Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day!


June at Writing is a Blessing is the winner of A Small Fortune!

Thanks for everyone who participated in my first book giveaway. And huge thanks to author Audrey Braun for providing the book.

A Small Fortune is a sexy, exciting thriller with a sparky heroine. I highly recommend it. In fact, I thought it was "unputdownable." My full review is here.  The book is available on-line from Powell's and amazon.

For those in the Portland area, Braun will be reading and signing at Broadway Books tomorrow night, June 1, 2010 at 7:00 p.m.

Mailbox Memorial Day

If I hadn't done a quick swing past the dollar shelf at Powell's, I wouldn't have had anything to show for Mailbox Monday! Lucky for me, Powell's is only a short, rainy walk from my office.

Dolly by Anita Brookner (continuing on my habit of collecting, but not often reading, Brookner's novels)

Grand Cru by Barney Leason (continuing my streak of wine-related books)


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Clown Girl

"Balloon Tying for Christ was the cheapest balloon manual I could find."

--  Clown Girl by Monica Drake (Independent Publishers Book Award winner; introduction by Chuck Palahniuk)

Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts sent this one to me.  I don't know if I would have picked it myself, and it has more of an an edge to it than I am really comfortable with, but it is incredibly clever and pretty funny.

Hawthorne is a Portland-based, independent publisher specializing in literary fiction and narrative non-fiction.   

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review of the day: Indian Summer

John Knowles is still famous for his debut novel, A Separate Peace, although his other novels never caught on with any enduring popularity.  Indian Summer , his third book, is the story of Cleet Kinsolving’s struggle to grow up after returning from WWII.

Cleet spends the summer working as a general assistant for his best friend, Neil Reardon, and his wealthy family. The Reardons – a Kennedy-style Irish Catholic clan living in a sprawling compound on the Connecticut River – have plenty of their own problems to deal with.

Neil toils at make-work projects like current affairs commentary in order to justify living off his father’s fortune. He is heading for a crack up unless he can find a way around his Catholic conviction that he can only have sex with his wife for procreation – now that she is pregnant, he is out of luck.

Neil’s wife Georgia is a fish out of water. Having grown up on the wrong side of the tracks, she is not comfortable with the Reardon’s wealth. Having grown up Protestant, she is not comfortable with her husband’s religion, especially when he brings it into the bedroom.

Neil’s robber baron father, austere mother, and divorcee sister; Georgia’s sad sack father, blousy mother, and floozy little sister; Cleet’s apple pie little brother; and other assorted relatives and hangers-on serve as foils for the main characters. But none of the people are sympathetic or even all that interesting. Cleet and Neil are both despicable in their ways, with nothing very redeeming in their stories.

The theme of the story, repeated several times, seems to be that people are never ready for the phase of life that they are in – they are like actors playing last week’s play in front of this week’s stage set. Is that as simple as “things change”? If so, that is pretty trite. Towards the end, Georgia suggests something only marginally better: that everyone gets stuck with an idea of himself that he cannot grow out of. She cannot get past the idea of herself as a struggling young actress. Her father cannot shake the idea that he is 19 and setting out to conquer the world. And Neil still thinks he is a schoolboy being bullied by other kids. In contrast, Cleet lives in the moment.

Knowles has a smooth way with words and offers some keen observations on family relationships and the influence of money. Because of his prowess as an author, the book is entertaining and speeds by quickly enough. But it does not hold up well to analysis.

(If you would like your reviews of this book, or any other book by John Knowles, listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)

This is the first book I read for the Hotchpot Cafe's Birth Year Reading Challenge.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Today is the Deadline to Win A Small Fortune!


Thanks to the author, Audrey Braun, I have a brand new copy of A Small Fortune to give away.

Please go to the main contest post for rules on multiple entries, etc., and to sign up. Please only sign up on the contest page, not here. Thanks!

And good luck! This is a fun, exciting book from a very talented new author. 

And thanks to anyone who stopped by because of the Book Blogger Hop. I will be hopping around myself. It seems that I find a couple of new-to-me blogs every week!

Opening Sentence of the Day: Everyday Drinking

"Anthropologists assure us that wherever we find man he speaks."

-- On Drink

"There's a certain satisfaction to be got from bringing out a book of collected journalism."

-- Every Day Drinking

"Although drink is a contentious subject -- I have seen grown men close to blows over whether you should or should not bruise the mint in a Mint Julep -- there are a lot of facts connected with it, some well known, some less so, and some on the fringes which may have their own appeal."

-- How's Your Glass?

All by Kinglsley Amis, published as a compilation, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis.

I didn't realize when I bought this book that it is a re-publication of three separate Amis books on alcohol and drinking -- what he might call his "dipsography," a word he uses in one of the essays. This was a pleasant surprise, because Amis is a favorite author of mine and I would like to read all his books, but the individual volumes are hard to come by. 

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a Friday "opening sentence" event hosted by Becky at Page Turners.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review of the Day: Short Stories by Anton Chekov

Short Stories by Anton Chekhov, produced and read by Max Bollinger

This audio collection of six lesser known short stories by Anton Chekhov made for an entertain hour, but was an oddball introduction to Chekhov's short stories. The stories were captivating in that they packed a lot of cultural observations, emotions, and human dynamics into short little bits. However, they all seemed to end abruptly, without resolution. I have not read enough of Chekhov to know if these are typical of his short stories.

I enjoyed the production. Listening to the stories told in narrator Max Bollinger's Russian accent brought them to life for me the way a flat, anglicized version would not have. There were a few times his accent was obtrusively thick -- mostly with proper names. But his phrasing was good, especially when dealing with both external and internal dialog. The sound effects were annoying, although fairly easy to ignore.

Mostly, I got a kick out of the whole project. I like the idea that this "Russian-born British actor" decided to find some public domain stories by an old master, produce an entertaining audio version of them, and start selling it on amazon. What a great idea! I hope other entrepreneurial actors follow his example.  

(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)

I got this audiobook through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.  I am pleased to be able to scratch it off that list, although Volume II is supposedly on its way and I am looking forward to that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Review of the Day: The Grail

The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World by Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle spent a year hanging around one of Oregon’s premier wineries, getting to understand the winemakers, the process of making wine, and the almost mystic quest for The Best Pinot Noir Wine in the World. The result of his observations and pondering is The Grail.

Doyle focused on pinot noir because it is the wine that Oregon is famous for. The well-drained, volcanic soil of Yamhill County is capable of producing pinots to rival wines from the Burgundy region of France. Oregon wineries produce a wide variety of wines, but pinots can make a winery famous – or drive the winemaker crazy. As Doyle learned, pinot noir grapes are the divas of the vineyard.

Doyle’s pinot schoolhouse was Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards in the Red Hills of Dundee, Oregon. Winemakers Jesse Lange and his father Don were patient and erudite teachers who explained to Doyle, not only the technical side of how to grow grapes and make wine, but the poetic and personal side of their business as well. Doyle augments their information with chapters on various related topics such as the history of the region, pinot noir from around the world, and his own musings on words, wine, dogs, friends, and spirituality.

One key theme Doyle plays on is the idea that, while good pinot must have structure, balance, and texture, there is a wide range of “pinotpossibility” for any pinot noir – from strong, heavy, substantive wines to lively, minerally, bright wines. This range makes it impossible to definitively decide what the “best” pinot noir is, any decision being, at best, an educated opinion. Thus the search for the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the World is as elusive a quest as for the Holy Grail itself.

It is good to keep this theme in mind when assessing Doyle’s writing style. Just as “good” pinot depends in large part on personal preferences, so good writing. Doyle is a good writer – a very good writer – and an accomplished wordsmith who takes obvious pleasure in the play and flow of words. But those who prefer non-fiction written in a crisp, journalistic style may find Doyle’s prose to be overly flowery. There are times his wordplay, elaborate descriptions, and alliteration get a little sing-song – like Peter Cottontail describing how to make wine. But his exuberant style always conveys Doyle’s good-natured enthusiasm for the stories he delights in telling.


(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)


The Grail was a Book Sense Pick (now called the Indie Next List)

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. He also compiled the list of The 20 Greatest Oregon Books Ever that I am working on.

The Oregon State University Press sent me this book, along with several others, to review. So far, I have been very impressed with both books I have read. My review of City Limits: Walking Portland's Boundary, by David Oates, is here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Indian Summer

"The Reardons were too important to be snobbish; they entertained people they liked or wanted to help or found amusing or felt sorry for or wanted something specific from or through force of habit.  They knew that where they lived in the Connecticut Valley was Siberia socially, and they preferred it that way."

-- Indian Summer by John Knowles.

This is the first book I read for the Hotchpot Cafe's Birth Year Reading Challenge. It is a very interesting book because none of the characters are a particular type. I can't remember reading a book where each character is so unique -- to each other and to characters in other books -- and difficult to figure out.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Author Interview: Audrey Braun

Audrey Braun's romantic thriller, A Small Fortune, is a terrifically fun book to spend a weekend with. Braun was nice enough to answer questions from me for my first-ever Rose City Reader author interview.

Please sign up for the give-away to win a copy of A Small Fortune. The deadline is Friday, May 28, 2010.

I thought the book was absolutely unputdownable. Read my full review here.


How did you come to write A Small Fortune?

I read an article in the NYT about how well genre books were weathering the recession. I had never tried to write a genre book and half-jokingly toyed with the idea. My husband and I made up a ridiculous plot over dinner that night and the next day I began to write, still half-jokingly, the story we had cracked ourselves up with over a bottle of wine. The joke was really on me. The novel ran out of me like a spell flushed out from god knows where. A Small Fortune is more mainstream than genre and not even close to the story my husband and I made up, but it is the result of that funny conversation.

The book takes place in Portland, Puerto Vallarta, and Zurich – why those three locals? Did you do on-site research?

I have spent a great deal of time in all of these places so that certainly helps. One of my favorites parts about writing is creating a sense of place. I enjoy the texture of going to other locales, if only in my head. I enjoy sending other people off as well.

Did you know right away, or have an idea, how you were going to end the story? Or did it come to you as you were in the process of writing?

I thought I knew but of course that's just a starting point to begin. Novels tend to take on their own unexpected twists and turns while the writer runs along behind. There is nothing quite like the feeling of falling back in my chair and thinking Oh no, she is going to do this, or oh my god, THAT is why he's done this to her. Those moments are precious for so many reasons. You can't plan them, have no idea where they come from, and know that if you, as the writer, never saw what was coming, chances are the reader won't see it coming either.

What’s next? Do you have a sequel to A Small Fortune in the works? Any other books?

A sequel is underway. I like to say it's best to stay out of the way during this time of birth. I can be a little intense. I liken myself to a pregnant woodland creature having to disappear on a mysterious journey, only to return with a baby that looks nothing like what everyone was expecting.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I learned that I have walls -- self-editing, self-conscious, tightly woven walls, and they need to come down. With this book they did. I set out to write something I thought no one was ever going to read. It was the first time in my life I truly let go, and the result was a completed first draft in 3 1/2 months.

What kind of books do you like to read?

I love language. I'm a sucker for beautifully written novels, those lovely little turns of phrase, even if the plot doesn't measure up, which, I have to say, is often the case for some reason. In my experience often see one or the other. Stunning prose, or page-turner plot. The best of all worlds is when I find the two mingling on the same page.

What are you reading now?

I tend to read about five books at once. I've got several novels going by the French crime writer Georges Simenon, along with Dawn Raffel's stunning short story collection Further Adventures in the Restless Universe, as well as Chelsea Cain's Sweetheart.

How do you decide what book to read next?

I read a lot of reviews and that helps to see what's out there, but generally I rummage (Powell's is like an old attic for me) and put a lot of stock in first pages, if not first sentences.

What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?

Two things: "Get your ass in the chair," and, "That little voice that says this isn't any good is your true talent calling you up to the level where it resides." Richard Bausch. I love that man.

You’ve been working with an agent to get your literary fiction books published. Do you have examples of rejection letter lines that made you laugh or shake your head in wonder?

Oh dear. Stop me if I go too far but this is a topic rich in tangents. I suppose my all-time favorite rejection is, "I would love to take this on but she is too similar to a best selling author on our list and it wouldn't do either author justice to be vying for the same marketing spot." In other words, the business is tight, Barnes & Noble only has so much shelf space, so we're going to put everything we have behind our known money-maker.

I'm not alone in this, of course. I know a writer who was nominated for the Pulitzer and her books are always released to raving reviews, yet her latest collection, which critics are saying, and I agree, is her best yet, could not find a home with a major publisher. She is with a smaller press. Lovely, but small. Quality does not equate to major publishing success. To some degree this has always been the case, but with the publishing industry undergoing so many changes, this is truer than ever. Tinkers by Paul Harding just won the Pulitzer. The poor guy couldn't even get an agent for that book. No one was interested in it. He finally published it through an obscure small press. It's a lovely, lovely book.

Why self-publish?

See answer above. Also, the publishing world is kind of the last bastion in media to catch up with the changing world. For years now we've had indie music and indie films, both of which are lauded as wonderful works of art. These are places where people take chances and shine. Books are just now being set free from the old world grip on them.

Any tips or hints for authors trying to market their own self-published books?

It's the same whether a writer is going through the more traditional venues or going rogue. Learn to take criticism about your manuscript and don't put it out there too soon. Write, rewrite, and rewrite again. Get professional feedback from people who are not only good at what they do but understand your vision for the book. As with any product, make sure it's of solid quality before you offer it up for sale. I've been writing for years both professionally and privately. I have a lot of resources and I've done my homework. This isn't a hobby, it's the crux of my life. I made sure that other professional writers and editors whom I respect felt the same way about the manuscript that I did. I made sure it was truly ready to go.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Make no mistake, this is really hard work that takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline and faith. Having said that, there are so many things that make writing fulfilling:

Working in pajamas.

Spending all day making shit up as if it really matters. And then it does.

Having imaginary people in your head come alive through other people's thoughts and opinions and personal life experiences. A wonderful symmetry happens. Conversations spin, new ideas emerge. Something HAPPENS between you and other people after all those hours, days, months, and years you spent alone, half-crazed, in your pajamas.

But best of all might be when readers tell me they were so caught up in the book that they forgot to feed their own children or got sunburned after five straight hours of reading in the sun while having no idea how much time had passed. Yes, I inadvertently contribute to children going hungry and second degree burns, but knowing I succeeded at pulling a reader into the dream of the story is immensely satisfying. That's the point. And nothing quite compares.


Back Cover: Celia Donnelly sets off for tropical Mexico, longing to repair her nerves, rekindle her marriage, and restore peace with her increasingly difficult teenage son. But just as the radiant coastline begins to thaw the cold within her family, a stranger sparks a long-dead passion inside her, and his connections lead to an unspeakable betrayal. From sea breezes to jungle steam to the crisp air of Zurich, Celia will be forced to uncover what everyone is suddenly after, including her own life. Caught inside a mysterious past, she must throw herself into harm's way in order to protect her son. But matters are complicated after the stirred passion becomes a fever that cannot be contained. Is this stranger worthy of her love and trust? Or is he just another piece in the sinister plot to steal the very thing that Celia has no idea is hers to take? A SMALL FORTUNE is a fast-paced, sexy, thrill-ride to the brink of madness that begs the question: How far will one woman go for the truth?

Mailbox Monday

After spending most of a very fun day antiquing in charming Aurora, Oregon, I stopped by one of my favorite library book stores, Second Hand Prose in Oregon City. I ended up with a nice stack of books for my Mailbox Monday list.

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson (this is the third in her Jackson Brodie series and I am so looking forward to it)

Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910 - 1939 by Katie Roiphe (this looks fascinating and would count for one of my Bibliophilic Books Challenge books)

I, the King by Frances Parkinson Keyes (my mom was a big FPK fan growing up and she got me reading them years ago)

A Maggot by John Fowles (I have trepidation because, while I loved The French Lieutenant's Woman, I absolutely could not stand The Magus)

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (I only recently read my first Sayers book and now I want to gobble them all)

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (I've already read this Booker Prize winner, but I did not have a copy and it is one I may like to read again)

The End of My Career by Miles Franklin (I've gathered several volumes of her memoirs based only only enjoying the movie version of My Brilliant Career when I was in high school)

More Matter: Essays and Criticism by John Updike (another contender for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge)

What books came into your house last week?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Challenge: Birth Year Reading Challenge


I am finally officially signing up for the Birth Year Reading Challenge hosted by Hotchpot Cafe. The idea is to read books published in the year of your birth. There is no set number of books to read, but you earn a "candle" for each book and the participant with the most candles by December 31, 2010 wins a pretty terrific prize.

THE YEAR: 1966

Then came 1966, a remarkable year altogether: a Jewish child was born in Spain for the first time in 374 years, Ronald Reagan was elected boss of California, Indira Gandhi was elected boss of India, the Soviets landed a Luna spacecraft on the moon, John Lennon opined dryly that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, Haile Selassie visited Jamaica, the Grateful Dead moved to a house on Haight Street, the Americans landed a Surveyor spacecraft on the moon, Montgomery Cliff died, the Beatles released Revolver, "Star Trek" was first televised, Namibia declared independence, Jimmy Hendrix changed his name to Jimi, LSD was declared illegal, Catholics began to eat meat on Fridays, Barbados declared independence, the Americans bombed Hanoi, Walt Disney died, Kwanzaa was invented, Tom Stoppard wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Arlo Guthrie wrote "Alice's Restaurant," Hewlett-Packard introduced its first computer, Buster Keaton died, Guyana declared its independence, Malaysia and Indonesia declared peace, taekwando was invented, Lesotho declared independence, Thich Nhat Hanh visited America, [and] Bill Evans opened a long run at the Village Vanguard jazz club . . .

-- The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling Through an Oregon Vinyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World by Brian Doyle (leading up to the point that 1966 was also the first year that pinor noir vines were planted in Oregon, giving birth to Oregon's wine industry).


It's hard to say how many books I will read this year that will earn me a candle. There are probably several books on my TBR shelf that were published in 1966, but without going through them all, it is hard to guess which ones. As I stumble across them, I will add them to the list of possibilities.

I'd like to stick with books I already own, since I have so many to get through. But there are a couple of books published in 1966 that have captured my fancy and I am keeping my eye out for.

So far, my possibilities include:

I, the King by Frances Parkinson-Keyes (I'm a big FPK fan and found this one at a library store the other day)

The Comedians by Graham Greene (on my TBR shelf)

The Anti-Death League by Kinglsey Amis (which I do not own, but would like to because Amis is one of my all-time favorites)


Indian Summer by John Knowles (reviewed here)
The Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann (reviewed here

Last updated on September 22, 2010.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Indian Summer

"Demobilization sounded like the best word in the language in 1946."

-- Indian Summer by John Knowles.

A Separate Peace was heartbreakingly poignant when I read it in high school, but seems to have left no more than hazy, maudlin memory in my book brain. Knowles never became a favorite of mine.

So I don't know when I would have gotten around to reading my husband's high school copy of Indian Summer if it hadn't been for the Hotchpot Cafe's Birth Year Reading Challenge. 'Lo and behold, Indian Summer was published in 1966, the year of my birth. It is the first book I've come across on my TBR shelf that qualifies for this challenge, so now I am officially "in."

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Small Fortune Give-Away and Book Blog Hop

This is a busy Friday! I am going to hop around visiting book blogs and I have my first-ever give away.

Thanks to the author, Audrey Braun, I have a brand new copy of A Small Fortune to give away.


Publisher's Description: Celia Donnelly sets off for tropical Mexico, longing to repair her nerves, rekindle her marriage, and restore peace with her increasingly difficult teenage son. But just as the radiant coastline begins to thaw the cold within her family, a stranger sparks a long-dead passion inside her, and his connections lead to an unspeakable betrayal. From sea breezes to jungle steam to the crisp air of Zurich, Celia will be forced to uncover what everyone is suddenly after, including her own life. Caught inside a mysterious past, she must throw herself into harm's way in order to protect her son. But matters are complicated after the stirred passion becomes a fever that cannot be contained. Is this stranger worthy of her love and trust? Or is he just another piece in the sinister plot to steal the very thing that Celia has no idea is hers to take? A SMALL FORTUNE is a fast-paced, sexy, thrill-ride to the brink of madness that begs the question: How far will one woman go for the truth?


"Nerve-grinding suspense... Strewn with jewels of beautiful writing and apt metaphors--enough to bring on a case of writer's envy."
-- Jessica Morrel, author of Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction

"A Small Fortune is scintillating, thrilling, and full of intrigue. A sexy, mysterious romp with literary overtones. Erica Jong meets Harlan Coben on a sticky summer night."
-- Jessica Anya Blau, author of The Summer of Naked Swim Parties

"The book is absolutely unputdownable."
-- Rose City Reader (read my full review here)


The contest is open until Friday, May 28, 2010. To enter, do any or all of the following, but you must leave a comment for each one:

1. Leave a comment on this post. You must include a way to contact you (email or website address in your comment or available in your profile). If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner. (1 entry)

2. Blog about this giveaway. (Posting the giveaway on your sidebar is also acceptable.) Leave a separate comment with a link to your post. (1 entry)

3. Subscribe to my rss feed, follow me on blogger, or subscribe via email (or tell me if you already are a subscriber or follower). Leave a separate comment for this. (1 entry)

4. Tweet this post on Twitter. Leave me a separate comment with your twitter user name. (1 entry)

5. Stumble this blog, digg it, technorati fave it, or link it on facebook. Leave a separate comment. (1 entry)

There are a lot of ways to enter (maximum of five entries), but you must LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT for each one or they will not count. I will use to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is open to entries from the U.S. and Canada only, no PO Boxes. The deadline for entry is midnight in your time zone, next Friday, May 28, 2010. I will draw and post the winner's name on Memorial Day Monday, May 31, 2010.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


btt button

This week's Booking Through Thursday question asks: "What’s the most useful book you’ve ever read? And, why?"

Remember the old, silly game of adding "in bed" to any fortune cookie fortune? It made the fortune more meaningful. Har. Har.

When I read book questions like this, I have a similar, if more sacred rule: Add "other than the Bible" to any question that asks what is your superlative book in any category. Otherwise, the answers would be repetitive.

Even with that qualifier, my answer is still easy -- The Joy of Cooking. There is no more useful book in my house. There is no other book I turn to several times a week to teach me or remind me how to do something. It was the first cookbook I ever owned and, even though I have a newer edition now, it is still really the only cookbook I really need.

I may tweak the recipes or only use them for the basic structure, but every recipe is in there, from apple pie to pâté de foie gras. And there are many useful illustrations.  Even my 1995 edition includes everyone's favorite, How to Skin a Squirrel:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review of the Day: Corked

Neither Kathryn Borel nor her father is the most psychically stable of individuals when they set off on a two-week wine tasting adventure through France. And there is nothing like the pressure cooker of a tin can rental car to bring emotions to the boiling point.

Borel conceived the idea for Corked when, as a newly-minted journalist, she found herself still struggling with depression after a tragic auto accident. Obsessed over her father’s mortality and convinced she had only a short time to heal their relationship, she arranges to accompany him to wineries around his native France, hoping that if she learns to understand wine, she will understand her father.

This is not a travel book about French wine country. It is a memoir about a young woman trying to forge an adult bond with her prickly father. Borel writes with candor and quirky humor. She has insight enough to appreciate her own limitations and, eventually, to accept her father’s.

Hers is not a mature viewpoint, which brings an emotional immediacy to the book that can feel a little raw. But for anyone who has traveled with a difficult family member or gone through a mind-clearing catharsis while traveling, the book rings true.


(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)


Thanks go to Book Dilettante for this book because I won it in a give-away.

I added this book to my French Connection list, were you can find many, many books set in and about France. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Teaser Tuesday Two-fer

I am reading wine books these days and have teasers from two of them:

The pale French morning sun blundered through the airport windows. In spite of my fatigue from the fretting and the jet lag, I was overcome by the prickly excitement one gets from being in another country with its different smells, foreign McDonald's menus, and drugstore products that somehow are more effective than the ones at home.

Corked by Kathryn Borel.

I laughed when I read this because the women in my family spend a lot of our travel time buying foreign drugstore products, convinced that the face mask will be more cleansing, the cuticle cream more healing, and the lip balm more moisturizing.

A perfect pinot should be lean on entry, expand in the middle of your palate, be smooth and clean as you swallow, and then linger a little when it is gone. If it lingers too much, if it's big and fat and fruity in your mouth, then it's not freshening your palate.

The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling Through an Oregon Vinyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World by Brian Doyle, quoting Jesse Lange, the winemaker at Lange Vineyard and Winery.

This book is actually about wine, unlike Corked, which is really about the relationship between the author and her father.I am learning a lot from this one, but it also makes me want to drink wine with lunch.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Grail

A glorious gleaming glittering October afternoon in the red clay hills of Dundee, Oregon, where hawks float by with writhing snakes in their beaks, and the deer fences are eight feet high and lined with barbed wire to keep out what grape growers call vineyard rats, and the BirdGard machine in the middle of the vineyard is squawking the warning cries of injured starlings at fifty decibels from four speakers covering fifteen acres, ans a thousand wasps are having the most intoxicating day of their whole lives, and the chief winemaker, the songwriter Don Lange, is cursing at the moles and gophers that have riddled the dirt between the rows of his vines, and musing about how maybe roasted gopher would go real good with the wine from his vineyard, and twenty people sweating like mad are picking grapes faster than you have ever seen anyone pick grapes before in your whole life, and the intense younger winemaker, Don's son Jesse, is driving a careening forklift truck at twenty miles an hour up and down the alleys between the rows, picking up bins the pickers have filled from the ends of the rows, and the operations manager, Wally, is cursing quietly but thoroughly as he tries to fix a fermenting tank, and the sales manager, Laura, is not selling or managing anything at all but instead picking madly through the dump tray for mangled grapes and wasps as a river of grapes and leaves and stems and wasps rockets by her on the way to the crushing machine, and the cellarmaster, Chuy, is sluicing juice out of the crushing machine and delivering it right quick into the fermenter or the press, which is to say red wine or white wine, which makes a huge difference here in the red hills of Dundee, because while the juice in the press will make excellent chardonnay and pinot gris and riesling and pinot blanc, the juice in the fermenters will make maybe perhaps mayhaps the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the World, which is a remarkable thing to say about wine from soil that is adamantly not French, and exactly the reason why everyone is working so madly this afternoon, because this is Harvest, the World Series and Super Bowl and World Cup and Grand Final of winemaking, and if the Holy Grail is to be found, which is what pinot noir winemakers call the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the World, it begins here, this week, on this gleaming hill, in a crisp brilliant sun, with the Cascade Mountains glittering snowily to the east and the Coast Range mountains rolling greenly to the west, with a hundred tons of purple-black grapes the size of fingernails roaring like a murky dusty river, and Wally cursing like a drunken sailor.

The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling Through an Oregon Vinyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World by Brian Doyle.

OK, I think this one almost bested my resolve to post the opening sentence from the books I read. They must have been having a sale on commas at the punctuation store.

That was the first sentence and also the first chapter, called "Maybe Perhaps Mayhaps," and as much as I dislike literary gimmicks, it does capture the frenzy of what a wine grape harvest must be like.

I think I am really going to enjoy (the rest of) this book. I wanted to read it because it is all about Oregon wine, and I live in Oregon and I like wine. But I didn't realize that it is about a particular Oregon winery -- Lange Winery -- that is one of my favorites.

Lange is the first winery that my husband and I went to together when we first started going out. He'll never let me forget that I "made him" drive on a gravel road in his 1969 MG convertible. We had to drive about 2 MPH to avoid dinging the car. But we managed to stash two cases of Lange pinot in the back, so it was worth the agony.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review of the Day: Citizen Vince

Most doughnut-making petty crooks in Spokane don’t have to keep an eye out for mafia assassins. But Vince Camden is in the witness protection program and his sixth sense tells him that someone is gunning for him.

Jess Walter won the Edgar Award for Citizen Vince, this quirky comedy of errors thriller set on the eve of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 Presidential election.

As Vince sets out to find whoever is after him, make things right with the mob, and win the girl, he also wants to make the most of his new status as a registered voter and intelligently cast his first-ever vote. Digressions on stump speeches, the Iran hostage negotiations, campaign tactics, and the role of third-party candidates share page space with a fake credit card scheme, meetings with crime bosses, and cross-county gangland hits.

It may not stand out as the most profound political novel, but Citizen Vince is a cut above the typical thriller and 300 pages of first-rate entertainment.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Corked

"When it comes to champagne and our family, my father has only one absolute rule:  We do not drink it when we are sad."

Corked by Kathryn Borel.

This didn't get very good reviews, but I am going into it with an open mind. I love the cover and the idea of driving through French wine country appeals to me. We'll see how it goes. Good first sentence at least.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


btt button

This week's Booking Through Thursday question asks:
Are your book choices influenced by friends and family? Do their recommendations carry weight for you? Or do you choose your books solely by what you want to read?
My close personal friends, Messrs. Booker, Pulitzer, and Black, influence my book choices more than anyone.

Being a compulsive "list" reader, it is hard for me to change course and move into uncharted literary waters. There are so many books already on my TBR shelf that won some prize or made it onto a "Must Read" list that it is hard to get my attention for anything else.

There are a couple of exceptions. My parents and sister pass on books that they finished that they think I would like and I usually take those. And a couple of my girlfriends give me books that I always read. In fact, I had a dream last night about reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because my friend gave it to me and I'm seeing her next week.

And I will always read a book written by a friend. That's a hard and fast rule for me. It has been a little strange since I started this blog, because now I usually review the books as well as read them. I promise an honest review, so I have been lucky that I have talented friends who write good books. But the day could come when I will be in an awkward spot. If that happens, I'll skip the review.

Here is a partial list of very good books by friends that I've read recently:

Water the Bamboo by Greg Bell (reviewed here)

A Small Fortune by Audrey Braun (reviewed here)

The Age of Reagan (Vol. II): The Conservative Counterrevolution, 1980 - 1989 by Steven Hayward (reviewed here)

Lost in Translation and The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (reviewedhere and here)

The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen's Guide by Sally Pipes (reviewed here)

Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites by Mitchell Stevens (which was really fascinating and engaging and I live with guilt because I forgot to review it but I will one of these days)

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