Run for Your Life by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge’s Run for Your Life is another in the Michael Bennett crime drama series. My mom, Pat, will be your guest reviewer today, please give her a warm welcome.

Run for Your Life chronicles another adventure of Michael Bennett, a detective in the New York Police Department who is a single father to 10 children. In this novel, a murderer who calls himself “the Teacher” takes New York City by storm, slaughtering the powerful and arrogant rich people of the city. “The Teacher” selects his victims from those he meets.

Michael Bennett races across the city to investigate these vicious crime scenes, and many of these are difficult to visit. While “the Teacher’s” rampage across the city continues, Det. Bennett’s children fall ill with the flu, making his job even more difficult.

Run for Your Life is another page turner that readers will be unable to put down. Another five-star crime drama from James Patterson, chock full of action.

Thanks, Mom, for another detailed review. Look forward to more from her later this week.

Bloody Good by Georgia Evans

Bloody Good by Georgia Evans is the second of my five books for the War Through the Generations: WWII Reading Challenge.

“This was not, he was convinced, some foppish, effete English vampire. This was one of his Aryan brothers. The brain rhythm was strong and reassuringly familiar. He’d sensed the same in his homeland in the Hartz Mountains. Only one other vampire hailed from that part of Germany. Could it truly be Gerhardt Eiche, or as he no doubt posed himself: Gabriel Oak?” (Page 18)

Georgia Evans’ portrayal of Germany’s invasion of surrounding European nations by the Nazi party as the backdrop for her novel set in the English countryside, Bloody Good, has a wide cast of characters, including vampires, witches, pixies, and dragons.

Alice Doyle is the village doctor and a pixie who has denied her heritage and her powers to rely upon science and medicine. Peter Watson is a conscientious objector to the war who underwent several years of veterinary training before the war began. Alice’s grandmother embraces her pixie heritage and is keenly aware of the “others” living in the town.

In an effort to gain an advantage in the war effort, the Nazi’s enlist vampires to blow up secret munitions plants across the English countryside. Evans does a great job of establishing a surreal world in which Nazi’s and vampires work together for the same cause, at least until the vampires deem themselves able to take over. Dr. Doyle, her grandmother, and friends work together to uncover the secret Nazi mission and stop the vampires from succeeding in destroying the munitions plant.

“The talk on rabbit-keeping was boring enough to let Peter’s mind wander onto more enthralling topics, notably Alice, Dr. Doyle, and the woman he was head over heels in love with. She beat out furry rodents, and even edible furry rodents, any day of the week.” (Page 182)

Readers will enjoy the vampire tales, the pixie legends, and other surreal elements of this story, but the real treat is watching Dr. Doyle come into her own powers and accepting her heritage. However, some readers may be put off by the graphic sex scenes in this novel, though there are not too many of them. Some of the depictions in the book were a bit odd, particularly when Peter Watson compares Dr. Doyle to furry rodents. Overall, Bloody Good is a light read for the beach or camping in the woods.

This is the first in a series of novels by Georgia Evans, and readers who enjoy this one, should check out the next installment, Bloody Awful. I know I’m looking forward to the next one.

The Painter From Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein

“That the buyer, if she finds one, probably won’t be able to read it means little. Yuliang doesn’t sign it for him. She signs for herself, to bind her work to her. To tattoo it with a message: she has won.” (Page 20)

Jennifer Cody Epstein’s The Painter From Shanghai, a debut novel, is a fictional account of Pan Yuliang’s rise from the ashes of her life as Xiuqing, a young child sold into prostitution. Through careful brushstrokes of her own, Epstein deftly fills her canvas with the sights, sounds, and images of China–from the dark alleys and brothels to the crowded, chaotic streets of Shanghai–in the early 1920s. Yuliang is a complex character who numbly makes her way through the obstacles she faces as a new prostitute under the thumb of corrupted merchants and a harsh and battered old woman, known as Grandmother. Emerging from the dank and corrupted halls of the brothel, she jumps into her new life as the concubine/second wife to Pan Zanhua and embarks on her career as a student and painter at the height of the Communist uprising in China during the 1930s.

“‘My husband,’ she says, twisting her wedding band, ‘writes that even more conservative Republicans will ally with the CCP now. For the nation’s sake.’

‘If anything, it’s a marriage of convenience.’ Now he looks straight into her eyes. ‘And one I doubt will last.'” (Page 318)

Epstein has a style all her own in which she easily weaves in relevant historical information through character interaction and development, but she also captures even difficult emotions with deft description and poise.

In the brothel, readers will feel Yuliang’s degradation as each man leers at her, touches her skin, and makes her kowtow to their desires. The one solace she has is the poetry of Li Qingzhao, which she recites from memory. Readers will enjoy the verse woven into the narrative as Yuliang examines herself at life-changing moments and seeks solace in the beauty of language.

Yuliang is molded by her mentors, but only truly blossoms when she becomes Zanhua’s wife and starts painting. Through painting she learns to combat her demons, her past, and her future, coming into her own as a painter and individual. As China is pulled in two directions between the republic and the communists, Yuliang is caught between her rebellious nature and Chinese tradition.

“Tearing off the sheet, she tries again, this time with better results. Use each object as a road into the next. She proceeds to the easiest object on the table, the orange . . . And in the space of a moment that neither registers nor matters, she is no longer outside the still life but working within it, running her mind’s hand over nubbly fruit skin. Pressing her face against the smooth tang of the bottle glass. Exploring a vase’s crevices with both finger and pencil tip, each item part of a visual sentence she is translating.” (Page 220)

The Painter From Shanghai
has a lot to offer book clubs, readers interested in painting, historical fiction, the struggle of women in society, China, and political history, and is one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

Check out my interview with Jennifer about her novel and writing habits.

1. Some writers will listen to music while writing and have a particular playlist for their novel or other work. Did you listen to any specific music while writing The Painter From Shanghai, and if so, could you list some of the titles? Or if you were to create a playlist for this novel, what would be the top 5 songs on that list?

I am actually highly distractible, so music is not a good idea for me in general unless it’s very low-level classical. Lyrics are bad–I can’t write words when I’m listening to other words. In general, I really just need quiet.

As for playlist: Hmmmm. Tough one with this book, as I’m not all that familiar with Chinese music from the period. I suppose the Charlston (which was the rage in Paris when Pan Yuliang was there), Verdi’s Macbeth (her first painting tutor is listening to Verdi when Yuliang first meets him); the first Shanghai pop song “Drizzzles” (Maomao yu)–a tune in folk style accompanied by New Orleans jazz-style music, Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie Number 1 (just because it’s the right general time frame and mood). And then maybe Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

2. Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

I loved Bird by Bird, actually. I also was a huge fan of Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life” (I learned a ton from that) and “A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” In terms of workshopping–I find it enormously helpful. I went to Columbia to get my MFA and was very happy to have done so. As my husband pointed out at the time It’s expensive, and the whole precept of “teaching” writing is somewhat dubious. But for me, having mentors, feedback, criticism and–perhaps most of all–other people who were trying to do the same insane things with their lives as was I was really reaffirming.

3. The Painter From Shanghai is written with sometimes very broad and very detailed brushstrokes to mete out Pan Yuliang’s past. Have you studying painting at any point, and if not, is it something you have considered?

I took a few oil painting classes for the book, sat in on a Student Arts League class for a day, and also worked with a friend who is a painter on dissecting and trying to re-paint one of Pan Yuliang’s paintings, just to get a sense of what it feels like. I think it’s safe to say the world is lucky I paint with words only!

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

Running. History. Good music. Frye boots. My Springer Spaniel Molly.

5. Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

I generally write at a writer’s space, and it is pretty much ideal except for that it’s not easy to get to. I’d like to have it down my street, instead of a good half-hour by foot.
6. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?
I’m currently working on a novel set in 1945, just before, during and after the Tokyo Firebombings. It’s quite different fromPainter” in that it will be told from a few different perspectives, and most of the characters aren’t as closely-based on real people. But like “Painter” it explores the intersection of different cultures, and the power of art (in this case, architecture) to both create and destroy.

Thanks, Jennifer, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.

About the Author:

Jennifer Cody Epstein has worked in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand and the U.S. for publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Mademoiselle, Self and Parents, as well as for the NBC and HBO networks. She has a Masters degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins SAIS and an MFA from Columbia. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, filmmaker Michael Epstein, and their two daughters.

Check out her Web site, here.

She also very interested in speaking with Book Clubs about her novel by telephone and email if not in the New York City area or in-person if you are in New York City.

For reading group guides for The Painter From Shanghai, go here.

Here’s another interview with Jennifer at WOW! Women on Writing.

Interested in the real artist’s work, go here or here.

Check out the rest of The Painter From Shanghai tour with TLC, here.

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary, here and here and here.

The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris

The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris does not read like a debut novel, but like a well-engineered corkscrew ride through the African heat and the deep recesses of our humanity and morality.

In the early 1990s, civil war began in Sierra Leone–a former British colony ripe with diamond mines–as rebels recruited students and children to fight against the government for more than a decade. The brutality present in the nation at this time comes across vividly in the pages of The Secret Keeper, which readers can easily attribute to the author’s personal experience. It is apparent that those images stuck with Harris as he was writing his debut novel.

“Suddenly he thought of the unopened letter in his pocket. The thick air of the tube took on a tropical whiff. It was close and stifling, clinging to the skin like it had always done back in Freetown, impossible to escape its damp hug. Danny began to sweat.” (Page 9)

Danny Kellerman is a journalist in London whose first foreign assignment takes him to war-torn Sierra Leone. Once in Africa, he is immersed in the haphazard warfare between the Sierra Leone government, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and eventually the British government. Danny meets Maria Tirado, falls in love, and breaks the story of a lifetime about saving former child soldiers, but once the assignment ends he must return to his London life. His content existence is soon disrupted by a hand-written letter from his lost love, Maria, who begs him to return and help her. Along the way, he reconnects with some of his old acquaintances, including his driver Kam and Ali Alhoun.

“‘I’ve been all over Africa,’ he said. ‘And there’s one way to judge if a country is in trouble. Is the brewery closed? I’ve been in the deepest bits of the Congo and they always had beer. That Primus may be shit, it may kill you if you drink two bottles, but they make it. That country will be okay.'” (Page 48)

A synopsis cannot do justice to this well-crafted novel about a war-torn nation and the impact it has on its own inhabitants, the world, and the individuals caught in its web. Readers will find themselves biting their fingernails as Danny digs deeper into Maria’s secrets. But she is not the only character with secrets in this novel. Danny and the nation of Sierra Leone have a number of secrets for readers to unravel, stare at in astonishment, and almost wish they were left hidden.

“With little or no political ideology, the RUF became a vehicle for Sankoh’s personal goals. It took over Sierra Leone’s inland diamond mines and recruited members by brutalizing the children of its victims. Its calling card was the ‘long sleeves or short sleeves’ method of cutting off people’s arms: short sleeves were above the elbow; long sleeves were above the wrist. Young boys were forced to kill their own families and then join. Their crimes meant they could never go back to their villages. The RUF became their only way of survival.” (Page 43-44)

Harris’ The Secret Keeper will have readers reaching for the “oh-shit-bar” as they rapidly make their way through this drama. Danny’s moral compass is tested time and again, while Ali and others stick to strategies that ensure not only their survival but that they come out ahead of others. The Secret Keeper is one of the best novels I’ve read this year, and it will twist readers’ emotions, ring them out to dry, and soak up the remainder of their tears.

Is the old conundrum of “sacrificing one for the benefit of the many” the way in which societies should operate? Should we determine our best course of action from this starting point? Read The Secret Keeper to find out how Danny Kellerman and his compatriots resolve these questions.

Paul was kind enough to take time out of his busy journalistic schedule to answer a few interview questions. Please give Paul a warm welcome.

1. How would you describe yourself or your writing style to a crowded room of admirers who were hanging on your every word?

I would describe myself as ‘humbled’ and also ‘very surprised’ if I were ever to find myself in a room with such a large group of admiring people. 😉 Then, having recovered from the shock, I would I say that my writing style tries to be accessible in getting across the emotions of people in often extraordinary circumstances. I would hope that it conveys the fact that people are morally complex; even the best and the worst of us. That few things are ever black and white. That the best of intentions can lead to great wrongs and that sometimes a wrong can make a right. But, above all, I would say that I hope I can simply tell a good story.

2. As an author and journalist, which hat do you find most challenging to wear and why?

I would say being a journalist is more challenging. Writing fiction is actually tremendously liberating. You just sit in front of a laptop, create a blank document and let your imagination run riot. It is fun. It is hard work, for sure. But it is enjoyable, easy hard work (if that makes any sense). With journalism there is often such a huge amount of logistics to get through. The writing part of journalism is the easy bit. The tracking down of sources, the deadlines, the trips into strange places and the understanding of complex situations in compressed periods of time is the hard stuff. Even equipment failures play a role. There is nothing worse than having a great story but not being able to file it because of a computer collapse or the fact that you are in the back of beyond or because the deadline has gone by. That never happens with fiction.

3. Do you listen to music when you write or do you have other habits/routines that motivate you?

I cannot write very easily in a place of complete solitude. I need something to distract me a little. Usually that means I write in a café near my apartment or on a hotel balcony if I have squirreled myself away somewhere for a while. I tend to write in thirty minute bursts and then need to stare into space for ten minutes when it helps to be able to people watch as a way of rebooting. The Secret Keeper was mostly written on vacation where I would disappear for two weeks at a time and just blast away at it. I am trying to develop the habit of daily writing for my second book. It is hard.

4. What’s one of the best pieces of writing advice you’ve received and how did it help you?

Write what you know. But I think I gave that advice to myself. I had first tried to write a very ambitious, very literary, magical realism novel. Looking back, it was a bit of a shambles. I gradually realised this but, instead of giving up, I decided to follow this maxim. I just looked at what I had experienced myself in my life and what I cared about and then tried to craft a story from that. It felt like cracking the code and suddenly I could see how I could really write something that would work and I could be proud of.

5. Finally, what have you been reading lately, and do you prefer fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or other genres?

I prefer non-fiction. I think as a journalist you have just often have an insatiable appetite for knowledge about the world and so non-fiction books are my first choice. I also tend to avoid a lot of fiction out of a fear that subconsciously I will end up lifting scenes or ideas and styles. I want my fiction to be my own not my version of someone else’s. But I did recently read Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, which I enjoyed but did not love. I do, however, love Annie Proulx and I don’t fear stealing her style because it is so wonderfully unique.

Thanks, Paul, for your insightful answers about your writing process and your inspiration.

About the Author:

Paul Harris is currently the US Correspondent of the British weekly newspaper The Observer, the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper. He has held the post since 2003. Prior to that he reported from Africa for the Daily Telegraph, the Associated Press and Reuters. He has covered conflicts and trouble spots all around the world, including Iraq, Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Pakistan. In 2003 he was embedded with British forces during the invasion of Iraq.

The Secret Keeper was inspired by his reporting on events in 2000 in Sierra Leone as that country’s long civil war came to an end.

Paul now lives in New York and is happy to have swapped the dangers of the front line for the less obvious perils of writing about American politics and culture.

For more information about Paul Harris, visit his website.

Click here to see the rest of Paul and The Secret Keeper‘s tour stops.

Also Reviewed By:

Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage

Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books

My Friend Amy

Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Maw Books

Jen’s Book Thoughts

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary

Secrets to Happiness

Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn

Welcome to a Hachette Group Early Birds Blog Tour for Sarah Dunn’s Secrets to Happiness.

“A lot of life, it seemed to Holly, was turning out to be just like that. You keep walking, and you keep breathing, and then one day you notice, again, the feel of the wind on your cheek.” (Page 275)

Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn focuses on the life of Holly Frick and each of the people she effects with her decisions and how their decisions impact her life in a gigantic web. From Holly’s ex-boyfriend Spence Samuelson to Betsy Silverstein and her friends Amanda and Mark to her screenwriter/partner Leonard. Each of these characters is dissatisfied with their current lives and is seeking happiness and contentment in their lives.

“It was probably, primarily, mostly, the chemical hair straightening. Leonard had spent four hundred dollars to get his hair straightened with the new Brazilian hair-straightening chemical, and now it clung to his head like a wet washcloth and then spiked out at the ends down at the top of his neck, which was huge, due to the steroids he got from a pharmacist who ran an underground steroid ring out of his fourth-floor walk-up on Christopher Street.” (Page 25)

Dunn has a great talent for description and character development. Secrets to Happiness delves into the various situations, emotions, friends, careers, and other elements in people’s lives that they believe make them happy. Each of these characters experiences turns their preconceived notions upside down, leaving Holly, Spence, Betsy, and Amanda to make pivotal decisions.

“‘I don’t tell Betsy about my personal life.’

‘Good. You know what? Don’t tell anybody. Let’s just keep this our little secret,’ said Holly. ‘And now I even sound like a child molester.’

‘That’s straight out of the handbook.’

‘Page eleven,’ said Holly. ‘Right after the part where I lure you back into the back of my van with a box of kittens.'” (Page 21)

Overall, Secrets to Happiness reads well with a modicum of interruption from narratives that scope farther back into the lives of the characters. While some of these narratives, which mirror background checks for the characters, are well written, readers could find them distracting and unnecessary. Dunn is a talented women’s fiction writer with a flare for dramatic and unconventional characters, and her ability to dig beneath the surface of these professional New Yorkers is uncanny.

Also Reviewed by:
Everyday I Write the Book Blog

Hachette Group was kind enough to offer 3 copies of Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn to 3 of Savvy Verse & Wit’s U.S. and/or Canadian readers; no P.O. Boxes.

1. Leave a comment on this post about what makes you happiest about your life.

2. Become a follower of the blog or if you follow, let me know.

3. Blog, tweet, or spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link here.

Deadline is June 18, 2009, at 11:59 PM EST

Don’t forget my 2-Year Blogiversary Giveaway, go here for details.

MAX by James Patterson

Welcome my mom’s (Pat) review of MAX by James Patterson; she was kind enough to read this one a month ago, and I’m just catching up on posting some of her reviews.

MAX, the fifth book in the series, features the bird kids–Gazzy, Angel, Fang, Nudge, Max and others–after they join forces with the coalition CSM to stop the “madness.” Off the Hawaii coast, ships, fish, and other creatures are being destroyed by something or someone. The bird kids always seem to be in danger, but they are keenly aware of the dangers they face.

Patterson’s young adult bird kid series really heats up in MAX. But will Max and her mother live through this ordeal? If you are eager for another page turner, this is the book for you. Action-packed up until the end, and you will want read it again just to see how the kids find their way out of trouble. Five stars, a must read.

Thanks, mom, for another review, and thanks to Hachette Group for sending this book along. Stay tuned for my review of MAX, which the hubby and I are listening to on audiobook.

Have a great weekend everyone; I’ll be offline spending time with the hubby and spring cleaning in June.

Check out this giveaway:

1 copy of Holly’s Inbox by Holly Denham, here; Deadline is June 10, 2009, 11:59 PM EST

Fodor’s New York City 2009 Guide

Fodor’s New York City 2009 came to me from Shelf Awareness in preparation for Book Expo America. I requested the guide to make plans for navigating the city, and it was a great resource for the trip this past weekend.

There are full-color pages throughout of various landmarks, monuments, and other places. There is a pull out map inside with clearly labeled streets and landmarks, as well as a subway system map in the back flap for Manhattan. The subway map helped during the trip to determine which line of the subway to take to our destinations, including to the hotel from Penn Station and from the hotel to the Greenhouse.

Anna and I did pick out a few things to see while in the city, but unfortunately, I revisited Times Square and not much else. Anna saw Times Square for the first time, though it was incredibly crowded. At one point during the day on Friday, we walked by and found Broadway closed off and lawn chairs spread out. According to my friend and photographer, Mike, the lawn chairs are part of a program to get people in office buildings out into the sun during the day, allowing them to breathe in the fresh air.

Fodor’s guide is chock full of information about the subway system, its costs, fare cards, and other transportation needs, including appropriate tip amounts for taxis, bellhops, and others. I would highly recommend this guide for those taking a trip to New York City; it provides a comprehensive resource for those looking to see as much as they can in the city that never sleeps. I know I’ll be using this guide again when I take my next trip to the city.

Don’t forget these great giveaways:

3 copies of Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton, here; Deadline is June 3, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

1 copy of Reunion by Therese Fowler, here; Deadline is June 4, 2009, 11:59 PM EST

Reunion by Therese Fowler

Therese Fowler’s Reunion examines the secrets many of us carry and how they can direct our lives and decisions. While some could consider this a light read, it deals with a number of deep issues, including teen pregnancy.

Harmony Blue Kucharski/Reynolds is a young girl with a deep crush on a junior professor and son to her boss, Mitch Forrester. After a whirlwind romance, Mitch breaks her young heart, and she embarks on a destructive path that ultimately leads her to a decision that must be kept secret after her career begins to take off. Two decades later, fate brings them back together in Key West, Florida, and Blue helps Mitch with his pet video project about writer’s like Hemingway.

“In Chicago, the snow was falling so hard that, although quite a few pedestrians saw the woman standing on the fire escape nine stories up, none were sure they recognized her. At first the woman leaned against the railing and looked down, as if calculating the odds of death from such a height. After a minute or two, though, when she hadn’t climbed the rail but had instead stepped back from it, most people who’d noticed her continued on their ways. She didn’t look ready to jump, so why keep watching? And how about this snow, they said. What the hell? It wasn’t supposed to snow like this in spring!” (Page 13)

Blue is a complex character floundering in her decisions and striving to find true happiness, and Mitch has tried all kinds of happiness, but has been unable to patch things up with his only son. Blue’s mother, Nancy, is an aging hippie still looking for love, and her sister has found a family life she can be proud of, though she still seems to have a hard time dealing with her sister’s success as TV personality–much like Oprah in Chicago.

“Without the interruption of commercials or the finite images of someone else’s interpretation of a story, she could more easily fit herself into the romance or drama unfolding inside a book’s cover.” (Page 54)

Fowler’s writing is down-to-Earth and captivating. The characters pop from the page. While there are multiple story lines in this novel, Fowler weaves them well and transitions seamlessly between them. Although this book could be considered chicklit or women’s fiction, there is much more beneath the surface; all readers have to do is scratch the surface.

Thanks to Pump up Your Book Promotion for providing Savvy Verse & Wit with an opportunity to review this book and be part of the virtual blog tour. Check below to find out about the International giveaway.

About the Author:

Therese Fowler has believed in the magic of a good story since she learned to read at the age of four. At age thirty, as a newly single parent, she put herself into college, earning a degree in sociology (and finding her real Mr. Right) before deciding to scratch her longtime fiction-writing itch. That led to an MFA in creative writing, and the composition of stories that explore the nature of our families, our culture, our mistakes, and our desires.

The author of two novels, with a third scheduled for 2010, Therese lives in Wake Forest, NC, with her supportive husband and sons, and two largely indifferent cats. You can visit her website or her blog.

To Enter:

1. Leave a comment on this post about why you’d like to read this book.
2. Leave a comment on the guest post, here, for a second entry.
3. Follow this blog, and let me know; if you follow, let me know that too.
4. Tweet, Facebook, or blog about the giveaway and leave a comment here.

Deadline is June 4, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

Don’t Forget About These Great Giveaways!

1 Signed Copy of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo, here. Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59PM EST.

2 copies of The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa, here; Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59 PM EST

3 copies of Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton, here; Deadline is June 3, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton

Welcome to another Hachette Group Early Birds Tour for Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton.

What happens when a cautious, anxious New Yorker, Peggy Adams, spends time in Las Vegas for a friend’s last hoorah and sends caution to the wind, gets drunk, and meets a stranger? A quickie wedding and a huge hangover, followed by a deal of a lifetime for herself and her new husband, Luke Sedgwick.

“It took multiple tries to work through this last piece of information. Man. A man. A man in bed. In her bed. No, on her bed. He lay on his back on top of the coverlet, in a rumpled shirt and a diagonally striped tie, in slacks, socks, and burnished dress shoes that looked as if they’d been polished and repolished for the past twenty years.” (Page 5)

Luke is a WASP and the last of the old world Sedgwicks of Connecticut, and the last hope for an heir to the not-so-large family fortune. Luke is a writer. . . a struggling poet, with an on-again, off-again girlfriend, Nicole, that his great-aunt, Abigail, despises. Peggy is mistaken by Abigail for the relative of an old Connecticut family, though hers is from out west, and she scrambles to please her new family, while keeping her live-in boyfriend, Brock, who is afraid to commit, in the dark about her marriage.

“‘A promise ring?’ Bex yelled. The string of bells on the shop door jingled as it shut behind her. ‘Brock gave you a promise ring? What is this, seventh grade?'” (Page 17)

Lipton has a gift for chicklit/women’s fiction that is witty, fun, and vivacious. Both of these characters are anxious to break free from their current lives, but unable to make the move. Mating Rituals of the North American WASP will keep readers turning pages and will make the summer fly by. Lipton’s prose paints a clear picture of small-town Connecticut and its unique characters and sets the stage for a comedic plot steeped in romance, drama, and much more.

Also Reviewed by:
Luxury Reading

Here’s my interview with Lauren Lipton:

1. How hard was it to transition from writing journalistic stories to writing novels? What has journalism taught you about writing novels?

Writing a news feature has more in common with writing a novel than I’d expected. For both, you need an arresting first sentence (or first paragraph, or first chapter). You need a structure that leads readers through the story, and you need strong characters (or sources in journalism). The plus of writing a novel is that you can invent all the facts!

Working as a journalist gave me research skills for which I’m deeply grateful, and got me used to writing every day, whether I feel like it or not, in any environment. I could write sitting on the floor of the Port Authority Bus Terminal if I had to. (Though, yuck.)

2. Some writers extensively research their charcters or settings, do you spend a lot of time researching or so you simply let your imagination flow?

I let my imagination flow. Unfortunately, it always flows into areas I know nothing about. I’ll think, “I simply must set a scene at the annual Yale-Harvard football game!” -despite never having been to a Yale-Harvard game. This happened over and over while I was writing Mating Rituals of the North American WASP. I researched everything from how to apply roofing tar to the medical treatment of a stroke to the way to decant old port. And I found a Yale alum friend who took me to The Game.

3. Do you have any obsessions you would like to share?

My only current obsession is with getting some sleep. The time just before a book’s publication is nerve-wracking. I keep waking up worrying, “What if it’s a flop?”

4. In terms of marketing, what have been the most successful modes of marketing for you and your books? How would you describe your relationship with the blogging community?

When my first novel, It’s About Your Husband, came out in 2006, I had no idea how important the Internet was in getting the word out. I quickly learned how influential sites such as Goodreads, in which readers recommend books by word-of-mouth, are. And even in the two years since then, the influence of book bloggers like you has grown geometrically. As far as my relationship with the blogging community:
I don’t know how you all feel about me, but I would like to give you ladies a big hug.

5. What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and how did it help you?

An editor at the Wall Street Journal once told me I overwrote–that is, I used 10 words when one would do and tried too hard to be clever. He was right. After that, I toned myself down.

6. Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what were your top 5 songs while writing Mating Rituals?

Oddly enough, I might be able to write in the middle of the Port Authority, but music and TV distract me.

7. Are you working anything currently and could you share some tidbits about your latest project?

I’m just starting a third novel that’s more ambitious (and hopefully more serious) than the first two. It’s a retelling of a century-old novel-of-manners set in modern-day New York. It’s daunting, but I’m looking forward to diving in.

I want to thank Lauren for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions, check out the giveaway below.

About the Author:
Lauren Lipton is the author of two novels, It’s About Your Husband (2006) and Mating Rituals of the North American WASP (2009). She is also a freelance journalist who specializes in style, business and trend stories.

She is currently fashion, beauty and lifestyle editor at ForbesWoman magazine. She has also contributed features on society and media to the New York Times Sunday Styles section. A former Wall Street Journal staff writer, she reported on copycat brides who steal their friends’ wedding ideas, pajama parties for grown women, and luxury homes with his-and-hers garages.

Born in Providence, R.I., Lauren grew up in the North County of San Diego and in Los Gatos, Calif., before moving to Los Angeles. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and anthropology from Occidental College and a master’s degree in print journalism from the University of Southern California. Check out her Website, her blog and her Facebook Fan Page.

Giveaway Information:

Hachette Group is offering 3 copies of Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton for U.S. and Canadian readers of Savvy Verse & Wit.

1. To enter leave a comment on this post about the review or the interview.
2. For a second entry, let me know if you follow the blog in Google Reader, Bloglines, Rss, etc.
3. For a third entry, blog or Twitter about this giveaway and leave me a link here.

Deadline is June 3, 2009 at 11:59 PM EST

Don’t Forget About These Great Giveaways!
1 Signed Copy of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo, here. Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59PM EST.

2 copies of The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa, here; Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59 PM EST


Also Reviewed By:  
You’ve Gotta Read This! 


The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa

George Rabasa‘s The Wonder Singer easily captures the imagination through deftly orchestrated prose and detailed description. The Wonder Singer is the story of famed opera singer Merce Casals, and her story as told to her ghostwriter Mark Lockwood. Through alternating chapters between the biography of Merce Casals and Mark Lockwood’s musings and reviews of his interview tapes with Casals, her tragic and dramatic story unfolds like Aida or many of the other great operas she sang.

“There are moments when the order of life collapses in midbreath, when a missed heartbeat brings on an earthquake. At such a moment, this story takes an unexpected turn.” (Page 1 of hardcover)

How can readers ignore the first, foreboding line of this novel? The Wonder Singer is more than a story of a famed opera singer, but the story of a ghostwriter who blossoms into his own when faced with giving up his dream job or plunging into the unknown. Lockwood teams up with the Casals’ former caretaker Perla, who Lockwood fantasizes about having a torrid affair with, and Casals’ self-proclaimed number one fan Orson La Prima, who dresses in drag to impersonate his favorite opera star. They are going to write Casals’ story and celebrate her life against the wishes of her agent, Hollywood Hank.

“He [Nolan Keefe] had delicate handwriting, like a girl’s, everything nicely rounded, the capital M done with a flourish. Every time he wrote out my name he seemed to be celebrating it. I [Merce] would read my name and see myself reflected in his consciousness. Sometimes he would write my name very small and I would sense he was saying it in a whisper, for my ears alone. Occasionally merce would be spelled out in uppercase, and it sounded in my mind like he was shouting it from the rooftop of the tallest building in New York. Once he even wrote the letters like notes in a pentagram, so that I could hear him singing.” (Page 118 of hardcover)

Rabasa’s prose is lyrical, enchanting, and absorbing, drawing readers into the vivid scenes full of emotion. The Wonder Singer is a character-driven novel examining the impact of early abandonment by a father on a gifted, young singer, her triumph as an opera star, and the drive and fear writers feel when they are faced with a project they would do almost anything to complete even if they feel outmatched and inexperienced.

“‘Show me one false line I’ve written and I will eat the page.'” (Page 165 of hardcover)

About the Author:

George Rabasa was born in Maine and raised in Mexico. He lived in Mexico City on and off for several years until the fates conspired to drop him in exotic Minnesota, where he has lived since 1981.

His new novel, The Wonder Singer, came out in September of 2008 from Unbridled Books.

His collection of short stories, Glass Houses (Coffee House Press), received The Writer’s Voice Capricorn Award for Excellence in Fiction and the Minnesota Book Award for Short Stories in 1997. His novel, Floating Kingdom (Coffee House Press), was awarded the 1998 Minnesota Book Award for Fiction.

***Giveaway Information***

2 copies of The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa are up for grabs from Unbridled Books
Open to U.S. and Canada residents only; No P.O. Boxes.

1. Leave a comment on this post about why you want to read the book or who your favorite Opera singer is or what your favorite Opera is.

2. Comment on George Rabasa’s guest post, here.

3. Leave a comment on this post as to where you follow this blog (i.e. Google Reader, Blogger Followers, Bloglines, Facebook, etc.)

Deadline is May 30, 2009 by 11:59 PM

Don’t Forget About These Great Giveaways!

2 copies of The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner, here; Deadline is May 22 at 11:59 PM EST

1 Signed Copy of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo, here. Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59PM EST.

Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales by Eleanor Bluestein

Welcome to the TLC Book Tour stop for Eleanor Bluestein‘s Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales. Today, we have a bunch of things in store for you. After my review, please take a trip through Eleanor’s writing space (complete with photos) and enter the giveaway for her short story book, Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales.

About the Book:

The ten stories in Tea and other Ayama Na Tales take place in the fictional country of Ayama Na, a small Southeast Asian nation recovering from a devastating internal coup and a long drought, both of which have left the population reeling.

The fictional country of Ayama Na is inspired by the sights and sounds of Southeast Asia. A street of fortune tellers in Ayama Na borrows details from one in Singapore; royal palaces, Buddha shrines, and hill tribes echo their counterparts in Thailand; sidewalk cafes in Ayama Na’s capital roll up corrugated metal exteriors and blare music to the street as they do in Viet Nam. But in emotional content and historical detail, Ayama Na most closely resembles Cambodia, where a brave young population, still rebuilding both country and culture in the wake of the Khmer Rouge genocide, operates with a seriousness of purpose and good humor that fills the author of this collection with awe and admiration.

Bluestein’s short stories read like morality plays in which flawed characters struggle with what actions will lead them on the right path and bring about justice. From the McDonald’s worker, Mahala, who wants to set things right for her friend, co-worker, and fellow student, Raylee, to Dali-Roo, a down-on-his-luck farmer working at a Sony factory to make ends meet, Bluestein uses scene breaks to build tension and quicken the pace for some of her more ambitious story lines. She also does an excellent job of weaving in details of her fictional South Asian location, Ayama Na, including the setting, the language, and Asian mysticism.

“Home was a houseboat in a floating village not far from the mouth of the lake, a squalid kitchen and cramped bunk beds ruled over by a mother who hadn’t attended school three days in her life, who worked morning to night cooking and mending nets for Song’s father and brothers, whose stained and wrinkled hands smelled of shrimp and dried fish. The houseboat lapped up and down and moved in and out at the mercy of the weather, and in the dry season, it flowed with the whole floating village closer to the center of the lake, exposing garbage-strewn banks.” (“Skin Deep,” Page 77)

Readers will enjoy many of the stories in this volume, including “Skin Deep,” in which a university student, Song, enters a beauty pageant and takes a year off from school. She has no talents to speak of, but eventually writes and recites three poems before the local judges and wins the competition. Once at the nationals, she concludes she needs a more dazzling talent and embarks upon a journey. She becomes an amateur ventriloquist. The scenes between Song and her mother are wrought with tension because Song is not fulfilling her destiny, and her automaton, Lulu, agrees. The final scene of this story drives the moral home and–like many of the other stories in this book–with a bang.

“While he waited for the artist to take a breath and notice him, Jackman studied the tiny iridescent beetle exploring the edge of Faraway’s beard, the grime sloshing in the creases of his sweaty forehead, the shivers regularly shaking a body swaddled for a brisk fall Philadelphia day.” (“The Artist’s Story,” Page 94)

Each of these stories highlights the struggles facing the people of Ayama Na, which may mirror the struggles of many emerging nations today, as they strive to hold onto their traditions in the face of modernization and globalization. In many cases the modern world is juxtaposed with the cultural norms of this fictional society, and almost all of the characters are faced with a moral dilemma. From the surprise endings in “Skin Deep” and “Pineapple Wars” to quieter changes in character in “The Artist’s Story,” Bluestein is a gifted storyteller who will have readers examining their own lives and learning how to integrate their own cultural roots into their modern lives. These stories also help us examine larger societal issues, like providing aid to devastated nations and cities like New Orleans and China and providing assistance to developing nations. Bluestein’s short story collection showcases her talents, and the book will provide fodder for book club discussion.

Also Reviewed By:

The Bluestocking Society
Nerd’s Eye View
Lotus Reads
1979 Semi-finalist…
Ramya’s Bookshelf
Feminist Review
Trish’s Reading Nook
Everything Distils Into Reading
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?

About the Author:

Eleanor Bluestein grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and attended Tufts University. After graduating with a degree in biology, Eleanor taught science in public school, first in New York and then in Maryland.

For a decade, along with an early literary mentor, Mel Freilicher, Eleanor co-edited Crawl Out Your Window, a San Diego based journal featuring the work of local writers and artists.

Eleanor spent a year in Paris, France, writing fiction and studying French at the Alliance Française. Later, she completed a Professional Certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language at U.C. San Diego. These experiences found their way into the novel Syntax, a current project.

I’d like for you to welcome Eleanor to Savvy Verse & Wit at its new domain.

Above my desk, on the wall to the right of my computer screen, there’s a framed collage created by Matt Foderer, an artist I worked with some years ago. Along with other writers, designers, artists, and computer programmers, Matt and I sat at cubicles in a vast office space, producing multimedia educational products. I wrote words; Matt did computer graphics to accompany the text.

We were as creative as we possibly could be, mindful of the kids who would use these instructional products. But Matt and I both wished we were somewhere else—he creating his own art in the studio behind his house, I at my computer in my narrow home office writing stories.

I have purchased several works of art from Matt—two oil paintings for my living room and the collage on the wall that you see in the photo of my office. I want to describe it to you a little more in words and tell you what it means to me. You can also see it in detail at Matt Forderer.

The collage is one in a series Matt calls “Typewriterheads.” In each work in this series, against some intriguing setting, Matt has placed a human figure who has an antique typewriter where his head should be. In the collage I own, standing with his back to the ocean, is a person I imagine to be a waiter, apron-clad, towel in his hands, an old Underwood for a head. To the waiter’s right a plane lands on the water, a goat on a rock rises from the ocean, and in the sky, looking for all the world like a flying saucer, a huge shell whirls against the clouds.

I bought this collage because, to me, it portrays the poignant life of a writer who needs to work for a living while his head teems with the fantastic stories he dreams of writing. And also because Matt’s collage represents what I aspire to in my own work. Like his art, I want my writing to be funny, smart, evocative, hyper-imaginative, a bit surreal, and poignant, all at the same time. That’s a tall order, and probably why there are so many pages on my cutting room floor.

I no longer live a “cubicle life.” I am fortunate. So many individual’s creative lives are limited or outright thwarted by poverty, illness, war, and the myriad other forms bad luck takes. So if I struggle to get the words on the page, if they fall short of what I hope for, if some days the delete key gets more pounding than any other, if I even think of forgetting how lucky I am, I can look up at my wall. There’s that waiter with his back to the ocean and the untyped words swirling in his funny old typewriter head, wishing he were me, sitting at my desk, making up stories.

Thank you so much Eleanor for an inspiring guest post! Now readers, if you would like to read Eleanor’s short story collection, Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales, check out the giveaway details below.


This is open internationally.

1. Leave a comment on this post about what you enjoyed most about this tour stop or what inspires you as a writer.

2. Spread the word about this giveaway and leave me a link on this post for a second entry.

3. Become a follower and leave me a comment telling me that you did (If you already do follow me, please leave me a comment about that) for a third entry.

Deadline is May 6, 2009; 11:59PM EST

Check out the other stops on the tour:

Wednesday, April 1st: The Bluestocking Society

Monday, April 6th: Bookstack

Thursday, April 9th: Nerd’s Eye View

Friday, April 10th: Lotus Reads

Monday, April 13th: 8Asians

Wednesday, April 15th: 1979 Semi-finalist…

Friday, April 17th: Ramya’s Bookshelf

Monday, April 20th: Feminist Review

Thursday, April 23rd: Trish’s Reading Nook

Tuesday, April 28th: Medieval Bookworm

Wednesday, April 29th: Savvy Verse and Wit

*** Giveaway Reminders***

There’s a giveaway for 5 copies of Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch, here; deadline is April 29, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

A giveaway of The Mechanics of Falling by Catherine Brady, here; Deadline is May 1 11:59 PM EST

5 Joanna Scott, author of Follow Me, books giveaway, here; Deadline May 4, 11:59 PM EST.

Follow Me by Joanna Scott

Welcome to the April Hachette Group Early Bird Blog Tour for Joanna Scott’s Follow Me.

About the Book (From Hachette Website):

On a summer day in 1946 Sally Werner, the precocious young daughter of hardscrabble Pennsylvania farmers, secretly accepts her cousin’s invitation to ride his new motorcycle. Like so much of what follows in Sally’s life, it’s an impulsive decision with dramatic and far-reaching consequences. Soon she abandons her home to begin a daring journey of self-creation, the truth of which she entrusts only with her granddaughter and namesake, six decades later. But when young Sally’s father–a man she has never known–enters her life and offers another story altogether, she must uncover the truth of her grandmother’s secret history.

At more than 400 pages, Joanna Scott’s Follow Me is a very detailed account of Sally Werner’s background as told by her granddaughter, Sally. Scott has a gift for detail, which can become a drawback when Sally Werner is wandering in the woods after leaving her baby with her parents. The twists and turns Sally’s life takes are driven by her fear and her desire to fit in without revealing her true self in each new location, but often the poetic prose gets in the way. It isn’t until page 53 that readers discover Sally has red hair, and readers find this out at the moment when Sally is getting her hair dyed blond. Scott’s writing vacillates from run-on sentences to short fragments, both of which readers may find slow down the plot.

“Running, Running, Running up the jagged slope behind the rows of new corn, over the stone wall, through the woods and meadows. Sting of nettles. Gray sky of dawn. Bark of a startled deer.” (Page 15)

In some cases, the narrative opts for telling the reader what’s going on, rather than showing the action and development through character interaction. Moreover, detailed backgrounds of side characters like Gladdy Toffit are asides that do not propel the plot or character development forward.

“Other days she’d [Gladdy] dress in one of the three rayon skirt-suits she owned, gather bills from the rolltop desk in the living room, and get in the car and drive to the bank in Amity to confer with the person she called her financial adviser. Late in the afternoon she’d come back home to pour her bourbon, urging Sally to join her because, as she claimed, she didn’t like to drink alone.” (Page 119)

Scott introduces Mole into Sally’s life, and that’s when readers will begin to cheer her on, hoping she will take this new opportunity to turn her life around, grab onto her responsibilities, and emerge a stronger woman. When these characters come together, the scene is full of playful tension and drama as he and his friends sit in a room playing Russian Roulette.

“It was similar to a dream, inevitable and natural and illogical. A slanting light shone from the lantern; the radio crackled its song; the river splashed; the crickets chirped; the tension made breathing impossible; the air was so thick the boy could hardly lift his arm, raising the gun to his head in an attenuated motion, the effort exhausting him, drenching him in sweat, the heat of fear turning his pale skin into melting wax.” (Page 104)

About halfway into Follow Me–which as a title works well for this journey type of novel–the drama heats up forcing Sally Werner to make a tough choice, and these scenes were the most vivid and well crafted. These scenes are the most vivid because they propel the plot, they are full of action, and you are right there with Sally in the thick of it, watching how these events bring out her inner strength and how they are bound to impact and force her to take conscious action.

“It meant she had to cover her face, so the next time he hit her his knuckles struck the back of her hand, bouncing her head away from him but not actually hurting her, which only enraged him more, and with a swift movement he yanked her arm away . . . his fist caught her in the mouth, driving into her gullet, shattering bone, filling her vision with a blank darkness that matched the sky.” (Page 206)

“But Sally could guess what the sound signified and looked up in time to catch a glimpse of Leo leaping from the peaked roof above the door. But she didn’t know he had landed on Benny Patterson until she felt her attacker veer backward. He would have pulled her with him if she hadn’t ripped herself free from his grasp. He stumbled, tripped over the corner of the step, and as the cat leaped forward, Leo’s weight exacerbated Benny’s fall; he plunged backward, his feet came out from under him, and his head snapped hard against the brick wall of Potter’s hardware.” (Page 208)

Overall, it takes a long time to be drawn into this book, and readers may have a difficult time getting a fix on Sally Werner’s character. It was hard to feel sympathetic toward her when many of the problems she faces are self-created and she often portrays herself contrary to her own actions. For instance, she considers herself a hard worker and reliable, but she gives birth and leaves her child within 24 hours of bringing him into the world, which is not a prime example of a reliable woman. Scott’s prose is beautiful, but readers can easily lose their footing in the world Scott tells rather than shows her readers. Clearly, Scott is a gifted writer and uses description well to create a vivid scene, but this story may have worked better if it was told in a different way. Those readers who enjoy generational novels and coming of age stories may be interested in this novel unless they have a rough time with overly descriptive novels.

About the Author:

Joanna Scott is the author of nine books, including The Manikin, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Various Antidotes and Arrogance, which were both finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award; and the critically acclaimed Make Believe, Tourmaline, and Liberation. A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lannan Award, she lives with her family in upstate New York.

Some of the Hachette Group Early Birds Blog Tour Participants:

Peeking Between the Pages
My Friend Amy
S. Krishna’s Books
Booking Mama
The Tome Traveller
Diary of an Eccentric
A Novel Menagerie
Necromancy Never Pays
Drey’s Library
Redlady’s Reading Room
The Burton Review
A Bookworm’s World
Jenn’s Bookshelf

***Giveaway Details***

Hachette Group has offered one lucky U.S./Canadian reader a set of Joanna Scott’s books: Follow Me, Make Believe, Everybody Loves Somebody, Liberation, Tourmaline.

1. One entry, leave a comment on this post other than “pick me” or “enter me”
2. Second entry, blog, Facebook, Twitter, or spread the word and leave a link or comment on this post that you’ve done so.
3. Third entry, follow this blog and let me know.

Deadline is May 4, 2009, 11:59 EST.

*** Giveaway Reminder***

Don’t forget to enter the Keeper of Light and Dust giveaway, here and here. Deadline is April 28 at 11:59 PM EST.

There’s a giveaway for 5 copies of Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch, here; deadline is April 29, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

A giveaway of The Mechanics of Falling by Catherine Brady, here; Deadline is May 1 11:59 PM EST