Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Special Feature - Bookish Things. Inspiration: Hunger Games

Hunger Games opened less than a week ago and although I haven't read the books yet (shame on me) I'm pretty excited about the movie and will most likely go see it in theater. And since I have a soft spot for fandoms, today I wanted to bring to your attention that you don't have to run to Hot Topic and clear out their supply of Hunger Games merchandise to show off your devotion to the books, movie or characters. Or all of the above.
You have the option of purchasing something from one of the artists on Etsy. Not only will the item be unique but you also have the option of being mainstream or subtle in your choice. For example I love this necklace pendant from Sevinoma.
Just go to and do a search for Hunger Games. It's amazing how many results come up and how creative and beautiful a lot of items are. Happy shopping and may the odds be ever in your favor. (Couldn't resist ;) )

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: Body of Evidence by Patricia Cornwell

Body of Evidence (Kay Scarpetta, #2)After months of menacing phone calls and a feeling that her every move is being watched, a terrifying message scratched into reclusive writer Beryl Madison's car forces her to flee. But the very night she returns home to Richmond, she deactivates her burglar alarm and opens the door -- to her murderer.

Body of Evidence is Patricia Cornwell's second novel and as I read it, it was clear to me that she's become more comfortable with writing, with her characters, and with Kay Scarpetta's world. Everything just flowed smoother, which of course made for a more enjoyable experience.
In this book we continue to learn more about Kay Scarpetta and see what motivated her to become a medical examiner. I really enjoy that she has her weaknesses but at the same time is the kind of person who knows what her strengths are and is prepared to hone them and use them. There are two things about Kay I find appealing, that got some page time in this novel. One is her view on firearms - she knows they can be dangerous, she sees exactly how much so every day, but she also knows how useful they can be and it is obvious that the gun she selected for herself was a deliberate choice. She may keep it in a box, under lock and key, but when it comes time to use it she's familiar enough and practiced enough to know what to do with it and not hesitate. Another is that she isn't afraid to bring people's double standards to their attention and not mince words as she does it. The freedom to do so may come with her post but at the same time not eveybody likes to ruffle feathers, especially with people who they work with on a regular basis and especially since hers is a world dominated by men and she is the only woman. I wonder only if she's acquired this habit as a way to assert herself and show that she can hold her own or if it's a natural trait. I guess chances are good that I'll find out as the series progresses.
Another thing I look forward to finding out as the series progresses is whether the pattern of the murderer being a random guy who happens upon the victim by chance will prove to be the formula for Cornwell's books. I'm trying to think right now of a mystery where the villain didn't have a traditional motive, so to speak, such as money, love, position, and I can't think of even one. There's always someone plotting to achieve something more or less tangible. Cornwell's villains are of a different sort and I'm wondering whether she kept going with what's obviously worked for her or if she'd introduced a murderer who calculates his (or her) moves ten in a advance, like some of her secondary characters do.
One more thing I'd like to mention has nothing to do with the book or Particia Cornwell, not to my knowledge anyway. Have you guys seen the ABC show Body of Proof with Dana Delaney as medical examiner Megan Hunt? I just can't shake the feeling that the whole show was inspired by Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series. Sure, Megan Hunt isn't a Chief ME and she has a child of her own, but there are just too many similarities. A sassy and smart ME? Check! A protective detective who's a bit rough around the edges, has a bald spot and marital troubles? Check! A precocious young girl who's not always in the picture but does lend a hand on occasion? Check! You see what I'm talking about. In any case, if the books did serve as inspiration for this series I'm glad they did because I tune in to watch Megan Hunt and the gang on a regular basis. As for the books, I look forward to reading the third novel in the volume and then I think I'll need to hunt down the rest.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Special Feature - Blog: Historical Tapestry

Whenever I'm looking for historical fiction ideas and recommendations I always stop by Historical Tapestry. The contributors are five fans of historical fiction whose choices and opinions I have come to trust over time. They review books set in a variety of countries and time periods, and they don't shy away from subgenres so you're sure to find something you'll enjoy, especially if British and American history and historical mystery are your favorites. I dare say the blog isn't lacking in visitors or followers but if you haven't found it on your own I'd encourage you to pay Historical Tapestry a visit.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review: Drawing In The Dust by Zoe Klein

Drawing In the DustBrilliant archaeologist Page Brookstone is convinced bones speak, yet none of the ancient remnants she has unearthed during her twelve years of toiling at Israel's storied battlegrounds of Megiddo has delivered the life-altering message she so craves. Which is why Ibrahim and Aisha Barakat's claim that the ghosts of two lovers haunt their home intrigue her. Ignoring the scorn of her peers, Page investigates the site and when she is faced with hard evidence of a cistern beneath the Baharats' living room she knows she has discovered something unparalleled. What she doesn't know yet is that this find will change her life, as well as the world of archaeology, forever.

For a while now I've been reading books that have been recommended by someone, somewhere, somehow. The Drawing In The Dust is my first foray into unchartered territories in a very, very long time and fortunately it didn't disappoint. As a fan of anything paranormal I was attracted to the book by the blurb that promised ghostly presences and the setting - Zoe Klein takes us to Israel, to the world of rich history, archaeological digs and long-lost treasures, the only place on earth where people read their antique records in their own language. The idea of the main character unearthing something unique was more than I could pass up so the book came home with me.
This novel is a chick lit-flavored coming-of-age adventure tied into Page's discovery of the tomb of the prophet Jeremiah buried in the arms of an unknown woman. There is love and lust, international and scientific conflict, and a particularly heart-warming notion that people can in fact all get along, despite our differences. Page has some personal drama and tragedy to sift through (pun intended) before she can come to terms with who she is and what she wants from her life, and her love interest has a similar journey to make so there is quite a bit of almost teen-like angst and self-doubt.
There are a lot of references to the Scripture, faith, some interpretation of the verses and I was very pleased to see in the end that it wasn't overwhelming. In fact, if felt very natural, the religious elements fit very neatly into the story, and learning after I finished the book that the author is a practicing rabbi helped explain why they didn't feel forced or out of place. This is Ms. Klein's life and she transfered it in a way to her character, Page.
The hook of the story is that Page abandons a well-established dig to come work under the house of a couple who say they have ghosts and know there is something there. This paranormal element worked very well in some instances and in others it left me confused because the nature of it seemed to change half-way through the story. I did enjoy however that it wasn't completely cheesy, as it could have been, although it was quite a bit more new-agey than I would have preferred.
The insight into the daily life of the Jewish and Arabic communities in Jerusalem was what grounded this story for me. It's a glimpse into something we don't see on our news and I'm willing to bet most people know nothing about this aspect of life in Israel. I credit the authenticity and intimacy with which Ms. Klein presented these parts of the book to us readers to the fact that she spent time in Israel and most likely witnessed events similar to what she described. There were elements that seemed far-fetched but on the whole it worked for the purposes of this book.
This is an entertaining read and if you're interested in literature with Hebrew motifs and setting as well as very atmospheric writing you will enjoy this book.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Art - Sculpture: Aleksandr Pushkin

Growing up my grandmother was my reading companion. We shared an affinity for the chivalrous times of crinolines and duels and literary salons. We reread Pushkin's novel Dubrovskiy time after time, sitting on the worn red couch in the living room and talking about the characters when we were done. It was our perennial favourite and the two volumes of Pushkin's works were the first books my parents sent me after I moved to the States. Those two volumes with their red cloth covers and yellowing pages are filled with memories. They are memories, really.
Pushkin was one of the greatest poets and writers in Russian history. Eugene Onegin is his most internationally acclaimed work but he wrote many other poems, plays, short stories and fairy tales. Ballets have been written based on his works, music was written for his poetry resulting in operas and songs, and my generation grew up watching children's movies and cartoons based on the stories he created.
The sculpture you see in the picture was created by M.K. Anikushin and was unveiled in the Arts Square in St. Petersburg in 1957. It stands at almost 26 feet tall and is my favourite monument to the poet.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Review: Look Book: What to Wear for Every Occasion by Nina Garcia

Nina Garcia's Look Book: What to Wear for Every OccasionIn "Nina Garcia's Look Book," style guru Nina Garcia solves this universal quandary with an inspired and unbeatable combination of fashion knowledge and common sense. She shows us the pieces, the accessories, and the strategies to create the looks that will take us from the first day on a job through the day we ask for a raise and beyond, from the first time we meet our boyfriend's parents (or his children) through the day we see our own children walk down the aisle. With Nina by your side, you can't go wrong. You'll have all the tips you will need to navigate every day looking your best. "True style is not about having a closet full of expensive and beautiful things--it is instead about knowing when, where, and how to utilize what you have.

This week was full speed ahead girly mode: bought new shoes, looked at a lot of fashiony pictures online and read Nina Garcia's Look Book. In case you don't know who she is, Nina Garcia is one of the judges on Project Runway and is the fashion director at Marie Claire magazine. In short the woman knows fashion and from what I've seen is pretty good at being practical without compromising style. So naturally I was curious what her choices would be when it comes to all of those instances when we stand in front of our closets trying to figure out what the perfect outfit would be.
Ms. Garcia covers it all: the job interview, the casual Friday and the not-so-casual rest of the work week, the first date, meeting the significant other's parents, various holidays and vacations and even the occasions most of us mere mortals won't ever have an opportunity to attend (a white tie dinner, anyone?). And she knows that it's not just about the clothes, the hair, makeup and underpinnings matter too.
I liked the easy, familiar style of writing, the fact that the author shared little tidbits about her own anxieties and insecurities (yes, apparently even the high-profile fashion editors have those) and gave examples of the stylish women we've all seen on TV and in magazines to illustrate her suggestions. I also liked that she stressed how important it is to always stay true to yourself and not try to be someone else when it comes to fashion choices, and everything else for that matter. Generally speaking Ms. Garcia's suggestions were very common sense - dress for the occasion, keep propriety in mind, and remember that there are times when it's important to not sacrifice comfort.
I would have preferred if the book was illustrated with photographs rather than artist's conceptual drawings because while a drawing is great and Ms. Garcia's references to design houses and trendsetters were helpful, seeing what the author is talking about right there on the page would have been much more fun. After all, not everyone is so well-versed in the work of various couturiers as to immediately understand the references. I, for one, was very happy to have the internet at arm's reach.
With my girliness temporarily satisfied I return to Drawing In The Dust, which is proving to be a lucky bargain find. I'm about half-way through, so stop by next week to see what the verdict is.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Special Feature: Author Interview with Mitchell James Kaplan

Remember the book I reviewed last month, By Fire, By Water? I loved that book so much that today I'm doing something new and very special: an interview with the author. Mr. Kaplan is a particularly gracious gentleman with incredible life experiences and undeniable talent, and I think you will enjoy this interview as much as I did.
A little bit about the author first: Mitchell James Kaplan graduated with honors from Yale University, where he won the Paine Memorial Prize for Best Long-Form Senior Essay submitted to the English Department. His first mentor was the author William Styron. After college, Kaplan lived in Paris, France, where he worked as a translator, then in Southern California, where he worked as a screenwriter and in film production. Now he lives in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania with his family. "By Fire, By Water" is his first novel.
And now I give you Mr. Mitchell James Kaplan!

Part 1: By Fire, By Water
Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this novel? What was the most enjoyable?
A: The challenge and the pleasure are closely intertwined. There's something puzzle-like about finding all the pieces, holding them in your mind, and working out the best way to fit them together. Sometimes it can be frustrating. I remember telling my wife while writing By Fire, By Water that it felt like I was wrestling with a bear. But it's tremendously rewarding because you feel like you're decoding human experience. Which brings me to a point dear to my heart. I don't think the “realities” of daily experience and history books are the ultimate realities. I think those realities are more like rough drafts. It's up to artists to revise them into works that reflect meaning, coherence, and mystery.
Q: How similar are your characters to you and/or people in your social circle?
A: Some of them do reflect me and people I know. Others do not. For example, when I wrote about Queen Ysabel, I was aware that she thought and acted like an upper-class woman I knew when I was living in France. I hadn't thought about her in years, but there she suddenly was, her way of holding herself, her voice, as real as if no time had passed. Santangel's identity issues and his cautious, deliberate ways of dealing with them remind me of several people. Judith is in some ways similar to my wife Annie, especially in her values. Colòn reminds me in some ways of myself and also of Don Quixote. Other characters – Torquemada, Pedro Guttierez, King Fernando – sprang out of the aether. I was pleased to make their acquaintance. In many ways, they surprised me.

Part 2: On Writing
Q: When and why did you begin writing?
A: I started seriously writing and dreaming of being a novelist when I was fifteen. I've been writing ever since. This goes back to what I was saying above about decoding experience. So much about life seemed incomprehensible to me. I felt a need to make sense of it, and I thought some of my favorite writers managed to do so – or at least to make valiant efforts. Those efforts seemed more worthy than other pursuits. I never really worried about making a living and still don't – even though I should!
Q: Where do you find inspiration in general?
A: A lot of things happen when I sleep. I wake early in the morning – preferably, around three – and get my best work done before everyone else is awake. Solitude is part of it. So is darkness. But it's largely just about coming out of sleep and sliding into the world of my so-called fiction without interruption.
In terms of content: for me, the process starts with ideas. Certain ideas fascinate me. From these ideas, I find the historical period. From the history, characters emerge, and from the characters, stories – various experiences of history, different angles.
Q: What can you tell us about your next book?
A: I'm exploring what happened leading up to AD 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and the survival of two of the many forms of Judaean faith, one of which was destined to develop into what we call Christianity, and the other into what we call Judaism. It is a mind-blowing adventure for me.

Part 3: On Reading
Q: What were your favourite books growing up and why?
A: As a little boy I loved reading biographies. As a teen, I became absorbed in novels and plays. I read through Borges, Hesse, a lot of Hawthorne, Emerson, and Melville, plays by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neil, and others. Later, I came to love poetry – early Wallace Stevens, Baudelaire – as well as Tolstoy, Proust, and other 19th and twentieth century continental novelists.
I'd have to list at least three favorites from my teenage years, Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. I remember becoming totally immersed in those worlds. I related powerfully to the protagonists – their pain, their confusion, their intense desire to make sense of it all. I haven't returned to those books since I was fifteen, so I have no idea how I would feel about them if I read them today. But the memories remain powerful. Which brings me to another of my favorite subjects. If our identities largely result from our experience of life, and if reading is an important part of experience for many people like you and me, then isn't it interesting to reflect that our identities – who we are – come from books (and from dreams) just as much as from experiences of the "real" world?
Q: Where can we find you? (sites, links, FB, twitter, author page)
A: Website:, Facebook: mitchelljameskaplan, Twitter: mitchelljkaplan

I personally can't wait to read the new book Mitchell is working on, if By Fire, By Water is any indication it will be excellent. By the way, have you read By Fire, By Water? No? You're missing out. I'm serious. Go buy it now.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Review: While I'm Still Myself by Jeremy Mark Lane

While I'm Still MyselfA passionate December love affair.
The meeting of an unexpected traveler.
The consequences of protecting a young new acquaintance.
A journey into an unknown past.
In these stories Jeremy Lane eloquently describes the life changing impact of the brief encounter, showing that life and love are not shaped by an entire lifetime, but by the fleeting moments with unexpected people in unexpected places.

This was another review request that I'm very glad to have received. Mr. Lane is an excellent writer whose stories are consistently strong throughout the volume and I enjoyed every one of them. They're all different, dealing with heavy and complex subjects such as the effects of a parents' divorce on the life of a child when he grows up, trusting a stranger, child abuse, etc., but this seriousness and the characters' desire to do something while they're still themselves unites these stories set in different places at different times in history into one whole.
I liked the writing, the characters developed so fully in such a short span of time, the setting of small town America captured so perfectly that having lived in a tiny rural town in the South I couldn't help but wonder at the author's skill. I liked the intimacy of it all, there was never a sense of looking in from the outside, which is always a good thing.
The titular desire of one character in every story wanting to do something while they were still themselves was very effective in some of the stories and not so much in others. On those occasions I wondered what is it these characters anticipated would happen to them that would prevent them from remaining who they were and that was somewhat distracting. I felt that while the intention was excellent in those several stories it was forced and didn't serve the collection as well as it could have.
All in all this is a very enjoyable book and since it is a collection of short stories you can read them in one sitting or one at a time. And yes, you can read the whole book in one sitting, it is small enough to do that and engaging enough to make you not want to put it down unless you have to. Mr. Lane is definitely an author to watch.