fertility issues, I’ve included it bit at the bottom of this post (but feel free to skip that part if you don’t want to know that much about me!).

*** My Thoughts ***

I don’t often read books like this - contemporary fiction, women’s literature, or whatever you want to call it – but every once in a while something catches my attention. With this book it was the subject matter and the fact that it came from an author I trust. And she didn’t let me down.

The story is told in alternating points of view by Ali, Cora, and Letty. I enjoyed getting to know each of these women and learning about the important people in their lives. From time to time one of them would say or do something and I would think, “Aha! I know EXACTLY what that feels like.”* There was even a point toward the end of the book that made me cry – and that never happens. [For those who’ve read it, it was the letter right near the end.]

I was quite surprised to realize that this book deals with a lot more than fertility issues; that, in fact, IVF is almost the background for a larger story. I can’t tell you one of the topics that it goes into or I’d spoil the story for you, but it does deal with teen sexuality and family dynamics as well as friendship and of course fertility.

On the whole I really enjoyed this book. The ending might have been a bit to “neat” for me but that is the biggest complaint I can come up with. It was a quick and easy read and it definitely gave me some things to think about.

* After I wrote this I looked by at my review of MATTERS OF FAITH and realized that I used almost the same words in that review.  It just goes to prove that Kristy is consistently good at conveying a reality that I can identify with!

*** Your Thoughts ***

Do you read books about issues you’re dealing with in your own life? If so, do you go with fiction or non-fiction? Do you find that it helps? In what way?

*** My IVF Experience ***

In case you are wondering, here’s what my husband and I have gone through in the fertility arena.
  • It took over a year to get pregnant with Kiddo, which we eventually did without “assistance”.
  • Two years after he was born, I still hadn’t been able to get pregnant again.
  • We tried fertility medication … 8 times. This stuff made my psycho. Literally.
  • We tried artificial insemination … 3 times. This required a few shots and a few minor medical procedures.
  • We tried IVF … 2 times. This required an enormous amount of shots and several surgeries. Plus I had repeated allergic reactions to one of the injectable medications.
  • The 2nd IVF resulted in a miscarriage extremely early on, before I knew for sure I was pregnant. That was about four years ago or so.
  • At this point we have no more insurance coverage for fertility treatments, and no confidence that it would work anyway.
  • We also have 2 frozen embryos that we are continuing to pay to keep in storage. We can’t decide what to do with them – look for a surrogate to carry them (if they are even viable) or try to implant them in me (without much hope of success).
All that said, I am not bitter about it. I had been, in the past, but I’m not now. It took years, but I’m finally able to be happy for friends who are pregnant and to attend their baby showers. I can’t say that I love being around babies most of the time, but it doesn’t make me extremely uncomfortable like it used to.  Plus I've got the best Kiddo in the world already. :)

And that’s my story, for those of you who wanted to know ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In which I wax poetic (or not)

I'm not a big fan of poetry (I don't "get" it most of the time) nor do I feel I can write anything even mildly poetic.  So when Softdrink asked us to write a poem for this month's New York Mini-Challenge I quickly marked her post as read and moved on.

But then I had second thoughts.  I mean, I've participated in every part of this challenge so far and I'm really excited about going to BEA.  And anything I come up with would be on par with Softdrink's poem, right?

Without further ado, here is my attempt at a limerick:
New York is a city for fun,
Not far from Baltimore, Hon.
It hosting BEA,
I’m going in May.
And now my limerick is done.
Feel free to laugh, I know I am!  Seriously.  I realize I don't have a poetic bone in my body.  But hey, I'll try anything once!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show (+ worldwide giveaway)

by Frank Delaney
448 pages

*** About the Book ***

Ireland, 1932: Ben McCarthy has lived a charmed life as the only child of successful farming parents who love both each other and their son unreservedly.  But Ben's world comes crashing down around him when his father unexpectedly runs off after a traveling actress barely older than Ben.  His mother, furious and heartbroken, demands that Ben find his father and bring him back home.  Unsure of his place in the wide world and extremely naive about women, Ben reluctantly pursues his father from town to town attempting to make him come home.

This is only part of the story however, because Ireland at this time was a land in turmoil.  The country had been partitioned (the North still belonged to England while the South was now independent), the Irish Civil War had ended, and new political figures were rising.  Each party wanted to steer the country down a path that directly opposed the other party.  Politics permeated every layer of society and every town and city.  It is amid this chaos that Ben's search for his father becomes part of something much more sinister ...

*** Why I Read It ***

I've been wanting to read something by Frank Delaney for quite a while.  I have his book IRELAND on my shelf waiting for me.  When I received a pitch for this book from a publicist it was the setting that convinced me to give it a shot; Ireland in the 1930s is when/where my Gram grew up. I was hoping to get a better idea of what life was like for her by understanding the times she lived in.

*** My Thoughts ***

If I were telling you the story of my life I'd start with my birth, but then I'd have to go back and explain a bit about my parents.  I'd continue on into my childhood but then I'd have to detour to discuss my extended family.  My college experience would necessarily have to include a bit about what was going on in world politics.  My life story, linear though it may have been in reality, cannot truly be told without pulling in details from a variety of other places.  THAT is what this book is like ... and I loved that about it.

Ben tells the reader up front that he is fond of digressions and plans to include lots of them in his tale.  I found them to be fascinating, but they did slow the story down a bit.  At one point I realized that I was more than halfway through the book but I didn't feel like I knew what the heart of the story was supposed to be about.  It didn't bother me in the least because I was enjoying the journey, but those who are looking for a quick pace might be disappointed.

There was one character in the book, James Clare, whose words will stay with me for a long time.  Whatever was going on, he always turned events into a mythological story.  If there was a girl who had a beautiful mother and cruel father, he referred to the girl as The Princess and her parents as The Beautiful Queen and The Evil King.  When Ben set out to find his father, James called it a Quest.  I loved the way he viewed the world and I will definitely try to be more imaginative in my own views from here on out.

This book has a bit of everything: adventure, love, rivalry, politics, treachery, drama, travel, history, and on and on and on.  It was my first book by Frank Delaney but it definitely won't be my last. 

*** A Bit More Personal ***

While reading a few specific parts of this book, my Gram's stories came vividly to mind ...

At one point in the book, Ben witnesses a cottage on fire.  The mother is outside with her children huddled around her while the local men carry as much furniture out as they can before the entire place is engulfed in flames.  This actually happened to my Gram's family.  It was just after Christmas and a fire started in the chimney in the farmhouse they were renting.  A man going by on a bicycle banged on their door to wake them up when he saw the thatch roof on fire.  Gram's mother, Annie, got all four children outside safely before the entire house started blazing.  Gram's father, Jimmy, ran back inside to retrieve the dolls he'd bought his three daughters for Christmas.  The family was very poor and he had saved and saved to get these gifts.  He ended up burning his hands very badly.  The house was a complete loss, as were the dolls. The local doctor put some sort of cream on Jimmy's hands and wrapped them tightly, giving strict instructions to "Leave them alone!"  When he was able to unwrap them, everyone was amazed to see that there were absolutely no scars.

At another point in the book Ben discusses the violence permeating the countryside.  Gram was born in 1924 and lived in Ireland until the late 1930s, when she moved to England.  To this day she remembers Ireland as a dangerous place, one that she never wanted to return to ... and she never did.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Is this book on your radar?  Have you read other books by Frank Delaney? Do you seek out books set in specific times or places to better connect with something in your own family history?  Which times and places?

*** The Author ***

If you want to connect with the author, there are lots of places to find him ...

*** Worldwide Giveaway ***

I have a copy of this book to give away to one lucky reader anywhere in the world, thanks to the publicist.  Here's how to enter:
  • Leave a comment telling me why you want to read this book - Are you a fan of the author?  Does the setting appeal to you?  Is it the plot that caught your attention?
  • Make sure your email address is available through your profile or blog, or leave it in your comment.
  • I'll announce the winner on Sunday, April 18.  
  • The winner must respond to my email within 48 hours or I'll choose a new winner.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Keeping Track of Challenges and Review Books

Most bloggers I know have some way of organizing the books they plan to read in the immediate future, especially those bloggers who accept review copies.  Below is how I do it - what do you do?

About two years ago I started using an Excel file to keep track of things.  It has worked WONDERS for me, especially in regard to reading challenges and review copies.  (This post doesn't cover my extensive TBR list - that one requires a post all it's own!)

Reading Challenges 
  • When I decide to join a challenge I figure out how many books I'll need to read.  For example, the Mind Voyages Challenge includes 12 books over 12 months.  Then I code my chart to include enough spaces for that challenge.  With the Mind Voyages Challenge I filled in 12 places on my chart with MV. As I choose the books I want to read, I update my chart. This month I decided to listen to GENESIS so on my chart I wrote Genesis (MV).  And if my reading plan derails one month, no big deal - I'll simply move that MV to the next month and make it up later.  Looking ahead on my chart, I can see that I need to read about 5 specific books each month in order to complete the challenges I've signed up for.  That is a reasonable goal for me and reminds me not to sign up for any other big challenges.
Review Copies
  • The best thing my chart does for me it that it keeps me from overcommitting.  If I get a pitch for a book to review and it's one I'm interested in, I look at my file and see when I can reasonably expect to read and review it.  I give that info to the publicist/author/whoever and let him/her decide if my timeframe is acceptable (I'm usually scheduling 2-3 months out).  If so, I write the title in that month on my chart.  By setting my own deadline with the person sending me the book, I feel like we are both benefiting; I'm committed to read/review the book at a time that is convenient for me (AND I won't leave it wasting away on my shelf) and the sender knows to expect a review at a specific time.

If you are like me and are fascinated with charts and the way people keep organized, you are welcome to view my chart.  Of course there are some (many?) of you who will think this is completely over-the-top crazy, but that's okay.  My house may not be neat and tidy but my reading schedule certainly is!

And now I want to hear from all of you.  How do you keep track of what you plan to read for challenges?  If you accept review copies, how do you decide when to read them?  How do you keep track of what you've committed to?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What I'm Reading Now and What's Next

I'm in the middle of a few books just now so I figured I'd give you an update ...

What I’m Reading Now:
  • Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show – really enjoying this so far
  • Teacher Man (audio) – I forgot how hilarious Frank McCourt can be!
  • Three Cups of Tea (audio) – for book club
  • The Battle of the Labyrinth – reading with Kiddo
Books I (unrealistically) hope to read this month:
  • Between Friends – review copy
  • Old Man’s War – review copy
  • Time Bandit – my book, for TBR Challenge (it’s about one of the boats from the Discovery Channel show “Deadliest Catch” – new season starts in 2 weeks)
  • Stranger in a Strange Land – for LOST and Mind Voyage Challenge
  • Invention of Morel – for LOST and Mind Voyage Challenge
  • Folly – audio book currently checked out from library
  • Plus a book from my list for the Vietnam Challenge

Do you have any recommendations on which ones I should pick up next? I’m thinking of going with TIME BANDIT – it’s really short and I’d likely finish it right around the season premeire of the show. Which book would YOU pick up if you were me?

The most I’ve read/listened to in a single month recently is 11 books – let’s see if I can duplicate that this month!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Books into Movies: Dragon and Wild Things

We've been on a movie-drought lately, what with all the ice hockey practices and other activities going on.  But last month Hubby, Kiddo and I did sit down to watch a movie together, and then this week Kiddo and I actually went to the movies - WOW.  Both movies we watched were based on books so that's a bonus!

Movie #1: Where the Wild Things Are (on DVD)

Let me start by saying that this book is controversial in our house.  To me it is one of the stupidest things ever written.  To hubby it is the best children's book in the history of the world.  I hated it as a kid.  Hubby loved it without reservation.  Kiddo is rather indifferent to it.  His Grammy has read it to him several times (note here that his Mommy has NOT read it to him!) and he didn't really have much of an opinion either way.

When Hubby saw the previews for this movie he was estatic.  He couldn't wait to take Kiddo to see it.  Unfortunately time got away from him and the next thing you know it was out on DVD.

We sat down together to watch this one evening last month, all hoping for an enjoyable evening.  It wasn't looking good for me when I was uncomfortable with the direction of the movie within the first 10 minutes.  Even Kiddo was shocked by Max's horrendous behavior; he couldn't understand why any kid would act like that, especially the way Max behaved toward his mother.  Then Max got to the island and I quickly was bored.  I ended up spending the rest of the movie checking my Google Reader and answering emails.  About halfway through Hubby leaned over and whispered "This is REALLY bad." I couldn't agree more.*

Hubby and I ended up actually hating this movie.  Kiddo was generally unimpressed.

Movie #2: How to Train Your Dragon (in the theater)

Hubby had to work late but Kiddo and I had a rare free evening so the two of us headed out to see How To Train Your Dragon.  We were joined by my brother-in-law and his oldest son, Kiddo's cousin J.  J is three-and-half years old and this was his first time at the movies.  (In case you forgot, Kiddo is 8.)

We chose to see the 3D version, but not the 3D XD (only because it wasn't showing then).  Surprisingly there weren't that many people in the theater but it was a Monday night so maybe that explains it ...

We donned our 3D glasses - after explaining to J that he had to keep them on all during the movie - and settled back into our seats.  The adventure began quickly!  Within just a few minutes the dragons are attacking the Viking Village and things are getting crazy.

We were all really into the story from the start.  Kiddo and J were laughing out loud and even clapping at various points during the movie.  A few times they jumped in surprise but nothing was scary, just mildly unexpected.

The graphics in this movie are amazing, and the story is a great one.  I can't compare it to the book because we've never read it, but the move was excellent.  After it was over I asked Kiddo what he thought of it.  His usual response is "Eh, it was ok."  This time was different though.  This time he answered, "It was phenomenal!" And when Hubby later asked him if it was the best movie he's ever seen, he thought for a few minutes then replied, "It is ALMOST better than Star Wars."  And if you know Kiddo, you know that is the very best rating he could ever give.

I LOVED this movie and cannot wait for it to come out on DVD.  You can bet that we'll be buying it right away.

Have you seen either or both of these movies?  Please share your (spoiler-free) opinions on them in the comments!  

*Updated to add: I wasn't really clear about what I didn't like on the island so here's a list: monsters are creepy, plot is odd and didn't appeal to me at all, relationship between monsters are strange, the entire thing made me uncomfortable and bored at the same time. How's that? :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Baltimore's CityLit Festival - Coming Soon!!!

Today's public service announcement: Don't miss the CityLit Festival in Baltimore! 

From the promo email:
Don't miss the seventh annual CityLit Festival with special guests Elizabeth Kostova, Victoria Rowell, Sam Lipsyte, Maryland Poet Laureate Stanley Plumly, and more!
Saturday, April 17, 2010
10am - 5pm
Enoch Pratt Free Library
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
The festival is presented by CityLit Project and Pratt Library.  Support is generously provided by the Maryland State Arts Council, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and The Arts, the Johns Hopkins University's Master of Arts in Writing program, and BDL Communications.
CityLit Festival is "a can't miss event on the city's cultural scene." -- Baltimore magazine, "Best of Baltimore"
I'm planning to be there for most of the day.  If you are within driving distance I'd love to meet you and hang out for all/part of the day!  Let me know in the comments if you're planning to attend and we can coordinate our schedule. I can't wait!!!

Monday, April 5, 2010


by Bernard Beckett
audiobook: 3.85 hours
narrator: Becky Wright

*** About the Book ***

GenesisIn this future version of Earth, young Anaximander has been singled out for her unique mind.  She has been trained and tutored and now approaches her final examanation.  If she passes, she will be accepted into the prestigious Academy.  Her area of expertise is a somewhat controversial take on the life of Adam Forde, a major player in this future-Earth's history.  The book follows the course of her exam, detailing how this peaceful society came to be and how it works to promote future peace.

*** Why I Listened To It ***

This short book got a lot of attention in the book blogosphere a while back.  I needed something to listen to while doing some mindless activities at work and this was readily available for download from my library.

*** My Thoughts ***

I thought this book was just okay.  It didn't capture my attention the way it seems to do for other bloggers.  In fact, I was rather bored in parts.  The narration was well done, so that wasn't the problem; I just didn't really get into the story.  Plus I figured out (most of) the ending long before I got there.

I'm thinking that the dystopian genre simply isn't my thing.  It seems to be really popular with other bloggers, and I LOVE dystopian movies, but the books don't do it for me.  Am I alone in this?

On the upside, this counts for the Mind Voyages Challenge so I'm doing well with that one!

*** Your Thoughts ***
Am I the only one who didn't really care for this book? Many other bloggers thought very highly of it. You can check out some of their reviews here:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

March '10 Recap

Aah, the end of March ... that means Spring is ALMOST here! I had a pretty good month on the book front ...

Books - 5 (2,036 pages)

Audio Books - 6 (56.1 hours)

Other Stuff
  • THE SPARROW Read-A-Long ended this month and I’m thrilled with the result. From the comments on my review it seems we’ve convinced even more people to read this amazing book- YAY!
  • I shared with you why THE POISONWOOD BIBLE is one of the few books I recommend everyone to read.  I should mention that THE SPARROW is the other book I continually recommend.
  • If you are a LOST fan, I hope you’re following along with my episode recaps each week on the LOST Books Challenge blog. There are just a few episodes left until (as my husband says with heaps of sarcasm) "Don't tell me. They get FOUND." ~LOL~
  • We got some GREAT news on Kiddo's health issues - lots of celebrating going on around here.

That was my month - how was yours?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell
audiobook: 7.8 hours

*** About the Book ***

Have you ever wondered why two people who are  seemingly the same in every way often end up with wildly different success rates?  This book will give you (most of) the answers you never knew you wanted.  Gladwell explores how things such as culture, language, and even your birthday can influence your level of success in a particular field. 

*** Why I Listened To It ***

A real-life friend was reading this book a while back and found it fascinating.  Of course, he happened to be reading the section on plane crashes while he was flying to Peru ...

*** My Thoughts ***

I loved this book so much that I kept calling Hubby on the phone to tell him about it.  (It helped that the first section had to do with why people succeed in ice hockey ...) I even checked out a copy for him from the library and made him promise to read at least the first few chapters. 

Basically Gladwell explains that the idea of a self-made-man is a myth.  Yes, working hard and being ambitious can help you to get ahead in life.  BUT if you never get specific opportunities or you don't have the cultural "baggage" that gives you an advantage, then your hard work will never pay off.  It sounds incredibly depressing but in actuality I found it to be rather inspiring.

In a way this book reminded me of FREAKONOMICS - both authors have the ability to link seemingly unrelated bits of information and draw conclusions from them.  I think I trust the conclusions in OUTLIERS more though; there seems to be less of a leap from the varied datum to the end theory.

I should also point out that this was a very easy book to listen to, so I assume it would be an easy read as well.  It was engaging and interesting, and I never felt bored with it.

*** Your Thoughts ***

What do you think about the idea of the self-made-man?  If you've read this book, do you agree with any of Gladwell's conclusions?  Which do you disagree with?  Would you recommend any of his other books (this is the only one I've read)?

Kiddo's Latest Health + Hockey Updates


Kiddo had another endoscopy done last week.  The doctors have had him eating eggs for a few months and they wanted to see if it has caused any problems internally.  What they found was that despite the extremely high dose of Kapidex he's on (it's basically a stronger form of Prevacid), he had developed an ulcer. Go figure!

We got the endo. results today and guess what? THEY WERE EXCELLENT!  He's never had such good test results in his life.  He can keep eggs in his diet (wahoo!) and will be able to start adding a few new foods this week (we're waiting for the allergist to say which foods).

As for the ulcer, the biospy didn't show anything so the doctor is thinking that his stomach is simply producing too much acid. She said it is likely hormone related and that she'd give us more info on that soon. I'm not really worried about this, considering that 1) it doesn't bother him at all, and 2) the other news is so fantastic!

I guess the fact that Kiddo has now come down with the vomiting-aching-sleeping-on-the-couch flu is the price we pay for getting all this good news. :)


The Winter Session of ice hockey ended a week or so ago and Kiddo got to attend his first hockey banquet.  He had a great time sitting with his team and didn't really care that he had to bring his own food - he's totally used to that.  Each of the 100+ kids had a short blurb about them in the yearbook.  Here's what the coaches said about Kiddo:
[Kiddo] is one of the most competitive players in our program.  He will do anything to win.  He scores goals, back checks, and occasionally trips people.

For those of you who know hockey, yes, my child is becoming a goon.  Kidding!  But seriously, he does have an amazing competitive drive that was never apparent until he got into this sport.

He's already started the Spring Development Program (which has 4 ex-pro coaches) and can't wait until he qualifies for travel league.  I can see it now: the next 10+ years of my life will be spent in freezing hockey rinks toting smelly equipment ... and I'll love every minute of it!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Darker Place

A Darker Place
by Laurie R. King
audiobook: 14.5 hours

*** About the Book ***

Anne Waverly is a 40-something professor of religion, an unassuming, quiet, well-respected woman. She is also, occasionally, an undercover agent for the FBI. However this is not the adventure that it seems. Anne is usually drawn into an investigation of a suspected cult against her will, and this time is no different. Her current case involves a relatively new religious sect with branches in the US, Japan, and England. The FBI isn’t sure exactly what is going on with this group but they are suspicious that something unsavory is up. What will Anne find when she joins the Arizona group as a new member? Do the enigmatic leaders of the group truly believe the message they are preaching or are they charlatans, in it only for themselves? And what should Anne make of the foster program that brings new children into the group with the state’s approval?

*** Why I Read It ***

I’m already a fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series and a follower of Laurie’s blog. Recently Laurie blogged about the genesis of each of her previous novels; her post about this book caught my attention.

*** My Thoughts ***

I really got into this book right from the start. I loved the concept of the story and found the main character, Anne, to be fascinating. The book was rolling along nicely for quite a while.

Then things got a bit … let’s say “odd”, okay? First there were some coincidences that, for me, pulled me out of the story. A few times I thought to myself, “now that would NEVER really happen.” And second, there is a plot development that rather creeped me out. I can’t discuss it without giving spoilers, so be aware that the section in italics below does include minor plot spoilers.

*** SPOILERS *** Anne developed a strange and passionate crush on Jason. This wouldn’t be bad except that Anne is in her late 40s and Jason is 14. Yes, you read that right. Of course, Anne does not know he is 14 (she thinks he’s 18). She immediately realizes that her crush is completely inappropriate and does nothing to act on it but that part still made me distinctly uncomfortable. Just because it isn’t an older man with a crush on a young girl doesn’t make it any less disturbing. Part of me wanted to stop listening to the story at this point but another part of me admired Laurie for her ability to make me feel so intensely about this. *** END SPOILERS ***

The first two thirds of the book were pretty good (aside from those coincidences I mentioned). I was getting pretty frustrated near the end though, and I was all set to not like the book. Then there were some plot twists that I totally didn’t see coming and that redeemed it quite a bit.

I’m thinking I should have had lower expectations for this book. I mean, I LOVE Laurie's Mary Russell books so I was really expecting a lot from this one. In the end, I can’t say that this was a favorite but I did enjoy it for the most part.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you ever been disappointed by a beloved author? Does that affect your enjoyment of that author's other books?

If you've read this book, what did you think of it? Am I alone in thinking the way I do?
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