Monday, May 31, 2010

Let's Celebrate Banned Books Week!

I know I'll probably get lots of criticism for this, but I've decided I want to celebrate Banned Books Week this year. This is promoted by the American Library Association in order to "celebrate the freedom to read". Here is more from their website:

"Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them."

I want to celebrate this week in 2010 (September 25 - October 2) by reading during that week a book that has been banned. I haven't decided yet what I'm going to read, but it will probably be one of the "milder" ones (maybe Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry). Then I will write a review, adding my thoughts on the banning of that book.

I don't think anyone has the right to ban a book and prevent others from reading it if they want. I am talking about adults here. It is a different matter with children. However, I do not want others deciding for me as a parent what my children can or cannot read. That is my job. (Actually, I was surprised to see one of my favorite books for young people, The Giver by Lois Lowry, on a banned books list. I want my children to read that one!)  

Who wants to join me? Please leave a comment. I'd love to see other readers and bloggers read banned books and let each other know what we think about the books we read.

What do you think about book banning? Should we have the freedom to read whatever we want? If we should restrict what our children read, who should decide? The teachers? The parents? The community? I'd love to hear your opinions (keep them polite and clean, please!). Join in on the discussion by leaving a comment.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Guest Post - Sandra Dallas, Author of Whiter Than Snow (and a GIVEAWAY!)

(Be sure and read the end of this post to see how you can have a chance to win this new book!)

I'm privileged today to have Sandra Dallas as a guest blogger. She'll be sharing with us some of her experiences as a writer and how it has changed her life. But first, here's info on her newest novel, Whiter Than Snow:

Whiter Than Snow
WHITER THAN SNOW opens in 1920 on a spring afternoon in Swandyke, a small town near Colorado’s Tenmile Range. Just moments after four o’clock, a large split of snow separates from Jubilee Mountain high above the tiny hamlet and hurtles down the rocky slope, sweeping up everything in its path – including nine young children who are walking home from school. But only four children survive.

WHITER THAN SNOW takes readers into the lives of each of these families. Ultimately, each story serves as an allegory to the greater theme of the novel by echoing that fate, chance and perhaps even divine providence, are all woven into the fabric of everyday life. And it’s through each character’s defining moment in his or her past that the reader understands how each child has become its parent’s purpose for living.

Of WHITER THAN SNOW, Kirkus Reviews writes that Dallas's "Sense of time and place is pitch perfect and her affection for her characters infectious.” The Denver magazine 5280 praises the novel as well: "Without slipping into sappiness, Dallas has crafted a touching portrait of small-town humanity – a read unquestionably worthy of a rainy afternoon and a good cup of tea.” According to Roundup Magazine, "Dallas has written another important story with engaging, unforgettable characters drawn from America’s melting pot. Highly recommended.”

WHITER THAN SNOW was selected by the Indie Booksellers for the April 2010 Indie Next List.

Check out for information about WHITER THAN SNOW, as well as to find out more about Sandra Dallas herself. Highlights include:

-An excerpt from WHITER THAN SNOW:
-Sandra's WHITER THAN SNOW book tour schedule:
-Sandra's newsletter:

And now, here's Sandra:

Writing is lonely work. Sitting in front of a computer all day with no one to talk to except your characters isn’t the best way to make friends. So I was surprised and pleased to discover that one of the rewards of being an author is friendships with other writers.

We’re competitors, I suppose, but more often, we’re compatriots, talking up each other’s work, supporting fellow authors in down times, and celebrating our friends’ successes.

Last week, I attended a book signing at the Tattered Cover in Denver for Manuel Ramos, whom I got to know when we worked together a couple of years ago on A Dozen on Denver, a book of short stories about the city. His new book is King of the Chicanos. I ran into Warwick Downing, who wrote The Trials of Kate Hope, at the signing; we were there because we were anxious to read the book, but we also wanted to support Manuel. Wick Downing comes to my signings, and I go to his, but more important, he is a good ear. I complained to him about problems I had with Whiter Than Snow, and he not only listened, but as a writer, he made suggestions.
I’ve known other writers my whole life, of course. My friendship with Arnie Grossman, author of Going Together, goes back more than 50 years, to the University of Denver, where he was editor of the school newspaper and I was editor of the yearbook. We stayed close friends over the years, partly because we understand the trials the other is going through and help when we can. Arnie critiqued the chapter on Essie Snowball in Whiter Than Snow.

For me, this circle of writer friends started more than 15 years ago, at a dinner party given by John Dunning, author of the Clifford Janeway mysteries. That was not long after my first novel, Buster Midnight’s CafĂ©, was published. Four or five mystery writers attended that evening, along with their spouses, a dinner with a good bit of shop talk. Dunning is sort of our mouth, the one who articulates the writer’s life. I came away exhilarated—and also wondering why I was the only author in the room who couldn’t produce a who-done-it. So I was thrilled a couple of years later when my novel The Persian Pickle Club was published and picked up by mystery bookstores. One of the novelists I met that night was Diane Mott Davison, the culinary mystery writer, who had just published her first book, Dying for Chocolate. A couple of years later, she suggested I write a novel made of letters, which I did in Alice’s Tulips.

These writers have become more than professional friends. I had coffee with Francine Matthews, author of The White Garden and the Jane Austin mysteries (under the name Stephanie Barron,) a couple of weeks ago to talk about marketing, and she ended up recommending something on a personal level that is turning out to have a major impact on my life.

Every summer we have a writer party at our house in the mountains, and yes, there is plenty of in-house talk, but we’re more than writers. The conversations often veer into politics and local issues. And sooner or later we get around to speculating on how the Denver Broncos will do in the fall. None of us is going to touch that one.
Sandra Dallas
Whiter Than Snow

Now, for the GIVEAWAY! Would you like to win a copy of this new novel? All you have to do is add your name and email to the comment section. I will choose a winner on June 13, so don't wait to enter!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Review: So Cold the River by Michael Koryta

So Cold the RiverIn a review I posted yesterday, I said that the book was one of my favorites this year. I think I'll have to say the same about So Cold the River. I began reading it one night and finished it two days later. Considering that it contains 500 pages and I have a part time job, I was reading this book most of my free time in those two days. I didn't want to do anything else. It was that good!

Synopsis from the author's website:

It starts with a beautiful woman and a challenge. As a gift for her husband, Alyssa Bradford approaches Eric Shaw to make a documentary about her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford, a 95-year-old millionaire whose past is wrapped in mystery. Eric grabs the job even though there are few clues to the man's story—just the name of his hometown and an antique water bottle he's kept his entire life.

In Bradford's hometown, Eric discovers an extraordinary history—a glorious domed hotel where movie stars, presidents, athletes, and mobsters once mingled, and mineral springs whose miraculous waters were reputed to cure everything from insomnia to malaria. Neglected for years, the resort has been restored to its former grandeur just in time for Eric's stay.

Just hours after his arrival, Eric experiences a frighteningly vivid vision. As the days pass, the frequency and intensity of his hallucinations increase and draw Eric deeper into the area's dark history. He discovers that something besides the historic resort town has been restored—a long-forgotten evil that will stop at nothing to regain its lost glory. Brilliantly imagined and terrifyingly real, So Cold the River is a tale of irresistible suspense with a racing, unstoppable current.

My thoughts:

I had never read any books by Michael Koryta before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Boy, was I in for a wonderful surprise! I haven't had so much fun reading a book in a long time. The story flowed so well, even though some of it shifted from present to past in visions and hallucinations in the minds of two of the main characters. I was simultaneously thrilled and disturbed as I became pulled along by the mysterious plot.

This book reminds me of Stephen King, or Dean Koontz novels. It has an element of the supernatural that sends chills up the spine. There were many times when I was reading that I just had to stop and shiver because of what I was reading. This was how I felt as a child when I read Alfred Hitchcock stories. Like I had to lock the door before I could continue. So exciting! I will be putting Michael's other books on my TBR list.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes suspense and a good mystery. And, be sure to read it with all the lights on!

***Warning: some rough language and a mild sexual scene. Sensitive readers be aware.

About the author:

Michael Koryta (pronounced ko-ree-ta) is the author of six novels, most recently So Cold the River, and his work has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Great Lake Books Award, and St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Novel prize, while also earning nominations for the Edgar, Quill, Shamus and Barry awards. In addition to winning the Los Angeles Times prize for best mystery, his novel Envy the Night was selected as a Reader's Digest condensed book. His work has been translated into nearly twenty languages. A former private investigator and newspaper reporter, Koryta graduated from Indiana University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Bloomington, Indiana. His next novel, The Cypress House, will be released by Little, Brown and Co. in January 2011.

(I received this book from Little, Brown and Co. for review. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed in the review are entirely mine.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

Synopsis from the Penguin website:

From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Last Summer (of You and Me) comes an imaginative, inspired, magical book-a love story that lasts more than a lifetime.

My Name Is MemoryDaniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Sophia (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together-and he remembers it all. Daniel has "the memory", the ability to recall past lives and recognize souls of those he's previously known. It is a gift and a curse. For all the times that he and Sophia have been drawn together throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart. A love always too short.

Interwoven through Sophia and Daniel's unfolding present day relationship are glimpses of their expansive history together. From 552 Asia Minor to 1918 England and 1972 Virginia, the two souls share a long and sometimes torturous path of seeking each other time and time again. But just when young Sophia (now "Lucy" in the present) finally begins to awaken to the secret of their shared past, to understand the true reason for the strength of their attraction, the mysterious force that has always torn them apart reappears. Ultimately, they must come to understand what stands in the way of their love if they are ever to spend a lifetime together.

A magical, suspenseful, heartbreaking story of true love, My Name is Memory proves the power and endurance of a union that was meant to be.

My thoughts:

I think this is one of my favorite books I've read so far this year. I've never read any of Ann Brashares books before, but this one was quite interesting. I think the author did a good job going from present to past and back again without causing a lot of confusion, although it was a lot to keep up with since the main characters had lived so many lives in so many different places and in different times. A few times I had to go back and refresh my memory to get the sequence of events correct in my mind. But this was a minor annoyance.

The story is a sweet romance. There is so much hope in how Daniel never ceases to look for Sophia/Lucy in every one of his lives. And he is always reminding her that they will be together again. Even when she doesn't recognize him, he declares his love for her.

After I read the first few chapters, I was a little worried that I wouldn't like the book because of the references to the idea of reincarnation. But I soon got into the story and was able to look past that and enjoy the book for what it is: fiction. A story. Fantasy, if you will.

However, there was one section that just made me sad to read. It goes against what I believe as a Christian, so I feel I must mention it here. It was a section where Daniel explains what it is like to die and what happens in the time between dying and living again. This is the paragraph that especially saddened me:

"I also know the feeling of dying into emptiness. We all die alone, but this is different. You apprehend nothing and nothingness. You have the sense of wandering, and it can go on for a very long time. You find yourself yearning, almost hungering, for the presence of another being." 

I could never imagine believing that that is how we die. I know that I will be with God when I die. I won't have to come back here and live again, and again, and again. I will be in a place of eternal joy.

On the other hand, there is a place in the book I found interesting. It is where Daniel describes how he can recognize someone he has known in a previous life. I found this part to be a good insight into the human experience:

"One thing I can tell you from my unusual perspective is how powerfully our souls reveal themselves in our faces and bodies. Just sit on a train sometime and look at the people around you. Choose a person's face and study it carefully. All the better if they are old and a stranger to you. Ask yourself what you know about that person, and if you open yourself to the information, you will find you know an overwhelming amount. We naturally guard ourselves from the obvious truths of strangers around us, so be warned. You can get overstimulated and uneasy if you really start to look. One of the skills of living is simplifying as you go, so when you let your guard down, the complexity is troubling. There are certain rare people you find - usually they are healers or poets or people who work with animals - who live their lives in this state, and I admire them and sympathize with them, but I am not like them anymore. I've done a lot of simplifying in my life.     

As you look at this stranger's face you will be able to guess pretty accurately at age, background, and social class. And as you look longer, if you let yourself see, the subtleties will clamor to show themselves. Doubts, compromises and disappointments little and big - those usually reside around the eyes, but there are no rules. The hopes usually lurk around the mouth, but so does bitterness and tenacity. A sense of humor is easy to spot around the eyebrows, and so is self-deception. Add to your observation the set of the head on the neck, the carriage of the shoulders, the posture of the back, and you know a lot more." 

My Name is Memory is fascinating and, at times, heartbreaking. I recommend it and give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

***Warning: there is some sexual content that may offend some readers.

My Name is Memory will be on sale June 1, 2010.

About the author:

Ann Brashares was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area with her three brothers. She attended the Sidwell Friends School and then studied philosophy at Barnard College, part of Columbia University in New York City.

After college she worked in editorial jobs until 2000, when she began her first novel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, published in 2001. Over the next five years she wrote three sequels-The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants, and Forever in Blue. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was made into a feature film and released by Warner Brothers in 2005. In June 2010 she will release her new novel, My Name is Memory.

(I received this book from Riverhead Books for review purposes. I received no monetary compensation for this review. All opinions expressed are completely my own.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays is a meme from Should Be Reading, where we answer three questions: What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? and What do you think you'll read next? If you want to participate, answer the three questions, then put your link on the Should Be Reading Blog in the comment section. Happy reading!

So Cold the RiverWhat I am currently reading:

So Cold the River by Michael Koryta- I am quite engrossed in this novel. I've never read this author before, but maybe I will read others by him now. It has 500 pages, but I have already read half of the book in less than a day. I may stay up late tonight reading it!

The Last Christian: A NovelWhat I recently finished reading:

The Last Christian by David Gregory- This was a good book. It made me think about how we tend to think that all new tchnology is good, when in fact it is sometimes not the best thing. When some of the characters in this book talked about how wonderful it would be to live forever, I could only think: "What? Live forever in this place? No way! I'm looking forward to a much, much better place with Jesus!" 

(I have a GIVEAWAY for this book going on until June 6th, so please go to the review and enter to win!)
My Name Is MemoryAlso just read: My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares - This is the author who wrote the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books, more titles that I haven't read yet. I wasn't sure about this one when I started it, but I actually liked it. Ann Brashares is a gifted author. My review will be coming soon!
Whiter Than SnowWhat I'll probably read next: Whiter Than Snow by Sandra Dallas- I have heard about this author for a while now and how good her books are, but have never taken the opportunity to read any of them (her titles include: Tallgrass, Prayers for Sale, and the Persian Pickle Club), so I am excited to get this one and review it. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: The Last Christian by David Gregory (and GIVEAWAY!)

(Be sure and read at the bottom of this post to see how you can enter to win a copy of The Last Christian!)

The Last Christian: A NovelI don't usually read "futuristic" kind of books and I'm not sure if I would have picked this one to read from the bookstore or library shelf, but now, after reading The Last Christian by David Gregory, I consider myself "stretched" in my reading interests. I enjoyed this book for its unique approach to romance as well as the interesting ideas the author has about future technology. It was believable as well as fascinating.

I think one of my favorite things about this book was the character named Abby, who is a 34-year-old daughter of missionaries from Papua New Guinea. She has spent her entire life in the jungle, but comes to America to try and find out what disease wiped out her entire village. She finds a country where Christianity has died out. As a result of a cryptic message from her grandfather, Abby embarks on a mission to re-introduce people to God.

There are other things going on in the book, such as a plan by an artificial intelligence innovator to implant silicon brains into humans in order to make them live forever. And then there's Creighton Daniels, whose life intersects with Abby's when his father is found dead of an apparent suicide and Daniels begins to investigate.

The "plot thickens" when Creighton and Abby uncover facts that reveal malicious intent on the part of some of the scientists working with the AI project. They find themselves on the run and their lives threatened.

This Christian thriller is a great read, if you can get past some of the scientific language used throughout. I just skimmed through those parts and it did not affect the overall enjoyment of the book. I recommend this one.

To purchase The Last Christian, click on this link from Random House Publishers.

Now, for the GIVEAWAY! Would you like to win a copy of this new novel? All you have to do is add your name and email to the comment section. I will choose a winner on June 6, so don't wait to enter!

(This book was sent to me by Random House for review purposes. I received no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

"You May Have Missed" Mondays

It's Monday again, and time for another post on books you may have missed.

I was thinking about my childhood and books I read when I was young. I'd like to share a few with you today.

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy DetectiveI remember one of the things I loved to read was Encyclopedia Brown. He was so amazing to me because he could solve any mystery that came his way. I enjoyed trying to figure out the case before he did (sometimes I succeeded). I think I secretly wanted to be a detective when I grew up. And I also liked the fact that he could go anywhere he wanted and do anything he wanted. His parents seemed to me to be so cool. After all, his dad was the police chief. How cool is that?

Ramona the PestMy mother used to take my sister and me to the library every Saturday. I could pick out ten books to take home (Ten? Oh, really, Mom, you know I can read more than ten in one week!). One of the first places I would go was to the section of Beverly Cleary books. I could really identify with Ramona, the Pest (if my sister is reading this, I'm sure she would agree). And Henry and Beezus or Henry and Ribsy were also quite good reads.   

"B" Is for BetsyAnother children's author that comes to mind that I enjoyed was Carolyn Haywood. There was Eddie, Betsy, Annie Pat, Penny and Peter, and of course, Taffy and Melissa Molasses. (I just love saying that: "Taffy and Melissa Molasses." Rolls right off the tongue.) Mrs. Haywood's books were full of clean, happy fun. And I could read them over and over (which I probably did, since I could check out only ten every week!).  


Well, I could mention many more, but I'll save those for another time. If you have a young reader in your life, I would suggest you introduce them to these quality books. They will love them!

To find more suggestions for great summer reading, take a look at Semicolon's blog. She has given us lots of ideas for what to read while the heat is on!

What about you? What did you like to read as a child? What books would you recommend to a young reader that have been published prior to 2009? Let us know in the comments.