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SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb (Earth Day Celebration)

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  I try my best to celebrate Earth Day and its 40th anniversary.  What better way to take action in our homes to save the environment and become healthier than by heeding the advice in Aviva Goldfarb‘s SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue.

Before we get the actual cookbook, I wanted to let you know that each copy purchased includes a one-month subscription to the Scramble and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Environmental Working Group, which works to use public information’s power to help consumers improve their health and save the environment by offering resources to make better decisions and to affect policy change.

Goldfarb’s cookbook expands upon her popular Web site with its seasonal weekly meal planner subscription for busy families.  The introduction discusses how the organization of the Scramble and its weekly meal planning enables families to reduce their carbon footprint by:

  • limiting trips to the grocery store to once per week
  • reducing the use of takeout containers
  • limiting food waste
  • using highly sustainable fish
  • and reducing the heavy use of meat in our diets.

Following the introduction, Goldfarb outlines the items you need in your pantry at all times, with indicators next to those that you should consider buying in bulk (among others):

  • nonstick cooking spray
  • minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • reduced sodium soy sauce

Once the staples are purchased and available to you, you should check out the break down of fruits and vegetables by season so that you shop for those items when they are in season.  Shopping for veggies and fruits in season reduces your carbon footprint, according to Goldfarb, because it reduces the need to truck those foods across the country or from another nation where they are in season.

The rest of the cookbook is broken down by season and includes a weekly plan of menus for families to try out and advice for keeping the menu plan on schedule, using canvas bags or reusing plastic and paper bags, creating healthy and tasty lunches for school, picking healthy snacks, and more.  However, the book does not include photos of the recipes, which novice cooks might want to check out to see how well they are doing with their own attempts at the recipes.

For busy, book blogger and other moms, SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue is an excellent edition to your cookbooks.  Goldfarb’s book is more than a cookbook, it is full of advice on how to make healthy choices for families, how to reduce carbon footprints, shop locally, and more.

About the Author:

Aviva Goldfarb (Photo credit: Rachael Spiegel) is author and founder of The Six O’Clock Scramble®, a seasonal online weekly menu planner and cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, 2006) who lives in Chevy Chase, Md.  She has just released a new cookbook, SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families.  Aviva is regularly quoted in popular online and print Family and Health publications. She is an advocate for healthy families, actively working with national nonprofit organizations and with parents to improve nutrition.

Thanks to Diane Saarinen and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy of SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb for review.

The giveaway details:  (I’m buying 1 copy and giveaway is open internationally)

1.  Leave a comment about what you are doing to celebrate Earth Day.

2.  Leave a second comment with a tip about how you live greenly.

3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, Stumble, spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline April 29, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

This is my 29th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip with Chevy Chase, Md., author Aviva Goldfarb.

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Also check out today’s stop on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Necromancy Never Pays!

Alex Cross’s Trial by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Alex Cross’s Trial by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo is a book within a book in which the introduction is written by the character Alex Cross and sets up the impending story of his ancestors.  Abraham Cross lives in Eudora, Miss., and he helps the narrator, Attorney Ben Corbett uncover the truth behind the alleged lynchings in Mississippi and the rest of the South and to collect evidence for President Theodore Roosevelt.

“On the front lawn two adorable white children in a little pink-painted cart were driving a pony in circles.  On the wide front veranda I could see the children’s mother observing their play and a small army of black servants hovering there.

This was a vision of the old South and the new South, all wrapped into one.  There, gleaming in the drive, was a handsome new motorcar, brass fittings shining in the sun.  And there, rushing across the yard in pursuit of a hen, was an ink-black woman  with a red dotted kerchief wrapped around her head.”  (Page 136)

Ben Corbett is a progressive attorney who moved from Eudora, Miss., joined the military, became an attorney at Harvard University, and moved to Washington, D.C., with his young wife and twin girls.  He’s asked by Roosevelt to investigate the lynchings in the South and bring back evidence so that he can deal with the problem.  Patterson and DiLallo offer up an authentic step back in time for this mystery, with appearances by W.E.B. Dubois and other historical figures.

Alex Cross’s Trial is a well-written off-the-beaten path novel in the Alex Cross series.  Abraham Cross, a former baseball player with the Philadelphia Pythians, is an unassuming Black man living in the South, who has struggled against racism, but is willing to stake his life to make a real change in the nation.  Readers will enjoy the quick page of the novel, the historical setting, and examination of issues that still exist today.  Patterson and DiLallo have done a fantastic job in making a unique addition to the Alex Cross series.

For a couple takes on Cross Country, visit my mom’s review and my review.  Also take a look at Washington, D.C., and my Alex Cross poem.  Check out the other bloggers posting for Detectives Around the World Week. Thanks to Hachette Books for sending me a free copy of Alex Cross’s Trial to review.

Giveaway Details:

For those who have been following the Detectives Around the World Week, anywhere in the world, please answer the following question in the comments and leave me your email:

What has been your favorite post during the week and why?

Those who do not answer the question will not be entered, and I will select a random winner for the three latest Alex Cross novels, Cross Country, Alex Cross’s Trial, and I, Alex Cross through Randomizer.

Deadline is May 2, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST.

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Please also stop by today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop at She Is Too Fond of Books and A Circle of Books.

This is my 6th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

Cross Country by James Patterson

James Patterson’s Cross Country is full of action, conspiracies, and danger.  Detective Dr. Alex Cross is called to the scene of a horrific murder of an entire family when Cross realizes that Ellie Cox was his first love in college.  Her death and that of her family tug at his heartstrings and strengthen his resolve to find her killers.

As he investigates the crime, he discovers a gang of boys led by a man calling himself the Tiger is behind the murders and much more.

“The boy was eleven years old and fearless as a crocodile in a muddy river.  He raised his pistol much larger than his own hand and fired it into the shivering father’s forehead.”  (Page 5)

Through short chapters and quick action scenes, Patterson builds the tension in Cross Country, leaving readers on the edge of their chairs as Cross hunts down another vile criminal who recruits boys as young as ten who have been orphaned in a number of African nations to become killers.  Traveling to Nigeria, where it is clear Cross has not seen as much horror as he thought he had, the detective lands in hot water with local police and a swath of criminals.

“I shook off whoever was on my right arm and swung at whoever had my left.  None of them was stronger than me, but collectively they were like fly paper covering every inch of my body.  I fought even harder, fighting for my life, I knew.”  (Page 183)

Patterson is an excellent story teller, and Cross Country has more violence in it than the previous Cross novels.  Readers may be disturbed by the sexual violence and blatant murders committed by the criminals in this novel.  Additionally, the resolution of this novel comes about more because of luck or circumstance than because of Dr. Cross’s deductive skills, which readers traditionally look forward to in these novels.  However, those looking for a great police procedural with a mix of nearly impossible overseas intrigue, Cross Country is for them.

For another take on Cross Country, visit my mom’s review. Also take a look at Washington, D.C., and my Alex Cross poem.  Check out the other bloggers posting for Detectives Around the World Week.  Thanks to Hachette Books for providing me with a free review copy.

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Also don’t forget about today’s stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at the life (and lies) of an inanimate flying object, her giveaway, and Evelyn Alfred.

This is my 5th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.


Poetry Speaks Who I Am by Elise Paschen

Elise Paschen’s Poetry Speaks Who I Am combines written verse with audio recitation of poetry by the poets themselves on CDs spark young readers’ love of poetry and verse.  Readers between the ages of 11 and 14 will find poems in this volume that speak to their struggles with love, family, growing into adulthood, and making friends.

“[Paschen says,] For me this poetry is life altering.  It’s gritty.  It’s difficult.  And it hurts in all the ways that growing hurts.  It’s meant to be visceral and immediate.  It’s meant to be experienced.”  (Page XI)

Gritty and real are the best terms to describe the struggles within these lines of verse, from being the only white kid in school to being a Black person at a time when political correctness suggests you are African-America.  But more than that, there are poems about bra shopping — the stepping stones of becoming a woman — and the realization that the world is not perfect and that wars do exist.

Bra Shopping by Parneshia Jones (Page 16)

Mama and I enter into no man’s, and I mean no man in sight, land
of frilly lace, night gowns, grandma panties, and support everything.

A wall covered with hundreds of white bras, some with lace, ribbons,
and frills like party favors, as if bras are a cause for celebration.

Some have these dainty ditsy bows in the middle.
That’s a nice accent don’t you think? Mama says.  Isn’t that cute?
Like a dumb bow in the middle of the bra will take away some of the
attention from two looking, bulging tissues.

Full of wit and sarcasm, this poem illustrates the angst and embarrassment of the narrator as she shops for bras with her mother under the watchful eye of the sales clerk. A number of poems illustrate these feelings of awkwardness and tenderness between friends and parents.

The audio CD that comes with the book is stunning as each poem is read with emphasis and care either by the poet themselves or a contemporary counterpart.  In some cases, the poems are accompanied by ambient noise and/or nature sounds.  Some poems will garner young readers’ attentions more than others, but overall the CD works.

Used Book Shop by X.J. Kennedy (Page 108)

Stashed in attics,
stuck in cellars,
forgotten books
once big best-sellers

now hopefully sit
where folks, like cows
in grassy meadows,
stand and browse.

In a yellowed old history
of Jesse James
two earlier owners
had scrawled their names.

I even found
a book my dad
when he was in high school
had once had,

and a book I found —
this is really odd —
was twice as much fun
as my new iPod.

I always get hooked
in this dusty shop.
Like eating popcorn,
it’s hard to stop.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am is a wonderful collection of classic and contemporary poems from the likes of Langston Hughes and Lucille Clifton to the contemporary works of Billy Collins and Molly Peacock.  Each poem will reach out to young adolescents in new and exciting ways, having them nod their heads in agreement as emotions, situations, and dilemmas are unleashed in verse.  Moreover, the poems selected in this volume will not have readers scratching their heads, wondering what it all means.  These poems are straight forward and get to the heart of the adolescent matter.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to Sourcebooks for sending me a free copy of Poetry Speaks Who I Am for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

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I hope that you will take a trip over to Books and Movies because she is featuring Billy Collins as part of the National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

This is my 24nd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

Despite the mix of contemporary and classic sonnets, I think there is enough in here to count for the contemporary poetry challenge, and this makes book #14.

This is my 2nd book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

Read, Remember, Recommend by Rachelle Rogers Knight

Read, Remember, Recommend by Rachelle Rogers Knight is an excellent organizing journal for passionate readers, but maybe not for book bloggers.  As an avid reader with a to-read list in the hundreds, there are not enough pages in this book to house all of my reading wants and needs.  An online version of this book may have been a better product, allowing readers to continuously add pages to their loaner and recommendation lists. . . but then wouldn’t we call it Good Reads or LibraryThing?

The explanations on how to use the journal at the beginning seemed unnecessary, but could be helpful for a reader who has never kept track of their reading.  

However, what is really useful in this journal are the lists — lists of Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners, and more.  There’s room to add new book award winners, but again there should be more spaces attributed to this.

The loaner pages and recommendation pages are essential to any reader interested in lending their books to friends, family, and neighbors or recommending specific books to the other readers in their lives.  It seems that these sections are thinner than the others, and depending on how many books a reader owns and loans out or recommends, these blank pages should be photocopied before they are filled up.

Finally, the journal includes a list of online resources for book lovers, which seems pretty comprehensive in terms of places to search for book blogs and lit blogs, but I take issue with the term “lighter” to describe some wonderful bloggers who may not have PhD’s in literature, but have valid points about structure, theme, literary devices, etc.  While many are not professional reviewers, their perceptions and analyses of books are no less valid or insightful, which the term “lighter” implies. 

With all of that said, however, Read, Remember, Recommend is an excellent resource for stellar literature, online recommendations and information, and a place to write down reader’s thoughts about their books as they go along — whether or not those thoughts end up on a blog.

I plan on using this book for a completely different purpose.  I’ve attended a number of writing conferences and have often heard the best way to figure out where your writing will be accepted by publishers and literary journals is to check out the acknowledgments of authors and poets who have writing similar to your own.  As a result, I plan to use the journal pages to keep track of those literary magazines, publishers, and other locations where I should be sending my work, and hopefully that will translate into some publications.  I’ve got a ton of books to go through and a good stack of pages in this book to fill up.

I’ve got an extra copy for one of my readers anywhere in the world.  Here are the rules:

1.  Comment on this post about why you want to get your mitts on this reading journal.
2.  Spread the word about the giveaway via Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc. and leave me a link.

Deadline April 12, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

About the Author:

Rachelle Rogers Knight is a passionate reader who has enjoyed books her entire life. Rachelle self-published Read, Remember, Recommend and Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens in 2007, and earned the Bronze Medal for “Independent Publisher of the Year” from Independent Publisher Online Magazine in 2008. Sourcebooks, Inc. is releasing new and improved editions of the self-published hit this April.

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Also Don’t forget to check out the next stops on the 2010 National Poetry Month Blog Tour, Jenn’s Bookshelves and West of Mars.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to Sourcebooks for sending me a free copy of Read, Remember, Recommend for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith

Steve Hockensmith’s Dawn of the Dreadfuls is a whimsical prequel to the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mash-up.  But even though it is a prequel, the struggles with the zombies occurred long before this story begins and this is just a rebirth of the plague.

“Capturing a dreadful, it turned out, was the easy part.  Getting it to go where one wanted — that was nearly impossible.

Dr. Keckilpenny’s custom-built zombie net fit over the unmentionable’s head and upper torso snugly enough, pinning its arms to its sides.  But the only way to get the creature to do anything other than hurl itself, snarling, at the nearest sign of life was to push or pull it by the attached rod.”  (Page 192)

In this story, the Bennet girls are being trained in the dark arts following the rise of the undead in the English countryside.  Unlike previous mash-ups, Hockensmith stays true to Austen’s language and characterizations, as much as he can with the introduction of zombies and ninjas.  Mr. Bennet seeks to take on the tutelage of his daughters on his own, but the Order soon sends him Master Hawksworth, a young man of 26, who takes a keen interest in his daughter Elizabeth.

Along the way the Bennet sisters work hard to polish their skills, vanquish unmentionables, and reclaim their dignity in a society that finds their modern ways unappealing until it is convenient for them.  From the strong and reserved master to the single-minded Dr. Keckilpenny, the Bennets meet obstacles head on and overcome them.  Some of the same societal prejudices exist in this mash-up, but it’s also full of fun dialogue, swift action, and bungling antics.  And readers will see a different side of Mr. Bennet and learn some of Mrs. Bennet’s past in Dawn of the Dreadfuls.

And for fun, check out this cool book trailer.

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Don’t forget to stop over at 32 Poems Blog and Diary of an Eccentric today as part of the National Poetry Month Blog Tour today!

This is my 22nd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 4th book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to FSB Associates and Quirk Classics for sending me a free copy of Dawn of the Dreadfuls for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Jeffrey Stepakoff’s Fireworks Over Toccoa is a romance set around World War II — a time when decisions between young couples were made in haste and passionately.  Lily Davis runs against the grain of her family and society’s expectations, but she’s trying to curb her wayward inclinations and carve out her own life.

“It was a gorgeously plated meal that was ordered for her, one she was reluctant to disturb with immutable matters rendered by the fork, but even more loath to send back untouched.”  (Page 10 of ARC)

Lily meets Paul Woodward, and they fall in love just before he is shipped off to the war overseas.  She spends three years alone, living at home with her parents as their marital home stands empty.  In many ways, her life was put on hold, but just as her “life” was coming back to her it is turned upside down.  She meets a fireworks technician and her soul mate, Jake Russo.

“The smell from the furnaces lingered.  It ruminated through the woods well beyond the razor-wire-topped fences that surrounded the muddy camp like a nightmare that remains upon waking.  Indeed, it was a smell that would haunt him for the rest of his life.  Sulfurous and singed, coppery sweet, the remains of deer after a wildfire.  It was nauseating, the stench of madness.”  (Page 222 of ARC)

Readers will be immediately drawn into Lily’s story and the effects of war on Jake, Lily, America, and the entire world.  There was much more WWII in this novel than readers may expect, but it is integrated well from how it impacts the characters and their decisions to their environments.  However, one element that may bother readers is that Lily’s granddaughter Colleen is introduced early on in the story and by the end seems little more than a plot device to get Lily to revisit her past.  Readers may feel cheated in that the lesson they expect Lily’s story to illustrate for Colleen is not as clearly defined and interaction between the two characters is very flat — especially given parallels drawn between their lives.  Overall, Fireworks Over Toccoa is a well-written romance that offers a look at a tough time in America’s history, the passions of young love, and the duty-bound decisions many of us have made.

For more information about the author or the novel and to enter the sweepstakes (through 3/30/10), visit the Web site.

As an aside, I’m trying to keep track of where I first see reviews of books, and in this case, I saw Fireworks on The Printed Page and BookNAround.

This is my 21st book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

FTC Disclosure: I’d like to thank St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Bo Obama: The White House Tails by Paul Salamof and Keith Tucker

Bo Obama:  The White House Tails is written by Paul J. Salamoff and drawn by Emmy Award-winning Disney and Warner Brothers artist Keith Tucker for Bluewater Productions‘ line of graphic novels for young readers.  The 40-page graphic novel reads more like a comic book, with Bo Obama taking kids back in time to visit previous White House pets and to witness some of the history of the presidential residence.

Bo is a Portuguese Water Dog, who is the perfect dog for those with allergies.  Not only does Bo know a lot about himself and his breed, but he also knows a great deal about the White House’s former residents.  The illustrations of Bo are clear and vivid, making the Obama’s dog leap to life in this graphic novel.

“People in Portugal speak Portuguese, but I can only bark in English.” (Page 10)
From elephants in the White House to the origin of the presidential residence’s name, Bo takes readers on a journey through the present and the past.  Kids, probably between ages 8 and 12, will enjoy this book the most because the words will be easier for them to grasp with little help from parents.  In some instances, readers may want to learn more about the animals or historical figures they meet.  Learning history through the eyes of a dog has never been more entertaining. Bo Obama:  The White House Tails is moderately priced at $6.99.

This book is my 16th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to Bluewater Productions for sending me a free copy for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

Johanna Moran’s The Wives of Henry Oades begins with the journey of a young family to New Zealand from England, but once on foreign soil, the family is met with tragedy.  Henry Oades leaves New Zealand for a new life in America where he becomes a farmer and rebuilds his life.  The story is based upon a 19th century court case involving a man with two wives, according to Moran’s Website.

“Henry introduced the children, clapping a proud hand to John’s shoulder, prying six-year-old Josephine from Margaret’s leg.  Margaret turned back to the watery haze that was her parents, spreading her feet for balance, her pretty going-away shoes pinching.  She’d been told the river was calm.”  (Page 5)

Moran’s story is unique and even more intriguing because it has a basis in fact, but in many ways the writing is stilted and it is difficult for readers to picture the settings in detail.  Additionally, there are some details that could be excluded in favor of speeding up the plot, which drags for the first 75 pages.

Margaret is a prim woman from a proper English family, who is thrown into a colony where not everyone is as well-bred as she is.  There’s a period of adjustment for the Oades family, but even that adjustment is just the beginning.  With much of the point of view focused on Margaret, the sudden shift to Henry’s viewpoint once Margaret and the kids disappear from his life is a bit jarring.  Readers could find that they are not as well connected with Henry and that he is not as developed as Margaret’s character.  This stumbling block can take a while to overcome, but then readers are thrust into another story, that of Nancy Foreland, a recently windowed, pregnant woman.

Despite these drawbacks, the struggle of Margaret and Nancy to adapt to a new situation in which they both find themselves as the wives of Henry Oades will keep readers turning the pages.  Overall, The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran is a detailed account of one family’s immigration journey and an exploration of what it truly means to be a family.


To win a copy of The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran (US/Canada):

1.  Leave a comment on this post about what court case you’ve found fascinating.
2.  Blog, tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link in the comments.

Deadline March 18, 2010, at 11:59PM EST

About the Author:

Johanna Moran comes from a long line of writers and lawyers. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her husband, John. The Wives of Henry Oades is her first novel.

Check out her Website.

This book is my 15th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge, and thus signifies my completion of the challenge, though I could be reading more new-to-me authors throughout the year.

If you are interested in the rest of the TLC Book Tour for The Wives of Henry Oades, check them out.

The Writing on my Forehead by Nafisa Haji

Nafisa Haji‘s The Writing on my Forehead transports readers into another culture and the struggles that members find themselves in as the world around them evolves, causing clashes between modernity and the past.  Told from the point of view of Saira, readers are taken on a very personal journey into the past, uncovering the deep secrets of Saira’s grandmother and grandfather as well as her own parents.  The dynamic between Saira and her sister is only partially shown, with the point of view of Ameena silent.  From fate to choices, each character must follow their path to the end — no matter what it holds for them.

“I close my eyes and imagine the touch of my mother’s hand on my forehead, smoothing away the residue of childhood nightmares.  Her finger moves across my forehead, tracing letters and words of prayer that I never understood, never wanted to understand, her mouth whispering in nearly silent accompaniment.  Now, waking from the nightmare that has become routine — bathed in sweat, breathing hard, resigned to the sleeplessness that will follow — I remember her soothing touch and appreciate it with an intensity that I never felt when she was alive.”  (Page 1)

Saira grows into an independent woman who is running from her culture and tradition to find herself grasping for it in the darkest moments of her life.  As an American with a strong Pakistani-Indian heritage and a mother reminiscent of Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, it is no wonder that she rebels against tradition and culture to become a traveling journalist.

“I shudder, now, to think of how my mother, trying hard and failing to be subtle, got the word of my availability — accompanied, I learned later, by a full-size, glossy headshot — out on the proverbial ‘street’ where desi families gathered and speculated, assessed and collated young people into the ‘happily ever after’ that getting married was supposed to promise.”  (Page 191)

Haji’s prose is eloquent and engages not only the readers’ sensibilities and emotions, but their inquisitive nature as family secrets are unraveled.  Saira is a complex character who searches for a center, an axis on which she can revolve and become grounded.  While she is connected to family, like Mohsin and Big Nanima, throughout her life because they are in effect the outsiders of a culture she rejects, she continues to struggle with her other relations — her sister, Ameena, her mother and her father — because they represent to her a culture she finds limiting.  The Writing on my Forehead provides a variety of topics for discussion from political imperialism and its consequences to the tension between the modern world and tradition and the modern dilemmas facing adolescents striking out on their own to the loss of family — making this an excellent book club selection that will inspire debate and introspection.

About the Author: (From her Website; Photo Credit: Robert Stewart)

Nafisa Haji was born and mostly raised in Los Angeles—mostly, because there were years also spent in Chicago, Karachi, Manila, and London. Her family migrated from Bombay to Karachi in 1947 during Partition, when the Indian Subcontinent was divided into two states.  Nafisa studied American history at the University of California at Berkeley, taught elementary school in downtown Los Angeles for seven years in a bilingual Spanish program (she speaks Spanish fluently), and earned a doctorate in education from the University of California at Los Angeles.   She started writing short stories at first, which then developed into an idea for a novel. She now lives in northern California with her husband and son and is currently working on her second novel. Nafisa maintains close ties in Pakistan, traveling there regularly to visit family.

This is my 2nd book for the 2010 South Asian Author Challenge.

This is my 14th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

If you are interested in the rest of The Writing on my Forehead blog tour, please check out TLC Book Tours.

Almost Home by Pam Jenoff

Almost Home by Pam Jenoff is a novel of international intrigue, significant struggle, and humiliating heartbreak.  Jordan Weiss is a Foreign Service Officer working in Washington, D.C., who receives a letter from her college friend Sarah asking her to return to London as Sarah struggles with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).  Once in London, a place Jordan never expected to see again after her tragic last semester, she takes a job as a investigative diplomat working to uncover financial connections between companies and the Albanian mob.

“Chris pulls out my chair and I sit down awkwardly, conscious of his presence, the way he hovers a second too long behind me as though afraid I will flee.”  (Page 64)

Jenoff really knows how to set the mood.  Almost Home is full of dark imagery, fast-paced chases, and tension as thick as butter.  Readers will be kept guessing as to who is on the wrong side of the equation.  Jordan is likable and draws readers into the story, sweeping readers into her grief over the decades ago loss of her college sweetheart, Jared, and the mystery surrounding his death.  There is tension between Jared and Jordan when they first meet as part of a rowing team, but eventually their mutual love of the river and the team gives way to their own passions.

“Trafalgar Square on a Monday morning is a swarming mass of activity.  Cars and buses move along the roadway in fits and starts, jamming up at the traffic lights, filling the air with thick exhaust.  Swarms of commuters, invisible beneath a sea of black umbrellas, jostle as they make their way from the buses to the city, from Charing Cross Tube station to Whitehall.”  (Page 131)

Tension and suspense are dominant atmospheres in Almost Home, but the novel is more than just a political thriller, it deals with deep grief and healing.  There also are lighter moments between Jordan and Sarah that illustrate a part of Jordan that has been dormant since the tragic loss of Jared.  The dynamic between the two is strong and full of sisterly love, which can transcend any situation.

Jenoff’s experience as a diplomat is clearly present in the novel as Jordan deals with bureaucracy and cloak-and-dagger tactics.  There are some points in the novel where Jordan appears to be out of her element and a novice diplomat, but given the recent debacle in Liberia and the death of a colleague; her flight to London to be with her sick friend; and all that is uncovered about the death of Jared, her mistakes and bad judgment should be expected.  The pressures she feels and the memories that haunt her are too much for any one person to deal with a high-stress position with government.  Jordan is a complex character dealing with new grief, renewed old grief, and a demanding job in a city she once abandoned.  Overall, Almost Home is a fast-paced, highly emotional, well-written novel.

This is my 13th new-to-me author for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

I’m considering this for my 3rd book, a mix of the political and mob thriller , for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Almost Home by Pam Jenoff from the author.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Sonnets for Sinners by John Wareham

John Wareham‘s Sonnets for Sinners is a book of poems I would recommend to those who enjoy reading sonnets, who love poetry, and those who are just starting to read poetry.  Wareham includes the classic sonnets of William Shakespeare and William Yeats, but he also crafts new sonnets from the words (available in the public domain) of famous figures, like Tiger Woods (click to read the poem Wareham created from Woods’ words), Elizabeth and John Edwards, and Princess Diana.

What’s most unique about this volume is the insight provided by Wareham.  He analyzes each poem, offers up lines that illustrate his examinations, and even poses questions that illicit laughter.

Discussing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129:  “To begin with, says the poet, sinners bypass rationality — past reason hunted — then, the moment the lusty act is completed they unreasonably despise themselves — past reason hated — for succumbing to a swallowed bait on purpose laid to make the taker mad.  The devil made me do it!”  (Page 11)

Sonnets for Sinners is broken down, categorizing sonnets into attractions, fevers, lamentations, farewells, endings, and epiphanies.  For anyone interested in reading more poetry, particularly classic sonnets and classic poets, readers would enjoy the commentary from Wareham.  It is not only informative, but witty.

Kind Cuts by Chandler Haste (page 66)

“I don’t want to hurt or abandon you
— so what to do?” you ask.  Well maybe first
drop me into a pot of boiling glue
then have a witch doctor apply a curse.
Or when that fails and I rise in pursuit
of you, have a firebug set me aflame.
Or cut out my tongue and render me mute
then poke out my eyes and publish my shame.
Or, here’s aptly felicitious fate
for this hopelessly addicted lover:
Bobbitting! — that could be the kindest bite
to slice me out from under your thumb of.
Off the top of my head that’s my advice,
Bow to it gently, and in love, rejoice.

Despite the mix of contemporary and classic sonnets, I think there is enough in here to count for the contemporary poetry challenge, and this makes book #13.
This is my 1st book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.
This is my 12th new-to-me author for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Sonnets for Sinners by John Wareham from publicist Sara Hausman at Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.