Saturday, October 31, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

I'm a reader not a writer, although sometimes I think I'd like to write a novel but I'm not sure I have one original idea.

So, in honor of those who do want to write, November is National Novel Writing Month. Apparently you are supposed to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That seems like a lot to me but maybe it's not.

So to all you budding novelist out there, maybe National Novel Writing Month will give you the challenge you need to write your book.

Click here for the website.

Are any of you going to participate? Will it be your first attempt at writing a novel?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Jenn & Julie's Review: The Lost Symbol

Summary: As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object--artfully encoded with five symbols--is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation... one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.

When Langdon’s beloved mentor, Peter Solomon--a prominent Mason and philanthropist--is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations--all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.

Julie's Review: The Da Vinci Code is probably one of my all time favorite books. I loved the way it unfolded and how the story was told. It was a thriller and adventure but it made you think. While my ending rating isn't as high as Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol is in no way a let down or disappointment. In fact, I enjoyed most of the story about the Freemason's but in my opinion, that is not the true focus of the book. I know a lot of the hype for the book has been on the Secret Society of Freemason's but in the last 100 pages of the book you come to realize that is not the purpose. The Freemason's served their purpose in the book and in the mystery. What the book is about is knowledge. That's all I'll say so I don't ruin it. I'm sure in some ways this book disappointed Conspiracy Theorist.

Of course Robert Langdon is fantastic in this book. It amazes me how he always knows a lot about a lot of subjects. Is there such a things as "Jack of all trades, Master of all of them?" If so, this would be Professor Langdon. Amazingly even though I saw Tom Hanks play Langdon, that isn't who I picture. I think that's a good thing though. It doesn't mean I think Tom was a bad Landgon but he's not whom I see when I read the books.

As is typical with Dan Brown books you don't know who to trust and I certainly didn't. I was definitely focused on one character that I didn't believe to be trustworthy. In fact, I think I questioned the trustworthiness of all the characters except for Langdon and Peter Solomon. It is a whirlwind of an adventure. There is so much thrown at Langdon and the reader that you do have to pause and pull your thoughts together.

I really don't want to give a lot away with this book since it was kept under secrecy for months but I will say there was one twist I didn't see coming and it was a "duh" moment. Although I would have hated if I had guessed it. If you want an adventure but one that will make you stop and think, go and grab The Lost Symbol.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Jenn's Review: Another great Dan Brown novel. There was plenty of suspense and lots of twists and turns. (I did see the final twist coming, but Brown had me convinced that I was wrong for a while, which is something.)

Also, I always forget how easily Brown will kill off characters and he got me a couple of times. No one is safe and no one can be trusted. His new characters are all interesting and there is plenty of symbology and historical references to please his avid fans. My grandfather was a Mason and I always find a Masonic theme fascinating. I'm glad Brown didn't go the conspiracy route with it, because, as 'Langdon' is quick to explain, there are a lot of misconceptions out there.

Brown also brings to light Noetic science, the study of mind and intuition and its relationship with the divine intellect, which I found intriguing. (For more information on this, visit the website for the Institute of Noetic Sciences.)

Julie's right it's hard to review this without giving things away, so suffice it to say:

Though I loved Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons is by far my favorite Brown novel, and I am placing The Lost Symbol a close third to Da Vinci Code.

Final Take: 4.5/5

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Julie's Review: Loitering With Intent

style Summary: Never one to avoid a glamorous vacation spot, Stone Barrington travels to Key West, Fla., in this easygoing entry in bestseller Woods's long-running series (Hot Mahogany, etc.) to feature the New York cop turned lawyer. Stone is supposed to track down Evan Keating, a young man whose signature is needed on documents allowing his father to sell the family business, except that Evan doesn't want to be found and when he is, doesn't want to sign the papers. Meanwhile, there's always time to enjoy good food and romance. Stone and Dino Bacchetti, his former NYPD partner, eat a lot of conch, while a beautiful Swedish doctor, Annika Swenson, learns the hard way that being involved with Stone is the most dangerous job in America. Woods handles the proceedings with dispatch and good humor, the pages fly by, and contented readers will sit back and eagerly await the next

Review: I think I've said this before, but I'm going to say it again...I think that Stone Barrington is the guy that Stuart Woods wants to be. I think it's his alter ego. Why you might ask? I don't have concrete evidence it's just my opinion and they seem to have a couple things in common: flying and fine dining; I'm not sure about the womanizing. Loitering with Intent is probably the best Stone Barrington novel I've read in 2 years. This was funny, quick and a great plot which is more than the other recent installments. I love it when Dino and Stone travel on Eggers' dime. This time their case takes them to Key West and neither of them seem to mind. In fact, I think Dino saves his vacation time to go on jaunts like this with Stone.

Stone is sent to Key West to look for Evan Keating, heir to a fortune and his signature is needed to sell the family business. Well he finds him, easily, but as with all Stone's cases that's just where the fun begins. What I love is that Dino and Stone always know someone from the NYPD wherever they go. They are always retired and always helpful (NYPD must have a nice pension plan). It's never simple for Stone and of course mayhem follows him.

Since this is Stone Barrington he's always getting a "lady" into bed and in Key West he beds a lovely Swedish doctor. Although she's not just a subplot this time, she becomes and interesting part of the puzzle as the book gets deeper into the mystery.

This one has a couple different twists that I enjoyed and didn't see coming, which is even better. Sometimes when you read an author quite a bit you can see things coming, I almost never can with Woods.

If you are looking for a entertaining read, where you will chuckle but also enjoy the twists and turns, then Loitering with Intent is for you. As with all of the Stone Barrington novels, you don't have to read all of the previous books but you will want to when you are done.

Final Take: 4/5

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Giveaway: Cleopatra's Daughter

We have 1 copy of Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran to giveaway for all of you historical fiction fanatics!

Please leave your name in the comment section by Midnight ET on November 6th to be entered. The winner will be announced on November 7th.

Good Luck!!

Guest Post: Author Gary Morgenstein

Photobucket Due to timing issues I was unable to read Mr. Morgenstein's book Jesse's Girl for our blog but he was kind enough to put together a guest post for us based on his experience as a writer.

Many Thanks to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Promotion and Mr. Morgenstein!

The Mystery of the Ride

Now this sounds odd coming from someone who writes thrillers, but I am deeply impressed by writers who plan everything out. Index cards, Microsoft word folders, Twitter files, things attached to computers blinking various colors like an alien spacecraft containing who knows what sort of wonderful elaborate plotting techniques. That Chapter 2 sigh feeds into a bent fork in Chapter 8 into the shocker in Chapter 19. Argh, how do you guys do that?????

Then there's me. When I began Jesse's Girl, all I really knew was that it would be about a troubled father-son relationship opening with the midnight call to the widowed main character, Teddy Mentor, from the Montana wilderness drug treatment program where he'd sent his son Jesse by escort two weeks ago. I knew the conversation would tell Teddy his adopted son had run away and they had no idea where he'd gone, but he shouldn't worry.

Course not, what father would worry about a teen with substance abuse issues gone missing far away from Brooklyn?

Everything else was a surprise. A minor character became integral to the plot, a love interest for Teddy. A murder materialized and I said, oh, so that’s my plot, is it? The few preconceived notions I had quickly vanished. From chapter to chapter and sometimes scene to scene, I was in someone else's hands. Which of course were my hands, but they belonged to another.

How is this possible, I ask everyone out there who has ever written a mystery or a thriller? Am I alone in strapping myself into the Starship Morgenstein, requesting warp speed with little idea about what galaxy I’ll end up in? Especially with mysteries and thrillers and all the intricate plotting required, how do all/any/some of you know what you are doing ahead of time? Do you find it ever interferes with the creativity? Am I the only one using shredded notes and post-its? (which I lose anyway).

And this isn't only with Jesse's Girl, which had the fumes of fatherhood (anyone out there who has a teenager will know what I mean and those whose kids aren't teens yet, lay in some good Scotch). When I wrote my political baseball thriller Take Me Out to the Ballgame, all I knew was that the chapters would be divided by half-innings (Top of the First, Bottom of the Third). I had a vague idea how it would end (which I changed). Nothing more.

It could be that I’m a disorganized person who sees the world visually enhanced by dialogue and, without writing, would be on very strong meds.

I guess I am still a child about writing. I was eight years old when I wrote my first short story about a fictional shortstop for the Yankees (I grew up in the Bronx, hence the accent). I like the mystery of writing. I like the unexpected. I like being propped up in bed like Proust (except for the laptop, iPod and rock music) and letting me take over me. Opening those windows into myself but making them intelligible because at the end of the day, it is our readers who matter. Without them we are the proverbial fallen tree in the forest.

Novelist/playwright Gary Morgenstein is the author of four novels. In addition to Jesse’s Girl, a thriller about a widowed father’s search for his adopted teenage son who has run away from a drug treatment program to find his biological sister, his books include the romantic triangle Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman, the political thriller Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and the baseball Rocky The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees. His prophetic play Ponzi Man performed to sell-out crowds at a recent New York Fringe Festival. His other full-length work, You Can’t Grow Tomatoes in the Bronx, is in development. He can be reached at

Monday, October 26, 2009

Julie's Review: Cleopatra's Daughter

Summary: Moran's latest foray into the world of classical history (after The Heretic Queen) centers upon the children of Marc Antony and Cleopatra . After the death of their parents, twins Alexander and Selene and younger brother Ptolemy are in a dangerous position, left to the mercy of their father's greatest rival, Octavian Caesar. However, Caesar does not kill them as expected, but takes the trio to Rome to be paraded as part of his triumphant return and to demonstrate his solidified power. As the twins adapt to life in Rome in the inner circle of Caesar's family, they grow into adulthood ensconced in a web of secrecy, intrigue and constant danger. Told from Selene's perspective, the tale draws readers into the fascinating world of ancient Rome and into the court of Rome's first and most famous emperor. Deftly encompassing enough political history to provide context, Moran never clutters her narrative with extraneous facts. Readers may be frustrated that Selene is more observer than actor, despite the action taking place around her, but historical fiction enthusiasts will delight in this solid installment from a talented name in the genre.

Review: Cleopatra's Daughter is another excellent novel of historical fiction by Michelle Moran. While this book is mainly aimed at young adults, adults who read it will find it interesting and intriguing. That being said, this was my least favorite of the 3. I much prefer Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen: A Novel. I think that's because Mutny and Nefertari's voices were stronger for me than Selene. I like Selene but did grow tired of the pity party. Although I do think that young adults will identify more with Selene than I did.

I really enjoyed the rest of the characters, with Octavia being my favorite. For having Marc Anthony leave her for Queen Cleopatra, she was extremely good and loving to Alexander and Selene. At times it was hard for me to believe that Selene was 12 when they came to live in Rome, she just seemed extremely mature. I know that girls and boys needed to grow up quickly in ancient times but at times I felt that she was a lot older. I will say that the descriptions of Ancient Rome are vivid and make the place come alive. The characters are well developed and interesting.

I thought that the pace of the book was excellent and definitely held my interest. I like how the book spanned over 3-4 years and we got to see both Alexander and Selene grow into young adults. There were 2 twists that I didn't see coming. I also thoroughly enjoyed the end of the book and thought that it was fantastic that Ms. Moran stayed true to history instead of creating her own ending.

Perhaps that is the most intriguing part of this whole book, the fact that these people truly existed and are a real part of history.

If your teen is interested in history then I would definitely have them read this book. If not, this would be a fantastic book to get them interested in history. To think that people their age were kings and queens will pique their interest.

Final Take: 4.25/5

Sunday, October 25, 2009

And The Winner Is.....

Congratulations to our 3 winners of The Calligrapher's Daughterby Eugenia Kim. Please email me(Julie)your mailing address so we can get those to you as soon as possible.


As always, I used to produce the winners.

Stay tuned to this blog, there will be another giveaway posted later this week, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Movie News: Sweet Valley High

Photobucket Yes, I am probably dating myself but today in my EW magazine, I read Diablo Cody's column and got extremely excited. You know why? She's adapting the 80s book series Sweet Valley High. Apparently, she's already met with the creator/author Francine Pascal! Photobucket

I'm just hoping that Ms. Cody does the series justice! Plus she's a Chicago Suburbs girl and I've got to support her.

Article 1
Article 2

Which Wakefield twin did you want to be: Jessica or Elizabeth?

Am I the only geek that is excited for this?

As soon as Diablo's column is posted I'll link it here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

And The Winner Is....

Congratulations to Llehn for winning a copy of The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them by Amy Dickenson!!

Thank you all for participating in our giveaway! There are always more books to giveaway!

Please email me (Julie) your mailing address.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Giveaway: The Calligrapher's Daughter

We have 3 copies of The Calligrapher's Daughter to giveaway! Please leave a comment here by midnight EST time October 23rd, 2009 to be entered.

The winners will be announced on October 24th, 2009.

I'd like to say thanks to Jason @ Henry Holt for offering up these copies!

Good Luck!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Author Interview: Eugenia Kim

Yesterday I posted a review on the wonderful book The Calligrapher's Daughter. Today, I'm thrilled to be able to have a Q&A from the author, Eugenia Kim. Photobucket

A special thanks to Jason @ Henry Holt for arranging this and to Ms. Kim for being so speedy and taking time out of her schedule for us.

GJR: What happened to your parents past the end of the book? Did they eventually make it to the US together? Can you give us a quick summary of their lives? As the book ends, I felt that they would have a happy life and I’m hoping that’s true.

Eugenia Kim: My parents came to the U.S. in 1948, before the Korean War. They had six children and worked hard to raise awareness about Korea throughout their lives and for the Korean community in Washington, DC. My father was a founding pastor of a major Korean church in the area, and also worked at the Voice of America in the Korean service, a job that held particular importance during the Cold War and that still has value in combating problems with North Korea. He died fifteen years before my mother died in 2003, and she became an artist and writer after he passed. There are parts of this story that I’m deliberately not telling . . . See question 7.

GJR: What made you decide to write your mother’s story in the form of historical fiction, instead of a biography?

Eugenia Kim: It began as a biography and also as a memoir. I had no idea what I was doing, though, so I went to school to learn more about writing and about the process and difficulties that had pushed me against a wall. After receiving my MFA at Bennington College, I saw that the kind of emotional truth I sought to convey with this writing was best served with fiction. The characters had taken on a life of their own and I wanted to give them the freedom to develop into people that were not tied to my parents’ personalities. I think it’s particularly hard for an Asian-American daughter to write about her Asian parents--for me the process was fraught with the terror of getting it wrong or shaming their legacy in some way. As an example, one of my sisters had trouble reading about the marriage night, even though she knew it was fiction. It truly made her squirm! Fiction was allowed me freedom to delve into the emotional truth of fictionalized characters and the things they lived through, which were inspired by the real events that my parents experienced.

GJR: What happened to your Uncle and grandparents? Did they eventually come to the states?

Eugenia Kim: My uncle, unlike the character Ilsun in the book, was an incredibly sweet and loving man who had three daughters and a son. He just recently passed away in Seoul, Korea, and is buried next to my maternal grandparents in a beautiful mountaintop cemetery. I met my uncle when he visited D.C. in 1990, and more recently, when I visited Korea in 2005. He truly was a talented artist and calligrapher, and my grandparents lived with him in Seoul until their deaths. I never met my grandparents, but have stories still untold about these amazing people who lived through so much change and hardship.

GJR: Did writing this book give you a deeper understanding of your mom and her life journey?

Eugenia Kim: In the panoply of mother-daughter issues, it only adds to the difficulty when an immigrant mother has American-born children, especially ones who came of age in the turbulent Vietnam War era. Compounding the difficulty was a language barrier: she spoke little English and I spoke even less Korean. We misunderstood each other thoroughly. When I was young, it was through her stories that we were able to connect. It’s partly what inspired me to become a writer--her stories were so rich with culture and amazement. And so yes, I did come to a deeper understanding of my mother and her life and her culture, and hence, to a deeper understanding of myself and my Korean culture. Doing the historical research in particular helped to broaden my understanding of my heritage, and also made me see that one of the basic tenets of Confucianism was true: we can find solutions to the problems of today by studying the mores of the past.

GJR: What was your one discovery about your family in this novel that you didn’t know about before?

Eugenia Kim: There was more than one discovery, but one that comes to mind is about her imprisonment. Though I’d known my mother was imprisoned, I hadn’t known it was for 90 days and in the dead of winter. I didn’t want to ask too much about this painful period, and my mother would talk more about the Bible lessons she gave to the prison commandant than she did about her suffering, but she did say that she never forgot the unrelenting freezing wind that seemed to come up through the floorboards straight from hell.

GJR: This book is about relationships at the core, but to me the most moving ones were the ones between all the women in the book. Your women were of strong character, heart and mind; was it easier to write because they were real people? Or did that make it harder?

Eugenia Kim: It’s so gratifying to hear you say that they were real people, because though these characters are inspired by real people, they are truly fictional characters. As mentioned, I never met my grandparents, but what helped form her character was the admiration in the tone of voice my mother used whenever she spoke about her mother.

GJR: Are you working on a new novel? If so, what is the general plot?

Eugenia Kim: Yes. :-)

GJR: Who are your favorite authors to read? Why?

Eugenia Kim: Beyond the classics, which I return to repeatedly, I love a good story about complex people in difficult times or different places, one that’s written with a strong and distinctive voice. I love thoughtful writing and internal dialogues and dilemmas brought on by people’s frailties. James Baldwin is a perennial favorite for his language and the subjects he tackles in his work. Marilynne Robinson (Housekeeping, Gilead, Home
) is breathtaking in the sheer wisdom embedded in her scenes and sentences.

GJR: What are you currently reading?

Eugenia Kim: Right now I’m re-reading Baldwin--both his novel, Giovanni's Room and his essays, Notes of a Native Son. Because of my own ten-year struggle with writing The Calligrapher's Daughter, I’m fascinated about what happens in both writing and reading nonfiction and fiction. I’ll be presenting a course on this at a new job with Fairfield University’s MFA Writing Program beginning this winter, something I’m really excited and pleased to be doing.

I’ve just finished reading Abraham Verghese’s CUTTING FOR STONE, a masterpiece that blends so many qualities I love in books: voice, quirks, religion, science, culture, controversy and interesting characters. And I always have a book of poetry nearby--right now it’s FACTS FOR VISITORS by Srikanth Reddy, whose reading I recently attended. There’s nothing like a poem to make one see the effectiveness of precision in writing.

Thanks so much for having me, and for the lovely and generous review!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Julie's Review: The Calligrapher's Daughter

Summary:This debut novel, inspired by the life of the author's Korean mother, is a beautiful, deliberate and satisfying story spanning 30 years of Korean history. The tradition-bound aristocratic calligrapher Han refuses to name his daughter because she is born just as the Japanese occupy Korea early in the 20th century. When Han finds a husband for Najin (nicknamed after her mother's birthplace) at 14, her mother objects and instead sends her to the court of the doomed royal Yi family to learn refinement. Najin goes to college and becomes a teacher, proving herself not only as a scholar but as a patriot and humanitarian. She returns home to marry, but her new husband goes without her to study in America when she is denied a visa. As the Japanese systematically obliterate ancient Korean culture and the political climate worsens, so do Najin's fortunes. Her family is reduced to poverty, their home is seized and Najin is imprisoned as a spy while WWII escalates. The author writes at a languorous pace, choosing not to sully her elegant pages with raw brutality, but the key to the story is Korea's monumental suffering at the hands of the Japanese.

Review: I love reading historical fiction for the reason that I almost always learn something new and in the case of The Calligrapher's Daughter it is no different. As much as I loved the personal aspect of the story, the history was just as interesting and informative. There's so much history out there that you never learn about. For instance I never knew that: 1) Korea was heavily influenced by Chinese culture, 2) Korea was under Japanese rule 3) The major religion in Korea was Christianity thanks to the influence of Western Missionaries, and 4) Most Koreans felt Christianity was a good fit with Confucianism because of the same morals and they could still practice traditions.

With all of that being said, this novel is a very personal one since it's based on the author's mother's life. With that said it's a work of fiction and not a memoir. We meet Najin when she is 4 years old and follow her through most of her life, which also chronicles the Japanese occupation of Korea. This is the reason that her father won't name her; she was born the day that Japan was declared the ruler of Korea.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the relationship between Najin and her mother. I also loved the fact that the author made these women both strong in character and strong in mind. Perhaps it's knowing that these women existed in a time when women were not allowed to think for themselves and consider careers outside the home. We see Najin develop into a lovely, independent woman who find that her father's way of thinking is so classical.

The one character that I did not like at all was Islun, Najin's younger brother. He was a brat growing up and became an extremely self-centered man. He only ever thought of himself and drove his family into poverty because of his selfishness.

My favorite part of the book was when Najin marries Calvin and her life after that. I felt that she really came into her own and proved what she was made of, not only to herself but to her father as well.

I would highly recommend this book if you are a fan of historical fiction and particularly of Asian Historical Fiction. I will warn you the book can go into serious detail and does drag at parts, but the end result is well worth it.

I would love to know what happened to Ms. Kim's mother and father and how they came to the U.S.

Stay tuned to the blog for a giveaway of this wonderful book and a Q&A with Ms. Kim.

Final Take: 4.0/5

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jenn's Review: 206 Bones

Summary: There are 206 bones in the human body. Forensic anthropologists know them intimately, can read in them stories of brief or long lives and use them to reconstruct every kind of violent end. 206 Bones opens with Tempe regaining consciousness and discovering that she is in some kind of very small, very dark, very cold enclosed space. She is bound, hands to feet. Who wants Tempe dead, or at least out of the way, and why? Tempe begins slowly to reconstruct...

Tempe and Lieutenant Ryan had accompanied the recently discovered remains of a missing heiress from Montreal to the Chicago morgue. Suddenly, Tempe was accused of mishandling the autopsy -- and the case. Someone made an incriminating phone call. Within hours, the one man with information about the call was dead. Back in Montreal, the corpse of a second elderly woman was found in the woods, and then a third.

Review: While I found this installment enjoyable, I would not say that this is one of Reichs most clever books. There are two mysteries intertwined playing out, finding the killer, and/or discovering her abductor. Not to spoil the mystery for anyone else, I'll just say I identified guilty parties early on in this book and was just waiting for Reichs to layout motivation.

There was also not an abundance of romance going on for Tempe because, well, she's closed herself off (pun intended!). But Reichs started building bridges for Tempe, so that was good.

Not so much thrill in this thriller, but a good dose of Tempe. For me, it read almost like an episode of Bones, which is not Reichs's usual style... anyone else feel this way?

Final Take: 3.5/5

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Giveaway: The Mighty Queens of Freeville

We have 1 copy of The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them to giveaway! Please leave a comment here by midnight EST time October 16th, 2009 to be entered.

The winner will be announced on October 17th, 2009.

While here enter our other contest Books,Books,More Books.

Good Luck!