Feb 28, 2010

The Sunday Salon: New Challenges

The Sunday Salon.com   Welcome to the Sunday Salon!

There were a few new awards and new reviews last week.

Book Dilettante was listed by Courtreporter.net as  one of the 50 Best Blogs for Crime and Mystery Book Lovers. How neat is that? Hope you will check out the 111 posts under the label, Mystery on my home page.

Done last week: I also befriended several crime fiction authors on facebook. One had over 5,000 facebook friends, so I joined his discussion group instead! I posted links to writing tips, for all you aspiring writers, Ten Rules for Writing Fiction. My post for Far from the Land: An Irish Memoir got the most comments of any I've done. Hooray! I also wrote up a few awards from new friends, one from Brazil!

The Museum of Innocence

The Museum of Innocence

 Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence is a new find. This is his first novel after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. I'm on page 148 of 531 pages and am enjoying every word, literally. The translation from the Turkish by Maureen Freely is easy to read, flows smoothly, and the love story itself is very engrossing. Is it a story of love or obsession? We'll see.... as I head on down through the rest of the pages.

Michele Paiva, whose book, Truth, Next Exit I just reviewed, sent me a nice note: "Thank you so much! It's not a lengthy book but it was something I felt from the heart...and if it even helps one person overcome an obstacle, then I've done my job with it."  Her suggestions for personal change certainly made me look at many things in a new way.

I hope to join The Graphic Novels Challenge 2010.  The rules are simple: read one graphic novel featuring an animal character. Having never read a graphic novel all the way through, I think this would be a good challenge to try.

Carrie at Books and Movies, has given me a One Lovely Blog Award. Thank you, Carrie.

Today is the last day to enter my Simply Quince cookbook giveaway (U.S.)  Two copies are available. If you want to try using the fruit quince in cooking and making jams, preserves, and desserts, do enter the contest. UPDATE: Winners chosen: Esme and kalynnick!

Have a good week, everyone! Let us know what you did this past week!

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Feb 25, 2010

Book Review: Truth, Next Exit by Michele M. Paiva

Truth, Next Exit: No Excuses Scripture as your Personal Trainer and Life Coach by Michele M. Paiva

Michele Paiva describes her book as a way to make personal changes using the Socratic method of asking questions; she also uses readings from Scripture to suggest improvements for your life, health, habits of mind, and outlook. The book asks thoughtful and challenging questions, encouraging readers to provide their own answers.
"How would you feel if God came to you and said, "You know, I have given you a body, supplied you with healthy fruits and vegetables, and gave you the ability to make choices; what have you done to honor the life I've given you?"  What would you say?" (p. 25)</
"What do you give to yourself on a daily basis? Anything?"(p. 58)

"What do you do that sabotages your freedom? Do you depend on others too much?" (p. 74)
My comments: Truth, Next Exit is written as a guide book and workbook with exercises for readers to record their thoughts and answers. I found the book helpful and relevant to everyday living. The questions and comments on changing habits certainly put me in a reflective and thoughtful mood.

Author: Michele is a syndicated writer, author, broadcast professional, with a background in yoga and wellness therapy, and a strong "sense of spirituality." Learn more at her website, Michele Paiva. She can be reached at mmpaiva@mac.com and on twitter and facebook.

This book was provided free for my objective review by Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book ToursChallenge: 100 + Reading Challenge

Finishing Your Novel, tips from Timothy Hallinan

Some tips for aspiring novelists:

Finishing Your Novel:  six sections of online suggestions by Timothy Hallinan,
author of Breathing Water and other fiction.

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction: writing suggestions by well known authors, in The Guardian.

Blogs that discuss writing:
All write with coffee...
Confessions of a Mystery Novelist
Confessiions of the Un-Published
Cozy Murder Mysteries
Killer Hobbies
Murder by 4
Murder is Everywhere
Mystery Writing is Murder
Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe
Sasha Jackson Mysteries

and a book,
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Just a few of the online resources available on starting and finishing a book!

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Feb 24, 2010

50 Best Blogs for Crime and Mystery Book Lovers

Court Reporter.net has named Book Dilettante one of the 50 Best Blogs for Crime and Mystery Book Lovers. Book Dilettante is listed under Mystery Books with the following description:
22. Book Dilettante (aka Book Bird Dog): This blog is a great place to visit if you love reading mystery novels and are curious about novelists working outside of the U.S. 
Others in the Mystery Books list:
13.Mystery Reader Discussion: This blog provides a format to talk about the latest mystery books, even if you can’t meet the group in person.

14.Mystery Books News: Check back with this blog regularly to get updates on new releases in the mystery and suspense genre.

15.Mystery*File: Here you’ll find a blog dedicated to fans of mystery and detective novels, with reviews, updates and information about titles both new and old.

16.Mysteries in Paradise: This blog is a great source of mystery novel news and book reviews.

17.I Love a Good Mystery: With book reviews, news, events, links and information about movies, this site is a great one-stop place to find information about everything mystery related.

18.Murder By the Book Mystery Book Blog: The bookstore by the same name maintains this blog and updates it regularly with what the bloggers have been reading.

19.The Little Blog of Murder: Get a perspective on the murder-mystery genre from an Ohio native on this regularly-updated blog.

20.Confessions of a Mystery Novelist: Go straight to the source for information and insights into mystery books with this blog from a mystery novelist and professor.

21.Lesa’s Book Critiques: This librarian and blogger focuses her reviews of books on mystery novels.

22.Book Dilettante (aka Book Bird Dog): This blog is a great place to visit if you love reading mystery novels and are curious about novelists working outside of the U.S.

23.Shadow of the Raven: Keep up with mystery book news from the bookstore Mystery on Main through this blog.

24.The Scene of the Crime: Here you can get a look at the relationship between mystery stories and where they take place from author J. Sydney Jones.
I was surprised but honored to be listed! Here are just a few of my reviews:
Paying Back Jack by Christopher G. Moore, set in Bangkok
The Risk of Infidelity Index by Christopher G. Moore, set in Bangkok
Snow Angels by James Thompson, set in Finland
The Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong, set in Shanghai
Blood and Groom by Jill Edmonson, set in Toronto
The Black Monastery by Stav Sherez, set in Greece
Breathing Water: A Bangkok Thriller by Timothy Hallinan, set in Thailand.
What's next on my crime fiction reading list? The Brick Layer by Noah Boyd; The Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdett, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson.

Head on over to Court Reporter.net to see the blogs they recommend for lots of info on what Crime and Mystery books and authors are available. The blogs were organized into Crime Books, Mystery Books, By the Author, Group Blogs, True Crime Blogs, and Crime and More categories.

Feb 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Far From the Land: An Irish Memoir by Thomas J. Rice

"After years of favorite stories, told over and over by Mother and others,
I had it down. I knew her journey in detail,
from her early childhood to her becoming the famous Maggie O'Toole, to her romance with Artie Rice
and giving birth to eight children..." (ch. 2)
My comments: This is the story of Thomas Rice, the only son of Maggie and  Arty Rice, a boy who grew up in a farmhouse in Ballinvalley in rural Ireland, a boy afraid of the dark and the banshees of Celtic folklore, keening "women of the fairies" which his older sisters used to tease him about. Thomas leaves school at age 13 to help with the farm, in the absence of his charismatic but troubled father who left the family and who only showed up every now and then, with disastrous results.

Thomas becomes successful at farming in Ballinvalley, working with a neighbor Davy, who teaches him about horses and the land, but as a young teen he still longs for something different. At age 16 he and Maggie leave Ballinvalley for Sheffield, but he finds the taunting on the job and hardship in England too much to bear. They finally sail on the Queen Mary for America  and arrive in New York on July 4, 1959.

Here's what he says about his yearning for a life beyond home:

Each success in Ballinvalley had the paradoxical effect of reminding me of how hollow these
achievements had become.
Without knowing it, I'd become obsessed with the question
of what lay beyond that majestic sycamore grove
on the skyline over Borris - the one I'd taken
for granted each day for sixteen years -
and that I now say only as a barrier
between me and whatever lay beyond the thundering waves
of the blue-green Irish Sea. (ch. 23)

Recommendations: I found out a lot about the history of Ireland in this excellent and well-written memoir of coming-of-age in 1940s and 1950s Ireland. The memoir incorporates the history of life under the British, the fight for Irish independence in the 1920s and the hardship of life when Thomas Rice was growing up in the 1940s-50s. It also tells about daily life on a farm in rural Ireland and the community and closeness of the people.

Author: Thomas J. Rice received a scholarship to Cornell University, earned his doctoral degree, and is a college professor, leadership consultant, and social activist. He lives in Andover, Mass. Far from the Land: An Irish Memoir was published in 2009. Source: Free review book provided by Jane Wesman Public Relations, Inc.

For more Teaser Tuesdays quotes, visit Teaser Tuesdays
Challenge: 100 + Reading Challenge

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Feb 22, 2010

Art and Culture Award, Blogger Award

What fun to have this Commemorative Trophy from Raquel Crusoe, who is celebrating her blog's first anniversary and reaching 1,000 friends. Raquel is a classical pianist and music professor from Minas Gerais, Brazil.

 Amigo de Arte e Cultura, Friend of Art and Culture:

Queridos amigos !

Eu não poderia deixar passar em branco esse momento em que alcançamos a marca dos 1 000 amigos e leitores. Agradeço a Deus, nosso maior e melhor Amigo, por termos encontrado um ao outro.

Obrigada pela presença de vocês em nossa vida e nesta jornada em prol da Arte e Cultura. Por esta razão, para estarmos cada vez mais juntos, ofereço este Troféu Comemorativo para registrarmos este momento ímpar.

Vocês valem Ouro !
Com muito carinho,
"Cultural intelligence is the ability to interact effectively with people from other cultural histories." - Raquel Crusoe

I used Google Translator to translate from Portuguese to English. Raquel thanks her followers for celebrating art and culture and for being friends on her blog. Please check out her bio, music videos, and lots of artist performances and info on Raquel Crusoe - Arte e Cultura.

Equally nice is the Beautiful Blogger Award from Yvonne at  Socrates' Book Reviews. Thanks, Yvonne! To accept the award, I list seven things about myself, here, and pass on the award to some excellent blogs that are new to me. Here are a few:

Dust and Spores
The Printed Page
Color Online
Farm Lane Books Blog
S. Krishna's Books

Please check out these great blogs!

Feb 21, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Interview, Giveaway, Awards

The Sunday Salon.com   Welcome to the Sunday Salon! A Monday-Sunday wrap-up?  Let's see ...

1) Two reviews - Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (excellent audio book), and The Risk of Infidelity Index, a detective crime novel by Christopher G. Moore, set in Bangkok.

2) An interview with Kristin Bair O'Keeffe, author of Thirsty: A Novel

3) Posted a blue-grey winter photo of my snowy backyard for Wordless Wednesday

4) Wrote on the prompt, fortune, for the 100-Word Writing Challenge

5) Posted a book giveaway  for the wine memoir, Corked.

6) Accepted two awards and passed them on: The Honest Scrap Award and the One Lovely Blog Award.

I wrested off part of my winter cocoon this weekend and ventured out after the sun came out and started to melt the foot of snow outside. I even did some chores, including opening a bunch of packages with books! that came in the mail, and updating the list of books to read and review. I love making that list, but Sigh! Do I really do this for free?  Yes, just because I love the 2 Rs - reading and writing. (I dropped the 3rd R - Rithmatic - some years ago.)

Am also getting more creative with food - Greek zuchini fritters with feta cheese; omlettes with cheese, parsley, onions, and watercress; fresh coconuts for the juice and soft meat.  Anything to get in the required servings of three veggies and three servings of fruit each day - healthy eating tips I got from Denise's Daily Dozen. It's becoming quite an adventure.

Forgot to mention I received the audio book I won, The Swan Thieves, and am setting aside some quiet time to listen to the 17 discs. Maybe I'll keep it for mid-March.

One more thing, we are enjoying the skiing, skating, bobsledding, and curling, yes curling! competitions in Vancouver. I think I'd like to try my hand at curling, though I'm sure it's not as easy as it looks. 

What did you do last week?

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Feb 20, 2010


PattiKen and the Muses has passed on this interesting award! PattiKen is a new blogging and writing friend. Please check out her blog!

To accept the award, I have to give seven bits of information about myself and tag others. I haven't been passing on awards for a while though I always acknowledge them in the sidebar. The arm with the hammer means to me that we writers and bloggers work hard to pound out our words and posts, scrap or otherwise :)and deserve a gentle pat on the back every now and then. Thanks, PattiKen!

Bits of personal info? Here goes:

1. I live in a flat agricultural state in the Midwest USA though I grew up not far from mountains and the ocean. I miss both, expecially in the dead of winter!

2. I love dogs and would love to have a Rottweiler pup that I wouldn't be scared of when it grew up to be a huge force of nature :)

3. "Sunshine always makes me smile" (song).

4. I often add molasses, chocolate, and cinnamon to my coffee.

5. I often take home more library books than I can read before the due dates.

6. I'll only read ebooks if I want to really rush through a book. I can scan an ebook faster than a regular book - don't know why.

7. I've run out of things to say about myself :)

I'd like to pass on this award to some who haven't received it as yet. There are so many people to choose from, but the award will be passed on, so ....

From my Google Reader:
a) Rose City Reader
b)Sheila Deeth Blog
c)The Reading Life
d)Fair Dinkum Book Reviews
e)Confessions of the Un-Published
f)Book Ends

Just a few of the many great blog sites...Please visit them!

I'd also like to thank Elena from All Booked Up for the One Lovely Blog Award! Please visit her wonderful book blog!

The bloggers tagged above are tagged for this award as well!

Have a great weekend, and keep on blogging!

Feb 19, 2010

Book Review: The Risk of Infidelity Index by Christopher G. Moore

The Risk of Infidelity Index: A Vincent Calvino Crime Novel by Christopher G. Moore

P.I. Calvino makes a surveillance video of an outfit manufacturing fake drugs in Bangkok, but the lawyer who hired him for the job dies from an apparent heart attack before paying Calvino for the video.

To find out more about his dead client, Calvino takes a job from three mem farangs, foreign women, whose husbands may know more about his client. The women hire Calvino to spy on their husbands for any signs of cheating. Bangkok has a high infidelity risk factor, according to a book the women have been reading, The Risk of Infidelity Index. Calvino wheedles information from the women about their husbands who knew his dead client, finds out who's behind the fake drug making scam, and finally gets paid for his work, all while risking his life many times over and barely escaping intact.

My favorite secondary characters in the novel are Colonel Pratt, a local police officer who helps keep Calvino alive, and Calvino's office assistant, Rachana. Both are staples in the suspenseful detective series.

Publisher's description: " Vincent Calvino, disbarred American lawyer turned Bangkok PI, comes to North America at long last with a gripping novel set in a superbly textured, masterfully rendered Bangkok." The ninth novel in the PI series, it's the first printed in the U.S.,Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007.

Recommendation: For those who like detective crime fiction in international settings. I rated this four out of five stars. I also gave 4 stars to the 11th Calvino book, Paying Back Jack.

Challenge: 100 + Reading Challenge, Support your Local Library ChallengeThriller & Suspense Reading Challenge

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GIVEAWAY: Corked, A Memoir by Kathryn Borel

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I have an extra copy of
Corked: A Memoir by Kathryn Borel to give away. Travel with the author and her outrageous father through the wine vineyards of southern France.

"Corked is a fevered road trip that takes us deep into the heat of family mystery, emotional thirst, and, in luscious counterpoint, the vineyards of southern France. Kathryn Borel is a caustically witty companion, who writes with unsentimental, unsparing insight bout the distant, inscrutable father traveling beside her." - Leanne Shapton, author of Was She Pretty?

"A funny, quirky, bitersweet memoir full of wry wisdom on the subjects of wine, grief, memory, France, and family." - Jay McInerney, author of A Hedonist in the Cellar.

To enter the giveaway for this hardcover book, published 2009 by the Hachette Book Group:  1) leave a comment telling me briefly about a favorite wine, and leave your email address. 2) For an extra point, become a follower or let me know if you already follow.

U.S. addresses only, and no P.O. boxes, please. The giveaway contest runs through March 4; the winner will be notified by email and must reply by March 6. A new winner will be chosen after then.

Please enter, and good luck!

UPDATE: The winner chosen by Randomizer is Rose City Reader. Congrats!
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Feb 18, 2010

100-Word Writing Challenge: Fortune

The 100-Word Challenge is a weekly writing prompt exercise hosted by Verbal Verbosity; the challenge is to  write exactly 100 words on the given topic. This week's challenge word and my topic is: Fortune

My submission:

Ada looked quizzically at the woman behind the table. She had expected an old woman holding a crystal ball, but this fortune teller was no more than 40 years old.

"Show me your left hand," the woman whispered.

"I don't want to be told I'll meet a tall, dark, handsome man," Ada volunteered wryly.

The woman studied Ada's palm in the half light of the tent.

"You will have a long life," she said. Ada smiled.

"You will have two husbands," she added.

Ada withdrew her hand, surprised.

"Will either of them be tall, dark and handsome?" she asked breathlessly.
See other entries here. New word prompts given every Saturday.

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Feb 16, 2010

Interview with Kristin Bair O'Keeffe, author

Welcome, Kristin, and thanks for visiting!

Q: Can you tell us what inspired you to write your debut novel, Thirsty? (link to review)

Kristin: Two things: my family history with domestic violence and my family connection to the steel industry. I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, and my maternal grandparents lived just down the road a bit in Clairton, one of Pittsburgh’s most dynamic steel communities. In the 1960s and 1970s, I spent a lot of time at their house with the smokestacks of the mills bearing down and barges hauling steel along the Monongahela River. My grandfather and great uncles worked in the steel mills so it was a big part of our family story. When the steel industry collapsed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so did Pittsburgh’s steel communities. At that point, the storyteller in me jumped up and said, “Ooohh, there’s something to be told here.”

Before I wrote fiction, I wrote poetry. As an undergraduate at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, I wrote and published “Crumbling Steeples,” a poem about how the crash of Pittsburgh’s steel industry affected its steel communities (and more specifically, my grandfather). After I wrote it, I thought I was done writing about Pittsburgh and steel. Obviously I was wrong; the poem was just the beginning.

Q: When did you write the book, and how much research went into it?

Kristin: I wrote the first full draft of Thirsty during graduate school at Columbia College Chicago in the 1990s, and although I am definitely not a historian or a steel-making specialist, it was very important that I get the details right (fingers crossed). I did a heck of a lot of research at the Harold Washington Library Center on State Street in downtown Chicago.

Q: Which writers have influenced you the most?

Kristin: Here’s a sampling, though there are many more:

• for language, rhythm, and soul: Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez

• for writing about women’s lives in significant ways: Alice Walker and Toni Morrison
• for thinking like me: Dr. Seuss and Amy Krouse Rosenthal
• for keeping me centered: Thich Nhat Han and Pema Chodron• for writing inspiration: Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott

Q: Are you planning another book or any other work?

Kristin: Absolutely. I’ve got two big projects on my plate right now:

a. a memoir about falling in love with an Irishman, marrying him (um, rather quickly), moving to China, and becoming a mom.

b. a second novel...which is wildly different than Thirsty

Q: Can you tell us about your work in Shanghai?

Kristin: You know, living in China is this wonderful, kooky, frustrating, thrilling, eye-opening experience. When I moved here in 2006, I didn’t know much about Chinese culture and I didn’t speak a word of Mandarin. For a lot of people, that kind of change is overwhelming. For me, it was inspiring. I love being nudged (pushed/shoved) out of my comfort zone, plunked down into a culture about which I know little or nothing, and forced to reexamine who I am and how I define myself in the world.

The good news after almost four years in China?

I’ve got enough material to write about for a lifetime.

Q: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

Kristin: I love to hear about writers’ quirks. My own? As a writer, I’m obsessed with the rhythm and sound of every single word in every single sentence I put on a page. I read everything out loud (including this guest blog post)…over and over again; if I hear a clunker word, I replace it, and then I read the entire piece out loud again.

Of course, if you’re thinking I only do this in the privacy of my own office, you’re dead wrong. I read my work out loud in coffee shops, book stores, airports…pretty much any place they’ll allow me to plop down with my computer and work.

Thanks for sharing your experiences and writing tips with us, Kristin. Good luck with your memoir and your next novel!

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel Thirsty (Swallow Press, 2009) tells the story of one woman’s unusual journey through an abusive marriage, set against the backdrop of a Pittsburgh steel community at the turn of the twentieth century. Her work has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, San Diego Family Magazine, The Baltimore Review, The Gettysburg Review, and many other publications. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and has been teaching writing for almost fifteen years. Kristin lives in Shanghai, China, with her husband and daughter.

 If you’d like to learn more, visit http://www.thirstythenovel.com/ and her blog “My Beautiful, Far-Flung Life” at http://www.kristinbairokeeffeblog.com/.You can also follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kbairokeeffe and friend her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Kristin.Bair.OKeeffe.

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Feb 15, 2010

Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants is the story of a young man who runs off to join the circus during the Great Depression, leaving his troubles behind plus an unfinished veterinary degree from an Ivy League university. His vet training lands him a permanent job with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, but life in the circus is not all the fun it seems.

There is animal cruelty, unscrupulous practices by the owner and manager of the circus, and unexplained disappearances of unneeded circus workers every so often. Jacob falls in love with an equestrian performer, Marlena, who is married to August, a circus boss. When August repeatedly beats the new elephant bull, Rosie. for not performing, Jacob and Marlena band together to protect the elephant and each other from the unscrupulous practices of August and the circus owner, Al.

Comments: I listened to the book on audio, expertly and entertainingly read by David Ledoux and John Randolph Jones, who were the voices of Jacob at age 90 and Jacob in his early 20s, remembering and telling the story.

Jacob at age 90 is delightful, telling us with humor his unhappiness with being confined to the nursing home where his family has placed him. Jacob at age 20 plus recounts his three and a half months with the Benzini Brothers Circus, his work with the animals, his love for Marlena, and how they survive the brutality of their bosses and environment.

I don't know if reading the book would have been as enjoyable as listening to the audio. I might have skipped over Jacob's complaints about his nursing home food and the other residents and missed a lot. Listening to the book being read was not at all boring but made Jacob endearing and made what he does at the end of his story entirely plausible.

Definitely a 5 star novel.
Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support your Local Library Challenge

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Feb 14, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Change in Plans

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Two reasons to celebrate today: Valentine's Day and the start of the Lunar New Year of the Whie Tiger.

I had planned to have eye surgery last  Thursday and borrowed  about 4 audio books to listen to while recovering. Change of plans! My eye doc had to be sent to the hospital and will be fine, but postponed my surgery for a month!

Nevertheless, I started the audio book, Mrs Pollifax and the Lion Killer, am almost through with Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which I highly recommend as a very interesting and entertaining story of life in the circus during the Depression era, told by two men representing the main character as a 90 year old man and as a young man.

The other audio books I got are R is for Richochet by Sue Grafton, and A Fine Place for Death, a mystery by British writer, Ann Granger.

I also went to the library and picked up another book by Christopher G. Moore, The Risk of Infidelity Index. Moore writes detective fiction set in Bangkok. I'm enjoying this one too. Also had fun doing a 100-Word Writing Challenge hosted by Verbal Verbosity, which happens every week.

Can't believe I also squeezed in 3 reviews and an almost-review- one crime fiction, two general fiction, and one non-fiction:  Paying Back Jack by Christopher G. Moore; Thirsty: A Novel by Kristin Bair O'Keefe, I Ching: A New Interpretation for Modern Times, and The Pig and I by Rachel Toor.

Overall, I did more on the blog that I had planned! How about you?

Feb 12, 2010

The Pig and I by Rachel Toor: Must Reads # 1

I've always wondered what it would be like to have a pot- bellied pig for a pet. I've read they are as smart as a 3-year-old!

My Must Reads is a book I found online and decided was too entertaining to pass up.

The Pig and I The Pig and I: Why It's So Easy to Love an Animal and So Hard to Live with a Man
by Rachel Toor

The cover and title caught my attention, and then the description from Goodreads:
Funny, heartfelt, and irreverent, The Pig and I follows the hilly course of author Rachel Toor's romantic life as she falls in love with a series of pets and in and out of love with an equally eclectic string of men, many of whom bear a striking resemblance to the animals, both in looks and temperament.

From Prudence, a sweet white lab mouse who hates Rachel’s sweet, mousy actor-boyfriend Charlie, to Emma the pig, a fifty-pound force of nature that Rachel coparents with her ex-boyfriend Jonathan, we accompany Rachel as she learns how to bring into her human relationships the same kind of acceptance she so easily extends to her pets. Anyone who knows the comfort of coming home after a disastrous date or day at the office to a wagging tail or a ready purr will find The Pig and I irresistible.
The Pig and I: Why It's So Easy to Love an Animal and So Hard to Live with a Man. You can click on the title to sneak a peek through Amazon's "click to look inside" feature.

What Must Reads  have you found recently? Must Reads details a book that you can't resist, one you definitelly have to read.

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Feb 10, 2010

Book Review: I Ching, A New Interpretation for Modern Times, review

I Ching: A New Interpretation for Modern Times
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I'm not superstitious, but using the ancient Chinese classic, I Chingas a form of divination or fortune telling can be just plain fun. It's general enough so that you can interpret the results in different ways. And it's often uncannily accurate!

In the I Ching, there are 64 hexagrams made of six lines each. Each hexagram represents a human situation, and all 64 together are said to "encompass the whole of human experience." You ask a question of the I Ching and throw coins to determine which hexagram will answer your question.

From Goodreads: What is the I Ching?
For centuries the Chinese have consulted the I Ching both as an oracle and as a means of self-understanding. The moral and psychological depth of its wisdom has been celebrated by its scholars, psychologists, poets, and scientists.
In this clear, immensely readable interpretation, Sam Reifler eliminates the obscure and dated references of previous translations to provide an accurate and accessible version of the ancient Chinese classic for the contemporary seeker. With easy-to-follow instructions for using both the yarrow stick and the coin toss method, this new interpretation of the I Ching reveals the hidden forces at work in our relationships, our careers, and our emotional lives - and suggests new directions and choices for the future.
For everyone who seeks to better understand themselves and the world around them, this new translation of the I Ching is... "practical and remarkably effective...."

My personal experience using the I Ching: This week I was expecting to have eye surgery in a few days and wanted to see what the I Ching would say about my situation, which I was a little nervous about.

I pulled out my copy of the book, threw three coins six times and formed the hexagram 5 - Zhuy, translated as "Waiting."

Oracle: Great success. Auspicious
If you keep to your course,
You may cross the great water.
So everything was going to be okay - auspicious.

But wait! Hexagram 5 had a moving line, according to how I threw the coins! Line 6 changed Hexagram 5 into Hexagram 9! Here's what line 6 said:

Waiting no longer,
Three rescuers arrive at the cave.
Auspicious if you treat your rescuers well.

Here's what line 6 of the new Hexagram 9 changed to -Zhiao-Khuh or "Minor Restraint".

Rain has fallen; Progress is delayed
The next day I got a call saying my eye surgery was postponed as my eye doc was in the hospital. Not too serious, but a minor restraint. What could I do but gloat about my rescue/respite, and hope my doc would be okay.

Did the I Ching foretell this change of events?
They say not to use the oracle as a parlor game ,even though some people do. It could get confusing, especially if you ask more serious questions than mine.

Well, that Q & A was a bit of fun!

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, China Challenge
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Feb 9, 2010

Book Review: Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

A gutsy book by a gutsy writer.

Summary: Klara Bozic raises three children and, though she fled domestic violence from her father in her native Croatia in 1883, lives daily with physical violence from her husband Drago in her new home in the steel mill town of Thirsty, just outside of Pittsburgh.

Klara's daughter grows up and also marries an abusive man, continuing the cycle of violence in the family. She is haunted by dreams in which she takes revenge. What Klara endures and how she pulls herself and her daughter out of the cycle to find some measure of peace and stability is the theme of the novel.

Well written, fluid prose, well developed characters. Thirsty shows the effects of domestic abuse on individuals and the family, as well as gives a view of the hardship of life for families dependent on the Pennsylvania steel mill industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I give a lot of credit to the author for addressing the topics in her well written novel, making more people aware of domestic violence and the cycle it creates.

Author Kristin Bair O'Keeffe wrote a complete draft of this book as her thesis for her MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. Her book is based on her own experiences and observations of life in a working class community in a steel mill town. Watch for an interview with the author which will be posted this month.

Thirsty: The Novel was published 2009 by Swallow Press. More information is available at http://www.thirstythenovel.com/

Source: ARC from Phenix & Phenix
Challenge: 100+ Reading Challenge

Feb 8, 2010

Book Review: Paying Back Jack by Christopher G. Moore

Paying Back Jack is 11th in the detective series featuring PI Vincent Calvino. It has a complex plot about paying back old scores, in Bangkok, a city which seems like one of the most interesting but challenging places in Southeast Asia.

The novel has so many plot components that it's sometimes hard to keep track of and link all the people and their activities. There are personal scores to settle involving people who had worked in many different places - Southeast Asia, in Iraq, and in the Middle East war zones.

The intrigue starts when Calvino is hired by Casey to find the man responsible for his son's death. The case is more complex than it seems. Calvino becomes embroiled in more than he bargained for.
"Casey, the private contractor with interrogation expertise, good street contacts, and a payload of anger over a dead son, was locked in a version of the past fueled by hatred." (p. 206)
This is more than just a detective novel set in an exotic location. Moore's writing shows flashes of creative brilliance as well as insight into the local culture.
"A vapor trail of superstition hung above the table, streaking the conversations with sentiments from an old, traditional culture. For a moment, she almost felt at home."
"He was happy that she finally had what every Thai woman wished for: motherhood. To become the mother goddess was to achieve a vindication, to have climbed to a sacred platform and claimed a throne." (p. 134)

After finishing this book, I thought Moore could easily use his talents to write literary fiction.

I then discovered, thanks to a comment by blogger Mark David, that Moore has written 20 books, including short stories and nonfiction books on Thai culture and customs. In this Amazon link, Christopher G. Moore, there is a list of titles in his Vincent Calvino PI series. Moore, a Canadian, has lived in Bangkok since 1988 and has a background in law.

Paying Back Jack , hard cover, 339 pages, was printed by Grove Press in 2009.

Challenge: 100+, Support your Local Library ChallengeThriller & Suspense Reading Challenge
Member of Amazon Associates

Feb 7, 2010

Book Review: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Overview: When nine people are temporarily trapped and confined in a building after an earthquake in a U.S. city, they get to know each other in a way they might not have under normal circumstances. The nine are in an Indian visa and passport office in the building. Of different backgrounds and nationalities, they slowly learn about each other's lives.

From Goodreads:

Late afternoon sun sneaks through the windows of a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Most customers and even most office workers have come and gone, but nine people remain. A punky teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is disintegrating. A young Muslim-American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair.

When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping these nine characters together, their focus first jolts to their collective struggle to survive. There's little food. The office begins to flood. Then, at a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, "one amazing thing" from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself. .

Comments: A good way to introduce a variety of different stories in one book. People are trapped for a short time and, uncertain of the future, reveal themselves through their life stories.  I found myself comparing One Amazing Thing to a book with people similarly confined in a dangerous situation - Bel Canto.

I hope to try her other books, especially The Mistress of Spices, which I have heard positive things about. Chitra Divakaruni has also authored Sister of My Heart, and The Palace of Illusions.

Source: ARC courtesy of Library Thing Early Reviewers
Challenge: 100+

Feb 3, 2010

Library Loot, Audiobooks Galore

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Marg @ ReadingAdventures and Eva at A Striped Armchair.

Here's what I got today at the library, to last for the next couple of weeks: lots of audio CDs.

1. Only one hardcover book, Whisper To the Blood, a Kate Shugak Novel by Dana Stabenow, the 16th in the mystery series. A mystery novel set in Alaska, featuring Kate Shugak of the Niniltna Native Association.

2. Two fiction audiobooks:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, about the world of the circus and the performers there, unabridged, 10 discs. Eleven and a half hours of listening!
Digging to America by Anne Tyler, unabridged, 7 discs.

3. Three crime fiction audiobooks:

R is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton, mystery writer, unabridged, 10 discs.
Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer by Dorothy Gilman, a light mystery set in Africa, no. 12 in the Mrs. Pollifax series, unabridged, 6 discs
A Fine Place for Death: a Meredith and Markby Mystery by British writer Ann Granger, a light mystery set in the Cotswolds, unabridged, 8 discs

What am I doing with all these audio CDs? Getting ready for an eye procedure next week, during which time I'll be listening rather than reading while I rest and recuperate. Why so many CDs? If I get bored with one novel, I'll just switch to another. Or listen to several at different times, depending on my mood :)

Oh, I also won an audio version of The Swan Thieves. Hope it'll arrive just in time.

I think I'll start right now, though, with Mrs. Pollifax, that indomitable lady and secret agent. Why wait?

Feb 1, 2010

Simply Quince: Interview with Barbara Ghazarian, author

Cookbook author Barbara Ghazarian tells us about her new cookbook, Simply Quince, which has recipes for interesting ways to use the fruit in main dishes, desserts, and jams.


1) Tell us why you decided to devote an entire book to quince and quince recipes

The short answer is, because no one had done it in 4000 years! I quickly discovered the truth in the old adage: “If it was easy, someone would have already done it.”

The fruit-bearing quince, cydonia oblonga, is a naturally dwarf pome-fruiting tree that hails from the Caucus Mountain regions of Armenia, Georgia, and Northern Iran. I enjoy romanticizing that my love and fascination with the quince runs through my veins along with my Armenian blood. More likely it’s because my (Armenian) grandmother made deliciously sweet, ruby red quince preserves and jelly every fall with fruit harvested from trees that grew in her yard. I’ve been eating and cooking with quince my whole life. The taste of quince is distinctive and memorable. There is no good substitute. Once you’ve fallen in love with the subtle rosy-guava aroma and flavor of quince, only the real thing satisfies.

Cooking at my grandmother’s elbow as a child, I was fascinated by the color change that happens when you slow cook fresh quince in water with a little sugar and lemon juice. The creamy white pulp transitions to golden, then salmon-pink, and finally with continued cooking, to a rich ruby red. It’s 100% natural cooking magic and unique to the quince. For years, I searched for an answer as to why quince does this. I answer the missive in Simply Quince. I’ll give you a hint. Quince is extremely high in good-for-you antioxidants!

The third reason I wrote an entire book devoted to cooking with quince is that quince is one of the oldest cultivars in the world and no other fruit, including the apple, is as interwoven with the story of human civilization. I outline the migration of quince throughout history in the introductory section of Simply Quince. Often referred to in historical sources as an “apple” or “golden apple”, many Biblical Scholars speculate that the quince, which is rarely eaten raw, was the true forbidden fruit, tempting Eve with its golden tone and alluring aroma. It is most likely the “apple” of most Western myths, including the Golden Apples of Hesperides and the “golden apple of discord” credited with starting the Trojan War.

Rome’s first cookbook author, Apicius, preserved whole quinces in a bath of honey in the first century CE. Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have piggy-backed the quince around the world. Less than a decade after settling in New England, the Puritans brought the quince to Massachusetts. A century later, the pioneers loaded quince seedlings on their wagons and carried the quince west. Since you are having a contest to win a copy of Simply Quince, a great question to ask is Why? Why did mankind cultivate the quince everywhere he went?

2) Could you tell us about your research for the book. What did it involve?
   A few years after the initial publication of my first cookbook, Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy, I was casting about for another project. It was fall. Over the years I’d been expanding my understanding of how to cook quince. It bugged me that after multiple millenniums, the fruit’s repertoire didn’t extend much past traditional jams and jellies. My decision to do a cookbook was a leap of faith. I majored in molecular biology in college so it seemed natural to couple scientific research methods with my culinary know-how to figure out how to prepare quince so that its gentle flavor would shine in a wide variety of dishes, both savory and sweet. I guess I believed that I could figure it out.

Once the decision was made, from late August through March, for three consecutive quince seasons, all I did was experiment, create, test, tweak, and retest over 400 recipes to obtain the 70 dishes presented in Simply Quince. It was a bit crazy. I fed neighbors and my daughter’s school friends lots and lots of quince. The good news is that traditional quince lovers will be delighted to find jam, jelly, and cobbler recipes; beginning cooks will find success preparing Candied Quince and Quince Salsa; and professional chefs will expand their repertoire with a wide array of savory-sweet stews, exotic mains, condiments, and spectacular pastries. Simply Quince won the Best Cookbook 2009 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and was a USA Book News 2009 Best Books finalist in the general cookbook category. High praise since Simply Quince is anything but a general cookbook.

3) What is Team Quince?

   On my journey, I’ve met many people, gardeners and orchardist, cooks and foodies, who, without prompting, exclaim, “I love quince.” It’s amazing. “I love quince,” is exclaimed by folks across the globe in just about every language. All seem to agree that it’s time to reestablish the quince to its rightful place on our tables and in our gardens. Team Quince is designed to do that. Quince has been neglected for nearly a century, so there’s lots of work to be done. Simply Quince is only a starting point. Team Quince already boasts some well-known “quince quacks” among its membership; Joseph Postman, Curator of Quince at the USDA-ARS National Germplasm Repository in Covallis, Oregon for one. I’m hoping Team Quince will grow into a vibrant virtual community of quince lovers and provide a way to share personal cooking and growing experiences, report quince news, exchange recipes, search for unidentified varieties, and connect with others who share passion for the quince.

4) What are some of your favorite quince dishes? Did you create them yourself or are they traditional recipes?
   To be honest, every one of the dishes in the Simply Quince collection had to make the grade. Quince is relatively unknown today. It’s been off the culinary radar for over a generation. I’d be rich if I got a dime every time a person asks me, “What does quince taste like?” Given this reality, to be included in the book, a dish had to be easy, really yummy, and most importantly, showcase the taste of quince. Misconceptions about the quince abound. One of the most hurtful is that the flavor of quince is strong and pungent. Nothing is further from the truth. When cooked properly, quince has a gentle, mild flavor. That’s one of the reasons why quince was used as the base for the first marmalades. Strong flavors, like vanilla, cardamom, cloves, and orange, overpower quince quickly. Only education will put an end to the multitude of recipes published every autumn that pair quince with flavor combos and quantities such that no one will taste the quince. All the recipes in my book, taste like quince!

It may seem like an oxymoron to write a cookbook on quince and to say that I am a lazy cook, but if my head spins when read a recipe’s directions, I lose interest immediately. Most of my dishes are creative variations on traditional recipes. Savory over sweet wins with me. Given that, my favorite quince dishes include Quince Salsa and Quince-Orange Pickles as starters; Quince-Infused Vinegar adds amazing flavor to any salad; Quince-Apple Sauce and my original Quince and Roasted Cashew Stuffing are delicious sides, my Lamb and Quince Tagine and Turkey Chili with Quince balance sweet with heat to perfection; my Fresh Ginger and Quince Pomegranate Chutney compliments main meat dishes flawlessly, Fiery Quince-Tomato Spread is my favorite preserve, Quince Butter is a close second; Creamy Quince Mascarpone Pie and Caramelized Quince Upside-Down Cake win on my table as dessert selections; and nothing beats the White Pizza with Quince, Prosciutto Pizza or finishes a meal like Quince-Infused Grappa. All wow guests, even first timer’s to quince.

6) Could you tell us about your first cookbook, Simply Armenian?
   Simply Armenian won critical acclaim as well and is now in its 3rd printing. I’ve been accused of giving away all the secrets of the delicious Armenian table. A fact I’m proud of. Rather than rely on condiments, sauces, or lots of seasonings, Armenian dishes depend upon the food itself, or the combination of foods, to give fine flavor. The cuisine relies heavily on whole-grain bulgur (cracked wheat), olive oil, lemon juice, mint, parsley, and yogurt. Lots of vegetables extend the dishes, which are eaten with large qualities of bread, especially flatbread. Other than salt and pepper, cayenne and cumin are the spices most often used. Lamb is the preferred meat. While not a vegetarian cookbook, over half the recipes are meat-free and over 50 are vegan. When Armenian Christians fast on holy days, primarily during Great Lent, our diet is meat-free, including dairy. The naturally healthy Armenian table is a poster child for the Mediterranean Diet. I’m slightly overweight, not because I eat poorly, but because I have portion control issues. It’s all those little dishes!

7. Are there any plans for future books?
   No future books are on the roster at the moment. A cookbook devoted to bulgur may be in my future.

8) Is there anything else you would like to add?
   Thank you for your interest in my work and sharing news about Simply Quince. Foodies are constantly searching for new ingredients. If we all pitch in and spread the word, it would be great to see the heirloom quince set a new trend in food. Got quince?

9) How can readers find you on the web?
   Simultaneous to the posting of this interview on your blog, (my web site) will launch at Queen of Quince.  The title, “Queen of Quince,” is meant to be a little campy. Remember, most people don’t know what a quince is. Please visit the web site. Join Team Quince. I’d love to meet and work with you. Welcome to the world of quince,


Thanks for the informative and interesting interview, Barbara!  Check out her website at http://queen-of-quince.com/   (See my review of Simply Quince.)

GIVEAWAY OFFER of two copies, U.S. only: Publishing Works, Inc. is giving away two copies of the cookbook. To enter to win, leave a comment with your email address at the end of this post, so we can contact you. Winners will be notified by email and asked to supply their mailing address for Publishing Works, Inc. to send the books. No. P.O. boxes, please. For an extra chance to win, become a follower of Book Dilettante.

The contest will run through Feb. 28.

UPDATE: Two winners were chosen by Randomizer on March 1: Esme and Kalynnick. They have been emailed and have until March 3 to respond. Congrats, and enjoy the cookbook!

Best Mysteries/Crime Fiction for 2009

Looking for a good mystery or crime fiction novel but can't decide which one to pick from the hundreds on the library or bookstore shelves?

Here are some recent ones you might want to look at  - 2009 books nominated for an award this year.

The Mystery Writers of America gives the Edgar Awards every year to honor Edgar Allan Poe. The prize goes to the best mystery fiction and nonfiction published in the previous year.

The 2010 nominees include

Best Novel:
· The Missing by Tim Gautreaux
· The Odds by Kathleen George
· The Last Child by John Hart
· The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston
· Nemesis by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett
· A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn

Best First Novel by an American Author:
· The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano
· Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley
· The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
· A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield
· Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
· In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

Best Paperback Original:
· Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott
· Havana Lunar by Robert Arellano
· The Lord God Bird by Russell Hill
· Body Blows by Marc Strange
· The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice by L.C. Tyler

I haven't read any on the list as yet but  it's a place to start in a search for some of the best crime fiction out there. Winners of the Edgar Awards will be announced April 29.

Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month: Four Novels

For  Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month   (May),  I'm posting my book reviews by several Asian American novelists. The f...