Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jim -The Growing Up Years

Read 2/27/10
4 Stars - Strongly recommended
Sequel to "Jim the Boy"

Funny thing about me and reading, When books are part of a series, I have to read them one right after the other. I don't like to squeeze other books in between them, unless of course they are already 12 novels long and I've only just discovered them (then it becomes a bit like chocolate - tastes good for the first 3 or 4 pcs, then just gets to be sickening and depressing)... OR they are still being released, in which case, I have no choice but fill the time from one release date to the other with books from my to-be-read pile (Of which there are currently over 200!!)

This book came as a package deal along with "Jim the Boy" (see my review here) and "Beat the Reaper" (next up) from Regal Literary, and thank goodness, because it saved me the potentially life threatening trip out into the Snow Storm Of The Century this weekend to purchase it.

I have been flying through my to-be-read pile this week, and a very large part of that is due to the fact that the books I have received for review have been quite good, and seem to demand most of my free time.

For instance: I woke this morning, let the puppy out for his morning walk, and plopped my butt on the couch to start reading "The Blue Star" and squeeze in a few pages before the boys crawled out of bed looking for breakfast. Still set in North Carolina, I find Jim - all grown up in his senior year of high school - still acting like a silly boy and hanging on the front steps of the school with his buddies.

After breakfast, I slide back onto the couch to find that Jim is in love with a beautiful girl who lives up on the mountian. He slides his desk up against the back of her chair and secretly plays with her hair as it covers the pages of his textbook in history class. Poor Jim, though... it appears that the one he pines for belongs to another, who is currently on a boat in an ocean fighting in WWII. Ooohh rats, the boys want lunch now.

Once the boys' tummys are full again, it's back to the couch and the book to find out that Jim's Uncle Zeno had almost married the mother of the girl he is in love with. Not to mention that Jim himself appears to be in some sort of tangle with Norma, a girl he once dated, that he broke it off with, who still carries a torch for him. Damn, laundry is piling up. Let me get a load going.

Back to the couch (which now seems to have this funny butt-shaped indent in it) and Jim, who confesses his love to the girl he can't have, who warns him off but not before geting flirty and hiding in the fog on the mountian and allowing Jim to ask her some personal questions. After this, she ignores him for awhile and nearly breaks his heart by showing up at the school dance with another boy (NOT the boy she is supposedly dating who is still serving in the war)! Shoot, I suppose I should go take a shower, huh?

Finally out of my pajamas and on the home stretch, there is a body in a coffin that causes Jim alot of guilt, a fourteen year old girl that got knocked up by Jim's friend at the dance, a heartfelt conversation between Jim and the mother of his crush, and a signature on an enrollment form for the war.

It seems like it was only yesterday that I was reading about the little boy Jim and all the mischief and mayhem and mean thoughts...Oh wait, haha! That was only yesterday!

All kidding, and soap-opera drama, aside, Earley does a wonderful job helping Jim the Boy grow into Jim the Man. The progression is a painfully natural; the situations he faces and the choices he makes all help to take Jim along the path to manhood.

At one point, towards the end of the novel, Jim jokes to himself that he must be the worlds worst adult, giving you a pretty raw peek into the mind of this man who can't see how far he has come, and how much he has grown. Always wanting to do the right things, but not always capable of it. It's part of being human, part of growing up and learning to deal. It's just normal.

It was great to revisit little Jim, and I look forward to meeting him again, perhaps as an older, and wiser man in future novels, should Tony Earley so choose.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Story of a Boy Named Jim

Read 2/26/10
4 Stars - Strongly recommended

Many times, I am introduced to books by authors I had no previous knowledge of. Authors that I may never have read, were it not for a helping hand. Regal Literary was the helping hand that introduced me to "Jim the Boy" by Tony Earley.

Set in North Carolina during the Great Depression, Earley takes us through a year in a young boys life, where he deals with the joys and frustrations of growing up, learning to appreciate who he is and where he comes from, and realizing that the world is much larger than he could have ever imagined.

Drenched in southern goodness, Earley sculpts Jim, the stories protagonist, out of "frogs and snails and puppy dog tails". Named after his father, who died unexpectedly a week before he was born, Jim is tortured by your typical 10 year old demons. He struggles to overcome unnecessary jealousies, trys to fight his fears, and looks to his three ever-present uncles for direction and structure. Though normally well behaved and respectful, when he gives in to his ugly side it eats at him until he sets things right.

It's an exciting and confusing time for a boy - the town opens it first multigrade school house, breaking down barriers between the mountain people and townspeople. Homes and businesses are wired for electricity. Extended families supporting each other and working together to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. Friendships are made, and broken, and made again. It's a time where anything is possible.

There were moments of beauty in this novel: the description of that moment where the last of the daylight fades right before the darkness takes over, and the way the stars don't seem as bright once the night is saturated by porch lights. There are also moments of sadness and heartbreak: the way that Jim's mother never let go of her deceased husbands memory, or Jim's guilt over not sharing his baseball glove with a close friend who becomes stricken by Polio.

The story slithers and slides through classic territory, it leaves a natural and comfortable down-home glow, following in the footprints of writers like Truman Capote and Harper Lee, bringing this little boy to life right before our eyes.

I see Jim in every little boys unwashed hands, dirty overalls, and sunburned cheeks. He breathes in every kid who ever said a mean thing and wished they could take it back. He hides inside every child who gloats when he wins, yet feels sorry for the one who lost. He is everywhere.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sex Dungeon Anyone?

Read 2/25/10
5 Stars - Highly Recommended

Patrick Wensink knocks this crazy collection of short stories out of the park. His book "Sex Dungeon For Sale!" was picked up by Eraserhead Press, a publishing company that specializes in Bizarro Fiction.

What is Bizarro fiction, you might ask? According to the wiki definition, it's like Franz Kafka meets John Waters; Dr. Suess of the post-apocalypse; Alice in Wonderland for adults ... Are you craving for it yet?

Peter does weird like nobody's business! In this collection of strange stories, we meet a realtor who trys to sell the finer points of a sex dungeon located in the homes' basement; killer dishwashering machines; a girl who starts seeing ex boyfriends faces in the strangest of places; and a marketing job where the only way to sell your product is to infect the public with the disease it cures.

While not the kind of fiction I would recommend to my mother, I love the way Peter creates these situations that, even though they are totally absurd and out in left field, could possibly be something you find in the news headlines.

He is the type of writer I wish I could be - He has great timing and pacing, each story blossoming perfectly on the page; His phrasing and structure is comically natural, at times it's like he is talking right to you, like real people talk to each other. And, at times, I found that I was actually quite jealous that he thought of some of these stories before I did! Wensink makes writing look easy.

Highly recommended to anyone out there in readerville looking for a little excapism, something that will make you laugh while scratching your head, and thinking "Hmmmm...what if...."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Here is Everything

Read 2/24/10
3 Stars - Recommended to readers familiar with author and/or genre

The staff over at Harper Perennial are such wonderful people - keeping my bookshelves stocked to the gills with new releases and review copies. A very big thank you for sending this one on over.

I sat down this morning to start ANOTHER collection of short stories, this one from author Justin Taylor. After completing it just a short 16 hours later, I was forced to admit two things: One, that I can really do some damage when I buckle down and focus on reading. Two, that I am also starting to enjoy short stories.

They are short and sweet. They get right to the point. There are no long-winded, uninteresting side-stories that pull you unwillingly away from the main plot. They don't have time for that. They are forced to be focused.

If you feel like you just aren't into the characters or storyline, you don't have to feel guilty wasting time on it. It's only a few pages long. And the author has multiple opportunities to catch your interest, to suck you in, to make you a fan.

Justin Taylor, who is currently at work creating his first full length novel, can certainly write. There is no doubt about it. While there are recurring themes in this collection (religion, drugs and sex being a few of the more obvious), each story truly stands alone as far as it's themes and messages are concerned.

In one story, we meet a man who is left to clean up the mess after angels steal his girlfriends soul. In another, a boy plays Tetris while watching as the Apocolypse destroy the world outside his window and his girlfriend sleeps on the floor. Many of Taylor's stories revolve around broken relationships. They are populated by people who are confused, lonely, heartbroken, or just don't care.

To be honest, his stories are populated by the exact same people I used to sit back and watch destroy themselves in high school. People who were just outside my social circle. Friends of my friends. Faces you recognized from party to party. They were the kids in the background, dropping acid or smoking pot, curling into the fetal position and crying when they had a bad trip. Hitting on everyone, sometimes on anyone, but not willing to commit when their overtures were returned. Or turning suicidal and stalkerish when their love-calls were ignored.

A very quick read, a must read for people who are already fans of short stories.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

There Is Nothing Common About Pornography

Read 2/22/10 - 2/23/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended

Many thanks to Harper Perennial for sending me a copy of Kevin Sampsell's "A Common Pornography" for review. Had they not generously shipped it to me, I am ashamed to admit I may never have read it. Those who know me, and my taste in literature, would not be surprised by that statement. I am pretty vocal when it comes to non-fiction. I tend to steer clear for many reasons, which I shall spare you the details of here. Let's just say reading "A Child Called It" when I was younger, and more recently "Eating Animals" have scarred me for life (for different reasons, of course!).

My first reaction, as I started reading, was one of disbelief. It's hard to believe that all of this stuff happened to one person. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a collection of memories, real situtations that happened with real people. What a crazy life this must have been for him.

My second reaction was "oh my god! His family and friends are going to read this! What will his mother think? What will his SON think?"

It certainly takes a very strong, confident person to take the good, bad, and horrific moments in their lives and write them all out for the entire world to see. And it's not just enough to write them out, is it? It's a matter of accepting the truth... of holding that mirror up to yourself and not flinching at what looks back at you. It's a matter of understanding that these are the moments that have shaped you, that made you who you are today.

I had to constantly remind myself that the words I had been reading were real. That this was not just a fictional story of made up characters that have all these hilarious, embarrassing, and sometimes frightening things happening to them. That these are real moments that occured in a real persons life.

I want to thank Kevin for opening up, and being brave enough to share these snapshots of his life with me. He helped me to realise that I am not the only one out there with skeletons in my closet, memories that make my skin crawl and others that make me laugh till I cry. He helped me realise that it is natural to be human.

Don't let this memoir pass you by. Don't wait for a copy to fall into your lap. You will be missing out on a wonderful and whacky read!

Teenage Tragedy

Read 2/22/10
3 Stars - Recommended to readers familiar with author or genre
pgs:35 (eBook/Freedownload)

Sally Weigel's story "Too Young To Fall Alseep" is published as an eBook that can be downloaded for free by CCLaP, and exposes the inner workings of the "Millenial" generation (the older end of my son's generation). Giving us a peek into the psyche of todays youth, of what it is like to grow up in this day and age, we meet a seemingly laid back and mellow generation who don't seem to know what direction they are headed in, protesting just to get out of class, passionate about partying and attending the Radiohead concert, but not much else.

Our protaganist Catherine - an eighteen year old girl, bored with smoking pot and spilling beer down her shirt at endless house parties - makes a half hearted decision that will change her life forever. She visits the high school recruiting office and signs up to partipicate in the war as a non combat soldier.

The author takes on the brave task of speaking on behalf of an entire generation. While I believe she did a great job setting the stage, I couldn't help but feel disconnected from Catherine and the situation she found herself in. I think my lack of empathy is largely due to the narration. Sally chose to write the story in 3rd person narrative, when I feel it may have been more impactful having Catherine telling us the story herself. Perhaps she was trying to counter-balance that effect by including Catherine's journal entries?

Overall, an impressive first publication by a woman who wrote this story while still in high school.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Strange Invention

Read 2/17/10 - 2/20/10
5 Stars - Highly Recommended
Pgs: 103

I took a well deserved break from the never ending pile of review copies and ARC's to indulge in a little Lost Literature. This poor little novella has been calling and calling to me from my bookshelf since I unwrapped it (This was one of my SS gifts at christmas time - Thanks again Sherry!) and shelved it with my other TBR's in December.

With the return of Lost - in it's 6th and final season - to ABC, It's calling became near impossible to ignore. I could no longer pass up the little story and the mysteries that were sure to be buried deep within it's pages.

I tryed to shelter myself from any spoilers or major plot hints ever since I discovered this novellas existence (I have had great stories spoiled for me before, so this has become an almost irrational fear of mine) on the Lost lit list.

What at first appears to be the diary of a common criminal who escaped prision by sailing away to an unknown island, quickly turns into a haunting, strange tale of mysterious goings-ons, and our un-named narrators rapid decline into paranoia and obsession.

Under the assumption that he is alone on this odd island, where trees are decayed and brittle, and doors are rusted shut, our narrator naturally panicks and hides when he becomes aware of the sudden and unexpected presence of a group of people - Where did they come from? How could he not have noticed the arrival of a boat? What are they doing taking up residence on the top of the hill?

Afraid that they are in cahoots with the police from the country he fled, our storyteller attempts to gather information while remaining unseen from the islands visitors. One day, he notices Faustine - a lovely woman in a head scarf who sits on the rocks overlooking the ocean, reading her book and observing the sunset - and begins to imagine a love blooming between them. Only, Faustine seems to be oblivious to our narrators creative romantic methods.

He questions his sanity - Have I turned invisible? Is she so disgusted that she won't acknowledge me? - and also fears for his safety. His obsession with Faustine eventually leads him to a curious discovery. One that will keep you turning page after page after page.

What are those odd machines that seem to be affected by the tide? Why does the sky suddenly hold two moons and two suns? Why does no one on the island seem to register his existence?

For fans of Lost, this book is a must read. It will get you to see the show in a whole new light.

For those you just love a good mystery - add it to your reading list. You won't regret it. You have my word.

From The Lovely People At Harper Perennial

Ahhhh... There is nothing better than receiving brand new review copies from a publishing company. Many many thanks to the lovely people at Harper Perennial for the following books, which arrived in my mailbox today:
(Descriptions taken from Goodreads)

This is a love story with a twist. An explosive debut novel brings Will and Helen's lives together in a tale as tight as rope and as black as tar. "The Bird Room" is a candid, funny, intimate portrait of a generation.

Postcards from a Dead Girl is the tragicomic story of Sid Higgins, a twenty-something telemarketer in the midst of a crisis. His sales are down, he thinks he might have a brain tumor, and his ex-girlfriend, Zoe, keeps sending postcards from exotic locations but he's pretty sure she's dead.

They have proudly taken their place the bottom of my ARC/Review copy TBR pile!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Patterns That Repeat

Read 2/16/10
4 Stars - Strongly recommended
Pgs:37 (eBook/freedownload)

This book was brought to my attention by Jason Pettus, owner of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography , for which I would like to thank him. And also a big thank you to it's author, Ben Tanzer, who has been a great sport - patiently waiting for me to read and review this collection of short stories.

Are you finding it strange that, being a self professed non-fan of short stories, I am reading short story collections back to back this week? I think it is time to re-evaluate my position on them, as Ben Tanzer stands up and demands to be noticed in Repetition Patterns.

I admit to being slightly underwhelmed as I read the first story, which happens to be the title story - just some guy unhappy with his therapist, whose unprofessional accusations cause him to start up with a new therapist. While reading Babysitter and What We Thought We Knew, as I was introduced to a town of neighboring kids and their promiscuous tendencies, and pedophile parents, I started to wonder what I had signed myself up for.

The third story, however, entitled Gift, demonstrates how wonderful sound can be, and how silence can remind us of what we are not hearing. It also forces you to realize how precious every moment is, and how we may tend to take them all for granted.

Among others, we meet a strange boy who becomes obsessed with a girl in his school, and rages against what he can't have; a teenager who spends months in a Pac Man daze only to be let down by the final level; and confused new parents who want nothing more than to get their infant son to just stop screaming.

Early on, I started to recognize patterns - the movies the characters watched, the names of places the characters saw or visited, the raw sexual undertones that ravaged their town and their lives. I also became aware of a natural evolution of maturity and security, and of accepting things for what they are, without resigning yourself to them. It's these patterns, these repetitive moments, that make Ben's book work.

I look forward to reading more from him. Check out this book, and also take a peek at his blog - This Blog Will Change Your Life.

Fiction Inspired by The Smiths

Read 2/10/10 - 2/16/10
4 Stars - Strongly recommended
Short Story Collection

Thank you to Harper Perennial for sending me this ARC copy.

Peter Wild, an editor and journalist, worked with multiple authors to create Please - a collection of short stories that were inspired by the songs of The Smiths, which releases in March.

Being too young to appreciate The Smiths when they broke into the music scene in the early 80's, and subsequently disbanded in the late 80's, I was a late Morrissey bloomer. I clearly remember walking into our local Gallery of Sound music store, and browsing the racks of cassettes (yes, I said cassettes) to find Your Arsenal in the new release section. At that point I hadn't heard of Morrissey, and was really just starting to get into the darker side of alternative music (The Cure, Depeche Mode, Catherine Wheel, Afghan Whigs). So I grabbed it, hoping that my money was not being wasted in vane.

On my long walk home from the shop, I popped the cassette into my walkman (oh man, am I dating myself!) and within the first 15 seconds of the first track, I was in love. I played Your Arsenal non stop for the next week, and wore the cassette tape out in a matter of months. Of course, during those next few months, I saved what little money I could get and began purchasing every piece of music Morrissey had released - which quickly lead me to The Smiths.

One of the most influential alternative bands of all time, they experienced a fierce following, making a mark within the entertainment industry that is still visible today. Moody, painful, lonely, angry, heartbroken, suicidal - songs and lyrics that are still so relevant to many of us. Combining amazing lyrics with soul stirring musical arrangements, The Smiths found the world's soft spot.

How many of us, as we listened to Morrissey sing his heartwrenching and angst filled songs, felt that he was speaking directly to us? How many times have we thought "oh my god, he is singing about me, he knows how it feels"?

Did you know that Morrissey is a big reader? A man who can not only express his deepest darkest feelings in a sexy lispy voice, but who is also not afraid to admit he loves a good book??? **swoons**

Peter Wild and Harper Perennial have teamed up to take the essence of The Smiths, and incorporate it into stories that call to your heart, and your head. Stories that range from sadly hopeful (Cemetery Gates - two people who fall in love on their deathbeads) to strange and creepy (I Won't Share You - in which a man's arm begins to separate itself from his body), silly and indulgent (Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now - where a man sends his co-worker a video of himself lip synching to this song naked) to disfunctional love (Jeane - a man who can't seem to let go of an abusive situation).

I tend to steer clear of short story collections that feature multiple authors, as the stories and writing styles always tend to clash with one another, and leave me with a fractured feeling. Not so in the case of Please. Perhaps it is the genius of Peter Wild, chosing the right stories. Perhaps it is the perfect match between author and influence. Perhaps, it is simply the fact that The Smiths brings out the best in everyone.

Whatever it is, it is magical.

The Blue Sweater Contest Winners

4 TNBBC members sent me messages on the wonderful volunteer work they have done to make their towns, this world, and most importantly, PEOPLE's lives better!!!!

Congratulations go out to:

Cheryl McCaffrey
She has just joined the Boston chapter of a group called The Swap Team which her friend Sarah is running. They are organizing a clothing swap this spring. The way the swap works is you bring one item of clothing and you get one ticket in exchange - so it is sort of like an old-fashioned barter system where no money is exchanged. The pieces that are left over are donated to a charity (we have not confirmed which one yet). This great group will help bring awareness to needs vs. wants in regards to clothing.

Ralph Gallagher
For four years he has worked with New Jersey's REBEL (Reaching Everyone By Exposing Lies) to educate kids and teens about the dangers of smoking and tobacco use. They have held many events to help raise awareness as well as worked with elementary school children. Two big events that take place yearly are our beach cleanups and Fuzzy Friends event. Each summer they go to different NJ beaches and clean up cigarette butts. For Fuzzy Friends, they raise money and go to build-a-bear to make bears for children who have been affected by caner - personally or through a family member.

She is a social worker living in Indiana. In June'08 Indiana was hit with floods - houses were damaged beyond repair. FEMA(Federal Emergency Management Agency) quickly became involved within the area. She was apart of a group who started a board to deal with the flooding within two counties and assisted with case management - going out to homes to assist individuals affected by the flood with emergency assistance and long term recovery. She also assisted clients with appeals and helped with grants to foundations to assist those affected by the flood.

Lauren Morrison
During her senior year in college, she started volunteering for an organization called Urban Promise in Wilmington. They run summer camps and after school programs for inner city kids at no cost to the families. Much time was spent tutoring, reading to and playing with many children from inner city Wilmington. They would have camp night at the staff house , spring break trips and college trips (for the teenagers employed to get work experience, tutoring and help applying for college) as well as monthly trips that a couple times that included going to a farm to ride horses. SHe has been able to watch some of these kids turn their lives around, and thrive because of the influence she and her group had.

The intent is to have them read the book as a group, and discuss it's content.
Thanks again to Rodale for allowing me this opportunity. And thanks again to the participants, for all the hard work, and selfless devotion they have shared with us, and the world!

To see the original posts for this contest:
Blue Sweater Blog Post
TNBBC Contest rules

Monday, February 15, 2010

Best Glasses in Literature

Having relied on glasses to see my way through this world since the sixth grade, I was pleasantly pleased to see the four-eyed freaks of the literary world get a little recognition.

Check out the article from, which I found while Tweeting.

Laptop Owners Unite!

Sadly, I do not own my own laptop. But if I did, I would absolutely order one of these covers. Aren't they lovely?

It's called BookBook and it's sold exclusively for MacBook and MacBookPro. I'm partial to the distressed black, myself....(((drools)))

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vampire Poetry!?!

Read 2/10/10 - 2/10/10
4 Stars- Strongly Recommended

Thanks to Ryan, who agreed to mail me out a copy of this book to review.

What's better than curling up with a book of poetry on a snowy evening? How about curling up with a book of Vampire poetry! Ryan Mecum has a way with words in this quirky collection of haiku's written by a man who was turned into a vampire buy the woman he loved. He chronicles his journey to America, and documents not only the search for his beloved, but also the times through which he exists, and his influence on historical moments.

Here are some of my favorite entries:

"How to eat someone:
Hold tight, bite neck, suck hard, drink.
Repeat as needed."

"Blood tastes like cherries
mixed with a lot of copper
and way too much salt."

"I don't get women.
I go and murder for love
and she's mad at me."

"I play with my food
by sucking blood through the holes
then blowing it back"

I am dying to get my hands on his Zombie Haiku. Who knew word groups of 5 - 7 - 5 could be so much fun?

Contemplating Brighter Graphite

Read 2/09/10 - 2/10/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended

Thanks again to the very generous people at Tatra Press for sending me this review copy.

Brighter Graphite is a collection of two novellas: "Graphite" and "Brighter"; strange, twisting tales of life and death, both set in undisclosed times, both urging the reader along the road to discovery.

In "Graphite", by far the superior of the two, we follow an obsessed man on his journey to discover why his favorite graphite pencils are snapping and breaking. Hopping off the train in the city of "Graphite", he steps into a world covered in metallic gray dust. Every footfall producing a tiny cloud of gray, every person on the street wearing a thin veil of gray, even the sun is dulled by the invisible gray particles floating in the air.

Taking a tour of the pencil factory, our protagonist can determine no reason for the sudden change in quality of the pencils. Upset, and confused, he decides to take a dip in the Graphite Lake, where he happens upon one of the town's old timers - who shares an important piece of information that will change the course of our main characters life, and restore the strength of his beloved graphite pencils.

A peculiar twist in this 64 page novella turns this curious story into a tale of mystery and horror.

In the opening pages of "Brighter", we discover our narrator bound to a tall stake, unable to defend himself from the birds that are attacking him. As the story unravels, we come to find that he was once both an artist, and art dealer... who would do anything he could to aquire the best paintings the art world had to offer. In the midst of his conquests we realise there is a war brewing between the Romantics and the Formalists, two very different classes of artists. Drawing attention to himself, he is made to particpate in The Proof - an ancient and deadly test - which is at once an honor and a death sentence.

Does our man burn the brightest when put to the test?

Michael Horvath's writing reminds me of Nabokov, strangely lucid and dreamlike. Painfully personal, his narrators are well aware of their weaknesses and while never apologetic, the reader can't help but feel sorry for them and their situations.

Both novellas are written in a hectic, methodical way, forcing you to read quickly in an effort to catch up and learn what is taking place, what is happening to these unfortunate, tormented men.

Most interesting to me is the way the stories linger with me after
the cover has been closed, and the book has been shelved, haunting me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Blogger Convention May 28, 2010

The first annual Book Blogger Convention is taking place on Friday May 28th.

If you are a book blogger, do yourself a favor and check this out:

Book Blogger Convention
2010 Book Blogger Convention

Registration prior to February 14th is $90. Price increases to $115 after that. The convention will cover how to communicate with publishing companies, ethics and proffesionalism in blogging, how to increase your blog stats and get your name out there, popular content, balancing reviews with other content, ect.

Registration starts at 730am, convention starts at 9am. Breakfast and lunch will be served.

Who is interested in attending? Has anyone attended anything like this before? I am seriously considering this. And I think you should too! Comment here to discuss, maybe we could car-pool :)

"The Blue Sweater" - Book Giveaway

How exciting! Jessica from Rodale Books has generously offered me the opportunity to host a book giveaway. I have chosen to hold the contest for the book over at TNBBC on Goodreads.

The giveaway is for "The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World" written by Jacqueline Novogratz. We have 5 copies to giveaway.

Here is the description of the book on Goodreads: "For Jacqueline Novogratz it all started back home in Alexandria, Virginia, with the blue sweater, a special gift that quickly became her prized possession—until the day she outgrew it and gave it away to Goodwill. Eleven years later in Africa, she spotted a young boy wearing that very sweater, with her name still on the tag inside. That the sweater had made its trek all the way to Rwanda was ample evidence, she thought, of how we are all connected, how our actions—and inaction—touch people every day across the globe, people we may never know or meet. It is this awareness that continues to drive her efforts to fight poverty worldwide.

Like the best-selling Three Cups of Tea, this book at once is a deeply personal coming-of-age story of a young idealist determined to change the world and a call to action to all those concerned with growing inequality around the globe. Novogratz relates her experiences over two decades, first in Africa and later in India and Pakistan. She began as a banker and philanthropist, and now works as a venture capitalist, trying to effect real change in countries where the average citizen lives on less than $4 a day. Reflecting the current trend toward socially responsible investing, The Blue Sweater will inspire individuals seeking always to contribute in a meaningful and effective manner."

You can watch the trailer about the book on

Bounce over to TNBBC to see how to enter to win! Good luck to everyone.

"To Be Read" Tuesdays

"To Be Read" Tuesdays is really just my way of sneaking a peek at your night-stand, coffee-table, book-shelf... where ever it is that you stack your piles of newly purchased unread books! And of course, returning the favor by allowing you a peek at mine...

While still remaining a good girl on the book-buying front, I was overwhelmed when I came home from work yesterday to find two packages containing brand new, welcoming and wonderful review copies!

The following books were sent to me by the ever thoughtful Michael at Regal Literary:
(Book descriptions taken from back covers and Goodreads)

Beat The Reaper - Josh Bazell
Spattered in adrenaline-fueled action and bone-saw-sharp dialogue, BEAT THE REAPER is a debut thriller so utterly original you won't be able to guess what happens next, and so shockingly entertaining you won't be able to put it down.

Jim the Boy - Tony Earley
Thisis very much the tale of a 10-year-old's expanding consciousness, which at first barely extends beyond the family property. The year is 1934, and like the rest of the country, Aliceville is feeling the pinch of the Great Depression. Yet neither Jim nor his mother nor his three uncles are feeling much in the way of economic pain. Indeed, if you stuck a satellite dish on the front lawn, the story might be taking place in the New South rather than the older, bucolic one.

The Blue Star - Tony Early
Now a teenager, Jim returns in another tender and wise story of young love on the eve of World War Two. Tony Earley has fashioned another nuanced and unforgettable portrait of America in another time--making it again even realer than our own day.A timeless and moving story of discovery, loss and growing up.

This one came straight from the author!

Sex Dungeon For Sale - Patrick Wensink
An optimistic realtor selling a home with a sexual playground, a kindergartener convinced he's actually French and something called, "Chicken Soup for the Kidnapper's Soul". Sex Dungeon for Sale! Takes these bold characters and a few other outrageous situations to create an unforgettable and quick literary ride.

These books proudly take their place behind last weeks "To Be Read' Tuesday's pile. Oh dear... It's getting harder and harder to breathe with all these review copies lining up, but at the same time... Keep 'em coming!!

Post what's new on YOUR to be read pile and link me back to it by leaving a comment here.

Color Me, Oh Color Me

Read 2/02/10 - 2/08/10
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly

I want to start by thanking Tatra Press for their generosity in sending me this novel to review.

The story takes place in the New York Hudson Valley, and follows Rain Morton, a young painter, as she trys to make her mark in NYC. Parallel to her, we follow James Morrow, who runs a paint factory that uses "unique" ingredients to create their paints. Of course, their paths cross, in the moment they most needed to be understood and forgiven.

The Colorman is a difficult novel for me to review. There were moments of absolute beauty which made it clear to me that Erika Wood can write. Here are a few examples of paragraphs that practically took my breath away:

"Time was like a ski rope...You could either grip onto it and be carried forward or just let go and watch it slip by, bringing whatever it drags along past you. Then you can grab on again if you like, and just keep moving along with the pointlessness of its never-ending cycling".

"Red is the top of the rainbow out at the edge of the spectrum, the limit of our ability to see energy. Heat itself. Both love and war, humiliation and excitement, red is intensity, royality, a valentine, the pope, the devil, rouged lips, the bullfighter's cape, the can-can dancer's petticoat, Roxeanne's red light, a stop sign, a child's fire-truck, blood, the red red nose, red red wine, Christmas and hell."

"Purple is richness beyond measure, the sensuousness of wine stained lover's lips and the quenching sweetness of grape and berry. Purple is also injury and death: the florid purple of a bruise, the darkening face of a choking vicitim, the opalesence of rotting flesh."

The storyline itself - Struggling painter on the verge of finding herself, finds more than she bargins for in the country cottage left to her after her father's passing - worked for me. Each chapter begins with a color, defining what the color represents and how it is created. More than just a creative touch, each chapters tone matches the color for which it is written under.

While these things caught my attention and kept me wanting to read more, they could not make up for the lack of connection I felt with each character, and their individual situations.

The character development was more forced than felt. There was an absence of empathy, a rubber-like, almost emotionless quality in their conversations that made the novel difficult to read at times. Knowing that the author has personal experience in art, and her novel focusing on the art of painting, I suppose I expected it to be more passionate.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel for the story it told, but was underwhelmed at times with the way she told the story. Impressed with the clarity and beauty her words could create. Confused with the flat, one dimensional character interactions and development.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Recommend Me

Recommend Me is a weekly event hosted by Kate at The Neverending Shelf in which participants will pick one of their all time favorite reads to share.

"This could be a book that you read yesterday or years ago. To play along, grab a favorite read and tell us about it. You can include your thoughts about the novel, its summary, your favorite memory related to the novel... the possibilities are limitless. If you are up for a challenge, you can also include:

-Your review of the novel
-Links to others' reviews of the novel
-Recommending to a general group of readers or if you want to be extra daring, to specific reader friends "

I am recommending Blindness by Jose Saramago. In September of 2007, I was wandering the Literature Shelves in Borders, not quite sure what I was in the mood for, but determined not to leave until I had found a new book to bring home with me. I rarely enter the bookstore with a list, although I have over 200 books that I desperately want to purchase... I prefer browsing and letting the books call to me while there. Where is the fun in bringing a list, hitting the shelf it sits on, and walking out???

As I was wandering, having made it all the way to the letter "S" without finding "the one", I stumbled across Jose Saramago. The cover for Blindness was on display in the shelf, facing outward at me, almost daring me to pick it up with it blinding white cover. Little did I know how fitting that cover was to it's subject matter.

Jose Saramago is not for everyone. For starters, he writes in his original language of Porteguese, and it sometimes takes years for his work to become translated for American consumption. His writing style is unique and can be off-putting for readers who prefer the strict rules of syntax and grammar. Saramago does not use quotation marks to identify when his characters are speaking, nor does he note which character is speaking, causing the confused reader to backtrack and reread pages at a time to track conversations or determine if the words were even spoken aloud. His paragraphs can run for many pages, and include insane amounts of run-on sentences, which at times can flow for up to 10 lines at a time. There have been whispers that it is Saramago's translators who are recklessly tampering with his sentence structures, but I strongly disagree. There have been others who call his style a "gimmick", which could not be further from the truth.

Dear readers, please do not let this put you off. I mention this as a warning, however, I am also recommending that you do not miss the beauty and passion that is found within any of his pages. I want you to experience his stories and writing for yourselves, and I believe Blindness is the perfect introduction.

Perhaps many of you are already familiar with the film? Do not let that stop you from reading the novel. While the film does a wonderful job capturing the chaos and breakdown of human society when facing an uncontrollable, unstoppable, incapaciting plague such as "the blindness", it simply cannot match the confusion and panic found within the book.

For those of you who are unaware of Saramago's Blindness or the film, here is Goodreads synopsis:

"In an unnamed city in an unnamed country, a man sitting in his car waiting for a traffic light to change is suddenly struck blind. But instead of being plunged into darkness, this man sees everything white, as if he "were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea." A Good Samaritan offers to drive him home (and later steals his car); his wife takes him by taxi to a nearby eye clinic where they are ushered past other patients into the doctor's office. Within a day the man's wife, the taxi driver, the doctor and his patients, and the car thief have all succumbed to blindness.

As the epidemic spreads, the government panics and begins quarantining victims in an abandoned mental asylum--guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone who tries to escape. So begins Portuguese author José Saramago's gripping story of humanity under siege, written with a dearth of paragraphs, limited punctuation, and embedded dialogue minus either quotation marks or attribution. At first this may seem challenging, but the style actually contributes to the narrative's building tension, and to the reader's involvement.

In this community of blind people there is still one set of functioning eyes: the doctor's wife has affected blindness in order to accompany her husband to the asylum. As the number of victims grows and the asylum becomes overcrowded, systems begin to break down: toilets back up, food deliveries become sporadic; there is no medical treatment for the sick and no proper way to bury the dead. Inevitably, social conventions begin to crumble as well, with one group of blind inmates taking control of the dwindling food supply and using it to exploit the others. Through it all, the doctor's wife does her best to protect her little band of blind charges, eventually leading them out of the hospital and back into the horribly changed landscape of the city."

Go and get it. Now.
And then follow it up with Seeing, the somewhat sequel, that picks up 4 years after Blindness, in the same town.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Author Interview w/ Greg Olear

Greg Olear, author of the page-turning, retro 90's novel "Totally Killer", has held a number of amazing and eccentric jobs: administrative assistant, benefits coordinator, writer of SAT practice questions, web designer, infomercial voice-over artist, freelance journalist, graphic designer, astrologer, keyboard player, indie record company manager, and recruiter. He is also the senior editor and a frequent contributor of The Nervous Breakdown, an online literary magazine.

I want to thank him for taking the time to answer the following questions, and for sending me a copy of his novel "Totally Killer" for review (which can be seen here.)

According to your Goodreads bio, you have had quite an interesting work history (as noted above): Out of all the positions you have held, which was the biggest let-down, and which was the most fulfilling (worth killing for)?

Novelist comes the closest. But there are no jobs worth killing for; all jobs are let-downs in some way. Even the plummest of the plums have their attendant stresses and headaches. With that caveat, “novelist with trust fund” would come closest to being Quid Pro Quo-able.

I have read quite a few of your blogs on Most recently was the article entitled "Giant Leap", which is quite personal. Do you ever worry about the reactions from friends or family when you share private information with the public?

Of course. The first novel I attempted, in college, was “semi-autobiographical,” and one of the friends I wrote about was so upset at my portrayal of her, she stopped talking to me for years afterward. So I’m very sensitive to that kind of thing. That said, you can’t go around worrying about what your mom will think about this passage or that, or you’ll never write anything real.

What's a day in the life of a writer like?

Coffee is prominently involved.

How did you decide on the time, place (NYC 1991), and plot line for "Totally Killer"?

The central conceit was inspired by a joke a friend of mine cracked in 1993 or so. I don’t recall the exact quip, but it invoked the premise of killing someone to land a job. It was always a New York book—I started the original version right after living there for the first time in ’93. As for the 1991 setting, that came later, but 1991 was the nadir of the last recession, and it was just one of those years that are historically important. Plus, as you know from reading my latest post on The Nervous Breakdown, I am personally fond of that year.

How long did it take to write "Totally Killer"? What was the publishing process like?

Not counting the two earlier incarnations—the screenplay of 1993, the novel of 1998—TK about six months of writing time, plus a month or two to edit.

After reading "Totally Killer", and visiting, I have to know - How did you chose the songlist that appears in the opening of the novel, and on the website? Was it one that you actually created back in '91?

I wasn’t cool enough in 1991 to have a song list that included the Pogues, Elvis Costello, or the Velvet Underground. I made that mix last year, on CD, for my (excellent) editor at Harpers, Jen Schulkind, and did the Old School cassette sleeve as a joke. She took one look at it and said, “We have to use this.” And we did. So not only is my writing published, my writing is published.

If you could go back in time, (either before or after you were born), which decade would you most like to live in and why?

Paris with Hemingway has its appeal, of course, but I’m partial to the Nineties. I think I would live in the East Village in 1991. Although I don’t know that I can explain why.

What were your favorites in '91: Band? Tv Show? Subject in school? Pastime/Hobby?

I was still in my rock star phase at the time, which was ridiculous because I was also listening to a lot of Billy Joel (see what I mean? Not cool). I remember disliking 90210, which the girls in my French class would talk about nonstop, but I can’t recall what I did like. Certainly it was something dorky.

Bringing us back around to the current decade, what is your take on eBooks and eReaders, as an author and a reader?

I prefer reading books in book format, but I understand the appeal of the Kindle, especially for people who travel a lot. A friend of mine is a big reader, and she likes the Kindle because, as she explains it, with a Kindle, people sitting next to her on the plane can’t tell when she’s reading trash. As an author, I’m just happy that people are reading my book. The format—book, e-book, smoke signal, semaphore flag—doesn’t matter to me.

If your house were on fire, and you could only rescue 5 books from your bookshelves, which 5 would you save and why?

Not counting photo albums? I would pick not necessarily the books I like the most, but the copies of the books I like the most—that were irreplaceable. First on the list would be the Scribner paperbacks of The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby that I stole from my mother in high school. I am fond of my hardbound edition of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess. The Case for Astrology by John Anthony West—a fantastic book, if you’re into that sort of thing—is out of print, so I’d definitely want that. And last would be the oversized edition of Paradise Lost that I used in college. I’m a big Milton fan.

What authors/novels/ websites would you recommend to our audience?

The best literary magazine in cyberspace is The Nervous Breakdown (, and I don’t say that just because I’m the senior editor. Great, great content there.

The best novels I read last year were Banned For Life by D.R. Haney, The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter, and Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones. I highly recommend the first two; the Littell, a thousand-page opus involving a Nazi SS officer, is not for every taste, but it’s staggering achievement.

Other writers I like (I’m not including obvious ones like Salinger and Nabokov): Brad Listi, Jonathan Evison, Claire Messud, James P. Othmer, Robin Antalek, Jessica Anya Blau, and Paul Theroux. I love Paul Theroux.

Thanks again Greg, for allowing us this opportunity to learn a bit more about you and your novel! And to all you readers out there, if you were in high school, college, or entering the work force in the 90's, you MUST pick up a copy of this book, and check out it's website at!

"What Are You Reading" Wednesdays

"What Are You Reading" Wednesdays is really just my way of sneaking a peek at your night-stand, coffee-table, book-shelf... where ever it is that you stack your current reads, when you aren't reading them! And of course, returning the favor by allowing you a peek at mine...

In the right hand column of my blog, you will see a section entitled "currently reading". I update this as I start each new novel. As you can see, I am curling up with The Colorman by Erika Wood at the moment. This is a review copy that was sent to me by Tantra Press.

I started this yesterday and am hovering at the 54 page mark. The book follows Rain Morton, a young painter, as she trys to make her mark in NYC. Parellel to her, we follow James Morrow, who runs a unique Paint factory. It's assumed that these two storylines will interwine.

Here is a little snippet of something that caught my breath:
"Purple is richness beyond measure, the sensuousness of wine stained lover's lips and the quenching sweetness of grape and berry. Purple is also injury and death: the florid purple of a bruise, the darkening face of a choking vicitim, the opalesence of rotting flesh."

While there are moments of sheer beauty in the Erika's descriptions, overall I am feeling very disconnected from the characters. I struggle to see in my minds eye the things that Erika explains, I haven't been sucked in yet, but I am hopeful. It is still too early to tell.

Post what YOU are reading on your blog, and link me back to it by commenting here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"To Be Read" Tuesdays

"To Be Read" Tuesdays is really just my way of sneaking a peek at your night-stand, coffee-table, book-shelf... where ever it is that you stack your piles of newly purchased unread books! And of course, returning the favor by allowing you a peek at mine...

I have been a good girl this past month, and havent bought many books at all, although I have been receiving ARC and Review copies in the mail. Here is a peek at my most recently acquired books:
(all book descriptions use some verbage taken from back cover blurbs, or goodreads)

Vampire Haiku - Ryan Mecum (How Books)
A poetic journal about Vampires - complete with photos, sketches, and stains. The owner of the journal was en route to a new land when he was turned into a Vampire, and we follow him on his journey through some of America's most defining moments.

Please: Fiction inspired by The Smiths - Edited by Peter Wild (Harper)
A collection of stories that combine smart, emotion-filled literature with the melancholy, beauty, and wit of The Smith's music - Music that has made every outsider feel like a part of something.

Repetition Patterns - Ben Tanzer (CCLaP - eBook)
Experimental in the style of Radiohead, the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography released as it's first-ever original title. A fictional small town full of secrets and despair, with results that are partly Sherwood Anderson, Sam Shepard, with a fair dose of Chuck Klosterman thrown in for good measure.

Too young to Fall Asleep - Sally Weigel (CCLaP - eBook)
Originally written when she was still in high school, Asleep is one of the first-ever adult character dramas concerning the so-called "Millennials," a prescient and eerily mature look at the generation of youth just now entering college -- an entire nation of idealistic sincerity-seekers within a maelstrom of suicidal Gen-X parents, a nation of kids who have no problem getting wasted on weekends but feel horribly guilty when smoking cigarettes while doing so.

A Common Pornography - Kevin Sampsell (Harper)
Sharing family's unforgettable story — from his mother's first tumultuous marriages and his father's physical, pyschological, and sexual abuse of his half-sister to his own tales of first jobs, first bands, and first loves - Kevin intertwines the tragic with the everyday, the dysfunctional with the fun, lending the book its undeniable, unsensationalized reality.

Everything here is the best thing ever - Justin Taylor (Harper)
Crystalline, spare, and oddly moving prose that cuts to the quick. A collection of short stories that are both tragic and funny, fearless and astute.

Post what's new on YOUR to be read pile and link me back to it by leaving a comment here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Is Your Job Worth Killing For?

Read 1/26/10 - 2/01/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended

A huge thanks must go out to Greg Olear (and Harper Publishing) for sending me this review copy of Totally Killer! He has been extremely and wonderfully patient with me.

I'm going to let his bio from Goodreads introduce him:
"Greg Olear (OH-lee-ar) was born in New Jersey in 1972 (Scorpio with Leo Rising). In 1991, he graduated from Madison High School and enrolled at Georgetown University, where he received a B.A. in English Literature. He spent a post-college decade in New York, working a variety of jobs -- administrative assistant, benefits coordinator, writer of SAT practice questions, web designer, infomercial voice-over artist, freelance journalist, graphic designer, astrologer, keyboard player, indie record company manager, recruiter—- before escaping to Highland, N.Y., where he now lives with his family. His writing has appeared in WhAP!, Hudson Valley Magazine, and Chronogram. He is a frequent contributor to The Nervous Breakdown. Totally Killer is his first novel. "

One of the downsides of requesting review copies is the potential to become overwhelmingly bogged down and backed up... In my case, books are coming in faster than I can read them. This one was calling me from the top of my bookcase for quite awhile, and I was so happy to finally start it. I nearly squealed with joy when I opened to the first page and saw a photocopied list of some of my favorite songs from that decade! And it came with this awesome sticker that has a big 1991 on it!!

The story takes place in NYC during the early nineties - where the 80's style and music are slowly taking a back seat to the grunge movement, and GenXer's are stepping up to the employment plate. Mixed tapes are all the rage, call waiting and caller ID are still a few years away, and MTV is about to turn the world of television upside down with our first ever unscripted reality show.

We are introduced to our loyal narrator Todd, who shares his apartment with our leading lady Taylor, a NYC implant who dreams of working at a publishing company. After some pretty lame interviews that get her nowhere, she is mysteriously recommended to Quid Pro Quo, a super secret, super posh employment agency that promises to land you the job of your dreams...Though, should you decide to keep it, there is a price to be paid.

Just how does Quid Pro Quo manage to place all of their customers into such great high paying, amazingly hard to come by, dream come true positions? Well... let's break it down, shall we?

For starters - Our main characters are the children of the Baby boomers. Baby boomers are known to be a very hard working, let me show you what I can do for you, generation. A generation of people who, at the time our story takes place, were currently holding down all the available, desirable jobs. And rightly so, they put thier blood, sweat, and tears into attaining them. And there they planned to stay. They were standing in the way of the hopeful new GenX graduates, who pooled out into the workforce with a diploma in hand, but no experience to back it all up. And these poor GenXer's were struggling to find employment - there were just no jobs to be had.

Now take the Quid Pro Quo agency, who cleverly named themselves after the Latin term "Something for Something" or more commonly translated as "This for That". A term that tends to be used as a form of bribery or... in this case, for our innocent and unknowing friends Todd and Taylor...blackmail.

So... You want a dream job? You go through Quid Pro Quo. You think the positions they offer you are too good to be true? Perhaps they are. Perhaps they ask you if it is a job worth killing for. Just how far would you be willing to go to keep that incredibly awesome, once in a lifetime job? What might happen should you not be willing to comply with their terms of service?

Described as "part thriller, part satire, part period piece"... Greg Olear manages to make Totally Killer grab you on multiple levels. Nostalgic, noirish, covered in conspiracy and historical drama... this is a book that all GenXer's can appreciate.
But please don't take my word on it. Grab a copy and check it our for yourself. (I would hide it away from any baby boomers though - we wouldn't want to cause them any unnecessary concern!)

Stay tuned for an author interview with with the author of Totally Killer, Greg Olear. And in the meantime, check him out in The Nervous Breakdown and play around with the cool links, novel soundtrack, and videos on the Totally Killer website!