Monday, May 31, 2010

May Reading Reflections

I haven't really been paying much attention to how much I have read this month, mainly because I got off to such a slow start due to having to slog through the first part of The Brothers of Gwynedd without being able to call it a book that is finished! So, I have started this post, and now I am going to check my spreadsheet and hope for a pleasant surprise! And the answer is .... no, not in terms of the number of books read, but looking at the grades it is probably my best month in ages!

The books I finished in May were:

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (5/5)
To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick (5/5)
The Fury by L J Smith (4/5)
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (4/5)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (5/5)
Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale (3.5/5)
Hero at Large by Janet Evanovich (4/5)
The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton (4.5/5)
The Knife of Letting Go by Patrick Ness (4.5/5)

So time for an update on my challenges!

Year of the Historical Challenge - Into the Wilderness was a reread for me. As I was reading The Endless Forest at the end of last month, I kept on thinking how much I really wanted to read through the series again, so I did speed my way through the first book, and enjoyed every moment of it!

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge - Into the Wilderness, To Defy a King, Shanghai Girls, The Help and The Winthrop Woman.

Chunkster Challenge - Into the Wilderness was also my final book for the Chunkster Challenge for this year.

Pub 2010 - To Defy a King and Uncertain Magic.

LJ Smith Reading Challenge - The Fury

Romance Reading Challenge - Uncertain Magic and Hero at Large

Once Upon Time IV - The Fury

Vampire Series Challenge - The Fury

100+ Reading Challenge -Read 60 out of the 100 required to meet this challenge.

Support Your Local Library Challenge -Read 41. It's going to require a big effort to get to 100!

Challenges that I didn't make any progress on this month - Period Drama, Harry Potter, Aussie Authors, Tudor Reading Challenge, In Death Reading Challenge, Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge, Art History Reading Challenge, French Historical.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

TSS - Getting voice right

Before getting into my post proper, I want to quickly say thank you to the bloggers who got together and organised Armchair BEA. I had so much fun over the last week, and I know that I still have a ton of posts to read from the event! I really hope that we get to do it all again next year!
Now, to what I wanted to talk about today. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

In the author's note for that book, Kathryn Stockett wrote:

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 and literature.

and further on

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 in the 1960s. 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.

Reading this book had me thinking about voice, and what it is made up of. Firstly, when you are reading a book where there are different types of voices, there could be differentiation in terms of the words that are used, the spelling and grammar which could be used to indicate race or ethnicity or level of education, but other factors that go into giving a character voice, and in particular in giving the reader a sense of authentic voice can also include attitude. As much as we like 21st century attitudes is it realistic to expect to see that attitude in a 19th century woman. Usually not. This is an area that does tend to crop up particularly in relation to those feisty women who defy convention in fiction, but in reality there were so few women who did act against societies norms. The ones who did are exceptional and it is fantastic to read about them, but the numbers of those type of women portrayed compared to the number of women who would have actually acted in this way is definitely disproportionate.

Often times some of the biggest pitfalls relating to voice can come from trying to write a nationality other than your own. There may be certain words that people from certain places are expected to say as a result of cultural stereotypes, but in reality that could be something that isn't every day for every person. Seeing that mentioned several times could be jarring to the reader.

Let me give you an example. One of the things that have been used to promote Australia and that we have a kind of stereotyping about is that we all call everyone mate, as in 'G'Day Mate'. I can't remember the last time I said that to someone. Even just using the word mate is not something that I would use regularly. I remember having a conversation with Heather from Tales of a Capricious Reader not too long ago where we talked about this, and she used the example of the word Y'all, as in 'howdy y'all' and having a similar reaction. Now to be fair, there are some Aussies for whom calling someone mate is a part of everyday idiom. I used to work with a man who called everyone mate. The interesting thing is that he had immigrated to Australia as a teenager, and had lived in a couple of other cities, so maybe it is something that he had more exposure to than I did. So if I read a book where there is an Australian who constantly calls everyone mate to me it doesn't feel genuine at all.

Another example is accent. For example, when I hear that famous line from the Meryl Streep movie Evil Angels/A Cry in the Dark, where she proclaims that 'a dingo took my baby', every time I hear that it is jarring and I think that so does not sound like a genuine Australian (see the video below). Having said that, if you can find audio of Lindy Chamberlain talking, she has a much broader accent than I do so maybe regional differences account for at least some of this difference of opinions.

My point about all this in relation to The Help in particular is that I thought that Kathryn Stockett did a really good job in giving the white and black characters in distinctive voice by using different spelling, grammar, intonation and and in conveying their attitude. The thing is though, my impression is based on what I have seen in movies, in what I have read in other books, and not from personal experience. A quick glance at Amazon shows a small minority of one and two star reviews, and a lot of them talk about not liking the dialect and so obviously their personal experiences have obviously bought influence to bear upon their reading experience.

For me it felt authentic, and I thought it was an excellent read.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Do you read Patricia Cornwell?

A friend of mine is looking for recommendations. His wife wants to read some Patricia Cornwell and so he asked me on Facebook

You're the book whiz :) have you read any of her books and if so, would you recommend them?

Once I got over the warm fuzzy book whiz comment, I had to admit that I couldn't help. Unfortunately I have only read one Patricia Cornwell book, and I really, really didn't like it, so I said to him that I would ask some other people who might be better! So now, blog readers, I am asking you all.

Would you recommend reading Patricia Cornwell. If yes, which book should my friend's wife start with?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Armchair BEA/Book Blogger Convention

Today is the final day of Armchair BEA, and I have had a lot of fun participating! Today if you were lucky enough to be in New York, it would be Book Blogger Convention day. The topics that are being discussed at BBC include Professionalism/Ethics, Writing/Building Content, Marketing and Social Responsibility. I thought that I woulld concentrate on Writing/Building Content, and talk about ways to avoid book blogger burn out.


Hang around in blog land long enough, and you are bound to see a post about blogger burn out in one guise or another. It could be that the blogger is feeling overwhelmed by ARCs, or perhaps they are feeling isolated and alone, or perhaps one or more of your favourite book bloggers have just disappeared without a trace. I don't profess to know all the answers of how to avoid this feeling, but I have been there a number of times, and yet here I still am, more than four and a half years later, so I thought I would offer a few thoughts on ways to avoid the dreaded blogger burn out.

Believe me when I say that I have my own issues around blogging to deal with and by no means do I have all the answers. For example, I have really gotten out of practice at writing reviews, and so now I can find them really difficult to write. And who knows, this time next month, I could be struggling in other areas, but in this post though, I thought I would share a few thoughts about avoiding book blogging blues.

Don't over commit yourself

There's something so great about receiving a lovely new book, and when it's free...bonus! As tempting as it is to say yes to everything it can however become completely overwhelming if you are looking at a shelf of ARCs that you have said you will read and review, and you just can't see how you will get them all read. Then there are all those books that you are going to get to read the books you spent your hard earned cash on - the books that you wanted to read badly enough that you bought them.

Be realistic about how many books you can accept. I know that a couple of bloggers have said that they can accept x number of books for review each month, and once the schedule is full, that's it. No more. The down side to this is that some times there are books that you were offered and said no to and then you start seeing around and think should have accepted that book. Happens to me all the time, but you know what, if I really want the book then chance are my library will have it, or I will want it enough to buy it.

If you do have to a review a book by a certain date, make sure you have that date recorded somewhere. I have all mine listed on the same spreadsheet as my library books due dates, so that I can see in one place which books I should concentrate on in the next week or so. Last minute panic reads are never fun, and writing those reviews in a rush isn't necessarily going to reflect all that well on you either.

Feeling overwhelmed by challenges? Drop some of them. Yes it is disappointing to not finish something you started, but if all you are getting out of challenges is pressure, then they aren't working for you. I always try to only join challenges where I already have books to read for. I don't like to have to add yet more books to the toppling TBR pile in order to meet  challenge requirements.

Try something new 

This year I have started participating in a couple of new things (being Sunday Salon and Weekend Cooking). I can't tell you how freeing Sunday Salon in particular has been for me because I have now got the room to post about a particular topic without it having to be a review. It could be something completed unrelated to what I am reading. In most cases though I find that my post for the week is related to some thought or another I have had about the book that I am reading. I am also conscious though that with both of these posts that if I don't get to it, it really doesn't matter.   Maybe you have another hobby you could post about as well to give yourself a little variety. Post some music, do some posts about where you live, or perhaps you want to do a focus on books set in your town, or by authors who live near you or whatever you like. It is your blog, and you can therefore put whatever content you like on it. I would suggest posting regularly, but it doesn't have to be every day. Chances are that if you like something enough to post about it, other people will like it enough to read it.

Work out a schedule

Maybe you are one of those types of people who works best with a little structure. If that is the case, then work out the structure that works for you and go for it. For example, each week I am participating in Teaser Tuesday because I really enjoy that meme (I know that not everyone does but that's okay), and then on Wednesday's I co-host Library Loot. Come the weekend then I will most likely post something for Weekend Cooking and Sunday Salon, and then I can fill in the gaps with other content. Mind you I am not suggesting that you lock yourself into a schedule that is so rigid that you feel you must only post this type of post on this day but it can help not to be looking at whole week and think what the heck am I going to write about?

Participate in the book blogging community

Participate in events such as Armchair BEA, Book Blogger Appreciation Week or the read-a-thons. Reach out to other bloggers. If there is a blogger that you think you would like to connect to a little more, send them an email and say hi. Maybe suggest doing a joint review or co host an event. For example, if you have an author that you love and you know that there is another blogger who loves them too, suggest doing a guest post swap about that author. If you see challenges or events you think you would like to participate in contact the host. Some times it won't be possible but often you will be made welcome.

When you feel inspired .... write

Some days I could quite easily sit down and write 4 or 5 different posts there are so many thoughts running around in my head. If you have days like that - write. You don't have to post straight away and you can always go and tweak a post in draft before you do finally post it to your blog. Have a few posts saved in draft that you can post in those weeks when it looks like your content is going to be a bit light on. Or perhaps schedule a week and then use that time to write some more posts to have in advance.

It's okay to take a break

Some times we all need to have some time off. Try not to do so without at least putting a post up so that people who know you will know that you are okay and they don't worry. It doesn't have to be a 'I hate blogging right now' post. Put up a vacation photo, or a gone fishing sign or something.  And you know what, it's okay to press Mark All As Read in your feed reader when you come back. Yes, you might have missed out on something good, but is it really worth feeling so overwhelmed? This is one that I need to remind myself about all the time.

Back to basics

Why did you start book blogging in the first place? Chances are it was because you love to read and you wanted to tell someone, anyone about it! Or perhaps you were aiming for a reading journal. Are the reasons you continue to blog still the same or has your blog evolved to something more? Sit down and look at what is or isn't working for you anymore. My own blog started as a review blog only. All reviews, all the time. Over the years it has become more of a general book blog. For a while there I posted about craft (but I haven't done any of that for an eternity), and there have been times when I have struggled with what to do next, but four and a half years down the track, blogging is something that I still enjoy and I miss when I am away from the computer. I am not sure that that would be the case if I stuck rigidly to reviews only. Chances are that if you are getting down about blogging you need to change something.

Blogging for most of us is a hobby. It should be something that you get enjoyment and fulfilment from. You should be in charge of your blogging. It should not be ruling your life to the point that you start to not want to do it, or that you are feeling so overwhelmed by it.

Do you have any other tips that you think help avoid book blogger burn out? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Armchair BEA: If I was in New York today

It's hard to believe that I could feel more tired than I do tonight, but I am pretty sure I would be a bit exhausted if I was really in New York today, but need to soldier on!

If I was really in New York at BEA my morning would start at 10am with a signing by Deanna Raybourn. I have really enjoyed her Lady Julia Grey series, and I love reading her blog!

At 10.30 I would be at the Thrillers session which features the author of The Passage, Justin Cronin, and also Lee Child. I have never read Lee Child, but I recently watched an interview with him where he was very amusing and interesting to listen too, so I intend to read something from him in due course.

My next must attend event would be a signing byJennifer Donnelly at 1.30pm. There is just the one question I would want to ask her. When will The Wild Rose be published? It feels as though we have been waiting for this book forever.
I would probably then make an effort to go and see M J Rose at 3pm then. I hvent read her, but I want to.

What New York moments would I want to have today? I think it would have to be a show on Broadway. Maybe to see Jersey Boys. That sounds like a fun way to spend a Thursday night!

Armchair BEA - Deciphering the signature

So you got your books signed. The question for today is...can you read it?

On Tuesday  I posted about getting to meet Paullina Simons and having a whole mountain of books signed by her. Today I wanted to do a quick post about an author who signed just one book for me. Early in 2009 I was lucky enough to attend ARRC (the Australian Romance Readers Convention), and one of the key note speakers was Sherrilyn Kenyon, author of the paranormal romance Dark Hunter novels.

Now looking at this signature, you might think that I was the last in a long queue of people to get their book signed, but I really wasn't. In fact, I was one of the first for the session, and yet, I have no idea what this says, and believe me, I have looked at it on and off for more than a year trying to figure it out. I think I know what some of it says, but if other people want to have a go that would be fun too! It could relate to the conversation we had where I said that this was my favourite Dark Hunter novel, or it could be something completely different!

What do you think that says?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Library Loot: May 26 to June 1

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and myself that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

In last week's Library Loot post I mentioned that I hadn't picked any thing up but I did have a few items waiting for me. This week, you see all of those items!

Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden - There's a couple of Australian authors who I am constantly told I should read, and John Marsden. I was inspired to finally request this book after a conversation on Twitter with Maree from Just Add Books.

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni - Reloot. I wanted to read this so badly, but never got to it. This was touted as the next big book, but doesn't seem to have taken off quite in the way that was expected, at least not around the blogs that I read.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell - I saw this mentioned on a couple of Teaser Tuesday posts, and thought it sounded like lots of fun. It also ties in nicely with the novel that I am reading at the moment.

The Vampire Diaries: The Reunion by L J Smith - The fourth and final book in the original Vampire Diaries series.

The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Cappella - Writing a review recently for one of his earlier books, and seeing the details for his next one, made me realise that I still hadn't read this release!

Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver - About six weeks or so ago I seriously overdosed on the TV series that accompanies this book. I have only had a quick flick through but I do think I am going to go out and buy this one!

Young Victoria - I borrowed this DVD a few weeks ago but didn't get to watch it, so I have borrowed it again.

The Land of the Lost - My son wanted to watch this one and so I requested it for him. Now I think he is saying that he has already seen it!

What items did you get from the library this week? Leave your link in Mr Linky so we can all come and check out your loot.

Armchair BEA: If I was in New York today

Before I start my post proper, I wanted to let you know that not only can you read my thoughts here today, I have also guest posted over at Beth Fish Reads, talking about one of my favourite Australian authors.Now that that is out of the way on with my post!

It's probably a good thing that I am not really at BEA. Even in my imagination I can't avoid schedules clashing!

My starting point today would be at 9.30 am with signing by either Brunonia Barry or Robyn Carr. I enjoyed Brunonia Barry's debut novel The Lace Reader, and Robyn Carr's Virgin River series is one I definitely want to read more of.

Because the queues would be completely non existent just for me, at 10am I would arrive just in time to attend the book signings by either Justin Cronin (author of The Passage) or by Mitchell Kaplan for By Fire, By Water.I haven't read either book, but I am really excited in particular by the prospect of reading The Passage! I have heard such good things about it from bloggers I really respect.

I was tempted to see what was going to said at the 10am session called You're Reading That.  The blurb for the session -

  • How can booksellers and librarians supply the interests of their teenage customers yet stay connected with that crucial 18-35 year old demographic—the ones who still read and buy YA titles in great numbers? The recent success of Little Brown’s Twilight Series highlights the need for industry professionals to be proactive in supplying fresh and fascinating titles for this burgeoning market.

Another YA session at 11am - this time about YA Author's Crossing over. My main reason for wanting to be at this session - Jennifer Donnelly. I have loved all of her books, especially her Victorian saga which started with The Tea Rose and continued in The Winter Rose.

  • Melissa Marr, Wicked Lovely series and GRAVEMINDER; Jennifer Donnelly, REVOLUTION and THE WINTER ROSE; Stephanie Kuhnert, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA and I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE; Michele Jaffe, ROSEBUSH, BAD KITTY (young adult), STARGAZER, BAD GIRL (adult); Jeri Smith-Ready, SHADE (YA), BRING ON THE NIGHT (Adult)

At 12 noon the queues would magically clear so that I could attend a signing by Maria Snyder! I really liked the books of hers that I have read, although I really need to hurry up and read the third book in the Study series and move onto the next books, and then I am thinking New York style pizza, and then New York baked cheesecake for lunch! All the walking that we will be doing will more than compensate for all those calories! And I would definitely be planning to catch up with some blogging friends as well!

Nelson Demille is an author who I used to love reading in late teens and early twenties. I don't know why I haven't read one of his books recently, but I would love to meet him regardless! Having said that Justine Larbalestier is also signing at 3pm, and given that she is one of the few Aussies at BEA I would like to go and say hi!

Of course at the same time there is also the Steampunk session. I haven't read a lot of Steampunk myself, but I would have to attend because one of the authors on the panel is Catherynne Valente who wrote the awesome The Orphan's Tale. I have read and loved Vol 1, and would love to read more from her.

And at 4pm, I would love to go and drop by the signing by Anna Godberson because all of her covers would look so pretty all lined up on a desk!

The next thing I would do is based on a number of assumptions:

  • I would not be completely exhausted after a full day of BEA walking around, carrying bag loads of books (excess luggage....pah!)
  • There would be a game on
  • There would be tickets available

I would go to a major league baseball game. Before I started travelling years ago, there were two sporting events that I really wanted to attend. One was to go and see soccer played at London's Wembley stadium, which I managed to do while I was living in the UK, and the other was to go and see a Major League Baseball game. Unfortunately during the time that I was in the US, there was a baseball strike, and so instead we had to go to a second division ice hockey game. It was loads of fun, but I still would like to go to the baseball.

I don't think I would necessarily appreciate the game itself all that much, but I would love to drink up the atmosphere!

Of course, I would be hoping not to see any crying because there's no crying in baseball.

Armchair BEA: Introducing Mary Elizabeth from A Novel Idea

Today for Armchair BEA it is interview swap day! I was teamed up with a new to me blogger, Mary Elizabeth from A Novel Idea. Welcome to my blog Mary Elizabeth!

Q: At A Novel Idea you blog about children's books. What were your favourite children's book when you were growing up, and do you think those books influenced your love of them as an adult?

A: I loved reading all types of books, but I especially enjoyed chapter books! Some of my favorites were: Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Superfudge, and the entire Little House on the Prairie series. I really liked books where I could strongly identify with the main character. I think these books influenced my love of reading, since I read these books (and others) so often! I have always been a strong reader, so it has always been a positive activity for me.

Q: You have a series of posts on your blog called Literacy Tips where you give suggestions on how to get your kids to read. What do you think the biggest mistake parents make is when it comes to children's literacy.

A: I think parents tend to underestimate how early the literacy process begins - it starts during infancy! Literacy isn't just about reading, but about all communication involving written and spoken language. Reading to your infant is essential - it definitely plants the seeds of literacy!

Q: I don't know how it happened really but my son is not a reader - absolutely breaks my heart. Is there a point where it is too late to get your child to read?

A: Having been a classroom teacher, I don't think a child ever reaches a point where he or she cannot become a reader! Some people don't even become avid readers until adulthood! Don't give up on your son - you can help him become a reader in many ways. Try listening to books on CD with him - I know this sounds strange, but it is a valuable strategy. I would implement this strategy with dyslexic children, and they enjoyed being able to follow the story completely without having to worry about phonics and word recognition. I then began introducing other students to books on CD, and they enjoyed listening to them as well. The children are still building their vocabulary and reading fluency by listening to stories. It is a very powerful tool.

Q: Your other blog, Ten Thousand Hugs, has a different focus, more a mommy-blog style. Which is the easier blog to write for? In what ways are writing for the two blogs the same and different?

A: I find that writing for "A Novel Idea" is easier, since I follow the same schedule each week. My other blog does not have as much focus at the moment, but I am working on two summer projects with my children that I will blog about on there. I really enjoyed writing both - I love to write and create posts!

Q: When you started A Novel Idea you were writing a children's book. Is this something that you are still working on?

A: Yes! I am still working on that, but not on my blog anymore. I need to note that on the blog for my readers!

Q: How do you juggle parenting, blogging and writing? Do you have any other hobbies as well?

A: I have a difficult time juggling everything, since I have four small children at home. I just find pockets of time to blog during the day, and, of course, when the children are sleeping! Yes, I do have other hobbies - yoga, running, scrapbooking, and reading.

Thanks so much Mary Elizabeth. My answers will be up on her blog later. (Updated to say you can read my interview here).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

I interrupt the Armchair BEA posts with regular programming!

This week my teaser for Teaser Tuesday comes from The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton. The reason I am reading this is next month (which really isn't all that far away really) is Anya Seton Season at Historical Tapestry - giveaways, reviews and guest posts.

Before starting this I had only read Katherine, which is a fantastic book, and Dragonwyck which I liked too. I suspect that people more familiar with American history would recognise the name Winthrop in association with the Puritans, but this is all new for me.

My teaser comes from page 257:

We are but four thousand people yet, like the Israelites, and pressed like them from all sides - Sir Ferdinando Gorges' hirelings and New France on the north, across the sea our persecutors in England; to the south beyond the Dutch a Papist place called Maryland has been established. The west has cannibalistic Mohawks. Beset like this from every quarter, what hope have we but to stand close together in ourselves - with amity?

Teaser Tuesday is host by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

Armchair BEA: If I was in New York today

As part of Armchair BEA I thought it would be a fun idea to do posts about what authors and sessions I would be trying  to attend if I really was in New York, as well as a little bit of cyber tourism about the city as well because I haven't been there yet, but would like to one day.

It appears that Tuesday is more an industry type day at BEA so that means there was really only one session that caught my eye and that is BEA Buzz (4.30pm), mainly because I love the idea of knowing what the next big books are going to be. The description of the session is below:

BEA’s original and ultimate taste making event. Insightful and passionate, this intimate editorial exchange will provide you with an editor’s perspective on six of the Fall’s biggest potential breakout releases.

Program Chair: John Freeman, American Editor, Granta

Editors: Chuck Adams, Executive Editor, Algonquin with Jonathan Evison’s WEST OF HERE; Susanna Porter, Executive Editor, Ballantine with Anne Fortier’s JULIET: A Novel; Mitzi Angel, Publisher, FSG with Ben Goldacre’s BAD SCIENCE; Judy Clain, Executive Editor, Little, Brown & Co. with Emma Donoghue’s ROOM; Nan Graham, Editor-in-Chief, Scribner with Siddhartha Mukherjee’s THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A BIOGRAPHY OF CANCER; Cary Goldstein, Assoc. Publisher, Twelve with Benjamin Hale’s THE EVOLUTION OF BRUNO LITTLEMORE

On the plane trip over I would have tried to reread Beverly Swerling's books, City of Dreams and City of Glory so that I could refresh my memories about the founding of New York. I haven't yet read the fourth book written by her about New York, so I would try to read City of God as well! It's a very long flight from here to there!

Assuming that it was a lovely day I would get an early start and take the Statue of Liberty ferry so that I could see all round that very famous icon of New York. I would also try to spend time at the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island. This is something I have wanted to do since reading The Bridge to the Holy Cross by Paullina Simons (published in other countries under the title Tatiana and Alexander) because one of the main characters had spent some time there on their arrival in America.

Of course, I won't have the connection to the place that lots of Americans would have, but I think it would still be fascinating.

And at night, maybe a trip to the Empire State Building just before closing to see if I can find my true love who will know that I am going to be there (a la Sleepless in Seattle and An Affair to Remember). Hopefully the fact that it isn't Valentine's Day won't count against me). One bad thing though is that the last elevator goes up at 1.15am which is late if I am going to get another early start to get to BEA tomorrow!

A girl can dream can't she?

Just for fun, here's a scene from the movie Hitch, where Hitch takes Eva Mendez's character to Ellis Island on their first date .

Armchair BEA - Author signings

As part of Armchair BEA, there are a number of suggested topics for blogging about, one of which is "Ever been to an author signing? Which was your favorite? Share a picture or two, even the picture of your signed book will do. If you haven't ever been to one, tell us all about your dream signing!".

This sounds like the perfect opportunity to revisit Paullina Simon's visit to Melbourne 2 and a half years ago. She visited again last year but I wasn't able to attend. I definitely will be trying to again the next time she comes to Australia.

You haven't heard of Paullina Simons? She has written a couple of my favourite books mainly The Bronze Horseman trilogy. She regularly tops the charts here in Australia and she often visits Australia to sold out events. It is a mystery to me why she isn't more well known in America in particular. For another fan's take on The Bronze Horseman trilogy, check out this recent post by Katiebabs from Babbling About Books.

This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on my blog in November 2007. I have also included a photo of Paullina and me that I didn't post the first time around which was taken at the dinner I mention below. I don't particularly like looking at photos of myself but some times there has to be exceptions I guess. Can't believe how red my face is though. I hadn't had that much to drink!

That reminds me. I really need to send the signed copy I got done for me at last year's visit to its planned recipient.


First, I will start with how gracious Paullina was when we met her. This below is a picture of all the books that Paullina signed for me. Obviously they are not all mine, but I was getting books signed for people who live in a few different countries where her books are not quite so available!

On Friday I took a day off work to go and see Paullina. I've never ever been to a book signing before, so I wasn't really all that sure what to expect. She was signing in the city at 12.30pm, so I wandered into the city carrying a pile of books and got to the venue about 12.15. I got in queue, and was only about 10 people from the front, but then I figured that seeing as I wasn't in very much of a hurry that I would wait for some friends from the forum. There was much texting of "how far away are you" but eventually there were three of us there so we took our place in line and waited. It was lucky to have others there that you knew because that definitely made the wait feel shorter.

As the line moved more towards the front it was obvious that she was taking time to chat with everyone and not just sign and move on! Now, I am sure that I have mentioned that I mod on her forum, and so spend quite a lot of time there. Mary (I have changed the names to protect the innocent!) was before me, and as the assistant said to are you Mary...THE Mary who posts on the forum?". And then she looked at me and said "And are you Marg?" which really surprised me, but she must have seen photos of us from the get togethers we have had in the past. When she got to me I explained that only one of the books that I had today was for me, but all the others were from other people. When I mentioned who the books that she was signing were for she knew exactly who I meant, and when I gave The Summer Garden to her to sign for one girl, Paullina knew that TSG was her favourite without me saying anything! She was extremely gracious, and said to me that I must be very busy, because she knew that I posted both on the official forum, and at Voy, and also blogged! She was so warm and gracious, and made us feel as though she was as pleased to see us as we were to see her. Then Sue behind me stepped up and Paullina not only took the time to find out who the she was and chat to her, but also to talk to her four year old daughter who had been waiting in line too. After that we said that we were all going to the dinner on Saturday night and we would see her there, and that was it. In the mean time someone else from the forum had turned up, so we waited for her to get through the queue and then went off and had some lunch together.

Then on Saturday night, we all gathered again for a dinner. Paullina took the time to come to our table a couple of times, and as soon as she came to the table she knew exactly who she had met previuosly and who she had not, which is pretty amazing when you consider how many people she must have met during the six events she had in Melbourne alone. I sat next to the mother of one of the girls from the forum, and we swapped book recommendations and reading stories, and generally had a really lovely time! It was also really good to catch up again with people who have become friends through the time we have spent together online, and also at the various meet ups we have had over the last couple of years!

The previous day when I got home I had gone on the forum and posted something along the lines of it's obvious that Paullina lurks a bit because she knew so much about us, and so I was really quite surprised when at the dinner she said "Now Marg, there is no reason for you to worry about me lurking!" which was a little embarrassing, but in the end it's not that I am worried, it was more that I was so surprised and thrilled!

For dinner we had chicken breast stuffed with cheese and pine nuts and something else, on a bed of tomato sauce and served with roasted potatoes, beans, peas and salad, and then sticky date pudding and ice cream for dessert. After dinner, Paullina got up and gave a 30 -40 minute presentation which was very entertaining, and featured some pictures of the places that Paullina went to as she went when she went on a research road trip as part of the writing process for Road to Paradise. She was funny and warm, and had the crowd in the palm of her hands. She certainly made me want to reread RTP now that I had very clear pictures of the journey that she took. A few questions from the audience and then it was time for more book signing.

We waited until the very end so that we could have a little more time, take some individual and group photos and have a chat, and it was really lovely. There will be some photos eventually, but of course, my camera batteries died even though I had recharged them the day before and hadn't used my camera at all! Always the way! Not that anyone wants to see photos of me anyway. I most certainly don't!

All in all, the last couple of days have been really great. Now that she has moved onto the next section of her tour I hope that the other fans really get to enjoy meeting her as well.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Alphabet in Historical Fiction: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Today I am posting my contribution to the letter L in the Alphabet in Historical Fiction which is hosted by Historical Tapestry, and also is one of my reviews for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. It also happens that Kelly from The Written World and I both had this book coming up to read soon, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do another joint review. Kelly has the first half of the review over at her blog, and the second half is on mine. Kelly's thoughts are in black, and mine are in purple.

First, here's the synopsis from the book:

In 1937, Shanghai is a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life. They face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are–Shanghai girls.

I think that there are probably three factors that make reading the immigrant experience interesting for me. The first is what makes a person want to leave their home? Generally it is hardship, war, famine, poverty, bad family situation etc. I think that things usually have to be pretty bad for someone want to leave their homeland, family to start afresh. Yes, in this day and age their are reasons like a new job, but I am talking about the people who really struggle to get to a new life. The second factor is the idea of triumphing over adversity, becoming something different or more than they were previously and the struggle to get to that point. The third factor for me, is that whether we are talking about a Chinese person immigrating to America in the 1930s, people arriving in Canada or Australia at any time, there are direct parallels with people today. There are still people who are still trying to get to a better place for themselves and their children. Some times this may be through illegal means which is something that many countries around the world are dealing with today (including Australia and America), and other times legally, but at the heart of these people's quest is the desire to give the best life they can for their families, some thing I am sure that all of us can relate to.

I have to ask you about the formatting in your copy. I read the Randhom House large print version, and it had very strange bolding all the through it. A lot of the time, the bolding was of Chinese terms, and other times I think it was for emphasis, but there were times when it looked like just random words were highlighted. I found it very strange and a little distracting at times. Did you have this in your copy?

As to the formatting, mine was just regular formatting. That's weird that they chose to bold words in the large print edition. Having never actually read a large-print version of a book I am not sure if that is maybe a regular thing?

I definitely don't think it is a regular thing. I read a number of large print books mainly because it is the luck of the draw when you request a book from the library in terms of which edition you receive.

That makes no sense, then!

What were your overall impressions of Pearl and May?

I liked both of them, even allowing for the fact that they were very different types of people. I felt I could relate most to Pearl because she kind of buckled down to do what was expected of her once she was reunited with her husband and his new family even though it meant that she didn't get to live her dreams I feel that I can relate to that idea of doing what you have to do to get by. I found the idea of May fascinating, but the reality of Pearl more relatable. I did find the fact that May stayed married to Vernon a little out of character for everything else we found out about May though. I found the lengths that the two girls went to for each other were extreme, and I am grateful that I haven't had to be in anything like those situations with my own sister.

As for me, I really liked both of them. They were different people, though, so the relationship with each was different. Since Pearl told most of the story you got to know her better. She annoyed me at times. She had such potential in the beginning and then she got a bit dull for a while. I know that she had went through some terrible things, but it was so sad to watch her give-up. She became the person that she scorned when she was living in China. That's not to say that I didn't like her, but she lost a lot of herself for a while. Near the end of the book she started coming back into herself and I think she will be a very interesting character in the sequel. Pearl stayed pretty much the same. She turned out to be a bit more worldy than you originally would think, but she still wanted to be the same person that she was when things were good in China. I thought she was going to be really annoying because of her way of thinking, but she actually turned out to be more than I expected.

Much is made of the fact that Pearl was a Dragon and May a Sheep in the Chinese horoscope. Do you know what you are, and do you think that the attributes fit you?

I actually meant to look this up! I used to know what I was, but I am not even sure if what I am thinking is a sign! lol

I would like to talk a little about Joy. In some ways it seemed as though she was forced to grow up very early, what with going to be in the movies as a very little girl and then working in the family business at such a young age. Were you surprised by the way things turned out for her, particularly in relation to the ending? I was so glad when I found that there was going to be a sequel because otherwise I would definitely have been looking at the book and thinking you can't end a book there!

Yeah, we entirely overlooked Joy in this review, didn't we? I think she had to grow up faster than her mother and aunt, which is crazy when you think about the difference in experiences. She was exposed to a lot, though, and I think she will hopefully play a central role in the sequel so we can get to know her better.


 Thanks Kelly for another fun joint review.

Rating 4/5

Sunday, May 23, 2010

TSS: Armchair BEA

On a semi regular basis there are events that are happening that I would love to attend one day, but the fact of the matter is, the US or the UK are a long way to go to go to an event like a Historical Novel Society conference or a Romance Readers of America conference, or as is the case this week, Book Expo America.

I was very excited to hear in the last couple of weeks that some enterprising bloggers who also cannot make it to BEA this year have come up with the idea of Armchair BEA for the rest of us to participate in this week. In addition to BEA, there is also the Book Blogger's Convention, and so this has been included as part of Armchair BEA as well.

Anyone can participate and there will be suggested blogging themes, giveaways, discussions and more.

Here is the proposed schedule:

  • Tues. May 25th - BEA Related Posts
  • Wed. May 26th - Blogger Interviews (Sign-ups already closed)
  • Thurs. May 27th - BEA Related Posts & Giveaways on Participating Sites
  • Friday May 28th - BBC Roundtables
There are suggestions for themes to post about at the website, and I am sure there will be more in due course.

I have already started working on my posts, and have had fun revisiting an author signing I have previously attended, and will have a challenge for all those people who are good at deciphering unintelligible hand writing later in the week, and on Wednesday I am planning to bring you an interview with a new to me blogger.

I do have a couple of other ideas of things to post for BEA, but we'll see how inspired I get as to whether I actually do post them or not!

So, while I can't make it to BEA or BBC, I will definitely have an Empire State of Mind this week

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Comfort Food by Gary Mehigan

Last Sunday night I was hanging out on Twitter and watching Masterchef (as you do) , and noticed a contest to win a signed cookbook by one of the co-hosts of Masterchef Australia, Gary Mehigan. Lucky for me, I was chosen as the winner, which I was very excited about. The signature says Love to Cook! Not necessarily true about me because I hate Monday to Friday cooking, but I do like finding a recipe, going and buying the ingredients and then eating it which is much more of a weekend type thing to do.

The book is called Comfort Food and in the introduction Gary talks about his early days of cooking, and the inspiration that he got from his grandfather.

I only got the book on Thursday and so I haven't had much of a chance to look through it, but I thought I would post some initial reactions. Understandably I guess, the author's idea of comfort food is much more cheffy than mine is! He didn't have any suggestions that included sitting on the couch eating chocolate. Easy (as long as there is already some in the cupboard), quick (how long does it take to unwrap?) and definitely comforting, although not necessarily good for you in copious quantities.

What I did like just looking at the recipes was that each one has an introduction telling why he chose that particular recipe, lots of lovely photographs, as well as the instructions and ingredients, but then there are are notes as well. For example, in the recipe for Pumpkin Soup, the instruction is to grate the pumpkin. Now as soon as I read that I was immediately dismissive! I mean, really... but then at the end of the recipe, there was a note saying

Even though it may take a little longer, grating the pumpkin is an important step because it helps to draw out its natural sweetness. Grated pumpkin also cooks more quickly, which helps to preserve the true pumpkin flavour.

Now when I cook pumpkin soup I tend to do it in the slow cooker so I am not necessarily worried about it cooking quickly, but rather than just being dismissive of something as being just a cheffy thing to do, I was glad to read the reason why he says that it is an important step. Whether I will listen or not is another thing entirely.  It probably is worth remembering for those days when I want to cook pumpkin soup and don't have a lot of time.

Pumpkin is one of the things that I am intending to post about in a future Weekend Cooking post, simply because it is a vegetable that seems to be used in very different ways all around the world. There will be at least one pumpkin soup recipe included when I do actually get around to writing that post.

Coincidentally, when I was searching for an image of the book cover, I did find this link to an interview with Gary which people in Australia should be able to listen to. Not sure about anyone else.

So these are my initial reactions. I may yet end up sharing a recipe or three from the book as I get around to trying a few of them.

What do you like to see in cookbooks? Handy tips? Photos? Personal anecdotes from the chef or author? Perhaps you prefer just the recipes without all the added extras?

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Brothers of Gwynedd Part 1 - Sunrise in the West

Over the next couple of months I am participating in the Sourcebooks Summer Reading Club, where the chosen read is Edith Pargeter's The Brothers of Gwynedd. When it was originally published back in the early mid 1970's, it was released as four separate books, with the first one being Sunrise in the West, which is the part that I am concentrating on today. This reissue is being released as one volume, and it is huge!

Have you ever read a book, or an author, that just spoiled you for any other authors that you read that dared to set their story in the same time and place? I have, and unfortunately for The Brothers of Gwynedd that story was Sharon Kay Penman's fantastic Welsh trilogy (Here Be Dragons, Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning). Admittedly the setting is not exactly the same. The first book in SKP's trilogy was Here Be Dragons, and focused on Llewellyn the Fawr, who is the grandfather of the Llewellyn who is the main character in this book, but some of the events that are covered in the first part of this novel, are covered in the later novels in the trilogy.

As soon as I started reading this book, I found myself trying to remember what had happened in SKP’s books, and my mind wandering off towards a reread of those books. As I think about it now, that leads me to wonder, what precisely was it that didn’t initially capture my imagination in this novel? In the first instance it is probably the density of the language, and a feeling of distance, of not getting to know the characters. Initially I was attributing this to an almost old-fashioned style of writing historical fiction, but I am currently reading a book that was published around the same time, and I am having to rethink that conclusion.

Don’t get me wrong. The language is beautiful. While I was reading this first part, I shared these two teasers as part of Teaser Tuesday, from pages 11 and 107 respectively:

By the upland road we went, turning our backs on that blessed sea that leads outward over the watery brightness to the beauteous isle of Enlli, where the saints are sleeping in bliss. We went towards the rib of Lleyn, that leads into Wales as an arm leads into the body: from rest into turmoil, from peace into conflict, from bliss into anguish.

For these family relationships with their hates and loves were the trammel and bane of Wales as they were of the marches, and indeed, from all I could ever learn, of England and France and those troubled realms beyond the see no less. And the more the great laboured to make dynastic marriages, the more they tied their own hands, and put into other hands knives for their own backs. Their histories and ours was ever a chronicle of such expulsions and revenges, the tide of fortune flowing now this way, now that, and never safe or still.

There is definitely a lyricism to the words, but a whole book full of this kind of language is a bit time consuming to read. Normally I read somewhere between 60 and a 100 pages a day, so based on these averages I would have expected to get through the first section of this book, which is about 180 pages, in maybe 3 or 4 days tops. It took me more than 10. If I was a reader who gave up on books easily, there’s a fair chance that I would have put this down with the intention of never picking it up, but I am glad I persevered, because once I got more than half way through this first section, my enjoyment of it did increase.

So far I have talked about my reactions to the book, but not a lot about what it is actually about. Our narrator is Samson. He was born to his mother who was a lady in the Welsh court, but he does not know who his father is. As a young boy he played with Llewellyn whose father was the illegitimate oldest son of Llewellyn the Fawr. Normally illegitimacy does not preclude inheritance under Welsh law, but his father had decided to follow the English tradition of allowing only legitimate children to inherit, and therefore the younger son, David inherited the Welsh lands of his father. The scene is therefore set for dissension, constant battles between the supporters of both men, between those who want to follow and uphold the Welsh traditions and those who see the sense in trying to unite Wales under one leader.

In addition to being a playmate to Llewellyn (the younger), Samson’s mother was milkmaid to his brother David, and so Samson shares strong bonds with both the brothers. When still a young boy, he is sent off to begin a life of religious instruction, and this is what he expects his lot in life to be, until as a young man he is called back to Court, and finds himself working as clerk to the Welsh prince and one of his closest confidants.

One of the legacies of his father is ongoing issues between Llewellyn and his three brothers, agitated by their mother to a great extent. The three brothers, including the charismatic, changeable and vibrant David, have all pledged loyalty to the English king Henry, in the hope that their own claims will be upheld.

Llewellyn is sure of his right to rule Wales, but his greatest challenge is how to unite the whole country so that instead of fighting against each other, they can stand united against their greatest foe, England.

The difficulty of having Samson as the narrator, is that whilst he is sometimes part of the action, there are other times when he is merely retelling the facts for the reader. He is also somewhat under developed as a character personally. We find out what happened in his life, but I didn’t really feel as though we were allowed any intimate knowledge of him as a person until late in the book.

For all the denseness of the language, I will be continuing to read along, and I am confident that there will be a worthwhile result in the end. At this point, if I was to rate this book , I would probably give it a grading of 3.5/5

As part of this Summer Book Club, there is going to be a monthly chat about the book, each hosted at a different blog. The discussion of this first part of The Brothers of Gwynedd will be hosted by Amy at Passages to the Past on Monday night, May 24 at 7.00 EST (US time), and please check out what other people in the book club had to say about their experiences of reading this part of the book.

May 17 Reviews
The Burton Review
The Bibliophilic Book Blog
A Reader's Respite
History Undressed
Linda Banche Blog
A Hoyden's Look at Literature
Renee's Reads

May 18 Reviews
Between the Pages
The Broken Teepee
Books and Coffee
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff
Passages to the Past
The Book Faery
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore
Martha's Bookshelf

May 19 Reviews
Beth Fish
Deb's Book Bag
Book Tumbling
A Work in Progress
Stiletto Storytime
Queen of Happy Endings

May 20 Reviews
The Literate Housewife
Reading Adventures
Books Like Breathing
Kailana's Written World
Confessions of a Muse in the Fog
Wendy's Minding Spot
Mrs. Q Book Addict
The Life and Lies of a Flying Inanimate Object
Starting Fresh

May 21 Reviews
Loving Heart Mommy
Peeking Between the Pages
Celtic Lady's Ramblings
One Literature Nut
The Book Tree
My Reading Room

May 23 Reviews
Carla Nayland's Blog