The Literary Life -- Penguin Group's new radio series! (Giveaway included!)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Penguin Group has just launched a new radio series called The Literary Life that is completely written, produced, and hosted by employees of the well-known publishing company. Each episode will debut on the last Tuesday of each month AND will be here on my blog so you can just stop by and listen from here!

In addition to candid interviews with authors, regular segments on The Literary Life include: Inside Publishing, featuring a publishing personality giving a behind-the-scenes look into the book industry; Writer’s Rant, where authors are given the floor to vent; and Penguin Mix Tape, featuring interviews and performances by musicians-turned-authors. How fun!!! This month's radio show is at the end of the post for your listening pleasure.

To celebrate the launch of The Literary Life, Penguin Group is allowing me to giveaway a book of one of the authors featured on this month's show! I'm going to list the books below and I will allow the winner to choose which of the four books they would like. Small catch: the giveaway will end THIS Friday at noon, so you have two days to enter. Also, I'm not sure if the giveaway is in the U.S. or international, so go ahead and enter and I will confirm this with Penguin before I randomly pick a winner. Please let me know which country you live in when you enter.

To enter:
Just leave a comment with your e-mail address and let me where you live!
Also, it would be very helpful if you could also e-mail your address to me at jennala(at)cfl(dot)rr(dot)com since I need to get the name/address to Penguin on Friday.

The books to choose from are:

Composed by Roseanne Cash
Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
The Surf Guru by Doug Dorst
How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley

Winner update 9/3: Winner is Heather (Zibilee)!!!

Sunday Salon: Trying to Get Back on the Wagon

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hello everyone!

I know I haven't been around here much lately... but I'm still around behind the scenes! Please don't desert my blog!! =) My reading slowed waaaay down for a while there... I'm talking it took me two weeks to read one, ONE, book that I actually really enjoyed, lol! I think I was just really stressing out about some things and even though reading is my stress relief, at times it becomes too stressful for me to concentrate and focus on reading. I've been trying to keep up with all the blogs I read as well, but I know my commenting hasn't been where it should be. I'll try to improve! It's funny because things have actually slowed down slightly in the past couple weeks and now is the time I can't seem to focus on reading much, whereas while a lot of the crazy stuff was going on I managed fairly well. Strange!

Anywho, I do have a review scheduled this week. It was actually supposed to be last week but I had to ask for an extension. =( But it is for a book that is fantastic so far and it's also a fantastic author whose books I have loved so far! I'm also hoping to start my New Yorker thing next Friday... managed to not get around to that yet... oops!! I would start it this Friday but I already have a review I promised for that day as well, so at least there will be two reviews for your reading pleasure this week. =)

Let's see what else... I got my copy of Mockingjay and did start it but need to finish some other books before I return to it. I pre-ordered it which I rarely do and then it didn't arrive until Thursday! (it came out Tuesday). So I did save money but good thing I wasn't planning on reading it THE DAY it came out or I would have been very upset! I also bought a book that I have been dying to read How to be an American Housewife... I read the first chapter in the bookstore and I am so hooked. Can't wait to finish reading that and review it here!

Have I missed anything new or big lately while I've been not as tuned in to the world of books and/or blogging???

Hmmm... same image on these covers??

Monday, August 23, 2010

I know I haven't been around much lately (didn't even post a Sunday Salon) but it's been crazy. What can I say? I guess until March 2011 it's going to stay this way so I might as well deal and just know that it'll end eventually. BUT... the reason I'm posting is because I just wanted to contribute to the cover "controversy" where the same picture is used for more than one book. Here are two I just noticed today... I realized it because I have Charity Girl on my to-be-read pile and I saw this other book, Bespelling Jane Austen, and thought it was the same book at first...


Does it not look like the exact same stock image but on the newer book the chin is tilted up and to the left a little and then they added some stuff to it? They also moved the iris on her right eye a little bit. It looks the same to me... just thought it was interesting! What do you think?


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Title: Commuters
Author: Emily Gray Tedrowe
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Release Date: June 29, 2010

I almost ended up not participating in this tour because of some postal mishaps that led me to initially not receive this book. But thankfully everyone involved made sure I was still able to get a copy of this debut which I'm thankful for because I would have really missed out had I not read this one.

Commuters tells the story of a family of three generations -- it begins with the wedding of Winnie and Jerry, a widow and widower in their late 70's. It's an elaborate wedding, at least considerably so for their ages -- according to most of the younger characters in the story. One of the main issues with this new family is the financial aspect -- Jerry is apparently a wealthy man whose money his daughter, Annette, fears will be distributed otherwise than the initial plan. This leads her to make decisions that only tear her and her father apart, and put strain on the rest of the family. But Winnie's children (well, really just her daughter, Rachel) aren't too much better. They are dealing with their own family turmoil after Rachel's husband suffers a mysterious injury. And then there's Winnie, herself, adjusting to her new way of living and insisting on building an underground pool in her front yard.

It's difficult to describe this story and its plot because of its quiet, observant nature. Not that it's devoid of plot, because that's not the case; instead, it's more broad; it's about a family and their difficulties adjusting to changes in their lives -- changes which are enhanced by the marriage of the grandparents but which really just shines a light on what issues were there all along. And though this didn't affect my reading of it, it's also difficult for me to relate, personally, to any of the characters because of my own family situation. I am in a small family with little to no interaction with any extended relatives; therefore, the dynamics of all three generations were those that I'm unfamiliar with but that, I think, others who can relate would appreciate.

Along those lines, I'm very unfamiliar with talk of money and wills and who's going to be in the will, etc. though I've had these conversations with friends. All those thoughts are so surreal to me. Maybe it's because I'm not from a wealthy family, but this aspect of the family was fascinating to me -- it's hard for me to imagine having a care or thought about that, but for some families it must be significant... SO THEN imagine your elderly parent basically marrying into another family and how difficult it must be in that sense... forget that you're in your 40's and now have new step-siblings...

Anyway, the story is told in 3rd person but from three different points of view: Winnie, the grandmother and new bride; Rachel, her daughter and wife to a man who is no longer working due to that mysterious but significant injury he sustained; and Avery, the young man looking for meaning in his new adult life. (He lives in New York City so that was a surprise treat for me in this book... hehe).

The author, Emily Gray Tedrowe, truly did an excellent job with this book; the writing was great and everything was well-paced. And I truly liked the characters and wanted to continue on to see what happened to them. Ironically, I think my least favorite character was the elderly grandfather, Jerry... I don't necessarily think he was meant to be portrayed in a negative light, but I didn't like the role he assumed in the marriage. He seemed sort of controlling to me, sort of like his wife was not an equal in the marriage -- maybe this is due to their age and what they were used to... not sure. But then my favorite character was the 20-year-old Avery. He's sort of stuck in the middle of his mother, Annette, who is not a likable character, but one I bet many can relate to, and his grandfather.

Ah, now I seem to be rambling. Basically, if you like enjoyable characters or stories of "family portraits" and the dynamics among family members, you can't go wrong with this thoroughly satisfying, observant story of "commuters".

Emily Gray Tedrowe was on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl, so if you're interested you ca listen to that here.

Thank you to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for ensuring I had the opportunity read this fantastic book!

I was the last stop, but click on the links below to see earlier reviews:

Thursday, July 1st: Devourer of Books
Monday, July 5th: My Random Acts of Reading
Tuesday, July 6th: Til We Read Again
Wednesday, July 7th: Books Like Breathing
Tuesday, July 13th: Booksie’s Blog
Wednesday, July 14th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, July 21st: Chaotic Compendiums
Wednesday, July 28th: Bookstack
Thursday, July 29th: Reading at the Beach
Tuesday, August 3rd: lit*chick
Thursday, August 5th: Life Is A Patchwork Quilt
Wednesday, August 18th: Take Me Away

Running From the Devil

Monday, August 16, 2010

Title: Running From the Devil
Author: Jamie Freveletti
Pages: 332
Genre: Thriller/ Political
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Release Date: May 5, 2009

Wowzas. It has been a while since I've read a great fast-paced thriller with lots of action and a strong female character. This was also the first book I've read in a while (because of my own crazy schedule and all) where I constantly wanted to pick the book back up and didn't find myself distracted with other thoughts.

Running From the Devil takes off right from the first page with a plane being hijacked and crashing into the mountains of Colombia near the Venezuelan border -- an area known for the paramilitary groups and drug cartels that do their business in that region. Emma Caldridge has the fortune to be immediately separated from the rest of the passengers (most of whom do survive), as Emma remains unseen while the rest are taken hostage by Colombian guerrillas. Emma also has the extreme fortune of being an ultra-marathon runner, having the endurance and experience of running up to 100 miles at a time. This is sure to help her, of course, as she tries to travel through the jungle to find rescue while evading her own capture by the guerrillas. The Colombian government, despite alliances with the United States may not be as willing to take part in the rescue of Emma and the other passengers as the U.S. is led to believe. The Department of Defense and a private special forces team they contract with is aware of the situation and battles out the decisions on their end regarding sending it rescue forces or not.

Emma has some secrets too though... she had her own agenda for the trip, which was initially supposed to be from Miami to Bogota. As a chemist for a cosmetics company who is constantly working with plants to develop formulas for better skincare and make up, she has already found herself in political danger which she was hoping to put an end to with this trip.

There was a fairly balanced mix of Emma's experiences in the Colombian jungle and the political scenes back in DC. I actually enjoy these political scenes in thriller fiction so I, personally, would have enjoyed a tad bit more focus on that, but the rest was great too. I think those who typically read adult books and/or thrillers but enjoyed The Hunger Games will like this book -- it's also like a mix of that and the show Lost (but without the confusing sci-fi aspect). Sure, there were moments where things weren't quite as realistic as I would imagine, but who cares? It was fun and completely enjoyable, and I found a new strong female character to admire. The one thing that did irritate me about her, though, was the dichotomous thoughts she battled about not wanting to kill someone "in cold blood" as opposed to the necessity of saving herself.... I can only imagine that if I were stranded in the jungles of Colombia that were riddled with drug lords and guerrilla who were out to capture, hurt, kill me, etc. and I were in possession of a firearm, I wouldn't have trouble pulling the trigger -- buuuut I haven't been in that position and Emma Caldridge has, so who am I to say?

I thought the random ways Emma used plants in the jungle (remember, she's a chemist) were interesting and I liked that the author included in her note at the end of the book where she learned all that information from and how much was true and what had been fictionalized. Very interesting stuff though! This was the first in the series so some of these characters will appear in the next book.... I sort of foresee a love triangle coming which should be fun... we shall see!

The second book, Running Dark, was released in June, and I also have a copy of that to review so look out for it because I'll probably be reading it soon!

Sunday Salon: my new feature

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I guess it's just been over the last week or two, but I've sort of tried to focus on reading more of what I want and not focusing on getting review books read as often. I changed my review policy as well to reflect this and already I feel like I've read some great books and am more excited about reading what I have. I've got two reviews going up this week for books I really enjoyed! (And ironically, both of those are review books, LOL!!) Oh, also this week I guest posted for Trisha at Eclectic/Eccentric about the joys and hardships of eclectic reading, so check that out if you have a chance!

Anyway, I have a "feature" of sorts that I've decided to do here for a little bit -- one that will be interesting for me, I think, and one which will help me keep my blog current even when I get super busy...

I purchased a book yesterday that is an anthology of some of the best short stories from The New Yorker magazine from 1925 to present. The specific anthology I got, Wonderful Town, is all short stories that reflect on New York City specifically. It features a bevy of well-known authors including Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, J.D. Salinger, John Updike, E.B. White, etc. etc. etc. I think there are about 46 short stories total in this anthology. Soooo, what I've decided to do is review one short story a week here at Take Me Away. Pretty much every week, with maybe a few exceptions, I will review one short story from this anthology each Friday.

Here's the synopsis from
New York City is not only The New Yorker's place of origin and its sensibility's lifeblood; it is the heart of American literary culture. Wonderful Town collects superb short fiction by many of the magazine's and this country's most accomplished writers. Like all good fiction, these stories take particular places, particular people, and particular events and turn them into dramas of universal enlightenment and emotional impact. Here New York is every great place and every ordinary place. Each life in it, and each life in Wonderful Town, is the life of us all.

AND... by the time I'm done with this project, I will be way past done with school!!

So, yeah, there's that. =)

Did-Not-Finish (DNF) Reviews

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The dreaded what do I do now feeling when you can't finish a book -- most of us have probably felt this, right? I've felt it a lot lately, unfortunately. There are different reasons for them -- sometimes a book is just plain not good, sometimes a book is not for me but one others will like, and sometimes it's my issue because I'm not in the mood or can't concentrate or whatever.

What do you think about DNF posts? Do you like them? Are they unnecessary? Maybe they're helpful?

And here's a couple other questions:
How do you decide which books to post DNF posts for and which to leave un-blogged about? I have two books to DNF post and neither was bad at all... I've just decided they're not for me despite some positive qualities.

Do you link your DNF post to the publicist if it's a review book? I feel embarrassed and and guilty at the thought of doing this. On the one hand I want a publicist/author to know I put effort into the book, but on the other hand I'm afraid they'll feel cheated if it's a DNF post.

Please help me come up with some rules for DNFing...
  1. Always state why I chose not to finish the book and how far I got.
  2. What I liked up to that point.
  3. What I did not like up to that point.
Anything else?

Apparently to the majority of the internet, DNF = Duke Nukem Forever, lol!! Anyone else ever play that on the computer?

The Thieves of Manhattan

Monday, August 9, 2010

Title: The Thieves of Manhattan
Author: Adam Langer
Pages: 253
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (Random House)
Release Date: July 13, 2010

What a unique and interesting book this was.... The Thieves of Manhattan is one of those cleverly written books that sort of has a book within a book. Sort of. It's hard to explain unless you read it. But basically it is a satirical take on the cutthroat publishing world which, of course, takes place largely in New York City. This book clearly also makes a mockery out of "fake memoirists" such as the famous A Million Little Pieces by James Frey scandal (which if you've been a reader for a while I'm sure you know about but if not it's an author who released a memoir, was on Oprah and all that, then it was learned it was not true and he fabricated much of the main parts of the book). In fact, the author writes a lot about genuineness and the ironies associated with that. And in the end I'm not entirely too sure what the author's stance on it is... I think the purpose of him doing this was more an observation of the publishing industry itself rather than his opinion, per se.

The main character is Ian Minot who is an unpublished writer working at Morningside Coffee to pay the bills. He is dating a Ukranian woman, Anya, who is also a writer, and he despises Blade Markham, the latest celebrity memoirist whose memoir Ian thinks is a load of crap. Ian's short stories about his life haven't been picked up by any literary agents because while the writing is okay, there's just nothing exciting about it. Then a run-in with "the confident man" who thoroughly irritates Ian by spending time drinking coffee at Morningside Coffee while reading Blade Markham's book sends Ian's life in a tail spin that leads to his dreamt of involvement in publishing but also leads much further, threatening his life in addition to his integrity.

The Thieves of Manhattan is also very creatively done. The author included a 2-3 page "glossary of terms" in the back of the book to explain the words he's renamed according to their literary counterparts: he sleeps on a "proust":
n. A bed, particularly when used as the locus of inspiration, taken fro the favored location of the author Marcel Proust. (pg. 258)
He hopes that if published he will earn a large "Frazier":
n. a particularly large advance for a book, from Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain, who was rumored to have received a healthy seven-figure advance for his follow-up novel, Thirteen Moons. (pg. 256)
And he jeers at those novelists who try to appear stylish by wearing "Franzens":
n. the sort of stylish eyeglasses favored by the author, Jonathan Franzen. (pg. 256)
Langer "name drops" throughout whenever he's at some type of publishing party -- he refers to actual people/authors, literary agencies (and possibly agents though I couldn't be sure), and publishers. It made me wonder if he had to have their permission or not, but it was interesting to see everyone appear in the book (including a literary agency I've reviewed books for!). The book is broken up into three parts, and each part is broken up into short "chapters" which are titled and appear randomly wherever they start on the page (meaning the chapters aren't necessarily broken apart by a page). The style made it an easy read. I admit some parts of the book made me laugh out loud and other parts had much more subtle humor, some of which probably flew over my head since I'm not really in the industry. However, I do wonder if those completely outside the industry (because as a book blogger and a wannabe one day author I have actually learned an immense amount about how things work) would be that interested in the plot of this book. It's hard for me to be objective and decide. The ending (like the last fourth or so) was strange for me because it was unrealistic -- which is ironic, but I can't say more to explain that.. you'd have to read it -- cryptic enough? LOL.

All in all, was an interesting and creative book. Ultimately, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I had expected, but it was still good.

Sunday Salon: New York Shelf

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Happy Sunday!

Another very slooooow reading week. I'm thinking it will get better eventually but who knows. Anywho, I am reading another very interesting book right now that I'm looking forward to reviewing. Although, lately I've had some moments of forgetting what I've enjoyed with blogging. It really is a lot of work (you other bloggers know that) and I sort of miss the days of reading when I want, what I want, just cuz with no other thoughts. But there have been times I've really enjoyed it, so for now I'll keep doing it. Maybe when I'm not so bogged down with school it won't feel so difficult.

My birthday is Monday (and for the first time ever I'll be working on my birthday because I have a huge report due Tuesday that I still have quite a bit left on). I did keep my evening free of therapy appointments at the very least. Anyway, yesterday we sort of celebrated by hanging out with my family. We went and saw Inception with my parents at Pointe Orlando on I-Drive. Great movie... very complex, definite thinker movie, and gave us lots of conversation when it was over with our thoughts and trying to rehash everything that happened to make sure we understood it. Then we went and met up with my sister and had an early dinner at Cafe Tu Tu Tango which is sort of a tapas restaurant.

Okay, the other topic of today's Sunday Salon is my New York shelf... as you know, I adore NYC, as in I WISH I could live there but it's just not realistic for me right now. Had I thought of going up there 8 or 9 years ago maybe things would be different. But anyhow, for now I stick to visiting and reading books that take me there. So I decided it only made sense to devote a shelf to my New York books. I'm trying to keep these, for the most part, not just books that happen to take place in NYC, but that embody NYC, that represent it. I still have room for plenty more, but here's what I have so far...

New York by Edward Rutherford -- got this for Christmas and am about halfway through but decided to take a break... need to pick it back up one of these days!

The Finder
by Colin Harrison -- was TOTALLY drawn to the cover of this one when I saw it at the store... yay to stores for facing books out. =)

The Ballad of West Tenth Street by Marjorie Kernan -- like this cover too. Saw it during my first trip to NYC; takes place in the West Village of Manhattan (I think... correct me if I'm wrong).

The Last Block in Harlem by Christipher Herz -- this one should be familiar to you if you read this blog!

Lowboy by John Wray -- Have been wanting to read this one forever! About NYC, the subway, and a kid with schizophenia (again, I think)

I Heart New York by Lindsey Kelk -- this one is actually an ARC for a book that comes out in September and that I am sooo excited to read! I actually had been wanting it already, as it was released previously in the UK. I love the UK cover, but I have to say I love the US one too.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney -- reviewed this and the movie recently. Not much more to say.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem -- have heard great things about this book.

Let the Great World Spin
by Colum McCann -- this won the national book award, I believe... heard great things about this too...

The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer -- a satirical take on the publishing world... this is the one I hope to review for you tomorrow that is very interesting!!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith -- classic, loved this.

Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee -- about a Korean girl growing up in 1970's NYC. Really have been wanting to read this too.

Patches of Grey by Roy Pickering -- have been wanting to read this for a while too ever since reading a review for it at Good Books and Wine... I will be reviewing this for Crazy Book Tours in the very near future. This book takes place in Harlem.

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster -- classic, right? Which by the way, I was doing a giveaway for this for Penguin's 75th anniversary, so I'm going to announce the winner here... the winner is.... Christy H! E-mail sent and Christy has 48 hours to reply.

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster -- another one by him. Read a great review for this as well and hear this guy's a great author. Am NOT a fan of this cover and might replace it if I find a better one. =)

So that's it for now.. but like I said, I have room for more.. does anyone have any other suggestions for books that ARE New York City in and of themselves??

I had a lot of fun putting together this part of the shelf and am thinking of doing a couple other themes... we shall see!

Interview with Christopher Herz, Author of The Last Block in Harlem

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A couple weeks ago I reviewed The Last Block in Harlem by Christopher Herz. (Make sure to click on his name and check out his wonderful website). I really enjoyed this book about a neighborhood in Harlem. I talked a little about the author in that review post, but am happy to have him here today for an interview. Christopher is an insightful person with genuine talent for writing. I loved his interview questions, so I'm happy to share them with you!
Pictures for this post taken from the page for the book

1. This is probably a very common question but everyone always wants to know, what inspired you to write this book?

The night we moved into this apartment, we had no furniture. My wife was asleep. The sounds of the block below were so new to me I couldn’t sleep. I pulled out my typewriter and just started going. It was like the bricks and the fire escapes where screaming out to me, and the story started to be written through me as much as it was by me.

As time went on, each place I went on the block just kept the story going – characters presented themselves to me, music provided a soundtrack, and it just happened. It was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had writing anything. The book is a love story to the block, so the inspiration came from a very real level of being I think. For me, fiction is a giant “What If” of present reality. My main focus throughout though was to make sure it passed the test of the people who have lived on this block for years. The story was and is theirs. From the reaction I’ve gotten from everyone up here in Sugar Hill, I did right by them – I guess my inspiration was that: To contribute something to the community.

2. Wow, enlightening and inspiring! What would you say are the main themes of The Last Block in Harlem? What do you hope others take away from reading this?

That’s interesting because every person who reads the book takes away something different from it. For me, the main theme is trying to stay clean in a world that just won’t let you do so. It’s trying to focus on how to live in the moment when so much of you is trying to hold on to the past. In addition, I think it’s about really looking at how we spend ALL of our lives trying to make our mark in the world, trying to do something important to be remembered, then, at the very end, you take a look around and you realize that the most important people have been right next to you the entire time. The need for accomplishment often times wins out over love, so I really wanted to dig into that and expose how nasty and impossible and beautiful that quest was.

3. Considering some of the similarities between you and the main character, how much, if any, of your novel is autobiographical?

I think a lot of my experiences in advertising and trying to fit in with the corporate world (which I could never quite do) is very close to what I went through, but the actions of the main character – the things that he does, how he thinks, I wouldn’t ever do. I like writing in the first person because it gives the reader a chance to see directly at street level and without the barrier of a narrator. For me, the joy of living in New York is that you get to hear all of these amazing stories from random people. Everywhere I’ve lived, my inspiration and basis for characters has always come directly from the stories I hear. It’s my favorite way to receive information, so I try to use it as a story telling device.

That being said, anything that happens in my real life is fair game for plot in my novels – though there is always an enhancement of fiction to it. I think I learned that from reading so much Hunter S. Thomson – for better or worse, that stuck with me. I can’t shake it, not yet anyhow. Ghosts tend to latch on to you when you go looking for them.

4. Tell us a little bit about the relationship between the main character and Namuna. Without giving anything away, of course, what were the motivations behind the storyline with her and the main character?

Ah, Namuna. Everyone wants to talk about Namuna. I think she represents what it takes to make it in the modern world without cashing in your soul to do it. She is by far the strongest character in the book – and also, if you notice, the one who gets the furthest away from the block. She has the unique ability not to be defined by her job, her marriage or where she lives. She is simply herself, and therefore the one who can move in and out of whatever world she desires.

As for their relationship, it’s a love story pure and simple. If the main character would look up and believe 100% that their love is enough to keep him going, everything would be fine and he wouldn’t have to go look for accomplishments to define him. I don’t think she asks too many questions in the book – she just moves how she feels is right and to hell with what anyone thinks of it. She is the value, the base of everything – so when she’s not around or involved, the world has nothing to check itself against. Literally, things could just crumble without her ability.

5. Who was your favorite character to write and why? If it's the main character, who was your second favorite? ;)

This is kind of interesting – because I didn’t know it until after I had finished the book. But, the kid who sits on the bridge looking out at Yankee Stadium, that was my favorite one. I had no idea why.

Now you know, I started off selling this book on the streets on NYC – walking up to people and selling it hand to hand. One of the women I sold it to, I happened upon her as she was finishing the book in the park. It was an amazing moment. She waved me over and told me that she was almost done, and that she was into it. Then, she sat me down and said:

“You know – that little boy who sits on the bridge. That’s you. Did you know that?”

I started to cry right there, because until that moment, I didn’t know it at all. Most people just think the main character is me, but no – it’s that little kid sitting on the bridge. That’s amazing thing about writing and getting reaction from readers – they just see realities that you can’t. I’m still in contact with that woman. She invited me over to her apartment to have coffee with her and her husband and talk about the book.

6. Awesome answer and very powerful... there was something about that boy that struck me as well. What was the best thing about writing this novel? What was the worst?

The best thing about writing this novel was having people who have lived on the block for their entire life, from teenagers to people who have been here for 40 years, coming up to me and telling me I got it right. The worst, I think, was reading a few bad reviews. It tears at your soul and makes you question yourself like crazy – but you know, you have to be able to take it. I think selling on the street made me tough to what people thought. In general the response has been amazing. I still get emails from people I sold to from all over the world – with the new release, the reach has grown. The life of a book is infinite – how amazing is that?

7. Yes, very amazing! That's so awesome that you have been able to "reach" all those people with your book!

I love the title of the book (and the cover, but I figure you have little control over that)... what about the name, though... was it almost called anything else?

Ah, the cover. You should talk to Terry Goodman, my Senior Editor at AmazonEncore. I was actually very involved in the cover process – something that I love about working with this publishing company. Originally I wanted to keep the same cover as the original book, but Terry and the group that designed and edited the book, thought that since it was a second edition, it would be good to have the second cover. The design was theirs – and Terry fought my objections and eventually I saw that he was right. He’s usually right – I call him the Godfather because, well, he just is. However, the image in the background didn’t really work for me, so I sent in an image that Greg Flores took from my fire escape awhile back, and it just flowed in perfectly. The finished product is amazing, but the birthing process was difficult – probably because I am a little crazy when I get something in my head. Again, AmazonEncore made me very much a part of this process. I’m lucky to be part of that venture.

As for the name, no. I had the title before I started writing the book. It came to me right away.

8. I really love the current cover, but if the cover I've seen on your website is the original, I liked that one too! Okay, you’ve mentioned you spent a couple hours each morning working on this novel. How long did it take you to write this book?

Once it got going, it took me a year to write it in those two hours before work, then about 5 months of rewrites (about 15) to get it all done.

9. When we spoke at the Book Blogger Convention in NYC you mentioned that you’re actually somewhat shy. What motivated you to step outside the box as you did and literally hand-sell your books to people on the street? That took guts!!

I think I followed the model of how Hip Hop artists sold their mix tapes to develop a following on the underground level. My thoughts were that if you develop a fan base by yourself, word would spread. Nobody is going to help you unless you are doing everything you can, everything that you want others to do for you, for yourself. That way, you make yourself valuable and others will come to you. As for being shy – perhaps that was the wrong wording. It’s a very intense thing – actually communicating with someone face to face – eye to eye. You’re sharing souls right there. So, in that moment before I approached someone, there was that bit of fear. You have to overcome your fears though – and the best way to do that is to run head on into them and destroy the illusion.

As for my motivation to do it that way – I guess it just made sense to me. I looked around New York – saw all of these millions of people walking around and thought to myself, I just need 10 of them a day to buy a book. How hard is that? I’ve given my all to jobs where at the end of the day, I was exhausted at giving everything I had. What would happen if I gave everything I had to my dream? Well, it lead to a publishing deal. That’s what happened.

10. Awesome! And you're so right about the importance of making things happen for yourself.

What brought you back to New York after essentially growing up in California?

I think New York was always calling me. There is a huge independent lit scene going on here – especially in Harlem, which has always been the center of progressive culture and developing a voice outside of the mainstream that would eventually define the mainstream culture. I wanted to be part of that and draw my inspiration from that – from all of the writers out here who hustle their literature while working other jobs. I think it gives you an edge to be submerged in the real world while trying to create a fictional one.

11. That's very interesting what you say about the independent lit scene. I actually have another book to review that takes place in Harlem and is an independent book... I'm very interested in that whole part of our country. Which brings us to this: I adore NYC... what does New York City mean to you or represent for you?

It represents millions of stories and characters all rubbing up against each other. I think it’s some strange mix of a Frank O’Hara poem and a KRS-One rhyme. It’s subway doors opening and closing in seconds, but in those seconds, thousands of lives intersect with one another and create a narrative that changes on the daily. At the same time, it’s a grind unlike any other because you need to hustle like crazy to keep from getting stepped on – but sometimes you do. Sometimes you dance, sometimes you fall, sometimes you’re above it all. Regardless of your place in the play of that day, you’re part of the bloodstream.


Love, love, love this answer!!

12. What are your favorite books/do you recommend any particular books? Were there any, in particular, that inspired your writing?

I’ll try to keep it short, but here you go in no particular order. Iceberg Slim, Black Mama Widow. Milan Kundera, Life is Elsewhere. John Fowls, The Collector. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts. The Wu Tang Manual, The RZA. Warrior of the Light, Paulo Coelho, Hunter S. Thomson, The Great Shark Hunt.

I’m sure after this is published I’m going to think of more, but I guess that would be my base, with Kundera and Eillison leading the charge. These are some fantastic folks to lead you into any literary battle you may be fighting.

13. I definitely plan on checking some of those out! But I also look forward to more from you... Are you working on anything new? Can you tell us about it?

One short term and one longer term. The short term is a novel set in early 90s San Francisco. Set against the switch from the analog to the digital age. I lived through that and would like to get it out of my system. The other is set in a similar time period in Mongolia and is going to be more of an epic scope – one that is requiring tons of research and extreme mapping. I hope to have both done by the end of the year. Hope is a good thing. I like stories that take place in a transition period. This way, you get things to move all over the place and have the characters be the stabling points in the plot.

14. Anything else you would like everyone to know about The Last Block in Harlem?

I would say to go into the story without any of your pre-conceived notions of what IS. By that, I mean just walk through it as if you were the eye, and experience the book within the book. Let the emotions work their way through you before you pass judgment. There is a lot going on beneath the surface, so look close and walk slow where you can. Think about who the villain is and who are the “good guys.” You may find that there are neither. You may find that they are you.

Thank you so much for doing this interview!!

Get the book here. Learn more about the author here and see pictures of the people on the streets of NYC he originally sold his books to here. (Make sure to scroll down).

The Language of Trees

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Title: The Language of Trees
Author: Ilie Ruby
Pages: 339
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Avon (Harper Collins)
Release Date: July 20, 2010

The Language of Trees is a beautifully written debut about a family in small town Lake Canandaigua. Twelve years prior to the actual start of the novel, three children are involved in an accident leading to the death of one of them. After the initial prologue, the book returns to the present day where the oldest of the three children, who has turned her life around after suffering drug addiction, has disappeared, leaving behind her husband and 2-year-old son.

While the townspeople worry over her loss, they also realize Grant Shongo has returned to town and is staying at the family cabin near the lake where the young child's life was lost. An old childhood flame, Echo, also decides at that time to return to town.

Lately, I've had a lot going on and had difficulty finding any book to keep my attention. The synopsis didn't necessarily enrapture me either, even though back when I first joined the tour I thought it looked interesting. While my own personal schedule has me going crazy so I can't imagine fully immersing in any book, The Language of Trees, came as absolutely close as any book has recently. I loved the atmosphere in this book -- the atmosphere and story reminded me of a mix of The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard and Dismantled by Jennifer McMahan. I fell for the small town characters in the book, and surprisingly (again) enjoyed the "mystical" or "supernatural" elements of it.

The book is written in present tense which is just slightly distracting for me but it's really just a personal preference. Beyond that, the author does a fantastic job with it and has convinced me (along with others) that it's not such a bad thing. ;)

The author, Ilie Ruby, has personal experience visiting Lake Canandaigua and learning the folklore native to that area. This likely contributed to the beautiful atmosphere she was able to create in this novel which felt very genuine.

Here is the trailer for your enjoyment!

Follow the rest of the tour:

Tuesday, July 20th: I’m Booking It
Wednesday, July 21st: Café of Dreams
Monday, July 26th: Library Queue
Wednesday, July 28th: Fizzy Thoughts
Monday, August 2nd: Chaotic Compendiums
Wednesday, August 4th: Take Me Away
Thursday, August 5th: Booksie’s Blog
Monday, August 9th: Jenny Loves to Read
Tuesday, August 10th: Chefdruck Musings
Thursday, August 12th: Books Like Breathing

The New Yorker Short Stories

Sunday, August 1, 2010

This is the main page where I will keep an ongoing list of the short stories I am reviewing from Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker. New reviews will be up every Friday.

  1. The Five Forty-Eight

Sunday Salon

I've never really included any monthly type of summary things on this blog, but I decided to try adding them to my Sunday Salon posts. I always think it's interesting when I look over the list of books I've read that even though it feels to me like the month zipped on by before I had a chance to realize what happened, when I look at a list of books read, reviewed, etc. it feels long; looking at a list and saying oh wow, I read that book during this month? It feels like AGES ago that I read that book, lol! Then I feel more accomplished actually seeing how much I've done. For instance, despite what I considered some serious reading droughts this month, I still managed to post ten book reviews! Granted, Jason did one of them, and one I had written up a while ago and ready to go, but STILL! Most of those I did read this month, and I figure if I can at least post 4 books reviews a month, I should be good.

So without further ado, in the month of July I reviewed:

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

The Starlet by Mary McNamara

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

The Last Block in Harlem by Christopher Herz

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

Stash by David Klein

Many of these were fantastic reads, but I have to say the ones that stood out to me the most were The Last Block in Harlem, The Nobodies Album, and The Blind Contessa's New Machine (this one mainly because of how extraordinarily beautiful the writing was).

My reading has been slow lately but I have a lot of books I'm REALLY looking forward to reading/reviewing in August, so hopefully I'll still be able to get to it! The crazy thing that happened with school and internship got CRAZIER and I have to have this round of hours done by the 6th instead of the 12th... BUT looks like I may actually pull it off and then even though I'm still working, the actual "school" part will slow down a tad so maybe I'll get some more reading done.

One last thing I wanted to add... I mentioned I was going to watch the movie version of Bright Lights, Big City... yeah... well, we watched it. I decided to not do a separate post for it. Basically, I hated it. Jason was bored with it. I kept falling asleep. We stopped watching it maybe 3/5 of the way through. And the very sad thing? It followed the book almost exactly!! So how can I have thought the book was good when I read it and thought the movie was incredibly boring? I mean, Michael J. Fox even narrates in parts exactly from the book. I don't know, but it sort of brought my opinion of the book down a little. Can't really figure out how to explain it better than that except that the book was good, but not something I fell head over heels for. I definitely preferred reading the author's thoughts than seeing it on the screen. Strange!