Literary Quote of the Month

“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences,” … Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Sunday Salon... Something is lurking around the corner... My Blogoversary!!


Good Morning Everyone! Normally my Sunday Salon is about what great books I've come across during the week or some bookish news that puts some great books in the spotlight. Today I just wanted to take a moment to let you know about something that is lurking around the corner... Something that involves books, and reading and giveaways....

February 18th, 2010

February 18th is my one year blogoversary! Can you believe it!! I can't. It's been so much fun writing the blog, learning about widgets, and html (ok, that's not too much fun), and how to put it all together. Most of all it's been a lot of fun meeting all of YOU! I've made so many friends and the blogging community has made me feel so welcome! Starting on Feb. 18th I've got some great giveaways planned! Some of the publishers I've worked with are also sponsoring some great book giveaways here too! I'm still finalizing some details, but it should all be a lot of fun!

As a special thank you to Everyone who has become an official "Follower", there will be some giveaways just for you! There are many ways to follow a blog, and everyone who follows through a feed, Twitter, just coming back to say hello or to see what's going on has helped this blog grow! And I appreciate EVERYone who has stopped by!

One way to "follow" is through Google Friend Connect, which on my blog is in the left hand column of the blog. There will be a random drawing for all Google Friend Connect followers, so if you haven't signed up yet you might want to. It's easy, fast and all your information (like email addy) is private too.

The Blogoversary Celebration starts Feb. 18th , with giveaways sprinkled through out the end of Feb.! Come back then (you can come before then too!) and say hello! And in the meantime, there will be book reviews, memoir mondays, and a giveaway or two coming up. (An audio book giveaway is coming next week!) And BTW, how did you like the post "What's Cooking", with the recipe's?

Have a great sunday! And enjoy what book you've cracked the spine on this week! ...Suzanne

*P.S. I just found out that one of my giveaways will be for a copy of Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin! Thanks to Cheryl of Pump Up Your Book Promotions & Random House! Read my review of Alice I Have Been!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin... Virtual Book Tour and Review!


Tumble down the rabbit hole with the real Alice in Wonderland...

Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this spellbinding historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole–and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.

But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful? Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories... That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war. For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.

A love story and a literary mystery, Alice I Have Been brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire.

I never really thought about the real Alice. Aren't most characters in a story inspired by someone or something? But when I heard all the buzz about Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin, I became fascinated. It seems that the author of Alice in Wonderland, Charles Dodgeson (who wrote under the pen name of Lewis Carroll) met young Alice Liddell and her rather large family while photographing the cathedral at Oxford... Alice Liddell's father was appointed to the deanery at Christ Church, Oxford... Alice was 5 years old at the time... And Dodgeson's fascination with the young girls , Alice & her two sisters, began... And Melanie Benjamin does a wonderful job blending history with fact. She captures the precociousness of the real Alice, and the Alice we all know from Alice in Wonderland.

The story is told through the eyes of Alice. We meet her family, including the sisters she was most close with, Lorina & Edith, her governess, the servants, Charles Dodgeson, and even Royalty. The story goes beyond Alice and the man who wrote the story that would keep her a child forever... Melanie shows us how sisters can love and hate each other. There is jealousy, deceptions and an underlying uncomfortableness in the fascination that Charles Dodgeson has with Alice. There is love, first kisses and consequences. Melanie's writing is compelling in the voice of Alice and I found myself not being able to put the book down. The story also does a perfect job of showcasing the restrictions on young women during the victorian age. How each and every action and the way a young lady dressed all played a part of a "proper" upbringing and how rumors and speculation can ruin a reputation, whether or not the rumors were founded. I don't want to give too much away here, but I felt so much empathy for Alice as her life seemed to fall apart! You'll know what I mean when you READ THIS BOOK!

The book opens with Alice reflecting on her life as a woman of eighty. It gives one just enough story to grab ones interest, and it does not disappoint. I just loved Alice, she was such an interesting character, the way she observed the people and the world around her was refreshing. Alice I Have Been was a wonderful read. Melanie Benjamin has flushed out the life and loves of Alice Liddell and this is one book not to miss! As Melanie moves from Alice the young girl to Alice the adult, she doesn't miss a beat. The story is just as interesting and the ending is perfect. This would be a great book club selection! Plenty of novel for a lively discussion! Check out the Alice I Have Been Reading Group Guide. HEY! Cheryl of Pump Up Your Book is going to sponsor a giveaway for a copy of Alice I Have Been for my Blogoversary!!! Thank you so much Cheryl! So, check back during the blogoversary celebration starting Feb. 18th to see what giveaways are going on! Don't miss your chance to win this book!

About the Melanie Benjamin & Alice I Have Been...
"I was inspired to write Alice I Have Been after unexpectedly viewing a photographic exhibit called "Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll." Among the many photographs there, all taken by the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, one stood out to me. It was of a young girl clad only in rags, but with an expression on her face that stopped me in my tracks. She was so adult, so frank, so worldly, as she gazed at the man behind the camera. She was 7-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of Dean Henry Liddell of Christ Church, Oxford. It was to her that Lewis Carroll--or Charles Dodgson, as she knew him--told the story of a little girl who tumbled down a rabbit hole. She was the one who begged him to write it down. I wondered what happened to her after she grew up; I wondered what happened between the two of them to result in such a startling photograph."

Melanie Benjamin lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two sons, where she is working on her next historical novel. Visit her website at www.melaniebenjamin.com.

I want to thank Random House and Cheryl of Pump Up You Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours for the opportunity to review Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin. This was part of Melanie Benjamin's Virtual Book Tour. AliceI Have Been is now available from your local bookstore or online retailer! *P.S. This Book is Kindle Ready!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni... a Review

“One Amazing Thing collapses the walls dividing characters and cultures; what endures is a chorus of voices in one single room.”
—Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Namesake


Late afternoon sun sneaks through the windows of a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Most customers and even most office workers have come and gone, but nine people remain. A punky teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is disintegrating. A young Muslim-American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair.

When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping these nine characters together, their focus first jolts to their collective struggle to survive. There’s little food. The office begins to flood. Then, at a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, “one amazing thing” from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself. From Chitra Divakaruni, author of such finely wrought, bestselling novels as Sister of My Heart, The Palace of Illusions, and The Mistress of Spices, comes her most compelling and transporting story to date. One Amazing Thing is a passionate creation about survival—and about the reasons to survive.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is about people, how we can misjudge people and how even though we may not look alike or come from different backgrounds, we are all united by our humanity. In One Amazing Thing, trapped together in a room filling with water and the ceiling collapsing above, 9 people who look so different on the outside open up to one another, and learn that they aren't so different from each other after all. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a wonderful storyteller. As we become wrapped in the story of the earthquake and how the characters are struggling to survive, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni whisks us away to another time and place with a story, their stories, passionate stories that help us see the depth of their souls.

One Amazing Thing was told by all the different characters, not just one narrator. I found this to be refreshing and enjoyable. I was able get to know the characters better this way, how they felt about each other, how they viewed themselves and the world in general. I began feeling invested in their welfare, wanting them to survive. And the way their One Amazing stories were told seemed from their hearts, with a genuine tenderness. The story itself flows easily between characters, and the writing was wonderful with just enough suspense. It's a thought provoking story, and one you shouldn't miss! This book would be a great book club selection, and there's a reading group guide for One Amazing Thing from the publisher of Voice and Hyperion.

I enjoyed reading this book so much! I want to thank the publisher, Hyperion and Voice for sending me the advanced copy! One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakarun is scheduled to be released in bookstores Feb. 2nd! You can read an excerpt of One Amazing Thing at Chitra Banerjee Divakarun website. And you can read a conversation with the author about her book at Everywomansvoice.com. *P.S. This Book is Kindle Ready!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What's Cooking? I Know How To Cook by Ginette Mathiot, Recipes & Review!


Move Over Julia, there's a New French Cook in Town...

Have you ever read a cookbook? Some cookbooks we buy because of a particular recipe that looks good, or the type of food it's about, but I Know How to Cook by Ginette Mathiot is a literal feast! Not only does it have over 1400 recipes, simple and easy to follow recipes!, but there is so much great cooking information between the pages. And for good reason too- Ginette Mathiot has been teaching French families to cook for over 75 years! I Know How to Cook is to France what The Joy of Cooking has been to the USA! And we are so fortunate that the first English edition has come to America!

" The cuisine of France is among the richest and most diverse in the world, and the techniques and traditions it is built on have had a long-standing influence on chef's everywhere. However, this considerable reputation sometimes overshadows the profound appeal of French home cooking, which is anything but intimidating. It is a style of cooking based on resourcefulness and simplicity... In I Know How To Cook, Ginette Mathiot equips her readers with the building blocks for good cooking, educates them about the ingredients they'll encounter and the skills they'll need."

This cookbook is simply wonderful! From the fundamentals of why we eat, and creating harmony between the foods that we prepare, to how to equip your kitchen. Ginette teaches us all the basic cooking methods from Boiling & Poaching to Roasting and Broiling. I loved looking through this cookbook, it was a like going on a cooking adventure. There's a wonderful section on Flavorings, that leads the cook through garlic, onions and shallots and how to use these in various foods. Plus there are pages of herbs and spices.

The cookbook starts with sauces, moves into hors d'oeuvres (including different kinds of butters to make), milk, eggs & cheese, soups, fish, meats, poultry and game. This is followed by vegetables, salads, legumes, pasta, and rice. Oh and the desserts, cakes & pastries! At 975 pages, it's hard to believe Ginette Mathiot missed including anything! From scrambled eggs to Tarte tatin, I Know How To Cook is a fun easy adventure in French cooking!

Something you'll notice right away is the design of the cookbook. Visually its beautiful. There are colorful graphics through out the pages. Not every recipe has a photograph, but the ones included are large. But the nicest thing about the design of this cookbook is that the recipes are easy to read! The name of the recipe is big enough to see well and it's in bold type. And the recipe ingredients and instuctions are in bold! You will not have to strain to read these recipes! Plus, I like to make notes in the margins if I tweaked anything in a recipe, and there is plenty of room in the margins and below the recipe to add any personal notes.

Ok, speaking of recipes... No matter how intimidating the name of the recipe is, such as Steak A L'Allemande or Chicken Marengo, these recipes are easy. The instructions are clear. With most of the recipes only one paragraph long! AND with permission from the publisher, Phaidon Press, I'm going to share 2 of the recipes I made from I Know How To Cook by Ginette Mathiot!For my first recipe I looked for a recipe that my family would enjoy and that I could also make for my book club members after a long day at work. As I've mentioned before, the person hosting the book club usually cooks, so here's a recipe that will definitely please a crowd! It definitely pleased my family!

Navarrais Chicken

Poulet Navarrais

*recipe reprinted with permission of Phaidon Press Inc.


Ingredients:

1 (2 ¾-pound) chicken

3 ½ tablespoons butter

Generous ¾ cup Madeira

Salt and pepper

6 ½ ounces mushrooms

2/3 cup tomato paste


Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 6


Cut up the chicken (see below). Heat the butter in a heavy pan, add the chicken pieces and cook over medium-high heat until browned. Pour in the Madeira and season with salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms and tomato paste, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Put the chicken pieces on a serving dish and coat with the sauce.


Chicken Carving and Cutting:

Legs

Stick a fork in the leg. Apply pressure to lift it, and slide a knife along the carcass to detach the meat. Cut off at the joint.


Wings

Stick a fork under the wing. Find the joint with a knife and cut through it. Press down on the fork to re

move the wing. Use the knife to hold the chicken steady.


Carcass

Cut the chicken down the middle, lengthwise.


To cut the chicken before cooking, cut up the carcass in the same way as for carving a cooked chicken.


*My photo is just a sample of what came out of the pot, but this recipe could easily be doubled to feed more than 6. And let me tell you the sauce was delicious! The prep was easy, and this makes this recipe great after a long day at work... But I didn't stop at this recipe. I decided to make a little something for dessert. How about a sweet treat with just 3 ingredients?? That's what this Almond Macaroon recipe calls for!


Almond Macaroons

Macarons Aux Amandes

*recipe reprinted with permission of Phaidon Press Inc.


Ingredients:

Butter, for greasing

2 ¾ cups ground almonds

3 egg whites

2 ½ cups superfine sugar


Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 20-25 minutes

Serves 6


Preheat the oven to 300ºF and line a baking sheet with buttered parchment paper. Put the almonds in a bowl and mix in the egg whites a little at a time. Stir in the sugar and mix well. Form the dough into slightly flattened balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned.

This is a cookbook I will use a lot. I've tried all sorts of recipes already and everything has been delish! Have you got a favorite French cuisine recipe? Would love to know what you've been cooking. And if you have any suggestions! Have you tried I Know How To Cook? Would love to know what you prepared!

I want to thank Kelly from Phaidon Press for sending me this wonderful cookbook to review! Thanks Kelly! I loved every bite! And I'm still absorbing the wisdom of Ginette Mathiot! And I will for many years! This will have a special place on my cookbook shelf! Would you like to take a peek inside I Know How To Cook? You can see inside the book at the Phaidon's Website!

*All recipes are copyrighted and are reprinted by permission of Phaidon Press

Monday, January 25, 2010

Denise Austin's Daily Dozen Blog Tour! And Review!

12 Easy Exercises in 12 Minutes a Day!

For more than 25 years, Denise Austin has been helping people get in shape & lose weight. She looks fabulous at 52 and credits this by exercising regularly and eating healthy. In her new book, Denise's Daily Dozen, not only does she gives us the tools to get in shape, but they are EASY! She's not talking about a diet, she's talking about simple changes. Making better food choices, adding some exercise and feeling better!

Denise shares with you her plan of 12 easy exercises that can be done in 12 minutes a day, the exercises change each day so you're not bored, plus she gives you recipes and meal plans with "normal" food, such as Awesome Chicken Brick Burgers, or Tuna Salad Wrap. Included are tips to help you keep on track and even exercises you can do at the kitchen sink! Included are 12 ways to add flavor to food, shopping tips, and ways to boost your energy. Denise lays out everything for you each day of the week, with a checklist at the end of the day, so you can keep track of what you are doing. If you want to get in shape (one of my new years resolutions!) & enjoy trying new recipes, what have you got to lose? No pun intended! I thought the book was organized well, and the recipes easy. I also thought the tips throughout the book were great. Denise's Daily Dozen is a good place to start to get back on track! Check out DeniseAustin.com for more info! *Hey, This Book is Kindle Ready!

Chick with Books is part of Denise's Daily Dozen Blog Tour.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Sunday Salon... Books with Buzz & a Look at an exciting week ahead!


What is the Sunday Salon? Imagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake...

It was a busy week last week with the announcement of the Caldecott Medal, Newbery Medal & the Printz Awards, my joining the Short Story Reading Challenge, going to the library and checking out some short story collections ( and reading a few), finishing one more book for The Japanese Literature Challenge (Strangers by Taichi Yamada) and making my reading group selection for the month of January (a bit late). Next week is going to be just as busy with a stop of Denise Austen's Book Tour for her newest book Denise's Daily Dozen, which is her new exercise and weigh loss book. Great recipes & easy exercises! Plus I'll be having a giveaway! It's the perfect start to some of our "get in shape" resolutions for the new year! THEN, I'm going to be reviewing a great french cookbook! It's I Know How To Cook by Ginette Mathiot! Her cookbook is the French version of The Joy of Cooking, and it is wonderful! AND I have permission to reprint a few recipes! So I'm going to review the book and share some photos of what I cooked and share the recipes for some great food!!! I have a few book reviews lined up too, so stop by next week! In the meantime, I've heard a lot of great buzz on some books this week and here they are...

Bloodroot by Amy Greene... Named for a flower whose blood-red sap possesses the power both to heal and poison, Bloodroot is a stunning fiction debut about the legacies—of magic and madness, faith and secrets, passion and loss—that haunt one family across the generations, from the Great Depression to today. The novel is told in a kaleidoscope of seamlessly woven voices and centers around an incendiary romance that consumes everyone in its path: Myra Lamb, a wild young girl with mysterious, haint blue eyes who grows up on remote Bloodroot Mountain; her grandmother Byrdie Lamb, who protects Myra fiercely and passes down “the touch” that bewitches people and animals alike; the neighbor boy who longs for Myra yet is destined never to have her; the twin children Myra is forced to abandon but who never forget their mother’s deep love; and John Odom, the man who tries to tame Myra and meets with shocking, violent disaster. Against the backdrop of a beautiful but often unforgiving country, these lives come together—only to be torn apart—as a dark, riveting mystery unfolds. With grace and unflinching verisimilitude, Amy Greene brings her native Appalachia—and the faith and fury of its people—to rich and vivid life. Here is a spellbinding tour de force that announces a dazzlingly fresh, natural-born storyteller in our midst. I looked through this at the bookstore this week and it captured my attention. The writing is wonderful and the story seems to be not only a great setting, but a good story involving the relationships of generations of women. I heard a bit of comparision to Wuthering Heights. So I'm looking forward to cracking the spine on this one and diving into the story! Sounds like this may be a great book club selection too! *This Book is Kindle Ready!

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier... From the moment she's struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear that Mary Anning is marked for greatness. On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, she learns that she has "the eye"—and finds what no one else can see. When Mary uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious fathers on edge, the townspeople to vicious gossip, and the scientific world alight. In an arena dominated by men, however, Mary is barred from the academic community; as a young woman with unusual interests she is suspected of sinful behavior. Nature is a threat, throwing bitter, cold storms and landslips at her. And when she falls in love, it is with an impossible man. Luckily, Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a recent exile from London, who also loves scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy. Ultimately, in the struggle to be recognized in the wider world, Mary and Elizabeth discover that friendship is their greatest ally. Remarkable Creatures is a stunning novel of how one woman's gift transcends class and social prejudice to lead to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century. Above all, is it a revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female friendship. I like reading stories with interesting friendships. This book has gotten so much press due to its author, Tracy Chevalier, but there has been a lot of positive buzz about the story too. This is on my TBR list! *This Book is Kindle Ready!

Twilight: the graphic novel. Written by Stephanie Meyer, Illustrated by Korean artist Young Kim... With input from Meyer on every panel, the first volume of Twilight: the Graphic Novel will be published on 16 March. Its publisher said the black and white title, with colour interspersed throughout, would combine "a rare fusion of Asian and western comic techniques". The cover shows human teenager Bella Swan sprawled on the grass – an image from the dream that first inspired Meyer to write the novel. "In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire," she has said. "I stayed in bed, thinking about the dream. I was so intrigued by the nameless couple's story that I hated the idea of forgetting it; it was the kind of dream that makes you want to call your friend and bore her with a detailed description." The American author said yesterday that Kim's graphic interpretation of her characters and settings was "very close" to what she was imagining while writing the series. OK, I loved Twilight... it was fun, made me feel like a teenager again, and I thought the writing was good, so how could I not just mention this! There has been a lot of anticipation for this graphic novel since the rumors started this summer... EW.com made the official announcement this week (plus they have exclusive images of some of the actual pages this week in their magazine) that March 16th is the day the graphic novel will be released. From what I saw the illustrations were nice. This is suppose to be released in 2 parts. This first part is going to have an initial release of 350,000 copies!

So, how was your week? Have you read any of these books with buzz? And what books did you spot in your literary wanderings? Don't forget to stop by next week! And in the meantime....

Happy reading... Suzanne

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett... January Book Club Selection

Three Ordinary Women are About to Take One Extraordinary Step...

January Book Club Selection

About the Book...

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

What makes a great book club selection? Great writing, compelling characters, conflict & heartbreak, redemption... The Help by Kathryn Stockett has all these elements! Just glancing through the book on the shelf, Kathryn's writing grabs you and holds you there to read just a little more. The 60's was a turbulent time in the south, with racial tensions & segregation, and the author takes pains to be authentic in writing about the times the three women of the story lived in, one in which the black maids took care of and virtually raised the children of their white employers, but could still be harassed when walking down those same streets. The author herself was raised in such a household in Jackson, Mississippi... Here's an excerpt from a conversation with Kathryn Stockett about growing up and about writing her book...

"Growing up in Mississippi, almost every family I knew had a black woman working in their house—cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the white children. That was life in Mississippi. I was young and assumed that’s how most of America lived. When I moved to New York, though, I realized my “normal” wasn’t quite the same as the rest of America’s. I knew a lot of Southerners in the city, and every now and then we’d talk about what we missed from the South. Inevitably, somebody would start talking about the maid they grew up with, some little thing that made us all remember—Alice’s good hamburgers or riding in the back seat to take Willy May home. Everybody had a story to tell. Twenty years later, with a million things to do in New York City, there we were still talking about the women who’d raised us in our mama’s kitchens. It was probably on one of those late nights, homesick, when I realized I wanted to write about those relationships from my childhood."

'The Help is fiction, by far and wide...I was scared, a lot of the time, that I was crossing a terrible line, writing in the voice of a black person. I was afraid I would fail to describe a relationship that was so intensely influential in my life, so loving, so grossly stereotyped in American history. I am afraid I have told too little. Not just that life was so much worse, for many black women working in the homes in Mississippi. But also, that there was so much more love between white families and black domestics, that I didn't have the ink or the time to portray. But what I am sure about is this: I don't presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially the 1960's. I don't think it is something any white woman, on the other end of a black woman's paycheck, could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity..."

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is my reading group's January read. The book has gotten tremendous praise from reviewers all over, and it was Bookreporter.com's "Book of The Year"! Published by the Penguin Group in February 2009, you can read an excerpt of The Help at the publishers website. And you can also read about what Kathryn felt about her life and writing The Help "In Her Own Words", found on her website KathrynStockett.com.

If you've read The Help, I would love to hear what you thought of the book! And if you're going to read it, either as a group or yourself, Penguin has put together a reading group guide with some thought provoking questions...

Discussion Questions...

1. Who was your favorite character? Why?

2. What do you think motivated Hilly? On the one hand she is terribly cruel to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes that she can’t control her. Yet she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think that one can be a good mother but, at the same time, a deeply flawed person?

3. Like Hilly, Skeeter’s mother is a prime example of someone deeply flawed yet somewhat sympathetic. She seems to care for Skeeter— and she also seems to have very real feelings for Constantine. Yet the ultimatum she gives to Constantine is untenable; and most of her interaction with Skeeter is critical. Do you think Skeeter’s mother is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character? Why?

4. How much of a person’s character would you say is shaped by the times in which they live?

5. Did it bother you that Skeeter is willing to overlook so many of Stuart’s faults so that she can get married, and that it’s not until he literally gets up and walks away that the engagement falls apart?

6. Do you believe that Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?

7. Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother? Do you think racism is inherent, or taught?

8. From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hairshellac system that Skeeter undergoes seems ludicrous. Yet women still alter their looks in rather peculiar ways as the definition of “beauty” changes with the times. Looking back on your past, what’s the most ridiculous beauty regimen you ever underwent?

9. The author manages to paint Aibileen with a quiet grace and an aura of wisdom about her. How do you think she does this?

10. Do you think there are still vestiges of racism in relationships where people of color work for people who are white?

11. What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?

Happy Reading... Suzanne

*P.S. This Book is Kindle Ready! (available under $9!) And the hardcover edition of The Help is available from Amazon.com for $9.50 right now! That's 62% off!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Strangers by Taichi Yamada... A Review

A Japanese Ghost Story that will Haunt you...

One of the things I love about the Japanese Literature I've discovered this year is its ability to weave the present day with the spirits of the past so matter of fact. Spirits are accepted as existing. Strangers by Taichi Yamada is such a story. It's a ghost story, but more than that. There is an underlying layer that makes this a much more complex story, one that will have you questioning your own heart...

Imagine meeting your parents when they are a young married couple... The exact age they were the last time you saw them... That is what happens to our main character, Harada, who is 47, recently divorced and pretty jaded. His parents were killed in an automobile accident when he was 12, and he was raised by his grandfather. One night he is compelled to visit the part of Tokyo where he grew up. He visits a theatre there, where he meets a man that looks exactly like his long-dead father... He can't believe his eyes, but he is compelled and soon obsessed to find out who this man is... How could you not be curious? And then as Harada is invited to the man's home and meets his wife, who just so happens to look just like his dead mother, how can you not be compelled to stay... even if you know none of this can be real. Or is it real?

Taichi Tamada's prose is sparse but moving. He slowly builds the story around Harada, painting the story with a lost love & his divorce, new love, a demanding job, an estranged son and a strange building where Harada lives. But it also is a story about the love one has for ones parents. As Harada deals with life as we all know it, there is this other surreal world that is wrapping itself around him, pulling him away from everything else. How can Harada resist the love of his parents that he was cheated from as a small boy... even if it's slowly draining the life right out of him. The story is simply wonderful, with unexpected twists and turns that bring the story to a wonderful ending. It will haunt you after the last page...

I read this book is part of The Japanese Literature Challenge, which ends at the end of this month. I really enjoyed this book! What looked to be a simple story was not, and because of that it kept me turning the pages. Not to mention that Taichi Yamada writes well. It's a great introduction to Japanese Literature if you haven't read any yet, and at only 203 pages it's a reasonable time investment!

*BTW, Strangers, by Taichi Yamada, was awarded the first Yamamoto Shugoro Prize, for the best human-interest novel. Shūgorō Yamamoto ( June 22, 1903 - February 14, 1967) was the pen-name of a novelist and short-story writer active in Showa period Japan, noted for his popular literature. His real name was Satomu Shimizu. His literary legacy is the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize, which was established in 1987 on the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Shinchō Society for the Promotion of Literary Arts. It is awarded annually to a new work of fiction considered to exemplify the art of storytelling.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The American Library Association Announces the Winners for The Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal & Printz Award...







The American Library Association announced this week the winners of the prestigious Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal, & Printz Award...


The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published that year. It was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. Together with the Newbery Medal, it is the most prestigious American children's book award....

The 2010 Caldecott Medal Winner is...

The Lion & the Mouse, illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney, published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers. Artist Jerry Pinkney's wordless adaptation of one of Aesop's most beloved fables, an unlikely pair learn that no act of kindness is ever wasted. After a ferocious lion spares a cowering mouse that he'd planned to eat, the mouse later comes to his rescue, freeing him from a poacher's trap. With vivid depictions of the landscape of the African Serengeti and expressively-drawn characters, Pinkney makes this a truly special retelling, and his stunning pictures speak volume


The John Newbery Medal is a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The award is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The award has been given since 1922. It was the first children's literary award in the world...

The 2010 Newbery Medal Winner is...

When You Reach Me, written by Rebecca Stead, published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Miranda lives in 1978 New York City with her mother, and her life compass is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. When she receives a series of enigmatic notes that claim to want to save her life, she comes to believe that they are from someone who knows the future. It's a mystery, a puzzle, a great historical look at New York during the late 70's, and has a bit of time traveling...

The Michael L. Printz Award is an annual award in the United States for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a school librarian from Topeka, Kansas, who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). The national award is sponsored by Booklist magazine and administered by YALSA, a division of the American Library Association...

The 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Winner is...

Going Bovine, written by Libba Bray, published by Delacorte. Cameron, a 16-year-old slacker whose somewhat dysfunctional family has just about given up on him, is diagnosed with "mad cow" disease. He goes on a quest with a punk rock angel named Dulcie and accompanied by a hypochondriac dwarf named Gonzo, who have told him there is a doctor with a cure.


One more award I thought I would mention...

The Robert F. Sibert Award, which is awarded for the most distinguished informational book. The award was established by The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), and is a division of the American Library Association...

The 2010 Robert F. Sibert Award Winner is...

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick). This book is about about the 13 women who are known as the Mercury 13, had all passed the initial tests to go into space on that first mission, were all accomplished women, pilots, but never got the chance to take that flight.


You can see the whole list of winners, runners up, and other awards presented and for what books at the American Library Association, or a total recap of all the awards at Publishers Weekly Online. Congratulations to all the winners!

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