Monday, February 28, 2011

JANE EYRE Read-a-Long: Check-in #3

Warning: This post contains spoilers!

I think it's supposed to be Check-in #4 but I guess I'm behind as usual.

Okay, so it's the end of the month and I haven't finished my re-read of Jane Eyre. I'm only a few chapters past where I was the last time; Rochester and Jane are about to get married, literally on their way to the altar.

But I read enough to get to my favorite scene, the scene where Rochester proposes, in the garden at night. I think it's one of the most romantic in all of English literature; it's so passionate. Of books I've read from the era, the only thing that even comes close is the scene at the end of Jane Austen's Persuasion when Wentworth writes the letter to Anne saying "You pierce my soul." Only, Rochester would never write Jane a letter to declare his love. That, to me, is the difference between Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen;  Austen's men lack passion.

So as far as the re-read goes, it's been a lot of fun. I love having an excuse to revisit an old favorite, and I will finish, and write a proper review, but I just need a little more time.

Thank you so much to Laura of Laura's Review Bookshelf for hosting!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Salon-More Snow!

So it's Sunday again and it's snowing- again. I swear I didn't see this in the forecast!

Oh well. The plan for today is pretty simple- go to the gym and come home to read. I had a feeling something was going on today but I can't remember it now. It is Oscar night, so I'll be posting a wrap up tomorrow on my movie blog. This week I reviewed Oscar-nominated True Grit and the classic French film Les Enfants du Paradis.

Reading? I'm participating in Persephone Reading Weekend by reading Reuben Sachs, a Victorian novel and satire by Amy Levy, a writer who committed suicide at 27. I'm enjoying it; it's very much a book of its time in terms of language and style (it was originally published in 1888) and the family dynamics she illustrates are fascinating. More later! I'm still working my way through The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, Alina Bronsky's latest novel from Europa Editions due out in May. I have to write interview questions for her and two other authors by tomorrow.

I guess that's it for now. Short and sweet! Have a great Sunday. More Sunday Salon here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Persephone Reading Weekend

I'm going to try to participate in Persephone Reading Weekend, hosted by CardiganGirlVerity and Paperback Reader.

I've got Amy Levy's Reuben Sachs to read this weekend. It's a shortish novel about a Jewish family in Victorian England.

No promises I'll finish but I'll start and do what I can.

Are you reading a Persephone book this weekend? Go to either of the blogs hotlinked above for more Persephone Reading Weekend posts and participants.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Finally, I Get My Act Together & Do A Video Friday Finds

Finds Mentioned:
Tokyo Fiancée, by Amélie Nothomb (Europa Editions)
Alice's Tea Cup: Delectable Recipes for Scones, Cakes, Sandwiches, and More from New York's Most Whimsical Tea Spot by Haley Fox (William Morrow Cookbooks)

Other Books Mentioned:
Hygiene and the Assassin, by Amélie Nothomb (Europa Editions)

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, February 24, 2011

2011 Complete Booker Challenge

I'm going to participate in 2011 Complete Booker Challenge at the Booker's Dozen level, with an eye to completing 12 Booker-Prize-winning (or nominated) books this year.

I don't have a complete list yet; I have a stack of Booker winners unread in my TBR pile (more than a dozen for sure!), plus an unknown number of long- and short-listed titles, so this is a great opportunity to work my way through. My goal is to read one winner a month and maybe a nominee or two here and there as time and interest allow. So far in 2011 I've read
  • Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (winner 1987)
  • Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner (winner 1984)
  • Heliopolis by James Scudamore (longlist 2009)
Next up for me is probably going to be Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha for March, since I'm doing all Irish books in March. After that I'll pick something each month that I feel like reading.

It's going to be a great year in Booker books! You can visit the Complete Booker Prize Challenge page here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

REVIEW: Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald. Published 1979 by Collins. This edition published 2003 by Everyman's Library. Literary Fiction. Winner of the Booker Prize.

Winner of the Booker Prize in 1979, Offshore is quiet, short novel about a group of eccentric characters living in houseboats on the Thames River in London. The main focus is on Nenna and her children, precocious Tilda and milder Martha; Martha longs for normalcy while Tilda embraces the chaos of houseboat river living. Grace is the name of their boat; Nenna's husband, Edward, has left them. Richard is a retired Royal Naval Reserve officer, very comme il faut, who lives on a very nice boat. His wife, the beautiful Laura, is discontented with barge life. Maurice is a small-time criminal and male prostitute.  A pair of minor tragedies upset this delicately poised group and it slowly disintegrates.

Life on the Battersea Reach is a world apart from life on the shore, with its own rules and codes of conduct. Some find it quite suitable, like Nenna and Richard, to whom she is attracted. Others, like Laura and Martha, want a so-called normal life on land. Nenna's husband Edward is harmless and feckless and the two just can't seem to find common ground. Meanwhile their daughters are growing up and involved in little intrigues of their own.

I really enjoyed Offshore. It's a little gem about personalities and lifestyles intersecting and mingling like slow-moving driftwood at the water's edge. While short, Offshore is not a quick read but rather requires a careful and attentive reader. The characters are vivid and detailed; the setting is unusual and fascinating. I re-read it as soon as I finished just to savor its little nuances and details. A tiny masterpiece, Offshore should be on the shelf of every reader of literary fiction.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

REVIEW: The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard

The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard. Published 2011 by HarperCollins. Literary Fiction.

The Fates Will Find Their Way is a moving missing-girl novel about a group of boys and their changing relationships and paths through life, centered on the stories they make up about what might have happened to a pretty classmate who goes missing one Halloween night. Nora Lindell is an attractive teenager who disappears during trick-or-treating; nobody knows what happened to her but her disappearance haunts the town and particularly the boys who were smitten with her.

The story is told through the eyes and thoughts of one of them, often through a "we" encompassing the entire group. They make up elaborate stories about her life; they think they see her on television or at an airport. They keep a cautious eye on her beautiful sister and her damaged family as they make their own way through life.

Artfully written and easy to read, it's a story of middle class suburban angst balanced on the uncertainties and chaos of life. My favorite parts were the boys' made-up stories about Nora's life after her disappearance. They imagine she marries, that she travels the world- and that she dies. Other passages about the boys' real lives were less interesting for me, maybe because I just liked their daydreams more than their actual lives. I will admit I don't find suburban white-boy angst to be the most compelling subject of fiction, and Nora herself never really came alive for me. She is an icon- something to be revered but not someone we can ever know. She eludes us, and the boys, and because I couldn't get to know her, I couldn't understand what it was about her that made her resonate so with the boys. The mythic Nora is innocent at times, deeply sensual at others, a perfect projection of the boys' fantasies. And these fantasies help them cope not only with her disappearance but the uncertainty that haunts their own lives.

On balance I enjoyed reading The Fates and I think its carefully crafted writing will appeal to many kinds of readers of popular and literary fiction alike. Lacking the kind of down-to-earth detail and resolution of other recent missing-teen books like Miriam Gershow's wonderful The Local News or Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing, The Fates is a quiet, dreamy novel about the mysteries of the heart, and it's a lovely little read.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

Monday, February 21, 2011

JANE EYRE Read-a-Long: Check-in #2

Caution: Contains Spoilers!

I think I'm a few days late with this, but better late than never. See Laura's Review Bookshelf for more Jane Eyre updates.

I've just finished Chapter 22; Jane is in love with Mr. Rochester, and expects him to marry Blanche Ingram any day. She's just returned from the deathbed of her Aunt Reed and has seen her cousins Eliza and Georgiana off on their ways to the convent and the altar respectively. And she has come back to Thornfield.

One of my favorite parts of this very romantic book is the section where Blanche and cohort are enjoying themselves at Thornfield, and Rochester, having insisted that Jane be present in the drawing room each evening, seems to be holding the two women side by side for comparison. One of the most romantic scenes in the book takes place at the end of one of these evenings, when Jane, exhausted and sick with love for Rochester, decides to leave:
"Return to the drawing room: you are deserting too early." [Rochester says]
"I am tired, sir."
He looked at me for a moment.
"And a little depressed," he said. "What about? Tell me."
"Nothing- nothing, sir. I am not depressed."
"But I affirm that you are: so much depressed that a few more words would bring tears to your eyes- indeed, they are there now, shining and swimming; and a bead has slipped from the lash and fallen on to the flag. If I had time, and was not in mortal dread of some prating prig of a servant passing, I would know what all this means..."
I've always found in this exchange a palpable moment of tension, a moment when each wants to connect with the other but convention and their own emotional immaturity defeats them. There will be at least two more times in the book when Jane leaves him despite his protestations- when she leaves for her Aunt Reed's, and when she leaves him. The next time they're this close together is coming soon and is, for me, one of the most romantic scenes in English literature. But we're not there yet, and neither are Jane and Rochester. Now, back from her aunt's and anticipating Rochester's marriage to Blanche, Jane is just living day to day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Salon- Picking at the Bones of Borders

The big news in the book world this week of course is the bankruptcy of Borders and the close of 200+ stores nationwide. Here in Massachusetts I think we're losing 6; we're keeping the big store in Downtown Crossing, Boston, for now and thank goodness for that. Some of the stores they're closing have been wastelands for a while; some of them haven't been. All in all there's nothing to be happy about. The book business loses shelf space, authors lose opportunities, consumers lose some choice and lots of people lose their jobs.

I saw a lot of people crowing on Twitter about the big sales coming up but I can't even bring myself to pick the flesh off Borders' bones. For one thing it doesn't make me feel good about myself to take advantage of it, and for another the indies need the sales more than Borders does at this point.

Here's a list of indies you can shop at as an alternative to Borders.

Remember too that many if not most of these stores do online sales, too. So even if there isn't one within an easy drive you can still shop indie if you want to.

On to more personal business now! Between the weekly blizzards and the illnesses my husband and I had, January seemed like it lasted about five minutes. February, on the other hand, has been S-l-o-w. Our new cats are still settling in and I think we're so focused on them that time has just been crawling, painfully!

Pandora, the more outgoing of the two, has been playing almost daily; she still won't let us pat her but she's interacting more. The other cat, Tanya, is still pretty shy, but we're working on her, too! I hope to have pictures to show you soon but it's not easy because Tanya likes tight little spaces where we can barely see her and Pandora is very jumpy.

Otherwise things have been pretty low-key. We had some nice weather this week but it's back to the cold and snow now. Reading-wise I'm working my way through Jane Eyre and also enjoying Heliopolis, by James Scudamore. It's not a 2011 release but I've been so bored by most of the 2011 books that I (tried to) read that I'm probably not going to worry about any more for now. I put down Swamplandia!, A Discovery of Witches and The Oracle of Stamboul, but I haven't weeded them out yet so it's still possible I may go back to them. Not likely, but possible. I hope to finish Heliopolis today and move on to another book from Europa Editions, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, by Alina Bronsky, next.

Well back to the trenches I guess. What are you reading today? Have a great Sunday!

More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Quick Friday Finds

Just a few things this week. I haven't been doing much shopping and haven't had a lot in the mail, either. Actually, nothing in the mail this week! But that's okay, because it's not like I'm hurting for things to read.

First up is a pair of books by Italian writer Elena Ferrante, from the always-excellent Europa Editions. I don't think they can publish a book I wouldn't like. The Lost Daughter is about a woman who regrets having children; the book relates her inner monologue as she's on vacation away from her family.
Days of Abandonment is a similarly raw look at a woman who falls apart when her husband leaves her. Apparently Ferrante is quite the literary sensation in Italy and I'm really, really looking forward to these books. In fact, I may have to take an entire month sometime soon and read nothing but my growing stack of Europa Editions!
Last but not least I got The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel this week. The teacher in my creative writing class recommends her as a master of the short story form so I figure if I'm trying to write short stories I might as well feed my head with some good ones!

What are you feeding your head with this week? What's new on your bookshelf? Have a great weekend!

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, February 17, 2011

REVIEW: To the End of the Land, by David Grossman

To the End of the Land, by David Grossman. Published 2010 by Random House. Hardcover.

I'm going to start this review by saying simply that David Grossman isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. He's dense and challenging and he has a tendency to lapse into experimental writing, and it's in this vein that he begins in the first chapter of his masterful latest novel, To the End of the Land. The book tells the story of four men and the woman around whom all of their lives revolve. Avram and Ilan are best friends; Ofer and Adam are brothers. Ora is friend and lover to both Avram and Ilan, mother to Ofer and Adam. As the book opens, Ofer is returning to military service in the IDF, voluntarily, after a brief spell at home and as he and his mother are preparing to take a long hike together through Israel's countryside. Ilan and Adam have left her and when Ofer is called up, the walk is called off. Except that Ora doesn't want it to be, doesn't want to sit at home and wait and worry for her son. So she gets in a taxi and literally drags Avram from his bed and takes him with her.

The book opens with the trio- Ilan, Avram and Ora- as lost children in a hospital, where they form a tight bond. Grossman then flashes forward many years to Ofer's call-up. Ora and Avram and Ilan are in late middle age and have years of baggage between them and changes the narrative style to a more conventional mix of narrative and flashback. The top layer of the story concerns the hike, and Ora's endless store of stories and recollections about her family, which means herself and the four men of her life. Time spent as a prisoner of war in Egypt has transformed Avram into a bitter and traumatized recluse with unsteady employment and a series of casual girlfriends. Nothing sticks; he lives day to day, and initially resists Ora's attempts to draw him out. Lurking around every corner, and between every sentence the two utter, is Ofer; everything Ora does is an attempt to bring him closer while pushing away the pressing, aching fear that wracks her body and soul.

Underneath that top level is so much more. The years are stripped away as the two walk, and walk, and walk. Ora narrates most of the time, and her voice is compelling and complex, full of loves, insecurities, jealousies, and memories. She tells the stories of her children and their childhood, private stories unknown to Avram, with whom she's been out of touch for years. She tells the stories of her marriage and stories about Avram also unknown to him. Grossman writes her character with empathy and understanding. He sees right into her heart with its shifting allegiances and complex yearnings.

I really wanted a happy ending for these charred characters but Grossman is too smart to give us any sort of ending, happy or not. He teases us with the possibility of their happiness but won't let us close enough to touch. What he does do is create a vivid, searing novel of love and death, the reality of war, the fervent wish for peace and the ravaged country of Israel. Ora asks, "how can you even describe and revive a whole person, flesh and blood, with only words- oh, God, with only words?" Grossman uses his words to describe more than a person and more than a place; he's trying to get at the whole of the human soul. To the End of the Land is a magnificent, essential work of literature destined to be a classic.

Rating: BUY

To the End of the Land
by David Grossman
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

REVIEW: Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky

Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky. Published 2010 by Harper Perennial. Fiction.

Bad Marie is a great, quick read. The story of a woman recently released from prison who seems to be doing everything to go back as soon as possible, it's also the story of a woman who gets herself into an impossible mess and realizes the only way out is through her love for a little girl.

Straight out of jail for being an accomplice to a crime, Marie is hired by Ellen, an old friend, to babysit her little daughter Caitlin. Marie is besotted with the little girl, and soon by her friend's husband as well, a weak and feckless man who's even less than he appears. The three run away together but realism takes over quickly as their journey transforms from a romantic idyll to a grim search for diapers, food for the baby, and cash.

What holds the book together, and kept me turning the pages, is Marie's desperate love for Caitlin and her even more desperate wish that somehow they stay together, that Caitlin forget her mother, that somewhere, some man will finally take care of both of them and Marie can fully regress into the child she longs to be and has been so far. But Dermansky won't let Marie off so easily and shows us instead Marie's gradual but steady transformation into a responsible adult, one who knows that the only way to take care of Caitlin is to let the little girl go and to finally take responsibility for her actions.

I loved Bad Marie. I read it quickly because I couldn't wait to find out what would happen, what new cringe-worthy adventure or mess she'd get herself into next and how she'd get out of it. I love Dermansky's realistic and raw portrayal of Marie and of the situation she creates for herself; the book starts out with an irresponsible young woman, basically an overgrown child herself, indulging in short-term pleasures with no thought of the future. Prison was a good place for Marie; she didn't have any real worries or responsibilities and she wants her post-prison life to be the same. But she grows up because she finds out that loving someone else is a responsibility in and of itself, and one that she'll take on even if it means giving up her freedom again. It's well-written and will appeal to lots of readers. Pick it up!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's Jewish Book Carnival Time!

This month I'm privileged to host the Jewish Book Carnival, a roundup of links on Jewish books from across the blogiverse. The Jewish Book Carnival started as an initiative of the Association of Jewish Libraries and now has almost two dozen blogs and bloggers participating each month. 

And they're always looking for new folks to participate and host! If you've written a post recently about a Jewish book, I know you'd be more than welcome to join in! Just let me know & I would be happy to pass your name- and your blog- along to the organizers who'll take it from there and let you know all the details.

Here are this month's links!

Susan at Bagels, Books & Schmooze shares her review of Naomi Ragen's The Saturday Wife.

Heidi at The Book of Life podcast shares an interview with Debbie Levy, author of The Year of Goodbyes.

Erika Dreifus shares For the International Day of Commemoration: Reznikoff Reading "Holocaust".

Forwords Books shares some great books for the upcoming holiday of Purim.

At Here in HP, Leora reviews The Violin of Auschwitz, by Maria Angels Anglada.  

Amy Meltzer at Homeshuling: A Jewish Parenting Blog talks about Jewish Children's Books for Grown-ups. And a giveaway.

Jewish Comics has a great post highlighting the Graphic Details art show in Toronto- Jewish comix autobiography by women.

From Jewish Journal, Crossing UFOs and Sacred Text in a Whodunit.

Ann D. Koffsky gives us a beautiful Outer Space Coloring Page.

On Kveller, Amy Meltzer talks about A Mezuzah on the Door: Can Books Teach and Still Be Fun To Reads?

Life is Like a Library shares an interview with author Margie Gelbwasser, whose book Inconvenient, is a 2011 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens. 

People of the Books, the AJL's blog, shares its wrap-up post on the recent Sydney Taylor Book Awards Blog Tour.

Rayna Eliana shares a review of The Thirteen Petalled Rose, by Adin Steinsaltz.

Rhapsody in Books reviews Foreskin's Lament, by Shalom Auslander. 

Sylvia Rouss gives us a cute video: Sammy Spider Asks, Does Eli Want a Clean Diaper?

Yaldah Books shares a great post on New Awards, New Books, New Distribution and an Important Note on the Yaldah Name.

I hope you have some time to visit these great blogs and comment to let them know you came by.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Musing Mondays: Romance Novels for Valentine's Day

This week’s musing (in honor of St. Valentines Day) asks two questions, but you only need to answer one…
If you read romance novels, answer this question:
Who are your favorite “romance” authors? Why?

If you do NOT read romance novels, answer this question instead:
Do you read love-themed books in honor of Valentine’s Day? Or, Valentine’s Day books, specifically? If so, give us some examples! If not, why not?

I read romance novels when I was a teenager for fun but I haven't in years; just not my thing. Yesterday I talked a little bit about some of my favorite literary love stories like The English Patient and Jane Eyre and while I love love stories, I don't read love-themed books in honor of Valentine's Day per se, but only because I don't generally do the whole seasonal-theme-read thing in general.  I don't really have a good reason why- just not a habit I've ever gotten into!

Movies are a different story and I do plan on watching a romantic movie this evening. You can visit my movie blog to see my post on great movies for Valentine's Day.

More Musing Mondays at

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Salon- The Eye of the Hurricane

What a week. The new kitties are settling in, but mostly that means they're finding new places to hide every day and generally driving me crazy. Today we have to take one of them to the vet for a general check up- wish me luck! Yesterday we cleaned out my craft room and made it the cat room- got them all set up with their own quiet little space. I hope that helps them!  On Thursday Jeff and I got to go to the local premiere of the movie Gnomeo and Juliet; one of his clients was involved with the film and invited us. I wrote a review on my movie blog if you're interested.

Friday was my birthday and I got to see a bunch of friends and eat some cake, which is just about all you can ask for. Book-wise, my husband got me a vintage illustrated edition of Jane Eyre and a Folio Society edition of Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda, one of my favorite books. I also got a gift card for Barnes & Noble, which I spent on the complete DVD series of "Jeeves and Wooster" and the Everyman's Library edition of Giuseppe di Lampedusa's wonderful historical novel The Leopard. If you love Italy or Italian history, you have to read this magnificent novel and see Luchino Visconti's masterful film adaptation. Please!

Today? Today is all about relaxing and reading, I hope! I'm taking a creative-writing class and I need to read my fellow students' short stories, and work on my own, and I've got Enough About Love by Hervé Le Tellier to read, a bubbly literary romance perfect for Valentine's Day, and Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, which I'm enjoying. It's a quirky story about a quirky family and so far, a fun read. This month I'm reading 2011 releases and there are so many good-looking books to choose from. Too many, as always!

I'm also hoping to write some decent reviews and posts this week, and get back to commenting and reading other blogs; this past week I've been so preoccupied with the "kids" that everything else sort of took a back seat. So today I'll play catch-up on a bunch of things and try to just chill out a little, too.

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, I'd love to know what's your favorite literary love story. I'm reading mine- Jane Eyre- for Laura's readalong at her blog, Laura's Review Bookshelf. Oscar and Lucinda is another great one, albeit kind of twisted; A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot is another; The End of the Affair, The English Patient, The Remains of the Day and Possession round out my favorites. What are yours?

More Sunday Salon here!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Finds-It's Been A Busy Week Edition

Which means no vlog once again. Things have been stressful around the house trying to acclimate the new furry family members; my hair is basically standing on end at this point. I feel like I've aged 10 years in the past 7 days! Anyway, here are my new books, all of which came for review.
The Paperbarck Shoe, by Goldie Goldbloom, about an albino girl who meets two Italian prisoners of war, came from a Picador Facebook promotion.
Adam Schwartz's A Stranger on the Planet is about a dysfunctional family in the 1960s and 1970s. It came for review from the book's publicist after I requested it. The author is a professor at my alma mater, Wellesley College, and while I missed out on the chance to see him read from the book I can't wait to get started on it.
Finally, Cathleen Schine's The Three Weissmanns of Westport has just been released in paperback and I received a review copy from the book's publicists after it was pitched to me. I'm very interested in reading a less-chick-lit take on modernizing Jane Austen; this book is based on Sense and Sensibility and I'm looking forward to it.

Today's my birthday and I will probably buy myself a book at some point! I don't know what that will be though!

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Great Debuts

There’s something wonderful about getting in on the ground floor of an author’s career–about being one of the first people to read and admire them, before they became famous best-sellers.
Which authors have you been lucky enough to discover at the very beginning of their careers?
And, if you’ve never had that chance, which author do you WISH you’d been able to discover at the very beginning?

Tough question! I wish I'd been reading A.S. Byatt and Margaret Atwood from the beginning but I would have had to start in the early 1970s; I learned to read young, but not that young!  I don't read a whole lot of debut fiction but I was glad to be have read Kathleen Kent's first book, The Heretic's Daughter, right away, and Abraham Verghese's first novel Cutting for Stone, but then he was already a well-known writer of memoir. That's what happens a lot with me: I fall in love with an established author thinking he or she is not well known, only to find out that that person is wildly famous!

More Booking Thru Thursday here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour Interview with Howard Schwartz

Every year, the Association of Jewish Libraries honors the best in Jewish books for kids and young adults with the Sydney Taylor Book Award, named after the author of the beloved classic All-of-a-Kind-Family series. You can read more about the Sydney Taylor Book Award on the AJL website; today, and all week, the AJL has organized a blog tour where you can learn about many of the winners and nominees for this year's awards. I am privileged to share an interview with Howard Schwartz, author of the Sydney Taylor Book Award winner for Younger Readers, Gathering Sparks. Gathering Sparks is a beautifully written and illustrated (by Kristina Swarner) picture book about the concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, and tells the story of the ten ships that form the basis for one version of the story of how the world can be repaired through good deeds or mitzvot.

1. What inspired you to use the metaphor of stars for good deeds?

Gathering Sparks was inspired by the essential Jewish teaching of tikkun olam, repairing the world. This was the primary teaching of Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the Ari, who lived in Safed in the 16th century. In linking the stars with good deeds, I was drawing upon an interpretation of the Ari’s myth of the Shattering of the Vessels and the Gathering of the Sparks. This interpretation proposed that when the vessels filled with primordial light shattered, as takes place in the Ari’s myth, not only did they scatter holy sparks everywhere, but they also created the stars. According to the Ari, by following the mitzvot, the commandments, or by doing a mitzvah, a good deed, these holy sparks will be gathered, and the world will be repaired. The commentary that linked the creation of the stars with the Ari’s myth gave me the clue I needed.

2. What were you thinking about as you wrote the book? What ideas motivated you?
For years I have taught adults the beautiful myth of the Ari, and they have always been inspired by it. I wanted to communicate these ideas to children, so they would have the sense that they could contribute to the world, and to their family, and even assist God, simply by doing good deeds.

3. Who do you see as the audience for the book?
Since the repair of the world is such a big job, I hope that everyone will do their part. So while the Ari lived in an exclusively Jewish world in Safed, his myth should be an inspiration not only for Jews, but for everyone. Of course, Jewish people can be especially proud that a genius like the Ari created a myth to inspire and guide the people to work together in harmony to make the world a better place. But the basic teaching of tikkun olam can be appreciated by everyone, Jewish or not.

4. Where did the story of the ten vessels come from? Why is it meaningful?
The Ari is considered to be the greatest Jewish mystic of all time. The story of the ten vessels is his central teaching. He lived not not long after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Those who were expelled from the culturally rich lives of Spain, and found themselves living in poverty in far-flung places in the Middle East and other countries. When the myth of the Ari spread throughout the Jewish world, it changed their lives completely. They no longer saw themselves as exiles, but as people with a mission from God to improve the world—and gather holy sparks at the same time. Today the Ari’s myth is best known through his teaching about tikkun olam. Everyone needs a purpose. This essential Jewish teaching offers a positive purpose to everyone who is touched by it.

5. How do you hope parents and educators will use the book?
I have already heard from librarians and teachers who have had exiting responses from the book. For example, librarian Sharon Elswit wrote that “A second grade teacher in my independent (secular) school captured the imagination of her class with the book on project day, letting them explore ways that they could make the world a better place.” I hope that parents and educators will take this opportunity to explore their children’s ideas about how the ways they could gather sparks for the good of all. 
You can see the complete schedule for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour on the AJL blog, and below, as well:

Carla Jablonski, author of Resistance
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Jewish Comics
Leland Purvis, illustrator of Resistance
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Shelf-Employed
Sarah Gershman, author of Modeh Ani: A Good Morning Book
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Biblio File
Linda Glaser, author of Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at ASHarmony
Claire Nivola, illustrator of Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Lori Calabrese
Evelyn Krieger, author of One Is Not a Lonely Number
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Ima On and Off the Bima
Barbara Diamond Goldin, author of Cakes and Miracles: A Purim Tale
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Great Kid Books
Jaime Zollars, illustrator of Cakes and Miracles: A Purim Tale
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at The Book of Life
Susan Lynn Meyer, author of Black Radishes
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at The 3 Rs – Reading, ‘Riting & Research

Howard Schwartz, author of Gathering Sparks
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Boston Bibliophile
Barry Deutsch, author and illustrator of Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at BewilderBlog
Dana Reinhardt, author of The Things a Brother Knows
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
Kristina Swarner, illustrator of Gathering Sparks
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
And illustrator of Modeh Ani: A Good Morning Book
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Alice Pope’s SCBWI Children’s Market Blog

Sarah Darer Littman, author of Life, After
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Into the Wardrobe
Eishes Chayil, author of Hush
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Frume Sarah’s World
Morris Gleitzman, author of Once
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at The Fourth Musketeer
Sydney Taylor Award Winners – Wrap-Up
All winners, all categories
at The Whole Megillah

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive a complimentary copy of Gathering Sparks for review or to use to prepare this interview.


Monday, February 7, 2011

JANE EYRE Read-a-Long: Check-in #1

This post will contain spoilers about Charlotte Brontë's classic novel Jane Eyre.

I'm through the first 12 chapters of Jane Eyre after starting on February 1; the chapters are short and it's such a pleasure to read that my pace of 2 chapters a day has been easy to maintain. I think I missed one day this week but with only 38 chapters in the book, and 28 days in the month, I'm well-positioned to finish on time.

So far, we've seen Jane's loveless childhood with the Reed family, her school years at miserable Lowood, a charity school, and the beginnings of her time at Thornfield Hall, the mansion where she goes to work as a governess after spending time teaching at Lowood. Jane Eyre is not a book for people who were happy children. Jane is a misfit, a child at the mercy of hard-hearted adults who escapes into books. Jane's Aunt Reed treats Jane like a nuisance and a bother. Jane is her dead husband's niece, forced on her care; plain instead of pretty, headstrong instead of eager-to-please. She sends Jane to a school whose material landscape will match her aunt's emotional landscape. Gateshead, her aunt's manse, is luxurious but emotionally barren; Lowood is the opposite, intellectually and emotionally rich but a place where children starve and die for lack of basic food, clothing and shelter.

Thornfield looks to be a restful place, comfortable and opulent and also filled with kind people who like Jane and respect her, too. She settles in, gets to know Adele, her young pupil, and the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, who will become her main confidante.

And this is where I leave her for now. In a chapter or two she'll meet the dark and mysterious Mr. Rochester and the book will take an entirely new turn- the love story will commence.

I love this book so much and reading it is always such a treat. Tonight I'm reading a graphic novel, A Mess of Everything, by Miss Lasko-Gross, about another teen girl who feels like an outsider, whose strong opinions and outspokenness gets her into trouble and it occurred to me that every girl (and woman) who's ever felt like she didn't belong, and wanted to write about it, owes something to Jane and Charlotte Brontë; another great reason to read this wonderful book.

Read more posts at Laura's Review Bookshelf.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Salon- New Cat Edition

So yesterday my husband Jeff and I went to the airport and picked up the newest members of our family, Tanya and Pandora. They are littermates, 2 year old Siberian females who are retired breeding cats. They flew in all the way from Montana yesterday; as of this writing they are hiding under a chair in our living room. If I lie down on my stomach I can just see Tanya's paw.

Now, I know everyone wants to see pictures. Sadly I haven't been able to get a good enough look at them since we got them home so the best I can do is share this photo of Tanya taken by her original owner:
Tanya is the mother cat in this photo; the kitten is not Pandora; it's a kitten of Tanya's. They were supposed to have arrived on Friday but they had a little mishap on the way to the airport and missed their flight, but they arrived safe and sound Saturday evening. Now they're home!!!

Reading? Yeah, I'm doing that. Since the cats are still acclimating, I have plenty of time to read today. I'm working on Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger, a Booker Prize winner, and The Oracle of Stamboul, by Michael David Lukas, a historical-fiction 2011 release that appealed to me about a young girl who becomes an advisor to the Sultan. I'm enjoying both very much, but the Lively is extraordinary. It's about a dying historian reflecting on her great love, as well as her tangled family and friends. It's so beautifully written and just amazes me every time I turn the page.

I'm going to go back to staring under my chair now and talk to my cats some more. What are you up to today? I heard there's some sporting event on today. *Shakes head.* Have a great Sunday!

More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Finds! Cool Stuff Once Again, Cause I Do Have Awesome Taste

The first thing I got this week, from Bookmooch, is Andrea Levy's The Long Song, nominated for the Booker Prize last year. It looks great!

Vestments, by John Reiminger, is a wonderful-looking novel about a conflicted Catholic priest. I'd had my eye on this book at one of my local indies for a long time and decided to finally take the plunge.

Finally, I got Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Sabbath, his meditation on the Jewish day of rest. I came across this book several years ago when I was cataloging a collection of books in a disused library; I read some of this slim and lovely volume but I'd like to take the time to read the whole thing. Heschel was an important and influential rabbi and an activist; he marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and worked tirelessly throughout his life for social justice.

What did you find this week? More Friday Finds at

Thursday, February 3, 2011 Interview with Salman Rushdie

Several weeks ago I had the honor of interviewing Booker-Prize winning author Salman Rushdie, whose latest book Luka and the Fire of Life came out recently, for a State of the Thing feature on You can also find the full text of this interview here.

It's been widely written that you wrote this book for your younger son, Milan, who wanted his own book after you wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories for your older son, almost 20 years ago. Does someone picking up Luka and the Fire of Life need to have read Haroun?
No. Luka was conceived as a stand-alone fiction. But the two books are companions, of course.

You've said that the book celebrates the electronic world but also cherishes power of narrative and stories; what impact do you think the electronic world has on storytelling? How will storytelling change?
There will be new ways of creating fictions, undoubtedly, but that's a question for someone half my age or even younger. It isn't going to be me who discovers the potential of the electronic world.

The story contains numerous, numerous references to mythologies from all over the world, and many references to popular culture icons like Doctor Who, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and more. Is popular culture the mythology of today, as gods and goddesses were the popular culture of the ancient world? I noticed that one of the only time travellers mentioned by name is Hank Morgan from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Why?
I think popular culture is a sort of modern mythology, though perhaps a somewhat impoverished one. Don't know why only Hank Morgan gets named. It just came out that way.

Ostensibly a story for children, the book's extensive wordplay, allusions, punning and verbal games present some tantalizing puzzles for adults as well. What audience did you have in mind as you wrote the book?
Everyone I could get.

You've been quoted as saying "Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts." The story of Captain Aag and the circus at the very beginning of the book is like the whole story in summary, but it's also a version of the story that happens in the real as opposed to magical world. Are the events in the magical world real, or are they like Dorothy's adventures in Oz- vivid, important and life-changing, but essentially illusory?
I think they are 100% real. And so are Dorothy's, by the way. I don't buy the whole it-was-just-a-dream thing.

An important theme in the book is the growth of the father-son relationship- how it evolves over time and how eventually the son replaces the father. Luka comes to believe that he must save his father to save the magical world, which his father created from his stories. But stories don't just stay with one person; they're passed down, and now that Luka knows the stories, does he really need his father anymore?
He needs his father because he loves him!

Why did you decide to use video games as a device for Luka's adventures? What about the medium interests you?
It was a way of using a new language to reinvigorate an ancient story, the story of the quest for fire. Also, I hadn't seen it done before, and that made it irresistible.

The book is a coming-of-age story as much as anything else, and in the end Luka must not so much fight the gods and goddesses of the magical world as convince them to help him; it's words that must ultimately determine his fate (and his father's). Is Luka going to be a storyteller like his father? What do you think his own imaginary world will look like?
I genuinely have no idea. Unlike Charles Dickens, I don't know what happens to my characters after the last page.

What are the myths and stories from your own childhood that resonate most with you? What kind of kid were you? Were you like Luka?
There are lots of wonderful animal fables in India, and it was fun to get to write a book full of fabulous animals.

You've been quoted as saying "Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one." What was irrational about the creation of this story?

What does your son Milan think of the book?
He likes it. What a relief!

Have you ever considered putting Luka and Haroun together in a story?
Yes. Maybe that will be a story I write somewhere down the line.

This is a family book in many ways; are there any "secrets" hidden in the book, like characters based on real people or family jokes in the text?
My son Milan has a dog called Bear. And he's left-handed, like Luka. And once on vacation he found a toy that was a hybrid creature - a bird with an elephant's head, like the Memory Birds in the book. He made me put it in.

What would you want a reader coming to your work for the first time through Luka to know about how this book reflects your values as a writer?
I would want them to enjoy it, that's all. If they do that it might tempt them to pick up another of my books.

What's on your bookshelf right now?
David Mitchell's novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet; and Reggie Nadelson's thriller, Blood Count.

You can see my review of Luka and the Fire of Life here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

REVIEW: Luka and the Fire of Life, by Salman Rushdie

Luka and the Fire of Life, by Salman Rushdie. Published 2010 by Random House. Literary Fiction.

Luka and the Fire of Life is the follow-up, if not exactly a sequel, to Salman Rushdie's 1991 Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Luka is Haroun's little brother, and is sent on a quest to save their father as he lies dying. Accompanied by the shady and possibly treacherous Nobodaddy, a spirit sent to take his father to the world beyond, Luka travels through a wondrous world populated by gods and goddesses from every pantheon on Earth.

Luka's mission is told through the metaphor of the video game; he gains and loses lives and traverses levels and playing fields as he figures out how to solve his dilemma and keep his father alive. Rushdie tells the story in lively, allusive, imaginative prose that kept me turning pages- and kept me smiling, too. Luka's father is a storyteller and the world Luka finds himself in is the world of his father's stories; Luka must figure out how to use those stories to bring his own to a happy ending.

Smart, inventive, playful and sweet, Luka and the Fire of Life will appeal to lots of readers. I liked it; I didn't love it but I enjoyed the journey through Rushdie's imagination. It was my first Rushdie, I'm a little embarrassed to admit, and I don't think readers will have to have read Haroun to enjoy it. I'm looking forward though to reading more of his serious fiction, having gotten just a little taste of what he can do in this book. I hope other readers are motivated to explore more of his work too after this charming introduction to one of the world's most acclaimed living writers.

Read my interview with Salman Rushdie here.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

JANE EYRE Read-a-Long

So it's February 1 and you know what that means- time to start the read-a-long of Jane Eyre with Laura and Laura's Review Bookshelf.

I'm so excited! My paperback reading copy of Jane Eyre is pretty beat up; I got it when I was a teenager, when I first had to read it for English class, and it's got all my notes and annotations, all my dog-eared pages and food spills. I tried to pick it up the other day and pages fell out. I decided it was time for a new copy.

So I headed down to the New England Mobile Book Fair, a great independent bookstore nearby me, and picked up a $1.98 remaindered Dover Editions copy, the perfect thing to curl up with.

As some of you may remember, I collect vintage copies of Jane Eyre but I don't want to read any of my "good" copies- some of them are not in great shape, either!

Laura hasn't set a schedule for the read-a-long so I'm going to just settle in and take my time with it- maybe a few chapters here and there, and we'll see how it goes! There are 38 chapters in the book so divided over 28 days of February, two chapters a day is more than enough to finish, even with some slacking. Are you going to join in? If you're reading it for the first time or the fifteenth, I hope you do!