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Keeper of Light and Dust by Natasha Mostert

Natasha Mostert‘s Keeper of Light and Dust is an elegant fusion of martial arts, tattooing, Eastern philosophy and medicine, and biophoton and chronobiological science set in modern London, England. Mostert deftly meshes information with characterization and plot, and there is never a dull moment in this spiritual thriller.

Some readers may find the science or Eastern philosophy and medicinal information daunting at first look, but readers will quickly become absorbed in the plot of this novel, cheering on the main characters and yelling at them when they fail to realize the dangers they face.

Mia Lockhart is a Keeper, who protects her marked fighters from danger and from failure in the ring; Nick Duffy is a skilled fighter with a lot of heart, Mia’s childhood friend, and a successful businessman with his own social networking business (KIME) for fighters and enthusiasts; Adrian Ashton (Ash) is a scientist, fighter, trainer, and vampire, though not in the traditional sense–he feeds on the chi of others.

In the following conversation between Ash and Mia, readers can garner a sense of each character’s personality and their perspective. Dialogue in this novel will have readers chuckling and thinking in the same breath.

“He shrugged again. ‘Who’s to say this light is chi? I believe it is; many scientists do not. Some are still struggling with the whole idea of light-inside-the-body to begin with. But it’s not just humans, of course: all living things emit a permanent current of photons, from only a few to a few hundred. Plants, animals. . . people.’

‘Shiny happy people. I like that. It’s very R.E.M.'” (Page 148)

The dynamic between the three characters is fluid and will have readers guessing. Readers will love watching these characters evolve and grow together. Mostert is a phenomenal writer with a gift for description. Check out the passage below for a taste of how well Mostert weaves the narrative and creates a world that is very tangible.

“Mia opened the first box. Inside was a nest of stainless-steel acupuncture filament needles–already sterilized by autoclave–and a small plastic filled with sticks of moxa: herb mixture.

She carefully touched the flame from needle to needle and ignited the moxa, causing it to smoulder. Breathing out slowly, slowly, she inserted the first needle into her skin approximately two finger widths away from the crease in her left wrist. Almost immediately she could feel the dequi sensation at the point of insertion. The second and third needles went into the be and gu points in the web between the thumb and the palm and the fourth at the base of her throat. She could feel her skin turning warmer from the conducted heat.” (Page 89)

Unlike some other novels, this novel sprinkles in some unique side characters, but those characters like Flash and Chilli stay on the periphery in their subordinate roles to help the main characters uncover the mysteries behind the deaths of several fighters and the mysterious The Book of Light and Dust.

Keeper of Light and Dust is great for readers who enjoy Eastern medicine, philosophy, and marital arts, as well as those that enjoy suspense/thrillers and fantasy/science fiction novels. However, the main characters in this novel are dealing with more than just spiritual and martial arts dilemmas, they are dealing with emotions, life-changing events, and the dynamics of friendship. This novel defies normal convention in the science fiction/fantasy category and transcends those confines to deliver a well constructed drama.

About the Author (From her Web site):

She is the author of five novels. Her latest novel, Keeper of Light and Dust (published in the UK under the title The Keeper) joins together ancient mysteries with cutting-edge science and introduces a fascinating heroine who belongs to a long line of Keepers: women who are healers, warriors and protectors of men who are engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Tattoos, quantum physics, chi and martial arts all combine in an intricately crafted plot.

Her fourth novel, Season of the Witch, is a modern gothic thriller about techgnosis and the Art of Memory and won the Book to Talk About: World Book Day 2009 Award. Her debut novel was The Midnight Side, a story of obsessive love and a ghost manipulating the London Stock Exchange. In The Other Side of Silence, a sinister computer game becomes the key to unravelling the riddle of the Pythagorean Comma: one of the oldest and deadliest mysteries in the science of sound. Her third novel, Windwalker, is a story of fratricide, redemption, ghost photography and soul mates searching for each other.

Educated in South Africa and at Columbia University, New York, Mostert holds graduate degrees in Lexicography and Applied Linguistics and a bachelors in Modern Languages majoring in Afrikaans, Dutch, English and German. She worked as a teacher in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and as project coordinator in the publishing department of public television station WNET/Thirteen in New York City. Her political opinion pieces have appeared on the op-ed page of The New York Times, in Newsweek, The Independent and The Times (London).

Interests aside from writing include music, running and kickboxing. Future goals include writing poetry, executing a perfect spinning backkick and coming face to face with a ghost.

Check out Natasha Mostert’s Keeper Game. I ended up being The Thief; I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

The Thief

Dragonfly

Your sign is the Ninja. Your code word is stealth. Your totem is the dragonfly. You are highly focused in your goals but do not believe in knocking your head against a brick wall and will rather bide your time and wait for the most favourable moment. You can be ruthless and unsentimental, but also capable of great passion. You usually succeed in what you set out to do. Your head rules your heart unless you become obsessive, which you tend to be.

Your true mate is The Healer. Your opposite sign is The Warrior.

***Giveaway***

This giveaway is international. There is 1 copy of this fantastic book up for grabs.

To enter, play The Keeper Game and leave a comment about your results.

For a second entry, leave a comment on the interview from April 20.

For a Third Entry, leave a link to where you Twitter, Facebook, blog, or advertise this giveaway.

Deadline is April 28, 2009, at 11:59 PM EST.

Check Out These Other Reviews:

Literate Housewife

A Novel Menagerie

Literary Escapism

Wrighty’s Reads

Peeking Between the Pages

Jo-Jo Loves to Read

J. Kaye’s Book Blog

The Traitor’s Wife by Susan Higginbotham

I recently received The Traitor’s Wife by Susan Higginbotham from Sourcebooks for review and this April blog tour. Stay tuned for a giveaway after my review.

Susan Higginbotham’s research shines through in this historical fiction about the reign of King Edward II. Despite the large cast in this book and the multiple Edwards, Hughs, and Joans, readers will not have a hard time keeping track of the characters and even if they get stuck, there is a handy character breakdown in the front of the book. I don’t know much about 14th Century England, but I do remember Robert the Bruce from Braveheart, who does make a few appearances in the novel.

King Edward II is thrust onto the throne despite his wild ways after his father’s death, and his niece Eleanor becomes Isabella of France’s lady-in-waiting, Edward’s new bride and queen. Sweeping through battles, bedroom scenes, and the court, readers will get an inside look at the kingdom and the politics that dominated England in the 14th Century. After checking some historical information, quite of bit of Higginbotham’s plot is based upon well known facts about King Edward II and his kingdom at the time.

This novel is told from Eleanor’s point of view, which will quickly absorb the reader in the story and how the political uprisings impacted her family and her husband, Hugh Despenser the Younger. The passage below occurs between the new queen, Isabella, and Eleanor.

“‘And this Gaveston? Do you truly believe he and the king are nothing more than brothers to each other?’

‘I don’t know, your grace, and it would be presumptuous of me to guess, I think. I can only tell you this: The king loves Gaveston more than anyone in the world. And Gaveston for all of his ways loves the king too, I think.’

‘And I should accept this?'” (Page 23)

Readers will find the back-and-forth of the dialogue engrossing, and the prose is vivid, like the passage below when Eleanor trudges through the woods:

Walking in the opposite direction from the men, and praying that there were none to follow them, she caught sight of a stream. It would certainly lead her to the river. Sobbing with relief, she hurried to the stream, not seeing in the growing darkness the root that caught her foot and sent her headlong down the bank and into the water. Soaked to the skin, her hands scraped on the pebbles she had grabbed in a vain effort to stop her fall, she emerged coughing and sputtering from the water, only to find that her throbbing ankle would not bear her weight. She crawled out of the stream and pulled herself upon a large rock, utterly defeated. (Page 48)

Although there are several instances when Hugh, Eleanor’s husband, disappears, readers are not likely to be convinced of his blind ambition, which emerges later in the novel. Oftentimes, Hugh seems not to care much for court or the politics of the age when he interacts with his father, and he fails to show himself at court early on in his marriage to Eleanor, which to many readers could signify his ambivalence to wealth and power. However, Hugh plays a central role in the novel, seeking greater power, land, and favor from King Edward II. Another drawback to the novel is the tendency for the prose to tell rather than show plot points. Overall, this novel is engaging and informative for readers interested in 14th Century England and the nation’s struggles with Scotland and its political regime.

***Giveaway***

I have 3 copies for U.S./Canada residents available from Sourcebooks and 1 copy, my gently used ARC, for an international recipient.

1. Please leave a comment here about your favorite historical novel for 1 entry.

2. For a second entry, come back tomorrow and leave a comment on my interview with Susan Higginbotham tomorrow, April 16.

3. Spread the word about the giveaway and leave a link on this post for a third entry.

***Remember to leave your email address and indicate if you are international in your comments***

Deadline is April 22 at 5PM

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. For a list of winners, go here.

About the Author (from her Website):

Susan Higginbotham has been writing, off and on, as long as she can remember. Her first stab at a historical novel was in junior high school, where she whiled away my study halls writing about the adventures of five orphaned siblings living through the Blitz. Fortunately, most of the details have escaped her, but as she recalls her characters had an endless supply of money and very few relatives to get in their way. Aside from the remarks such as “There’s a war going on, you know” that she cleverly threw in once in a while, the characters could have just as easily been living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., in the 1970’s (like herself) as in London in the 1940’s. But everyone has to start somewhere, eh?

Read Susan Higginbotham’s Website for the rest of her biography, here, and check out her blog, here. You can buy this book here in the United States and here in Canada.

Check out the other stops on the tour:

C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call–Poets

I recently discovered this week’s C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call is about poetry and poets, so naturally I’m participating. While I’m supposed to talk only about a female African American poet, I’m going to broaden this to include my two favorite African-American Poets, Yusef Komunyakaa and Rita Dove, who is a more recent find thanks to The Writer’s Center and Kyle Semmel from where I won a book of poetry.

First, let’s talk about Rita Dove and share one of her poems. Rita is not only a poet, but also a script writer and story writer. She served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She now works at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville as an English professor. Check out her Webpage for more biography information.

This is one of my favorite poems, which can be found here with several others:

My Mother Enters the Work Force

The path to ABC Business School
was paid for by a lucky sign:
Alterations, Qualified Seamstress Inquire Within.
Tested on Sleeves, hers
never puckered — puffed or sleek,
Leg o’ or Raglan —
they barely needed the damp cloth
to steam them perfect.

Those were the afternoons. Evenings
she took in piecework, the treadle machine
with its locomotive whir
traveling the lit path of the needle
through quicksand taffeta
or velvet deep as a forest.
And now and now sang the treadle,
I know, I know….

And then it was day again, all morning
at the office machines, their clack and chatter
another journey — rougher,
that would go on forever
until she could break a hundred words
with no errors — ah, and then

no more postponed groceries,
and that blue pair of shoes!

I adore the detailed images in this poem and how each one is selected for its powerful message about the life and times of this mother entering the workforce. This is a very poignant social commentary about this one woman’s struggle as befitting to all others at the time.

I may have talked about Yusef Komunyakaa on this blog before during the last Book Bloggers Appreciation Week, but here he is again. I first learned of Komunyakaa’s work in a college seminar on Vietnam War literature and I’ve returned to his work ever since. Yusef was raised during the Civil Rights movement and served in the U.S. Army between 1969 and 1970 as a correspondent and editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam War.

Here’s one of my favorite poems from him, found here:

Camouflaging the Chimera

We tied branches to our helmets.
We painted our faces & rifles
with mud from a riverbank,

blades of grass hung from the pockets
of our tiger suits. We wove
ourselves into the terrain,
content to be a hummingbird’s target.

We hugged bamboo & leaned
against a breeze off the river,
slow-dragging with ghosts

from Saigon to Bangkok,
with women left in doorways
reaching in from America.
We aimed at dark-hearted songbirds.

In our way station of shadows
rock apes tried to blow our cover
throwing stones at the sunset. Chameleons

crawled our spines, changing from day
to night: green to gold,
gold to black. But we waited
till the moon touched metal,

till something almost broke
inside us. VC struggled
with the hillside, like black silk

wrestling iron through grass.
We weren’t there. The river ran
through our bones. Small animals took refuge
against our bodies; we held our breath,

ready to spring the L-shaped
ambush, as a world revolved
under each man’s eyelid.

Who are your favorites? Have you discovered any new African American poets?

Mainline to the Heart & Other Poems by Clive Matson

Clive Matson‘s Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems, originally published in 1966 by Diane di Prima’s “Poets Press,” is a new edition from Regent Press. I received a copy of this book from Jacqueline Lasahn.

I want to caution readers that these poems can be very graphic and sexual in nature, which reflects the Beat Generation environment at the time and Clive Matson’s experiences. However, unlike other beat poems, this volume is edgier and raw. In some cases, these poems are surreal.

From “Outward Bound” (Page47-48):

“I reach out to him and nothing happens.
I want him for a friend and he’s somewhere else.
Or will he look up
with new light in his eyes when I draw back,
where will it end?
Already there is despair
and our engines will burn up the fuel,
I guess crash among wrecked dreams.
It’s ok,
tonight our parallel lives cross
& I see his gestures: steady curves
and knife edges.”

Many of these poems question daily activities, relationships, and other things, while at the same time offering implausible answers. In a number of these poems, there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, disgust, and longing. “Psalm” takes a look at drug use and the way it can twist thought and emotion into something ugly. One of my favorites from this collection is “My Love Returned.”

My Love Returned (Page 30)
© 1966 Clive Matson

The Moon rises
ass heavy: on the wane.
Wish it was full.

I dream &
a huge bat wing arcs over skeleton buildings
and dips to touch ruby pinprick traffic lights
on the street’s horizon in mute salute,

when I take in another block
the black wing blacks out the lights
and I know it is the Vampire,
my love returned
in the city calling me to bed
with faint irresistible siren
over the cool line of telepathic desire
or echoing “could be” to my need

broadcast live out dewy eyes, glib tongue
and come-on slouch for months.

How does she know? How the seasons change
and my veins hold new blood for her to suck now,
new blood I can bleed

over the white & untried bed
and my teeth are white and sharp to eat with.
Now I brim over with come to shoot in her,
I flap my jaw
and smile goofy at strangers
in the fullness of it.
Glad I’ll kill myself
& build a life with her. Glad
I’ll gaze into the wide blue eyes
I cannot fathom.

Not Christine not Huncke
not Martha could take her place.
I loved each and let each loose
the beautiful face no matter or
how strong my yearning ache,
Cut off
at dangerously hot by a circuit breaker
or fanned to blistering flame so
she turned cold shoulders in disgust,

Useless to give my all when it’s already given
to end lying anguished mornings on the same wrinkled sheet,
some yellow belly demon inside calculating
to save me for the One
or can I love at all?

Hear dark silence for the answer
& I’ve torn up the map, all highways
lead to the same dead end where
I see no exit
away from the Horror,
why not embrace it.

Love is possession
and we possess each other on a bone level
I don’t understand but we keep
a dim promise of happiness alive
or magic descends from the ceiling
& days light up now and then like sparkling incense,

I do what I want with her
as nuptial joy lifts toward bliss
that can not come true
and will carry me
thru boredom, fighting, anguish
the same scene repeated endlessly
1966, 1969, 1975 as
over the years
Time binds us tighter together
in orbit around our asteroid or lovely room
where we are each other’s parasite
and no friend in sight,
where we’ll die
within the same few seasons fatally wounded
our better half destroyed

or God insert the drug, body, faith
can bridge to the old dream she devours
& I love a spirit of the Dead.

Within this poem there is a somber undercurrent beneath the dark images of vampires and life-sucking situations, which are not clearly delineated as a relationship with a person or a drug. It could be either given that these poems are deeply personal according to the press sheet that came with the book. Overall, this volume provides a deep look into the struggles of the narrator with drugs and relationships, and its raw nature can teach readers about the darker sides of life.

Another unique aspect of this volume is the inclusion of sketches and drawings of ornately drawn women. Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems is not a volume for the faint of heart, but it will grip readers from its the first poetic lines. Some may find the images in these poems unsettling, but it is this nature that will encourage readers to critically rethink their world view and examine their environment with new eyes.

About the Poet:

Clive Matson arrived on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1960, a fresh-faced adolescent with a blank notebook under his arm. He quickly fell in with the Beat Generation – his first event was a reading at the Tenth Street Coffeehouse, where he met Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Diane di Prima.

The proto-Beat Herbert Huncke became his second father, and Matson was captivated by John Wieners’ poetry and subsequently by Alden Van Buskirk’s. Diane di Prima published Matson’s first poems, and in the introduction John Wieners wrote, “One wonders about the nature of love in these poems. Are they vicious, or not?”

Matson ultimately emerged drug-free and healthy gave him full appreciation for 1960s passion and honesty. These qualities are crucially important, he thinks, for the current era. “Coming to terms with my youthful, energetic voice has been a challenge,” he admits. “It helps that I hear, in these poems, both an urgent need to connect and full cognizance of the difficulties.”

***GIVEAWAY REMINDER***

I have 1 copy of Jill Mansell’s An Offer You Can’t Refuse; get two entries, comment on my review and my interview. Deadline is April 11 at Midnight.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse by Jill Mansell

I received my ARC of Jill Mansell’s An Offer You Can’t Refuse from Sourcebooks for review.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse is witty, charming, engaging, and Chicklit to the max.

“‘I didn’t know reading could be like that, I had no idea. I’ve just never been a booky person. All these years I’ve been missing out.’

‘Ah, but now you’ve seen the light.’ . . . ‘You’ve become one of us. Welcome to our world; you’re going to love it here.'” (Page 100)

For a reviewer this was a treat to find in a book, this is definitely how many of us feel about books and reading, and reading these lines instantly cemented my attention to this book.

Lola is a young girl in love with a boy, Dougie, whose family is wealthy and whose mother hates her guts. His mother makes her an offer that she can’t refuse, so she takes it and says goodbye to the love of her life in a “Dear John” letter. Fast-forward to the present day and we find Lola has grown up physically, but still wears the same teenage, low-cut clothes and finds herself being mistaken for a prostitute when she walks into London bookstore after living in Majorca for about a decade. Eventually, Lola becomes more grounded and is the bookshop manager, but just as she thinks her life is stabilizing and in a good place, things get all topsy-turvy again.

This novel starts off in Lola’s past, but readers may find that more background is necessary, particularly where her relationship with Dougie is concerned. The only drawback of this novel, which really isn’t one, is that Lola’s story is pushed to the sidelines quite a bit as the Sally’s story takes center stage. However, Mansell carefully weaves the narration back to Lola and the resolution of her story. Readers may want to see more of Dougie, since he is one of the main characters but does not share equal narrative footing with the other narrators: Lola, Sally, and Lola’s friend Gabe.

“Aloud she said, ‘I’m guessing you don’t go into many bookshops.’

‘Me? No way.’ Proudly the boy said, ‘Can’t stand reading, waste of time. Hey, fancy a drink?’

‘No thanks. Can’t stand drinking, waste of time.’

He looked shocked. ‘Really?’

‘Not really. But drinking with you would be a huge waste of time.’ Lola excused herself and made her way over to the bar where Gabe, whose leaving party it was, was chatting to a group of friends from work.” (Page 37, 38)

Mansell’s writing is engaging, and though some of her characters, like Lola and Dougie’s sister Sally, are shallow at first, the complications in their lives force them to look beyond their own lives and come to terms with themselves, their families, and their love lives. Mansell’s An Offer Your Can’t Refuse is recommended for readers who love British humor, chicklit, and are in need of summer reading.

About the Author:

Jill Mansell lives with her partner and children in Bristol, and writes full time. Actually that’s not true; she watches TV, eats fruit gums, admires the rugby players training in the sports field behind her house, and spends hours on the internet marvelling at how many other writers have blogs. Only when she’s completely run out of displacement activities does she write.

***Giveaway***

Sourcebooks has offered 1 copy of Jill Mansell’s An Offer You Can’t Refuse to one lucky U.S. or Canadian reader.

All you have to do is comment on this post with something other than “pick me” or “enter me.”

Deadline is April 11, Midnight EST.

Come back tomorrow for my interview with Jill Mansell and another opportunity to enter the giveaway!

Also Reviewed By:
A Bookworm’s World
Diary of an Eccentric
Booking Mama
Book Escape
Reading Adventures

Naughty Neighbor by Janet Evanovich

Another audiobook by Janet Evanovich, but this one is not in the Stephanie Plum series or the Between-the-Numbers series. Naughty Neighbor is one of Evanovich’s earlier books, which have been dubbed “red-hot comedies.”

Louisa Brannigan is a nose-to-the-grindstone press secretary for an up-and-coming senator, Nolan Bishop. Louisa and her neighbor, Pete Streeter, are at odds, particularly since he callously snags her morning paper and receives phone calls at all hours. Streeter is a Hollywood screenwriter who has raised some eyebrows in the political arena and men are out to destroy his car and teach him a lesson he won’t soon forget. However, this web grows and soon Louisa becomes embroiled in Streeter’s intrigue to find a missing pig.

Readers understand that the tension between these two attractive people will eventually lead to the bedroom, but what they won’t predict is the internal struggles both of these characters have with committing to a relationship. Some of my favorite points in the book are when Louisa is arguing with herself about her feelings for Streeter. At one point, she swears she has succumbed to “romantic dementia.” Louisa is uptight and careful, while Streeter is relaxed and a risk taker. When these two get together, tension bursts into flames.

Another light read for pure entertainment value. I’d recommend this to those reading romance novels, but are interested in a more modern day tale with a touch of humor.

Stay Tuned for the ***Jill Mansell tour on April 6 and 7th***

Interview With Poet Dan Albergotti

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale

by Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

“Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008.

I’ve been working on a interview project with Deborah at 32 Poems magazine, and she kindly allowed me to interview past contributors to the magazine. We will be posting the interviews throughout the coming months, and our eighth interview posted on Deborah’s Poetry Blog of 32 Poems on March 31. I’m going to provide you with a snippet from the interview, but if you want to read the entire interview, I’ll provide you a link for that as well. For now, let me introduce to you 32 Poems contributor, Dan Albergotti :

1. Not only are you a contributor to 32 Poems, you are a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University and have a full-length collection of poems published called The Boatloads. You also have an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Literature. Do you think poets have an easier time getting published with higher credentials? Why or Why not? Also of your “hats,” which do you find most difficult to wear and why?

Over the years, I’ve occasionally heard this suspicion that having a good cover letter can get you “in” at magazines and presses. I just don’t buy it. Only the work matters to editors. And if a lot of people being published have degrees in creative writing, isn’t there a rival hypothesis to the idea that the degree “got them in”? Doesn’t it make sense that someone who committed two-to-four years of his of her life to study writing at a post-graduate level might just have developed abilities to the point that he or she is writing poems worthy of being published?

I do wear a lot of hats, and it’s difficult in the sense that it stretches my economy of time very thin. But I’m lucky in that every hat I wear–as writer, teacher, editor–is wonderful, so it’s hard to apply the word “difficult” to any of it. I’m blessed, really.

2. Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

This will be my “J” response: Joy Division, Jack Gilbert, John Keats, Joss Whedon, Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel). I might be obsessed with the tenth letter of the alphabet.

3. When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

I don’t really have any routines or playlists, but I love your question, and since you opened the door with your invitation of a “top five,” I will seize the opportunity to list my five favorite albums of all time, if for no other reason than to promote them to other people:

The Clash, London Calling

Radiohead, OK Computer

R.E.M., Murmur

Joy Division, Closer

Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane over the Sea

While these aren’t necessarily playing when I’m writing, they are all albums that I find inspiring. I remember that great moment at the 2008 Oscars when Glen Hansard, at the end of his acceptance speech for best original song, exhorted the millions watching to “Make art, make art, make art!” When I listen to these five albums, I want to make art in any way I can. And that’s always a good feeling.

4. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

Lately I’ve been writing in form a good bit, which is something I haven’t done in a while (all the poems in The Boatloads are free verse). But I’ve been writing new free verse poems as well. I have a very general idea of the shape that my second full-length manuscript will take based on the kinds of poems I’ve been writing. I don’t have a systematic project to fill a collection, and I tend to avoid such thoughts of larger structures when writing poems. So I’m afraid I have little more detail to provide than “I’m writing poems.”

About the Poet:

Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008), selected by Edward Hirsch as the winner of the 2007 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and other journals. In 2008, his poem “What They’re Doing” was selected for Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses. A graduate of the MFA program at UNC Greensboro and former poetry editor of The Greensboro Review, Albergotti currently teaches creative writing and literature courses and edits the online journal Waccamaw at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.

Want to find out what Dan’s writing space looks like? Find out what he’s working on now, his obsessions, and much more. Check out the rest of my interview with Dan here. Please feel free to comment on the 32 Poems blog and Savvy Verse & Wit.

Also, check out this interview with Dan on How a Poem Happens.

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

I received Nicholas Sparks’ The Lucky One from Miriam at Hachette Group, and I sent it off to my mom for review. So without further ado, here’s my mom, Pat, and her review of The Lucky One.

Logan Thibault finds a picture in the dirt on his third tour of duty in Iraq. He keeps the picture hoping that he will find the owner. His best friend and buddy has an explanation for Logan’s good luck, the picture is his lucky charm.

Logan walks cross country with his dog from Colorado, stopping in towns to show the picture to people he meets. Nobody recognizes it. He ends up in Hampton, North Carolina where he meets Deputy Keith Clayton, who is divorced from Beth. Clayton and Beth have a son, Ben.

The journey Logan takes to find the picture’s rightful owner is engaging and demonstrates the hardships family and friends can undergo. Sparks creates a heart-wrenching story. This is a must read, fast-paced novel. I give this five stars.

Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews

I received my copy of Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews from Book Club Girl for her BlogTalk Radio Show on March 25 at 7PM. Check at the end of this post for my thoughts on the show.

About the book (from the author’s Web site):

Chef extraordinaire Gina Foxton doesn’t expect anything to be handed to her on a platter. After years of hard work, the former runner-up Miss Teen Vidalia Onion is now the host of her own local Georgia public television show called “Fresh Start,” and she’s dating the show’s producer.

But when her show gets canceled, and she catches her boyfriend in flagrante delicto with the boss’s wife, Gina realizes that she’s meant for bigger and better things. The Cooking Channel is looking for its next star, and Gina is certain that she fits the bill. Trouble is, the execs also have their eye on Mr. “Kill It and Grill It” Tate Moody, the star of a hunting, fishing, and cooking show called “Vittles.” Tate is the ultimate man’s man, with a dog named Moonpie and a penchant for flannel shirts. Little does Gina know, though, that she and Tate are soon to embark on the cook-off of their lives.

Mary Kay Andrews’ Deep Dish stars Gina Foxton an older sister who is eager to please, cautious, and naive when it comes to men. Tate Moody is the man’s man, grills, hunts, and loves the outdoors. Throw these two in a pot and stir. The results are hilarious, spicy, and steamy. In addition to these polar opposites, you have Gina’s ex, Scott, who is out for himself and every woman he can get his hands on; Gina’s sister, Lisa, who operates without a compass, is passionate, and unable to commit; Val, Tate’s chain smoking, pressure cooker; Moonpie, Tate’s adorable pooch; and let’s not forget D’John, the gay, hair stylist and makeup artist with a heart of gold.

As an aside, one of my favorite character was Moonpie; he seemed to soften the edges the characters create for themselves in an attempt to defend themselves against pain. D’John, the makeup and hair stylist for Gina and Tate, is outrageous, and he provides each of the characters an anchor and support column. Mary Kay Andrews does a great job creating well rounded main and supporting characters.

“‘Oh, my God,’ Lisa said. ‘D’John is so awesome. I love his place. And he always gives me samples of the coolest makeup and stuff. Lemme go too, okay?’

‘Deal,’ Gina said. ‘Just one thing.’

‘What now?’

‘While I’m in the shower, you change your clothes. We are not leaving these premises with you dressed like some hoochie-mama.’

‘D’John’s gay, Geen,’ Lisa said. ‘He so is not looking at me that way.'” (Page 75)

The impending cancellation of Gina’s regional cooking show, pushes her into a reality show cook-off with Tate Moody, who has a successful outdoor hunting and cooking show. Food Fight is where the fun really picks up and Gina is forced to go out and forage Eutaw Island for ingredients before she can whip up a meal and dessert to impress three famous cooks, one of whom hates her guts. Tate Moody is in for the fight of his life even in spite of his hunting prowess as he is forced to make amazing meals out of regular household ingredients, including Frosted Flakes, to impress three judges, even one who hates his guts.

Deep Dish is a look at how one woman can dig deep within herself to find the courage to take ahold of her life and her destiny as well as a book that examines how each of us holds something back from the world and will only reveal our own personality gems to those we love.

Some of the best parts of this book occur when the reality show begins, and though some of the plot is predictable, it is done in a refreshing and new way. Southern cooking is the crux, and readers will be exposed to cuisine they may not see otherwise. Gina’s flashbacks to her family life and her mother’s cooking are vivid and enjoyable. These sections will likely remind readers of times when they smelled certain foods that evoke memories from their childhoods. If you need a light read, this is the book for you.

Book Club Girl’s Show:

I really love how much food plays a role in Mary Kay Andrews’ life and her relationship with her husband. Though she hasn’t thought about writing a cookbook, she would be open to the idea. My favorite little tidbit was about her writing space and how she hangs up all her book jackets on the walls of her writing space to keep herself motivated and writing. And Moonpie is based upon her setter Wyatt–too adorable for words.

About the Author:

Mary Kay Andrews is the author of the New York Times bestselling SAVANNAH BREEZE and BLUE CHRISTMAS, (HarperCollins) as well as HISSY FIT, LITTLE BITTY LIES and SAVANNAH BLUES, all HarperPerennial.

A former reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she wrote ten critically acclaimed mysteries, including the Callahan Garrity mystery series, under her “real” name, which is Kathy Hogan Trocheck.

She has a B.A. in newspaper journalism from The University of Georgia (go Dawgs!), and is a frequent lecturer and writing teacher at workshops including Emory University, The University of Georgia’s Harriet Austin Writer’s Workshop, the Tennessee Mountain Writer’s Workshop and the Antioch Writer’s Workshop. Her mysteries have been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity Awards.

Married for more than 31 years to her high school sweetheart, Tom, she is the mother of 24-year-old Katie Abel and 20-year-old Andrew. After a three-year hiatus in Raleigh, NC, she and her husband recently moved back to their old neighborhood in Atlanta, where they live in a restored 1926 Craftsman bungalow.

Check out her blog here.

Also Reviewed By:
Redlady’s Reading Room
Diary of an Eccentric

Conversations and Connections Writer’s Conference, D.C.

Remember that great recap post from last year’s Conversations & Connections writer’s conference in Washington, D.C.?

Well, you can expect another one this year. Anna and I have registered for this year’s conference, which is going to have many of the great features it had last year.

Where is it located?

Johns Hopkins University Advanced Writing Program campus
1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW,
Washington, D.C. (Near DuPont Circle)

When do I need to be there?

April 11, 2009; Registration starts at 8:30 AM

Why do I need to be there?

Not only will you be exposed to some great writing advice from some of the authors and poets you love, but there will be time to buy books at the book fair, show your work to literary journal editors to solicit their advice, and network with great bloggers, like Anna and myself, and others in the industry. This may be the first time I get to meet Deborah Ager of 32 Poems in person; she and I have been working on poet interviews over the last several months.

What’s the line up?

Craft lectures are available as choices for each of the three sessions from writing sex scenes to fighting writer’s block with experimental prompts.

The three sessions also have a number of panel discussions to choose from, including juggling multiple points of view in a novel, creative nonfiction, and the inner workings of an agency.

Don’t forget speed dating with literary journal editors where they will provide feedback on your written work.

And of course, there is the featured speaker, Amy Hempel.
Check out the list of speakers, here.

What’s the cost? $55, which gives you a one-year subscription to a literary magazine, the conference sessions, featured speaker, one speed dating session with an editor, and one book.

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich’s Plum Spooky is the latest of the between-the-numbers novels. Diesel makes his way back to Trenton and into Stephanie Plum’s apartment hot on the heels of Wulf Grimoire, his cousin and all around scary creep who vanishes in a flash of light and can electrocute you with a simple touch of the skin. Stephanie is hoping to save the bail bonds business by capturing the elusive Martin Munch, a genius fallen into the wrong hands.

From monkeys with metal helmets to a hippy animal activist named Gail Scanlon, Evanovich weaves a ridiculous tale that will capture readers and listeners’ attentions right from the start. Diesel and Stephanie are forced into the Pine Barrens where there is no cell reception and where unmentionable creatures dwell, like the Jersey Devil, the Easter Bunny, Sasquatch, and Elmer the Fire Farter. While the plot is a bit out there, it will have you laughing and the book moves along quickly.

I was surprised to learn that the Pine Barrens is an actual location in New Jersey and that people do believe that it is the home of the Jersey Devil.

Interested in listening to this laugh-out-loud novel on your daily commute or whenever you’re in the car, enter this giveaway: 1 audiobook copy, used once

1. One entry leave a comment for the most outrageous character name you can think of.

2. A second entry if you spread the word about the contest and leave me a link here.

Deadline is March 26, 5pm EST.

Also Reviewed by:
Reading Adventures

Girls Just Reading

***Giveaway Reminder***

1 gently used ARC of Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas; Deadline is March 20 at Midnight EST.

3 Copies of Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly for U.S./Canada residents
1 copy of Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly for an international resident
Deadline is March 24, 5pm EST

Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly

Welcome to the March Early Birds Tour from Hachette Group and Grand Central Publishing for Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly on this fine St. Patrick’s Day. As an added treat with my review, please check out the discussion with Mary Pat Kelly on BlogTalkRadio at 11 AM-12PM EST.

“I was used to the give-and-take of a large family, where one broke in on the other, splintering sentences, bouncing thought away from meaning. But Michael and I listened to each other, each waiting as the other found words for what we’d never said before, never even thought before, giving shape to dreams and to fears. I’d no idea I was such a worrier–the ifs and buts that flowed out of me. Michael teased them away.” (Page 105-106)

Sweeping novels that span several generations must be well-crafted to hold readers’ attention, especially if the historical novel is going to be more than 500 pages. Mary Pat Kelly’s Galway Bay will suck readers in, churn them in rip currents, and spit them out in untamed America along with the Kellys, Leahys, Keeleys, and other Irish immigrants fleeing their homeland during the repeated potato blights and following The Great Starvation.

Honora Keeley is set upon entering the convent until she meets the dashing novice adventurer Michael Kelly. She’s a fisherman’s daughter with a rich heritage steeped in lore and myth and he’s the son of a blacksmith forced out of his home when his parents die and the blacksmith shop is no longer his family’s anchor. They find each other in the good times and suffer through the potato blight, famine, the cruelty of the Sassenach (English) and landlords, and the rise of Protestantism. After a great deal of sacrifice and heartache, the Kellys have no choice but to flee their homeland to begin again in Amerikay.

Kelly’s poetic prose places the reader beside Honora as she makes her way through thick fog, a fog that has brought blight on potato farms in the past. It also will have the reader cringing as they stick their hands in the dirt, finding muck rather than hard potatoes to feed their bellies.

“The fog wrapped itself around me, heavy and moist. I’ll go along the strand–faster, and the tide’s out. I could hear the waves hitting against the fingers of rocks that stretched out into the water, but the fog hid the Bay from me.” (Page 120)

“I crawled to another patch and plunged my hand into the foul-smelling mess. I felt a hard lump–a good potato. But when I grabbed it, the potato fell apart in my hand, oozing through my fingers.” (Page 128)

Kelly creates well rounded characters from strong-willed Honora to her quirky grandmother and from gifted storyteller Michael Kelly to quick witted Maire. Frank McCourt’s quote on the cover of Galway Bay is spot on, this book will have readers laughing, crying, and cheering Honora and Maire onward. Kelly’s narrative will bring readers to tears more than once, but as they struggle alongside Honora and her family, they too will grow stronger and more aware of the blessings family can bring. Galway Bay is a mixture of narrative poetry and prose that generates its own folklore that will be told from generation to generation for years to come. It will be on my top 10 list for 2009, how about yours?

***Giveaway Details***

From Hachette Group, three copies of Galway Bay for three lucky U.S. or Canada readers; No P.O. Boxes please.

I will spring for one copy of Galway Bay for one lucky international reader outside the U.S. and Canada, so make sure you let me know who you are.

To Enter:

1. Leave a comment other than “pick me” or “enter me.”

2. Spread the word about the contest and leave a link here for a second entry.

3. Share your favorite St. Patrick’s Day tradition for a third entry.

Deadline is March 24, 5PM EST

About the Author:
As an author and filmmaker, Mary Pat Kelly has told various stories connected to Ireland. Her award-winning PBS documentaries and accompanying books include To Live for Ireland, a portrait of Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and the political party he led; Home Away from Home: The Yanks in Ireland, a history of U.S. forces in Northern Ireland during World War II; and Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS Mason, a portrayal of the only African-American sailors to take a World War II warship into combat, whose first foreign port was Belfast. She wrote and directed the dramatic feature film Proud, starring Ossie Davis and Stephen Rea, based on the USS Mason story.
She’s written Martin Scorsese: The First Decade and Martin Scorsese: A Journey; Good to Go: The Rescue of Scott O’Grady from Bosnia; and a novel, Special Intentions. She is a frequent contributor to Irish America Magazine.
Mary Pat Kelly worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter for Paramount and Columbia Pictures and in New York City as an associate producer with Good Morning America and Saturday Night Live, and wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Abby’s Song. She received her PhD from the City University of New York.
Born and raised in Chicago, she lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her husband, Web designer Martin Sheerin from County Tyrone.
Check out her blog for Galway Bay, here.
Check out the Book Club Discussion Guide, here.
“An Honor” by Mary Pat Kelly about her journey through Galway Bay and her heritage.
Check out this Guest Post at A Bookworm’s World from Mary Pat Kelly herself; It’s very inspiring.

Check out the other Blogs on the tour, here.

***GIVEAWAY REMINDER***

I also have two copies of Diana Raab‘s My Muse Undresses Me and one copy of Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You. Deadline is March 18 at 5PM EST.

One gently used ARC of Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas; Deadline is March 20 at Midnight EST.

Also Reviewed By:
Historical Tapestry