Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: The Visiting Suit, Stories From My Prison Life

Read 12/26/10 - 12/30/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended

Every once in a great while, I read a book that speaks to me in ways I never quite expected it to. In Xiaoda Xiao's non-fiction book, he chronicles his five year prison sentence in China during the reign of Chairman Mao. And I sat in awe as he showed me just how wonderful it is to be a citizen of the United States, how lucky we are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and how fortunate we are to have the ability to hire a lawyer and sit before a judge and jury.

At the age of 20, Xiaoda drunkenly tears a poster of Mao from a wall and confesses the accident the next morning. Without a trial, he was sentenced to five years in a labor reform prison as a "counter-revolutionary" who "viciously attacked the Great Leaders Brilliant Image".

Working every day in the stone quarry, attending the humiliating and degrading thought reform courses at night, Xiaoda suffered at the hands of his group leaders, prison chiefs, and even his own cellmates. Nightly confessions and denouncements were a mandatory ordeal, and a necessary step in the reformation of the "counter revolutionary" soul. Acknowledging ones dirty, abnormal, twisted thoughts (or sometimes acknowledging the ones that the group leaders thought you held) was the only way to guarantee peace at night, and a potential transfer to easier labor positions.

Imagine living in a world where a jealous neighbor or suspicious wife could write a letter accusing you of false acts that would get you thrown into jail without a moments hesitation. Imagine receiving smacks on the head, and kicks in the shins, and being verbally humiliated (by the very same prisoners who you work side by side with during the day) for those false accusations until you confessed to them. Because standing up for yourself and proclaiming your innocence would only land you in solitary confinement, or cause your arms to be handcuffed behind your back overnight, or cause your daily ration of food to be withheld.

As Xiaoda so craftily puts it "To survive the labor reform camp, one had to learn to become a faithful dog..or an idiot.."

Prisoners were always under suspicion, constantly under surveillance - a cellmate could, at any time, report back to a group leader or Chief your thoughts and feelings on certain topics - and sometimes even the recipients of the "Ultimate Revolutionary Humanity", which in prisoner terms stood for the Death Penalty. Heck, even shouting out the word "Amnesty" while dreaming could spawn an investigation that would end with you standing in front of the firing squad as your fellow prisoners stood by and watched.

Xiaoda's memoir, told in connecting short stories, gave me a greater appreciation for the country I live in. After what he had been put through, it amazes me that anyone in China would intentionally break a law, knowing the horrible fate they were committing themselves to. Rape, adultery, and negative acts towards the Great Leader were all sure fire ways to land you in a labor prison. Why in the world would anyone do anything that would cause them to suffer the things that our author was put through? And worse so for him - since he what he did was an unintentional, drunken mistake with no true malice behind it.

A truly thought provoking, heartbreaking tale of a man wrongly convicted, beaten and broken for something he willingly confessed as an accident... A story that details the pain of being forced to surrender your pride in the fight for your sanity. The Visiting Suit teaches us how to stand up for what's right by backing down and doing what others want you to do in order to survive.

Another superb release from Two Dollar Radio! Many thanks to them for making this book available for review. For more information on Xiaoda Xiao and to read an excerpt of The Visiting Suit, please visit their site by clicking here.

In Which Xiaoda Xiao Witnesses His Groupmate's Ultimate Revolutionary Humanity

Here's a peek inside my current read:
"The scene was somehow less terrifying than the first show trial I attended. Since then, I had been prone to perceive the execution with a dialectical viewpoint by comparing the situation of the condemned prisoner with that of myself. I concluded that, although a violent death was horrible, after the firing squad had finished their job, the condemned man wouldn't have to worry about his stone quota, nor would he need to conduct self-condemnations or receive denouncement from other inmates anymore, whereas I, as a witness of the death penalty would continue to suffer both in the quarry and in the barracks. Only when I thought this way was I able to overcome the mental trauma that the atrocious scene left behind."
- The Visiting Suit, Stories From My Prison Life - Xiaoda Xiao

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Smartphone #Fail

Yes, Folks. It's true. Even a super-adjusting, time-managing fool like "your truly" can fail sometimes. I can usually multi-task like a maniac and switch priorities on a dime, but when it comes to making time for all my cool new techie toys - I suck.

I have been totally snubbing my iView eReader and garnishing all my attention on my beautiful little Droid these past two weeks.

While sitting at my husband's aunt and uncle's Annual Christmas Eve Dinner Party, I broke my golden smartphone rule - and downloaded a (gasp) GAME. I found the really cool free app Doodle Bowling, and downloaded it. My kids and I played a few rounds, and realized that for each game you play, you get a "coin". These coins can be saved and used to "purchase" different backgrounds on which to bowl. And I want them... I want them ALL...

The starting background is a child-like drawing of a bowling alley lane - and each roll of the ball pops a hole in the paper. It doesn't look like much, but it is addicting as hell to play. (See - this is why I didn't want to start downloading games.. I knew I would get sucked in.)

Here's a short video - for those who might not have played it yet:

(By the way - is this what the world is coming to? Creating video trailers for smartphone apps? Seriously?)

So between this time-sucking game, and checking Twitter every 10 minutes, I have no energy or motivation to use my eReader. It doesn't have WiFi, so all I can use it for is reading, and I mean, well.... really. I have ACTUAL books for that!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Scorch Atlas" Giveaway

As one year slowly fades into the other, as another decade passes before our eyes, I feel it is only fitting to offer you, my fellow friends and followers, a giveaway of apocalyptic interconnected stories. So... to help you usher in the new year...

TNBBC is giving away one copy of Blake Butler's Scorch Atlas!

Here's the description from Goodreads:
"In this striking novel-in-stories, a series of strange apocalypses have hit America. Entire neighborhoods drown in mud, glass rains from the sky, birds speak gibberish, and parents of young children disappear. Millions starve while others grow coats of mold. But a few are able to survive and find a light in the aftermath, illuminating what we’ve become. In “The Disappeared,” a father is arrested for missing free throws, leaving his son to search alone for his lost mother. A boy swells to fill his parents’ ransacked attic in “The Ruined Child.” Rendered in a variety of narrative forms, from a psychedelic fable to a skewed insurance claim questionnaire, Blake Butler’s full-length fiction debut paints a gorgeously grotesque version of America, bringing to mind both Kelly Link and William H. Gass, yet imbued with Butler's own vision of the apocalyptic and bizarre."

This novel has seen many a match - check out these youtube videos of people scorching Scorch Atlas. While I am not sure if this is a publicity stunt to gain more readers, or seriously deranged reactions to his novel, it certainly has piqued my interest!

This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada
and will end on January 31st.

Here is how to enter:

1. Post a comment telling me why you want to read this book and be sure to leave a way for me to contact you. If you win, I want you to come back to TNBBC and let us know if the book made YOU want to put a match to it, too. (but please, promise me you won't hurt it!)

2. Please do not enter if you have won a book from TNBBC in the past three months. Let's give some other book lovers a chance to win!

Good luck everyone!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Review: The Orange Eats Creeps

Read 12/09/10 - 12/25/10
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly / Not as an Introduction to Genre

It's a christmas miracle! For a moment there, I thought for sure that I would never finish this novel. December has been an awful month for me when it comes to reading. I barely had any time to sit down and just get lost in a novel, and when I did find time, this one wasn't really sucking me in - I wasn't "feeling it", and found myself rereading paragraph after paragraph trying to make sense of it all.

Grace Krilanovich is a first time novelist who creates her own form of storytelling in the feverish and incredibly trippy The Orange Eats Creeps. In it, Grace introduces us to a self proclaimed slutty teenage hobo vampire junkie who begins the search for her missing foster sister/lover Kim - driven on by drug induced ESP, random clues at local convenience stores and back alleys, and nightmare dreams involving cat-rat-snakes things. (I think).

She appears to be a loner, bouncing from one group of similar day-sleepers to another, bedding down with strange men in gas station bathrooms, mini-mart storage rooms, abandoned houses, and rail cars along the way. She had a steady boyfriend named Seth at one point, but loses him and his friends somewhere within the story. (I think). There seemed to be an excessive amount of sex - consensual at times, other times taken by force, with one person at times, other times with many...

As she wallows in memories of her House Mom and the evil things she was put through while residing under her roof, her inability to locate Kim, and the senseless acts she puts her body through, she is also pillaging pharmacies for cough medicine on which she gets high. (I think).

To be honest, I am not entirely convinced she is a vampire at all. At least, not in the traditional sense of the word. She eats and drinks, though she seems to mostly throw it all back up, but that could just be due to her completely horrid choice of products to ingest - days old containers of coffee, packets of sugar, and similar other non-substantial goodies. Though there is a fairly decent amount of blood sucking - or, at least, some obvious fetish with blood - I never truly believed that our doped up, strung out narrator was an actual vampire.

A girl hovering somewhere between life and death - yes. An honest to goodness vampire - not so much. For me, it read more like a teenage runaway trying to live the life of a vampire, masquerading around town like a child masquerades around her room in a princess gown pretending to be Snow White or Cinderella.

This book thoroughly confused the heck out of me. Reading like the collected thoughts of someone suffering from an extremely high and delusional fever, most of the story was pure gibberish. If read individually, the sentences themselves were gorgeous and painful and stunning But when laid out next to each other, they meant nothing and made no sense at all.

I felt a bit like Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole. There were moments, little snippets of clarity and lucidity, but mostly the story just left me scratching my head.

Despite my struggle to understand the point behind The Orange Eats Creeps, it's author and publisher (Two Dollar Radio) have made quite the impact on book lists and awards for 2010. Krilanovich was recognized by The National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35", and a finalist for the Starcherone Prize. Reviewers everywhere are praising the hell out of it.

So while it might not have been the perfect book for me, and had me temporarily questioning my ability to read, digest, and differentiate between a good book and a bad book, I suggest you check out some other reviews before siding with me.

However, if you DO happen to read it, and find it as jarring and fragmented as I did, please comment below and share your thoughts. I feel like I need someone to talk to about this one.

In the meantime, check out the book trailer:

I want to thank Two Dollar Radio for making this book available to me for review. Although I did not love the book, I ADORE Two Dollar Radio and their previously reviewed novels (Termite Parade and The People Who Watched Her Pass By). I am very much looking forward to starting their novel The Visiting Suit - up next!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve's Eve

As I got older, and the internet and email started trumping snail-mail, I slowly started to phase out celebrating holidays and anniversaries and birthdays and things with Hallmark (paper and envelope) cards. It was so much easier, not to mention cheaper, to send a text message or email wishing the person a "happy 30th" or a"Merry Christmas" - and I could be guaranteed that it would arrive on time!

However, this year, my mailbox has been bursting at the seams with christmas cards from close friends, blogging buddies, authors, and publishers! And it's made me realize something.... Nothing comes close to matching the excitement of tearing open the envelope of a christmas card or the smile on your face as you read it, and the fun of finding someplace special to showcase it.

Many thanks go out to Graywolf Press, Patrick Wensink, Lorena from Goodreads, Andrew Shaffer, my brother and sister-in-law, and my best friend Mariann for taking the time to pick or create my christmas card, gently placing it into an envelope, lovingly applying stamps on it, neatly addressing it, dropping it off at the post office, and having it find it's way to me before Christmas!

While I do love e-cards, and texts, and emails wishing me happy holidays, I adore the timeless tradition of receiving christmas cards in the mail.

And I am making a New Years Resolution today - to stepping it up and mailing out some 'paper and envelope' cards in 2011 in appreciation and celebration to the publishers, authors, bloggers, and friends I am so very thankful to have met in 2010! Because I want people to feel the same way I do when I open the mailbox ... and see one waiting in there for me!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What I'm Reading: Droid Style!

I love my sexy new Droid 2. I dressed it up in a hot little red case and have spent hours upon hours playing with it. (trust me. It's not quite as dirty as it sounds.)

What am I playing with? Well, not games, that's for sure! I am not going to get sucked into all of these time-swallowing, brain-numbing apps like this "angry birds" thing I've been hearing so much about... No way, no how! I have much more important things to be doing...

Like understanding how to move my apps from the app page to my home page and which apps to get, viewing and taking photos, text messaging (kinda strange format on this thing, almost looks like a comment thread. It's going to take me some time to get used to it as it doesn't seem to differentiate between inbox and sent), and downloading free classics through the Kindle app.

While at my oldest son's first wrestling meet tonight, waiting for the last few kids to finish up, I whipped out the phone and managed to store three eBooks on the Droid -
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • Grimm's Fairy Tales
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
I haven't actually attempted to read them yet, however I can see it is going to be very much like reading off of the iView eReader - of which I have spent zero time with since I got my hands on this amazing little smartphone - but with a whole lot less words per page! One thing I noticed right off the bat... there are no page numbers. I am a freak about checking my progress so I am not sure how that will work for me. But, I don't ever have to worry about being caught without a book to read ever again!

I'm also loving the fact that I can keep up with my Twitter feed throughout the course of the day, so every free minute I get, I tap open the Tweetdeck app and scroll through to see what's happening out there. If I have time, I even drop a tweet or two myself.

It's wonderful being able to access the internet wherever I am, no matter what I am doing. I love how it's all like "touch me" and "flick me" and "turn me around" - so tactile and instantly gratifying (again, not nearly as dirty as it sounds!).

How did I ever live without one of these things? And what other sweet little secrets is it hiding from me? What do you love most about your smartphone? What apps are must-haves?

In Which a Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Becomes "Congealed"

Here is a peek inside my current read:

"It's like every time is the first time... I surfaced from a dream to someone prodding me with a stick. I was in a bed laden with piles of sheets. Some of the cold fabric had been shoved in my mouth. When I raised my head a crumpled mound feel out of my mouth and stood up, frozen and set with saliva. My body was icy and stiff and seemed to crack when my joints felt the pressure of impending movement. I would characterize myself most accurately as being "congealed"."

- The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich (Two Dollar Radio)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hello, SmartPhone! Aren't You Sexy??!!

Say Hello to my sexy new Smartphone! My husband and I spent the day out Christmas shopping for the kids, and he took me into the Verizon store for my present.

After tossing and turning over the flashier, thinner Droid X, I decided on Droid 2 - mainly for the slide out keyboard. It will make my web surfing so much easier - I couldn't navigate the pop-up on-screen keyboard on the X.

It took me a little while to figure out how the Droid works, as far as the apps (of which I immediately downloaded Twitter and Tweetdeck) and browsing the web. I still can't figure out how to get my mail to hook up to the phone, but I am sure if given enough time, I'll manage.

I'm stoked to finally have a real, honest-to-God internet phone! (and don't spoil the surprise, but since it was buy one, get one free, we bought my oldest son one for xmas! Shhh.. he's going to DIE when he unwraps it!)

Looks like I will have TWO new pieces of technology to review on the blog...

I am so totally getting with the times this christmas, aren't I? I have the best hubby in the world *swoons*

So, fellow smart phone owners - which Apps are a must get for the book lover? I already have Kindle on there, what other Apps should I download?

What I'm Reading: eReader Style!

Last night, after I was done downloading and fiddling with my new iView 700EB, I gave it a test read as I lay in bed.

I turned out the lights to get the full effect of the backlit screen, and was able to get through the first 5 pages of Who I Was by Les Plesko. This is a 68 page unpublished novella from the author of Slow Lie Detector.

I do not recall much of what I read - I was beyond tired when I finally called it a night - so I will have to go back and skim it to refresh my memory. However, I was quite pleased with my ability to bookmark the page I stopped on. Of course, the iView made it easy - Once you are on the page you wish to save and retrieve later, you simple click on the menu button and choose "Save Mark". When you are ready to pick up where you left off, you click the menu button and choose "Load Mark". Easy Peasy!

At this point, my main gripe would be the clarity of the screen. The words are a teeny tiny bit smudgy looking, almost as if the screen was dirty, and needed a quick spritz of Windex (can you even use windex on an eReader screen???). Of course, that is not the issue. It's probably a combination of the back lighting, the font, and the resolution or pixelation of the screen images itself...(look at me trying to sound like I know what I am talking about!)

In any case, I was pretty happy with the test drive last night. Using an eReader is not as icky as I had originally thought it would be. It is nothing like reading an actual book - there was no whispering of pages being turned, no gentle caressing of the book cover.... *sigh* - the experience was quite different. But one I am willing to continue experiencing.

Test Drive: 3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Mom Always Said I Was a Winner...

I am not what you would call a "lucky" person. For most of my life, I was the complete opposite of lucky. When it comes to things like raffles, my name or number is never called. When it comes to office lottery pools, my co-workers would be more likely to hit a few numbers if my name and money were not attached to them.

However, when it comes to our building's Holiday Raffle, my company seems to forget all of that, and I actually make out quite good.

Last year, in a raffle of "Last Man Standing" (in which everyone's name is entered into a lunch box and the prizes start out small and increasingly get larger), I somehow ended up being one of a pair facing off for the chance to win a flat screen TV. I lost the TV to the other guy, but ended up walking away with a brand new Wii system.

This year, I found myself in the same situation. It was down to me and one other person, facing off for the Flat Screen TV. Whoever's name was called next walked away with an eReader, and the "Last Man Standing" took home the TV.

I knew the other person was silently chanting for my name to be called, and to be honest, so was I. I already have two large Flat screens, and had no clue how I would even get it home... and I secretly wanted to have a go at an eReader.

Would you believe that my name was called next?? The people I work with were all thrilled I got it, since they all know how big of a book nerd I am. And we all immediately tore open the box to see what kind it was.

A Quick Look at the iView 700 EB

I had never heard of it - and as soon as I got home, I googled it. It's an iView 700EB with a 7" LCD screen. No Wifi - which means I have to download directly from my PC, which is ok, because I have a handful of PDF files already stored, so it was quick drag and drop into the eReader. It also means I will not have to curb the urge to download when I am out and about, spending money I probably shouldn't on yet another book!

The iView is backlit - which is very similar to reading off of a computer screen, and seems a bit harsh on the eyes - and displays color.

One thing I noticed right from the start - Not all eBooks are formatted to fit the screen of the iView. After a quick scan of the user manual, I was able to figure out how to adjust the font size and get the text to fit on the "page". The options are basically Small, Medium, or Large. Sometimes Large is too big too fit on the page, and Medium is too small. Other times it was a perfect fit. Knowing myself like I do, I foresee that being a point of frustration and aggravation.

Page breaks appear to be alright for the most part, but again, it depends on how the eBook was originally formatted (I assume) because of the 9 I downloaded tonight, a few wouldn't line up properly no matter what font I chose.

The scroll and 'next page' buttons are simple enough and located along the right hand side of the screen. On the left, there are menu numbers, for easy selection when viewing the main menu.

I have the capability of storing and viewing video, music, and photos on the iView as well, which is pretty neat. It's almost like a mini-computer minus the internet, in that sense. Depending on how much storage space I need (this thing holds 2GB on it's own, but I can increase that with a memory chip), I could potentially use this as a backup for my more precious photos and music.

What to Expect From Me

Yes, I have been fighting the good fight against the eReader craze, and believe me when I say, if I had not won one, I am pretty sure I would never have bought one, or allowed one to be bought for me. Nothing will ever EVER be able to replace the feeling of holding and reading an actual, physical made-of-paper book.

But, since I have one, I totally plan on using it, and testing it out. Who knows. I might surprise myself and really like it, and maybe, just maybe, want to upgrade to something more high tech - like a Kindle or Nook.

Though that is really pushing things a bit far for the moment. What you can expect from me right now is a product review - as I use it and become more comfortable with it, I will be posting my experiences with it here on the blog.

Feel free to follow along, share your own eReader likes and dislikes... and root me on as I tackle the world of digital reading... one itty bitty baby step at a time!

(by the way, Amazon is the only site I could find a customer review on. There was one review, and the person gave it one star. This could get interesting!!!!)

An Unexpected Delay...

It appears some of the participants in our Goodreads Secret Santa have not yet received their gifts. So we all decided to postpone the "Great Unwrapping"until a later date in the month.

So there it sits, on top of my bookshelf.
All smug and sneaky with that Amazon smirk...

I keep shaking the box every time I walk by it, but it refuses to give me insight as to what it contains. This wait could potentially kill me. If I do not blog again, please contact my next of kin. Tell them I love them. And I still want to know what the heck is in that box!

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm officially Christmased!

"Deck the halls",
"Rock around the christmas tree" and
"Fa-La-La", fellow book lovers!

I am officially Christmased!

We are always the last ones to complete our christmas shopping (10 days to go and still not finished!), the last ones to put up our tree, and the last ones to decorate the house (both got done today!).

While not a complete Hum-Bug, I simply cannot understand how people can get into the christmas spirit of things so darn early. Thanksgiving dinner hadn't yet started to cool on everyone's plates and the Christmas trees were being lit, blow-up Frosty's and Santa's were being staked, and Jingle Bells jangled on every musak station.

All of this christmassy-ness bombarding my senses outside of my home always makes me kind of reluctant to introduce it into my home. So I wait. and wait. and wait.

And then, all of a sudden, without really knowing how or why, I find myself filled with the desire to decorate. And today, decorate we did!

I also managed to get the Post Office to change the lock on my cluster-box today, AND was hand delivered my Goodreads Secret Santa package!!!

Let the Holidays Begin, I Say!!

The great unwrapping of the 3rd Annual Secret Santa presents is a well coordinated tradition that will take place this Friday night at 7:30pm EST. Having the gift in the house now, in it's Amazon packaging, taunting me, Friday cannot come quick enough! Each of us posted a list of 5 books from our Goodreads TBR shelf, from which our S.S. would pick to purchase and ship to us.

These were the books I asked my S.S. to choose from:
  • A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel -Tom Philips
  • Monsieur Pain - Roberto Bolano
  • In a Dark Wood - Marcel Moring
  • The Gun Seller - Hugh Laurie
  • In The Land Of Long Fingernails - Charles Wilkins
Which one could it be? Which one could it be? Be sure to check back here Friday night to see which book I unwrap!!!

Ho Ho Ho....

Just in time for the holidays!

Here's a broken mailbox lock for you! Now you won't be able to retrieve your mail until you cough up $20 and the Post Office finds the time to send someone out to replace it!
Mwaaah haaaa haaaa......
"No Mail For You!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"On Gratitude" Giveaway

Tis the season indeed!
Todd Jensen and TNBBC are partnering up to offer what just might be
the BEST giveaway of the year!

We have 5 copies of On Gratitude to share 5 very lucky winners.

Here's a description of the book (from Goodreads):
"What Are You Most Grateful For? Ricky Gervais says . . . Pajamas. Dolly Parton says . . . Humble Roots. Anne Rice says . . . Clackety-Clack.

In this enlightening and engaging collection, celebrities from Seth Rogen and Sheryl Crowe to Joyce Carol Oates and B.B. King share the people, places, and things for which they are most grateful. Alternately sentimental and surprising, wise and wacky, these heartfelt "gratitude bucket lists" as described by some of our most beloved artists are sure to inspire readers everywhere to make their own lists—and live their own lives with more love, affection, and thanksgiving."

The giveaway will end on December 22nd.

Here's how to enter -

1- You must post a comment to this thread telling us three things you are grateful for. Winners will be chosen by Todd and announced here on December 23rd.

2- Be sure to include a way for us to contact you if you win.

3 - The contest is for US / Canada residents only - sorry International friends. I don't create the rules, I only enforce them!

To sweeten the pot, Todd will ship each winner a little something extra. So not only will the winners receive a copy of On Gratitude, but they will also randomly be sent one of the following:
  • One signed book hand-selected from the library of Ray Bradbury,
  • One signed book hand-selected from the library of Brad Meltzer,
  • One signed movie poster from Adam McKay,
  • One concert CD (not signed) from Steven Wright,
  • or One signed bookplate from Neil Gaiman.

5 great goodies - one to accompany each of the 5 copies we are giving away! So make your list, and check it twice, and then post it for the chance to win a copy of On Gratitude and one of these other great gifts..... just in time for the holidays!

Good Luck!!!

"The Kitchen House" Giveaway

TNBBC and author Kathleen Grissom are pleased to announce The Kitchen House giveaway!!

Kathleen, a fellow book lover (and book sniffer!) has agreed to participate in a TNBBC group read of her novel in January!

Here's a little peek: (description from Goodreads)

"Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin.

Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.

The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail."

We are offering 5 copies of the her novel.
The giveaway will end December 21st.

Here's how to enter:

1- You must post a comment to this thread telling us why you want to read The Kitchen House. Please include a way for us to contact you if you win.

2- You must agree to participate in a group read book discussion that will run during the month of January over at TNBBC on Goodreads. Kathleen has agreed to participate in the discussion for and will be available to answer any questions you may have for her.

3 - The contest is for US / Canada residents only. Sorry guys - we are at the mercy of Simon and Schuster!

The winners will be hand picked by the author herself,
and the winners will be named here on December 22nd.

Good luck everyone!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Review: Scars on the Face of God

Read 12/3/10 - 12/08/10
Stars: 4 - Strongly Recommended

I have wanted to read this book for a long, long time. I spent uncountable hours searching bookstore shelves, library sales, used book sales... all for nothing. It seemed like this book and I were just not meant to be.

Until, on a whim, I reached out to it's author and asked for a copy to review here on the blog. A huge thank you must go out to C.G. Bauer for suppling me with a copy of his elusive novel!

Initally set in Pennsylvania at the turn of the century, two young boys from the local orphanage are out in the early morning collecting frozen piles of dog crap (oh yes, they were) when they spy a woman carrying a small , squirming bundle across an enclosed bridge. As they watch, the woman throws the bundle into the river, followed by a gunshot. One of the boys, Johnny, dives in after the drowning baby, and believing he has retrieved it, carries it back to the shore, where he hands it over to his friend. As they unwrap the bundle.... They realize that what they had just witnessed has happened before - many many times before.

Foward 50+ years in the same town, and Johnny, known to most as "Wump", finds himself reliving the horror of that morning all over again when tiny baby skeletons are found floating in the sewer-water that has suddenly flowed into a hole that's been dug out for the foundation of a new restaurant.

In the midst of this, the town acquires a new priest, Father Duncan. He and Wump, along with two disabled boys, Leo - a mentally handicapped boy - and his blind, mute, wheelchair-ridden best friend Raymond, launch their own personal investigation into the town's deep dark secret regarding the dead babies, and the mysterious Devil Bible which they find in the possesion of one of the nun's in the orphanage.

Scars on the Face of God is a slow, southern-style gothic tale that manages to creep and crawl deep under your skin. Author C.G. Bauer tears religion apart and attempts to put it back together using the conflicting beliefs of Wump and Father Duncan - two men with very different views on God, and God's part in creation and the suffering of human kind.

Creating characters with incredibly flawed personalities, Bauer used their damaged pasts to show why each man felt the way they did about the Catholic Church. Father Duncan, an ex-professional baseball player, heard the call to religion and puts his faith unquestionably in God and the church. Wump, on the other hand, lived life according the rules of the church and lost his faith after watching his son needlessly suffer and die of Lukemia.

A powerfully chilling novel of what the power of religion can do to a small, poor town. And what faith, or the lack thereof, can do to each of it's inhabitants.

I thoroughly lost myself in this novel, and I strongly urge you to do the same!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happy One Year Blogoversary!

It was exactly one year ago today that I took a friend's advice and expanded the reach of my TNBBC Goodreads group by creating this blog! I suppose, in hindsight, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought this was going to be a place to post reviews, interviews with authors and host giveaways when I could get them.

But what I got out of it was so much more! I began to build a more supportive and interactive relationship with authors and publishers, which was wonderful in and of itself. But the fellow bloggers (and facebookers and tweeters - oh my!) - I quickly found myself wondering how I managed to moderate the TNBBC Goodreads group for two whole years before finding out about this amazing family of warm and welcoming literary bloggers!

I owe a huge thank you to all of the bloggers out there who took the time to explain the lay of the land, leave comments on my amateur site, and follow my pursuit for the next best book!

I also want to thank all of the authors and publishers who humor little ole me and feed my literary obsession by sending me review copies, allowing themselves to be interviewed, freeing up copies for giveaways, and joining us at TNBBC on Goodreads for reader/author discussions.

Without you all.....
This blog, TNBBC, and I would be nothing!

Here's to another year of fun, fantastic reading, reviewing, interviewing, and interaction with all of you!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Lily of the Nile" Giveaway

Tis the season ...
For another TNBBC giveaway!

Stephanie Dray appeared with a guest post here on the blog last week to promote her new novel Lily of the Nile. The novel, which will be released in January 2011, is a story about the daughter of Cleopatra:

"Heiress of one empire and prisoner of another, it is up to the daughter of Cleopatra to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers...

To Isis worshippers, Princess Selene and her twin brother Helios embody the divine celestial pair who will bring about a Golden Age. But when Selene's parents are vanquished by Rome, her auspicious birth becomes a curse. Trapped in an empire that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, the young messianic princess struggles for survival in a Roman court of intrigue. She can't hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her hands, nor can she stop the emperor from using her powers for his own ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined to resurrect her mother's dreams. Can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win-or die?"
(description from Goodreads)

I am giving away one copy internationally -

Contest will end on
Saturday December 11th.

Here's how to enter:

1 - Leave a comment here telling me why you would like to win a copy of this book. The winner will be chosen randomly upon the close of the contest.

2 - Please do not enter if you have won a book from this blog in the last 3 months to give some of the other followers an opportunity to win.

3 - This contest is international, you must leave a way for me to contact you in the event that you are chosen to win. If I have no way to notify you that you've won, you're entry will be discounted.

Good luck!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: Duncan's Diary - Birth of a Serial Killer

Read 11/26/10 - 12/2/10
4 Stars: Strongly Recommended

This book is not for the weak-stomached. Or for those who are easily upset by graphic violent sex. Thought I would clear that up right away.

Now, for those of you can handle it - Holy F@#k! Are you in a for ride with this one!

The book centers around Duncan as he struggles to find an outlet for his feelings of hate and rage that stem from his impending divorce. According to our psychotic narrator, his wife is ruining his life by spreading horrible lies about to him to everyone they know and anyone who will listen. Normally a peaceable, non-confrontational guy, Duncan beings to develop strong violent emotions that are in need of release.

His best friend suggested a vacation to the Dominican Republic where he can relax and forget about all of his problems. So Duncan took his advice and went. While there, he was immediately taken with this lovely young girl who allowed herself to be willingly, violently, used and abused - which unlocked new and exciting feelings in Duncan.

Returning home, Duncan was desperate to experience those feelings again. We find ourselves standing by and watching as Duncan recounts the following months of preparation, contemplation, and kidnapping - and the horrible, twisted ways in which he releases his pent up anger and frustrations.

It's an all-too-easily-imaginable look at the birth of a serial killer. At what might finally cause someone to break down and do the unthinkable with no sense of remorse, no guilt, and no thought other than "when can I do this again"? At what the hunt for a victim might be like. At the careless and reckless behavior a person may exhibit just for the thrill of the kill. And also, at all the hard work and effort that goes into attempting to publicly fit in - to avoid detection, to ride right under the radar, so they continue to kill again and again.

Here is a short example of the 'other' side of our killer - where he compares his evolution into a serial killer as the beautiful transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.

Totally cringe-worthy, complete with blood and guts, Duncan's Diary had me by the throat time and time again. If this were a movie, I would have been watching most of it through my fingers. It even invaded my dreams at night in strange and unwelcome ways.

Of course, reading this book had me concerned for the mental status of the author. How the hell does one come up with the things I read in this book? We're talking either one heck of a researcher, or one heck of a whacko! Then again, should I be taking a look at my mental status for reading it and enjoying it?

I easily overlooked the grammatical errors (of which there were quite a few) and quickly lost myself in the sick and dark world Christopher Payne created. For those of you who enjoyed the Dexter series, or books like The Seven Days of Peter Crumb and The End of Alice, do yourself a favor and take a crack at this one!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Can a Book Review Do For a Book, You Ask?

NBCC board member and 2009 criticism finalist Stephen Burt answers that question:

Stephen Burt: Jeff, you asked what reviews can do…or what critics can do…

Jeffery Shott: Yes, what can a book review do for a book?

Stephen: What can a book review do for a book? [It can] cause others to pay attention to it. Cause others to be interested in it. Describe it accurately. Do justice to it. Indicate what, if anything, makes the book stand out, seem original or memorable, or, indeed, accurate, or [what makes it] sound good. Describe the book as a work of art rather than as simply a representation. Say, and I’m going to misquote the philosopher Arthur Danto here, what is in the book that is not reducible to its content. Cause others to talk about the book. Indicate what about the book is deeply flawed so that artists and readers with interests similar to the author of the book will do better next time. Engage in a public dialogue with the author herself about her new book and her prior books and, perhaps, her next book. Indicate, as in the case of James Wood and hysterical realism, what is, for good or for ill, and it often is for ill, typical or representative about a book, either of kinds of books, or of the age, or the culture that the book comes from. Differentiate the book from other books that seem similar. Indicate that the books has some kind of internal variety or is divided within itself in a way that other readers of the book, [if it] is widely reviewed, haven’t noticed. Bring, and this is my very favorite thing to try to do as a reviewer, bring to the attention of other readers a book, an author, or a work, that doesn’t seem to have been noticed at all, and that deserves attention.

Jeffery: (Pause) Yeah. (As in: what more can anyone say about that? Pause. Then strong applause).

This information was previously published here, and can be heard by listening to the podcast linked on that site.