Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Independent Bookstore Favorites

It's been 20 years since A Time to Kill was published. How can that be? It's still my favorite of John Grisham's books. And I treasure my hardback copy, autographed and given to me, a gift of my lawyer brother-in-law who knew Grisham in Mississippi.

I've written before about independent bookstores, and about beautiful bookstores and libraries, with pictures. I think I would be as happy in almost any store that sells books as I am wandering through libraries, and I hope we never lose those places where everybody knows what's happening in the world of reading.

Although I don't live near a great store like these, I like knowing what's the latest and who's visiting both Square Books and Lemuria so I signed up for their emails. This morning's email from Square Books in Oxford, MS, included this link to a USA Today article about John Grisham.

John Grisham wrote this first book, hiding in the stacks of the law library. Lots of independent bookstores have nooks and crannies and probably writers scribbling on legal pads or tapping on laptops. Great places to read and to write.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Surf Mules

Powerful new YA novel from local writer, G. Neri. Check out my review coming up in Sunday's St. Petersburg Times.

Neri's a writer who's on a mission to get boys interested in books. Read my former posting to see how he's doing that.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Help

My reviews for Delta Magazine are rarely online, so this one won't be there long. Click here to read what I wrote about THE HELP. Click before July, when the new issue hits the newstands.

Flying Starts

Great story from Publisher's Weekly, re: debut children's authors. The "Flying Start" award, given to four outstanding books. Check it out!

1. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. She got the idea for the novel thinking about the house in Austin, TX where she lives, in the days before air-conditioning.

2. Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry. Main character is a boy whose father has been shipped off to war in Iraq.

3. Gentleman by Michael Northrop. a "dark, dread-soaked mystery" (wow!)

4. Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas. A Young Adult novel-in-verse.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Quote for the Day

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader — not the fact that it's raining, but the feel of being rained upon."

— E.L. Doctorow,
author of Ragtime and other critically acclaimed novels

Monday, June 22, 2009

Oxford American anyone?

Just when I'm thinking I have way too many magazines to read, I open my Best of the South 2009 issue of the Oxford American. Filled with more things than I can take in. It's always been the kind of magazine I dip into and come back to, but it was hard not to read straight through this issue.

Like one of my favorite food writers, John T. Edge, on cheese. And there's even a pimento cheese recipe "inspired by Mary Hartwell Howorth." I go along with his recommendation on Duke's Mayonnaise, but not sure about the chives. Ditto for dried sage. But hey, I've got a pot of chives growing so maybe I'll throw in a few for good measure. Even without the recipe, the piece is full of goodies. Goat cheese from Elkmont, Alabama?

Then there's an ode to pecan pie. (I seem to be fixating on food this morning.) Aha! A crust made with butter, and a tip to keep it flaky. And I loved the essay by Marion Field, "Ode to the Perfect Coat." Wow.

You can read the entire piece by Thomas Swick online, right here. It's all about writing, from a former editor now turned freelancer. Here's a quote:

I've formulated what I call the three rules of freelancing: If you're friends with an editor, you'll get the assignment. If you know an editor, you'll get a response. If you don't know an editor, you're basically playing the lottery.
And this, about the perils of freelancing in the age of email:
No longer do you check the mail once a day; now you can check it once a paragraph.

From an interview with one of the current issue's contributors, George Singleton, in response to the question "What else should our readers know about you?"
His response?

"I may have the largest privately owned dog graveyard in America. There are at least twenty dogs buried behind my house."

Now there's an answer I don't believe I've ever heard from an interviewed writer before.
Guess I'll be renewing the Oxford American.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Word a Day

I wish I had more time to read my Word-a-Day emails. They often make me smile. Recently the word for the day was sanguine. Not something I often say, but I love the look and the sound of that word. Here's how AWAD defined it for their readers (color addition is mine):

sanguine (SANG-gwin) adjective 1. Cheerfully optimistic or confident. 2. Having a healthy reddish color. 3. Blood-red.[From Old French sanguin, from Latin sanguineus (bloody), from sanguis (blood).]

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus: Garg (words at

And here is a comment that came along in today's email:

"It now feels apt that a vampire in the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is named Sanguin."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Winning Isn't Everything?

I'm not so sure how I feel about books that win awards. Especially those awarded by committees that change from year to year. One year you might agree with the committee, the next you think what were they thinking? So sometimes it's hard to see that special notation on a book's cover and just know you're going to love the book. All part of Not Judging a Book By the Cover, I guess.

But this list is kind of fun to pick apart. By a formula of points, the books, published since 1995, are listed in order of which ones got awarded or nominated or shortlisted or whatever for the major book awards. Since the Pen Faulkner isn't part of the deal (it would have skewed the list toward books published in the U.S.), some of my favorites didn't make the cut. But Middlesex, Atonement, Bel Canto- all books I adored-- are close enough to the top of the list to make me what to check out some of the others.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Who is this Cintra Wilson person? Well, I know who she is. She's the Critical Shopper who writes for the New York Times Styles section. And she makes me laugh every time she critiques some snooty boutique in Brooklyn. I mean, who calls her book editor her book editrix? Cintra Wilson.

Today she's fondly describing a (probably very very expensive) blouse she owns: "I have repaired the underarms in the sweater so many times it has the love-punishment look of the blanky I slept with until age 9."

Chances are I'll never darken the door of said boutique, and I'm not even tempted by a pair of $1400 shoes that "have the tragic look of something you would find in the net of a police boat, until you look closely." But I sure do love reading about them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Yesterday was Bloomsday, the whole James Joyce thing. A few years ago, we found ourselves in Dublin on June 16th and saw all sorts of strange happenings around that date. Had no clue how big the celebrations were. Well not NYC St. Paddy's Day big, but celebratory. Bars and the like. Readings on street corners.

I've tried a few times to read Ulysses. I'm sure it was assigned in my college lit classes. And it's one of those books you think you've probably read, until you pick it up and try again. So when I read this essay by Colum McCann about trying (and succeeding- the writer was laid up in a hospital bed, for goodness sake) from yesterday's New York Times, I couldn't resist this quote:

I had brought an old copy of “Ulysses,” James Joyce’s masterpiece that takes place in the back streets of Dublin on June 16, 1904. I wanted to read it cover to cover. I have been dipping into the novel for many years, reading the accessible parts, plundering the icing on the cake, but in truth I had never read it all in one flow.

Plundering the icing on the cake- don't you just love that?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why Read?

Over at the group blog, made up of some very impressive Southern writers, today was my turn up. Our Blog Head (now that doesn't sound very literary- I'm sure there's a better term: blog administrator?) Karin suggested a theme for the month. June's theme is "What Writers Influenced You?" Meaning, what books do you love to read for writing inspiration. Or at least that's how I took the question.

Truthfully, my list would have been way too long for one blog entry. I could have included food writer Julia Reed for her Southern essays. Or John T. Edge when he writes about donuts or barbeque-- like this article in today's NYTimes. I'd have to say Nancy Drew because that's about all I read when I was a newly independent reader. But I just read an article about how many Supreme Court Justices loved Nancy Drew and I'm not sure she's a legitimate literary influence. Had I followed that path, I could have been a lawyer, or at least a sleuth. Well, I do love detective fiction: P.D. James, Elizabeth George, Lee Child, James Lee Burke. Maybe I should be writing mysteries, instead of just reviewing them.

See, I could go on and on with the books I'd love to emulate. But I didn't because I don't think anybody would have read it, tucked into that A Good Blog is Hard to Find list of fabulous blogger writers. So I limited my influences to the kids' book writers I love to read while thinking about writing fiction. Even so, I left out a bunch.

Leave me a comment- here or there: What books or writers influence your writing today? Or, hey, if you're thinking of the Supreme Court, or any other noble profession that was influenced by your reading, what did you read when you were a child?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Food, Once Again

So maybe food is sneaking its way into my brain more than usual. Could be reading about all those French restaurants, or maybe just being in New Jersey, surrounded by great food choices.
Last night we ate at our favorite Italian place with our favorite NJ dinner companions. Zucchini blossom and goat cheese appetizer, shrimp and white beans, cheese cake! Don't get me wrong, I love grouper sandwiches and real ice tea but there are a few good things, besides not pumping my own gas, that I miss when in Florida (cannoli, broccoli rabe and sausage, BYO wine, to name a few).

Then today I read this terrific review of Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest by Tami Parr. If you click on that link, you'll also be directed to her food blog.

Love this sentence, from the review:

Cheese, once you get beyond the basics of sharp, nutty, creamy, is an unusually tough food to bring to the page. Parr is one of the rare writers who have mastered the skill of translating its flavors into words.

Yes it is hard to write well about food. But what a treat to read. Think I'll check back on that cheese blog often. And can't wait to read the book. A whole book about cheese!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Rainy Day Movies?

OK, it finally stopped raining here in NJ. But during the deluge, my NJ Writers Group which has mostly turned into an online group for now, sent a few emails around about their favorite movies to rent. Or our favorite movies to rent that perhaps the rest of us had missed.

So I'm compiling our list, mostly so I won't forget it.
Additional suggestions are welcome- leave us a comment, please.

In no particular order, and without checking to be sure the titles are exact (hey, it's a blog and the sun's about to come out so I'm not sitting inside another day), here are a few of our recommendations:

The Station Master
The Lives of Others
Bottle Shock
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Dan in Real Life
Foyle's War
Saving Grace
Four Feet Two Sandals
Letters from Iwo Jima

Friday, June 5, 2009

Times Square, June 2009

We've spent almost 25 years just a short train ride away from Times Square. Naked Cowboy land and all that. You just never know what to expect and sometimes even when I'm standing right in the middle of the action, I still am not sure what's going on. I knew there were now chairs and no cars. But what was this woman doing, parading back and forth, preening for the cameras. That's a large white boom box she's carrying. Turned off.

Well, at least I knew about all the chairs. Odd little beachy chairs, but filled with onlookers who looked pretty comfy:

There's got to be a story.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Change of Plans

Yesterday I was all set to dive into my big pile of library books. Today FedEx arrived with two brand spanking new, not even hot off the press yet, books for me to review. So, I thought I'd just take a peek at one. And I haven't put it down all afternoon. Great alternating POV between the 1040s grandmother who ran off to join the WAC in WW2 and her granddaughters, modern-day teens stuck in the car with her, driving across country to a family reunion in Alabama. Tight writing, very visual. Can't wait to get back to reading.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Just Back from the Library

Is there a better place to be on a rainy afternoon? So, here's what I'm reading now. How about you?

Almost finished Kerry Madden's fantastic biography of Harper Lee. Harper Lee: Up Close is written for kids, middle grade and older, and it's the best thing I've ever read about the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

About to begin two books by Lisa Graff, The Thing About Georgie and The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower. There's a chance I'll get to the SCBWI event this July in western Maryland, and she's scheduled to speak. I need to be prepared. How have I missed Lisa Graff when everybody says she's so funny? I blogged about that conference after attending last year. One of the best of what usually are really good events for children's writers.

Also at the library, I picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog and a book my friend Julie alerted me to:
Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French. Just in case my trip to Paris pans out, I'll be prepared.

The first photo in this funny book is captioned Nude petanque, a French game that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "playing with your boules."

I'll leave that to your imagination.