Monday, January 31, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Jan. 24th - 29th, 2011

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and January is being hosted by Rose City Reader! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks and audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

What did everyone do this weekend? Mine was pretty productive. I had a lot of errands to run (that I had been putting off!) and I got to have a fun girls night out so overall a great weekend!

I am hoping at some point the books are going to start tailing off because I can't keep up right now with the amount of reading I need to, yet every book that comes in I can't wait to read! So no complaints from me, just storage issues! Here's what I got this week: 

From Voice Publishers via Shelf Awareness:
1. Minding Ben by Victoria Brown

From St. Martin's Press:
2. Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I and the Dark Scandal That Rocked the Throne by Chris Skidmore

From the authors:
3. Table of Contents by Judy Gelman & Vicky Levy Krupp

From the author:
4. Leaving Parma by Angie Sarich

More books I bought (there was a Groupon!):
5. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

6. Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

7. 29 by Adena Halpern

So, which should I read first? What did you get this week?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Behind the Wheel

'Velva Jean Learns to Drive'
Author: Jennifer Niven

Format: Audio Book
Published: Penguin Audiobooks; Oct. 2009
Narrated By: Jenna Lamia
Genre: Historical fiction; Southern
Rating: C
Source: Library

Synopsis: Set in Appalachia in the years before World War II, Velva Jean Learns to Drive is a poignant story of a spirited young girl growing up in the gold-mining and moonshining South. Before she dies, Velva Jean's mother urges her to "live out there in the great wide world".
Velva Jean dreams of becoming a big-time singer in Nashville until she falls in love with Harley Bright, a handsome juvenile delinquent turned revival preacher. As their tumultuous love story unfolds, Velva Jean must choose between keeping her hard-won home and pursuing her dream of singing in the Grand Ole Opry.

My Take: I was really on a roll with my audio books there for awhile. I could do no wrong and I was loving it! Thinking I'd really had it all figured out. I knew my winning streak had to come to an end but I really didn't think it would be with this one. It's not to say I didn't like the story, I just didn't like the audio. My mom had read this book a while back and she said she loved it and it did sound like a story I would like. I love historical fiction and I love the South so when I saw it come up as one of the limited options I could get on audio from my library at home for download I jumped at it. 

You want to know what went wrong? Well at first I really liked it so let me tell you about that. See it starts off being told from Velva Jean's point of view. She's a sweet little Southern girl who loves her momma and lives out in Appalachia. It's kind of a rough life for her family since it's the Depression, although I don't get the sense that a down economy really changed their sense of economy much at all in an incredibly small town such as that. Regardless she's from a small family and they all love each other in their own unique way.

Velva Jean wants to find the Lord and be saved and get on the right path but soon after doing so, many bad things happen to her. For instance, her beloved momma passes away and her daddy goes away for work. Velva Jean's life all just kind of takes a turn for the worse from there but you've got to have some strife in a book if your going to make it interesting. 

Velva Jean's dream is to become a Country and Western singer at the Grand Ole Opry and I can respect that. I remember watching people singing at the Opry when I was kid on my TV so I can imagine that she would think that was pretty much the epicenter of all things cool. But she's got to figure out a way to raise enough money and get herself out of her small little town.

The story progresses from there but the thing is, I kept napping because the narrator talked in the slowest darn Southern draw I have ever heard. I mean, don't get me wrong I have been accused of talking fast a time or too and I swear you could have talked in a Southern drawl at a normal pace and had that story read in half the time. I was on the treadmill working out saying move this thing along! Basically, I think I'll stick to reading my next book set in the South. 

Cover Lust: I do love this sepia-tinged cover. I think it just evokes the setting so beautifully!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Guest Post: Adam from I Write Read Rate

Today I am happy to have Adam visit Amused By Books to tell you all about a great new site out there for the aspiring writers. I know many bloggers also love to write, I mean we do write blog posts all the time right? But more than that, many of you also have a book or two up your sleeve as well. Well there is a great new website out there that may just help inspire you too: iwritereadrate. So without further ado, I'll let Adam tell you all about it!

By Adam Charles (Director of

For me, and maybe for you too, admitting to being an unpublished writer is sort of a little bit like admitting to having contracted some disease in some bizarre circumstance. However, here I am, admitting to the wonderful readership of this blog that I am an unpublished writer; further to this that I'm proud of it too.  This feels good, cathartic almost, like my first night at Writer’s Anonymous.

I’m enthralled by literature, and always have been. I’ve learnt about myself over the years that the gratuitous acts of writing and reading just do it for me.

So, a few years ago I decreed that no longer would I watch from afar, no more would I be content with reading, I wanted to become part of the writing world, a world where ideas and images conjured by language are king. With my mission confirmed I set down to diligently sketch out a story that had been bouncing around in my head for a decade.  It went well, the words flowed, my pen moved effortlessly and almost supernaturally across the page: I was fulfilling my dream of writing.

I reached a fair point, some 35,000 words and had judiciously self-edited a few times.  I decided that it was time to send off my baby to be critiqued by those in the know to see if my delusions had any substance.  I packaged up the first few chapters, bought a load of stamps and envelopes to send to publishing industry bodies. 

I waited and I waited and finally they started to return home to me.

I opened the first one with adolescent enthusiasm, tearing it open.  Sadly, all that was contained inside was the returned, unmarked, extracts I had sent and a standard rejection note on a tiny complements slip.  I, however, was not deterred.  I posted off another batch of submissions.  The curse of the standard rejection letter continued. 

Were they even reading it?  Surely they could pass some kind of judgement?  Surely I could get more feedback than this? Doubt began to creep in, maybe I’d never know.

After three batches of submissions I coalesced.  I didn’t know whether I had something entertaining - even interesting - to say or if I should just stick to reading other people’s ideas and give up on my dream.  I wasn’t upset or disappointed, I just wanted to know whether it was me or the system that had cast me aside.

Research followed into all the facets of the agencies, editing, and publishing process.

A couple of years ago I eventually hit upon an idea. If the professionals can’t tell me, then how can technology help me and people like me to find out whether our work is any good?  I trawled the internet but couldn’t find anything that I could use for these objectives.  This is where the first seed began to grow for our new website -

In 2010 we began building out this idea; the seed began to germinate.  An online community for unpublished writers by unpublished writers.  A democratic cyber-city where writers can upload, sell, and receive ratings and reviews on their hard work.  Where unpublished writers can sell their passion for writing as well as their stories.  A place where readers can provide direct feedback direct to writers, have access to them and become part of the writing process.  A brave new world in the dynamic between unpublished writers and readers everywhere. 

After all, the only way to know if what you’ve written is any good is to have other people read it.

We successfully launched our Registration Page in December 2010 and are now looking to launch the full site during the first few months of 2011.

You can register now to be given pre-launch access to the site to upload your work before anyone else and you’ll also be automatically entered our competition to win an eReader at the site’s full launch.

We Look forward to seeing you on our website soon.

Visit us for more details at:

Thanks again Adam for visiting Amused By Books and telling my readers about your great site! I wish you a lot of luck with it!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sweet Grandmothers of Mine

'Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons From My Grandmothers'
Author: Adriana Trigiani

Format: ARC
Published: Harper; Nov. 2010
Pages: 224
Genre: Memoir; Family
Rating: B
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: Fans of novelist Trigiani will be delighted with this guided tour through the author's family history via her grandmothers, Lucia and Viola. She lovingly details the women's lives and recounts the lessons she's learned while offering a fascinating look at U.S. history from the perspective of her Italian-American forebears. Both Lucia and Viola worked hard from an early age, cooking and cleaning among any number of chores, and parlayed their work ethic and expertise into strong careers. Viola started out as a machine operator and, later, co-owned a mill with her husband, while Lucia worked in a factory and then became a seamstress and storefront couturier. Her grandmothers also took pride in passing along wisdom to others; throughout her life, Trigiani benefited from their guidance regarding everything from marriage to money, creativity to religion. She credits them with telling good stories: "I mimicked their work ethic imagining myself in a factory, layering words like tasks until the work was done. I took away more than life lessons from their stories; I made a career out of it." Here, Trigiani combines family and American history, reflections on lives well-lived, and sound advice to excellent effect, as a legacy to her daughter and a remembrance of two inimitable women. 

My Take: Trigiani is one of those authors I can't believe I've never read before. She has a huge back catalog of much-loved books. Friends have been recommending her to me for years. I even have some of her books on my shelves and yet, for some reason I always pass them by for something else. I never know why. I am sure many of you have an author similar to this on your own shelves or in your own mind. However, I can no longer say that about Trigiani and I am really glad about that because boy did this book make me smile!

Coming off the holidays in which I got to spend it with one of my own grandma's who are near and dear to my heart, reading Trigiani's ode to her grandmother's and their wisdom could not help a woman smile. If you are close with your family or long to be closer this is a memoir you don't want to miss. I know, I know, why would you want to read about someone else's grandmother's? Well, because a little girls relationship with her grandmothers appears to be something that is relatively universal and if you ever need something akin to the literary version of a warm cup of cocoa than this is it!

First of all, this book is filled with all the kinds of wisdom that grandmothers impart on you or maybe you wish yours had. Trigiani's grandmothers, Lucia and Viola were both immigrants from Italy and had some amazing advice and skills to pass down to their beloved granddaughter. They were amazing women who lived fascinating lives. If you are interested at all in women's lives in the first half of the 20th Century then this book is also a must read! Both of these women worked to help support their families and were definitely great role models for their family. The wisdom they bestowed on their families was inspirational. You can see the love for which Trigiani has written this delightful little novel and you could spend a very happy afternoon reading this book.

I am blessed to still have both of grandmothers with me, and as an added bonus a step grandmother; and while none of them live near me, this book helped me remember not to take the time I have with them for granted. I talk to them often and know that while they are all very different from each other that's what makes them such a wonderful part of my life and have all had a little piece of shaping me! I love that this book helped give me some pause in my life to remember that.

Cover Lust: I really love this cover! It kind of reminds of me of a quilt or an old-fashioned print!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Author Interview with Julie Orringer and Giveaway!

Photo credit: Christa Parravani
Last week I posted my review of The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, a book I loved and one that I found to be an incredibly emotional read. For any of you that read Holocaust fiction, you know that reading it can put you through quite the roller coster so I was thrilled to get the chance to sit down and chat with Orringer to see what it would be like to write such an epic novel.

First, Julie, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and my readers today! I know you must be busy with The Invisible Bridge coming out in paperback today so we really appreciate it!

1. What was it like to have your first novel published?

Thrilling. And it was a great relief to have finished the book. The Invisible Bridge took seven years to write.

2. Wow seven years? Well believe me, it really shows in the epic feel of the book! What's your favorite thing about being an author?

Doing the work. Sitting down at the desk and being alone with the manuscript.

3. Yes, that does sound nice! I think the cover, if I interpreted it correctly as being an image of the Danube river which runs through Budapest, was such a great image. How much involvement did you have in its design?

Quite a bit. The photo was one I found in the course of my research. When the jacket designer asked if I had come across any images while writing the novel this one came to mind. And it turned out that the original photograph belongs to the Terror House Museum in Budapest. The Terror House is a building that was once a Nazi headquarters. And after that it belonged to the KGB. So now it stands as a museum of all of the horrors that happened in Budapest during the 20th century. Here is a link to the museum if you are interested:  Interestingly enough, I didn’t know any of that about the picture when I found it. But it did indeed turn out to be perfect for my novel in more ways than one. 

4. Wow, I will have to check out that site! So, I have to know, what made you want to tell Andras and Klara's love story?

Andras’s story was inspired by my grandfather’s experiences during and after the war. Klara is complete fiction. I knew I wanted Andras to fall in love because I knew he would have fallen in love—he was a man in his early twenties living in Paris, after all! But I was surprised that it was Klara—a former ballet dancer nine years his senior—whom he fell in love with. Part of what compelled me to write their love story was to depict what was lost in the war. That’s why I didn’t begin the novel with the war.

5. Oh I love that the story was inspired by your grandfather in some ways! As someone who was unfamiliar with Hungary's involvement and its citizens lifestyle during the war, I found that part of the story particularly fascinating. Why was that the location you chose?

My mother's side of the family is Hungarian, and I'd heard fragments of stories about the war since my early childhood. As an adult, I wanted to learn--and then to tell--the rest of those stories. I came to learn that the Hungarian Jews' situation was quite atypical, since Hungary wasn't occupied until 1944, and its regent resisted deporting the Jewish population even after the occupation.

6. Yes, somehow I had no idea that was the case! See the things I learn from reading novels?! Do you have another novel planned? If so, will it be about any of the characters we meet in The Invisible Bridge or something entirely new?

I do have another novel planned. It doesn't involve any of the characters in The Invisible Bridge, but it does take place during World War II. The novel is about Varian Fry, an American journalist who went to Marseilles to try to save a list of Jewish and anti-Nazi writers, artists, and musicians who were trying to flee occupied France.

7. That sounds great! And finally, what book(s) are you reading right now? 

I’m reading a book I love: The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, by Lewis Hyde. And a wonderful novel, Percival’s Planet, by Michael Byers. It’s about the discovery of Pluto.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all of my questions! Now for the giveaway!

Giveaway Details!

5 lucky readers will win the opportunity to choose a book from a list of current bestsellers from Vintage Books and Anchor Books, divisions of Random House, Inc! They will send anywhere in the continental U.S. and Canada. The list of ten hot books:

1)       The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer
2)       Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
3)       A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
4)       The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson
5)       Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
6)       Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich
7)       One Day, by David Nicholls
8)       Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer
9)       Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
10)     Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

The deadline for this giveaway is February 8th

To Enter (Mandatory)!
Fill out the entry form below, indicating which book interests you and a way for me to contact you.

For Extra entries in the form indicate that you are:
+1 Follow this blog on Google Connect (see right sidebar)
+1 Follow me on twitter and tweet about this giveaway (include @amusedbybooks in your tweet)
+1 Blog/Post about this giveaway on your sidebar

3 extra entries available. Giveaway open until 11:59pm PST February 8th. I will draw the winners using and announce them here on my blog. Good luck!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Jan. 17th - 22nd, 2011

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and January is being hosted by Rose City Reader! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks and audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

How was everyone's weekend? I had a fabulous and productive weekend participating in Bloggiesta! Man, I love that event. I always learn so much. Sunday, a girlfriend and I went and painted ceramics. It was entertaining to say the least!

Now it's the start of another week and I've received some more fabulous books in my mailbox. Here's what I got:

From Simon & Schuster via Shelf Awareness:
1. Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

From St. Martin's Griffin
2. The Tudor Secret by C.W. Gortner

From Bell Bridge Books via LibraryThing Early Reviewers
3. Life from Scratch by Melissa Ford

From PBS:
4. The Other Mothers' Club by Samantha Baker

5. The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews

Have you read any of these and if so do you recommend one? What did  you get?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Bloggiesta Finish Line!

For all of you who participated in Bloggiesta this weekend I hope you accomplished many things and learned many more! As always, I love Bloggiesta and want to thank Natasha at Maw Books profusly for hosting it because I learn so much and really this is the only time that I set aside to really do all of those things that I always mean to do on my blog but never get around to doing!

I set out to do many things and I did some of them and got sidetracked and did many others as so often happens with these events. In the end here's what I actually managed to get done:

  • Add the share buttons to the bottom of my blog posts.
  • Create a monthly giveaway post and figure out how to embed google docs within those posts.
  • I cleaned up my whole blog. I hope you find it easier to navigate. I felt it was kind of cluttered. I wanted to make the actual blog posts bigger and I also felt that I didn't need to have all of the challenge buttons on my home page when I have a whole Challenge Page dedicated to them. Let me know what you think!
  • I edited my review policy. I think it's clearer now! Let me know what you think! (This was also a flashback mini-challenge which gave some great tips!)
  • Backed up my blog (Jackie has a great Flashback Mini-Challenge if you don't know how to do this yet. I promise it's really easy!).
  • I took some advice to heart on how to organize my review books when I participated in Jenn's Mini-Challenge.
  • I finally learned how to use Mr. Linky thanks to Jennifer's Mini-Challenge which I will need for an up-coming post.
  • I really needed to clean out my feedreader and thank's to Rebecca's Flashback Mini-Challenge she reminded me to do so!
  • Can you believe I just now figured out how to add a photo to my Google Friend Connect image when I follow a blog? Seriously and that was all on my own!
  • Pam reminded me to check my copyright via this Flashback Mini-Challenge
  • As boring as it is, thanks to Karin's Flashback Mini-Challenge I knew I needed to go on a hunt for some dead links and fix them!
  • Thanks to Ruth's Flashback Mini-Challenge I had my blog analyzed and increased my blog grade by upping my Search Engine Optimization! The things I learn during Bloggiesta!
  • Commented on lots of new-to-me blogs!
I hope you had lots of success this weekend too!

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Bloggiesta Start Line!

Bloggiesta hosted my Natasha of Maw Books is one of my favorite blogging event because I always learn so much and I hope my time this weekend will be no different. If you have any questions about what the heck Bloggiesta is just click on the link up there and find out everything you need to know.

I have lots of activities that I need to get done around the blog and I hope to also participate in plenty of challenges. I'll be at work today but then this evening I'll get going and I have plenty of time set aside tomorrow and some on Sunday so I'll be popping around and saying hi to as many people participating as I can as well as posting my progress.

Here's what I hope to get accomplished by Sunday evening:
  • Add the share buttons to the bottom of my blog posts
  • Write reviews.
  • Write backup posts for a rainy day.
  • Create template posts for your future reads (ie: title, images, linking, tags, etc,) so you can open up, write review and post without being bogged down with technicalities
  • Clean up your tags, archives, books reviewed list, etc.
  • Clean up sidebars
  • Edit your about me page/review policy.
  • Clean up and update your challenge lists.  Link up your posts with hosts.
  • Visit the Blogging Tips group on the Book Blogs Ning and find ways to improve your blog.
  • Back up your blog.
What do you have planned? I always forget something!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Long Journey Home

The Invisible Bridge
Author: Julie Orringer

Format: Hardback
Published: Knopf; May, 2010
Pages: 624
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: B
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: Even if this weren't her first novel, Julie Orringer's Invisible Bridge would be a marvelous achievement. Orringer possesses a rare talent that makes a 600-page story--which, we know, must descend into war and genocide--feel rivetingly readable, even at its grimmest. Building vivid worlds in effortless phrases, she immerses us in 1930s Budapest just as a young Hungarian Jew, Andras Lévi, departs for the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris. He hones his talent for design, works backstage in a theater, and allies with other Jewish students in defiance of rising Nazi influence. And then he meets Klara, a captivating Hungarian ballet instructor nine years his senior with a painful past and a willful teenage daughter. Against Klara's better judgment, love engulfs them, drowning out the rumblings of war for a time. But inevitably, Nazi aggression drives them back to Hungary, where life for the Jews goes from hardship to horror. As in Dr. Zhivago, these lovers can't escape history's merciless machinery, but love gives them the courage to endure. 

My Take: There are some books that you don't want to keep reading because you think you know the outcome. When a book follows the lives of two desperately in love Jewish people during WWII, you don't want to get too involved in their story because if they live in Europe during this time period, as much as you hope, maybe this time the story will end differently, we all kind of know how the events will play out. Yet Orringer's novel, no matter how long it is, and believe me it is long, keeps you reading, because the love story contained within these pages is the only thing to hold out hope for. The only thing for those in this story to have a reason to endure.

When the story begins, times are not yet horrendous but there are rumblings. We meet Andras. A sweet, young Hungarian who wants to be an architect but in the early 1930s in his home country there is a quota and only a certain number of Jewish people can study to be architects in Hungary. He is lucky and gets a scholarship to Paris. For much of Andras' young life luck actually seems to be on his side for many unfortunate events are starting to unfold throughout the continent and they seem to pass over him. However we grow to love Andras as he falls in love with the older and wiser Klara. Theirs is a passionate love story, not without its problems and its naysayers and at first I was a little skeptical myself but I went with it and it swept me along.

Eventually all is no longer right in Paris for Hungarians and Andras and Klara are forced to leave, which if you know your history is probably for the best because they probably wouldn't have lasted long in Paris. Now is where it gets interesting and infinitely more sad for me. Upon arriving in Hungary the real war breaks out. For me, what was interesting was I knew little about Hungary's actual role in the war. I knew what happened to them afterwards and I've visited Budapest in my early 20s so I understood the layout of the city but their involvement with Germany and their treatment of the Jews was different than other Axis powers so it was interesting to read about.

See Hungary wanted to believe that it was better than Germany so it had labor camps for just the men, where the Jewish men where forced to work, like soldiers but in far worse conditions and only for a limited amount of time. Obviously as the war progressed and things got more dire, conditions became even worse but it did appear as though Andras was able to survive somewhat longer for having returned to Hungary than having stayed in Paris and being transferred to concentration camps. 

Beyond that I don't want to give too much away. There is of course, a war and a battle to remain with ones family. All of the things that make this what I believe it is, an epic war novel but alas it is not for the faint of heart. It is long and you can not read it fast. The material is hard and can turn your stomach at times. It will make you long for something lighthearted and may make you depressed, yet this is history and worth reading about and there is passion and heart in this book. I would recommend it to historical fiction fans for sure. This book will be released in paperback on January 25th and will be much easier to carry around in that format for sure!

Cover Lust: I think this stark image of what I can only guess is the Danube in Budapest is a fitting image for this novel. 

Stay tuned for a chat here with author, Julie Orringer, and a wonderful giveaway for 5 lucky people sponsored by Knopf on Tuesday!
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