Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

These are a few pictures from last night. For some weird reason, our community always trick-or-treats on the Thursday before Halloween! My kids had a wonderful time, even though it was absolutely freezing. My little guy made it about 70 minutes before he came home and helped me pass out candy. My daughter always goes the entire two hour period and came home with her record number of candy pieces ever -- 231. She was on a major mission to "beat" last year.

I don't know if any of you noticed, but my son dressed up as a UPS man! He decided on this costume way back in July and I couldn't change his mind. I guess he was heavily influenced by the number of times the UPS man visits our house each week. Instead of using a pumpkin to collect his candy, I cut a hole into a box I received from Miriam at Hachette Book Group. He kept saying that he was bringing his mommy a box of books. He was definitely a big hit!

Review: One Fifth Avenue

Summary: From one of the most consistently astute and engaging social commentators of our day comes another look at the tough and tender women of New York City--this time, through the lens of where they live.

One Fifth Avenue, the Art Deco beauty towering over one of Manhattan’s oldest and most historically hip neighborhoods, is a one-of-a-kind address, the sort of building you have to earn your way into--one way or another. For the women in Candace Bushnell’s new novel, One Fifth Avenue, this edifice is essential to the lives they’ve carefully established--or hope to establish. From the hedge fund king’s wife to the aging gossip columnist to the free-spirited actress (a recent refugee from L.A.), each person’s game plan for a rich life comes together under the soaring roof of this landmark building.

Acutely observed and mercilessly witty, One Fifth Avenue is a modern-day story of old and new money, that same combustible mix that Edith Wharton mastered in her novels about New York’s Gilded Age and F. Scott Fitzgerald illuminated in his Jazz Age tales. Many decades later, Bushnell’s New Yorkers suffer the same passions as those fictional Manhattanites from eras past: They thirst for power, for social prominence, and for marriages that are successful--at least to the public eye. But Bushnell is an original, and One Fifth Avenue is so fresh that it reads as if sexual politics, real estate theft, and fortunes lost in a day have never happened before.

From Sex and the City through four successive novels, Bushnell has revealed a gift for tapping into the zeitgeist of any New York minute and, as one critic put it, staying uncannily “just the slightest bit ahead of the curve.” And with each book, she has deepened her range, but with a light touch that makes her complex literary accomplishments look easy. Her stories progress so nimbly and ring so true that it can seem as if anyone might write them--when, in fact, no one writes novels quite like Candace Bushnell. Fortunately for us, with One Fifth Avenue, she has done it again. -- Every Woman's Voice

I was so excited to receive a copy of ONE FIFTH AVENUE by Candace Bushnell a few weeks ago. I've never read any of her books before, but I'm certainly familiar with the television shows and movie based on her books. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from her latest novel, but I figured this book would be light, fun read at the very least. I was pleasantly surprised that ONE FIFTH AVENUE was a very enjoyable read, and that it did actually have some depth!

It's no secret that Candace Bushnell "knows" New York society, and ONE FIFTH AVENUE is a wonderful glimpse at the occupants of an apartment building on One Fifth Avenue. I almost felt like I was a "fly on the wall" in their apartments; and I even felt like a bit of a voyeur into their private lives; however, I think that's what made this book so special. Ms. Bushnell does a great job of describing the building and the people who live in it -- all of the characters in this novel are very unique and interesting, and the apartment building actually becomes a character in its own right.

I liked that I could just sit back and read this book and enjoy the stories of the rich and famous (and the rich and famous wannabes.) Many of the characters seemed like they were fresh out of today's New York society pages; and I thought it was so funny how eccentric some of them were. There were a lot of characters in this novel, but I enjoyed following their lives and I never had any problem keeping them straight. I especially appreciated how Ms. Bushnell introduced all of the characters and their particular "issues." And, I thought she did a terrific job of weaving together their lives and showing how they continually interacted with each other.

I could so see ONE FIFTH AVENUE as a movie (or even a television series.) Considering Ms. Bushnell's past record, I won't be surprised to see it on the big screen in a few years. The book (or movie) will appeal to a lot of people because there is almost something for everyone. Many people will be drawn to this story because it does give a look into a life that they can only dream of. There are many fascinating characters who are both shallow and striving to grab that next brass ring that make this story fun; however, I found myself enjoying the characters who actually learned lessons about themselves by the end of the novel. As I finished this book, I was left with the positive message that so many of the characters realized what was really important in lives (instead of money, success and fame.) I was so happy that this book was deeper than what I was expecting, and it did actually have some substance.

If you'd like to learn more about ONE FIFTH AVENUE, check out this video!

Gods Behaving Badly Giveaway

Summary: Being a Greek god is not all it once was. Yes, the twelve gods of Olympus are alive and well in the twenty-first century, but they are crammed together in a London townhouse-and none too happy about it. And they've had to get day jobs: Artemis as a dog-walker, Apollo as a TV psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Dionysus as a DJ.

Even more disturbingly, their powers are waning, and even turning mortals into trees--a favorite pastime of Apollo's--is sapping their vital reserves of strength.

Soon, what begins as a minor squabble between Aphrodite and Apollo escalates into an epic battle of wills. Two perplexed humans, Alice and Neil, who are caught in the crossfire, must fear not only for their own lives, but for the survival of humankind. Nothing less than a true act of heroism is needed-but can these two decidedly ordinary people replicate the feats of the mythical heroes and save the world? -- Back Bay Books

I think this book looks terrific; and I think it's such a unique idea! Thanks to Valerie from Hachette Book Group USA, I have up to five copies of GODS BEHAVING BADLY by Marie Phillips to share! I am going to giveaway one copy for every 15 entries I receive (up to five copies.) For one chance, all you have to do is leave a comment telling me why you want to win a copy of this book! If you'd like two chances, just blog about this contest with a link back to this post!

This giveaway will be open until Friday, November 21st at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winner the following day! This contest is open to U.S. mailing addresses only -- no P.O. boxes.
Good Luck!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Review: The Heretic's Daughter & Winner

Summary: Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family's deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution. -- Hachette Book Group


I have been seeing quite a few positive reviews of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent, and I knew it sounded like a book that was "right up my alley." I usually enjoy historical fiction books, but I am especially drawn to books about the Salem Witch Trials. I can't exactly say why, but I am just amazed that something like this was ever allowed to happen. When Miriam from Hachette Book Group mentioned that she was hosting a BlogTalk Radio show with the author, I started the book immediately (it gave me the kick in the rear that I needed.) I am so glad that I did -- THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER lived up to the hype, and the radio show was very interesting too (you'll definitely want to listen to it.)

If you like historical fiction books, you're going to want to check out THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER. I thought the historical aspects of the book were very interesting, but Ms. Kent also developed wonderful and memorable characters. For some reason, I just love reading a great book and learning a thing or two too! I think this book captured the essence of this time period perfectly.

What I really thought made this book so special was that the author chose for Martha's young daughter Sarah to tell this story (I thought it was interesting that Ms. Kent initially wrote this book in Martha's voice.) I loved that this story was told through the eyes of a child because it showed so clearly how devastating this time period was. Sarah was a strong-willed and very intelligent child who often times had issues with both of her parents -- she was more like her mother than she realized. As the story progresses, Sarah is forced to grow up in so any ways; and she eventually begins to appreciate her family's relationships for what they were. I thought the author did a wonderful job of developing Sarah's character -- some of the most beautifully written (and difficult to read) parts were when Sarah was in prison and dealing with her guilt.

This book is not a light read! It is incredibly sad for so many reasons -- one being that it describes the horrendous things that happened to Martha and her family. I thought the author did a wonderful job incorporating her research on the trials and the prisons with the imprisonment of Martha and her family. I especially loved how she showed the reader not only the characters' physical pain, but also how these events affected them mentally and spiritually. I was so deeply disturbed with how the Witch Trials devastated so many families and resulted in the loss of innocence for so many children.

Not only was this book extremely interesting, but it was also very well-written. THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER is Ms. Kent's first novel, and I can tell that it was a labor of love. It's obvious from the start that she did a huge amount of research -- this book was full of so much historical information about Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials. I find it so fascinating that Ms. Kent is a 10th generation descendant of Martha Carrier. She became very interested in this time period as a child when she heard her family discussing the witch trials; and as a result, she began thoroughly researching these events -- you can read more about her history here. I believe that her personal link to this time period and her desire to tell her relatives' story made her words (and this story) especially meaningful.

THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER would make a most excellent book club selection! I'm thinking of recommending it to my own group since I know we'd all love the book. There are so many issues to discuss, but I think it would be wonderful to just delve into the characters' personalities and stories. There are discussion questions available that I thought were very good too.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to announce the winner! Congratulations to tammy. Please e-mail me with your name and address so I can forward it to Hachette as soon as possible!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review: Life After Genius & Giveaway

Summary: Theodore Mead Fegley has always been the smartest person he knows. By age 12, he was in high school, and by 15 he was attending a top-ranking university. And now, at the tender age of 18, he's on the verge of proving the Riemann Hypothesis, a mathematical equation that has mystified academics for almost 150 years. But only days before graduation, Mead suddenly packs his bags and flees home to rural Illinois. What has caused him to flee remains a mystery to all but Mead and a classmate whose quest for success has turned into a dangerous obsession.

At home, Mead finds little solace. His past ghosts haunt him; his parents don't understand the agony his genius has caused him, nor his desire to be a normal kid, and his dreams seem crushed forever. He embarks on a new life's journey -- learning the family business of selling furniture and embalming the dead--that disappoints and surprises all who knew him as "the young Fegley genius."

Equal parts academic thriller and poignant coming-of-age story, LIFE AFTER GENIUS follows the remarkable journey of a young man who must discover that the heart may know what the head hasn't yet learned. -- Grand Central Publishing

A few months back, Miriam from Hachette Book Group USA sent me an ARC of LIFE AFTER GENIUS by M. Ann Jacoby. I loved the cover and thought the premise of the novel sounded terrific, but the book unfortunately got buried in my TBR pile. It wasn't until Miriam announced that LIFE AFTER GENIUS was going to be the October selection for the Early Birds Blog Tour that I finally got around to reading the book. I was caught up in story from the first few pages of the novel, and I was captivated by his Mead's predicament.

I was very impressed with Ms. Jacoby's writing style as well as her ability to tell a story. This book was her first, yet I have a feeling that we'll be hearing a great deal more of her in the future. I found the book to be very fast-paced, and I couldn't put it down. The author had a way of drawing you into Mead's life, and I definitely felt a great deal of compassion towards him. In addition, she also told the story by alternating between "present day" and flashing back to Mead's time at the university. I thought it was extremely effective how Ms. Jacoby hinted at events in Mead's life and the reader didn't fully understand them until a chapter or two later. In addition, I loved how she kept a huge part of the story a mystery until the end of the book. I was extremely curious about what occurred back at the university that made Mead leave just a few days before graduation; and I couldn't read fast enough to learn the reason.

The character of Mead will remain in my thoughts for a long time -- I just found him to be extremely memorable. I think his character captured the essence of what it means to be an outsider and truly want to be "normal." As if it wasn't difficult enough to be a math genius and head off to college at 16, but he also felt like he didn't fit in anywhere. He was the victim of bullying when he was younger, as well as pressured by the expectations his over-bearing mother. In addition, he was living with so much guilt over the loss of his cousin (and maybe his closest friend.) For all of these reasons and more, he was just so desperate to have a friend; and this desperation eventually led to his downfall. I found his eventual understanding of not only himself, but also his family and friends, to be very moving.

While I did find this story to be tragic, I was impressed with how Ms. Jacoby was also able to infuse so much humor into the novel. Just by the nature of Mead's character, there was plenty of material for some lighter moments in this story. I thought there was a wonderful balance of funny and serious moments to make this book very entertaining. I do think it would make for a very interesting discussion at your next book club meeting. I couldn't find discussion questions at this time, but if I do, I'll make sure to post them!

I received so much insight into LIFE AFTER GENIUS after watching this video of Ms. Jacoby. I found it fascinating that this novel was based on her father who actually was a math genius and went away to college at 16. She admits that her father wasn't much of a talker, and she didn't really feel that she knew him very well. I thought is was funny that her friends thought her first drafts of the novel (which stayed true to her real father) didn't seem believable!



I know so many of you would really enjoy this novel, and that's why I'm so excited to announce that I have one copy to giveaway! (If you think you might be interested, you can read an excerpt here.)Please leave a comment with your e-mail address if you'd like to win this book. If you'd want to double your chances, please blog about this contest with a link back to this post. The contest will be open until Tuesday, November 11th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winner on Wednesday, the 12th. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. or Canada mailing addresses only! Good luck!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Giveaway: Hollywood Crows

Summary: In Wambaugh's gripping new book about life in the country's most sensational police force, the beloved Oracle has been replaced by thin-lipped Sgt. Treacle, but the setting is the same - Hollywood: "America's nut capital" - and some favorite personalities are still around.

When Nate and Bix Rumstead (a supposedly upstanding cop with serious sobriety issues) find themselves caught up with bombshell Margot Aziz, they think they're just having some fun. But in Hollywood, nothing is ever what it seems. To them, Margot is a harmless socialite, stuck in the middle of an ugly divorce from the nefarious bar-owner, Ali Aziz. What Nate and Bix don't know is that Margot's no helpless victim: she's setting them both up so that she can get away with the perfect murder - and still stand to inherit her ex-husbands's ill-won fortune. What SHE doesn't know is that Aziz has replaced her sleeping pills with a poison. And then there's Leonard Stillwater, a small time tweaker whose connection to Aziz is about to shoot him into the big leagues...

Complete with scams, cokeheads, petty (and some not so petty) crimes, HOLLYWOOD CROWS offers the very best of Wambaugh: impeccable plotting, acerbic humor, and plenty of flawed but lovable characters. -- josephwambaugh.net

I am thrilled to be giving away up to five copies of HOLLYWOOD CROWS by Joseph Wambaugh courtesy of Hachette Book Group USA. I have to admit that I haven't read this book yet, but I've read most of Wambaugh's earlier books and I loved them. In fact, in a recent BlogTalk Radio show, author Michael Connelly credits Joseph Wambaugh's characters as inspiration for his Harry Bosch character.

Here's the drill:
For every 15 comments I receive, I will give away another book -- if I get 75 or more, I will give away five books! Leave a comment telling me if you've ever read any of Joseph Wambaugh's books for one entry. If you'd like to double your chances, just blog about this contest with a link back to this post. This contest will run until Sunday, November 9th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winner the following day. Good luck!

Review: Madam President

Summary: A little girl imagines what her day would be like if she were Madam President. There would be executive orders to give, babies to kiss, tuna casseroles to veto (or VETO!)…and so much more! Not to mention that recess would definitely require more security.

With deadpan wit and hilarious illustrations, best-selling picture book creator Lane Smith introduces readers to an unforgettable new character. -- Hyperion Books for Children

With all of the talk about the presidential election in the news, I thought MADAM PRESIDENT by Lane Smith would be a wonderful book to read to my children. Even though the book is geared for four to eight year olds, my nine year old daughter is very interested in politics and loves to read with her brother and me. Of course, my four year old son just loves to read anything and "blog" about it!

We all absolutely loved this book (especially me!) This is one of those great children's books that appeal to parents and kids of all ages. My nine year old enjoyed the story and the play on words -- like Secretary of Treasury (with a picture of a piggy bank) and Secretary of Interior (with a picture of a human body.) My son absolutely adored the wonderful illustrations and the humor. And, I don't know what I liked better -- the story or the illustrations! Either way, we were all very entertained by MADAM PRESIDENT and found ourselves giggling while I read it.

MADAM PRESIDENT is the story of a young girl who imagines what her life would be like if she were the President of the United States. She basically takes you through a day in her life and explains the various responsibilities she would have if she were president. Even the most normal things in her life (like eating breakfast and arriving at school) would take on an entirely new meaning. I enjoyed how she had to "be a diplomat," "tackle press conferences gracefully," and "keep the peace;" and I especially liked how she chose to end her day.

When I went to the Hyperion Books for Children website, I was extremely impressed with the information they had for MADAM PRESIDENT! Not only did they have the usual information like praise for the book and an author biography, but they had a great teacher's guide. I found this teacher's guide to be a terrific resource that complements the book. It's set up in the format of a MADAM PRESIDENT Event Kit; and it includes some Diplomacy Role Play questions, a Presidential To-Do List, and a worksheet that allows children to make up their own cabinet. There is also a presidential word search and a design your own flag page. I think children (and teachers) would have a blast reading this book and using these supplemental exercises!

I can't make it any clearer how much we all loved MADAM PRESIDENT! It's a fabulous book for children and parents alike, especially during this election season!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Giveaway: In the Land of Invisible Women

Summary: More than ever, we live in a time of great change around the world. And as history unfolds, the cultures of the West and the Middle East have—and will continue—to collide until understanding or critical mass is reached. Sourcebooks, Inc. is proud to present a microcosm of this struggle, with a valuable new perspective, contained within the journey of Dr. Qanta Ahmed.

IN THE LAND OF INVISIBLE WOMEN is the story of a western-trained Muslim female doctor (Ahmed) who spent two years working in the top hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. What began as a job initiated by a visa problem, quickly became a struggle and search for self empowerment, freedom and the right to follow her own truth.

Dr. Ahmed’s memoir is a fascinating and revelatory window into an enigmatic world. Like Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, Dr. Ahmed provides a telling picture of what daily life is truly like in the Saudi Kingdom. She describes:

- How physicians trained by Jewish doctors in the United States applauded and cheered when hijacked planes destroyed the Twin Towers on 9/11
- How men and women find marriage partners in a society that allows no dating and physical contact, and where they flee to have affairs
- How Saudi women who are supported by advanced thinking parents and who must wear abbayas with their bodies fully encased are able to defy the Saudi's oppressive rules and mores to become physicians
- How she worked side-by-side with Wahabi scholars and physicians who seemed to shun her even in clinical contact
- Why the religious police are so threatening and dangerous
- How a father grieves
- Her encounters with sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, sycophancy

Dr. Ahmed also evokes moments where she finds tenderness and true beauty in areas where she least expects it; at the tattered, curled edges of extremism. The last leg of her journey takes readers inside the Hajj, as she journeys to Mecca with 2.5 million other Muslims to perform the sacred duty incumbent upon every able-bodied Muslim in his or her lifetime.

In the Land of Invisible Women is a fascinating look inside a culture that has become so relevant to our own. -- Sourcebooks


Dr. Qanta Ahmed, author of IN THE LAND OF INVISIBLE WOMEN and nationally respected physician, is quickly approaching bestseller status and, to keep the ball rolling, Sourcebooks has partnered with LibraryThing.com to put together an electronic giveaway of 2,500 ebook downloads of her memoir about being a female physician in the Saudi Kingdom. Hers is a fantastic story (currently outselling both INFIDEL and READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN.)

From October 27th – 31st, her book will be available for download to any LibraryThing member (membership is free) and it will be followed up a week later (Nov. 10th) with two weeks of author chat—meaning that every week-night for two weeks, readers can post questions for Dr. Ahmed on the LibraryThing website which she will then attempt to answer.

I haven't had the opportunity to read IN THE LAND OF INVISIBLE WOMEN yet, but the buzz surrounding this book is that it is very good. BookList, ForeWord and Publishers Weekly have all given this book great advanced reviews; and Kirkus gave it a starred review. I strongly recommend trying to download the e-book and participating in the author chat. It sounds like the book and the discussion with the author are going to be fascinating.

I just happen to have two copies (the actual book, not an e-book) of IN THE LAND OF INVISIBLE WOMEN available to giveaway! If you are interested, please leave a comment (with your e-mail address) telling me what's your favorite memoir. If you'd like to double your chances, blog about this contest with a link back to this post. The contest will be open until Friday, November 7th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winners on the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. or Canada mailing addresses only! Good Luck!

Mother Daughter Book Club Meeting #7

Summary: The Magic Bed-Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks in one volume. These are the exploits of the three Wilson children; Miss Price, the apprentice witch; and the flying bed. A tale of a witch-in-training and trouble of the most unforgettable kind. -- Harcourt

Yesterday, our Mother Daughter Book Club met to discuss BED-KNOB AND BROOMSTICK by Mary Norton. I was a little concerned about the length of the book and some of the dated references, but most of the girls agreed that it was a very enjoyable book. The book was actually made up of two separate stories with the same characters but that take place a few years apart. My daughter and I both thought that the first story (The Magic Bed-Knob) was better, but I'm not sure that everyone felt the same way.

The girls came very prepared and discussed the book entirely by themselves. They are really proud of themselves for acting like the moms do at their book club meetings! As usual, they discussed their favorite parts of the book; and they also talked about where they would have chosen to "travel" to. Many of the girls chose Hawaii (we aren't raising any dummies), and two of the girls mentioned that they thought it would be interesting to go back to Revolutionary War times. One of the girls thought it would be good if she could go back to the time of the Depression and try to give the people some food and money -- isn't that sweet?

For our next meeting, we will be reading THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo. I am very excited to read a book by Ms. DiCamillo because my daughter loves everything she's read by her. I think THE TIGER RISING looks like a wonderful read, and I'm hoping that the girls all enjoy it!

Hello...You Won The Space Between Before and After

Well there are certainly a lot of you who are interested in learning more about Boundtrack and winning a copy of THE SPACE BETWEEN BEFORE AND AFTER by Jean Reynolds Page! There was a huge response to this contest. Thanks to all of your comments, I am giving away 10 copies of the book (courtesy of Harper Collins.)

Without further ado, here are the winners:

stephanie
just.me
amandasue
nancy
ariyana9501
cadmar
shelly burns
yadgirl
aimee
anne

I will e-mail all of the winners, so make sure you reply with your full name and mailing address.

Check out the other wonderful contests I have going on right now:
SARAH'S KEY
THE HERETIC QUEEN
THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Guest Blogger: Michelle Moran, Q&A and Giveaway

I am so excited to have Michelle Moran, author of NEFERTITI and THE HERETIC QUEEN, stopping by today to talk about her new book. I absolutely loved THE HERETIC QUEEN (you can read my review here), and I think the guest post she wrote about "history's surprises" is just fantastic. In addition, Ms. Moran sent me a Q&A that I also found very interesting. Without further ado, I'd like to welcome Michelle Moran to Booking Mama!

First of all, thank you very much for having me here! When you first asked me to write a guest post, I knew immediately what I wanted to talk about. History’s surprises. I don’t mean the small surprises an author uncovers during the lengthy process of researching for an historical novel, such as the fact that the Romans liked to eat a fish sauce called garum which was made from fermented fish. Ugh. No, I mean the large surprises which alter the way we think about an ancient civilization and humanity.

The Heretic Queen is the story of Nefertari and her transformation from an orphaned and unwanted princess to one of the most powerful queens of ancient Egypt. She married Ramesses II and possibly lived through the most famous exodus in history. I assumed that when I began my research I would discover that Ramesses was tall, dark and handsome (not unlike the drool-worthy Yule Brenner in The Ten Commandments). And I imagined that he would have been victorious in every battle, given his long reign of more than thirty years and his triumphant-sounding title, Ramesses the Great. But neither of these assumptions turned out to be true.

My first surprise came when I first visited the Hall of Mummies in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Contrary to every single media portrayal of Ramesses and every movie ever made, it turns out the Pharaoh was not tall, dark and handsome as I had expected, but tall, light and red-headed (which was just as fine, by me)! When his mummy was recovered in 1881, Egyptologists were able to determine that he had once stood five feet seven inches tall, had flaming red hair, and a distinctive nose that his sons would inherit. There were those who contended that his mummy had red hair because of burial dyes or henna, but French scientists laid these theories to rest after a microscopic analysis of the roots conclusively proved he was a red-head like Set, the Egyptian god of chaos. As I peered through the heavy glass which separated myself from the a man commonly referred to as the greatest Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, my pre-conceived notions of Ramesses II fell away. I knew that the oldest mummy ever discovered in Egypt had had red hair, but to see red hair on a mummy in person was something else entirely.

My second surprise came as I was attempting to piece together what kind of man Ramesses II had been. I assumed, given his lengthy reign, that he must have been a great warrior who was level-headed in battle and revered as a soldier. Pharaohs who were inept at waging war didn’t tend to have very lengthy reigns. There were always people on the horizon – Hyksos, Hittites, Mitanni – who wanted Egypt for themselves, not to mention internal enemies who would have loved to usurp the throne. But while researching Ramesses’s foreign policy, a very different man began to emerge. One who was young, rash, and sometimes foolish. His most famous battle—the Battle of Kadesh—ended not in victory, but in a humiliating truce after he charged into combat strategically unprepared and very nearly lost the entire kingdom of Egypt. In images from his temple in Abu Simbel, he can be seen racing into this war on his chariot, his horse’s reins tied around his waist as he smites the Hittites in what he depicted as a glorious triumph. Nefertari is believed to have accompanied him into this famous battle, along with one of his other wives. First, I had to ask myself, what sort of man brings his wives to war? Clearly, one who was completely confident of his own success. Secondly, I had to wonder what this battle said about Ramesses’s character.

Rather than being a methodical planner, Ramesses was clearly the type of Pharaoh who was swayed – at least on the battlefield – by his passions. However, his signing of a truce with the Hittites seemed significant to me for two reasons. One, it showed that he could be humble and accept a stalemate (whereas other Pharaohs might have tried to attack the Hittites the next season until a definitive conqueror was declared). And two, it showed that he could think outside the box. Ramesses’s Treaty of Kadesh is the earliest copy of a treaty that has ever been found. When archaeologists discovered the tablet it was written in both Egyptian and Akkadian. It details the terms of peace, extradition policies and mutual-aid clauses between Ramesses’s kingdom of Egypt and the powerful kingdom of Hatti. Today, the original treaty, written in cuneiform and discovered in Hattusas, is displayed in the United Nations building in New York to serve as a reminder of the rewards of diplomacy. For me, it also serves as a reminder that Ramesses was not just a young, rash warrior, but a shrewd politician.

There were other surprises as well; about the personal history of my narrator Nefertari, the Exodus, and even the Babylonian legends which bear a striking resemblance to Moses’s story in the Bible. Researching history always comes with revelations, and it’s one of the greatest rewards of being an historical fiction author. There’s nothing I like better than being surprised and having my preconceptions crumble, because if I’m surprised, it’s likely that the reader will be surprised as well.



Q&A (awesome questions, but not mine!)
Q: When your debut novel, Nefertiti, was released last year, you spoke about how the inspiration to write it came while you were on an archaeological dig. Was there a different inspiration behind The Heretic Queen, or was it a natural progression from where the first book left off?

A: In many ways, The Heretic Queen is a natural progression from my debut novel Nefertiti. The sequel picks up the plot after the brief interceding reign of Tutankhamun. The narrator is orphaned Nefertari, who suffers terribly because of her relationship to the reviled “Heretic Queen”. Despite the Heretic Queen’s death a generation prior, Nefertari is still tainted by her relationship to her aunt, Queen Nefertiti, and when young Ramesses falls in love and wishes to marry her, it is a struggle not just against an angry court, but against the wishes of a rebellious people.

But perhaps I would never have chosen to write on Nefertari at all if I hadn’t taken a trip to Egypt and seen her magnificent tomb. At one time, visiting her tomb was practically free, but today, a trip underground to see one of the most magnificent places on earth can cost upwards of five thousand dollars (yes, you read that right). If you want to share the cost and go with a group, the cost lowers to the bargain-basement price of about three thousand. As a guide told us of the phenomenal price, I looked at my husband, and he looked at me. We had flown more than seven thousand miles, suffered the indignities of having to wear the same clothes for three days because of lost luggage… and really, what were the possibilities of our ever returning to Egypt again? There was only one choice. We paid the outrageous price, and I have never forgotten the experience.

While breathing in some of the most expensive air in the world (I figured it was about $20 a gulp), I saw a tomb that wasn’t just fit for a queen, but a goddess. In fact, Nefertari was only one of two (possibly three) queens ever deified in her lifetime, and as I gazed at the vibrant images on her tomb – jackals and bulls, cobras and gods - I knew that this wasn’t just any woman, but a woman who had been loved fiercely when she was alive. Because I am a sucker for romances, particularly if those romances actually happened, I immediately wanted to know more about Nefertari and Ramesses the Great. So my next stop was the Hall of Mummies at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. There, resting beneath a heavy arc of glass, was the great Pharaoh himself. For a ninety-something year old man, he didn’t look too bad. His short red hair was combed back neatly and his face seemed strangely peaceful in its three thousand year repose. I tried to imagine him as he’d been when he was young – strong, athletic, frighteningly rash and incredibly romantic. Buildings and poetry remain today as testaments to Ramesses’s softer side, and in one of Ramesses’s more famous poems he calls Nefertari “the one for whom the sun shines.” His poetry to her can be found from Luxor to Abu Simbel, and it was my visit to Abu Simbel (where Ramesses built a temple for Nefertari) where I finally decided that I had to tell their story.

Q: Did you read a lot of historical fiction set in ancient Egypt before writing Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen?

A: Actually, no. I never read Egyptian fiction before publishing Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen partly because it didn’t appeal to me (ironic, I know). A great deal of fiction set in ancient Egypt feels “heavy”. The dialogue seems stilted because the author is attempting to make it sound old (which seems silly, since the dialogue isn’t going to be accurate anyway. Firstly, we don’t know what rhythm or cadence the ancient Egyptians used, and secondly, they didn’t speak English!). Also, a lot of fiction set in places like Rome and Egypt focuses on the lives of men. The books are filled with war or male-dominated politics, and that’s simply not what I’m interested in.

I want to know about women’s lives. That’s not to say there aren’t any politics in my novel. Harem politics could be just as heated and dangerous as politics in the Audience Chamber. And that’s also not to say that there aren’t any battles. After all, Ramesses took his principal wives with him to war. But I want to hear about the experience of everyday life and war from the women. What was it like for them? What did they see, and hear, and do? So that’s one reason I didn’t read Egyptian fiction before writing my own. However, my primary reason had to do with my own writing and research. I didn’t want to be influenced by another author’s take on events or their approach to the ancient world.

But now that I’m finished writing on ancient Egypt and my next book will explore Imperial Rome, I’m eager to start looking for Egyptian fiction with strong female leads. Any suggestions are welcome!

Q: What would you like people to take away from your books after reading them?
A: I’d like readers to feel that if a time machine were to suddenly appear and whisk them away to ancient Egypt, they wouldn’t be totally lost. They would recognize the traditions, the gods and goddesses, and know what to expect in Pharaoh Ramesses’s court. I have tried my best to make the writing accessible to a modern audience. That means not dating the dialogue, or using too many long and unwieldy Egyptian names, or overdoing it with ancient Egyptian terms. Hopefully, by doing this, readers will come away with the sense of not only having been there for a little while, but of relating to the Egyptians. Because for all of the technological, medical and philosophical changes the world has undergone in the past three thousand years, people have remained the same. They had the same desires and fears in ancient Egypt that we have today, and I hope that readers can come away with an understanding of that.

Q: I saw on your website that you travel extensively. Do these travels influence your writing?

A: Yes! Traveling has a huge impact on my writing. I’m currently writing an article for Solander Magazine which addresses the issue of whether or not travel is essential for the historical fiction author. While I don’t think it’s essential, I do think it’s incredibly helpful. Here’s an excerpt from the article, which will come out in November.

“Before I began writing my second novel The Heretic Queen, I took a trip to Egypt to see for myself the magnificent temple of Abu Simbel. One of the many building projects undertaken during the reign of Ramesses the Great, the temple faƧade is carved with statues of both Ramesses II and his beloved Nefertari. Twice a year a thin beam of sunlight crosses the temple to illuminate three of four statues sitting in a darkened sanctuary. The only statue the sun doesn’t strike is that of Ptah, the god of darkness. I had timed my trip in order to see this bi-annual spectacle, and with hundreds of other visitors I watched as the sun struck the statues of Amun-Re, Ramesses II and Ra-Harakhty in turn. It was an almost mystical moment, made even more poignant by the fact that the narrator of the novel I was preparing to write would have witnessed the same event more than two thousand years ago. When I returned to America, I immediately began work on my second book, outlining the scene where Ramesses II takes Nefertari to his newly built temple in order to watch this special event. Did any of the wonderment I felt standing in Abu Simbel translate to the pages of my book? I hope so.”

Q: Do you have plans for your next book, and will it be set in ancient Egypt?

A: My third novel will be Cleopatra’s Daughter, which will be released September 15, 2009. The book will follow the incredible life of Cleopatra's surviving children with Marc Antony -- twins, named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, and a younger son named Ptolemy. All three were taken to Rome and paraded through the streets, then sent off to be raised by Octavia (the wife whom Marc Antony left for Cleopatra). Raised in one of the most fascinating courts of all time, Cleopatra's children would have met Ovid, Seneca, Vitruvius (who inspired the Vitruvian man), Agrippa (who built the Pantheon), Herod, his sister Salome, the poets Virgil, Horace, Maecenas and so many others.

Thank you so much for having me here!

I can't express how much I enjoyed THE HERETIC QUEEN! Ms. Moran is definitely on my list of favorite (and must-read) authors now! In keeping with the theme of surprises, I am thrilled to announce that Ms. Moran offered to giveaway two signed copies of THE HERETIC QUEEN! All you have to do is leave a comment (with your e-mail address) saying why you enjoy historical fiction books. If you'd like to double your chances, please blog about this giveaway with a link back to this post. The contest will be open until November 14th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the two winners on Saturday, November 15th. This contest is open to those of you with United States addresses only. Good luck!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Blog Talk Radio Show and Giveaway

I am so excited to announce that Miriam from Hachette Book Group USA is hosting another BlogTalk Radio Show on Wedneday, October 29th at 1:00 p.m. EST. I had a terrific time participating in the last one with Michael Connelly, and I'm really looking forward to being part of this one too.

This time the radio show is with Kathleen Kent, author of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER. Here's a brief summary of the novel:

Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family's deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution. -- Hachette Book Group USA

I just started the book last night so I'd be "prepared" for the radio show; and I have to say that I'm really loving it. I'm having a hard time putting it down, so I know I'll be finished with it way before the radio show. You can call into the show at (646) 378-0040 or just listen online. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/stations/HachetteBookGroup/LittleBrown/2008/10/29/Interview-w-Kathleen-Kent-author-of-THE-HERETICS-DAUGHTER-a-novel-about-the-Salem-Witch-Trials

Even if you haven't read THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER yet, I'm sure you will still thoroughly enjoy the radio show. I always think it's interesting to hear an author's perspective on their work. You can read a little more about Ms. Kent and her fascinating family history here. In addition, you can read an excerpt of the book or even watch this video.

The always generous Miriam has offered to give a copy of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER to one of my readers. Please leave a comment with your e-mail address if you are interested. If you'd like to double your chances, blog about this radio show with a link back to this post. The contest will be open until Wednesday, October 29th after the radio show. This contest is open to U.S. mailing addresses only. Good luck and I hope to "hear" you there!

Review: The Heretic Queen

Summary: In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history.

The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.

Sweeping in scope and meticulous in detail, The Heretic Queen is a novel of passion and power, heartbreak and redemption. -- Crown

When Michelle Moran contacted me about reading her latest novel THE HERETIC QUEEN, I almost did a little "happy dance." Every single review I have read about THE HERETIC QUEEN AND NEFERTITI has been extremely positive! And one of my good friends has been raving about NEFERTITI for months and recommending it to everyone (you can read her review here.) In fact, she likes it so much that she has selected it for the next time she hosts our book club in February. I can't wait to read it (but I do have to wait a little closer to our meeting so it's fresh) and discuss it with everyone. In addition, Ms. Moran will be joining us via telephone to talk about her book so it should be an extra-special meeting.

THE HERETIC QUEEN was a fabulous book -- one of my favorites this year! I was a little worried about reading it before I read NEFERTITI since there are many references to that novel; but I can assure you that it absolutely isn't necessary to read them in order and it didn't take away from my enjoyment (and understanding) of this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Nefertari, and I thought Ms. Moran did an incredible job of bringing her to life.

Historical Egypt has always fascinated me ever since I did a report on King Tut back in grade school. I am absolutely amazed by this society and its accomplishments, so I couldn't wait to read a novel that takes place during this time period. I have always thought it would be extremely difficult to write a novel based on real historic figures; however, it was evident to me from the start that Ms. Moran did a ton of research on this subject matter. I thought she did a terrific job of merging together the facts about these characters and this period in history with the fictional elements that made it a great story. I especially liked how she explained the fact versus fiction in the Historical Note section of the book.

This book definitely appealed to me, and I can't rave enough about how good I thought this book was. I was hooked from the first few pages and couldn't put the book down. I loved the character of Nefertari, and I enjoyed seeing her mature throughout the novel. At the beginning of the novel, my heart went out to this young, orphaned girl. She was facing so much adversity and could have easily given up on her dreams; however because of her love for Ramesses the Great, as well as her desire to preserve her family's name, she never gave up and constantly fought for her place in history. In some ways, this book was a beautiful coming-of-age tale of a young girl.

THE HERETIC QUEEN also had many memorable characters besides Nefertari. Ramesses the Great was depicted a great leader who was loved by his people, and also as a man who was very much in love with Nefertari. Ramesses was definitely not without flaws and he did face many trying times as a leader, but I thought Ms. Moran captured the complex nature of this character extremely well. I also found it extremely interesting to learn that he was responsible for the first international peace treaty. In addition, Nefertari's nurse Merit, her teacher Paser, and her mentor Woserit were three people who were always there for Nefertari and helped her mature into the woman and Queen she eventually became. Of course, there were a fair share of "bad guys" in this novel too who challenged Nefertari at every turn and made things interesting.

Ms. Moran really understands the value of bloggers, so she holds an especially dear place in my heart! She has a wonderful website filled with so much valuable information; and she even has a special section just for bloggers -- this is awesome because it has all of the information bloggers need on one page with links. While you are visiting her website, you can also read an excerpt of THE HERETIC QUEEN and check out the historical information section. I found this information and the pictures fascinating, and they really helped complement the novel -- you can learn about Heretic Queen Facts, Ancient Egypt, Nefertari's Family and Ramesses's Family. Don't forget to visit her Fun Stuff section too where you can win monthly contests.

I loved THE HERETIC QUEEN, and I can't wait to read NEFERTITI in the very near future! If you enjoy historical fiction, then you just have to read these novels -- you won't be disappointed. Make sure you visit tomorrow because Michelle Moran will be stopping by! And you never know what "surprises" you might find!

Hello...You Won The Lost Diary of Don Juan

Congratulations to Reeva! You won a copy of THE LOST DIARY OF DON JUAN by Douglas Carlton Abrams. Please e-mail me your name and mailing address so I can send the book right out to you.

I still have a few other giveaways going on (and a few more to come):

THE SPACE BETWEEN BEFORE AND AFTER
SARAH'S KEY

Friday, October 24, 2008

Review: Cold Rock River

Summary: In 1963 rural Georgia, with the Vietnam War cranking up, pregnant seventeen-year-old Adie Jenkins discovers the diary of pregnant seventeen-year-old Tempe Jordan, a slave girl, begun as the Civil War was winding down. Adie is haunted by the memory of her dead sister; Tempe is overcome with grief over the sale of her three children sired by her master. Adie — married to Buck, her baby's skirt-chasing father — is unprepared for marriage and motherhood. She spends her days with her new baby, Grace Annie. Buck spends his with the conniving daughter of the man he works for.

Adie welcomes the friendship of midwife Willa Mae Satterfield. Having grown close to her after Grace Annie's birth, Adie confides that her baby sister, Annie, survived choking on a jelly bean only to down in Cold Rock River a few months later. Willa Mae replies, "My two little chillins Georgia and Calvin drowns in that river, too." What she won't say is how and why.

Adie takes refuge in Tempe's journal. It tells an amazing tale, but the further she reads, the more questions the diary raises in her mind. After "the freedom" comes, Tempe sets out to find her lost children and meets Tom Barber, another freed slave. Tom and Tempe marry and have one daughter, Heart. When Tom is killed in a drunken brawl, Tempe takes Heart and settles on a small patch of land in North Georgia. There, Heart blossoms, eventually marrying and giving birth to Georgia and Calvin. Adie is filled with questions: Could Willa Mae be Heart? How — and why — did the children die? And is it possible that the man who now owns the house in which she lives is Willa Mae's grandson?

As Cold Rock River rushes to its surprising, shocking ending, questions of family, race, love, loss, and longing are loosed from the mysterious secrets that have been kept for too long. And the depth of the connection between the two women united by place and separated by race — and a century — is revealed. -- Cumberland House

A few months ago, I read and reviewed a book by Jackie Lee Miles called DIVORCING DWAYNE. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and thought it was a hoot! So when the opportunity came up for me to read another one of Ms. Miles' novels COLD ROCK RIVER, I couldn't wait. While DIVORCING DWAYNE was more of a light Southern read, I would classify COLD ROCK RIVER as having a much more serious subject matter, but still very much a Southern book.

While I read COLD ROCK RIVER, I did see a little bit of the DIVORCING DWAYNE Jackie Lee Miles shining through. The characters, while not as outrageous, still had their fair share of quirks and funny moments. I especially noticed some similarities in the Southern dialogue and basic reflections on life. But that's pretty much where the similarities ended between the two books. COLD ROCK RIVER dealt with a much heavier subject matter -- a young girl whose life and her family were drastically changed for the worse after a horrendous accident.

The story is told through the voice of Adie who blames herself for the death of her younger sister. She is obviously dealing with a lot of grief and pain, but I found her to be just a wonderful, lovable character. Despite all of her heartaches and disappointments in life, her inner strength was so strong. You couldn't help but root for her and hope she would somehow find happiness. Many of the people in Adie's life were also terrific characters. By the end of the book, I absolutely adored Adie's mother and I thought her insights into life and people were incredibly profound. I also loved Adie's new friends, Margaret Mary and Murphy. Both were very special people whom Adie learned to love and depend on.

Not only did I love the story of Adie, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the side story about the newly freed slave Tempe. When Adie moves to a new town, she becomes friends with an elderly black woman named Willa Mae. When Adie is in labor with her first child, Willa Mae begins reading Tempe's journal to her to help her get through the pains. Adie immediately becomes enthralled with Tempe's story; and she realizes that both she and Tempe are continually troubled by events that occurred in their past -- Adie for losing her sister and Tempe for losing her children.

So far, I have enjoyed both of Ms. Miles' books that I've read -- I'm beginning to see a pattern here. I now consider myself a fan of Ms. Miles! I would love to read Ms. Miles' other Southern fiction novel ROSEFLOWER CREEK which is a story told through the eyes of a young girl who tries to "fix" her very messed up stepfather. There are also two more of the DWAYNE series that look hilarious too!

I really, really liked this book and read it in just a day -- I didn't want to put it down. I was immediately drawn into Adie's story and just loved her character. I loved how the characters were definitely flawed and very human. I think this book would make a perfect selection for a lot of book clubs. The novel has wonderful characters, a great storyline and is very easy to read. There is a reading guide in the back of the book as well as loads of delicious recipes, an interview with the author, and questions answered by the author.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Free E-Book: The Reincarnationist

I just found out about a wonderful opportunity from M.J. Rose that I want to share. From now until October 31st, you can download her novel THE REINCARNATIONIST for free. THE REINCARNATIONIST was chosen by BookSense as one of 2007's six best suspense novels. My book club read THE REINCARNATIONIST earlier this year, and we thoroughly enjoyed it (you can read my review here.) We were even lucky enough to have Ms. Rose join us via phone for during our meeting.

The sequel to THE REINCARNATIONIST, THE MEMORIST, is coming out next week; and I can't wait to read it. THE MEMORIST has already received starred reviews in Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal so I know it's going to be good.

Michael Connelly Radio Show

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being part of a BlogTalk Radio Show with Michael Connelly. This half hour show was hosted by Little Brown/Hachette Book Group USA; and I got to ask the first question! I can't tell you how excited (and nervous) I was because Michael Connelly is one of my all-time favorite authors -- he's like a rock star to me.

He was extremely nice and thoroughly answered all of our questions. I asked him some questions about his writing process -- does he know the entire plot before you begin writing and does he write using an outline? He answered that he does not use an outline because it would be "like a boss." He thinks that the way he writes is more risky (he once wasted six weeks of writing), but he feels it's much more fulfilling to write this way. He also told us that he starts a novel with two things -- an A and a Z -- the start (or the crime) and the resolution (whodunnit.)

I also got to ask him about his favorite authors/favorite books. He gave quite a few names, but the main three writers that inspired his mystery novels are: Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, and Joseph Wambaugh. Chandler was an early inspiration because he wrote about characters who are outsiders; and then Wambaugh was an ex-cop who wrote about solving mysteries from the cop viewpoint or the inside. As a result, Mr. Connelly wanted to create a character (Harry Bosch) who was an "outsider with an insider job."

And finally, I asked how long it took him to write THE BRASS VERDICT. He answered that this book was his longest novel to date at around 120,000 words (his usual books are about 100,000 words.) In addition, he spent about 15-16 months working on this story whereas his usual time is about 11-12 months (except for his first book which took three years.)

One thing I particularly enjoyed about the chat was his explanation of why he dedicated one of his books to the librarian who introduced him to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I also found it very interesting that he told us that "he writes for one person only -- himself." We also got a sneak preview into his next novel THE SCARECROW which comes out in May. You can listen to the entire radio show here!

I will be reading his newest novel THE BRASS VERDICT in the very near future, and I'll let you know what I think of it. If past history is any indication, I'm sure I will love it!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review: Conscience Point

Summary: A talented woman becomes entranced with a mega-wealthy family in a story about a mysterious love with two faces; the battle to stay relevant in the post-literate world; a shocking betrayal that exposes the past of characters "rotten with secrets"; and, finally, the passion to reclaim old dreams. This genre-bending novel mixes heartbreak, Gothic atmospherics, and a satire of New York's high-stakes players.

Conscience Point is about Madeleine Shaye, a beautiful over-achiever with a dual career as concert pianist and TV arts correspondent; her adored college-age daughter, adopted as an infant under murky circumstances; and a blissful relationship with editor Nick Ashcroft, scion of an uber-rich family (whose sister earlier played a decisive role in Maddy's young life). Then it all unravels. Maddy loses her footing in a late-90's marketplace skewed toward youth and pop culture. Her daughter announces she's leaving college to work in Guatemala, hinting darkly at mysterious trouble. And Maddy discovers that Nick has betrayed her in a way she could never have imagined. Her tough resilience, ability to love and sacrifice while making moral choices informs the emotional center of this novel.

The intimate drama of a family shadowed by the past, Conscience Point captures the struggles of accomplished baby boomers (and NY social circle insiders) and scrambling to re-invent themselves and stay afloat in the post-literate age (says Maddy, "I won't move over till I fall over"); offers smart, enlightening observations, information and descriptions of the world of music; lampoons the elitist NY artsy community; satisfies our prurient hunger to eavesdrop on and judge the almost too decadent, consequence-free lives of the mega-rich. Set in part at Conscience Point, Nick's crumbling family estate, this genre-bending novel also draws on gothic conventions as it uncovers dark secrets while at the same time it plumbs a touchingly human nostalgia for the sort of youthful passion that is seldom equaled in later life. -- Unbridled Books

Once again I have to thank my friends at Unbridled Books for sending me a beautifully written novel. This time it was CONSCIENCE POINT by Erica Abeel. I have to admit that I probably wouldn't have picked up this novel on my own, but I'm very glad that I finally got around to reading it. This book was one that held my interest and definitely kept me guessing (and thinking) until the very end.

Reading CONSCIENCE POINT was way out of my normal confort zone, and I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this novel. The plot sounded interesting enough, but the first few chapters were kind of difficult for me to get through. I had to re-read many of the sentences because I wasn't "getting" a lot of the author's references. Once I got past that and starting really understanding the characters, I began to appreciate the author's beautiful writing style. I'm not sure that this would be a problem for most readers -- I'm just not that familiar with the New York art and social scene.

What I enjoyed the most about this novel was the mystery aspect of it. From the start, it was apparent that there were some mysterious circumstances surrounding the parents of Maddy's adopted daughter. As the book goes on, the reader eventually learns who her mother is; however, even that doesn't even appear to be certain. I loved how this storyline had so many twists and turns. At some points in the book, I was absolutely shocked and couldn't put the book down until I felt like some of the issues were "resolved." I was definitely kept guessing right up until the end, and I continued to think about this story even after I finished the novel.

I am not familiar with any of Ms. Abeel's other novels (CONSCIENCE POINT is her fifth), but I was blown away by her amazing prose. While I wasn't that familiar with the New York art or social scenes, her descriptions were so detailed and rich that I had no problems picturing them. From the French countryside, to the family estate, to the concert piano scenes, Ms. Abeel made all of them come to life in this novel. I loved how her writing was so smart and funny. Her observations about New York society life were often times hilarious.

I especially appreciated how the author was able to develop the characters so well. Even if I didn't really like some of the characters, I still understood them and the reasons behind their actions. Many of the characters in this novel are extremely memorable and will stay with the reader for quite awhile. I also liked how Ms. Abeel presented this story and thought it was extremely effective. This novel is very well-told and unfolds perfectly as the narrative goes back and forth between the past and present day.

This book has a little something for everyone -- romance, mystery, intrigue, secrets, high society, and even dreams; and as a result, I think it would make for a wonderful book club selection. There is just so much to talk about this novel, and there might even be some issues that will cause member to disagree (not in a bad way, but in a "expand your horizons" kind of way.) After reading this novel, with all of its crazy twists and turns, and with all the heartache and sadness, I think what I was most left with was the realization that it's never to late to realize your dreams.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Guest Blogger: Kim Powers


I am just so honored that Kim Powers, author of CAPOTE IN KANSAS, has agreed to visit Booking Mama with a wonderful (and very heartfelt) guest post. Mr. Powers is currently a writer/producer at ABC's Primetime Live and has won both Emmy and Peabody awards for his work on 9/11 at Good Morning America. He has also written a memoir THE HISTORY OF SWIMMING which has been very critically acclaimed (and I'm dying to read.) I think Mr. Powers is a incredibly gifted writer (you can read my review of CAPOTE IN KANSAS); and I was just blown away with what he wrote for my blog.

Oh, good. Diane Sawyer’s still on the jury orientation video, telling us it’s our civic obligation. It’s one of my favorite parts of jury duty, next to the part where the badly costumed extras are thrown in the river to pay for their crimes, in “olden days.” I’m sitting in a crummy Manhattan court room waiting to be called as a juror, and cursing myself for not stopping at Starbucks on my way in. I can already tell it’s going to be a long day. The video must have been shot in the 80s; Diane’s got big shoulder pads and a Mary Lou Retton hairdo. I can’t wait to get back to the office and tell her they’re still using it, and that she should demand an update. I work with her in my day job as a writer for ABC’s Primetime and 20/20. Away from jury duty (and the 80s), her everyday outfit is a pair of black sweatpants, a man’s oversized blue work shirt, and a zippered fleece vest, whatever the weather. Footwear alternates between crocs and running shoes. She comes to the office with her comfy clothes on, her heavy camera makeup from Good Morning America the only sign that she was just on TV for two hours.

She’s almost the best writer I know, and certainly has the best memory. She can ad-lib a long intro on camera, and then remember it word for word for a second take. I started writing for her (not that she needs much help) when I began as a writer at Good Morning America over ten years ago. I hadn’t gone to journalism school (“J-School” in the parlance) like most of the other writers, but I assumed honesty was a journalist’s responsibility over everything else. So when my first assignment turned out to be an introduction to Eddie Murphy, how was I to know this wasn’t what they had in mind: “Even though his last several movies haven’t done very well, he keeps trying, and we’re happy to welcome him today.” The head writer, whom I’d hoped to impress – I was desperate for the job—said, “I know it’s your first day here, but do you want to return for a second?” After that, I learned very fast, much of it at Diane’s red pencil. The other day, when we were racking our brains for the perfect one-word description of a young Obama – having dismissed student, scholar, campus leader, community activist—I suddenly thought of “trailblazer.” Diane thought it was perfect, and it was as if the teacher had given me an A plus.

But remember how I said she’s almost the best writer I know? The best writer I know you’ve probably never heard of, even the best read among you. I consider him one of my best friends, even though we’ve never met. His name is David Crader, although he also goes by the numbers he has to wear everyday on his shirt, while serving a 12 year sentence in a Texas prison. In fact, we jokingly refer to him as my “Pen Pal.” (He started it, not me. He let me know that it was okay to joke, and laugh, that’s how he survived those unsurvivable years. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking of him now, as I sit here waiting my turn in this hall of justice, which I don’t think was served in his case.)

We “met” when he sent me a fan letter about my first book, a memoir about a time when my twin brother Tim went missing, called The History of Swimming. The book did well, thanks in part to a blurb Diane graciously wrote for it, and a segment on Good Morning America. I don’t think David had seen the GMA segment, although he does get to watch TV. American Idol is a favorite, he tells me, with the “guys.” David had read about my book in some magazine, and had his devoted mother order it for him from Amazon. (Prisoners are only allowed books from the “outside world” if they come packaged from Amazon or a large company; they’re not allowed to receive hard covers from friends in the mail – for fear a weapon could be secreted inside.)

David had to type that first letter on what was little more than a toy typewriter, mail it to his sister Debra, then have her RE-type and email it to me, since David doesn’t have access to a computer. He began by telling me of a mistake I had made in the book: it wasn’t the Pointer Sisters who sang “We Are Family,” but Sister Sledge. I knew then that I had a live one. He then proceeded to explain the Federal I. D. number I might have noticed, that he had to include as part of the letter, and his “crime”: complicated, but essentially dispensing prescriptions without a license, and doing what he could to keep a thread-bare AIDS resource center in Texas afloat. Life-saving medicine that was left over when someone died was then given to others, who couldn’t afford any medicine at all. He was offered a plea deal to serve one year, if he’d just say he was guilty. He refused, because he didn’t think he WAS guilty. (Of the letter of the law, yes; of the spirit of the law, no. That’s my opinion, not his. He hasn’t tried to proselytize, or excuse what he did.) A homophobic, AIDS-phobic Texas judge sentenced him to the maximum time in a federal prison, 12 years, without possibility of parole. (I’m from Texas – a “fallen Texan,” as I now describe myself-- and feel I’ve earned the right to criticize a judge in my home state.) David had a special understanding of The History of Swimming, which goes on to recount how my two brothers both died of AIDS. He’d been there, seen that.

You’d think David would be bitter, and while I’ve read moments of near-despair in his meaty, magnificent letters, “bitter” isn’t a quality I’ve ever seen. (Me, I’m bitter if the Duane Reade down the street is out of coffee Haagen-Daz.) His letters are funnier than anything I’ve ever come up with, even on my best class-clown days. His wonderment at the small things in life—from the little kittens outside the prison, to cornbread with dinner--is a revelation. When his father died recently, and he wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral—he got the news in his one weekly 15-minute phone call-- he gave me a lesson in grace and forgiveness more meaningful than anything I learned in eighteen years at North Baptist Church in McKinney, Texas. When he wrote about his scandalous affair with his female high school librarian, it was more moving and erotic than anything Philip Roth has ever come up with. When I sent him a draft of my newest book, that I had just turned into my agent, he gave me better notes than any editor I’ve ever worked with. Most tellingly, when a friend wrote and asked if he ever regretted what he did, he said no, and shared his rationale for that with his big group of friends in one of his monthly letters. That’s the only time I almost got angry at him, because I’m so blind with rage at his sentence and the injustice of it. One day, I hope to help him collect those letters and assemble them into a book. It should be required reading, for anyone who wants to learn how to be a better person.

A sidebar to my friendship with David is my friendship with his sister, Debra, our “go-between.” She is a pistol, with a big heart and bigger hair-do, my kind of gal. She and her mother recently moved to Truth or Consequences, NM, just to be closer to David. David and Debra should have their own show on Bravo, or at least local access. They’re a hoot together. She inserts her thoughts on the letters she still has to send out for him. At this point, I could have David mail the letters directly to me, but then I’d miss our “three-ways,” as I call them. Debra recently wrote me about a trouble-plagued car trip she and her 75 year old mother took to visit David, and it sounded like an outtake from Thelma and Louise.

I am happy to call them two of my best friends, and it all came from getting a fan letter. Now I’M the one who’s the fan.

P.S. I got sprung from jury duty, after only four short hours. Over a hundred of us were called before a judge, who outlined the case we might sit on: a Mobster accused of killing six people. The trial would take a month. The judge then told any of us who felt we couldn’t serve to leave. Nearly everyone did. I wonder why? Now THAT’S the justice system at work!

I want to extend a huge thanks to Mr. Powers for sharing this story with us. After reading it, I'm sure you can tell what a gifted writer he is. Make sure you check out his books THE HISTORY OF SWIMMING and CAPOTE IN KANSAS!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Review: Capote in Kansas

Summary: Truman Capote and Harper Lee were children when they met. Twenty-five years later, Capote had taken New York's literary world by storm, while Lee struggled to put pen to paper and sweat out the story of her childhood in the same city. They would reunite in the desolate plains of Kansas to create In Cold Blood. And they would start talk of an even greater mystery: What happened between them — and who really wrote To Kill a Mockingbird? How did two innocents from a backwoods Southern town achieve such fame, and why did they stop speaking to one another? Kim Powers has conjured a death-bed confession from Capote, in which he picks up the phone to Harper Lee one last time to tell her is being haunted — a tale she doesn't believe, until she is forced to. What do the ghosts of the Clutters want, as they appear one by one to confess their secrets and their anger to the most unlikely mediums of Capote and Lee? Capote in Kansas is an unforgettable "what might have been" — a fantasia of ghosts seeking resolve and revenge, and memories and regret for a past that was, that will never be again. -- Carroll and Graf

I can't remember where I first saw the novel CAPOTE IN KANSAS by Kim Powers, but I do know that I added it to my "Must-Read" list. I even exchanged an e-mail or two with the author because I was just fascinated by the idea for this book. So a few months ago when I saw the announcement by TLC Book Tours that they were hosting a blog tour for CAPOTE IN KANSAS, I was just thrilled. I knew I had to be part of it. (Thank goodness, I was selected to participate!)

Two of my all-time favorite books are IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. I read both of them when I was in high school, and I have continued to read them throughout my adulthood. They are just so good! It wasn't until fairly recently that I learned that Capote and Lee were childhood friends. I also just found out that Ms. Lee was with Mr. Capote in Kansas when he was researching the murders for his book IN COLD BLOOD. I have to admit that I don't know much about the lives of either author, but I am fascinated by their ties.

Mr. Powers' CAPOTE IN KANSAS is a fictional account of what happens when the ghosts of the murdered farm family begin to visit Mr. Capote and Ms. Lee. The cover of the book states that this is "A Ghost Story," but I thought there was so much more to this book than that. I wouldn't consider myself a big fan of ghost stories, but I thoroughly enjoyed this novel (even with the appearance of a few ghosts.) If I'm being totally honest, I'm not even sure that I interpreted the ghosts in this story to be "real." Both Capote and Lee were definitely affected by the time they spent in Kansas researching IN COLD BLOOD, and I think times like this stay with you the rest of your life. I think we all have our share of "ghosts" from our past that continue to "haunt" us -- you can interpret it however you see fit.

What I loved about this novel was Mr. Powers' ability to develop such wonderful and memorable characters. Because the characters in this book are very famous and well-known figures, I think taking on a fictional account of their lives would be extremely difficult because the reader already has so many preconceived notions (especially with all the recent movies about Capote's life.) I especially loved getting an inside view in Ms. Lee's personality since I wasn't as familiar with her (and she is one of my all-time favorite authors.) This book definitely piqued my curiosity about these two amazing writers, and I am anxious to read some non-fiction books about them now.

I think most people know that Truman Capote was a larger than life person, and Mr. Powers created a character that totally fit with my image of him. Towards the end of Capote's life, he evidently was drinking a great deal as well as taking some drugs. He was also a very complex, troubled man who was looking back over his life (and I have to wonder if he wasn't having some regrets.) I'm sure that his substance abuse issues could explain away his ghost sightings, but it's definitely something for the reader to ponder. Another thing that I found fascinating was how Mr. Powers' chose to incorporate Capote's artistic "snake boxes" as well as his fascination with snakes into the story. I thought the author did an extremely good job with merging fact and fiction!

Some of my favorite parts of the story were about Harper Lee and her sister. Since I know almost nothing about Lee, I was fascinated by anything and everything about her (even if the book was fiction.) Like tons of other readers, I have always been disappointed that Ms. Lee never wrote another book after TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Mr. Powers helped to explain the not only some of the "whys" behind this mystery, but also proposed another idea -- some have claimed that Capote actually wrote Lee's amazing work (please, say it isn't so!)

Another great (and real) character in this story was Capote's housekeeper Myrtle. I thought she was a terrific character, and many of her scenes with Capote provided some humor into the book. Even though a few of them were rather far-fetched, I still enjoyed them and found myself laughing at the absurdity of Capote's life. I loved the relationship that Powers' created between Myrtle and Capote, and I was saddened that she actually was ill and died before Capote.

I really enjoyed this book, and I have found myself thinking about it a great deal even after I finished it. (Isn't that usually a sign of a really good book?) I do think this book would make for an excellent book club discussion, especially if there are some fans of either TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or IN COLD BLOOD! My book club actually read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD a few years ago, so I'll see what they think about giving CAPOTE IN KANSAS a try. There is a reading guide available with some very thought-provoking questions.

I'm afraid that this review only skimmed the surface of this novel. CAPOTE IN KANSAS is a very deep novel with many layers and recurring themes. If you are like me and love these authors, I strongly suggest reading this novel! It is a beautiful story of a childhood friendship gone bad. There are just so many interesting concepts to think about -- redemption, forgiveness, regret, etc. This book is not only entertaining, but it will definitely make you think too!

If you want to see what some other readers are saying about CAPOTE IN KANSAS, you can check out the rest of Kim Powers’ TLC Book Tours' TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, Oct. 1st: Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Friday, Oct. 3rd: Book Room Reviews
Monday, Oct. 6th: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
Wednesday, Oct. 8th: Tripping Toward Lucidity
Friday, Oct. 10th: book-a-rama
Monday, Oct. 13th: Ready When You Are, C.B.
Wednesday, Oct. 15th: Bibliolatry
Friday, Oct. 17th: Books and Movies
Monday, Oct. 20th: Booking Mama
Wednesday, Oct. 22nd: Diary of an Eccentric
Thursday, Oct. 23rd: Maw Books
Friday, Oct. 24th: Book Club Classics
Monday, Oct. 27th: Books and Cooks
Tuesday, Oct. 28th: Devourer of Books
Wednesday, Oct. 29th: Literate Housewife

Make sure you come back tomorrow because Kim Powers will be joining Booking Mama with his own guest post!