Monday, January 31, 2011

Mailbox Monday -- January 31st

The reason why I love Mondays -- Mailbox Monday hosted this month by Rose City Reader. Below are the review copies I received this week:

1) Friendship Bread by Darien Gee. Publisher's Summary. For fans of Kristin Hannah and Kate Jacobs, Darien Gee’s deeply felt and utterly charming novel follows two estranged sisters, three newfound friends, and—ultimately—a whole town brought together by a simple loaf of Amish Friendship Bread.

In Avalon, Illinois, a woman and her young daughter return home to find a plate of Amish Friendship Bread along with a bag of starter on their doorstep. There’s no note, just a yellow sticky with the words, “I hope you enjoy it.” The instructions tell them to feed the starter over a ten-day period, then bake two loaves and share the remaining starter with three other people.

At the insistence of her five-year old daughter, Julia Evarts reluctantly follows the instructions. Soon, the bread and its starter are making their way through the town of Avalon, touching the lives of its residents in ways both comical and unexpected. Julia befriends Madeline Davis, 74, owner and proprietor of Madeline’s Tea Salon and Antiques who harbors a secret of her own, and Hannah de Brisay, 28, a concert cellist who relocates to Avalon after the premature end of her career and marriage.

Julia’s sister, Livvy, is struggling with her own loneliness as she and her husband, Tom, try for a child of their own. Julia’s husband, Mark, is tired of the sadness that seems to have taken over their lives for the past five years. As the town of Avalon becomes overrun with the Amish Friendship Bread starter, a kernel of a story presents itself and activist and reporter Edie is quick to jump on it, even if it means pointing a finger at Julia as the instigator and dividing the small community that they live in.

When a neighboring town is devastated by high floods, Julia and her friends supply loaves of the bread to the residents and volunteers. As word spreads, so does help. Soon the entire town of Avalon is doing their part to aid their neighbors in need as they put their differences aside. Friendship Bread is a captivating, engaging novel about life and loss, friendship and community, and what endures even when the unthinkable happens

Thanks to Random House!

2) Minding Ben by Victoria Brown.  Publisher's SummaryMinding Ben invites readers into the private world of one of the anonymous West Indian babysitters who have peopled the lives of so many young urban families for decades. Grace left Trinidad for New York with hopes for a better life and education. As she struggles to adjust to her new life—and to determine just what shape her American Dream will take—Grace finds work as a nanny for the unconscionable Bruckners, a job that pays meager wages for its demanding and humiliating responsibilities.

At the mercy of her employers, and unprepared for the playground politics within the West Indian babysitting community, Grace nevertheless carries the day as she navigates the complicated world of America with strength and perseverance. Minding Ben offers a rarely seen account of the immigrant experience in this strong, compassionate, and insightful narrative.

Thanks to Hyperion Books!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Salon -- January 30th

Good morning my fellow Bloggers! Remember that snow that I bragged about missing last week?  Well, it arrived in a big way here in the DC-Baltimore area on Wednesday night --  all 9 inches or so (and with drifting there was way more to shovel).  And to add to the fun, I was without power for 15 hours.  So besides shoveling there wasn't a lot to do except try and stay warm.  Luckily, reading is the perfect activity when one is huddled under the covers trying to retain heat (also snuggling a nice big Labrador Retriever helps too).  This is how I was able to consume a book in a single day which is unusual for me. 

Apart from my snow adventures, the week passed rather uneventfully save for enjoying a fabulous meal at the Melting Pot and attending the annual World of Pets Expo.  Dinner at the Melting Pot, a fondue chain, is always a highlight for me, but as it is a bit pricey I only go on special occasions.  This week the occasion was Valentine's Day (yes I know only about three weeks early, but given that it was participating in the local Restaurant Week that was close enough).  If you've never been and have a Melting Pot in the area, I highly recommend it.  You won't be sorry, but you will need plenty of credit left on your plastic.  As for the World of Pets Expo this is an annual outing that my dogs enjoy and a great place to see what is new in the pet world.  I wound up ordering two adorable dog coats that I can't wait for my girls to model when they are finished.  

Reading  Update:  This week I finished Broken Birds by Jeanette Katzir (review posted) as well as Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi (this is the book I read on my snowday).  Currently, I have started reading Goodnight Tweetheart, and am continuing with War and Peace for my book challenge and listening to Life by Keith Richards.

Have a great reading week!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Broken Birds

Publisher's Summary. Broken Birds is the nitty gritty, raw truth story of a twelve-year-old girl (My mom), who outwits, outruns and outlasts the strongest army of the time: the Nazi war machine. Fate brings her to New York City, where opposites attract when a very war torn and pessimistic Channa finds true love in Nathan, a tall dark and very optimistic man who also survived the war. (And that’s only the first 70 pages).

Their dance is set.

They re-create a family, but Channa’s emotional foundation causes her to pass along wartime fears and trepidations to their five children and forces Nathan to constantly prove his allegiance to her. This fertile ground was ideal for perfecting submergence of feelings, hurts and a distorted view of love and family loyalties.

When Mom unexpectedly dies her children must finally confront reality . . . and the bad blood begins. When the battle finally ends and the smoke clears we are all too aware of the illusion we all seemed to share.

Broken Birds, illuminates the positives and the negatives that occur in life, love and family. The trials and tribulations of Channa and her family touch the reader and cause them to ponder their own family patterns, evaluation, dynamics and weaknesses. Is then up them to try to affect a change, while they still are able.

Review. Officially, the Holocaust ended in 1945 with Germany’s surrender and Hitler’s suicide. Unofficially, however, the aftermath of mankind’s darkest hours continues, over a half a century later, in the lives of millions of survivors and their families. Broken Birds by Jeannette Katzir, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, is a personal account of a modern-day American family that has been ripped apart by the Holocaust’s lingering effects.

Channa and Nathan Poltzer (Katzir’s parents) were Eastern European, Jewish, children when Hitler’s march across the European continent began. By the war’s end, both had survived (barely): Channa by living in the woods as a Partisan (Jewish resistant fighter) and Nathan by working in Dachau (a concentration camp). Their personal victory was bittersweet as both had lost nearly all of their family members.

By the time Channa and Nathan meet and marry in their new U.S. home, they are “broken birds.” In fact, brokenness” is the legacy they leave to their five children. As Katzir poignantly observes, “Mom and Dad had lost their parents in those formative years. Their only proxy, The War, never taught them how to balance money, family, loyalty, love and hate. Lacking those basic ideals, they raised us [Katzir and her siblings] to view these same issues through untrusting eyes.” Although the Poltzer family experiences interpersonal issues for years (e.g. Channa continually fears Nathan will abandon her and the siblings fight amongst themselves) the family drama comes to crescendo after Katzir’s mother unexpectedly dies. Sadly, Channa’s will sows the seeds of a lasting family feud when she leaves the bulk of her substantial estate to Steven (Katzir’s brother). And even more unfortunately, Steven decides to take the inheritance and run. This leads the remaining siblings into a bitter court battle. Ultimately, because this is a true story there are no happy resolutions -- only a powerful and profoundly sad tale.

Broken Birds is a compelling memoir that I had trouble putting down. From an outsider’s perspective, before reading Katzir’s memoir, I would have considered Channa and Nathan to have triumphed over their horrific pasts. And while they did (at least in part) the psychic scars remained. Additionally, I was enthralled by Katzir’s recounting of the Holocaust “remembrance” journey she took with her father and a few of her siblings. In fact, I wanted to read more about Nathan’s experiences revisiting symbolic places in his Holocaust past, because these are the stories that must never be forgotten!

Broken Birds is not an “enjoyable” read, but it is a “must” read!

Review copy provided courtesy of the author.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Raising the Dead

Publisher's Summary. On October 20, 2006, a middle-aged auto mechanic, Jeff Markin, walked into the emergency room at the Palm Beach Gardens Hospital and collapsed from a massive heart attack. Forty minutes later he was declared dead. After filling out his final report, the supervising cardiologist, Dr. Chauncey Crandall, started out of the room. "Before I crossed its threshold, however, I sensed God was telling me to turn around and pray for the patient," Crandall explained. With that prayer and Dr. Crandall's instruction to give the man what seemed one more useless shock from the defibrillator, Jeff Markin came back to life--and remains alive and well today.

But how did a Yale-educated cardiologist whose Palm Beach practice includes some of the most powerful people in American society, including several billionaires, come to believe in supernatural healing?The answers to these questions compose a story and a spiritual journey that transformed Chauncey Crandall.

Review. According to author-cardiologist, Dr. Chauncey Crandall, IV, in Raising the Dead, on October 20, 2006, he successfully revived a deceased cardiac arrest patient; the patient had been declared dead after 40 minutes of unsuccessful efforts by emergency medical personnel. Shortly after 8:05 a.m, when the Code ended and the patient declared dead, Crandall drafted and completed the patient’s “final assessment.” Before exiting the room Crandall strongly sensed that God wanted him to pray for the patient. A somewhat embarrassed Crandall uttered a prayer and then ordered the ER doctor to “shock this man one more time.” Reluctantly, the ER physician complied with the request. And then a miracle occurred. The patient’s heart restarted with a near perfect heartbeat of seventy five per minute. According to Crandall, the patient went on to make a full recovery! Amazing!

As incredible as the above true story is most of the memoir concerns Crandall’s conversion and immersion into evangelical Christianity. As the publisher’s blurb notes:

As dramatic as this story is [the narrative above] Raising the Dead is far more than a collection of miracle stories. It is the riveting account of how a Yale-educated cardiologist . . . came to believe in supernatural healing. And how he faced painful struggles against disease in his own life and most dramatically within his own family.

This is an accurate characterization as very little of the book is about the about the cardiac patient’s revival. Rather it is primarily about the Crandall family’s struggle with their son’s leukemia diagnosis. The Crandalls decide to treat their son with both conventional medicine and evangelical healing. The memoir also extensively details Crandall’s religious beliefs. For example, at one point Crandall throws away a fertility statute because he believes that the pagan symbol is responsible for his wife’s then-infertility. While I do not doubt the sincerity of Crandall’s beliefs, I misunderstood the book’s topic (believing it to be primarily about the medical revival not evangelical Christianity).

I would recommend Raising the Dead primarily for readers who wish to read an evangelical Christian memoir.

Publisher: FaithWords; 1st edition (September 16, 2010), 224 pages.
Advance review copy provided courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The 1% Solution

Publisher's Summary. Did you know that the difference between the top Olympic medal winning athletes and those not receiving a medal averages just 1%? Chances are you and I won’t be competing in the Olympics, but we can learn from this fact. In The 1% Solution for Work and Life author Tom Connellan maps out the way. He has discovered three things that are the foundation behind that 1% difference and in The 1% Solution he provides actionable ideas to help readers achieve comparable performance results.

Review. Twelve minutes is what it takes for me to arrive at the parking lot to catch my commuter bus. Twelve minutes that is if there is no traffic, red lights, roadwork, or icy roads. Unfortunately, impediments to my timely arrival occur with alarming regularity. Many times I arrive just in time to witness my bus’s departure. When this happens I’ve often mused if only I had just left the house just a minute earlier. In other words, if I had been one percent more efficient with my morning routine I would have been luxuriating in a toasty, warm, bus rather than stomping my feet in the predawn freeze trying to avert frostbitten toes while awaiting the next bus.

In the 1% Solution, author Tom Connellan reports that being one percent better is often the difference between being average and exceptional. For instance, in the Olympics the difference between winning the gold medal and no medal (fourth place) generally breaks down to being just one percent faster. Granted Olympic athletes are a superior lot compared to the overall population, but within this elite group one percent is all that separates the very good from the great!

After revealing the one percent difference, the book details a blue print of how to be one percent better in virtually any area in life – professionally and personally. The 1% Solution is written in a story-like format following the fictional character Ken’s transformation into being one percent better. In each chapter Ken learns an important lesson, such as, action leads to motivation (think of the Nike commercial “just do it”). By the end of the book, both Ken and the reader have discovered the tools to performing just a little better.

The 1% Solution is a concise, informative, and readable self-help book. And as for me, after following a few of Connellan’s suggestions, these days I am riding the bus instead of watching it. Thanks Tom!

If you would like to win a copy of the 1% Solution, be sure to get your entry in here.

Publisher: Peak Performance Press (December 16, 2010), 138 pages.
Review copy provided courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mailbox Monday -- January 24th

The reason why I love Mondays -- Mailbox Monday hosted this month by Rose City Reader. Below are the review copies I received this week:

1) Goodnight Tweetheart by Teresa Medeiros. Publisher's Summary. Abigail Donovan has a lot of stuff she should be doing. Namely writing her next novel. A bestselling author who is still recovering from a near Pulitzer Prize win and the heady success that follows Oprah's stamp of approval, she is stuck at Chapter Five and losing confidence daily. But when her publicist signs her up for a Twitter account, she's intrigued. What's all the fuss?

Taken under the wing of one of her Twitter followers, "MarkBaynard"—a quick witted, quick-typing professor on sabbatical—Abby finds it easy to put words out into the world 140 characters at a time. And once she gets a handle on tweets, retweets, direct messages, hashtags, and trends, she starts to feel unblocked in writing and in life. After all, why should she be spending hours in her apartment staring at her TweetDeck and fretting about her stalled career when Mark is out there traveling the world and living?

Or is he?

Told almost entirely in tweets and DMs, Goodnight Tweetheart is a truly modern take on a classic tale of love and loss—a Griffin and Sabine for the Twitter generation.

2) The Radleys by Matt Haig. Publisher's Summary. Just about everyone knows a family like the Radleys. Many of us grew up next door to one. They are a modern family, averagely content, averagely dysfunctional, living in a staid and quiet suburban English town. Peter is an overworked doctor whose wife, Helen, has become increasingly remote and uncommunicative. Rowan, their teenage son, is being bullied at school, and their anemic daughter, Clara, has recently become a vegan. They are typical, that is, save for one devastating exception: Peter and Helen are vampires and have—for seventeen years—been abstaining by choice from a life of chasing blood in the hope that their children could live normal lives.

One night, Clara finds herself driven to commit a shocking—and disturbingly satisfying—act of violence, and her parents are forced to explain their history of shadows and lies. A police investigation is launched that uncovers a richness of vampire history heretofore unknown to the general public. And when the malevolent and alluring Uncle Will, a practicing vampire, arrives to throw the police off Clara's trail, he winds up throwing the whole house into temptation and turmoil and unleashing a host of dark secrets that threaten the Radleys' marriage.

The Radleys is a moving, thrilling, and radiant domestic novel that explores with daring the lengths a parent will go to protect a child, what it costs you to deny your identity, the undeniable appeal of sin, and the everlasting, iridescent bonds of family love. Read it and ask what we grow into when we grow up, and what we gain—and lose—when we deny our appetites.

Both books thanks to Simon and Schuster!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Salon

Good morning/Good Afternoon to my fellow Book Bloggers! This is my first Sunday Salon (and I’m getting a late start I know), but I’ve enjoyed this meme and wanted to participate.

Here in the DC-Baltimore area, this week was the week of near misses: snowstorms that were predicted to hit us, but fortunately passed us (although we did get some very nasty ice on Tuesday). For those who are buried under in snow you have my sympathies. Last year, was our Snowmageddon. Still the weather is quite cold (at least for those without fur coats – my two Labrador Retrievers thoroughly enjoyed prancing about in the snow on their morning walk) and so I have mainly stayed inside.

Yesterday, I did venture out briefly to see the new romcom No Strings Attached, starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. For the most part, I enjoyed it and will post a review later in the week. (And yes, I am still trying to see The Kings Speech, but at the rate I’m going I will probably have to go alone or wait for the DVD).

Books I’m Reading: Currently, I am in the midst of three books: Broken Birds by Jeanette Katzir; Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace for my book challenge; and Life by Keith Richards on audiobook

Have a great reading week everyone!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Little Fockers

Recently, a dear friend and I were trying to decide on a movie to see. I suggested The King’s Speech as I’ve heard glowing raves from everyone who’s seen it, but dear friend wanted to see something a little lighter. We settled on Little Fockers.

Little Fockers is the latest installment in the Ben Stiller – Robert De Niro comedy franchise. In the series, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) plays the hapless son-in-law, to Robert De Niro’s Jack Brynes, aka the “father-in-law” from hell. In Little Fockers, after suffering a mild heart attack, Byrnes, the controlling patriarch extraordinaire, asks Greg to be the “God-focker” (leader) of the Brynes-Focker clan. Being the “God-focker” entails Greg doing his best imitation of his crazy father-in-law. However, Greg is still a Focker and all of his attempts to lead the family ala Jack Brynes are, of course, utter failures.

The plot is totally predictable, especially if one is familiar with the previous installments. Originality, however, is not what has powered this franchise. Rather it is grounded in the hilarious over-the-top conflict between Stiller and De Niro. And they don’t disappoint! The laughs were frequent and often. Also on hand to add to the laughs were: Owen Wilson (as Pam Brynes Fockers’ still smitten ex-boyfriend); Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman (as Greg Fockers’ eccentric hippie parents) and Jessica Alba (as a romantic temptation for Greg).

Little Fockers served as a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Notable Books in 2010

Although we are three weeks into the New Year (sorry life and work got in the way) here is my list of notable books (for one reason or another) for 2010.

1) The book I didn't expect to like, but did: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer. One of my favorite things about book reviewing is the opportunity to read outside my normal genres. And while vampires are not usually my reading fare, when I was offered this mash-up I jumped at the chance because I love reading about Abraham Lincoln. I'm glad I did!

2) The book I most wanted to talk to someone about after I read it: Letter to My Daughter. Do not be deceived by the size of this novella. It might be slender, but each page carried me to the next page until the story's conclusion. By the end of the novella I couldn't stop thinking about what I had just read. Truly an emotional read!

3) The book every woman should read: When Everything Changed. They say that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. As a woman I don't want to forget how far we have come and how much my mother, grandmothers, and great grandmothers had to endure for me to be able to live the life I do.

4) The best "travel is hell, but I'm glad I did it anyway" travel book: Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. On a post-college trip to China, author Susan Jane Gilman nearly dies and her friend/traveling companion suffers a mental breakdown. I shed many tears while reading Gilman's book, but the tears were from laughing so hard that I couldn't contain myself. I highly recommend this memoir!

5) The book I would give to anyone feeling overwhelmed and needing emotional support. The Pocket Therapist. Written by a woman who has struggled with mental illness for most of her life, but who is also loving wife, mother and successful author. Each page provides practical advice for how to live between therapy appointments.

6) The best book about dogs that I read in 2010. Dogtown As a dog owner/lover, I enjoy reading about dogs -- a lot -- so this was a tough call for me, but the stories in Dogtown make me want to sell all my possessions and move to the preserve to volunteer for this incredible organization.

7) The cookbook that non-cooks will love: The I Hate to Cook Book. You don't have to cook a single recipe from Peg Bracken's cookbook to enjoy her writing. In my opinion, Bracken was a humorist in the tradition of Will Rogers -- humor for the everyday, harried homemaker. Fifty years later the jokes still reach the punchline.

8) The story I wouldn't believe if it weren't a memoir: The Eleventh Hour Can't Last Forever. Author Alison Johnson's father was a modern day King Midas who hoarded silver and gold coins -- in coffee cans, in books, in the attic, buried in the back yard and nearly everywhere else -- amazing!

9) The book that yielded my favorite line in 2010: Men and Dogs. "Why are dog years out of sync with human years?" Amen!

10) The "you worked where memoir?" Running the Books Avi Steinberg dishes on working as a prison libriarian. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The 1% Giveaway (ends 1/25)

Publisher's Summary. Did you know that the difference between the top Olympic medal winning athletes and those not receiving a medal averages just 1%? Chances are you and I won’t be competing in the Olympics, but we can learn from this fact. In The 1% Solution for Work and Life author Tom Connellan maps out the way. He has discovered three things that are the foundation behind that 1% difference and in The 1% Solution he provides actionable ideas to help readers achieve comparable performance results.

Giveaway Rules Today I pleased to be able to offer one lucky reader a copy of this informative book.

Metroreader Google followers only.
Canadian and US residents only.

Entry: Comment with your email address in the body of the comment (you can list it as mary123 (at) yahoo(dot)com). If you do not list your email address your entry will not count.

Extra Entries: Sign up to follow my blog (or let me know that you are a current follower); follow me on twitter (DCMetroreader) and on Facebook (Metroreader). NOTE: These extra entries MUST be left in a separate comment or will not count.

Giveaway ends 1/25. Good Luck!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mailbox Monday -- January 17th

The reason why I love Mondays -- Mailbox Monday hosted this month by Rose City Reader. Below are the review copies I received this week:

1) More Make it Fast Cook It Slow by Stephanie O'Dea. Publisher's Summary. The New York Times bestselling author of slow-cooker cookbook Make It Fast, Cook It Slow returns with budget (and gluten-free!) meals that will satisfy the entire family. Stephanie O’Dea’s 200 delicious recipes include

• Baked Herbed Feta
• Smoky Bean and Corn Soup
• Maple-Glazed Pork Chops
• Moroccan Chicken with Lentils
• Apple-Pecan Bread Pudding
• Orange and Honey Tilapia
• Chocolate Pot de Crème with Ganache

—and many more. More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow is the perfect cookbook for easy-to-prepare meals that don’t take a toll on the family budget.

Thanks to the publicist!

2) In Different Worlds by Dakwart Koehler. Author's Summary. This book takes the reader from my early childhood in the late 1920's to my experiences in the Hitler Youth. It describes how and why the vast majority of the German population followed Hitler and later became drawn into the horrors of World War II. After some pre-military war services, I was drafted into the army. Days before the end of the war, I surrendered to the American troups which, after three months, transferred me, with nearly a million of other German prisoners, to the French military authorities. After three and a half year of captivity, I finally returned home and began what I call my second life.

Despite some original doubts of being able to go to college, primarily as a result of our famly's post-war financial situation, I enrolled at the Stuttgart Institute of Technology, completing my studies, eight years later, with a PhD in electronics. During the later years of my studies, I won a scholarship for one year as an exchange student at Georgia Tech, to where I returned 6 years later with my newly wed wife to teach for a year as an assistant professor.

Even though I could have stayed at Georgia Tech, I planned to engage in a brief employment period at the famous Bell laboratories before returning to Germany. But I found that there was no place like Bell Laboratories in the world in my field and so the brief visit turned into a career. At the Murray Hill laboratory and later in Holmdel, New Jersey, I participated primarily in the conception and exploratory developent of the first digital telephone transmission systems and their following evolution to glass fibers that could carry thousands of telephone calls, by interleaving their digital ones-and-zeroe pulses.

Intervowen into my professional story are many personal happenings, episodes, and observations, such as my active involvment in photography as an exhibitor, lecturer, and judge, and our family's many travels in the United States and abroad.

Thanks to the publicist!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


A big, big, congrats to the following winners:

The Family Dinner.

Sunday at Tiffany's


The Postcard Killers.

Dare to Take Charge.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guest Post by Mitchell James Kaplan

Today I am pleased to welcome Mitchell James Kaplan, author of the historical fiction best seller By Fire By Water. In this guest post Kaplan explains the inspiration behind his novel. Enjoy!

How I Got the Idea for By Fire, By Water

For me, ideas grow from research. But characters evolve from experience.

During my senior year in college, I discovered Marcel Proust. Or
rather, I discovered that the tone of Scott Moncrieff's translation,
which I had begun to read and had found rather stuffy, was not
faithful to the original. As soon as I heard the first words of Du
coté de chez Swann in French, I fell in love with Proust's narrative

I decided to read the rest of A la recherche du temps perdu in
Proust's country, and then to devour the rest of French literature
just as I had done with the English canon. At the end of my senior
year, I won a prize called “The Paine Memorial Prize for the Best
Long-Form Senior Essay submitted to the Yale English Department.” My essay dealt with the influence of Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams on contemporary poets. The prize carried a $300 cash award. With that, I purchased a plane ticket to Paris.

There, I found an au pair position with a prominent
industrial-political family. They had a maid, a cook, and a chauffeur;
my job was to have breakfast with their children every morning. The
children spoke English fluently, but their parents felt it was
important for them to practice daily with a college-educated native
speaker. In exchange, I was provided with a fifth-floor room and
leftovers from the sumptuous lunches the parents provided for guests
they entertained in their home. These guests included important
political and financial figures from all over the world.

It was a cozy enough arrangement, and certainly an eye-opener. I
learned a great deal about the attitudes of the French bourgeoisie
through daily exposure, even while reading about them in the pages of Proust, Balzac, and Molière.

In the afternoon, I sometimes walked to the Bibliothèque Nationale,
the French National Library. The reading room was available only to
writers and editors, but I had the right to look at exhibits in the
areas open to the general public. One remains vivid in my memory: the display of Gustave Flaubert manuscripts. I remember marveling at the beauty of his penmanship. It said a great deal about his approach to writing that he would take so much time to make every stroke of his pen as perfectly balanced as humanly possible.

Like Emma Bovary, I was lonely. If I wanted to have any kind of social
life, I needed pocket money. At the American Center on the Boulevard
Raspail, Madame Boyd looked over my resume and said, “You are lucky, Monsieur Kaplan. A movie producer, Dominique, needs English lessons. He called just this morning. A charming man. I'm certain the two of you will hit it off.”

Dominique became a great friend, and helped me transition from working as an au pair to translating screenplays for a living, usually for producers who were seeking financing from English-speaking investors.

Eventually I moved to an apartment of my own on the Rue Marcadet,
behind Montmartre. There, I spent my days working side by side with
French screenwriters and directors, including Elvire Murail (whose
novel, Escalier C, was a huge hit), Jean-Pierre Ronssin (whose film La
Discrète would win five Césars, the French equivalent of Oscars),
Pascal Kané (whose fame as a theorist of film and Libération
journalist had preceded his discovery of Juliette Binoche in Liberty
Belle), and Maroun Baghdadi (the daring and brilliant Lebanese
Maronite cineaste who died in mysterious circumstances a few years
later). Evenings, we often shared a coq au vin and a glass of
Beaujolais Nouveau at the local bistro. I was entirely unaware how
lucky I was.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It was while I was still an au pair
that Dominique introduced me to a friend of his, Michel Archimbaud,
who at that time was an editor at a major publishing company, Editions Robert Laffont. We had dinner together, and Michel grilled me on the subject of Jewish identity. He had recently learned that he was the child of Holocaust victims, who had hidden him in the monastery where he was raised. This was my first exposure to a phenomenon I was destined to learn much more about while writing By Fire, By Water many years later: when Europeans learn they have “Jewish blood,” they often become intensely curious. What does this knowledge imply about their “identity?” As an American Jew, this phenomenon surprised and intrigued me. Jewish-Christian relations in the United States were so much simpler than in Europe, where the weight of history is felt powerfully even by those who know little about that history – and all the more so by people, like Michel, who knew a great deal.

I tried to answer Michel's questions as well as I could. Perhaps as a
reward, he sent a letter by courier to my room the next day. On Robert Laffont stationery, it was addressed to the librarian at the Bibliothèque Nationale, and informed him that I was working on a book that Robert Laffont intended to publish. Armed with this letter, I was able to obtain a library card and suddenly had access to one of the largest collections of books in the world.

I started spending my afternoons in the beautiful reading room of the
Bibliotheque Nationale. It was there that I discovered a battered
leather-bound brochure that listed all the sailors abord Columbus's
1492 voyage of discovery – their names, places of origin, and jobs
aboard the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Perhaps still under the
influence of my dinner discussion with Michel Archimbaud, I found one
sailor's story particularly intriguing. Actually, I shouldn't say
“sailor.” Luis de Torres was listed as Columbus's “translator.” A
recently baptised Jew, he was the only person aboard Columbus's three ships who possessed no maritime skills whatsoever.

I surmised that de Torres – who spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic as well as Spanish – must have grown up a Jew in the Islamic emirate of Granada, before Granada fell to the Christian armies of Isabella and Ferdinand. Beyond that, it became clear to me that to view Columbus's voyage outside of its context – the Spanish Inquisition, the reconquest of Granada, and the expulsion of the Jews – was to miss a great deal of the meaning of that voyage. I knew right away that this would be a great setting for a novel.

I wanted to write that novel, but had no idea how to do so. I
certainly had no idea at that time that my novel would center on Luis
de Santangel, the man who financed Columbus's voyage, and on Luis de Torres's aunt, Judith Migdal. The seed planted in my imagination would remain dormant for many years, until I finally had the energy, experience and confidence I needed. But that's another story.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Get Energy Giveaway (ends February 5th)

Publisher's Summary. With busy schedules, demanding careers, and little time, many of us battle just to stay awake. But energy is something that is in our control, enven when time is short. Now 50 years young, fitness guru Denise Austin shows readers how to super-charge their lives, using her innovative lifestyle plan. She eats the right foods at the right time of day. She uses the power of stretching and breathing to feed her body with energy-enhancing oxygen. She uses mini-workouts to get energy even on her busiest days--and now you can too!

Denise shows how simple changes can add up to increased energy levels throughout the day. From the foods they consume to the way they sit in their chairs, readers won't believe how Denise's quick and easy plan will dramatically increase their energy levels. In as little as a week, results will be felt: radiant skin, more restful sleep, and a sharper follow Denise Austin and prepare for a fitness wake-up call!

Giveaway Rules. Just in time to help with those New Year's resolutions, today I am giving away THREE copies of this terrific book!

Entry: Comment with your email address in the body of the comment (you can list it as mary123 (at) yahoo(dot)com). If you do not list your email address your entry will not count.

Extra Entry: Sign up to follow my blog (or let me know that you are a current follower). NOTE: This extra entry MUST be left in a separate comment or it will not count.

The giveaway is open to Canadian and US residents only.
You must be 18 years of age or older.
NO P.O. Boxes for the winner’s mailing address.
Publisher will only send one copy per household regardless of the site won on.

Giveaway ends February 5th. Good Luck!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mailbox Monday -- January 10th

The reason why I love Mondays -- Mailbox Monday hosted this month by Rose City Reader. I've been slowing down on books to try and catch up, so only one book this week.

1) Something to Prove by Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D. Publisher's Summary. From the Operating Room to the family dinner table, "Something to Prove" chronicles Dr. Thornton’s journey to achieve the goals her father laid out for her in childhood—and to set the bar high for her own children. In "Something to Prove", Dr. Thornton brings us along her continued path as a doctor, wife and mother, revealing the challenges of balancing a flourishing medical career with managing a home and raising children. Carrying on the family name, Dr. Thornton picks up the mantle of her father’s ambition and heart as she shares the ups and downs of her career as the first African-American woman in the United States to be Board-certified in maternal-fetal medicine—while attending her kids’ chess matches, crafting Halloween costumes, and somehow finding time to learn how to tango. Filled with vivid personalities, heartbreaking setbacks, and joyful triumphs, "Something to Prove" is a testament to what can be accomplished through hard work, love, and determination.

Thanks to the Publicist!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Brave Giveaway (ends 1/29)

Publisher's Summary. There's little love in eight-year-old Tom Bedford's life. His parents are old and remote and the boarding school they've sent him to bristles with bullies and sadistic staff. The only comfort he gets is from his fantasy world of Cowboys and Indians. But when his sister Diane, a rising star of stage and screen, falls in love with one of his idols, the suave TV cowboy Ray Montane, Tom's life is transformed. They move to Hollywood and all his dreams seem to have come true. Soon, however, the sinister side of Tinseltown casts its shadow and a shocking act of violence changes their lives forever.

What happened all those years ago remains a secret that corrodes Tom's life and wrecks his marriage. Only when his estranged son, a US Marine, is charged with murder do the events resurface, forcing him to confront his demons. As he struggles to save his son's life, he will learn the true meaning of bravery.

Powerfully written and intensely moving, The Brave traces the legacy of violence behind the myth of the American West and explores our quest for love and identity, the fallibility of heroes and the devastating effects of family secrets.

Giveaway Rules. Today I am giving away TWO copies of this engaging audiobook!

Entry: Comment with your email address in the body of the comment (you can list it as mary123 (at) yahoo(dot)com). If you do not list your email address your entry will not count.

Extra Entry: Sign up to follow my blog (or let me know that you are a current follower). NOTE: This extra entry MUST be left in a separate comment or it will not count.

The giveaway is open to Canadian and US residents only.
You must be 18 years of age or older.
NO P.O. Boxes for the winner’s mailing address.
Limit one winner per household regardless of the site won from.

Giveaway ends January 29th . Good Luck!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mailbox Monday -- 1st One for the New Year!

The reason why I love Mondays -- Mailbox Monday hosted this month by Rose City Reader. This week was a slow week only one book.

1) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Publisher's Summary. Published to coincide with the centenary of Tolstoy's death, here is an exciting new edition of one of the great literary works of world literature. Tolstoy's epic masterpiece captures with unprecedented immediacy the broad sweep of life during the Napoleonic wars and the brutal invasion of Russia. Balls and soirees, the burning of Moscow, the intrigues of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles, the quiet moments of everyday life--all in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed. The Maudes' translation of Tolstoy's epic masterpiece has long been considered the best English version, and now for the first time it has been revised to bring it fully into line with modern approaches to the text. French passages are restored, Anglicization of Russian names removed, and outmoded expressions updated. A new introduction by Amy Mandelker considers the novel's literary and historical context, the nature of the work, and Tolstoy's artistic and philosophical aims. New, expanded notes provide historical background and identifications, as well as insight into Russian life and society.

This was received as a Christmas gift.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

War and Peace Challenge

After reading that author Pat Conroy has read War and Peace three times (in his memoir My Reading Life) I was inspired (yet again) to read this classic. I have wanted to read this for years, but have always been overwhelmed by the sheer length of the novel. However, when I learned about a chapter a day challenge that is hosted by Jillian at A Room of One’s Own (there are 365 chapters) I finally decided to go for it.

If you are interested in this it is not too late to join. For more specifics of the readalong, click here.

Jillian's Guidelines -

* The readalong will last from January 1, 2011 – December 31, 2011
* There will be 6 discussion posts for this novel, one at the end of every second month
* A Bi-monthly participant list and bi-monthly post will be done
* You can blog, however. you want, and of course write more or less than 6 posts, if you prefer
* Jillian may do more than 6 posts, but will only list participants in the 6 scheduledposts
* You can also follow along without reading War and Peace, and comment as you please
* No one who joins is required to comment on the posts of participants, including mine; this is just a place to gather, no obligation required