Sunday, October 19, 2014

Alison McGhee Guest Post + Giveaway

Alison McGhee Guest Post + Giveaway

Alison McGhee is the October Author in the Spotlight here on Booksnob's Blog and she has written a guest post on her "Tiny House" in Vermont where she writes and uses her time to get creative.  This is really interesting to me as I have never heard of the Tiny House movement.  Super cool!

Guest Post

I'm writing this guest blog from the kitchen of a Tiny House in Vermont, where I live part-time. "Tiny House" is in caps because living in micro-houses has become something of a movement these days, wherein a conscious decision is made to (mightily) pare down one's belongings and move into a 100-500 square foot house, sometimes on wheels, sometimes not.

I'm not really a Tiny Houser, because I still have a regular-sized house in Minneapolis. But this tiny house on a hill in Vermont is one that friends and I have built over many years, little by little. The original, 200 square foot cabin (one room with a sleeping loft) was a kit I bought off eBay and lived in (no plumbing, an outhouse) until just recently, when we milled some trees from the land and doubled the size. Now there's a sink and a shower and a camping toilet, and we're done.

What does this tiny house have to do with writing? For me, a whole lot. Since I was a child, writing has been a way to translate the experience of living into art, or, if not art, something that transcends the actual experience of living.

There is so much suffering in the world. And there is also so much wonder and wildness and curiosity. When I was little I felt as if I couldn't hold all that emotion inside - I had to turn it into something outside of myself as a way of both absorbing and filtering life. I still feel that way. Maybe
most artists do, whatever the form they choose for their art.

So, back to the tiny house. A small space with fewer things means fewer hours spent cleaning and maintaining and earning the money to support that space and those things and more time to experience life and the translation of it into art. This isn't a new idea --hello, monks and nuns and zen seekers-- but in mid-life, which is where I am, there is nothing more precious than time.

My friend Julie said once that "writing is my only church." Yes.

Thanks Alison!

If you would like to win a copy of Alison McGhee's new book Star Bright, A Christmas Story, please click here:  Star Bright Giveaway



Friday, October 17, 2014

Dangerous Goods. Poems by Sean Hill

Dangerous Goods. Poems by Sean Hill

Before you even open Dangerous Goods by Sean Hill,  you know you will be embarking on a journey through the world of poetry as the cover evokes the travels you will take. You can tell by the title that some of this journey may be dangerous.  You will have to think, embrace the experience and send postcards home. You will travel to interesting places in your mind and heart when you read Dangerous Goods.

Come travel to Minnesota, Houston, Liberia, Ghana. Several of the poems within Dangerous Goods contain Postcards or snapshots of daily life in history and on slave ships enduring the Middle Passage.  Hill takes you on a meditation through history, travel, love and nature.  You must ruminate on these poems as they get into the depth of your bones and stir your heart.

Hill's poems are edgy, raw and beautiful, evoking time and place. These poems are diverse, striking a balance between Race, North and South, love and loss.  His poems are a reflection on life and how time, place and history plays a role in your life.

I'm going to include a poem postcard here for you to admire, found on pg 81.

Postcard With Blood Stain

I've been carrying around this postcard for days,
dear heart; now, I finally get to write you.
Today I admired the local architecture-

spires, arches, stained-glass windows.
Speaking of which, don't mind the stain
-paper cut from this postcard.  I know

it sounds unlikely.  Beaches here are lovely.
It was actually a machete.  Didn't need stitches,
Tried my hand at cutting open a coconut like

the natives.  Well, in fact, while touring
a plantation I helped a local woman
give birth. Didn't want to make myself

out to be a hero. I have to confess.
I lot involved with the menses
of a woman I met at this great locals' bar.

Don't know why I said that.
Was something mundane, a razor nick.
Well. actually, in a flare-up of civil unrest

a stray bullet winged me.
I'm okay; didn't want you to worry.
Take this postcard and add it to your
papier-mache'.  Or is it papier colle'?


*Disclosure:  I received this book from Milkweed editions in exchange for an honest review.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Twin Cities Book Festival 2014

Twin Cities Book Festival 2014

Saturday was the annual Book Festival here in the Twin Cities, sponsored by Rain Taxi.  Every year the event gets better and better.  This year was the best so far in the 5 years I have attended.

I arrived at the State Fairgrounds at 10:10.  I had just a little bit of time to walk around and check out the vendors before I went to see Ann Hood and Laird Hunt speak about their new books.

Laird Hunt spoke first about his novel Neverhome.  It took him 15 years to write this story about a woman who fights in the Civil War.  He was inspired by this book by Sarah Wakeman; An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, Alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864

Then Ann Hood spoke about her book, The Italian Wife and growing up in a
large Italian-American family with an outhouse in the backyard and the only coal stove in her neighborhood.  She grew up with hardly any books in the house but her family was rich with stories.  It took Ann 15 years to write her novel The Italian Wife.

Next I ran, literally hurried over to the author hub to meet Allen Eskens because I am super excited to read his new book The Life We Bury.  I signed him up to be an author "featured"on Booksnob next year!

Next I met up with my reading and bookish friend, Pamela, and she gave me two recently released books that look spectacular.  One is by Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain (my daughter's favorite book) called A Sudden Light.  It is a ghost story and I LOVE ghost stories.

The other book Pamela gave me is The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp.  This is the first I have heard of this book but it looks like it will be a fun and entertaining read.

For the next hour, I walked the floor and visited with authors and publishers and picked up a few more books.  I met Matt Rasmussen, author of an award winning book of poetry called Black Aperture and got a copy of his book to review.

I also picked up a advanced copy of Bloodrealms by Aurora Whittet and a copy of Festival of Crime, Nineteen Tales of Murder and Suspense by Twin Cities Sisters in Crime by Nodin Press.

Then I went to the Teen Tent where I heard authors Stephanie Perkins and Morgan Matson speak.  It was standing room only.  The authors were personable and talked about all kinds of teen related things.  I bought a copy of Perkins book, Anna and the French Kiss and waited in line 45 minutes for her to sign it for my daughter!  By this time my foot (formerly broken foot) was in major pain from standing too long.

I really, really, really wanted to hear Andrea Cremer and Marie Lu speak but I couldn't stand anymore.  So I missed this event in the Teen Tent but I did spend a few minutes talking with Andrea Cremer.  She's awesome.

At 2:45, I literally ran back to the author hub to meet Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky.  I quickly snapped this awesome picture of her and then I was off to sit down and listen to some more author presentations.

Stephan Eirik Clark, author of Sweetness #9, and Julie Schumacher, author of Dear Committee Members, spoke together.  They had us laughing out loud as they read parts of their books.  Both of their books are getting rave reviews.

Next up, were two graphic novelists and comic artists, Anders Nilsen and Zak Sally.  They had a great presentation on their latest project called Conversation Gardening.  Really interesting talk.  I love graphic novels and can't wait to read some of their work.

I ended my day with my friend Barbara, at 4:30 at the author hub, talking to Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon.

Phew!  Busy, Wonderful, Fun, Amazing day talking to awesome authors!
Thanks Rain Taxi!


Friday, October 10, 2014

Star Bright Giveaway

Star Bright Giveaway

Alison McGhee is the Minnesota Author in the Spotlight here on BookSnob in the month of October and she is giving away 2 copies of her new Children's Book Star Bright, A Christmas Story to followers who live in the United States.  Star Bright will be a wonderful edition to your Holiday book collection and would make a lovely gift for the child in your life.

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

This perfectly angelic and perfectly charming Christmas story offers a creative twist on the classic tale of the nativity, from the #1 New York Times bestselling creators of Someday.

The angels are aflutter: a baby is soon to be born! One small angel can tell this baby is especially special by the way the other angels are dashing and fussing about. And holy moly, are their presents extraordinary. The little angel wants to give a present too, but, what could she possibly offer that is as worthy as the others gifts?

At a loss for original ideas, she peeks over the side of her platform and spies something going on in the desert, a caravan of kings on camels, lost in the dark. And suddenly she knows she most do something, and does the only thing she can. Because the greatest gift of all? It can't be wrapped. It can't be bought. It can only be selflessly, joyfully given. And it ends up being the perfect gift for that little baby, the shiniest gift at all.

Contest Rules:
Fill out the form
U.S. residents only
Ends Oct 31st at midnight
Good Luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway


The Cartographer of No Man's Land Giveaway Winners!

The Cartographer of No Man's Land Giveaway Winners!

P.S. Duffy was the September Author in the Spotlight here on BookSnob and she, along with her publisher W.W. Norton, are giving away 3 copies to readers who live in the United States.

The Cartographer of No Man's Land has been selected as one of 6 finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction.

And the winners are.........

Michele L
Esperanza from Michigan
Anne B. from New Mexico

Sorry if you didn't win.  You can find copies of the book at bookstores.

Here is a excerpt of my book review:
2014 marks the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War 1 and I am trying to read and learn as much about World War 1 as I can.  I'm so glad I found P.S. Duffy's novel as she has created a memorable story, with a cast of creative characters that will linger in my mind for a long time.
The Cartographer of No Man's Land is a novel about WWI but it also a novel of peace and the anti-war movement.  It is full of love, longing and loss and it is sure to touch your heart as it did mine.  It is a beautiful, powerful story.



Monday, October 6, 2014

September Author in the September Wrap-Up + Giveaway

September Author in the September Wrap-Up + Giveaway.

September was a very slow reading month for me.  I went from reading a book a day in the summer to only finishing 4 books in September. Life is busy when your a teacher and a mom to two teenagers.  What can I say?  The month passed in a blur of craziness.  My kids are in 8th grade and 10th grade now.  I took off my cast and am finally walking on two feet but am still in pain and undergoing physical therapy for my left foot. Recovery is so slow.

Join me as I say goodbye to Minnesota author, P.S. Duffy.  The best book I read in September was The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy, September's Author in the Spotlight.  Lucky for you, P.S. Duffy is giving away 3 copies of her book to U.S. followers.  Go enter quick, it ends today at midnight.

The Cartographer of No Man's Land Giveaway

Read my book review of this thoughtful, wonderful novel about World War I.  Told in alternating chapters, The Cartographer of No Man's Land captures the voices of Angus and Simon Peter, as father and son, an ocean apart.  The novel also captures the emotional intensity of war and the horror that surrounds it as well as the emotional divide it creates in the people who fight and their loved ones back home.


Check out the author interview with P.S. Duffy.  I decided to ask her some questions about her book, her writing life and the books she loves and recommends.  Read on to learn more about P.S. Duffy and her novel,  The Cartographer of No Man's Land.


Check out the guest post written by P.S. Duffy.  She has written a wonderful guest post on the power of story and the connections between readers and writers. Knowledge is power.
Read on.


I've really enjoyed featuring P.S. Duffy and her awesome book on BookSnob.  I'm count myself as lucky to have found this Minnesota author and her book while surfing the net.  I sincerely hope we have the chance to meet in person one day.  P.S. Duffy is a gifted writer and a wonderful, generous person.  I hope you will all check out her website and read her book.  http://www.psduffy.com/







Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy

The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy

1917.  World War 1 is being fought in the trenches of France and Belgium.  An ocean away in Nova Scotia, Angus McGrath is a sailor whose livelihood is changing, he is adrift and caught in a family divided.  His wife is distant, his father a domineering pacifist and his son, Simon Peter is growing up in the turbulent, anti-German world of World War One.  Ebbin, his best friend and brother in law, is counted among the many missing soldiers in the war and Angus decides to join the war as a Cartographer to look for him.

When he gets to England, he finds too many Cartographers and instead is sent to the front line trenches in France as a soldier.  He leads his men in the battle for Vimy Ridge all the while trying to make sense out of what he learns happens to Ebbin.  Meanwhile at home, the village is quickly changing and Simon Peter is growing up and trying to make sense out of a world that has been demoralized.

Told in alternating chapters, The Cartographer of No Man's Land captures the voices of Angus and Simon Peter, as father and son, an ocean apart.  The novel also captures the emotional intensity of war and the horror that surrounds it as well as the emotional divide it creates in the people who fight and their loved ones back home.

The history of Vimy Ridge and the Canadian soldiers who fought valiantly to win the small piece of land from the Germans is told insightfully.  I learned so much about this battle which is so important to the Canadians.  Duffy says in her author note that "Vimy Ridge is as iconic to Canadians as Gettysburg is to Americans." Pg 369.  There were regiments of soldiers who wore kilts into battle.  I had no idea until now.  I love it when a story teaches me about history and helps me make connections to the world we live in.

2014 marks the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War 1 and I am trying to read and learn as much about World War 1 as I can.  I'm so glad I found P.S. Duffy's novel as she has created a memorable story, with a cast of creative characters that will linger in my mind for a long time.

The Cartographer of No Man's Land is a novel about WWI but it also a novel of peace and the anti-war movement.  It is full of love, longing and loss and it is sure to touch your heart as it did mine.  It is a beautiful, powerful story.

The Cartographer of No Man's Land has been selected as one of 6 finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction.

Here are links for the prize and book finalists.
http://daytonliterarypeaceprize.org/

http://daytonliterarypeaceprize.org/2014-finalists-press_release.htm

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Announcing October's Author in the Spotlight

Announcing October's Minnesota Author in the Spotlight.

It is a cold, rainy Fall day here in Minnesota and all I want to do is wear a warm sweater and snuggle under blankets with a good book.  Alas this is hard to do with my teaching load this semester. I am so busy.  I still manage to sneak in a few books here and there but my reading has really dropped off as I read student papers, and educate myself on my subject matter.

I'm excited about this month's author.  Alison McGhee, is a former teacher and a prolific and varied author. She writes for children, teens and adults and has written 20 books.  Alison's newest book is for children and is called Star Bright, a Christmas Story.

I'm going to pick a few books of Alison's to highlight and I encourage you to go to her website http://www.alisonmcghee.com/ and Goodreads to check out the others.

Here are the synopsis from Goodreads:

Star Bright. A Christmas Story
This perfectly angelic and perfectly charming Christmas story offers a creative twist on the classic tale of the nativity, from the #1 New York Times bestselling creators of Someday.

The angels are aflutter: a baby is soon to be born! One small angel can tell this baby is especially special by the way the other angels are dashing and fussing about. And holy moly, are their presents extraordinary. The little angel wants to give a present too, but, what could she possibly offer that is as worthy as the others gifts?

At a loss for original ideas, she peeks over the side of her platform and spies something going on in the desert, a caravan of kings on camels, lost in the dark. And suddenly she knows she most do something, and does the only thing she can. Because the greatest gift of all? It can't be wrapped. It can't be bought. It can only be selflessly, joyfully given. And it ends up being the perfect gift for that little baby, the shiniest gift at all.

Shadow Baby

Eleven-year-old Clara is struggling to find the truth about her missing father and grandfather and her dead twin sister, but her mother refuses to talk. When Clara begins interviewing Georg Kominsky--her elderly neighbor--she finds that he is equally reticent about his own concealed history. Precocious and imaginative, Clara invents versions of Mr. Kominsky’s past, just as she invents lives for the people missing from her own shadowy history. Her journey of discovery is at the heart of this beautiful story about unlikely friendship and communion, about discovering what matters most in life, and about the search to find the missing pieces of ourselves.


Snap

"Children will come away thinking they have heard something quite profound about love, fear, and hope for the future."
- Booklist (starred review)

Eddie Beckey makes lists for just about everything and everyone in her life. And for matters of real importance, she wears (and snaps) an array of colored rubber bands on her wrist. Unfortunately, the world is not always so orderly and knowable. No list can help her cope with what's happening to her best friend, Sally - or change the course of things for Sally's grandmother, whom Eddie has grown to love and depend on as well. With subtlety and insight, novelist Alison McGhee tells the story of a young girl's first encounter with grief, and of the enduring power of friendship.


This month you can expect a book review (hopefully two), a giveaway, an author interview and possibly a guest post.

Come back often and enjoy the frightful month of October.
Happy Reading!




Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Brief Moment of Weightlessness by Victoria Fish

A Brief Moment of Weightlessness by Victoria Fish

In this slim volume of 11 short stories, Victoria Fish leaves a big impression on the reader.  I want to briefly highlight four of her unique stories.

Where Do You Find a Turtle with no Legs?
Love this title for a story.  This story is told from 4th grade, Maddie's point of view.  It is about a family missing their dad and their visit to prison and how Maddie feels sick about the whole situation.

A Brief Moment of Weightlessness.
The title story.  This story is about a family and their visit to the cabin on the coast.  One of the daughters, Rosemary is only there because she is forced to go and so she is pushing the limits and wants everyone to be miserable.  The other daughter, Frances, is enthusiastic and is going to learn to row the boat this summer.  This is a well-written, truly lovely story about family.

The Sari.
Sarah is an American college student, studying in India and she is working on an Independent project.  She dresses like a male peasant for good reason.  This is a great story about the exchange of culture and ideas and of course, a sari.  Loved it.

Green Line
A former soldier in the Iraqi war is trying to put his life back together.  Except his life has changed so much, he doesn't recognize it and he keeps having flashbacks.  This story really made me think about how damaging war is to families.  Poignant.

I like to read a short story every Saturday.  Short stories make my day and this collection by Victoria Fish is a nice edition to my Saturday tradition.  Looking forward to reading more of her work.

Disclaimer: I Received this book from TLC book tours in exchange for an honest review.


Monday, September 29, 2014

P.S. Duffy Author Interview + Giveaway

P.S. Duffy Author Interview + Giveaway

P.S. Duffy is the September Author in the Spotlight here on Booksnob's blog and I decided to ask her some questions about her book, her writing life and the books she loves and recommends.  Read on to learn more about P.S. Duffy and her novel,  The Cartographer of No Man's Land.

Hi Penny,

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I came to Minnesota from Washington, DC almost 30 years ago to get my doctorate at the University of Minnesota and never left this land of lakes and dreams. I love the open skies, The distant horizons, and the people, and think our grandchildren are lucky to be growing up here in Rochester. I’ve been writing all my life and now write for Mayo Clinic. I’m the author of essays, scientific papers, a text book on right hemisphere brain damage, and a memoir, called A Stockbridge Homecoming, about my family’s time during the Communist Revolution in China, where I was born in the late 1940s. People find it odd that my writing crosses from the neurosciences to fiction, but both science and fiction require imagination, precision of language, and a leap of faith from idea to execution. I was a dreamer as a child and I still am.

2. What inspired you to write The Cartographer of No Man’s Land?
I always knew I’d one day set a book in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, where my family had a summer house. When I first saw the bay at age ten, I was struck by an overwhelming sense that I’d been there before. It was that familiar to me. Back then I played pirates and wrote pirate stories set among the islands. When I started this book, a vision of a father and son came to me—a very vivid scene.  The rest of the characters filled without effort, and I knew I had entered a world unknown to me before … and yet somehow familiar.  Imagining that world, those relationships was easy; getting it right on the page took numerous revisions before I could bear to let it go out into the real world.  

3. How long did it take you to conduct the research for this book of historical fiction?  And why did you choose the period of World War I?
The research took four or five years during which time I continued to write and revise. I researched both the First World War and life in Nova Scotia circa 1917. Initially I set the story right after the war, but as I did the research, the war kind of snuck up on me, and soon I began to see my characters in it, particularly after visiting the battlefield cemeteries in France, which brought me to my knees—a humbling, deeply emotional experience.

4. Usually an author puts some of her own life experiences in the book.  Did you do that?  Do you have anything in common with your characters?
The boat Simon Peter designs is modeled after a little wooden sailboat I used to own; his mucking about in boats and certain scenes, like watching twin dolphin cross the bow of a becalmed boat, are things I experienced around his age.  My grandfather, Simon Peter, a man whom I never met, was from Nova Scotia and was reportedly a good but most often a very bad man. I now think I was subconsciously trying to rehabilitate him by naming this golden boy of a character Simon Peter. My father was an Episcopalian minister, so the thread of Angus’s experience in the seminary and the pacifism of his father, Duncan, are familiar to me. My mother was definitely not a pacifist and is the model for Ida, the down-to-earth housekeeper. There’s a bit of her in Duncan as well. And there’s a bit of me in many of the characters—I ’d like to think especially in Angus, the reluctant soldier, but I
can only strive for his humility and grace.


5. The Cartographer of No Man’s Land is your first novel.  Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?
I began writing around age eight with a few tragic stories, silly and sad poems, and a novel, handwritten into a speckle-covered copy book. It was about the impossible friendship between a rich boy and a poor boy, which, for some reason, I set in Greece, a country I knew absolutely nothing about.  In my family, my sister Patty played the piano; my sister Polly painted, and I, Penny, took pen in hand. Writing fed my soul then and does now, but aside from the masterpiece  I wrote at eight, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land was the first piece of fiction I wrote with publication in mind. Within two years of writing it, it was in print. Sometimes the stars align, the timing is right, and you can’t believe your good fortune.

6. Are you currently working on a new novel and will you share part of the plot with us?
I am! But I don’t want to share any more than to say that you’d recognize some of the characters.

7. Do you like to read?  What authors or books influence you?
Yes! Love to read. At odds with this fast-paced world, I’m a fan of the long form essay, especially in areas I know little about. I also love fiction. For their vivid imagery and rhythm of language my early influences were G.M. Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence and the earliest--Thomas Wolf’s Look Homeward Angel.  My current favorites are  Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach and Atonement for plot, setting, character development;  Colm Toibin’s The Master for the richness of his prose and fullness of the narrator’s voice;  and strangely, Paul Harding’s Tinkers, a wild, stream-of-consciousness, nearly hallucinogenic book that took my breath away—a book you either love or hate. I’d add Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, and must say that though I rarely read mystery,  Gone Girl had me turning pages with increasing speed until I reached the end. Right now I’m reading John Williams’ Stoner and Kate Adkinson’s Life after Life—enjoying them both.

8. Name one book that you believe is a must read and tell us why?
To me, To Kill A Mockingbird is pitch-perfect in every way.

9. What is the most important lesson/idea you want readers to take away from your book, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land?
That our saving grace, our best hope in times of upheaval is found in the small, quiet acts of humanity that bind us to one another.

10. Tell us in one sentence why we should read The Cartographer of No Man’s Land
Many readers have told me that the world of Cartographer stays with them long after they have finished the book and becomes like a memory of their own making.

Thanks Penny!

If you like to win a copy of P.S. Duffy's book, The Cartographer of No Man's Land, enter here:  The Cartographer of No Man's Land Giveaway