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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Salon: "After-(Armchair)BEA" Edition

Thank goodness it's a three-day weekend in the USA, because I suspect there's a lot of BEA recovery to be done - both from the real thing in New York City and from Armchair BEA!

If you joined in the virtual book-blogger convention this week, you probably didn't have much time to suffer from "BEA envy" - I know I didn't! Over 170 people officially signed up to participate, but as things got going, I suspect even more just jumped in and never made it on to the official list - and they were more than welcome! Tweets with the #ArmchairBEA hashtag kept coming all day long, there were frequent giveaways, and there was lots of inspired blogging. Participants were invited to link up their posts on the Armchair BEA Central blog; if you missed any of this great reading, maybe you can make some time to catch up this weekend!

Tuesday: Opening Day/Topical Posts
Wednesday: Round-Robin Blogger Interviews (this was even more fun than an exchange - check out how it worked!)
Thursday: More Topical Posts* (and giveaways, and the Twitter Party!)
Friday: Book Blogger Convention Roundtable*

*My own Thursday post concerning publisher/book blogger relations generated a fantastic discussion in comments - if you didn't get the chance to join in, I'd love to know your thoughts now! Developing your blogging voice was my Friday topic, and it was a pretty popular one - several other participants took it on as well. It's not too late to add your voice to the conversation!

There's a Post-Event Survey up on Armchair BEA Central - please share your thoughts and input for next year's event!

I'm so glad I was able to be part of building this event, and it seems that a fine time was had by all! One more time, a huge THANK YOU to the rest of the team that made this happen - if you're not following these ladies on their blogs and Twitter, you need to fix that ASAP!

Danielle (The1stDaughter) of There's a Book (@the1stdaughter)
Emily of Emily's Reading Room (@emsreadingroom)
Michelle of Michelle's Masterful Musings (@jmchshannon)
Tif of Tif Talks Books (@tiftalksbooks)


Reading Progress and Plans

Next reviews/reading in progress:
The Heart is Not a Size, by Beth Kephart (review to post 6/1/10)
The Irresistible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald (with luck, review to post before I leave for vacation!)

New to the TBR:
for review:
31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan (for upcoming TLC Book Tour)
Fly Away Home, by Jennifer Weiner (ARC from the publisher, via Artemis Azima at Engelman & Co.)

I'm debating what reading will accompany me on our vacation - we leave in two weeks! There may not be a lot of time to read while we're in Washington DC and New York City, but there will be two long flights and a train trip. I will be bringing my perfect travel companion, my Kindle, which mostly contains fiction right now, but I want to pack a few "real" books too. I'm considering bringing some short nonfiction that I can dip into and out of - most likely some essays, or possibly a memoir. I may bring an ARC, but I'm trying to avoid any "obligatory" reading since it IS my vacation! I'll post my list in this space before I go - I've still got two more Sundays!


BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading



DIY publishing - one author's road from self-publishing to Sourcebooks. Then again, an author shouldn't have to do everything herself. That's one reason authors need book bloggers - and here are a couple more.

Five things a beginning blogger should know, courtesy of The Book Lady

Have you ever discovered that your pre-conceived notions about a genre were pretty much all wrong?


Molly at The Bumbles Blog would like to put together a series of posts about author interviews, but she needs some book-blogger input. Since I don't really do author interviews, I'm tossing this out to y'all in hopes that you'll help her out!


I hope you have a great reading week!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Armchair BEA's BBC Roundtable: Writing what you want to read, in your own voice

I honestly haven't been eating my heart out over not being at BEA this week, but I do regret missing out on the very first Book Blogger Convention. Granted, I am going to BlogHer'10, which I committed to before the BBC was announced, but it won't be the same - the content is broader and the crowd is different (not to mention a lot larger!). If there's a BBC in 2011, I'm going to have to re-think my strategy.

Just about every session planned for the BBC sounds worthwhile, but I'm especially interested in the "Writing and Building Content" panel; I've been at this for over three years, I want to keep stretching and developing my writing muscles, and I want this to be an interesting place to visit. Along those lines, Jeanne of Necromancy Never Pays asked a pertinent question during my Blogiversary in March:
Here's my blogiversary question: what would you like to see more bloggers doing, and why?

I'd really like to see bloggers express more of themselves on their blogs. Unless they stipulate that the only reason for their blog's existence is to review books or products, it's disappointing to me to see a post only when they're reviewing something they've received just for that purpose - especially when the review doesn't tell me much I couldn't read on the book jacket or in the ad copy. It's also disappointing to me to see content primarily driven by the Meme of the Day. I don't necessarily mean that the blogger needs to share a lot of personal information; I know that quite a few book bloggers, in particular, choose to be more reserved with that, and that's fine. But one of the most important reasons I'll decide to follow a blog is the voice of its writer (emphasis added); if I don't get a good feel that the writer has a voice of her or his own, I probably won't hang around for long.
To me, that's what content-building comes down to - developing a blog that sounds like you. It could come out in certain turns of phrase you particularly like to use. It might show in a unique recurring feature that you create, or in the way you tweak a meme into something more self-expressive. It may be apparent in the format you use for your reviews - or the fact that you don't follow a format at all. It may reveal itself in the little bits of your life and personality that slip into posts that you don't consider especially "personal," or it may speak up in the life experiences you choose to post about every now and then.

I am primarily a book blogger, but not exclusively a book blogger. I don't read fast enough to post reviews more often than once a week, and some weeks I can't even pull that off. I'm also a fairly wordy reviewer, and I like to discuss the books I read in some detail, but I don't always discuss the same details. Sometimes it's the writing itself that will get most of my attention. Sometimes it's one or two of the characters and my reaction to them. Sometimes it's the theme or setting or some element of the plot. I try to mix the objective - this is what happens - and subjective - this is how it affected me - in my comments about the book, and I'll try to explain why I responded to the book the way I did. I do rate books, but I give the rating at the end of each review; my goal is for the content of the review to be supported by the rating, and not the other way around.

I've been doing this long enough that most memes have just lost their appeal for me - and if I'm skipping others' meme posts, I probably don't need to be writing my own. I still like some of the Booking Through Thursday and Musing Monday prompts, but much of the time I feel like I've answered them before and have nothing new to say; and frankly, I don't receive enough books to take part in the Mailbox memes. Besides, I just don't have the time to blog-hop and read other responses any more, and that's part of joining a meme, in my opinion.  I do think memes can be very good for newer bloggers, both as food for thought and posts and as a way to network with other blogs, but it is possible to over-rely on them - it's also possible to outgrow them.

It is possible to keep a focus on bookish content even without frequent reviews and meme posts, though. Do you find yourself reading two or three books in a row that share some themes or story elements? Compare-and-contrast posts can be a lot of fun. You can do features on books you loved in your pre-blog days, or books you're hoping to read soon, without linking them to an established meme on a specific day of the week. Posts about author events and book-related field trips are entertaining.

Write what you'd like to read. Granted, you may really like reading daily memes and review after review, but if you don't get a sense of the person behind them, chances are your interest will wane before too long - I can tell you for certain that mine does, and that's one reason I vary my content. You don't have to share personal details if you're uncomfortable with that, but any blog that's not corporate in some respect is, by definition, "personal," and it's nice to get to know the person behind the writing. Your blog is your place to speak your own words, in your own voice.

J.C. Montgomery at The Biblio Blogazine has also discussed the blogger's voice and ways to keep it healthy.

image credit

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Armchair BEA: Book bloggers and publishers - evolving expectations

Some of you may remember that a few months back, I was really making a push for book bloggers to make their presence known at BlogHer'10 this coming August. I'm not sure it was all that successful, unfortunately - I guess I'll find out when I get there! However, I can tell you that book bloggers will be represented as part of the conference programming, in a session that will look at their role as part of The Evolving Publishing Ecosystem:
With traditional publishers spending less and less on marketing, authors must now become marketers, and that means they must become bloggers too...sometimes they take to it eagerly, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming. Add to the mix how much easier than ever it is to self-publish and the book bloggers who are now being wooed by publishers and even authors directly, and you've got a new publishing eco-system.

The solitary pursuits of writing and criticism are now transparent and sometimes even crowd-sourced. And more authors and critics are now not only the content producers, but their own publishers and business development representatives. The lines are decidedly blurred. But the opportunities seem so much more accessible than ever. We will dig into it all in this session featuring Kamy Wicoff from She Writes, book blogger Florinda, marketing expert Penny Sansevieri, and author Carleen Brice.
(Yes, I'm the panel's book-blogger rep.)

In a post on the LA Times' Jacket Copy blog, Carolyn Kellogg (@paperhaus) asked:
Who, exactly, goes to (BEA)?...Lately, publishers focus on previewing their upcoming books to members of the media and, more importantly, to booksellers. Booksellers don't just scan for familiar names and nice-looking covers; they notice the size of posters and banners and the number of free copies the publisher is giving away. Part of this is, admittedly, due to the heady desire for conference swag, but there is also something to be learned from these indicators: They show the kind of resources a publisher has committed to promoting a book, which affects how many a bookstore will think it can sell.

Big chain booksellers don't need to come to Book Expo to make deals -- although perhaps they will get business done here. Instead, independents from all over the country come to map out what they'll pick up and sell from their stores, feeding the long tail of the publishing industry.

...(B)ut you won't be able to (see authors) at Book Expo, unless you're a bookseller or in publishing or one of these people like me who writes about books because BEA is not open to the public. Could opening up Book Expo to the public help the conference expand, rather than contract? If so, is there a good reason not to try it?
In one way, BEA has stretched open its doors. It used to be very hard to convince the staff that a book blog was a viable venue. Now, anyone who has registered for the separate Book Blogger Convention -- the first-ever, scheduled to take place on Friday -- also gets a BEA press pass. Whether this can be considered an expansion of press coverage, or if it's the first step in allowing enthusiastic readers into Book Expo's pass-only halls is hard to say.

Publishers seem to be recognizing that book bloggers occupy a special place in the book world, bridging "enthusiastic reader" and "book seller," and we do indeed get wooed. Publishers do want to work with us - and why not? We're dedicated - and vocal - readers who eagerly rally to support books and authors we love, and we literally "will work for books." But they need to understand - and fortunately, many of them seem to already - that while we love to work with publishers, we don't work for them. We are independent contractors, with independent opinions - and when you send us a book to read and review, you're taking your chances on whether we'll like it as much as you do.

Some book bloggers don't promise to review every book they receive from publishers, and if the books are coming unsolicited, I think that's understandable. However, if there's been discussion about the book between the blogger and the book's representative prior to sending it, I think it's entirely reasonable for the publisher to expect a review, even if the date is "to be determined."

I believe that what we do as book bloggers is having a bigger impact on book promotion all the time, because I can see it every time I walk into a bookstore. I recognize more and more of the books I come across because book bloggers are talking about them - and sometimes I'll realize I'm less familiar with some mass-market books because they're not being featured on book blogs. Bloggers don't sell books directly, but we influence readers and drive interest, and that affects what bookstores stock and the size of the print runs needed to keep those bookstores stocked. Bloggers have rallied behind small-press and self-published books, fueling word-of-mouth sensations that have led to pickups by major publishing houses and trips up the bestseller lists. Book bloggers are often discriminating, careful readers who are driven to discuss what they read, and we're vocal about what we like - and what we don't. Many of us have come to consider ourselves part of the marketing team for the books we support, and we'd like publishers to view us that way too - as partners with a significant role, deserving of attention and respect.

And that should work both ways. I always mention a book's publisher when I review it and try to link its information on the publisher's website, but before I get to that point, I'm really not all that attentive to who put the book out there. I'm not knowledgeable about publishers' particular niches and reputations. I haven't really put much emphasis into nurturing relationships with publishers, and I'm pretty sure that if I have any ambitions to ramp my book blogging up another level, I need to start focusing on that more than I currently do.

As a result, I'm not sure I'm meeting publishers' expectations of me as a book blogger. Unless I've agreed up front to post a review on a specific date or I've been given an advance copy, my reviews are often less than timely. And when I do (finally) get the review up, I almost never send the publisher a link (but I assume Google will help them find it). Also, I rarely do anything promotional other than post reviews. I only host giveaways occasionally, because I'm not convinced they do much to help build blog readership in the long term, and I choose not to interview authors because I'm not good at asking insightful questions. When it comes down to it, I guess I'm putting my own expectations as a blogger ahead of anything publishers might expect of me. However, I do try to be clear about what they can, and reasonably should, expect from me.

This really is an evolving thing, and I expect our expectations of one another to change over time. What do you expect?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Armchair BEA: An Interview with the "Masterful" Michelle!

This is Armchair BEA's official "networking" day, in which participants were given the chance to interview one another, and I got the chance to ask some questions of Michelle from Michelle's Masterful Musings. I've known Michelle for a while via both her blog and Twitter. She's a married mother of two and a fellow member of the Book-Blogging Accountants Club, and she's been blogging since early 2009. Michelle is also one of the organizers of Armchair BEA, so read on for some of her insights into the experience of putting this event together!


So here we are, NOT at BEA! Not to take anything away from your Armchair BEA posts, but I'd love to know the top three things you'd be seeing and doing if you were at BEA, and why you'd choose them.

Meeting bloggers, meeting bloggers, meeting bloggers. Honestly, I am insanely jealous at the networking that is occurring in NYC right now. I’m not big an author signings, although I would take Justin Cronin’s signature for a copy of The Passage. I don’t really plan my exhibits in advance, preferring to take a more lackadaisical approach to conventions. I am most upset about meeting all of the bloggers with whom I have spent the last year conversing online. I would love to attend the BBC, again for that chance to network and discuss topics pertinent to blogging.

I feel the same way - I'm more regretful about missing the Book Blogger Con than BEA itself.


Aside from the lure of free books, one thing that excites book bloggers about BEA is the chance to meet each other in person. Have you had the opportunity to meet any bloggers in "real life"? If so: where, when, and what did you do? If not: where, when, and how would you like that to happen?

I can finally answer YES to this question! I met Jen from Devourer of Books this past weekend, along with @justbooks (Margie) and @Suejustbooks (Sue) from The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, IL. We met at The Bookstore, shopped for a bit, talking the entire time and then headed to lunch and talked for another ninety minutes. It was a thrill to finally meet someone in person. As someone who is naturally shy and does not do well with small talk, already “knowing” the person I was going to meet helped me to relax and truly enjoy myself. Jen is a beautiful woman, and I am so glad I got to meet her. Sue and Margie make me rethink my philosophy on ever wanting to move back to Illinois because they are both delights. The Bookstore was charming; I quickly fell in love and could do some serious damage to my checking account if I lived closer. Essentially, it was the perfect way to meet a blogger.

I got to meet Jen last summer when she was visiting Southern California with baby Daniel - sounds like you had a great time! I know just what you mean about already knowing a blogger when you first meet in person - I love that too, because I'm not good with small talk either!


Funny thing - you and I are are in the same profession, and yet we're networking as book bloggers and not accountants! Part of my bio says "I work with numbers but I love words." Do you feel like that? How does it affect your approach to reading and blogging?
My Photo
I do work with numbers but I love words.  Actually, I love to learn.  That is the number one reason why I read.  The funny thing is that I never would have predicted that I would work in a field that deals with numbers on a daily basis.  I really hated math in school; I was good at it, but I was much stronger in the more social subjects.  I still, to this day, marvel at how I could have chosen a profession that requires me to use algebra on a daily basis.  My passion has always been learning, and reading feeds into that passion very closely.  This is why I read such a wide variety of genres and about a plethora of topics.  It all fuels my need to learn. 

As for the impact of my profession on my approach to blogging, I blog to help discover more about myself, which is another form of learning.  Blogging about books helps me to read more slowly, to stop and think about what I read, to understand what appeals to me and what does not, and so forth.  In turn, it helps me learn to think critically about a novel or self-help book, determine its appeal to its target audience and hopefully help others in their decisions to read.  Because of my role in the business world, every piece of knowledge helps me become more comfortable with who I am, with my beliefs, and blogging has helped me develop a sense of self-confidence because I have learned to stand behind my words.  This all helps me in my profession, even if it has nothing to do with numbers.


This is almost a required question in book-blogger interviews these days, so here goes: How has book blogging changed your reading?

On first glance, I would say that blogging has not changed my reading, but upon reflection, that just is not true. I was a book snob, only reading classics and very rarely branching out to more modern fiction. I did not feel comfortable choosing modern novels on my own, and I never felt the need to do any research to determine the more popular novels out there. Blogging changed all that in just a matter of months. All of a sudden, I had hundreds of personal recommendations, in the form of reviews, which turned my reading world upside-down. I went from having only 25 books on my TBR pile to now having over 140 books on my physical TBR pile in just over a year. My wish list is hovering around 140 as well.

Because of blogging, I have been exposed to literature I probably would have never discovered on my own. I feel challenged to keep up with the trends and have learned to be picky about what books I actually purchase. Most importantly, I have learned that there are so many more great books out there beyond the classics, and that I can learn just as much from them as I can (and have) from reading classics. Granted, it also means that I am reading more frequently, much to the chagrin of my husband.


Every new book blogger should be warned about the effect it will have on the TBR stacks - but maybe we all secretly want that to happen! I know I no longer worry about running out of books to read...


Speaking of blogging and changing things, what does your family think of your blogging? How has it affected the way you manage your time?

My son and daughter think it is the coolest thing I could do. My son is insanely jealous I get “free books” in the mail on a weekly basis, and he frequently wants to look at my blog and what I have written on it. My daughter is too young to understand just what blogging is. To her, I am just working in my office again.

As for my husband, overall, he supports me, but he does make sure to let me know when I have been spending too much time online (or reading). When I first started blogging, I was still in grad school, which took up a large majority of my free time. After graduation, I immediately started a professional certification process that I only recently finished (April). I know he gets upset that I cannot just sit down with him in the evenings but feel the need to have something in my hands at all times. I attribute it to the fact that I have had some form of studying that required my attention every day for six years. I am trying to get better at time management, learning to shut off the computer at a certain time each night, not spending all weekend online, and so forth. I do need to learn to step away and unplug more often, but I love to read and I love to blog. It is difficult putting aside those things that truly fill me with joy every time I do them!

Hmm...your husband and mine have a thing or two in common. Mine never says anything about the time I spend buried in a book, but sometimes he will give me a gentle reminder or two about how long I've been parked with my laptop.



How far ahead do you plan your reading, and what's coming up next on your TBR stack? How do you choose what to read next?

I am a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of person. I very rarely plan anything far in advance, and this is especially true of reading. I have my TBR piles separated into review books and everything else. I have recently started keeping a calendar of publishing dates for review copies, so that I can see my “deadline”. Depending on how close I am to that deadline, I know whether I can pull a book from my personal piles or if I need to choose one from my review pile. Thankfully, my review pile is very small, so I can read more from my personal stack.

As for what I choose, that all depends on my mood at the time. I went through a huge YA kick a few months ago, where I devoured almost every single YA novel I had in my personal library. The best thing about that is that I was able to read them very quickly and was able to move quite a few from my pile. However, I soon grew tired of the teen angst and felt the need for more substantial fare. I then hit a historical fiction period, which I still am enjoying. I know that I will eventually tire of this one and will want more romantic fare, or something more in the thriller and suspense genre. It depends on what interests me at the time I am choosing and what is happening in my real life – do I have the time to concentrate on more weighty tomes or are things so busy that I need something quick and light to help me escape and relax?

In a pinch, I have gotten my kids involved and have let them choose books for me. So far, they’ve got a pretty good eye on what I want to read, and I’ve enjoyed every book they have placed at the top of my list. 

Kids with good taste in books? Very cool!


Getting back to the reason we're here: you're one of the people who brought Armchair BEA to life, and many book bloggers are grateful! Tell us a little about the experience. Some prompts (you don't have to address them all unless you want to):
·         What motivated you to get involved?
·         What's been the biggest challenge?
·         What have you most enjoyed?
·         What do you hope to take away from participating?
·         If you get the opportunity to go to the "real" BEA/BBC next year, will you kick all this virtual-conferencing stuff to the curb and head for New York City?

Hmmm…why did I get involved? Can I say that it was mostly for selfish reasons? LOL! No, honestly, I am tremendously upset that I could not attend BEA or BBC this year. This is the first year I truly consider myself a blogger, and I have been slowly but surely trying to get my name out there to attract more attention. I am a firm believer in networking, and BEA and BBC are perfect opportunities to network and form connections that can and should last a very long time.

I was trying not to let my jealousy and despondency at not attending show online, but when I saw Danielle lamenting on Twitter one afternoon, I was quick to show support and let her know she was not alone. It snowballed from there! LOL! I thought the Armchair BEA idea was a perfect way to keep those of us left behind busy, which would in turn help assuage any residual jealousy at those in attendance. I was even secretly hoping that we may even make some attendees jealous at all the fun we were having without spending large dollar amounts (and time and sleep loss).

The biggest challenge has been the time involvement. If I had not had so many things over the weekend, I think I may feel more prepared, but I know I have had to spend many hours online, prepping for the interviews, organizing plans, preparing posts. Keeping everything organized has also been quite the challenge, but my fellow founders have done a tremendous job of splitting the work load and organizing all of the events.

I have enjoyed the enthusiasm of participants (and nonparticipants) the most. The idea was so spur-of-the-moment, so sudden, I never in a million years considered we would have such a following. Then BEA attendees started mentioning it, and it grew from there. The response from everyone has been thrilling. I cannot believe that we even have publishers contributing to our giveaways! It has been quite a ride, and one that continues to fill me joy and satisfaction.

Because of this, I can’t imagine giving it up next year. I can see myself participating both in Armchair BEA AND BEA next year!

Armchair BEA seems to have touched a nerve and filled a niche, doesn't it? The response has been wonderful, and the support of BEA attendees is such a nice plus! I hope this year will come to be the "First Annual" event, and that it keeps going in future years (even if some of this year's participants DO get to the real thing at some point!).


And just for the heck of it: Do you have any fun plans for the summer?

No concrete plans, thank goodness! My children will be spending a month away from us, two weeks with their grandparents in Texas and another two weeks with their grandparents in Illinois. My husband and I will use this time to relax and enjoy the silence after the crazy spring season we had running the kids around to all of their activities. We just bought a small boat, so I imagine our weekends will be spent on the boat. We might take long weekends to get in some camping. Other than that, we will be resting and enjoying the summer before the fall sports season heats up, and we start running the kids around again!


And I'm sure you'll make time for reading and blogging, too! Thanks for being such a great interview, Michelle.

On the other side of the interview coin, I'm answering some questions from Alishka Babushka at All's Fair in Love and War - please visit her and see what we're up to over there! And don't forget to check out the other interviews linked over at Armchair BEA Central today.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Armchair BEA: If I were there, and NOT in my chair...

 Books
One reason I'm glad to be Armchair BEA-ing is that the sheer number of exhibits on the convention floor looks like an awful lot to take in. Take a look at this list and see what I mean - holy moly, y'all! The LA Times Festival of Books is scaled a lot more comfortably for me, it seems. Now, I'm not saying I'd blow off BEA - if I had the opportunity to go - just because it's so big; however, I have a feeling sensory overload could be a real problem for me.

Still, the chance to get an early look at so many new and upcoming releases is seriously tempting. The New Title Showcase is a sort of sub-exhibit within BEA, which looks to offer a spotlight to all varieties of books and publishers. Skimming their listings, it looks particularly beneficial to self-published works and smaller publishers who might not get exposure to such a large pool of potential readers otherwise. I searched the offerings in a few of my favorite categories and genres, and one thing really stood out: there are a LOT of self-published memoirs out there! I like memoirs, but I don't think I'm the target reader for most of the books in this particular showcase and would be likely to bypass many of them. Some of these may show up in your e-mail one day as pitches from people who haven't read your review policy. Having said that, I have to admit the title Surviving Life as a Dumbass has quite a ring to it...but not enough to make me want to read it, really.


Unlike some book bloggers, I'm not always attentive to the publisher behind a particular book, but I'm thinking I should change that, because no one jumps out at me as a "must visit" when I skim the exhibitor list. That's probably at least in part because so many of the review books I get come from intermediaries - tour groups, independent publicists, and LibraryThing - that I don't have the direct publisher contacts that many other book bloggers have. (Then again, I've already received advance copies of a couple of BEA featured titles - Lauren Belfer's A Fierce Radiance and Oscar Hijuelos' Beautiful Maria of My Soul - through those intermediaries.) I recognize some of the exhibitor names from LATFoB, so if I didn't get to them at BEA, I might make a point of looking for them at UCLA next spring.

I'm not sure I'd be going into BEA with intentions of bringing back much in particular, actually. While I understand that tickets are needed for most of the signing sessions - and that requires making decisions ahead of time - I think that as far as books are concerned, I'd just as soon wander around and see what catches my attention, since I don't really have much of a book-acquiring agenda. And yet...

Having just finished my third Beth Kephart novel, I'd probably seize the opportunity to grab a copy of her upcoming Dangerous Neighbors (and ask her to sign it, too!). I'm intrigued by what I've heard about the novel Life After Yes by Aidan Donnelly Rowley and Tara Parker-Pope's For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage. I don't read many celebrity authors, but did you other '80s casualties know that Rick Springfield has written a memoir? Having said that, though, I think my most exciting find in the book/author list is from a celebrity author - my beloved Jon Stewart, who has authored Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race with the writing staff of The Daily Show (and who will be appearing at the Adult Author Breakfast!). Now there's an event I might try to score a ticket to, but I wouldn't want to be ID'd as Jon's stalker...

Of course, the particular books available at BEA will vary from year to year, and if I were to attend next year, chances are that I'd go in with more titles on my wish list - since I would have planned to be there, I'd have paid a lot more attention during the months leading up to it. And I get the sense that the advance work would really be a smart idea, since at this point, just perusing the lists tired me out!



Photo credit: PicApp Image Search

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Salon 5/23: "Deep breath before (A)BEA" edition


The blog has been created. The posting themes have been chosen and announced. The giveaways are in the works, and the Twitter-party planning is ON. This Tuesday, Armchair BEA will be ready to roll! If you're not going to be in New York City this week partaking of Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention, you're invited to join your fellow book bloggers (130 and counting!) in this online book-based get-together!

I'm amazed by how quickly and (relatively) painlessly this whole project has come together, gratified by the excited response to it., and so pleased I had the opportunity to help make this event happen! This has been a genuine team effort on the part of a small group of generous volunteers, and I'd like to give them a quick shout-out and many thanks:

Danielle (The1stDaughter) of There's a Book, who got the ball rolling
Emily of Emily's Reading Room, who will host our Twitter party (Thursday, May 27, 8-10 PM Eastern time)
Michelle of Michelle's Masterful Musings
Tif of Tif Talks Books
Sarah of Puss Reboots

I'm looking forward to a week of fun and great discussions, and hoping to get to know some other book bloggers better - hope to see you at Armchair BEA!

Reading Progress and Plans

Reviews posted this week:
Letter to My Daughter, by George Bishop
Next reviews/reading in progress:
The Heart is Not a Size, by Beth Kephart (scheduled 6/1/10, after BEA/ABEA)
The Irresistible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald

New to the TBR:
for me (both were "on the wishlist" before I actually created a Wishlist)
The Center of the Universe: A Memoir, by Nancy Bachrach
Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, by Julie Metz
New to the Wishlist:
My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliviera


BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading



Boycott a publisher, injure an author. Also: would you risk injuring your relationship with an author by posting a review they've asked you NOT to?

Indie booksellers and book bloggers: promoting partnership (via The Book Lady's Blog, which is leading the way via its relationship with Fountain Bookstore!). This initiative is being promoted by SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance), but I'm sure other regional groups could start their own (SoCal indies - I'm over here! *waves*)

Combating the book-blogging blues with small steps (and a new Ning group!). Somewhat related: on review policies and pitfalls. Speaking of pitfalls: the pitfalls of taking (and making) book recommendations personally

I realize some of the people headed to BEA this week may already be there (and not reading Sunday Salon posts today), but if you're still around, Jen of Devourer of Books has compiled the panels and discussions, author signings, and sideline events that BEA-going book bloggers are most excited about - check them out for inspiration (or ideas for your Armchair BEA topic posts!)

I hope you have a great reading week!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Week-End Review goes to the Movies (& comes back with some links)


Last Weekend (movie) Reviews: Twofer at the Theater

Iron Man 2
Action/Drama, 2010
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow
Director: Jon Favreau

While "origin stories" are interesting, I've found that when it comes to certain movie franchises, I like the sequels more. We know how the hero became who he (or she) is, and now we can just watch them do their thing. This is especially gratifying when the hero is facing a strong and equally intriguing nemesis - think Spider-Man 2 or, as an even better example, The Dark Knight.

Granted, I'm not all that strong on my comic-book folklore, but perhaps Iron Man doesn't have that sort of nemesis - at any rate, he doesn't in Iron Man 2. Or perhaps it's the fact that Iron Man isn't a secret identity any more either - by now, everyone knows he's brilliant tech-whiz billionaire Tony Stark (since he unmasked himself). In any case, Iron Man 2 doesn't quite have the intensity and compelling story of the first outing. Fortunately, it still has Robert Downey Jr. as Tony/Iron Man (he and the suit "are one"), who continues to make the character strangely appealing. For me, that's the main appeal of this series - spending some time with this engaging and aggravating character, mostly when he's not in "the suit."

Iron Man 2 is a fun couple of hours, but if you've already heard "it's not as good as the first one,"...well, you're hearing it one more time. I enjoyed it, but in my opinion, it's an also-ran to the original.


Robin Hood
Action/Drama, 2010
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett
Director: Ridley Scott

Speaking of "origin stories," it turns out that the latest movie version of Robin Hood essentially is one. Most of us know the story of the medieval English outlaw who "robbed from the rich and gave to the poor," and who was hunted by King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham - but where did he come from? (Yes...England. Nottingham. I got that. Be quiet. I had a penpal in Nottingham for years, by the way. If you're reading this - hi, Wendy!)
This version of Robin Hood suggests that he was an archer in King Richard I's army during the Crusades, where he met the soldiers who would eventually become his compatriots. As the army literally fights its way back home through France, the king is killed in battle, and his nobleman Robert of Locksley is entrusted to return his crown to England, where it will be bestowed on Richard's younger brother John. Locksley and his men are ambushed, and found by Robin and his men; Robin takes on the mission to return the crown and and to inform Locksley's father, Sir Walter, that his son is dead.

I don't want to get too far into the plot details, or else this won't be a mini-review anymore. Having said that...England has grown weak under Prince John during Richard's absence, and the French see an opportunity to capitalize on it. The nobles vow to resist, despite a lack of resources or support from their corrupt new ruler. Their resistance is invigorated by one Robin Longstride, who has so impressed Sir Walter of Locksley that he is now filling the role of the late Robert, acting as son to the blind and infirm Walter and husband to Robert's wife, the Lady Marian.

This is a different Robin Hood, not as "swashbuckling" as the classic (as embodied by Errol Flynn; we shall ignore Kevin Costner) - more arrows, fewer swords, and a lot more grit. Given its director and star, it's tempting to call it "Gladiator in Sherwood Forest" - and in some respects it is, although not much of the action actually happens in Sherwood Forest. I didn't have any real expectations for this film, which may have been part of why I enjoyed it. I've found Russell Crowe pretty watchable in just about anything and this movie was no exception, but I'm not sure he had a lot to work with in the part as it was written. I really liked the strengthening of Lady Marian, though - definitely a woman who could stand and fight alongside, or in place of, the men - and Cate Blanchett was just right for the role.

If there's a sequel, we'll probably get more of the traditional Robin Hood legend - the Sheriff of Nottingham was barely in this one. However, it was an interesting spin on an old story, and I'm glad I saw it - and didn't see Entertainment Weekly's review until afterward.

images via MoviePoster.com


Dispatches: Links from Across the Blogiverse this Week



10 warnings for new parents...that you'll need in about 13 years. Speaking of warnings: have the spoiler police gotten just a bit overzealous? (I say yes, sometimes they have...what do you think?)

The "F word" is off-limits in this house. And outside the house, is your child prepared to meet the world? (Note: "We're not raising kids, we're raising adults" is my viewpoint as well, which is one reason I've always liked MaryP)

Need a little comforting? Start by making a list! Also comforting, sometimes: passing up perfection and daring to be adequate

Friday Fill-ins #177

1. A Golden Retriever, spotted anywhere at any time, never fails to make me smile.
2. I'm looking forward to going back to the East Coast next month!
3. The water running while my husband washes the dinner dishes is what I'm listening to right now. (I cooked, he's cleaning up - thanks, honey!)
4. Potato salad must have potatoes in it! ☺
5. Pasta carbonara at dinner was the best thing I ate today ("today" being Thursday night as I write this).
6. Today was less annoying than yesterday.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to relaxing at home, tomorrow my plans include not having too much planned and Sunday, I want to get some posts ready for Armchair BEA next week!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Programming Notes: or, the lamest excuse for a post ever

It's been a busy week - one Ugly Project after another at work, and helping to prepare for Armchair BEA on the side. Speaking of which...115 people were signed up to participate when I last checked, and it's still not too late to join us! all the news is now being communicated through Armchair BEA's very own blog! I'm really enjoying being part of the team that's bringing this event together - and making it all happen so fast!

I'm shooting for having the Week-End Review up tomorrow, which will include a couple of movie reviews if I can get them done! (I wanted to post them today, but I just didn't get time to write them up.)

The links roundup will be taking next Friday off, though, since most of next week's content will be related to Armchair BEA:
  • Tues. May 25th - BEA Related Posts
  • Wed. May 26th - Blogger Interviews
  • Thurs. May 27th - BEA Related Posts & Giveaways on Participating Sites
  • Friday May 28th - BBC Roundtables
After ABEA,  it's just over two weeks till our family vacation - between that and all the Ugly Projects, I think I'll be more than ready!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Weekly Weekend Post-Amazing Library Books...huh?

When Worlds Collide: Since the current Weekend Assignment topic is book-related, I'm combining it with this week's Weekly Geeks response.
Weekend Assignment #318: Library Books: Recently, it was discovered that George Washington had forgotten to return some books he had checked out of his local library. They were only 221 years late, mind you, but late all the same. How about you? Have you ever checked out a library book and forgot to return it? Tell us about your experiences with checking out, returning, or forgetting to return, books to the library.

Extra Credit: Tell us about the last book you checked out of the library.
I would tell you about the last book I checked out of the library, but I honestly can't remember what it was or when I did it! I can tell you it's been at least six years since I had a valid library card, though - I've never gotten one for the library in Simi Valley, and I've lived here for almost five years now.

Yes, I am hanging my head in shame, why do you ask?

I grew up as a regular library user - I lived for weekly library outings nearly all the way through high school. During college, my library usage became more required than recreational, and it dropped off significantly once I graduated. But until now, wherever I lived, I always got a library card so I'd have the option of checking out books, even if it happened infrequently.

I think two things changed my habits - less time and more money. As work and family and the general demands of adult life grew, it became more appealing to read books when I felt like it, and not on someone else's schedule - the pressure of yet another deadline! It was easier to read on a whim when the books were in my own home, ready and waiting, and so I began buying books...and more books...and more books.

The irony is that one reason the library lost some of its allure for me was that the new books were always checked out (and I didn't know enough to put them on reserve!), so I couldn't read them right away - and I still don't, since once I buy them, they hang around TBR Purgatory so long they're no longer new when I get to them!

But I certainly read some amazing library books back in the day, which brings me to...

Weekly Geeks 2010-17: P.A.B.D. (Post Amazing Book Depression), a condition defined as "the over-whelming sad feeling one gets after finishing a great book."

Symptoms include:
  • missing characters
* often includes talking about characters in day to day life
------- ex. I wonder what Katsa and Po are doing.
------- ex. Do you think Cat and Bones will get married?
------- ex. If she doesn't choose Eric, I don't know how I'll survive.
* hearing songs that remind you of certain characters/scenes
  • constant rereading of the same book (extreme cases can lead to the reading of fan-fiction)
  • stalking of the author
* constantly checking their blog for updates
* Googling interviews in which the book (or series) are mentioned
* joining multiple fansites
  • lack of interest in other books
* finding yourself staring at your bookshelf and seeing nothing worth reading
* wandering around the bookstore/library picking up and putting back books

Some suggested treatments:
  • Find other books by the same author.
  • Search for books with similar themes.
  • Have a rebound book, perhaps a familiar favorite or comfort read.
  • Force Coerce a friend to read the book.
The Hunger Games books have been known to trigger PABD. I can attest to the conversations about the characters that my stepdaughter and I have had, and she's told me about the discussions she's had with her friends (she's 15, and her case may be slightly more acute than mine). Her friends read the books after she coerced them, and she read them after I told her she had to...so yes, definitely a textbook case of Post-Amazing Book Depression (pun sort of intended). Should I be worried for when Mockingjay comes out this summer?

The Harry Potter series can also cause PABD, and I experienced it most strongly after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. My only exploration of fan fiction (reading, not writing it) came after that book - did anyone else ever check out The Sugar Quill? - and I re-read just a few weeks later, which I almost never do. I didn't feel PABD quite the same way after ...Deathly Hallows; that was ordinary sadness, because I knew it was all over.

My feelings after my recent re-read of The Sparrow were probably a form of PABD - I was simply drained. I think I felt the same way after I read it the first time as well, but then I jumped straight into the sequel, Children of God, and I didn't do that this time; I needed a breather, and something less intense.

My bouts of PABD have rarely been too serious or long-lasting. though. After a little break and some distraction, another book will usually call my name pretty quickly, and I'll move on to the next (possibly amazing) book.

Have you had PABD?
What book caused it? How did you deal with it?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Talk: *Letter to My Daughter*, by George Bishop

Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher, via LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. *I am an Amazon Associate; purchasing this book or any other item via the links included in this post will generate a small referral fee/commission for me.

Letter to My Daughter by George 
Bishop

Letter to My Daughter: A Novel
George Bishop
Ballantine Books (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 0345515986 / 9780345515988)
Fiction, 160 pages

Opening Lines: "Dear Elizabeth,
"It’s early morning and I’m sitting here wondering where you are, hoping you’re all right."


Book Description
: A fight, ended by a slap, sends Elizabeth out the door of her Baton Rouge home on the eve of her fifteenth birthday. Her mother, Laura, is left to fret and worry—and remember. Wracked with guilt as she awaits Liz’s return, Laura begins a letter to her daughter, hoping to convey “everything I’ve always meant to tell you but never have.”

In her painfully candid confession, Laura shares memories of her own troubled adolescence in rural Louisiana, growing up in an intensely conservative household. She recounts her relationship with a boy she loved despite her parents’ disapproval, the fateful events that led to her being sent away to a strict Catholic boarding school, the personal tragedy brought upon her by the Vietnam War, and, finally,  the meaning of the enigmatic tattoo below her right hip.
 
Absorbing and affirming, George Bishop’s debut captures a sense of time and place with a distinct voice. Letter to My Daughter is a novel of mothers, daughters, and the lessons we all learn when we come of age.

Comments: Mother's Day weekend seemed like an appropriate time to read Letter to My Daughter, although strictly speaking, I'm not sure I'd characterize it as a mother-daughter story. It's kind of a "mother-was-a-daughter-once-too" story.

Laura and her daughter Elizabeth are going through the rough patch known as "adolescence," which can frequently be especially rough for the mother-daughter relationship. A particularly vehement argument - which we aren't told about in detail - sends Liz out of the house and into the night, taking her mother's car and her learner's permit. As the day goes on without any word from or about Liz, Laura tries to cope with her anxiety by writing a long, detailed letter to her daughter - one that she hopes will help Liz understand that her mother really was a teenager once too, and that perhaps will give her some idea of who Laura is and where she's coming from.

I have to be honest here: the premise of Letter to My Daughter just didn't work for me. I understand the motivation of a parent to want her teenage child to see her as an distinct person (I'm in the middle of parenting Teen #2), but that's not the teen's perspective. Sometimes younger children are very curious about their parents - usually in the context of what the parents' lives were like when they were the kids' age - but that seems to wear off for teens. It's painful to be on the receiving end of that, but in some respects it's developmental and not personal. Teens lose interest in knowing who their parents are because their energy is channeled into figuring out who they are; like a lot of adolescent characteristics, it's more about themselves than anyone else. (And having survived Teen #1, who's now in his mid-20's, I can say it does come back around eventually.) Laura seems to believe that if Liz reads this letter, Liz will see Laura better; I think she'll be disappointed, at least at this stage in Liz's life. If Liz re-reads the letter at, say, 21, it might accomplish that a little better.

Having said that, the story Laura tells of her own teen years is compelling on its own merits. She's growing up in small-town Louisiana during the Vietnam War years, discovering love and herself and that things will always change. She makes her mistakes, and she seems to have gained some insight from them over time. George Bishop did a remarkable job in telling this story through the first-person narration of a female character; I found the voice entirely convincing. I was less convinced by why the voice was telling this story.

I wanted to like this novella more than I did, but I appreciate that it gave me a lot to think about.

Rating: 3/5

Other bloggers' reviews (for other opinions and more details about the book):
 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Salon 5/18: More About *Armchair BEA*

Considering that it was born just over a week ago on Twitter, Armchair BEA is growing up fast! Over 80 people have already signed up to participate in one way or another, and since this is a virtual gathering, it won't run out of room - if you won't be in New York City next week for the "real" Book Expo America and Book Blogger Convention, you can still join us!

Here's a quick capsule of the highlights in case you've missed them:

During Armchair BEA, participants will have the chance to do guest posts and/or interviews on one another's blogs, create topical posts, and host or join giveaways (possibly via the Book Depository so international bloggers can join in more easily). We'll have graphics/buttons for you to grab for your blog, and we already have the Twitter hashtag #armchairBEA.

The tentative schedule of Armchair BEA events is:
  • Tuesday, May 25: BEA-related topic post
  • Wednesday, May 26: Blogger interviews/optional BEA topic post
  • Thursday, May 27: Giveaway Day/optional BEA topic post
  • Friday, May 28: BBCon-related topic post
Armchair BEA will be launching a dedicated blog very soon, and more details about the daily themes and other exciting info will be posted there. We're having a lot of fun planning this, and we hope you'll have a lot of fun participating - maybe not as much fun as really going to BEA, but at least you'll get to sleep in your own bed!


Reading Progress and Plans

Reviews posted this week:
The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff

Next reviews/reading in progress:
Letter to My Daughter, by George Bishop (Tuesday 5/18)
The Heart is Not a Size, by Beth Kephart
The Irresistible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald

New to the TBR:
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen (for me)
Beautiful Maria of My Soul, by Oscar Hijuelos (for review, via LibraryThing Early Reviewers)

New to the Wishlist:
Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok



BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading



Is a short review a more effective review? Is a long review a better review? A discussion on "ideal" review length

Not long ago, I asked if you sent your review links to publishers - the question has come up again, elsewhere

If you're choosing the right books for yourself, you probably won't have much reason to write negative reviews

A "7th sense" of place and time tied to a certain book - do you experience "reading memory?"

Portraits of a TBR Collection - do you live with any of its cousins? Related: one librarian's tactics for getting her personal book collection under control

Do you need to be able to "see" the story - that is, a have a mental picture of the characters and settings - to enjoy the story?

The writer and the WIP - a lovers' quarrel; the shifting online boundaries of a writer's world; just how do writers manage to make money at it? (Not so easily, it seems...)


I hope you have a great reading week!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Week-End Review 5/14: "Just For the Pun of It" Edition


Scroll on down past the links for the Silliness of the Week! It shouldn't take you too long to get there, since I'm a little light on linkage this Friday. It happens when I get behind on my blog-reading, which has definitely been the case this week (and it may be next week as well)!

Posting in general may be lighter than usual next week, period, since I'll be focused on preparing posts and doing behind-the-scenes stuff to get ready for Armchair BEA the week after next (May 25-28). My non-blogging life (I sort of have one - who knew?!) is in a pretty busy phase right now as well, so if I can get away with a little slacking around here, that's my plan. Of course, you know how I am about plans, especially when they involve cutting back on blogging, so we'll see what actually happens - I just like to give y'all a heads-up when I may be around less than usual.

And on that note...one month from today, my family will be heading off to Washington DC for the first leg of our East Coast vacation! We'll be there for five days, and then take the train to New York City to spend another five days there. I intend to schedule some posts in advance for those two weeks, but that's another time when I'll be around less than usual, so I thought I'd throw this out there now - is anyone interested in guest-posting here during June? I will probably make an official pitch closer to the time, but you can start thinking about it now - and e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com if you'd like to discuss it!



Dispatches: Links from Across the Blogiverse this Week



The real story from a real "real housewife" from Orange County

Facing up to the fact that you just can't be good at everything

If your Twitter follows disappear, do you still exist? Speaking of disappearing: five criteria for purging feeds from your Google Reader (just don't use them on me, please!)

A poetic plea not to forsake blogging for Facebook and Twitter; 10 reasons to quit Facebook (which IS becoming the new AOL - ha, I was right!)

Just For Pun Fun

(via the Inbox, from my uncle)

1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian .

3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.

5. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

6. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

7. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

8. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

9. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

10. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

11. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: 'You stay here; I'll go on a head.'

12. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

13. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: 'Keep off the Grass.'

14. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

15. The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

16. A backward poet writes inverse.

17. In a democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.

18. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.


Friday Fill-ins #176


fridayfillin.gif

1. I just had dinner, and I'll get some dessert after I post this!
2. I have no idea what that is.
3. The third sentence on the 7th page of the book I'm reading: "He was all Fantastic Four wrapped into one; and his most death-defying mission was messing with Geoff, my older, bound-for-college brother." (from The Heart is Not a Size, by Beth Kephart)
4. Hearing about new books tickles my fancy.
5. I was walking up the stairs when I remembered what I forgot, so I had to walk back down the stairs.
6. My husband's laugh makes me laugh!
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to vegging, tomorrow my plans include seeing Iron Man 2 (and writing up a review if I have anything to say about it!) and Sunday, I want to spend some time getting a dedicated blog set up for Armchair BEA!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book Talk: *The Danish Girl*, by David Ebershoff (TLC Book Tour)

Disclosure: I was provided with an autographed copy of this book by the author for the purposes of this review (via TLC Book Tours). *Purchasing links in this review will generate referral fees through my Amazon Affiliates account.

The 
Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
The Danish Girl: A Novel
David Ebershoff
Penguin (Non-Classics) (2001), Edition: Reprint, Paperback (ISBN 0140298487 / 9780140298482)
Fiction, 270 pages
Opening Lines: "His wife knew first. 'Do me a small favor?' Greta called from the bedroom that first afternoon. 'Just help me with something for a little bit?'

"'Of course,' Einar said, his eyes on the canvas. 'Anything at all.'
Book Description: Inspired by the true story of Danish painter Einar Wegener and his California-born wife, this tender portrait of a marriage asks: What do you do when someone you love wants to change? It starts with a question, a simple favor asked of a husband by his wife on an afternoon chilled by the Baltic wind while both are painting in their studio. Her portrait model has canceled, and would he mind slipping into a pair of women's shoes and stockings for a few moments so she can finish the painting on time? "Of course," he answers. "Anything at all." With that, one of the most passionate and unusual love stories of the twentieth century begins.

Comments: A novel based on the story of the first known male-to-female sex change sounds potentially off-putting, doesn't it? I can't say the premise of The Danish Girl grabbed me right off the bat. But author David Ebershoff's historical fiction The 19th Wife was my one of my Books of the Year for 2009, and Ti's strong review of this book, his first novel, made me re-think my position on reading it.

The transgendered have been with us for longer than we realize, and Danish painter Einar Wegener was the first to undergo a successful surgical sex change from male to female, living as Lili Elbe for several years until her death in the mid-1930's. Ebershoff used Lili's own diaries and letters as part of his research into this little-known bit of history, and has built it into a remarkably moving and enlightening story.

Ebershoff's writing is very descriptive and the pace of the novel is almost languid at times, but it reads surprisingly quickly. The narration is in the third person, shifting perspective between Einar/Lili and Einar's American-born wife Greta. This provides insight into the characters and their situation from different angles, but also kept me as a reader at a slight emotional distance - not far enough to make it difficult to connect, but as if to prevent excessive intimacy.

And this is a very intimate story - not in the sense of graphic physical details (there are far fewer than one might expect), but in the way it explores the emotional makeup of two people in a marriage that's becoming more unusual by the day. This is as much Greta's story as Einar/Lili's, and in some ways she comes across most vividly. I believe that no one really knows what goes on within a marriage except the people in it, and in the Wegeners' case that may be truer than most. They have a genuine connection to one another that holds even as their relationship irrevocably changes.

The Danish Girl is a fascinating and beautiful novel, and is currently in production as a movie adaptation starring Nicole Kidman and scheduled for release in 2012.

Rating: 3.75/5

*Buy The Danish Girl: A Novel at Amazon.com
Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Tuesday, May 4th: Bermuda Onion
Wednesday, May 5th: Lit and Life
Thursday, May 6th: Rundpinne
Friday, May 7th: Redlady’s Reading Room
Monday, May 10th: Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, May 11th: Book Addiction
Wednesday, May 12th: Shooting Stars Mag
Monday, May 17th: The Zen Leaf
Tuesday, May 18th: Eclectic Eccentric
Wednesday, May 19th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, May 20th: Worducopia
Monday, May 24th: She is Too Fond of Books
Tuesday, May 25th: The Feminist Review
Wednesday, May 26th: Regular Rumination
Thursday, May 27th: Book Club Classics