Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Announcing October's Author in the Spotlight

Announcing October's Minnesota Author in the Spotlight.

It is a cold, rainy Fall day here in Minnesota and all I want to do is wear a warm sweater and snuggle under blankets with a good book.  Alas this is hard to do with my teaching load this semester. I am so busy.  I still manage to sneak in a few books here and there but my reading has really dropped off as I read student papers, and educate myself on my subject matter.

I'm excited about this month's author.  Alison McGhee, is a former teacher and a prolific and varied author. She writes for children, teens and adults and has written 20 books.  Alison's newest book is for children and is called Star Bright, a Christmas Story.

I'm going to pick a few books of Alison's to highlight and I encourage you to go to her website and Goodreads to check out the others.

Here are the synopsis from Goodreads:

Star Bright. A Christmas Story
This perfectly angelic and perfectly charming Christmas story offers a creative twist on the classic tale of the nativity, from the #1 New York Times bestselling creators of Someday.

The angels are aflutter: a baby is soon to be born! One small angel can tell this baby is especially special by the way the other angels are dashing and fussing about. And holy moly, are their presents extraordinary. The little angel wants to give a present too, but, what could she possibly offer that is as worthy as the others gifts?

At a loss for original ideas, she peeks over the side of her platform and spies something going on in the desert, a caravan of kings on camels, lost in the dark. And suddenly she knows she most do something, and does the only thing she can. Because the greatest gift of all? It can't be wrapped. It can't be bought. It can only be selflessly, joyfully given. And it ends up being the perfect gift for that little baby, the shiniest gift at all.

Shadow Baby

Eleven-year-old Clara is struggling to find the truth about her missing father and grandfather and her dead twin sister, but her mother refuses to talk. When Clara begins interviewing Georg Kominsky--her elderly neighbor--she finds that he is equally reticent about his own concealed history. Precocious and imaginative, Clara invents versions of Mr. Kominsky’s past, just as she invents lives for the people missing from her own shadowy history. Her journey of discovery is at the heart of this beautiful story about unlikely friendship and communion, about discovering what matters most in life, and about the search to find the missing pieces of ourselves.


"Children will come away thinking they have heard something quite profound about love, fear, and hope for the future."
- Booklist (starred review)

Eddie Beckey makes lists for just about everything and everyone in her life. And for matters of real importance, she wears (and snaps) an array of colored rubber bands on her wrist. Unfortunately, the world is not always so orderly and knowable. No list can help her cope with what's happening to her best friend, Sally - or change the course of things for Sally's grandmother, whom Eddie has grown to love and depend on as well. With subtlety and insight, novelist Alison McGhee tells the story of a young girl's first encounter with grief, and of the enduring power of friendship.

This month you can expect a book review (hopefully two), a giveaway, an author interview and possibly a guest post.

Come back often and enjoy the frightful month of October.
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Brief Moment of Weightlessness by Victoria Fish

A Brief Moment of Weightlessness by Victoria Fish

In this slim volume of 11 short stories, Victoria Fish leaves a big impression on the reader.  I want to briefly highlight four of her unique stories.

Where Do You Find a Turtle with no Legs?
Love this title for a story.  This story is told from 4th grade, Maddie's point of view.  It is about a family missing their dad and their visit to prison and how Maddie feels sick about the whole situation.

A Brief Moment of Weightlessness.
The title story.  This story is about a family and their visit to the cabin on the coast.  One of the daughters, Rosemary is only there because she is forced to go and so she is pushing the limits and wants everyone to be miserable.  The other daughter, Frances, is enthusiastic and is going to learn to row the boat this summer.  This is a well-written, truly lovely story about family.

The Sari.
Sarah is an American college student, studying in India and she is working on an Independent project.  She dresses like a male peasant for good reason.  This is a great story about the exchange of culture and ideas and of course, a sari.  Loved it.

Green Line
A former soldier in the Iraqi war is trying to put his life back together.  Except his life has changed so much, he doesn't recognize it and he keeps having flashbacks.  This story really made me think about how damaging war is to families.  Poignant.

I like to read a short story every Saturday.  Short stories make my day and this collection by Victoria Fish is a nice edition to my Saturday tradition.  Looking forward to reading more of her work.

Disclaimer: I Received this book from TLC book tours in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 29, 2014

P.S. Duffy Author Interview + Giveaway

P.S. Duffy Author Interview + Giveaway

P.S. Duffy is the September Author in the Spotlight here on Booksnob's blog and I decided to ask her some questions about her book, her writing life and the books she loves and recommends.  Read on to learn more about P.S. Duffy and her novel,  The Cartographer of No Man's Land.

Hi Penny,

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I came to Minnesota from Washington, DC almost 30 years ago to get my doctorate at the University of Minnesota and never left this land of lakes and dreams. I love the open skies, The distant horizons, and the people, and think our grandchildren are lucky to be growing up here in Rochester. I’ve been writing all my life and now write for Mayo Clinic. I’m the author of essays, scientific papers, a text book on right hemisphere brain damage, and a memoir, called A Stockbridge Homecoming, about my family’s time during the Communist Revolution in China, where I was born in the late 1940s. People find it odd that my writing crosses from the neurosciences to fiction, but both science and fiction require imagination, precision of language, and a leap of faith from idea to execution. I was a dreamer as a child and I still am.

2. What inspired you to write The Cartographer of No Man’s Land?
I always knew I’d one day set a book in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, where my family had a summer house. When I first saw the bay at age ten, I was struck by an overwhelming sense that I’d been there before. It was that familiar to me. Back then I played pirates and wrote pirate stories set among the islands. When I started this book, a vision of a father and son came to me—a very vivid scene.  The rest of the characters filled without effort, and I knew I had entered a world unknown to me before … and yet somehow familiar.  Imagining that world, those relationships was easy; getting it right on the page took numerous revisions before I could bear to let it go out into the real world.  

3. How long did it take you to conduct the research for this book of historical fiction?  And why did you choose the period of World War I?
The research took four or five years during which time I continued to write and revise. I researched both the First World War and life in Nova Scotia circa 1917. Initially I set the story right after the war, but as I did the research, the war kind of snuck up on me, and soon I began to see my characters in it, particularly after visiting the battlefield cemeteries in France, which brought me to my knees—a humbling, deeply emotional experience.

4. Usually an author puts some of her own life experiences in the book.  Did you do that?  Do you have anything in common with your characters?
The boat Simon Peter designs is modeled after a little wooden sailboat I used to own; his mucking about in boats and certain scenes, like watching twin dolphin cross the bow of a becalmed boat, are things I experienced around his age.  My grandfather, Simon Peter, a man whom I never met, was from Nova Scotia and was reportedly a good but most often a very bad man. I now think I was subconsciously trying to rehabilitate him by naming this golden boy of a character Simon Peter. My father was an Episcopalian minister, so the thread of Angus’s experience in the seminary and the pacifism of his father, Duncan, are familiar to me. My mother was definitely not a pacifist and is the model for Ida, the down-to-earth housekeeper. There’s a bit of her in Duncan as well. And there’s a bit of me in many of the characters—I ’d like to think especially in Angus, the reluctant soldier, but I
can only strive for his humility and grace.

5. The Cartographer of No Man’s Land is your first novel.  Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?
I began writing around age eight with a few tragic stories, silly and sad poems, and a novel, handwritten into a speckle-covered copy book. It was about the impossible friendship between a rich boy and a poor boy, which, for some reason, I set in Greece, a country I knew absolutely nothing about.  In my family, my sister Patty played the piano; my sister Polly painted, and I, Penny, took pen in hand. Writing fed my soul then and does now, but aside from the masterpiece  I wrote at eight, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land was the first piece of fiction I wrote with publication in mind. Within two years of writing it, it was in print. Sometimes the stars align, the timing is right, and you can’t believe your good fortune.

6. Are you currently working on a new novel and will you share part of the plot with us?
I am! But I don’t want to share any more than to say that you’d recognize some of the characters.

7. Do you like to read?  What authors or books influence you?
Yes! Love to read. At odds with this fast-paced world, I’m a fan of the long form essay, especially in areas I know little about. I also love fiction. For their vivid imagery and rhythm of language my early influences were G.M. Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence and the earliest--Thomas Wolf’s Look Homeward Angel.  My current favorites are  Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach and Atonement for plot, setting, character development;  Colm Toibin’s The Master for the richness of his prose and fullness of the narrator’s voice;  and strangely, Paul Harding’s Tinkers, a wild, stream-of-consciousness, nearly hallucinogenic book that took my breath away—a book you either love or hate. I’d add Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, and must say that though I rarely read mystery,  Gone Girl had me turning pages with increasing speed until I reached the end. Right now I’m reading John Williams’ Stoner and Kate Adkinson’s Life after Life—enjoying them both.

8. Name one book that you believe is a must read and tell us why?
To me, To Kill A Mockingbird is pitch-perfect in every way.

9. What is the most important lesson/idea you want readers to take away from your book, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land?
That our saving grace, our best hope in times of upheaval is found in the small, quiet acts of humanity that bind us to one another.

10. Tell us in one sentence why we should read The Cartographer of No Man’s Land
Many readers have told me that the world of Cartographer stays with them long after they have finished the book and becomes like a memory of their own making.

Thanks Penny!

If you like to win a copy of P.S. Duffy's book, The Cartographer of No Man's Land, enter here:  The Cartographer of No Man's Land Giveaway

Banned Books Week GIveaway Winner!

                                          Banned Books Week Giveaway Winner!

In September of last year, the Anoka-Hennepin school district, in Minnesota, banned author Rainbow Rowell from coming to speak about her book Eleanor & Park, during Banned Books Week.  The controversy caused a wave of opinions and the outrage of book lovers everywhere.  It also put Eleanor & Park on the radar of many readers, including me, as I went out and bought the audio book immediately.  Don't they know that if you ban a book, people everywhere want to read it?  I guess not.

In honor of Banned Books Week and exercising our Freedom to read what we want, I am giving away 1 copy of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.

And the winner is....

Melissa G from Tennessee

Congratulations Melissa and enjoy your new book.  You are going to love it!

Exercise your First Amendment rights.
Stay Informed
Challenge Censorship
Support your local schools and libraries.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The History Lesson: 5 Banned Books

The History Lesson:  5 Banned Books

This week is Read Banned Books Week and since I'm a history teacher we learned about Censorship, First Amendment rights and Banned Books in my class.   Every day this week I wore a different bookish T-Shirt and then brought in the corresponding book and read students a page and talked about why the particular book was banned somewhere in the world.

Monday - Sept 22

I wore my Goodnight Moon T-shirt and talked about my love of books and explained Banned Books Week and why it is important to read Banned Books.

The books I highlighted on Monday were Little Red Riding Hood, which was banned because Red carried wine in her basket, and Eleanor & Park, which was banned by a Minnesota school district, for obscene language, last year.  Incidentally the district that banned Rainbow Rowell and her book, is right next door to the school district I teach in.  I emphasized how lucky we are that parents do not try and ban books in our school

Tuesday- Sept 23

I wore my Great Gatsby T-shirt and read a page from the book.  My students will actually be reading The Great Gatsby this school year in there American Lit class.  Many already have seen the movie version.  The Great Gatsby was banned because of the affair in the book as well as the alcohol use in the book.  Prohibition was in effect when the book was published in 1925.

Wednesday-Sept 24

Scott Fitzgerald's birthday.  I should have worn my Great Gatsby shirt and talked about it on this day. Oh well.  Whoopsie.

Today I wore my Color Purple shirt and read from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple. This book is entirely told in letters or diary entries.  It is based on a true story and has been banned frequently for sexual situations and sexual violence.  It begins in the 1930's and covers 30 years.  There is a dialect in it.  It grips you from the first page.

Thursday- Sept 25
My 21st wedding anniversary.

I wore my Alice in Wonderland T-shirt and talked about Lewis Carroll and Alice's adventures.  Alice in Wonderland is banned for having talking animals.  China banned it, stating that animals should not be on a equal level with humans and should not have human qualities.  It was also banned because the caterpillar sits on a mushroom and smokes a hookah pipe. He gives Alice a piece of the mushroom and people freaked that its a drug reference.

Friday - Sept 26th

I wore my Slaughter House-Five T-shirt and talked about why the book is named Slaughter House-five and The Children's Crusade and that is a anti-war book frequently banned.  It was my first experience learning about the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany during WWII.  Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden during the war.  Mainly it's banned for swear words and sexual situations.

Have you read any of these books?

Do you own bookish T-shirts??

I get all my book T-shirts at Out of Print Clothing

Support Freedom of Speech and Read a Banned Book

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Two opportunities I'm excited about

Two opportunities I'm excited about.

I have two exciting opportunities to share with you.  If you love to read and write like I do, there are two classes that start in September for readers and writers and they are both FREE.  Yes!!

1.  Course Title: Laura Ingalls Wilder: Exploring Her Work & Writing Life

Missouri State University
Sep 22, 2014 to Dec 1, 2014
Cost per enrollment: Free

(This starts tomorrow!!)  You can join anytime.
I'm so excited for this class.  I am a huge Laura Ingalls Wilder fan.  I have read all of her books and have visited 5 of her houses.  I grew up watching Little House on the Praire and we have a lot in common.  First of all we are both named Laura, she was born in 1867 and I was born in 1967.  We both lived in Minnesota, both of us are teachers, writers, and mothers.  I am excited to be a participant in this class and learn more about Laura and her writing life.

If you want to enroll in the class, please visit this link:

2.  Course Title:  How Writers Write Fiction
Course Dates: Friday, Sep 26 to Friday, Nov 21

Provided by:
The International Writing Program
Iowa Writers
Instructor(s): Christopher Merrill, R. Clifton Spargo

Opening Lines, Opening Doors
Putting Setting to Work
Learning and Building the World
Animating the World
Structures and Storytelling
Constraints and Styles
Revision and Rediscovery

I love to write but never have enough time for it.  It is usually what I push to the side while I am busy doing other things.  Well, I am trying to give my writing a chance and so this will be my 3rd writing class of the year.  I am super excited for this class and can't wait to improve my craft.

If you would like to join me in this course please visit this link:

Let's Learn Together!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

                                               Banned Book Week Giveaway Hop

Protect your right to read.

In September of last year, the Anoka-Hennepin school district, in Minnesota, banned author Rainbow Rowell from coming to speak about her book Eleanor & Park, during Banned Books Week.  The controversy caused a wave of opinions and the outrage of book lovers everywhere.  It also put Eleanor & Park on the radar of many readers, including me, as I went out and bought the audio book immediately.  Don't they know that if you ban a book, people everywhere want to read it?  I guess not.

Below is an excerpt from an article on the ALA website about Eleanor & Park.

Rowell, Rainbow
Eleanor & Park
Retained, despite a challenge by the
chairman of the Anoka-Hennepin, Minn.
School Board (2013) because parents of a
student objected to the book’s content,
citing its use of profanity and its treatment
of sexuality. The Anoka County Library
had scheduled a visit by the author, but
the event was cancelled due to the
controversy. Set in a poor Omaha
neighborhood, the story concerns two
outsider teens in the 1980s who find a
common bond in music amidst poverty,
bullying, abuse, racism, and budding
sexuality. Selected by National Public
Radio as a 2013 Great Read.

A note to the parents who banned Rainbow Rowell from visiting their school district:  I want to say thank you because it was you who caused me to notice and read Eleanor Park and you, who made me want to see Rainbow speak in St. Paul and it was you, who inspired me to invite her to my high school to speak and it is you, I thank, as I continue to recommend this book to every teenager I know and teach.

So Protect your right to read what you want.  Exercise your First Amendment rights.
Stay Informed
Challenge Censorship
Support your local schools and libraries.

Enter to win a copy of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.
Fill out the form
Open Internationally (make sure the book depository sends to your country)
Ends 9/27 at midnight
Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please visit Bookhounds, where you will find a linky list of all the other blogs hosting contests this week.

Happy Reading!!

Friday, September 19, 2014

P.S. Duffy Guest Post + Giveaway

P.S. Duffy Guest Post + Giveaway

P.S. Duffy is the September Author in the Spotlight here on BookSnob and she has written a wonderful guest post on the power of story and the connections between readers and writers. Knowledge is power.
Read on.

Author of The Cartographer of No Man’s Land (W.W. Norton/Liveright, 2013)

Ernest Hemingway was once challenged in a cafĂ© to write a six word story. The story he wrote on the cocktail napkin was “For sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.”  Six spare words that hold an entire world within them, that make us pause, reflect, wonder—what happened and what will happen? We do not know, but in that brief burst, the story is complete—our empathy is enlisted, our emotions engaged, our imaginations active.  That is the power of story—we enter another world that intensifies our experience of the real world.
A story is a collaboration between the writer and the reader. The writer breathes in inspiration and breathes it out onto the page. That act alone can be and is very satisfying. But without readers, the story retains only the author’s vision. It is static. It does not grow. It cannot breathe. For life is defined by change. Every minute, every second, we are evolving, time is moving, and we are in the “flux” of being.
The reader’s imagination is where a story lives on. There must be enough written on the page, but also enough left unwritten to give the reader room to re-imagine it through their own perceptions and life experience. The physical image of Angus or his son, Simon Peter, the two main characters in my novel, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, may not match yours. You’ll know Angus is tall, that he has dark hair and dark eyes, and that he has two little lines etched on the sides of his mouth. The rest is up to you. And it is your image of his physical characteristics, not mine, that you’ll hold onto as you read and discover his nature, his humility, his reluctant leadership, and his journey.
     A reader said that after reading the book, he felt like he had revisited his own memories.  As if he’d lived the tale.  That is the way a story stays alive.  That is the reader-writer collaboration.  A paragraph or character will resonate in ways the writer could not have imagined nor predicted.  An elderly man wrote to say the story changed the way he looked at the world and at himself. A college student I met tearfully repeated some lines near the end of the book that helped her deal with a friend’s suicide.  A woman my age told me that one of her favorite characters was Peg, Simon Peter’s horse (a very minor character indeed!). When I asked why, she said that Peg was the first one to relate to George, the troubled, wounded veteran, and went on to note that she herself raises horses. Of course! She saw the “character” of Peg through her own lens. And she was right. Though I barely knew it as I wrote it, Peg’s response to George helped young Simon Peter grow to trust him. The craft of writing is a conscious act; the art of writing is a mystery best left unsolved.
When I set out to write The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, it wasn’t for fame or fortune, but for that—the hope that the words on the page, the world of the story, would touch the hearts of readers, stay with them, live on in them.  What I hadn’t known was how their vision would enlarge my own. So, I thank my readers for entering in, being part of that world, for keeping it alive, re-imagined, re-drawn.

If you would like to win a copy of P.S. Duffy's book please enter here:  The Cartographer of No Man's Land Giveaway

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Magers and Quinn Present Emily St. John Mandel and Heather A. Slomski

Magers and Quinn Present Emily St. John Mandel and Heather A. Slomski

I attended my first literary event in three months yesterday at Magers and Quinn in Minneapolis.  I broke my foot in May and was physically limited all summer but now I'm getting my strength back and heading out to meet authors and attend literary events around town.  Yes.

Last night at Magers and Quinn, I ran into author and friend, Peter Geye, who wrote, Safe from the Sea and The Lighthouse Road. Both books are awesome, by the way.  Peter Geye introduced both authors last night.

First up was Heather A. Slomski, whose new book of short stories, The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons was the winner of the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award.  Heather is from Minnesota and attended graduate school with Peter Geye.  I plan to feature Heather on BookSnob later this year.  I'm looking forward to reading this collection of stories.

Next Peter Geye introduced Emily St. John Mandel.  Her book Station Eleven is getting tons of praise and is the talk of the book world lately.  I was one of 3 people in the audience who has NOT read the book yet.  Everyone there was gushing about it.  Peter was an early reader and editor of Station Eleven.  Emily read from her book and there was a short Q & A with both authors.  Fun Fact:  Emily used to be a professional dancer.

It was great to hang out with friend Pamela and browse the bookshelves.  My other option would have been the Ed Sheeran concert at the Target center.  Emily, Heather, Peter and Magers and Quinn rock my world and I made the right choice.  Although I think it would have been totally cool if they broke out in a dance and sang a tune.

In the picture.  Heather is on the left, Emily is on the right and I'm the lucky reader in the middle.  Their books are on the table.

Add these books to your reading list.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Cartographer of No Man's Land Giveaway

The Cartographer of No Man's Land Giveaway

P.S. Duffy is the September Author in the Spotlight here on BookSnob and she, along with her publisher W.W. Norton, are giving away 3 copies to readers who live in the United States.

The Cartographer of No Man's Land has been selected as one of 6 finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction. Here’s the website and press release. Last year’s winner, Adam Johnson, also won the Pulitzer prize.  Here are links for the prize and book finalists.

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

From a village in Nova Scotia to the trenches of France, P. S. Duffy s astonishing debut showcases a rare talent emerging in midlife. When his beloved brother-in-law goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing to join the war and find him. Assured a position as a cartographer in London, he is instead sent directly into battle. Meanwhile, at home, his son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a town torn by grief. Selected as both a Barnes & Noble Discover pick and one of the American Bookseller Association s Debut Dozen, The Cartographer of No Man s Land offers a soulful portrayal of World War I and the lives that were forever changed by it, both on the battlefield and at home."

Contest Rules:

Fill out the form
U.S. residents only
Contest ends September 30st at midnight
Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway