Archive for August, 2010

More Travelogues – Road Trip America

Monday, August 30th, 2010

  Blue Highways: a Journey Into America by William Least Heat-Moon

“First published in 1982, William Least Heat-Moon’s account of his journey along the back roads of the United States (marked with the color blue on old highway maps) has become something of a classic. When he loses his job and his wife on the same cold February day, he is struck by inspiration: “A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life. Chuck routine. Live the real jeopardy of circumstance. It was a question of dignity.”Driving cross-country in a van named Ghost Dancing, Heat-Moon (the name the Sioux give to the moon of midsummer nights) meets up with all manner of folk, from a man in Grayville, Illinois, “whose cap told me what fertilizer he used” to Scott Chisholm, “a Canadian citizen … [who] had lived in this country longer than in Canada and liked the United States but wouldn’t admit it for fear of having to pay off bets he made years earlier when he first ‘came over’ that the U.S. is a place no Canadian could ever love.” Accompanied by his photographs, Heat-Moon’s literary portraits of ordinary Americans should not be merely read, but savored.” (catalog notes)

  Assassinatin Vacation by Sarah Vowell

“From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to Key West, cultural critic and radio commentator Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by assassination, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism.” (catalog notes)

  American Nomads: Travels with Lost Conquistadors, Mountain Men, Cowboys, Indians, Hoboes, and Bullriders by Richard Grant

“Fascinated by the land of endless horizons, sunshine, and the open road, Richard Grant spent fifteen years wandering throughout the United States, never spending more than three weeks in one place, and getting to know America’s nomads-truckers, tramps, rodeo cowboys, tie-dyed T-shirt concert followers, flea market traders, retirees who live year-round in their RVs, and the murderous Freight Train Riders of America (FTRA). In a richly comic travelogue, Grant uses these lives and his own to examine the myths and realities of the wandering life, and its contradiction with the sedentary American dream…  Along with a personal account, American Nomads traces the history of wandering in the New World, through vividly told stories of frontiersmen, fur trappers and cowboys, Comanche and Apache warriors, all the way back to the first Spanish explorers who crossed the continent. What unites these disparate characters, as they range back and forth across the centuries, is a stubborn conviction that the only true freedom is to roam across the land.” (catalog notes)

  20 West: the Great Road Across America by Mac Nelson

Books Like Shanghai Girls

Friday, August 27th, 2010

  I recently finished reading Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (Find this book in our catalog) for my book club.  It certainly has a lot in it to discuss!  Two sisters who live a privileged, middle-class life in Shanghai immediately before WW2 find all that they have taken for granted is taken away, first when their father falls into debt, and soon afterwards when war breaks out between the Japanese and the shaky Chinese government.  The girls have to flee their home and eventually flee their country to America.  There they find that everything is not as they expected, but they manage to make a life for themselves in Los Angeles.  For me it was fascinating to get a glimpse inside another culture, to learn about Shanghai before the War.  It was a unique place, as was Chinatown in Los Angeles.  It was interesting and shocking to learn about American immigration policies towards the Chinese in the 1930s and 40s.  I was intriqued by the complex relationship between the sisters, and indeed all the women, and I was drawn in by all the layers of secrecy and deception.

If you like these elements in Shanghai Girls, you will probably like these books too:

  The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

“The first-person narrator is Olivia Laguni, and her unrelenting nemesis from childhood on is her half-sister, Kwan Li. . . . It is Kwan’s haunting predictions, her implementation of the secret senses, and her linking of the present with the past that cause this novel to shimmer with meaning–and to leave it in the readers mind when the book has long been finished.” –The San Diego Tribune.  ” . . . Tan is a wonderful storyteller, and the story’s many strands–Olivia’s childhood, her courtship and marriage, Kwan’s ghost stories and village tales–propel the work to its climactic but bittersweet end.” –USA Today. “… turn it this way and find Chinese-Americans shopping and arguing in San Francisco; turn it that way and the Chinese of Changmian village in 1864 are fleeing into the hills to hide from the rampaging Manchus. .” (our catalog notes)

Empire of the Sun : a novel by J.G. Ballard

“Shanghai, 1941 — a city aflame from the fateful torch of Pearl Harbor. In streets full of chaos and corpses, a young British boy searches in vain for his parents. Imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp, he is witness to the fierce white flash of Nagasaki, as the bomb bellows the end of the war…and the dawn of a blighted world.” (our catalog notes)

  The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama

Pei was given away as a child by her father to work in a silk factory.  Now, “It is 1938, and Pei, now 28 years old, has traveled to Hong Kong, where she finds herself working as a domestic servant and caring for a young girl named Ji Shen. Though the novel spans 35 years, it is mostly given to covering the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and its aftermath through 1952. During those years, readers follow Pei and Ji Shen’s struggle to survive fear and hardship, as British and Canadian civilians are interned under Japanese authority and a na‹ve Ji Shen finds herself dealing in the black market.” (from the LJ review in our catalog)

  Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

This wonderful book, written so sensitively by Golden about women’s relationships, feelings and desires from the point of view of  Nitta Sayuri, sold by her family to be a geisha in Kyoto, Japan, tells the Japanese home experience of WW2.  Through Nitta’s eyes, “… we see the decadent heart of Gion — the geisha district of Kyoto — with its marvelous teahouses and theaters, narrow back alleys, ornate temples, and artists’ streets. And we witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it. But as World War II erupts and the geisha houses are forced to close, Sayuri, with little money and even less food, must reinvent herself all over again to find a rare kind of freedom on her own terms.” (our catalog notes)

  In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck

For me this engrossing mystery had lots to enjoy, not least because Thomas Steinbeck continues the Steinbeck family tradition of fascinating storytelling.  I enjoyed feeling I was learning a lot of authentic details about the Chinese immigrant population in 1930s California. “In 1906, Doctor Charles H Gilbert, a Stanford professor of marine biology discovers some ancient jade artefacts on California’s Monterey Peninsula. The existence of these sacred stones, if authenticated, would indicate a very early Asian presence in the New World, an idea that conflicts with modern beliefs. When the Chinese fishing village where the artefacts were discovered is completely burned to the ground, there are many conflicting opinions about the proper fate of these artefacts. Eventually, a wealthy businessman agrees to pay for the stones to be transported back to China – but a tragic explosion on the boat occurs and the relics are lost at sea… until nearly a hundred years later when two young scholars join forces and attempt to locate the sunken treasure.”  (our catalog notes)

Romance Writers of America RITA Awards

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

The Romance Writers of America revealed their  2010 RITA winners July 31, 2010.  Read more… 

These are the titles for adults.  Click on a highlighted title and go to our catalog to reserve your book.

 Inspirational Romance: The Inheritance by Tamera Alexander

  Novel With Strong Romantic ElementsThe Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal 

 Historical RomanceNot Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

   Regency Historical RomanceWhat Happens in London by Julia Quinn

  Paranormal RomanceKiss of a Demon King by Kresley Cole

  Romantic SuspenseWhisper of Warning by Laura Griffin 

  First BookOne Scream Away by Kate Brady 

  Contemporary Single Title RomanceToo Good to Be True by Kristin Higgins


Monday, August 23rd, 2010

As John Klima wrote in Library Journal of 3/24/10, “Steampunk is everywhere.”  A subgenre of science fiction, it typically (but not always) employs a Victorian setting where steam power and advanced technologies like computers coexist.  Steampunk books often feature themes, such as secret societies, similar to those found in mystery novels.

Try these titles to be found in Harford County Public Library:

  Extraordinary Engines: the definitive steampunk anthology edited by Nick Gevers

  Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers

  The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

  Soulless by Gail Carriger

  The Glass Book of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist

  Mainspring by Jay Lake

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Novelist Geraldine Brooks Wins Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Friday, August 20th, 2010

According to the New York Times, Pulitzer prize-winning novelist and acclaimed journalist Geraldine Brooks has just won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement.  Brooks “reveals to her readers what their political leaders try to hide–the ugly realities of conflict and its destructive effects even on those far from the frontlines,” said Sharon Rab, founder of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation.  “We are delighted to be honoring a writer whose skill, imagination, and unique background allow her to create vivid characters whose stories help people understand the vital importance of fostering peace throughout the world.”

HCPL owns these novels by Brooks.  Check them out – they would make great book group reading!

  People of the Book  Find this book in our catalog

“In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding…she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation. In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city’s rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna’s investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love. Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed and beloved author.” (from our catalog notes)

  March: a Novel  Find this book in our catalog

“From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has animated the character of the absent father, March, and crafted a story “filled with the ache of love and marriage and with the power of war upon the mind and heart of one unforgettable man” (Sue Monk Kidd). With “pitch-perfect writing” (USA Today), Brooks follows March as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War.  His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs.”  (from our catalog notes)

  Year of Wonders: a Novel of the Plague  Find this book in our catalog

“When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna’s eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders.”  (from our catalog notes)

More Fiction Bestsellers of 2009

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Numbers 6 – 10 on Library and Book Trade Almanac’s list of the top hardback fiction sellers in 2009.  You may have missed these.  Why not check them out now!

  Ford County: Stories by John Grisham (Find this book in our catalog)

  Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich (Find this book in our catalog)

  The Host: a Novel by Stephenie Meyer (Find this book in our catalog)

  Under the Dome: a Novel by Stephen King (Find this book in our catalog)

  Pirate Latitudes: a Novel by Michael Crichton (Find this book in our catalog)

More Nonfiction Bestsellers

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Once again from the Library and Book Trade Almanac, nonfiction hardcover bestsellers of 2009 you may have missed.  These are numbers 6 – 10 on the list:

  Have a Little Faith: a True Story by Mitch Albom (Find this book in our catalog)

  It’s Your Time:  Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor by Joel Osteen (Find this book in our catalog)

  The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (Find this book in our catalog)

  Stones into Schools:  Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson (Find this book in our catalog)

  Superfreakonomics:  Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (Find this book in our catalog)

Jen’s Jewels with Corinne Demas

Monday, August 16th, 2010

As a writer, I am always looking for ways in which to fine-tune my craft. From professional groups such as Romance Writers of America (which I highly recommend) to educational seminars that teach how to avoid common first-time writing blunders, there are myriads of lessons to be learned, and there is always room for improvement. Not only is having the right tools an essential part of the process, but also having the desire to succeed is critical to a writer’s success.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Corinne Demas touches upon this very topic in her latest release THE WRITING CIRCLE. It’s a fascinating story about a group of eclectic writers who come together on a literary journey like none other. From their diverse viewpoints comes a unique story with an unexpected twist. Emotional yet engaging, this novel is a must-read for every person who has ever contemplated becoming a writer.

As part of this interview, Hyperion Voice has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. I hope you are enjoying the last days of summer. Happy Reading!

Jen: The path to publication a writer has taken in order to achieve her goal can be as interesting as the novel itself. So that my readers may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us a brief overview of your educational and professional background.

Corinne: I went to Hunter High School in New York City, (it was all girls at the time) then on to Tufts University, where I majored in English and took a lot of creative writing courses, then on to get a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia. I did my thesis on the short story, one of my favorite genres. I taught for ten years at the University of Pittsburgh, and ever since, I’ve been teaching literature and creative writing at Mount Holyoke College; so, I’ve never left school!

Jen: No stranger to the publishing business, you have written a memoir, short stories, and even children’s books. Your latest endeavor is a fictional novel titled THE WRITING CIRCLE. How did you arrive at the premise?

Corinne: I’ve always been interested in the way groups work-how a new member fits in, what happens when someone betrays the group-and since writers are the people I know best, I decided to focus on a writing group.

Jen: The story follows a group of eclectic writers each with his or her own struggle in life, whether it is professionally or personally. Nancy, the main character, is the newest member who has her doubts about joining the group. Is her reluctance to belong due to her insecurities in the merits of her work, or is it simply her fear of not measuring up to her counterparts?

Corinne: Both. The group she’s joining has several high-profile writers in it and Nancy is worried about laying her raw work before them, especially since her new novel is based on her father’s story, and close to the bone. Of course all writers have some insecurity!

Jen: Bernard, the biographer, serves as the unofficial leader of the group due to his varied history with its members. Even his ex-wife Virginia, the historian, belongs to the writing circle. Why does he choose to bring Nancy in the fold? Is it simply an act of kindness, or does he have an ulterior motive?

Corinne: Bernard is rarely simply kind. He knows Nancy is an astute reader and critic, and he thinks she’d be an asset to the group as well as beneficial to him. He values her feedback. Nancy is also a genuinely nice person, so he imagines her participation will be without conflict. (How wrong he is!)

Jen: As I mentioned, Virginia wears two hats…Bernard’s ex-wife and fellow club member. Why does she choose to keep Bernard close to the vest? And, how has their post-divorce relationship affected the rapport with their children?

Corinne: Virginia is genuinely fond of Bernard and respects him as a writer. As I say in the novel: “. . . now that she was no longer married to him . . . the love she felt for Bernard was undamaged by frustration. Everything she didn’t like about Bernard was Aimee’s [his second wife] to deal with. No marriage counseling could have ironed out all their difficulties as a couple as neatly, as successfully as their divorce and realignment had done.”

Virginia’s rapport with their two grown children has always been excellent. Bernard has been on the outs with his son, and even though he and Virginia have an amicable relationship, it hasn’t helped.

Jen: Gillian is the snooty world-famous poet who feels her opinion matters most. Why has she chosen poetry as her means of expression? And, in what ways does her superior attitude resemble a mask in which to hide behind?

Corinne: Gillian believes poetry is the superior genre-the most intellectual, the most artistic, so of course she chose to be a poet. She’s also not interested in other people, just herself, and a fiction writer has to be interested in other people and their stories. You’re right that she hides behind a mask-but don’t tell her that!

Jen: Chris is a divorced dad who writes thrillers. Seemingly, he is always one step behind when it comes to the group due to his troubled personal life. Of all the club’s members, which person does he most identify with and why?

Corinne: Poor Chris, there’s no one whom he really identifies with. He makes the most money as a writer of anyone in the group, but he feels no one respects him because he’s a genre writer. He looks to Nancy, the new member, with hopes she might become an ally.

Jen: Adam is the youngest member who is pursuing a career as a novelist. Not surprisingly, he latches onto Gillian in a state of awe and admiration. Does he believe that his desire to emulate the successful poet is an effective way in which to achieve his literary goals? Or, does he single her out simply due to his inability to define his own path?

Corinne: You put that well, yes; Adam is definitely “in a state of awe and admiration.” He finds Gillian beautiful, seductive, and mysterious, and has fallen under her spell. He’s a devotee of her poetry, but my guess is that his infatuation is sexual as much as intellectual.

Jen: Which member is the most talented of the group and why? And, which member is the weakest link and why?

Corinne: What an interesting question! Everyone in the group is working in a different genre-except Nancy and Adam, who are both novelists-so we can’t really compare their talent. Gillian, Virginia, Bernard, and Chris are all at the top of their game. Nancy hasn’t published a novel for years, and Adam is as yet unpublished, so they might seem like the weakest link. But what seems to be the case doesn’t necessarily prove to be true.

Jen: Interestingly enough, within the storyline you raise the issue of the potential risk of an author having ideas stolen by fellow writing circle members. In light of this, are you a big proponent of writing circles? Why or why not? And, are you a member of one?

Corinne: Plagiarism is a hot topic in the literary world these days, and it’s a subject that certainly comes up in my novel.

I’ve belonged to a number of writing groups, and belong to two, now-one where we share manuscripts, the other where we just gather for coffee and offer support. Writing is a lonely profession, and I’ve loved being part of a community of writers. My writing critique group (who are all thanked in the acknowledgments for THE WRITING CIRCLE) listened to me read aloud drafts of this novel, chapter by chapter, and offered me wise advice.

I think writing circles can be beneficial at any stage in your writing career, but of course it will depend on finding a group that it is both supportive and smart.

Jen: Let’s switch gears and talk about your website. Please take us on a brief tour.

Corinne: Because I write for both adults and kids, offers two different directions from the home page. Each of my twenty-five books has its own page, which includes reviews and relevant background information. For my children’s books I have “behind the scenes,” as well as profiles of the illustrators. My website includes biography (you can even see photographs of my miniature donkeys), a bibliography, and contact information. The great benefit of my website is that my name is spelled correctly!

I hope readers who enjoy THE WRITING CIRCLE will join the Facebook fan page and follow me on Twitter. You can link to both through my website.

Jen: Will you be heading out on a book tour? If so, where can readers find a list of dates and locations?

Corinne: I just finished a book tour, but will be doing a reading September 22 at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts, right across the street from Mount Holyoke College. Details about that event and other future appearances are all listed on my website under Events.

Jen: Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about arranging one?

Corinne: Yes! Contact information is on my website.

Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you share with us?

Corinne: I just sent the manuscript in to my editor at Hyperion. The novel is about a family–two sisters and two brothers–who inherit an old house on Cape Cod at the death of their eccentric mother. The working title is The Married House, but that may well change. Part I of the novel takes place on the wedding day of Sofie, an entomologist, the youngest of the clan. She’s getting married at the seaside house the week before it goes on the market, and has invited all her siblings, with hopes the wedding will bring peace among them. But instead of settling their differences, something occurs at the wedding which divides them even further, and Sofie uncovers a well-buried secret which not only changes the way she sees her family, but the way she sees herself. Part II of the novel takes place twenty four years later at the same house, at another family wedding. Startling changes have taken place in the family, and a new secret comes to light which turns everything upside down.

Jen: Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. I truly loved the depth of your characters and the way in which you tied the storyline together. Bravo! I highly recommend it to all of my readers. Best of luck with its success!

Corinne: It’s been a treat being your guest. Many thanks for your penetrating reading of my novel and your thought-provoking questions. And thank you for all you do to help connect books and readers.

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Corinne. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy today! Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of the first five readers to e-mail at with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll win:

Name the snooty world-famous poet in THE WRITING CIRCLE.

Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Melissa Clark, author of the New York Times column “A Good Appetite.” You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…


Top 5 Nonfiction Bestsellers for 2009

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Also from the Library and Book Trade Almanac, here is the list of the top 5 hardcover nonfiction sellers for 2009.  Perhaps you missed them?  Why not check them out now!

  Going Rogue: an American Life by Sarah Palin (Find this book in our catalog)

  Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man:  What Men really Think about Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Committment by Steve Harvey (Find this book in our catalog)

  Arguing wth Idiots:  How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government by Glenn Beck (Find this book in our catalog)

  Liberty and Tyranny:  a Conservative Manifesto by Mark R. Levin (Find this book in our catalog)

  True Compass: a Memoir by Edward M. Kennedy (Find this book in our catalog)

Maybe You Missed These! – Top 5 Fiction Bestsellers for 2009

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Just in case you missed them, from the Library and Book Trade Almanac, here are the top 5 in hardcover fiction sales for 2009:

  The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (Find this book in our catalog)

  The Associate: A Novel by John Grisham (Find this book in our catalog)

  The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Find this book in our catalog)

  I, Alex Cross by James Patterson (Find this book in our catalog)

  The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks (Find this book in our catalog)