Daniel X: Watch the Skies by James Patterson & Ned Rust

I’ve been a bit busy reading, but I have some reviews from my mom, Pat, to share.  Today, my mom is going to share her thoughts on the latest young adult book from James Patterson.  Please give her a warm welcome.

James Patterson and Ned Rust’s Daniel X:  Watch the Skies is the next book in Patterson’s young adult series.  In this book, the aliens are taking over the town of Holliswood.  With the prevalence of televisions, computers, and portable devices, its easy to be in the face of every resident and document their downfall.

Daniel X, his sister Emma, and two brothers are still searching for who killed their parents.  This family must face the good and bad in this action-packed book.  Readers will speed through the drama to reach its conclusion.  It’s a page-turner and a five-star, must read.

Please check out the book podcast.

My mom would like to thank Hachette Book Group for sending her a free review copy.  Clicking on title links and coverage images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchase required.

We’ve since passed along this book to Anna at Diary of an Eccentric‘s girl and maybe she’ll come back and give us her perspective.

Green Books Campaign: Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah

Welcome to the Green Books Review Campaign, sponsored by Eco-Libris — logo was created by the talented Susan Newman.  100 bloggers, 100 books, 100 reviews — today at 1 PM EST.

We’re here to shed light on the publishers and books available on the market using recycled products and “green” practices.  If you missed my initial post about the campaign, check it out now.  For updates on the campaign, visit Eco-Libris’ blog.

Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah is printed on 30 percent post-consumer waste and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified book paper.  It is also one of the best books I’ve read in 2009.  Stay tuned for giveaway information.

“Summer in Houston tastes like dirt, thick bellowing mounds of dust piling on and on until you can’t breathe anymore.  Sometimes a squalling wind arrives, pressing its puckered lips to the window panes.  Whooooo, it shrieks, whooooosh, and then it cavorts over the pile of dust, depositing it evenly in our miracle-less world.  The rain that follows washes it all away, leaving behind an acerbic mustiness that lingers until September brings in the moldiness that I associate with loss, the dull snicker of an autumn past.”  (Page 178)

A somber tone permeates Saffron Dreams from Arissa Illahi’s childhood to her present in 2006-2007, weaving in and out through her past and present.  Abdullah’s narrative technique will hook readers and carry them alongside Arissa on her journey from Pakistan to America as she matures, marries, gives birth, and reconciles her culture and her religion with her new homeland — a homeland that has grown wary of Muslims following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“With every horn or commotion guilt-ridden with sins they did not commit.  They walked faster when alone.  Some women took down their hijabs, afraid of being targeted, and adopted a conservative but Western style of dressing.  Men cut their beards.  Many postponed plans to visit the country of their origin any time soon.  Those who did travel preferred to remain quiet during their journey and chose not to converse in their native language even among family members.”  (Page 60)

Saffron’s bitter taste is present throughout the novel as Arissa is steeped in grief and guilt, but the fragrance of hay often associated with saffron lulls her character with memories.  Ami, Arissa’s mother, was absent for much of her upbringing and her father allowed her to find love on her own terms.  It is this family life that shapes her ideas about love, marriage, and family.  Once married to Faizan Illahi, she finds happiness and revels in it, until her life is obliterated in 2001.

Abdullah delves deep into a wife’s guilt, particularly a wife who has adopted a nation as her home that would rather root her out and label her as the enemy.  The dichotomy between religion and culture, mother and daughter, grief and survival are tangible and heart-wrenching.  Some of the best elements in the story include parallels between art and writing and those two talents suffuse the narrative with a dreamlike quality.

Readers will get lost in Arissa’s grief and her confusion about starting anew.  They will cheer her on as her determination takes over.  Each chapter provides a date stamp to orient readers, but Arissa’s narrative shifts easily from past to present on more than one occasion as memories take over.  Saffron Dreams is more than just an emotional journey of perseverance amid the most trying circumstances and tragic events, it is an evolution of one Muslim woman into a whole self, strong enough to stand alone and blossom.

Please check out the rest of the stops in the Green Books Campaign blog tour; there are a wide range of books from fiction to nonfiction and poetry to sustainable living guides. 

I want to thank Shaila Abdullah and her publisher Modern History Press for sending along a free copy for me to review.  Clicking on book titles and covers will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchases are necessary.

Photo by Galina Stepanova   

About the Author:

Shaila Abdullah was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1971. She has a bachelors degree in English literature and a diploma in graphic design. She also has a diploma in freelance writing. She has written several short stories, articles, and personal essays for various publications, such as Maybe Quarterly, Damazine, Women’s Own, She, Fashion Collection, Dallas Child, Web Guru, About Families, Sulekha, Pakistaniaat, and a magazine of the Daily Dawn newspaper called Tuesday Review, etc. She is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas.

Also, please view her literature blog, her art blog, and her design blog.

Giveaway information:  1 copy, autographed for U.S. residents only

1.  Leave a comment about what books you’ve found during the Green Books Campaign that you would buy.

2.  Spread the word about the campaign and the giveaway via Twitter, Facebook, Blog, etc., and leave a comment with a link.

3.  Followers receive five additional entries and new followers receive three extra entries.

Deadline is Nov. 17, 2009, at 11:59 PM EST

More of Me Disappears by John Amen

John Amen’s More of Me Disappears is broken down into three separate sections and each poem in each section is accessible, vivid, and explosive.  In a number of poems, Amen’s musical and song writing talents permeate the lines.  However, these are more than rhythmic dances, his work gradually moves toward a vanishing point. 

From Verboten (Page 17)

“They are drinking wine and speaking
of French-U.S. relations when the long
sleeve on her arm falls down.  Before
she can clutch it, I see the faded blue
tattoo on her flesh.  “What are those
numbers?” I ask.  A silence explodes
through the room like spores.”

Each poem in this collection tells a story, reflects on a bright memory, and picks these events apart to reveal the truth beneath.  There are times in this volume when the narrator is sure of his path and at other times ideas run contrary to one another.  Some of my favorite lines will leave readers squirming or gritting their teeth.

From Walking Unsure of Myself (Page 65)

“The fortune teller is battling a migraine.
Wind has swallowed my itinerary.

A man in blue goggles is on his knees outside the bank.
The rape victim is scrubbing herself with a steel brush.”

Readers will enjoy the music of these poems and how these poems pop off the pages, with an in your face quality.  Subtlety is not a prevalent style in Amen’s work, but readers will appreciate his frankness.  From poems where the narrator takes an active role to poems to observances from a distance, Amen draws the reader in with immediate and concrete details.  One of the best collections I’ve read in 2009.

New York Memory #3 (Page 36)

“When I get to my dead father’s apartment,
Liz emerges from ruptured planks and exploded plaster.
She is covered with soot, like some pagan baptized
in refuse.  The wrecking crew has come before
we had a chance to vacate the place, stripped the loft
to its skeleton.  My father’s furniture has been destroyed,
a lifetime buried beneath an avalanche of wood and iron.
Beds have been gutted, paintings raped by protruding nails.
A fast-food cup rises from the ruin like a conqueror’s flag.
The apartment is quickly remodeled, rent raised;
the revolving door of humanity spins.  Over the years,
I make a point of knowing who is living there.  I see tenants
come and go.  I accept that we’re not so unlike animals.
I mean, I have this friend who tells me all about bees,
how the queen is revered and protected, ultimately
replaced in a savage deposition, how the mad
hive continues, greater than any one member.
And everything he says sounds familiar, and stings.”

I want to thank John Amen for sending me a free copy of his book More of Me Disappears for review.   For additional examples from this book, visit John Amen’s Web site.

Also, clicking on images and text links to books will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page.  No purchases are required.

This is my 6th book for the poetry review challenge.

Carta Marina by Ann Fisher-Wirth

Carta Marina was the first largely accurate map of the Northern Countries, completed by the Swedish historian Olaus Magnus in 1539.  Ann Fisher-Wirth has taken her inspiration from this map–complete with its lions, sea monsters, and warriors–for her poem in three parts–Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina, The Coming of Winter, and Les Tres Riches Neures.

“When I was young, Yeats said, I wanted to take off my clothes,/
now I want to take off my body.” (From April 3. In the Restaurant, Page 61)

Each poem within the overarching three parts of the larger poem, Carta Marina, chart the story of the narrator as she travels through Sweden and the inner heart and soul.  The poems are dated so readers can follow the poet narrator’s progress as they deal with old age, finding a lost love, and incredible loss.

In section one of the poem, readers follow Olaus Magnus on his journey into the north interspersed with email from Paris between lovers.  Fisher-Wirth uses a combination of images and stylistic devices to create her own unique account of a cartographer’s journey, but in some cases, the use of the alphabet was a bit difficult to follow and at times distracting.  Readers may need to sit with these poems, allowing their meaning to simmer to the surface.

“But in the booth facing me the twenty-first child/
chews stolidly, gazing . . ./
lost in whatever dream, as her duckling-colored//

braids bob and her jaws revolve./
Above her pale blue jacket her eyes meet mine;/
I look away, look back, she is watching me./
In this season of coming winter she is my daughter.//”  ( From November 14, Page 33)

The second section of the poem, the narrator is reflecting on her existence and how she relates to those in in her life and life-changing events.  But there is also a reflective self-examination of who she once was and how to reconcile that person who is no longer present with the woman she has become.  From beautiful and mysterious phrases like “icy mercury blackness” to jarring images such as “Three skulls form the base of the table,” readers will transition from thoughtful to alert awe.

In the final third of the book, Fisher-Wirth incorporates some musical rhythm through repetition.  Carta Marina may resemble a cartography of life and aging, but the poem in three parts is a journey, like a journey through the northern lands of Sweden, wrought with harsh weather and rough terrain.  The background story behind the map inspiring these poems is intriguing, but readers could find that they will have to take their time with some of these poems, churning over their images like the Baltic Sea.

December 17, 4 a.m.

I know how to find you.
I go where your sleeping
is filled with the shadows
of leaves, where the leaves have
bled their green,
and all that remain are
their skeletons, nearly
transparent, translucent,
and tissue gone blurred as
the moon among clouds, as
the fur on a moth’s wing,
and tips as if trailing
through water . . .

Such leaves are not common.
In this snowy country
they cherish them, save them,
the white skelettbladen–
like us, they have died, to
become more enduring.

(From Page 47)

I’d like to thank Ann Fisher-Wirth (click her name for my interview) for sending me a free copy of her book, Carta Marina, for review.   Also, clicking on images and text links to books will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page.  No purchases are required.

This is my 5th book for the poetry review challenge.

Night of Flames by Douglas Jacobson

Douglas Jacobson’s Night of Flames is a gritty “spy” novel set during World War II beginning in 1939 during the invasion of Poland by the Nazis.  The main protagonists Anna and Jan Kopernik are separated by war and face near misses with the wrath of the Germans.  Anna joins the resistance in Belgium reluctantly, while Jan jumps at the opportunity to help MI6 on a secret mission in Poland with the hope that he can find his wife.

“Anna’s eyes snapped open and she sat bolt upright.  The shrill sound blasted into her brain, penetrating through the fog of sleep like an icy wind.  She blinked and looked around the dark room, trying to focus on shadowy images as the sound wailed on and on.”  (Page 11)

Anna is in Poland with her friend, Irene, and her son when the bombings start in earnest, leaving them and their driver very few options on the way back to Krakow and her father, a professor at the local university.  Anna is hit by significant loss and constant worry about her husband, who’s career is with the Polish military.  Night of Flames is a fast-paced novel that pushed through the front lines and skulks in the shadows of the resistance.

“‘The best thing any of us can do is try and keep out of their way, and if you get stopped or challenged, be as cooperative as you can.’

‘So you’re telling us to act like house pets in our own city.'” (Page 65)

Jacobson’s no-nonsense writing style will place readers in the heart of the resistance, though some readers could get bogged down by the military strategy and direction, such as how the resistance used holes dug in the earth to hold lanterns that were lit to signal the Allies as to where to drop supplies.  Readers will either enjoy the detailed strategy or wish for a greater focus on the characters.  Anna is the most developed of the two protagonists, though Jacobson does give each nearly equal time through alternating chapters.  These chapters help build tension, leaving the reader in suspense as to whether they will ever be reunited.

Readers who enjoy learning about World War II and who enjoy spy novels will like this novel.  But Night of Flames is more than just a war novel; it is about how ordinary citizens can rise up to reclaim their homeland and their dignity in the face of adversity signifying an indelible human spirit.

Check out this video for Night of Flames:

I want to thank Douglas Jacobson, McBooks Press, and Pump Up Your Book Promotion for sending me a free copy of Night of Flames to review.  If you click on the title links, you’ll be taken to my Amazon Affiliate page, but there is no obligation to buy.

They’ve also kindly provided an additional copy for one reader of my blog from anywhere in the world.  To Enter:

1.  Leave a comment on this post.
2.  Check out the War Through the Generations blog and leave me a relevant comment here about something you read or learned.

3.  Blog, Tweet, and spread the word about the giveaway and leave a comment here.

Deadline is Nov. 4, 2009, at 11:59 PM EST

This marks the 7th book I’ve read for the WWII Reading Challenge.  Though I officially met my goal of reading 5 WWII-related books some time ago, I’ve continued to find them on my shelves and review them here.  I’m sure there will be more, stay tuned.

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl

Matthew Pearl‘s The Last Dickens is one of a number of books about Charles Dickens‘ last, albeit unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  But what sets this novel apart from its compatriots is Pearl’s ability to build suspense and extrapolate from historical events to create a palpable underbelly of the publishing world.  

“A man stretched out on a crusty, ragged couch granted them admission into a corridor, after which they ascended a narrow stairs where every board groaned at their steps; perhaps out of despair, perhaps to warn the inhabitants.”  (Page 199 of hardcover)

Charles Dickens’ final, incomplete novel–he only completed six installments–caused a great deal of controversy as to whether the author indeed had not finished the manuscript, which in those days were released in installments.  Pearl mimics this method by breaking up the narration in separate installments from the Boston publishing house, Dickens’ American tour, Dickens’ son Frank in India at the height of the opium trade, and in England as Dickens’ American publisher Mr. Osgood with his bookkeeper Rebecca Sand search for the lost installments and the true end of Dickens’ final novel.

“At the top of the stick was an exotic and ugly golden idol, the head of a beast, a horn rising from the top, terrible mouth agape, sparks of fire shooting from its outstretched tongue.  It was mesmerizing to behold.  Not just because of its shining ugliness, but also because it was such a contrast to the stranger’s own mouth, mostly hidden under an ear-to-ear mustache.  The man’s lips barely managed to pry open his mouth when he spoke.”  (Page 8 of hardcover)

Pearl includes an examination of the historical accuracies in the novel and which characters were pure fiction or modified historical figures.  One part mystery, one part historical fiction, and one part crime novel, The Last Dickens weaves a complex and detailed story that holds readers rapt attention from beginning to end.

While the chapters involving Frank Dickens’ time in India uncovering an opium trade are not as prominent as some of the other narratives, it is intricately connected to the main story.  However, some readers could find these chapters frustrating because of the gap between those chapters, which could either leave readers frustrated that the tale of Frank Dickens is dropped or anxious for its conclusion.  Most readers are likely to err on the side of anxiety, wanting to know more.

“There are many reasons murder is not always found out, and they are not always for cunning.  The reason might be the fatigue among those who have been deadened on the inside.”  (Page 264 of hardcover)

Osgood is not easily swayed when he is hot on the trail of the missing installments and the end of Dickens’ novel, and as each layer of the mystery is peeled back for the reader, the dark, cutthroat publishing industry is revealed.  Bookaneers are the bottom feeders of the publishing industry, waiting on the docks for the latest installments from the Old World, while publishing giants from New York, like Harper, are eager to acquire these installments by any means necessary and at the expense of their competitors.

The Last Dickens is not just about an unfinished novel or the dark side of publishing.  It also takes a look at human conviction in the face of adversity and how perseverance and a moral compass can yield surprising results.  Pearl is a mystery master, and The Last Dickens will not disappoint its readers.

If you missed Matthew Pearl’s guest post, check it out.  I want to thank Matthew Pearl, Random House and TLC Book Tours for providing me a free copy of The Last Dickens for review.

Click on the title links for my Amazon Affiliate purchasing pages.  

For an additional treat, check out this YouTube video:

For the giveaway for U.S. and Canada residents:  ***Just got word I have 2 copies available***

1.  Leave a comment on this post.
2.  Blog, Tweet, or Spread the Word for an additional entry.
3.  If you follow, get a third entry.

Deadline is Oct. 29, 2009 at 11:59 PM EST

The Widow’s Season by Laura Brodie

Laura Brodie’s debut novel, The Widow’s Season, is a dirge of grief, wraiths, and resurrection of a professional woman whose been lost in of the song’s cadence for far too long.  Set in Jackson, Va., in a small college town, the season’s change and sweep the protagonist, Sarah McConnell along.

“Sarah McConnell’s husband had been dead three months when she saw him in the grocery store.  He was standing at the end of the seasonal aisle, contemplating a display of plastic pumpkins, when, for one brief moment, he lifted his head and looked into her eyes.”  (First line, Page 3)

Not only does Sarah mourn her husband and the life they had, but she also mourns the life they dreamt about, the life that was snatched from them time and again, and the illusion of their future happiness.  The Widow’s Season is a character driven novel that teeters on the brink of despair as Sarah attempts to navigate her after-life alone.  Nate, her brother-in-law, has lost his mother and his brother in such a short time, and he, like Sarah, does not grieve in an outward display of sobs and outbursts, but turns inward.  Sarah’s friend Margaret anchors her to reality and persuades her to meet for tea every Friday and join her widow’s group once a month.  Unlike, Sarah, Nate’s support system is gone, but he has his investment work to bury himself in.

“An hour later, when she pulled up at the cabin, she had the old sensation of arriving at an empty house.  No lights shone in the windows; the grass was still unmowed.  When she unlocked the door, an immense stillness confronted her.”  (Page 151)

Told in third person, Brodie’s language has a eerie, otherworldly quality that will suck readers easily into an alternate reality.  Grief drips from the pages of Sarah’s life and will consume readers in its wake as she lifts the fog that has surrounded her existence and uncovers her strength, poise, and determination.  Fresh and frank is Brodie’s writing as if she has first hand knowledge of deep desolation and how it can twist reality into alternative that is more palatable.

A great selection for the Fall and Halloween holiday, though it is not a ghost story in a traditional sense, The Widow’s Season is about transformation and living with ones ghosts.

Thanks to Laura Brodie for sending me a free copy of her novel for review.

If you missed my interview with Laura Brodie on D.C. Literature Examiner, you should check it out and find out what she recommends for Halloween reading.  Stay tuned for Laura Brodie’s guest post later today.

Also Reviewed By:

As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves
Missy’s Book Nook

When You Went Away by Michael Baron

Michael Baron‘s When You Went Away is more than a novel about grief and fatherhood; it’s a novel about being lost and the journey to find the right path.

Gerry Rubato has lost his whole world–first his daughter Tanya runs away with an older man at age 17 and then he loses his wife tragically.  All he has left to center him is his infant son, Reese.  The story is told from Gerry’s point of view, and much of the beginning pages focuses on his grief and confusion about how to move on.  Readers will be swept up in his grief, his struggle to find his way, and the dilemmas that face him when he begins to fall in love again.  However, despite the focus on Gerry’s grief, readers may not find When You Went Away to be a tearjerker. 

“And just for a second — that instant between dreaming and being awake when almost anything still seems possible — I believed that everything else about my dream was true as well.  My wife was next to me.  My daughter, five or nine or seventeen, was two doors down the hall, about to protest that it was too early to go to school.”  (Page 3 of ARC)

Reese becomes Gerry’s world for a long two months of seclusion before he heads back to work at a catalog firm.  Codie, his wife’s sister, becomes a sounding board for Gerry and he for her, allowing their relationship to go beyond sister-in-law and brother-in-law to confidants.  The first few weeks back to work for Gerry are rough with sympathetic looks and a number of “How are you feeling?” questions from coworkers.  Eventually, he finds a friend in Ally Rittan, a fellow creative mind.

“Ally slipped into the side door of my life and made herself at home without moving any of the furniture.” (Page 213 of ARC)

Readers will embark upon a meditative journey with Gerry and Reese as Gerry works through the loss of his wife, the realization that love can find you at the most inopportune moments, and the harsh realities of repairing a relationship with his lost daughter.  Some of the most insightful sections of the novel involve Gerry’s journal conversations with his daughter Tanya; they are frank and raw.

When You Went Away is an apt title given that the narration focuses on what Gerry feels, does, and how he reacts to the absence of his daughter and his wife, but readers may also find that this novel examines what can happen to the self when tragedy strikes and the journey it takes to locate or transform that lost self. 

Also Reviewed By:
Cheryl’s Book Nook

Thanks to Michael Baron, The Story Plant, and Joy Strazza at Joan Schulhafer Publishing and Media Consulting for sending me a free copy of this book for review.  

Michael Baron agreed to share with my readers his writing space in a guest post.  Check back tomorrow.

Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

Shilpa Agarwal‘s Haunting Bombay immerses readers in a deeply saturated drama and literary ghost story reminiscent of the Bollywood films the Mittal family’s driver Gulu adapts into his own adventures.  Set in Bombay, India, the story spans two decades from the end of World War II into the 1960s.

Each member of the Mittal family is vivid from the main protagonist Pinky, a thirteen-year-old girl uncomfortable with her place in the family and grandmother Maji, who keeps the family unit running smoothly and keeps all of its secrets secure to self-centered Savita, Maji’s daughter-in-law bent on driving Pinky out and her seventeen-year-old son Nimish, who always has his head in a book and is too timid to talk to the girl he has a crush on.

“Pinky dreamt she was drowning.  She felt herself being pushed down into water, down, down, down until her lungs began to burst.  The only way out was to push her head farther in, to stop thrashing, to trust that she would not die.  But each time she grew afraid, each time she thrashed.  Each time she startled awake just as she was about to pass out.”  (Page 111)

Pinky’s mother dies during the partition of India, forcing her to become a refugee, but Maji takes her granddaughter into her bungalow, along with her son, his wife, and their three boys.  The mystery of the bolted bathroom door at night is resolved when Pinky in a fit of frustration unbolts the door.  Haunting Bombay is about the secrets buried within a family and the ghosts tied to those secrets until they burst through the bathroom door.

“Here it was, proof that she had once inhabited this place at the world’s rim, before she had begun to bleed, before the women had gathered, their salty voices crooning the ancient tale of the menstruating girl who caused the waves to turn blood-red and sea snakes to infest the waters.”  (Page 4)

Agarwal’s poetic language is like a siren song, pulling the reader into the Mittal family’s struggles with one another.  With the start of the monsoon season accompanied by the heavy rains, the ghost grows more powerful and the drama more turbulent.  Readers looking for a ghost story will get more than they bargained for with Haunting Bombay.  It’s a ghost story, mystery, and historical novel carefully crafted to hypnotize the reader.

Shilpa Agarwal kindly took the time out of her busy schedule–at the last minute, I might add, because I am incredibly out of sorts with my own schedule–to answer a few questions.  I graciously thank her.

1.  Please describe yourself as a writer and your book in 10 words or less. 

Myself as writer: A researcher, thinker, poet, dreamer.

Haunting Bombay: A literary ghost story set in Bombay, India.

2.  Haunting Bombay features a ghost story; what inspired you to use a haunting to illustrate family secrets and how they are uncovered? 

Haunting Bombay takes place in a wealthy Bombay bungalow and opens the day a newborn granddaughter drowns in a brass bucket while being bathed. The child’s ayah (nanny) is blamed for the death and is immediately banished from the household.  The child and her ayah are silenced in the realm of human language – they have no voice or power in the bungalow – so I had them come back in the supernatural realm in order to speak the truth of what happened that drowning day.  I remember a quote from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron that is something like, “Fear is what happens when you get closer to the truth.”  I wanted my characters’ journey to discovering the truth to be both frightening and enlightening, involving self-reflection, compassion, and sacrifice. 

3.  Do you have any particular writing habits, like listening to music while writing or having a precise page count to reach by the end of each day or week? 

When I was writing Haunting Bombay and my children were very young, I used to get up at 4:30 each morning to write because that was the only time in the day I had to myself.  Now I write while they are at school.  I always light a candle before writing, put my editorial hat away, and allow the story to unfold as it comes to me.  Later I go back and rewrite but I always like the first draft to come from a place of emotion and instinct.  My writing process is very organic.  I never write an outline because, inevitably, the story will take an entirely different direction than the one I’ve plotted out.   So I let the story flow, and however far I get that day is fine with me.

4.  Name some of the best books you’ve read lately and why you enjoyed them.

During my book travels these past months, I’ve met wonderful authors whose books I subsequently read, including Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais (Aimee Leduc Investigation), David Fuller’s Sweetsmoke, and Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander.  This weekend I spoke at an event with Judith Freeman, Ann Packer, and Jacqueline Winspear so Red Water: A Novel, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier: A Novel, and Maisie Dobbs are on my current reading list.  There is something almost magical in reading a book after hearing an author speak about it, and in this process my own interests have expanded into new genres of literature.  I also recently read Kathleen Kent’s The Heretic’s Daughter: A Novel which I thought was an engaging work of historical fiction.

For the rest of my interview with Shilpa Agarwal, check out my D.C. Literature Examiner page.

Thanks again to Shilpa Agarwal, Soho Press, and TLC Book Tours.  I have 1 copy of Haunting Bombayfor my readers anywhere in the worldTo Enter:

1.  Leave a comment about why you like ghost stories or describe a scary story you heard or told.
2.  Leave a comment on my D.C. Literature Examiner interview and get a second entry.
3.  Tweet, Facebook, or blog about this giveaway and leave a comment.

Deadline is Oct. 16, 2009 at 11:59 PM EST.

The Woodstock Story Book by Linanne G. Sackett and Barry Z. Levine

The Woodstock Story Book by Linanne G. Sackett and Barry Z. Levine is much more than photographs of the infamous peace concert called Woodstock.  It’s a chronicle of the festival from its inception to its completion.  Levine’s images are immediate, palpable, and candid, while Sackett’s storytelling is clipped, providing only the essential details readers will need to grasp the photos before them.  The foreward, written by Wavy Gravy, discusses the nostalgia he felt after seeing the book in its completion, and he notes that even though the outdoor festival ended, the principals and dreams of Woodstock live on.

“People, who were called freaks because of their hair and their way of dressing, came to Woodstock and they said, ‘Holy smokes.  We’re all freaks’ and they began to embrace that term.  There were a lot of people who opposed the Viet Nam War that thought they were alone.  They looked around and realized that they weren’t alone–that there were a half a million people who felt the same way,” Wavy Gravy says in the book.  (Page 3)

Through poetic lines, The Woodstock Story Book tells a lyrical account of the days leading up to the festival, the struggles with locating a large enough venue, and the community created in just a few days.  The festival’s stages were not even completed before the crowds started arriving.  Check out this crowd shot from Barry Levine’s Web site.

“They Stood for their truth
and pointed out lies

They were accused of
Communist ties”  (Page 40)

The Woodstock Story Book is an essential photographic history of a tumultuous time in our nation’s history.

From my D.C. Literature Examiner preview of the book (check out the full article):

This 40th anniversary, collector’s edition provides readers with a backstage pass to the best outdoor event in our nation’s history.  Even after 40 years, the Woodstock experience in Bethel, New York, between Aug. 15 and Aug. 18, 1969, continues to capture the imagination.

With never-before-seen photos of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and more, The Woodstock Story Book tells a chronological story of the music festival that became one of Rolling Stone’s 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.  There are over 300 full-color photographs in this book and are accompanied by humorous descriptions of the festival.  Great for those who remember Woodstock, wished they had been there, or are interested in rock and roll history.

For more information, check out The Woodstock Story Book blog.

Thanks to Lisa Roe at Online Publicist for sending me the book to review.

FU, Penguin by Matthew Gasteier

FU, Penguin by Matthew Gasteier is not a book for those without a quirky sense of humor. FU, Penguin is a spinoff of the blog, which has about 900,000 unique visitors per day, and the brainchild of Watertown, Mass., resident Matthew Gasteier who views the attempts of animals to look cute as antithetical to their nature.

Chock full of photos of cute fuzzy animals in adorable poses accompanied by sarcasm, ridicule, and disdain, Gasteier has created what some would call a pop culture phenomenon. Some readers will chuckle at the accompanying essays, while others may shake their heads.

In some cases, readers could find that the photos stand on their own as ridiculous without the essays. Gasteier’s harsh language choices for the captions could put some readers off, but the captions are some of the funniest bits in this book. If calling moose the “biggest dorks ever” or stating “Is it me, or are baby animals really being dicks lately” are your thing, FU Penguin is for you. Gasteier has started the conversation, but the question is how will you finish it?

In honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I’m offering one lucky reader anywhere in the world my gently used copy of this book, which I received from Random House. This giveaway is international.

1. Leave a comment on this post about why you want to read this or tell me if you’ve ever been to Gasteier’s Website prior to this review.
2. If you purchase any of the books, using my Amazon affiliate links this week (Sept. 15-19), that’s 5 extra entries (just send me an order #/invoice).
3. Tweet, blog, Facebook, etc. this post and get an extra entry, just come back and leave a comment.

Deadline for entries is Sept. 19, 2009, at 11:59 PM.

As an aside, all BBAW 2009 posts are easily accessible on my navigation bar. So never fear, all the BBAW 2009 contests will be at your fingertips!

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Day the Falls Stood Still, like the Niagara River and the falls, flows powerfully with majestic danger. Elizabeth “Bess” Heath is a seventeen year-old woman on the brink of the falls contemplating the beauty of the river and feeling its power pushing her forward. Her family is well-positioned, but a turn of the current pushes them down river and leads to tragedy and redemption for Bess.

When she leaves her school life behind at Loretto Academy, she is thrust into adulthood and embarks upon a journey where she comes into her own, earning the pluck Tom Cole, grandson of the famous riverman Fergus Cole, sees in her during their brief encounters at the gates of Glenview.

“As he walks he holds his head in a way that makes it seem he is listening to the river. His intensity is such that to speak would be to interrupt. ‘It’s worked up tonight,’ he says.” (Page 15 of ARC)

Buchanan prose is calm, providing readers with an anchor amidst the rapids and whirlpools that threaten to toss Bess out on the streets and into the ditches emotionally and financially. Tom becomes her rock to which she anchors herself, and he provides her with focus, love, desire, and strength, just as the river does for him. However, with the outbreak of WWI and troops sent abroad to fight from Canada at the behest of Great Britain and the rise of hydroelectric power, Bess must find the strength on her own to survive without Tom’s guidance and to care for their budding family.

“My Dear Bess,

I am sorry I’ve taken so long to write, but I have been putting it off, waiting for my mood to change. I am not sick in any way, but I am feeling beaten down–by the smell, the smashed men twitching like squashed charred insects the upright corpses mistaken for living men, the landscape of barren, earth without so much as a blade of grass. I am feeling alone, lost, and I can’t figure out how to feel like myself again.” (Page 183 of ARC)

As much as The Day the Falls Stood Still is about the impact of industrialization on the Niagara River, the falls, and the community, it also touches upon the environmental impacts of development, the loss of family, the dangers of progress, and the commitment of a man and wife to their family and their principles. Buchanan has created an emotionally charged novel based upon a real legendary riverman, William “Red” Hill. Complete with mock newspaper articles and historical photos and drawings depicting a variety of major events along the river from Bellini tightrope walking across the falls to the collapse of Table Rock.

Buchanan’s debut novel is undeniably memorable for its historical references and emotional ties to Bess’ family and the Niagara River. The Day the Falls Stood Still will haunt readers after the final page is turned.

Also Reviewed By:
Presenting Lenore