Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My take on: The Lost Button

Ever been in love? I'm sure many of you have. How deeply do or did you love this person? What if this person didn't return your affections? How far would you go to profess your love for this person? Would you let this love consume your life? Is it love or obsession? I was thinking all of those things while reading The Lost Button by Irene Rozdobudko.

Dan a.k.a. Denys was coming of age in 1970s Ukraine. At 18, the impressionable film student took a trip to a vacation resort where he meets a mysterious actress. Elyzaveta Tenetska, a.k.a Liza, immediately captivates Denys' heart. One night in the woods and Denys knows that this woman is the love of his life. Liza doesn't quite feel the same. She seemed like a person who lived in the moment. During their time together Liza gave Denys all her attention and compassion. Out in the woods they're in their own world.

When it's time to go back to reality, Denys can't get Liza out of his head. His "love" for Liza bordered on obsession. She seemed more like his drug than an actual object of his affection. When he tries to reach out to her at school, Denys is rejected. He doesn't know what to do with himself. He went to school to dodge military service, but now fighting a war seems like a better option. He has a thirst to kill someone. Maybe the desire to kill someone will help him forget Liza.

"I won't say that I forgot her and didn't look for her. I looked. Till the time when I came to the conclusion: in the end, everyone aspires for just one thing - love, saying it in a different way- recognition. This searching can lead you just about anywhere - to terrorism, feminism, fascism, just anywhere. Whoever doesn't want to disappear into oblivion, but who doesn't have any talent, strives in any way to make himself be known." (Pg. 59)

If he doesn't have Liza, then he needs a distraction. For a time, the military was that distraction. Then work became a distraction, but Denys never seems comfortable in his skin. On impulse he gets engaged to a woman he knew for all of a couple of hours. So impulsive right? To add an extra creepy factor, the young woman, Anzhelika a.k.a Lika, turns out to be Liza's daughter. That seemed like too much of a coincidence. Did Denys seek Lika out intentionally? No I don't think so. But he doesn't confess his connection to Liza. If he can't have Liza, then he can be close to her by marrying her daughter. It's just so wrong.

Lika was really in love, but she's in love with a lie. Just as Liza consumed Denys' life, Lika is consumed by her husband. His life is her life. When the truth finally comes out the book takes an interesting turn. I don't want to say too much, but Lika literally becomes a different person. When the life she knew is take away, Lika is lost. She lost her voice. Who is she without Denys?

Overall it's a good story, but I feel like I missed something. Sometimes I had trouble following the plot. The storyline isn't linear. The narration shifts between Liza, Lika, and Denys. This is a book that I have to read again. I think I'll understand it more with a second read.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Glagoslav Publications) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 27, 2012

It's Monday, what's on the cover?

I'm reading several books right now. Once grad school starts that will probably change. Bare with me, posting might become a little more infrequent. But on to the business at hand. It's been a while since I've done this. It's Monday, so what's on the cover?

The cover of The Lost Button by Irene Rozdobudko looks like a beautiful watercolor painting. Is she an angel sitting on a cloud? She has an air of innocence. The cover doesn't seem to match the story. A young man becomes obsessed with an older woman he meets on vacation. His love for her consumes his life. She was able to go back to her life but he wasn't. This is my first foray into Ukrainian literature, and so far so good. A review will be posted tomorrow.

Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft is a creepy murder mystery. That hand frozen on the cover doesn't leave much to the imagination. The body of an obese man is left hanging from a tree and the cops are stumped. Was it murder? I don't know yet, but I can tell the description of his body WAS NOT pleasant. I was gagging at the description.

The Book Lover by Maryann McFadden is a unique take on the publishing industry. Despite rejection after rejection, would you still try to get your book published? Or would you give up? The woman in this book didn't give up. I was drawn to the book simple because of the title. What book lover wouldn't want to read a book about fellow book lovers? Hopefully, I can be done by the end of the week.

The young girl on the cover looks so alone. Why? I've had The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth on my radar for a while. I read a review on another blog and thought it was interesting. A young girl from a small Montana town has just begun to discover herself. She doesn't know everything, but Cameron knows she is gay. How will her family react? Her parents have died and her aunt doesn't approve of Cameron's sexual orientation. She wants to send her to a "reeducation" camp. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Just looking at the cover of A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter, you know this isn't a kiddie story. It's about a love affair between a college dropout and a French shopgirl. So far the story is very vanilla. I have yet to come across anything racy, but I'm only about 40 pages in. I'm having a little trouble following the plot, but I'll keep going for now. Happy reading everyone!!

Friday, August 24, 2012

My take on: Beautiful Lies

Rachel and Alice are more than just sisters. They are identical twin sisters. They share a bond few people can understand. Not even close friends or family. Ever since they were children, Rachel and Alice could sense what the other was feeling. They are so much alike physically, their own family can't tell them a part. That bond will be put to the test when one of them disappears in this creepy tale, Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman.

While Rachel and Alice are so much alike physically, their personalities differ in so many ways. Rachel is dedicated to school and always gets good grades. Alice doesn't care about school, instead she is interested in just passing. Rachel has a close network of friends, while Alice has eschewed being part of the crowd in favor of her older boyfriend Robin. Alice would rather be wild and free partying with Robin. They flout the rules, experimenting with drugs and alcohol. To their aunt Sharon and uncle Jeff, who have raised the girls since the death of their parents, Rachel can do no wrong. Alice is the troubled one. Alice is the one who needs "help."

When one of the sisters disappears, the other can feel it instantly. I don't want to give too much away, so I'm not going to say which sister goes missing at the start of the book. But that is when the book takes a creepy and confusing turn. I had trouble figuring out which sister is actually missing. Alice and Rachel have been swapping identities for years. It started out with good intentions, with Rachel trying to improve Alice's grades in school. Seems harmless? It was done out of love. Rachel would do anything to help her sister. She always feels the need to be protective of Alice. Do you ever wish you were someone else? Even if it's just for a few moments. I have. I'm sure everyone has at some point in their lives. If given the chance to be someone else, would you take it? But what about the consequences? It seems Rachel and Alice got into this quagmire without thinking about the consequences. It seems like one twin was kidnapped because of mistaken identity. That is if anyone is actually missing.

One sister starts exhibiting a lot of strange injuries. The injuries appear instantly. How is that possible? I know twins share a deep connection, but is it really that deep? Is this a ghost story or a contemporary mystery? Is this really happening or is it an elaborate dream playing out? Trying the to figure out those questions kept me coming back for more. The despair one twin feels in her pursuit of her sister is very palpable. I felt like I was in her head. You want people to believe her. You want her to find her sister just for the sake of her own sanity. I had a little trouble following the plot at some points, but overall this was a very good read.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Bloomsbury) in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My take on: Objects of my Affection

Every time I watch Hoarders I'm astounded at the amount of crap people can fit into their homes. What gives? Why do people have such a deep attachment to JUNK!! Of course what I think is junk might differ when dealing with a hoarder. Plus, I have a DEEP attachment to all of my books. When the time comes to get rid of some, it will be really hard.

Sometimes it's hard to sympathize with people who are hoarders, but I found myself doing just that when reading Objects of my Affection by Jill Smolinski.

Lucy Bloom doesn't have an attachment to things. She lives with her best friend and her husband. She's also sharing a bedroom with a toddler. She's broken up with her boyfriend, Daniel. And raising her son Ash hasn't been easy. Her teenage son is in rehab. Lucy had to sell everything just to get Ash into rehab. In her heart, Lucy believed she was doing right by Ash. The son that she pictures in her head is very far from reality. A little marijuana here and there doesn't mean Ash has a problem. Right? Coming home late and ignoring rules is OK, right? Having a cab driver pick him up at a crack den isn't a warning sign, right? Daniel did his best to wake Lucy up, but pointing out Ash's faults isn't what she wants to hear.

While Ash is away, Lucy puts all her concentration into her "career" as professional organizer. She's written a book, Things Are Not People, but she doesn't have any actual experience with hoarders. Of course that qualifies her to deal with a wackadoo client Marva Meier Rios. Marva is a rather eccentric artist. One minute she wants help, and the next she doesn't. Marva's son Will is signing the checks, and if Lucy doesn't do her job right she could be sharing a bedroom with a toddler for a long time.

Forcing Marva to face her problems, forces Lucy to look at her own life. Lucy wants Marva to give up her attachment to all her junk. Marva wants Lucy to give up her attachment to Ash. Marva starts to let Lucy in. She starts to let go of her furniture, clothes, and various movie memorabilia. But letting go of the stuff is just part of the problem. Her attachment to things began years ago. I don't want to give too much away, but when the origin of her problem is revealed you understand Marva a little more. She lost everything once before and doesn't want to give anything up now.

Before working with Marva, Lucy couldn't see how attached she was to Ash. If she can show Ash, how much she loves him then he will get better. If she ignores all the questions from friends and family about Ash, then he doesn't really have a problem. Sometimes I wondered if Lucy was more afraid of the judgment from her friends and family, than Ash's recovery. Sure she wants him to get better, but Lucy is ashamed to admit Ash has a problem. Does his drug problem mean Lucy failed as a parent?

There is a lot of good stuff in this book. Jill Smolinski gives hoarders a little humanity with this book. My only knock on the book is the ending is a little too neat. Marva is harboring a deep secret (read the book to know what I'm talking about) and that is resolved a little too quickly. In real life it might end a little different, but overall this was a good read.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Simon & Schuster) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Please welcome Ron Gavalik !!

Emotobooks: The Fusion of Written Fiction and Expressionistic Art

By Ron Gavalik

Thank you to Jael for allowing me to guest post.

As a writer and publisher, it’s always been a goal to bridge the gap between the cerebral gratifications of well-plotted fiction writing and the visual stimulation of illustrative art. The one day I had a mini-epiphany. Insert expressive, emotionally representative imagery in written stories, during moments of emotional consequence. By delivering a visual of what a character feels, the reader becomes more intensely immersed in the story.

Emotobooks are written fiction stories, not comics or graphic novels. The few emotional abstract images woven in the stories are the dream-like visuals each of us experience in the middle of the night.

The term Emotobook is a portmanteau word I conjured as a memorable label for the very first fiction medium for smartphones and tablets. For the first time, readers can now see actual representation of character emotions right on the page for a fun, interactive experience.

Stories are published as EmotoSerials or EmotoSingles. EmotoSerials are monthly-released, continuing stories, much like TV dramas or miniseries that continue until their climactic ends. EmotoSingles are individual experiences.

I launched Grit City Publications in July of 2011, with the first Emotobook series titled Grit City, a seven-part story about Dillon Galway, an idealistic freelance journalist, who scrapes out a living reporting on corruption. Since then, we’ve grown the Emotobooks Catalog into an array of fun genre fiction titles in Sci-Fi, Romance, Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller, and Horror.

Each Emotobook title consists of three creators: the author, editor, and illustrator. It’s our philosophy that three contributors on each Emotobook delivers a richer, more flavorful story. The creators even offer Autograph Cards and suggest mood settings, such as food, drink, and music. This way our fans can achieve a full-bodied experience.

Emotobooks accommodate a new audience, who desire a fast “full story experience” on smartphones, iPods, computers, or tablet readers in about 30 to 60 minutes. They can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.

Our editors are currently seeking the best genre fiction for the Emotobooks transformation. It’s required that fiction writers read our submission guidelines and the free handbook, How to Create Emotobooks, before submitting. Our publishing model is unique and we require long-term participation from authors for everyone’s success.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the Emotobooks Revolution, I hope you’ll join our Readers Cult and begin collecting the coolest titles. We even offer free Autograph Cards to our fans. What it really comes down to is we write, edit, and illustrate the best modern fiction for our fans. Without you, we wouldn’t be here. Thank you.

Ron Gavalik’s Bio:

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Ron Gavalik is a seasoned freelance journalist and fiction author of the successful Grit City thriller series. As Publisher for Grit City Publications, he oversees the Emotobooks Revolution. Ron holds an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and a B.S. in Marketing Communications from Point Park University. When not writing, you can find him in the outdoors of Southwestern Pennsylvania on his trail bike, hiking, or fishing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My take on: An Unquenchable Thirst

At just 17 Mary Johnson, author of An Unquenchable Thirst, was inspired by an image on the cover of Time magazine. That image? It was Mother Teresa. The path? Becoming a nun for the Missionaries of Charity. By age 19 she entered a convent in the Bronx to begin her training. It wasn't an easy decision. But was it the right decision?

The young Texan was ready to devote her life to the poor. She was ready to live in poverty and devote her life to God. To anyone who does this, I'm sure it's very rewarding. But perhaps you should be older than 19 before deciding to lead a life full of restrictions. Mary, who later becomes Sister Donata, struggled to adhere to the principles of the Missionaries of Charity.

No more worldly possessions, a vow of chastity, limited contact with family, and the absence of friendship and touch were just a few of the things the young nun struggled with. She was surrounded by women just like her. Women who were called to serve God. She has lots of people to talk to? Right? Not necessarily. Sure they can talk to each other, but she wasn't supposed to seek out a friend. You aren't supposed to want things for yourself, even something as simple as friendship.

"The Rules against touch seemed overblown but didn't annoy me the way the prohibition against friendship did. As my hopes for a friend among the sisters were dashed, I also realized that banning the joy of friendship meant freedom from the pain of exclusion as well. We would all belong to one another." (Pg. 30)

Think about the last time you got a hug or even a nudge on the shoulder from a friend or family member. Was it something you were craving? Probably not. Why? Because you haven't been starved of that connection. I'm not saying being a nun is a bad thing, but if you haven't really experienced life yet how can you make a decision that will impact the rest of your life?

She loved working with people in need. It seemed that was the easy part of her life. Within the convent was another story. Her superiors weren't always the nicest people. Sister Donata was often afraid to speak up. If she does it can be seen as defiance. It doesn't matter who is right or wrong, Sister Donata has to know her place. Mother Teresa, who plays a prominent part in the book, had a very deep devotion to helping others and to serving Good. Living up to Mother Teresa's example wasn't always easy for Sister Donata, especially when it came to her sexuality.

Sister Donata hadn't experienced romantic love. When Sister Donata felt a deep connection to Niobe, another sister, she wasn't sure what her feelings meant. Was she just yearning for a friendship? Or was she in love with this sister? Sister Donata had already taken her final vows, giving into her feelings would violate her vow of chastity. She didn't want to violate her vows. Sister Donata did her best to rededicate herself to God, but it wasn't easy. Niobe was very aggressive, she pursued Sister Donata despite her objections. When she gave into her feelings, I thought that was the perfect time for Sister Donata to leave. It would be years before that happened. Her internal struggles were taking over her life, so much that it seemed to be impacting her health.

I don't think it's spoiling the book to say that Sister Donata went back to being Mary after 20 years of service. Those 20 years of service were very interesting. She was very honest in writing about her struggles. At times you feel like you're inside of her head. But by the end, I wish I knew more. Her transition back into society is glossed over, it's like a footnote. It would be interesting to know her struggles, if any, with the change in technology. She began her training in 1977 and left in 1997, I would think there were a lot of struggles with the change. She went back to college, learning in classrooms with students old enough to be her children. Perhaps, she isn't done telling her story. I would love to know more.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review.

A little teaser from An Unquenchable Thirst!!!

Note: A review will be posted later this afternoon

 Excerpt From An Unquenchable Thirst
By Mary Johnson, Author of An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life

The cardboard box on the rack above my bus seat held what was left of my possessions. In a few hours they would belong to God, and so would I. I watched the street outside, mesmerized as cars wove through eight lanes of traffic. On a billboard, an electric blonde advertised cigarettes, then suddenly morphed into a giant banana flaunting a reed skirt and long, dark eyelashes.

"You been to the city before?" A man with a black T- shirt waved his hands, brushing my shoulder with his too- broad gesture. He stared, waiting for an answer.
"Yes, I was here in January."

"Really? You look like you never seen a city before. Where're you from?"

I shifted in the seat. Was it supposed to be this personal between passengers on buses in New York?

"Texas?" The man was loud. Other people in the bus turned their heads to look. "What's a kid from Texas doing in New York?"

I wasn't a kid. I was nineteen and I'd just finished a year in the honors program at the University of Texas, with good grades. I didn't see why I should explain to a loud man on a bus that I was in New York because the only thing I'd been thinking of for the past year and a half had been coming to this city to give myself to God. But not answering would have been rude.

"I came to see some sisters."

"Oh, you got relatives here." He seemed satisfied, but his conclusion wasn't accurate.

"Not those kind of sisters. Catholic sisters. Nuns."

"You're coming to New York City to see nuns?"

"To become a nun."

He drew in a whistle as his eyes traveled my body, perhaps looking for some sort of deformity, or maybe, if he was Catholic, a halo. I possessed neither. I didn't expect him to understand. Even my family didn't understand.

The man grew quiet, and I grew less tense. Soon I didn't see the buildings or the billboards anymore. I saw Mom, Dad, my five sisters, and my brother all lined up on the tarmac that morning, waving their eldest off. Four- year- old Heather's hand had never stopped waving -- only she seemed to understand the joy of my adventure. Kathy, just thirteen months younger than I, had cried most of the night. She'd said, as she had for weeks, "Mary, you're wasting your life." I'd told her that I'd chosen the best life possible, a life of love, but that morning she'd refused even to look at me. Mom waved but didn't smile. She'd been so insistent that I at least finish college. I'd explained that when God calls, you don't put Him on hold, but she didn't get that, either.

It had been even worse when Dad had taken me to the airport in January for the preliminary week the sisters called "come and see." The plane was delayed, and while we sat waiting, he put his hand on my knee and looked into my eyes, then at my suitcase, the floor, then me again, without saying anything. When tears began to puddle in his eyes, he left without a word or a glance back.

The bus jerked to a halt at Grand Central Terminal. I reached for the rack above, but the man in the black T- shirt saw me and lifted the box before I could. "Best of luck, kid," he said as he placed the box in my hands, then added under his breath, "Pray for me, okay?"

I nodded and smiled, edging my way along the aisle. I told myself to be more careful about judging people in the future. As I stepped off the bus, a wave of heat slapped me -- not the familiar heat heavy with refinery fumes and Gulf Coast humidity, but an undulating heat of asphalt, steel, and bodies. I looked for the man in the T- shirt, but he was gone. All I saw were swarms of people -- hurrying, determined people who all seemed to know where they were going.

I knew where I was going, too. I'd taken a taxi in January, though the first three cabs to stop had refused to venture into the South Bronx. This time the sisters had sent directions, and I'd memorized them: shuttle bus to Grand Central, the #5 subway, a five- block walk. God, I prayed, lead me through this scurrying city. Lead me to You. I walked down steps that smelled of urine. On the platform, I flinched a little as trains rushed past, then marveled at their jackets of neon graffiti. I clutched the strings on my box. I'd heard stories of men with knives on subways, and lately the evening news had dwelt on the "Son of Sam." The serial killer, who police said believed he was possessed by the devil, shot women with long dark hair. My hair was sort of dark but short. According to Walter Cronkite, women in New York had bought out the city's entire stock of blond wigs and were on the verge of panic. God, take care of me. I'm working for You now.

When the #5 pulled up, I found a seat and cradled my box. A suitcase would have been easier, but the sisters had said they didn't use them, or purses, either.I'm going to live free, I told myself, like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.

The heat and the crowds and the news stories had made my stomach queasy. I checked my pocket for the envelope I'd safety- pinned there -- my passport and money were safe. I'd collected the $700 from my summer job as a technical writer, my savings, and money from selling my French touring bike and electric typewriter. The sisters had insisted on money for airfare to return me home if things didn't work out, or to send me to Rome if they did.

My friends had thrown a "penguin party" for me a week earlier, a beach party -- "black and white dress required in honor of Mary's new wardrobe." These public school classmates of mine didn't even know my nuns wore white saris trimmed in blue, yet they squatted around the campfire debating the odds of my perseverance. Some claimed the girl who took on the school board in editorials was constitutionally incapable of a vow of obedience, that a star of the debate team, known for humiliating her opponents, wouldn't last ten minutes in a convent. Others countered that I was the kind of person who, once she decides something, will see it through, even if it means taking the layouts of the school newspaper home with her, working on them all night, strapping them to her bicycle the next morning, and delivering them personally to the printer to avoid missing a deadline. They said once I put the habit on, I'd die in it.

I enjoyed confounding their expectations. These were the people who had voted me Most Likely to Succeed. I wondered if they knew how little that title meant to me. That gathering on the beach was only the second party I'd been to since moving from Michigan when I was twelve. My first act at my new junior high had been to speak to a group of kids in a corner of the gym. Seconds later a spitball smacked my head and I heard -- as did everyone else -- a boy on the bleachers shouting, "Nigger lover." No one, not the five black kids at school nor the seven hundred white kids, accepted any of my approaches for the next three years. When I started earning debate trophies some of my teammates began to tolerate my presence, and Kathy and Kelley and Monica seemed to enjoy working on the newspaper with me, but boys continued to spit on me on the bus, where I was the only rider over sixteen. My classmates all had cars or hitched rides with friends. The penguin party was a nice gesture, probably prompted by their curiosity about my choices, but I doubted these acquaintances understood my outsider's pride in values beyond the mainstream. They didn't know the secret thrill I felt on the streets of Austin when, watching couples walk hand in hand, I savored my relationship with the Creator of the Universe, who shared my every moment, awake or asleep. They didn't know that living the gospel of poverty and love with God constituted real success.

I got off the train at Third Avenue and 149th Street and began the five- block walk from the subway to the sisters' house. Pulsing Spanish lyrics pushed thoughts of home away. A fruit stand hawking mangoes and papayas caught my eye, until I sensed boys in front of an electronics shop eyeing me. I shifted my box nervously from hand to hand. God, keep me safe, I prayed.

A train passed overhead. Kids my own age break- danced under the el, their boom box momentarily overpowered by the train. The smell of hot dogs increased my nausea. I stepped around some broken glass and turned onto East 145th Street. My heart beat a little faster when, midway down the block, I spotted a three- story building behind a high brick wall, barbed wire coiled at the top, a small sign to the left of the gate: Missionaries of Charity. I opened the gate and stood before the door. I swallowed, and hesitated just a moment.

I juggled the box, smoothed my hair, then rang the bell, my hand trembling. Staring at the door, I saw Heather's last wave, Kathy refusing to look.

Dear God, I prayed, please send someone to open the door. I set the box on the sidewalk -- and the door swung open. A short, dark woman with puffy cheeks, a blue apron over her white sari, smiled at me.

"Welcome," she said. The door clicked as she shut it behind me.

Sister Rochelle took my box and nudged me up a short flight of stairs toward the chapel. "Say hello to Jesus," she whispered. I knelt on the rough carpet. A large wooden crucifix hung behind the altar, with two words pasted on the wall next to Jesus' head. When I read them, I felt as though Jesus spoke those words directly to me: I thirst.

I'd barely begun my silent prayer when Sister Rochelle said, "Come now. We'll take your things." She led me upstairs, climbing quickly. I heard chickens clucking. Nuns keeping chickens in the South Bronx -- what surer sign of self- sufficiency and disregard of convention could I have asked for?

"This is the refectory for you aspirants," Sister Rochelle said as we entered a room with a long wooden table, benches on either side.

"These are your plates." She pointed to a bookcase marked with numbers cut from calendars. Above each number sat a large white enamel bowl with a small plate, an enamel teacup, and a saucer. Everything was simple, clean, orderly. Above the shelf a plaque read, The Aspirancy Motto: He must increase; I must decrease.

"There are going to be twelve of you," Sister Rochelle said. "You are number nine." There'd been nine of us at home. Nine was a good number.

Another bookcase stood nearby. "Your Bible goes here. Number nine."

She took me up another flight of stairs. On the landing, we set my box down in front of a large wooden bookcase with a sheet hanging over its shelves. Sister Rochelle pulled back the sheet to reveal clothes folded more neatly than any I'd ever seen, each little pile above its own number.

"Number nine?" I asked, and she nodded.

The next door led to a room with a slanting ceiling, a linoleum floor, and thirteen cots crowded close, with barely room to walk between them. A bare bulb hung from a black wire, and simple muslin curtains covered the lower halves of the room's three small windows.

"This is your bed, number nine." Sister Rochelle smiled again as she patted a thin mattress in the corner. "I hope you brought your sheets," she said, and I nodded. "The dormitory is a sacred place and no talking is allowed, but your mistress will tell you all that."

Sister Rochelle headed for the stairs. Over her shoulder, she said, "Now unpack your things and feel at home." Already halfway down, she added, "The bell will ring soon for adoration."

I sat for a moment on bed number nine, eager to absorb the quiet. The attractions of the convent were pure, minimalist, essential -- life without the additives. Everything about the convent seemed to proclaim: Only God matters.

I was stacking my clothes on shelf number nine, as neatly as I could, when I heard footsteps. A tall woman with straight, shoulderlength brown hair and sparkling green eyes rounded the corner.

"Hey, Mary!" she said, stretching out her hand. "Sister Carmeline told us to expect another aspirant today -- I'm so glad it's you." "Louise! Great to see you." Louise had been in charge of the catechism program at St. Rita's Church, just next to the convent, and we'd met in January. She was just a few years older than I -- a recent graduate of the University of Virginia -- and played the guitar at Mass. Her hand was warm in mine.

"What's an aspirant?" Louise laughed, throwing her arms up in the air. "I'm developing a new vocabulary.
We're aspirants because we're aspiring to be sisters, or something like that."

We walked together to the dormitory, and Louise pulled back the blue and white checked bedspread on number nine, revealing a homemade mattress, not more than an inch and a half thick, resting on the cot's iron netting. As we stretched out the bottom sheet, the smell of fabric softener reminded me of home. "You mean you're joining the sisters, too?" I asked Louise. "I thought you'd decided not to."

"Yeah, well, I talked to Sister Andrea about it a lot. It's been great to work in the parish, but I do feel something missing. I want to give God everything, and I guess it's worth a try." Louise pushed the tiny pillow into my way too big pillowcase and fluffed it up as much as she could. "The sisters are excited that we'll be the first group of aspirants in the U.S. Till now they've only had a few American vocations, and they've all gone to London for aspirancy."

Excerpted from An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson Copyright © 2011 by Mary Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Bond Street Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Author Bio
Mary Johnson
, author of An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life, for twenty years, as Sister Donata, she was a Missionary of Charity, a nun in Mother Teresa's order, until she left in 1997. A respected teacher and public speaker, she has been named a Fellow of the MacDowell Colony and is on the board of the A Room of Her Own Foundation. She lives in New Hampshire.
For more information please visit, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, August 13, 2012

My take on: The Orphan Master's Son

Sometimes I let hype influence my decisions. If a certain book gets a lot of praise, I think everyone must know what they are talking about. The book must great. I have to read it. I have to buy it. Or in this case I have to take part in the blog tour. Sometimes I agree with all the praise, and sometimes I don't. Unfortunately, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson falls into the latter category for me.

I go into every book believing I will like it. Wishful thinking on my part. I hate to say I don't like something, but I didn't like The Orphan Master's Son. I was intrigued by the storyline, a fictional take on life in North Korea, but there just wasn't enough there to hold my attention.

Pak Jun Do has lived an interesting life in North Korea. He is haunted by the disappearance of his mother. His father runs a work camp for orphans. But his father can't show him any special treatment, so everyone assumes Jun Do is an orphan. As an adult, Jun Do stumbles into an unusual career as professional kidnapper. It seemed rather bizarre to me, but it was actually a way for Jun Do's superiors to test his loyalty to North Korea. Once he learns enough English, Jun Do goes to work on a ship monitoring radio transmissions. His time on the sea is slightly more interesting than his time on land.

Everyone on the ship would rather profess their loyalty to Kim Jong II, than admit their failures. One of the deckhands decides to defect from North Korea, and an elaborate story is concocted to hide the truth. And when I say elaborate I mean it. Jun Do goes so far as to injure himself in a gory fashion (read the book if you want to know how). He tells the lie so many times, he begins to believe it himself. I don't know much about life in North Korea, but I imagine anything other than total loyalty to the government is forbidden. Jun Do has to stick to this story for his own survival. However, I found myself not caring about his survival.

The book just moves sooooooooo slowly. It just wasn't holding my interest. I hate to admit it, but I gave up on this book on page 144. I know the book shifts the narration to another character in Part II, but I just wasn't interested in the rest of the story. Sometimes it was hard to follow. The transition from kidnapper to boat worker seemed to happen so quickly, I wasn't sure if the writer was still talking about the same person. It just wasn't my cup of tea, but that doesn't all of you out there won't like it!!

Rating:  Meh!!!

Note: I received a copy from the publisher (Random House) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My adventures in Ghana !!!

I've been back for a while, but I figured it's time to talk about my time in Africa. Traveling to Accra, Ghana was an adventure all by itself. The direct flight was too expensive, so we started off with a 7 hour, 30 minute flight to Casablanca. I've never been in the air that long, but fortunately the flight wasn't full. After takeoff, I stretched out over two seats. I don't have any photos of Casablanca because it was dark out when we arrived. The airport looked like all the rest, except the announcements were in French and Arabic

Once we arrived in Accra, it was an adventure getting all the luggage. The total traveling party was 17, so just imagine how long it took to get everything!!!

The first of three hotels we stayed in while in Ghana.

Dinner by the beach!!

Me and my mother just before our first dinner.

Welcome balloons for us at a school in Ghana. My step-father's mother helps sponsor the school and some of the students.

It was also graduation day for the younger students!!

More photos from the school. That little girl can pose can't she??!?!?

My mother and step-father surrounded by kids at the school.

I was hounded by the kids after I took this photo.

This little girl was so sweet. In just a few hours, she became my new best friend. I gave her an extra bracelet that I had. Initially, I don't think she understood I was giving her the bracelet to keep. After she was done playing with it she kept trying to give it back to me. Eventually, she understood I was giving it to her to keep. When I was on the bus leaving, she was waving the bracelet in the air to show me she still had it!! Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!

The memorial park for Kwame Nkrumah, the former leader of Ghana.

That's me at a weaving shop. It's amazing how everything was put together. I tried to weave one part of a scarf and I couldn't do it.

Along the way, we learned how ink is made for the prints on fabric, table cloths, and clothing. That's my little brother trying to mix the ink.

The stamps (top photo) and the finished products.

Another pretty hotel!!

Now, I have shown you mostly positive photos of my trip, but there was a downside to it too. We stayed at four- and five-star hotels, but to get to them we had to travel through a lot of poor neighborhoods. It was very humbling to see children and their families bathing in the street. Despite being unemployed, this trip helped me realize how truly fortunate I am.

Ancestoral River Park is where slaves were taken for their final bath before being sold.

A slave dungeon. Thousands of slaves used to be packed into caves like these. Four hundred years later, these caves still have a very distinct smell. The floor is a combination of dirt and dried up human remains. I have several photos of the caves, but I think you only need to see one to get the point.

Another pretty hotel, this one was by the beach.

I took more than 200 photos, but I can't post everything. So I decided to end with my little brother trying to avoid the camera for the umpteenth time!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

How about a weekend getaway?!?!?

Love books?? You have to if you read book blogs regularly right?

Love to travel? I certainly do. Maybe you ought to think about Austin, Texas (pictured above). Why Austin?!?!?!

One very good reason!!! 

You and a guest could win a trip to Austin to attend the Texas Book Festival (October 26th - 28th) with VIP passes!!! The prize package includes, round trip airfare, a two-night hotel stay, VIP passes to the festival, dinner for two at TRIO, and a $50 gift certificate to Hyde Park Bar & Grill. Entries are open until August 31st. The contest is sponsored by PR by the Book.

Visit this handy link to enter:

Friday, August 3, 2012

My take on: The Siren

That front cover is very suggestive. It's not a kiddie story!! If you don't like erotica, I suggest you stop reading right now. I'm not sure if I even like erotica. I've only read two books in the genre. Unlike With My Body by Nikki Gemmell, The Siren kept my attention from start to finish.

If you're still here great!!! I'm still trying to process what I just read. The Siren by Tiffany Reisz opened my eyes to a culture that's very hard to wrap my brain around. How anyone could find pleasure in dominance, pain, humiliation, bondage, and submission is hard to understand. I came into this book thinking people like that are weird or crazy. I still have some of those thoughts, but Tiffany Reisz made this whole culture and the people in it seem more human, more relatable.

Famous erotica writer Nora Sutherlin is looking for a change, another challenge. Her latest book has the potential to be the best, if she can get it published. She has shopped around her book to several publishers before it lands on the desk of Zachary Easton, an editor at Royal Publishing. His immediate reaction is to reject it. Zach likes serious writers who write serious books. How can an erotica writer be taken seriously by the masses when Zach doesn't himself? A writer like Nora is totally outside of his comfort zone. But his boss J.P. knows Nora's book in Zach's capable hands can be magic. Her book could bring Royal a higher profile. Zach takes on the challenge but only if Nora can rewrite and edit the book in six weeks. After six weeks Zach is off to a new life at the West Coast office.

Nora accepts Zach's challenge, but it doesn't come without consequences for both. An editor becoming emotionally and sexually attracted to a writer isn't supposed to happen, but I wouldn't be surprised if it does happen. Only Nora is no ordinary writer. She has a much younger live-in intern, Wesley, who does his best to concentrate on school but Nora doesn't make it easy. They swear their relationship hasn't crossed THAT line.

At times, it seemed like Wesley was the parent and Nora the child. He wants to protect her in every way possible, but Nora doesn't believe she needs protection. She can be vulnerable whenever she's around her ex-lover Soren. Their relationship was all about dominance and power. Soren had all the power. Nora found pleasure when he punished her. The bruises hurt Nora physically, but not emotionally which is what Wesley can't understand. But Nora can also be powerful and dominant in her side career as a dominatrix. Yes a dominatrix!!! I'm not going into details on that one, but after reading it I can see how someone could be empowered by dominance.

Zach has no idea what he is getting himself into. Compared to Nora, Zach lives in a very straight-laced world. But when they meet, Zach is instantly smitten by Nora. He's been separated from his wife for months, and Nora awakens feelings Zach hasn't felt in a long time. But he's afraid of these feelings. If he embraces them, does that mean he is like Nora? Like Nora, Zach has his personal demons. He's running from his relationship with his estranged wife. Nora, despite years of separation, is still running from Soren. Zach and Nora have to face their demons or they will always be running.

I was thoroughly engrossed in this book. Yes there are graphic sex scenes, but they're not gratuitous. My fear in reading books like this in the past was gratuitous sex scenes. Ok they went to dinner, now sex. They talk for 20 minutes, now sex. They take the trash out, now sex. That is what's keeping me from reading Fifty Shades of Grey. To me, the sex scenes in The Siren are more of a backdrop. The relationships between the characters are what drive the book, not the sex. You want to see if Nora, Zach, and Wesley can find happiness or at least some middle ground. In the last 80 pages, I was wondering if there would be a happy ending. I guess that comes from reading so many traditional romance stories. This isn't a traditional story, but everyone seems to have found their way by the end.

Rating: O.M.G. !!!

Note: I received a copy of the book from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest review.