Thursday, July 31, 2008

So Far Behind, and an Upcoming Reading Rec

So, I realized this week that I am making a few careless mistakes in my day-to-day life. The only way that I can account for them is my growing lack of sleep. Sure, I bed down late, but I am technically "sleeping" for a full 8 hours. What I am not doing however, is getting any rest. I don't understand it. So while I wake up each morning more and more exhausted, I begin to do stupid things like reading a book at the wrong time of the month when I have a stack of others that NEED to be reviewed.

Yep, I've done this twice. Considering the fact that I kept insisting that today's date would be August 2 in spite of the fact that I keep checking to see if a certain new release movie will be playing on August 1, it's kind of understandable that ALL of my dates would be totally out of whack!

Yesterday, in a desperate attempt to catch up, I decided to set my kitchen timer and devote a certain set amount of time to each of the books in my stack. I only ended up doing two and of those two, I now have around 350 pages left to read. Doable. I still have two more that haven't been touched, ugh!

Anyway, Kira Salak's fiction debut, White Mary, did get some attention yesterday and I wanted to share. In White Mary, journalist Marika Vecera travels to remote Papua New Guinea in search of her idol Richard Lewis. Marika, an immigrant from the Czech Republic, came across one of Lewis's articles at a very important time of her life. Her schizophrenic mother had been institutionalized, and Marika was in court with family members who were accepting responsibility for her so that she would be allowed to attend boarding school - a decision that was beyond her mother in her current state.

Lewis's article was about how he helped smuggle a Czech author out of the country and to safety. For Marika, the man in the article could be her own father, except for the fact that he was killed years ago. It is at this point that Marika decides to do what Lewis does - to make a name for herself in the journalism world by traveling to the most dangerous and war-torn countries and reporting on her experiences. At 35 she has accomplished just that. In fact, she's become one of the only female journalists to take on stories of her kind.

After narrowly escaping the Congo with her life, Marika returns to Boston where she learns that Lewis, now age 52, is dead from an apparent suicide. At this moment Marika vows to write Lewis's biography and learn what could possibly have forced her hero to suicide. In the course of her research, Marika finds a letter from a missionary posted in Papua New Guinea. The missionary, written off as a flake by Lewis's sister, claims to have seen Lewis in the country. Unfortunately, the missionary is dead. Marika sets off on her own, using her life savings to trek through Papua New Guinea and finally learn the truth about Richard Lewis.

Marika's journey is a harrowing one, both mentally and physically. For me, there are some truly shocking and cringe-worthy sections of this book. It's fantastic, though! Kira Salak prefaces the tale by explaining that many of Marika's experiences are based on her own. Her first book, Four Corners, tells the tale of her own journey through Papua New Guinea.

Salak, a contributing editor for National Geographic Adventure, has been awarded to PEN award for journalism. Both her fiction and non-fiction pieces have also appeared in Best American Travel Writing and Best New American Voices, to name a few. White Mary was one of the favorites being passed around BEA and has earned her much buzz in the literary world. I can tell you that it is well deserved. Mary is utterly gripping. It's a page-turner to be sure, but one that begs to be savored with every page - not one to be read in one sitting (although you will desperately want to!) but one to take your time and really think over.

White Mary should definitely go on everyone's fall reading list. Official release is Tuesday, August 5.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

When Recommendations Go Wrong!

So, I've been bitten by the Twilight bug. Yes, it's true. I finally read it and loved it just as much as my little sisters said that I would. I'm not the last person in the world to have read it - just one of them : )

Anyway, this morning I came across a post regarding someone else who had read the book and a recommendation that a heavy reader (but not necessarily someone who's read Twilight) made to her as to what she should read next. Apparently this person was never a very heavy reader (I am assuming) because the biggest thing was that she enjoyed them so much that she read books 1, 2, and 3 all in one week. No small feat, but I can tell you not a major one for a big reader. For someone who's not a big reader, though, this is a grand accomplishment to be congratulated for!

Anyway, a person overhearing the comment said to her Oh, if you loved the Twilight Saga, you should try... Since I really don't want to get too negative about a book that I've never managed to finish, I won't say exactly what it was. However, I have seen this same rec made before, to my little sister no less. A middle school teacher who learned that my sister (the eldest JJ) was a voracious reader of everything vampires recommended these same books to her.

Now, you've probably got an idea what it is. Know this, I tried valiantly to read these books. I gave them multiple chances, it just wasn't going to happen. Maybe as an adult I would have different results but I have been leery to try again. My best friend was turned off of vamps forever because of these books and the strange part of the public that began to come out of the woodwork claiming that they were "real." Hm...

It's kind of like when people learn that Mike and I are from Louisiana, they're always so quick to recommend the local "Cajun" restaurants. It's never the same. For one, people's spice meter here is significantly off. Even if the chef is from Louisiana, he's had to adapt his food to meet local tastes. Just because we're from Louisiana, does not mean that we're going to love every single Cajun restaurant in the nation. It doesn't mean that we won't try them, but there's definitely an assumption that we'll love it.

It's the same with this particular series, people figure that just because you've read Twilight, and because Twilight is about vamps, that you'll automatically love this other series. Not so! Again, I have to wonder if any of these people making the rec have even read Twilight. My thoughts are this: said other series, nowhere near the same style or tone as Meyer's books. My own sister would probably be shocked to read those books due to their content.

My point is this, you have to tailor your recommendations according to what people are reading. You can't say oh, because you like this vamp story, you'll like all vamp stories. You have to pay attention to the specifics of the particular books. I would never tell someone, oh, you like Alexander McCall Smith, well you should read Ritual by Mo Hayder. Sure, the Hayder book has elements that have to do with Africa and while Smith is more cozy mystery, Hayder's thrillers of course have mystery to them. NO! Hayder is shockingly violent, something that doesn't bother me but would certainly have a less than positive effect on someone expecting another 1st Ladies Detective Agency.

Do you see my point? I would say, for adults who like Twilight looking for something else along those lines, start looking into urban fantasy and adult paranormal romances. There's plenty of stuff out there without attempting to go over to the dark side - I don't think you'll like it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I've hit 100!

I've never officially joined any of the yearly reading challenges. There are some interesting ones out there - ABCs where you have to read a title that starts with each letter of the alphabet, 1001 Books to Read Before you Die where you pick off the 1001 Books... list. And the numerical ones, 50, 100, 150 and so on.

It's July 29 and I have logged 102 books for the year. Yay! Yes, this just shows how much of a dork I am and I don't care.

Anyway, every year the BB asks for a list of the top 10 books of the year. So far, I have 12 on my list (and 5 more months of releases to go) but I thought that I would share them with you so far. They are (in order of being read):

1. Ice Trap by Kittey Sewell
2. Obedience by Will Lavender
3. City of the Sun by David Levien
4. The Killer's Wife by Bill Floyd
5. Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz
6. Rogue by Rachel Vincent
7. Ritual by Mo Hayder (US release slated for September)
8. Easy Innocence by Libby Fischer Hellman
9. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
10. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
11. Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer
12. Sisters of Misery by Megan Kelley Hall

So, this is my list of the absolute best of the best that I have read so far this year. That doesn't mean that I haven't read lots of great stuff, that just means that these are the ones that topped them all in my mind, for one reason or another. If you're interested, I've reviewed all of these titles for the Bookbitch. You can check them out under the review archives here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Another Long Night Reading

Sometimes I feel guilty staying up so late to read. My other has a flexible work day, but he still has to be in sometime before 10. I on the other hand, can sleep late and simply make up my work later in the evening. It's nice and I absolutely love it because it means that I really don't have to worry about those late night reading binges leaving me exhausted the next day at work! But I think that Mike would rather my light be out so that he can sleep. I notice that he tosses and turns more when it's on late. Hmm.

Anyway, the reason I was up so late last night was that I slacked off all day (on my reading). I finished up Linda Barnes's latest, Lie Down with the Devil. It was great! I've been a longtime reader of the series, in fact, I discovered her pretty early on in my bookseller career. She already had a ton of books out in the series, and fortunately for me they had just reprinted Trouble of Fools. See, I had found about 5 of her mid-series titles lurking on my grandmother's shelves.

Style and subject wise, I have found that Barnes appeals to just about anyone who likes Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich. In fact, I sort-of did a test while working at the bookstore and discovered that most people who read one of these ladies, like all three. If you're not familiar with Barnes and her heroine, Carlotta Carlyle, here's the scoop:

Carlotta is a six-foot redhead, ex-cop turned PI who drives a cab to supplement her income. She's got an off and on relationship with a mob boss's son, and her "little sister" (big brothers/big sisters little sister) is the daughter of a Columbian drug lord. Catchy, right? I love it. Barnes has never failed to to deliver a wholly entertaining and gripping mystery. I zipped through Devil in no time and will anxiously await the next book as usual.

And here's a bit about Lie Down With the Devil (it shouldn't give anything away about the rest of the series, I was very careful!):

It was supposed to be a simple tail and surveillance case, something nice and easy to ease Carlotta back into work and help her to get her mind off of her own problems for one night. Jessica Franklin fears that her soon-to-be-husband is having an affair. She hires Carlotta to follow him for one evening and make a note of the places he visits and specifically where he stays for the evening. Unfortunately for Carlotta, this is by no means the easy case she thought it would be. Soon she's stuck in the middle of a murder investigation - as the prime suspect.

So that was productive. Then I did some laundry, and watched Tori and Dean on OnDemand. It's my new obsession. They're cute and they seem to be really down to earth people. Normally I don't get sucked into reality shows unless there's cooking involved or it's one of Bravo's contest shows. I caught and episode of this one last week, though, and I spent yesterday catching up.

And then I started reading Twilight. Bad idea late at night. I reluctantly set the book down at 4am. I know I've only got about an hour's worth of reading left, but even I had to admit that 4am was a bit ridiculous.

Anyway, going to finish it up today. Unfortunately, I won't be receiving New Moon before the end of this week, so it won't be a total Twilight marathon for me. I guess it's a good thing, though, cause I do have other things I need to do this week!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

New Releases Week of 7/27

Ok, this week is a little weird thanks to the Twilight phenomena. So, I labeled it for the whole week. Anyway, new titles this week are:

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer - the final book in the Twilight saga! 
The Stolen by Jason Pinter - third in the Henry Parker series. Great page-turner for summer.
Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake - debut and a new urban fantasy series that pits vamps against the fey. Really fun. 
Sisters of Misery by Megan Kelley Hall - teen thriller/suspense. I loved it!
Left to Die by Lisa Jackson - first in her new Montana series
Countdown by Michelle Maddox - the latest Shomi title, very reminiscent of Running Man.
The Map Thief by Heather Terrell - second Mara Coyne book. 
Black and White and Dead all Over by John Darnton
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Berry 
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett
The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance ed by Trisha Telep - stories by some of the best in the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres. 
The Wild Road by Marjorie Liu - the lastest Dirk and Steele book
Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox

New on DVD: 
The Band's Visit

New reviews at Bookbitch.com this week:
The Stolen 
Sisters of Misery
Left to Die
The Map Thief

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Oh, this makes me so happy!

With the serious popularity in teen paranormal reads these days, I was not surprised to see that Harperteen was resurrecting my faves from my own childhood. L.J. Smith quite simply rocked as much as rocking is possible! She was our Stephenie Meyer.

My copies of The Forbidden Game, The Secret Circle, The Vampire Diaries, The Night World, and Dark Visions series were beat up from multiple lendings and re-readings. I passed them on to the Junior Junkies with warnings of guarding the books with their very lives before all the reprints came out! I wanted these books to last into eternity so that I could always come back to them.

It's true, I am and have always been an urban fantasy fan, even before the term was coined. I would consider LJ Smith one of the first of the genre, sort-of. She's urban fantasy in the way Buffy is. Not quite what it has morphed into today, but definitely at the forefront of existing stuff before it became so popular.

I had serious conversations with my college friends about these books. In the midst of the teen horror boom, it was our greatest wish that these books would come back into print and that the film versions would be made. I mean, c'mon, if you're familiar with them you can't tell me that you didn't lust after Julian in The Forbidden Game trilogy, or wish you were the object of Stefan and Damon's affections in The Vampire Diaries, or that you too had witchy powers or esp per the Secret Circle and Dark Visions books.

And, if you were hardcore, you know you're still waiting for the final Night World book - a quick check of her current website promises that it is forthcoming along with other Vampire Diaries titles. Yeah, I've been waiting since high school, so we'll see.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Another Must Read From My Collection!

It's been a while since I did one of these and I am drawing an absolute blank as far as what I had planned today! So, here's another recommendation from my ultimate favorites list. Deanna Raybourn catapulted her way to the top of my favorites list with this debut.

Here's a synopsis:

Everyone agreed that it was the curse of the Greys that took poor Lord Edward. After all, his father and his father’s father never made it past their thirties, and Lord Edward had always had a weak heart. Lady Julia is shocked and angered when Nicholas Brisbane approaches her and suggests that something unnatural may have been the cause of her husband’s death. A year later, the discovery of a threatening letter hidden in her husband’s study forces Julia to accept the fact that Brisbane may have been right all along. Headstrong Julia is able to convince Brisbane to investigate despite the fact that a year has passed and the trail is most assuredly cold. Their subsequent findings prove to be shocking and Julia finds her quiet and ordinary life turned upside down.

This Victorian mystery, the first in a trilogy to feature Lady Julia, is both clever and witty. Silent was definitely an all nighter! Readers will fall in love with Julia and the eccentric Marches as well as Brisbane, who is obviously patterned after some of the most famous men in literature including Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester, among others. I love this book and guarantee readers will as well.

Book two, Silent in the Sanctuary, was released on January 1 of this year. I recommend that you run out right away and buy both books. Trust me, you'll be antsy with anticipation if you don't. And never fear, book 3, Silent on the Moor, is slated for a March '09 release (hopefully things won't change).

So, add it to your list. This is an absolute must read for mystery fans! Oh, and check out Deanna's blog here. It makes for some quite amusing reading.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I've Been Nominated

Lori at Lori's Reading Corner and Cheryl at Cheryl's Book Nook have both nominated me for the Brilliant Weblog Premio. 

So, there are rules that go with being nominated and they are:  

1. Put the logo on your blog.

2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.

3. Nominate at least seven other blogs.

4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.

5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

I don't have a lot of time at the moment, and I was supposed to do this yesterday after Cheryl sent me the notice but here are my nominees:

All of these guys are part of my morning reading:

Cheryl and Lori, even though they've both been awarded already. 

Vixen's Daily Reads

Reading In Appalachia

Readers Delight

Jenn's Bookshelf

Tez Says

I haven't left them messages, as I said, I am short on time. But those are the blogs that I recommend checking out daily for a healthy dose of excellent reading recommendations. 


Yesterday I had a massive headache that just wouldn't quit. It was a little drizzly outside so it's possible that it had something to do with the pressure change. Who knows. Anyway, nothing, not even my horrible headache, was going to keep me from finishing Jocelynn Drake's debut, Nightwalker.

I started reading Nightwalker Tuesday night but only got about 70 pages in before I literally passed out. After all my work was done yesterday, it took me about two and half hours to finish the rest of the book. It was fantastic! (I know I say that a lot, but you have to realize that I really only list the books that I enjoy on here, so it's true that most of them are fantastic.)

If you like urban fantasy with a really original twist, the Dark Days series is going to be for you. I would put it up at the top of my list with Vicki Pettersson, Rachel Vincent, and Jennifer Rardin as far as originality and addictiveness go. I'll be reviewing it this weekend for BB, but here's a bit about it for now:

Mira is a nightwalker with a special ability - she can control and create fire with her mind. This makes her different from other vamps, but she's only about to discover just how different. Five hundred years ago, three vampires banished most of the naturi (the fey) from our world. Amongst them was their queen, Aurora. Now the naturi have assembled their forces and are ready to bring their people back, at the expense of both humans and nightwalkers. Mira must join forces with a hunter who kills her kind in order to save mortal and undead alike.

It's vamps vs the fey and these are not your cute little pixies and elves, either! I imagine creatures the likes of Guillermo del Toro's creations in this book (if you've seen Hellboy II you'll know what I mean). The book starts out right in the middle of an action sequence, and that's a pretty good initial impression of Drake's work. Fight scenes, magic, tons of questions that will all be answered throughout the series, and I am on the edge of my seat awaiting the next one! Plus, she seems to have no qualms about using every single paranormal being out there in her series. So, no, you're not limited to vamps or weres or the fey, they're all there along with witches and warlocks and who knows what else in future books. Pretty damn cool and a must read for fans of the genre!

A Winner!

It's officially Thursday and that means it is time for me to announce the winner of my very first giveaway.

And the winner is: Jaime of http://www.bookconfessions.com

Jaime, e-mail your address to: moecatj[at]msn[dot]com and I will send you your book.

Thanks to everyone who entered. I am planning on doing more contests in the future, so keep checking back. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Get Started!

If you aren't familiar with Jason Pinter, here's your chance. Hit the link in the right corner of this page and you can read ALL of Jason's debut, The Mark, for FREE! Trust me, it's wonderful. His latest, The Stolen, is due out on July 29 (the teaser chapter in the back of Jason's second book, The Guilty, had me waiting in crazy anticipation!). I'll be posting something about The Stolen here within the next few days and will be reviewing it for bookbitch.com this weekend.

Oh, and here's my review of The Mark from the BB archives:

Rookie reporter Henry Parker has landed his dream job with the New York Gazette. His first assignments, minor obituaries, have left him yearning for something a bit more exciting. When his mentor, Jack O’Donnell asks for help on one of his own stories, Henry is happy to oblige. O’Donnell is working on an article about rehabilitated criminals and Henry is sent to do one simple interview with a Luis Guzman. Something about Guzman and his wife concerns Henry though and he decides to follow up to find out why. On returning to the apartment, Henry finds that the Guzman and his wife have been tied up and brutally beaten. He defends the two and ends up killing their attacker in the process. Confused and scared, Henry leaves the scene only to find that he is now being accused of murdering a police officer. Henry must find out the truth behind the Guzman attack and clear his own name before the authorities, or worse, find him. Pinter’s thrilling debut promises to be a hit with readers this summer. This is definitely one that will have you hooked until the very last page.


Elation of Discovery!

If you read regularly, you can tell that I am a big fan of debut authors. I love finding new fantastic additions to the industry that I can then add to my must buy list.

Just as fun is discovering an author who's been around, but I have yet to read. Course, for me this comes with a bit of a d'oh feeling as well, like I should have been reading this person all along! I know I can't possibly read everything out there, but still...

This happened to me with Lisa Jackson. As a former bookseller, Jackson's name is not one that I am unfamiliar with. I've looked at her books before, just never picked one up and read it. Shame on me!

I had the chance to review Lost Souls just a few months ago and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that I really, really liked it. The book takes place in Baton Rouge (Jackson has a long-running "series" that takes place in New Orleans). Now, being from Louisiana, there's always some amount of trepidation when it comes to reading something that takes place there. The question is, has the author been there and do they love it as much as we do or are they going to support the continued, and incorrect, view that we are all straight out of Deliverance?

Lost Souls does feature a fictional version of Baton Rouge, to some extent, which made it a bit easier. I felt that she stayed true to the setting while still manipulating it to fit her needs. Even better, I discovered that I love Lisa Jackson's work! Since she's been around for a while, this means I have a whole slew of backlist to work my way through. And, since Lost Souls is technically part of her New Orleans series, I have a lot of background to cover before her newest hardcover, Malice, comes out next year!

If you're like me and you haven't read Jackson yet, next week you'll have the perfect opportunity to hop on board! Left to Die is the first title in a brand new series by Jackson. It takes place in snowy Montana just weeks before Christmas. Detectives Selena Alvarez and Regan Pescoli are faced with the biggest case of their careers. A serial killer is targeting women in the area and his MO is chilling, to say the least. Each victim is first involved in a car accident of the killer's making. He waits until they are in a secluded area, shoots out a tire, and then "rescues" them. After a few days taking care of them, earning their trust, and healing them from their "accident," he leads them out into the woods where he strips them naked and ties them to a tree, leaving them to die. Creepy, right? The book is full of strange characters and almost everyone is a potential suspect.

Like I said, a great place to start and a welcome relief in the heat of the summer! I found myself totally engrossed in this book to the point that it was jarring to leave the cold, blizzard-y Montana setting and return to our 90+ degree real world! To top it off, it has a total cliffhanger ending that will leave you on edge until next summer. To tide you over, you'll just have to do what I did and run out and buy her earlier books. I'll be continuing (or starting) with Hot Blooded, the first in the New Orleans series I mentioned above.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Wanted to Let You Know

Cheryl over at Cheryl's Book Nook is giving away a copy of JJ Salem's racy debut, Tan Lines. I've not had a chance to get my grubby little fingers on a copy just yet, but I gotta tell you that based on the reviews it's getting, it's a HOT one!

Here's what PW had to say: 

"A Jacqueline Susann–style thriller by way of Candace Bushnell, Salem's scorching debut follows three young women on a wild Hamptons summer of reinventing themselves. Unhappy with fireman hubby Justin (whom she married in the aftermath of 9/11), fashionista feminist and political media pundit Liza Pike, 29, is harvesting her eggs for future momhood and considering divorce. Former actress Kellyanne Downey is the depressed mistress of wealthy, possessive businessman Walter Isherwood, while indie rock chick Billie Shelton finds herself on a downhill slide: I can't. I'm all fucked out. Reschedule. A prologue foretells that a grisly murder, a premature birth, and a public meltdown, will be the eventual fate for the three at the posh Hampton summer rental they're sharing, and Salem doesn't disappoint. Her poolside read throbs with intensity, spiked with erotic detail (eight thousand nerve endings in the clitoris, and this son of a bitch couldn't find any of them) and disturbing aftershocks."

So, head over to Cheryl's page and enter to win what sounds like one of this summer's steamiest titles!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sisters of Misery

I absolutely love getting to review teen thrillers. I so rarely read them anymore, but they're so much fun so I jump at the chance to review them. So of course, when I received an e-mail from BB asking if I would be interested in reviewing Megan Kelley Hall's debut Sisters of Misery, my response was a resounding YES!

I loved this book. Love, love, loved it! Just a few pages in, I was so engrossed, I completely forgot that the characters were ten years younger than me. It was gripping and chilling and page-turning and all those other adjectives that you're not supposed to use anymore because they've been thrown around like candy. I can't help it, though, this book was truly all of those things.

My review for Sisters will be up at bookbitch.com sometime next weekend. For now, here's a bit about it:

Maddie Crane knows all too well the privileges that come with having a good name. She’s friends with the right crowd and gets invited to all the great parties, and that’s just what her mother wants. When Maddie’s aunt Rebecca and cousin Cordelia arrive in town, they’re immediately pegged as outsiders. Maddie’s own mother would rather neither of them had ever come to town and fears the effects they will have on her carefully cultivated facade. Maddie is drawn to her cousin, however, in spite of her mother’s and her friends’ opinions. Soon Maddie is forced to choose between loyalty to her friends and love for her family. Her decision comes too late, though, and Cordelia’s suffering at the hands of Hawthorne’s elite culminates with her disappearance on Halloween. Now Maddie is determined to uncover her cousin’s fate at all cost.

Of course, the true test with this book will be when I send a copy to the Junior Junkies. I can tell you right now, to reiterate how very much I loved this book, I will not be parting with my copy. Nope, they'll benefit from my having read it because I desperately want to know what they think, but they'll also luck out because I'll be buying them a fresh new copy of their very own so that I can keep mine! Agh! The only bad thing about this book is that now I really want to know what's going to happen next.

Sisters is the first in a new series that I think is going to get much more heavy into the paranormal realm. For now, this one is nice and gothic-y with plenty of hints of witchcraft and precognition. There's a mysterious secret society, and the town the story takes place in has a sordid history that includes the murders of three sisters believed to have been practicing witches.

Like I said, dying to read the next one and see what happens! Until now, I'll just have to wait, but I highly suggest that you run out and pick up a copy when this hits shelves on the 29th. In my opinion, there's plenty of crossover appeal in this one - I think there are plenty of adults out there who will enjoy is just as much as I did, just beware of random teens stealing it when you aren't looking (my sisters would have walked off with mine long ago if they didn't live 4 states away).

Oh, and if you get hooked and are in the same boat that I am, feel free to share the agony and suggest it to someone else. My sister is a little publishing marketing genius in the works. Every book that I send her becomes the next must have at her high school. I take comfort in knowing that a whole teen population back home will be as impatient as I am to see where this one is going!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

New Releases 7/22

Some of this week's new releases are:

Vampyres of Hollywood by Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Scott - Actress Barbeau teams up with Scott (author of The Alchemyst) to create a funny and original paranormal mystery.

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead by Saralee Rosenberg - great summer read about two neighbors whose animosity towards each other turns into friendship.

Damage Control by JA Jance - the latest Joanna Brady mystery

Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva - latest Gabriel Allon thriller

On DVD: 

It's a slim week! But, following The Dark Knight (amazing, fantastic, wonderful, and as my other says, the best Batman ever!) we've got the new X-Files movie hitting theaters on Friday the 25th! Yay!

New reviews at bookbitch.com:
Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead
Vampyres of Hollywood
The Last Vampire by Marc Paoletti and Patricia Rosemoor
The Questory of Root Karbunkulus by Kamilla Read
The Safety of Secrets by DeLauné Michel

Saturday, July 19, 2008

An Interview with DeLauné Michel

First off, I'd like to thank DeLauné for taking the time to answer a few questions. I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to post this interview. Also, thanks to Lori for helping out with the giveaway, details below.

Here goes:

The Safety of Secrets takes a serious look at the costs of secrets-- large and small. What drew you to this theme?

I wanted to explore betrayal in a lifelong friendship. And it occurred to me that the currency of intimacy in a best friendship is secrets, so I wanted to see what would happen to that relationship when its most powerful secret is given away, and given away thoughtlessly, like so many pennies dropped on the floor. I was interested in the way that secrets are used to ally and/or alienate ourselves from those that we love. There is such stark and deep knowledge of one another in an ages old friendship that I wondered about how some secrets are used as a mask to hide and protect ourselves, or are used to continue to be that person that we think our best friend needs, or to try not be that person anymore, even when we still are. All of that layering and hiding are essential tools in Hollywood. I think one trait that distinguishes stars from other actors is their ability to appear completely exposed while in fact they presenting only and exactly what they want us to see. I felt there was a mirroring of Fiona and Patricia’s friendship’s emotional landscape with their careers in Hollywood.

Your book reveals the unofficial Hollywood caste system that no one talks about, but everyone knows exists. How do you know so much about the inner workings of Hollywood?

I was an actor for many years in Los Angeles, so I got to see that first hand. What I found fascinating about that caste system while writing this book is how much easier it can sometimes be to be comfortable with the enormous success of a new friend as opposed to that of an old. The difference in success is the same, the difference in bank accounts is the same, and yet none of that seems to matter. I wanted to see what, if anything, could hold Fiona and Patricia’s friendship together in the face of that. And it isn’t only worldly success that wrecks with relationships, but also a great marriage or the birth of a child, all of those life markers that should be the happiest times in our lives, yet often are accompanied by the withdrawing of someone dear. And as far as how that plays out in LA, I think that caste system is one of the reasons that industry can be so addictive: every move one makes is a point gained or lost. It is impossible not to get caught up in the constant scoring, like some giant video game that never ends.

You really capture the insider's view of L.A. How does L.A. inspire you?

I went to LA from New York in my early twenties with a boyfriend and meant to stay only a few months. I couldn’t imagine not living in New York, but I fell completely and deeply in love with LA. It was everything the West is held up to be: open and expansive and raw. Just standing in the sun, in that silver-tipped light, with desert winds moving around, I felt transformed. I needed to, and loved to, write about LA the way a child might write about a parent. That city made my adult self. It is an endless trove for me and it can’t help but continue to be prominent in my work. The biggest challenge when one’s real estate is well-tread, so to speak, is to write with a fresh view. But my answer to that was to write about the city the way I know it to be, which is to say a wonderful and terrible god that happens to be comprised of people and nature and architecture.

You seem equally inspired in writing about the South. What's the source of your interest in Louisiana?

I grew up in South Louisiana, a part of the South that is basically almost its own country. South Louisiana has its own traditions and history that are very separate from, not only the rest of America, and the rest of the South, but even the rest of the state. I have always identified myself first as coming from that particular world. My father’s family has been in New Orleans since the 1600’s. My mother’s family - my namesake, in fact, Hélene DeLauné and her husband Jules André - arrived in South Louisiana during the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette gave my namesake jewels help her leave to escape the guillotine. So, I have a deep connection there. And yet, I moved to points north and west where I had to, and continue to, seek out other ex-patriots who understand why my one-word answers are three pages long, and why when I apologize for anything from terrible traffic to the Saints losing again that I don’t think I’m responsible. It was impossible, and would have been foolhardy, to live in NYC and LA without taking on some of their mores, and I wanted to. But my core cannot change, thank God. It is where I draw my strength. There have been many times in my life when I have thought that whatever hardship I was enduring was nothing compared to my namesake’s leaving the court of France for the wilds of South Louisiana, and that has helped.

You come from a very literary family, including first cousins James Lee Burke and Andre Dubus III. How many published writers are there in your family? And what's it like growing up with so many writers? Is it intimidating?

At last count, I think there are ten published writers in the two generations living today, but I have no doubt there is a cousin somewhere that I am overlooking. Growing up with all those writers was a wonderful experience. I learned firsthand what a dinner table is truly for, and that is telling stories. It was heaven to sit around and hear all the relatives painting pictures in the air with their words, all the while knowing that someone else at the table was just waiting to jump in to tell their own even more fascinating tale. So it could be a bit competitive, but only in the most fun kind of way. Dinner lasted for hours. In a sense, it was a relief once I finally started writing because I knew no one could interrupt me! But my family, all of them, has been nothing but completely supportive and encouraging. I sent the first two stories that I wrote to my Uncle Andre (Dubus, who wrote the story, “Killings” that the film “In the Bedroom” was adapted from), and he wrote me back and said that he wouldn’t change a thing. That I used the word “which” more than he preferred, but so did Dick (Richard) Ford, and look where he was. Then my editor felt that way, too, so maybe Andre was right!

You moved to New York at a young age to model and skipped college. How has that experience informed your writing?

My education has never been rooted in academia, even when I was in high school. I started modeling when I was fourteen (okay, this was Baton Rouge, but still), then at fifteen began teaching modeling to women older then myself and to residences in a home for battered women to raise their self-esteem. In what would have been my senior year of high school, I was living on my own and was the manager and buyer of a clothing store. I basically was living like a 30 year old at 18. Then I moved to New York City, had an unexceptional fling as a model there and in Europe, then returned to NYC, and settled down to what I really wanted to do and began studying acting.

I was fortunate to have great teachers from the Actor’s Studio, the Neighborhood Playhouse, and Juilliard. I learned about such things as character development, building an arc, when to start a scene, themes. I just had no idea that I would eventually use all of that in my writing. And acting classes are tough. There is such a stripping down that happens, but finally in a good way. It taught me to hear criticism, but to balance it against what I know to be true. And one of the great gifts that studying and working as an actor gave me for my writing, was that for all those years, I was one of many people all working together to tell a story, and the story had to be (or should have been) more important than any one person involved. That still gives me great perspective when I’m working; I try to make the story that I am writing more important than how I feel about writing it.

Coming to writing from the background of an actor having read and worked on scripts and plays taught me to view the work theatrically, or at least, cinematically. I see the scenes playing out and I hear the characters in them. Many times, they surprise me. It feels a bit like watching my novels unfold in front of me.

I am grateful that I had to and did all those different things that were like a slow unraveling of the outside person that I thought I was or wanted to be only to have this life revealed. There are many times when I think about some of those lives, and the different ways that my life could have gone, and I look forward to writing about what that could have been.

What does The Safety of Secrets reveal about the strength and fragility of human relationships?

I wanted to explore the dualistic nature of both in a relationship. That sometimes the things that we think bind us together the most are exactly what can tear us apart. And I wanted to look at why people stay in – or leave – relationships. Though part of me really feels that this is a question better answered by the reader. I do think that a novel doesn’t really exist until someone reads it. Like that saying that if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, I think novels get their “sound” when someone reads it, and brings to their reading their own life, and imagination, and interpretation of what is on the page. I think the novel is the most intimate of the collaborative arts. That is one reason I love to visit book clubs with my novels, either in person or by speakerphone, because then I get to understand them in a way I otherwise can’t. So, honestly, I would love to hear what readers think about this one.

And finally, can you tell me a little about the Spoken Interludes and Spoken Interludes Next programs: what you do, when and how where they started, and what future plans, if any, do you have for expanding the programs?

The series initially grew out of my love for parties. Growing up in South Louisiana, I always get terribly homesick during the Mardi Gras season. So, one year, when I couldn’t get home, I decided to have Mardi Gras myself. So, I had a lot of parties, and friends came and brought friends, then those people came to the next ones and brought friends, so the parties got quite large.

A few weeks later, I went to the post office after a theatre audition, and I was waiting in line, thinking about my parties and my audition when suddenly I realized that if my parties had been a play, it would have had great audiences. So I thought, “Why not let a performance be in the middle of a party?” Then I decided that I wanted the performance to be stories, since storytelling is the original form of theatre, and because it is what we do when we go to parties - we break into little groups and tell each other stories about ourselves. I wanted it to be as if someone at a party got up and told a story, but instead of a small group of people hearing it, the entire room listened.

At that point, I had already written my first two short stories which had won recognition, and I wanted to write more, but frankly, I do better with deadlines, so I figured scheduling myself to read them in public would be a pretty good deadline. And I had so many friends, including a sister, who were writing that I decided to make it written stories. At that time in LA in 1996, there were many places to read poetry, but very few to read short fiction or essays, so I felt it might be filling a need. I also thought it would be a way for writers to connect with their audience without having to wait for publication. The first show was in May of 1996 and, to my great surprise, it sold out. The series has been going strong ever since.

In the years since, Spoken Interludes has been heard on National Public Radio, and has had special shows in conjunction with other organizations including the Getty Museum. Writers such as Ann Packer, Mona Simpson, Bruce Wagner, Alice Sebold, Michael Korda, Arthur Phillips, Arianna Huffington, and Michael Connelly, including newer voices, have come to read their work.

In early 2001, I made Spoken Interludes a non-profit arts organization so I could develop an outreach writing program for at-risk teenagers. My formal education was cut short at the end of eleventh grade due to family matters, so reaching out to teenagers in that way is very important to me. The Spoken Interludes Next writing program is an eight to ten week writing course where students, in small groups of six to eight, work with professional writers to learn how to write their own short story. The program ends with a graduation reading for the students that family, friends, and the public all attend. The first session was that spring in a downtown LA high school. The following year, we brought the program to a high school in the LA Juvenile detention system. The program continues to teach students in three high schools and one foster group home in LA. Spoken Interludes Next has served homeless and gay teenagers in other facilities. We also had a literacy program for fourth graders, Spoken Interludes Read, in a downtown LA grammar school.

In 2004, I moved to the New York City area with my family, and started the Spoken Interludes reading series here. The reception was immediate, warm and welcoming, and I feel the same sort of family connection with the audience that I felt in LA. Spoken Interludes continue to have readings in LA twice a year, and I am currently in the process of starting Spoken Interludes Next here in New York, as well. Both areas of programming have been a great gift in my life.

My thanks again to DeLauné. For more info on Spoken Interludes, DeLauné's books, or to check out her blog, please visit her website.

Last but not least, I have one copy of The Safety of Secrets up for grabs (yep, first interview and first giveaway). Safety is a wonderful heartfelt read that I highly recommend. To enter, simply leave a comment here before Thursday, July 24. I will announce the winner on that day, be sure to check back to see if you've won if you don't have an e-mail link through blogspot.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Aftermath of Dreaming

To get you even more prepared for tomorrow's interview with DeLauné Michel (my first on this blog), I've decided to tell you a little about her wonderful debut, Aftermath of Dreaming.

It's been two years since the release of Aftermath of Dreaming, two years waiting for DeLauné Michel's second novel, The Safety of Secrets. When I first received Aftermath, I was still working at BN and I had a friend who was sending me packages of upcoming titles. I would read them, let her know what I thought, and then turn around and recommend the books to our customers. It was the best part of being a bookseller.

According to my book journal (yep, I am that nerdy) I read Aftermath in December of 2005. The book was released in April 2006. I remember I was so excited about reading a book by a fellow Louisiana native. Her family bio impressed me although I hadn't read anything by anyone else in the family (bad Becky! Shame on me, it's like heresy not to have read James Lee Burke and be from Louisiana!).

I remember that really connected with Yvette as a character and had absolutely no inkling that any portion of the book had anything to do with the author's life. I wasn't yet writing reviews, so I have nothing other than a date and "I liked this book" written in my book journal (it was more to keep track of what I was reading, not in-depth critical analysis). So instead, here's the publisher's description:

Hypnotic and beautifully written, Aftermath of Dreaming is an incandescent first novel of odern life and love.

Other than the little problem that she is waking up screaming in the middle of the night, life is wonderful for Yvette Broussard. Her jewelry-design career is taking off, she's back with her sort-of boyfriend, and, best of all, she no longer thinks about her once-in-a-lifetime love, international movie star Andrew Madden. Until a chance encounter with him changes everything.

Swept up by memories of their complex relationship, Yvette is plunged into an obsession with Andrew that ultimately forces her to confront the past she thought she had left behind. At the same time, she is juggling the demands of her bride-to-be sister and her male best friend, who is jealous of other men, and thoughts of her estranged father.

Set against the glittering worlds of Los Angeles and New York, and told with both humor and pathos, Aftermath of Dreaming explores the universal themes of abandonment, forgiveness, and letting go.

So, join me tomorrow. I'll be giving away a copy of The Safety of Secrets. To sign up to win, simply leave a comment on tomorrow's post. I'll leave the giveaway open through Wednesday, July 23, and will choose a winner on Thursday.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Safety of Secrets

This Saturday, I will be posting my very first author interview, yay!

Delaune Michel hails from what must be one of the most literary families in all of Louisiana, if not America (in my opinion!). Her mother, Elizabeth Nell Dubus, is an accomplished author in her own right. Her uncle, Andre Dubus, was well-known for his award winning short fiction, and of course everyone has heard of cousins Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog) and James Lee Burke.

Delaune's debut novel, The Aftermath of Dreaming, was published in 2006. I was lucky enough to get an ARC as a bookseller, and I knew that I was holding something very special - and not just because she's from Louisiana, either! Her follow-up title, The Safety of Secrets, hit the shelves in late May. I finally had a chance to curl up with it last Friday evening and I didn't stop until it was finished.

Safety is the story of Fiona and Patricia, best of friends from first grade forward. Both of them are adults navigating their way through Hollywood. Each has followed her own path, but they remain close, sort of. Their lives and their careers have stretched their friendship to a point that it seems as though it almost never was, especially after Patricia spills the beans on a secret the two have kept for over two decades. It seems true that Hollywood does indeed change people and Fiona is forced to face the fact that their friendship may not be able to weather the current events.

Michel maintains something of a light tone throughout the novel in spite of its sometimes tense and very serious moments. It's refreshing, witty, smart, and thought provoking. Overall, it's a story that women everywhere can relate to. Anyone who's ever had a best friend, anyone who's ever trusted their most intimate of thoughts and feelings with another person, will understand and sympathize with these characters.

So join me Saturday in welcoming Delaune, a fellow Louisiana gal and a superb author, to my blog. I'll also be giving away a copy of Delaune's book - more details to come!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Somewhere In the Middle

Publishing can be a tough market these days. Most authors are comfortable somewhere in the middle of the pack. The top tier authors (not necessarily the BEST authors) are the ones with the most sales. The James Pattersons of the world. They sell oodles of copies in hardcover and paperback, they rake in the big bucks for the publishing companies, and so they also get the most publicity - multi-city author tours, full page ads in NYT...

New authors - the ones who don't get the six-figure deals right off the bat - and midlist authors - the ones with somewhat consistent sales that don't really excite their respective publishing companies but earn enough to continue to be in print - have it kind of hard these days.

So many different books are coming out, not a bad thing in my opinion cause there are so many different kinds of readers, but there's an overwhelming amount to choose from and really there's no one to help you unless you can find one of those amazing little indy stores that are still hanging on in spite of the big boxes. This is why I encourage people to browse around, on their own, and pick something out.

This post, and yesterday's, were inspired by the author's acknowledgement page in Saralee Rosenberg's Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead (due out Tuesday, July 22). Rosenberg thanks her readers in this book. She thanks to ones who have stuck by her, the ones who have e-mailed her to let her know how much they enjoyed her books, and the readers who through word of mouth introduce new readers to her books.

I came across Rosenberg's book through PW and harpercollins.com. I thought the premise sounded great - I hate my neighbor so I could definitely relate. The story is one that is common throughout suburban America - just because you share a fence doesn't mean you like each other! Mindy Sherman is envious of her neighbor, Beth, and her seemingly easy life. Beth has it all, a great figure, plenty of money to play around with, and what Mindy believes is an effortless existence filled with days of mani/pedis and criticizing lesser neighbors like herself. In a way, she's right. But Mindy is about to find out just how wrong she is about Beth's life. In fact, Mindy and Beth are about to find out that in spite of everything, that shared fence may be the best thing that has ever happened to them.

It's a super funny read that's also heartwarming and charming. A great pick-me-up book about fate and how things work out in life. A great book that you probably would miss when you walked into the store. The title is snappy, the cover is a little eye-catching with it's green grass and two pink flowers. You've probably never heard of Saralee, though, so unless the book is on one of those coveted front tables, how are you going to find it? This is the dilemma of the American author today. This is why making it past that bestseller wall is so important. I mean let's face it, just because a book makes it to the NYT list, or the BN list does not mean that it's a good, or even decent, book. Sure, some are. Unfortunately, lots of deserving books never make it to that wall.

So, to avoid my soapbox today, I will end on this note: you know that book by that author you've never heard of that you went out and bought yesterday? When you finish reading that book, check out that author's website. E-mail that author (if you liked the book) and tell them how much you enjoyed their book. Tell them that it kept you up all night and that you're going out to buy the rest of their books as soon as that next paycheck hits. You'd be surprised how few of these e-mails that person probably gets (no, not Patterson, I'm sure he has an assistant whose sole job is to sift through e-mails). You'd be surprised how sweet and gracious most authors are. Most of them are so far removed from their customers, they welcome the feedback. They like to know that someone has discovered them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

I know, I know, what does the title "Leaving Your Comfort Zone" really have to do with Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Not much, for me anyway. Had this book come out when I was a teen, I would have devoured it. The only reason I have yet to read it as an adult is that I passed my first copy along to my sister not knowing how fab it would turn out to be and haven't had a chance to get to my second (purchased) copy just yet.

No, it's actually the first book that came to my mind for this blog because it was very much outside of my third sister's comfort zone. See, there are 5 of us - me (the oldest), my brother (25 this Fri!), Junky 1 (16 this Sept), and the twin junkies (just turned 14 in April).

Junky 1 and twin 1 have been blogged about before. They are the junior junkies. Twin 2 is the inspiration for this blog, though. She reads teen chick-lit. That's all. She loves the Clique series and a few other newbies that I have managed to find for her, but with the exception of Meg Cabot's Jinx, she really won't read anything paranormal. She adamantly refused to read Twilight because it's about vamps. After I read The Host, I made a deal with my sis. If I read Twilight (which I planned on doing that week but ran out of time) she had to read it at the same time. Next thing I know, she's read all three! I knew from Host that even though Meyer uses a paranormal backdrop for her tales, that it would still appeal to my sister in spite of this. All she had to do was take a chance.

She has buying issues as well. She's very timid when shopping because she's afraid of getting something she doesn't like. It happens to us all! I went shopping with her and helped her pick out some books, but I had to ask her, wouldn't she be happier trying something new and disliking it than not buying anything at all?

I think a lot of people have this fear. I saw it a lot as a bookseller - hesitation in browsing, people asking for recs and still walking out empty handed. I understand you don't want to let go of your hard earned money on something you may turn out to hate. Trust me, I know. I've hit a point in my addiction, however, where I have had way more great reads than I have crappy ones, so this has ceased to be an issue for me. There are amazing things out there that you have never read! You all know this, but if you're like my sister, you'll never find them unless you take a chance on something totally new.

When you walk into the bookstore, the first thing you see are displays with bestsellers and popular titles. What about all the shelves behind that, though? How often do you go in and browse totally on your own and pick something out? Big readers do it all the time. We know that there's a ton of stuff out there and it's simply a matter of getting our hands on it. Every spine is a potential new author to go on our annual must buy lists. Lesser readers are intimidated by so much choice. How do they know they'll even like it. It could be a total waste of time. They're somewhat content to stick with their regular authors and wait until that next book comes out.

I say, if you are one of those readers who rarely tries something new, and even if you're always trying something new, head out there and pick out something that you've been curious about but afraid to try. Buy something by someone you have never read before. Find a new author! You may like it, you may hate it, it may be your favorite new book. You never know. Just try something new today.

I would add to this, seek out a debut author. Not one who's getting a lot of print ads, not "The Next Da Vinci Code," something that is generating some quiet buzz. They're out there, great new titles that deserve the attention but just haven't gotten it yet. Indiebound's Indie Next List (the new Booksense) is a great place to find new stuff. It's a monthly list generated by independent booksellers with titles that they vote as the best new books for that month. Later this week, I'll try to put together a list of debuts that I have read in the past year that may be out in PB now.

I had two other inspiration for this blog. One comes from today's Murderati post by Tess Gerritsen about the fate of the thriller genre. The other was the acknowledgements page in the book the I am currently reading, Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead, by Saralee Rosenberg. I'll save her for tomorrow's blog, though.

Hope I haven't tread too far from my topic here. My point is, try something new, you just might like it. Think you hate romance? Try one. Don't like paranormals, but you do like mystery? You'd be surprised what's out there now. Afraid of literary books or pink covered chick-lit? Don't be! There's so much out there to choose from and a lot of it is surprisingly good.