Friday, October 28, 2011

Guest blog: Nancy March reviews 'Rules of Civility'

Editor's note: You all are in luck. Nancy March, editor of The Mercury and reader of many a novel, graciously agreed to write this review of Amor Towles' debut novel, which was recommended to her by a relative. Read more from Nancy on The Mercury's Opinion page, on Twitter @merceditor and on her blog, From the Editor's Desk, which can be found at And no, you can't borrow "Rules of Civility" from her next. It's already on my nightstand.

‘Rules of Civility’ is impressive first novel

Amor Towles’ first novel, “Rules of Civility,” (Viking, released July 26, 2011; $26.95; 352 pp) is a fresh, brightly-written tale of a young woman’s coming of age in New York as the Depression is ending and before America realizes the world’s greatest war is beginning.

As the story begins, protagonist Katey Kontent (pronounced like the state of being, not the table inside a book) is looking back at her youth from a fulfilled place in the future. Visiting a photographer’s exhibit opening with her husband, Katey stumbles upon photographs from 1938 of a rich banker in his prime and then in his decline. She recognizes the face in the photos as that of Tinker Grey, a man she once knew, and the recognition takes her back.

The years in which the story is set, from the last night of 1937 to the last night of 1940, are significant in Katey’s life as the start of a career in publishing. At the time, Katey is working as a stenographer in a law office, living in a woman’s boarding house and going out on the town with her friend Eve to meet men, listen to jazz and experience the city.

Katey and Eve are pursuing careers and looking for love in a city that’s coming of age along with them. In a small jazz club on New Year’s Eve, they meet successful banker Tinker Grey, who befriends the two women and introduces them to New York’s high society, flirtly publicly with Eve and falling in love privately with Katey.

The story of Tinker and his relationships with first Eve and then Katey winds through the book and brings with it a cast of interesting characters: Wallace Wolcott, the reserved millionaire whose courtship of Katey becomes not a romance but a sincere friendship that gets both of them through their time of self-discovery; Dickey, a rich and delightful suitor who enjoys his life and takes Katey along for the ride, beguiling the reader because he is spoiled by his mother’s wealth , not in spite of it; Henry Grey, Tinker’s struggling artist brother, who lives on the seamier side of New York, coming in and out of Katey’s circles with reality checks on the state of mind and circumstances surrounding his brother.

Tinker is not always what he seems, and his relationships – with his godmother, his brother, Eve and finally Katey – appear uncomplicated, but each one hides the truth on some level.

Katey makes bold choices throughout the book – quitting a job just when she is promoted to pursue another career in which she has no experience, eventually taking her into the publishing world of Conde Nast.

The book’s title comes from George Washington’s “rules of civility” printed at the end of the book in their entirety. The rules are introduced as a standard by which Tinker claims to live.

Asked about how he claimed to focus on a document from an era 150 years before the book’s setting, Towles says, “I imagined Tinker as an avid student of the (colonial) period. But once into the book, I happened to pull a collection of Washington’s writings off my shelf, which led off with his ‘Rules of Civility’ – and I knew right away that the ‘Rules’ should be the primary thing that Tinker had studied.”

He calls the rules “Washington’s youthful list … at the heart of the whole crazy matter.”

While introduced as Tinker’s rules, they also blueprint Katey’s search for identity during a time in which New York and the nation are striving to recover from the Great Depression and preparing to face a horror beginning in Europe that they don’t yet know exists. The hopefulness of a young woman setting out on her life’s course matches that of a city and nation. Towles’ protagonist is a woman of ambition whose encounters and actions above all serve to protect her integrity.

The novel joins “The Postmistress” and “Sarah’s Key” as books set around the time and mood of a pending World War II, and Katey Kontent joins those books’ heroines as another woman of self-sufficient means and inspiring strength.

“Rules of Civility” is that rare combination of good storytelling and exacting prose from a first-time novelist that predicts Towles is a writer we will hear more from in the future.

– By Nancy March

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Moonbeam Childrens Book Award winners

What makes a great children's book? Probably that it possesses the right bit of magic to capture the attention of a kid and draw him/her in.

I'm happy to say my nieces and nephew (ages 4 to 11) are all into reading. My sister-in-law, Sherri (herself a voracious reader), says her son, 4-year-old Aaron, is "reading anything and everything trucks." No surprise there - that boy sure loves trucks (or anything with wheels ... or an engine). Aaron's precocious sister, Alison, 6, is reading "Dr. Seuss (Hop on Pop, Cat in the Hat, etc.) and pretty much any k-1st grade reader book (she loves that she can do it herself). We also really like Shel Silverstein and the Pink-a-licious books," said Sherri.

My sister's youngest, Sarah, 5, loves Barbie books and "Mrs. McTats and her Houseful of Cats." Olivia, 9, is into the Cupcake Diaries series of books - "LOVES THEM," said my sister, Jennifer. "Also anything Ivy and Bean." My niece Caroline, 11, whom I like to call Preteen Goddess, loves Carl Hiaasen's books for kids, "Hoot," "Scat," and "Flush." My sister said the Hiasson books are so good that she had nearly finished them before she realized they were written for children. She said they're simply good stories

The reason I bring up these adorable little readers is because they are who I thought of when I received a press release from Independent Publisher announcing the 5th annual 2011 Moonbeam Childrens Book Awards. Listed below are the 2011 Moonbeam Awards results, by category, followed by the six Moonbeam Spirit Award winners.

Per the release: "Creating books that inspire our children to read, to learn, and to dream is an extremely important task, and these awards were conceived to reward those efforts."

2011 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards Medalists

1. Board Book/Cloth Book
Gold: The Sad Mad Glad Baby, by Chuck Stump and Jim Strawn (Four Dolphins Press)
Silver: Color Bears, by Judy Palaferro (Umbrage Editions)
Bronze: Dahlov Ipcar’s Farmyard Alphabet, by Dahlov Ipcar (Islandport Press)

2. Alphabet/Counting Book
Gold: Just About a Year, by Lois & Leslie Ehrin (Mellowood Publishing)
Silver (tie): African Animals Alphabet Book, by Stanford Apseloff (Ohio Distinctive Publishing) and Counting on Fruit with Nerdel, by Drs. Robin and Marc Kesselman; illustrated by Natali Martinez (The Nerdel Company)
Bronze: Alphabet Denver, by Kitty Migaki (I See It Books)

3. Pop-up/Cut-out
Gold: Snowflakes, by Jennifer Preston Chushcoff; Illustrated and engineered by Yevgeniya Yeretskaya (Jumping Jack Press)
Silver: Mo Smells Pink: A Scentsational Journey, by Margaret Hyde; illustrated and inspired by Amanda Giacomini (Mo’s Nose LLC)
Bronze: Charlie and Trike in the Grand Canyon Adventure, by Ken Ham with Karen Hansel; illustrations by Portland Studios (Master Books)

4. Activity Book 1 - Games, Arts & Crafts, etc.
Gold: My Beastly Book of Twisted Tales, by Bérengère Delaporte (Owlkids Books)
Silver: The Goofy Gourmet: A Perfect Picnic, by Michael Mei; illustrated by Mike Motz (
Bronze: Tiny Toes: A Creative Movement Class for Young Children, by Morgan Grubola; illustrated by Kay Polson Grubola; photographed by Richard Grubola (Butler Books)

5. Activity Book 2 - Educational, Science, History, etc.
Gold:Busy with Bugs: 160 Interesting Things to Do with Bugs, by Toni Albert; illustrated by Margaret Brandt (Trickle Creek Books)
Silver: Active Imagination Activity Book: 50 Sensorimotor Activities, by Kelly Tilley, MCISc, OTR/L (Sensory World/Future Horizons)
Bronze: Quarterama: Ideas & Designs of America’s State Quarters, by Garrett Burke (Newtona, LLC)

6. Book with Music/Theatrical
Gold: Chicken Joe Forgets Something Important, by Trout Fishing in America; illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (The Secret Mountain)
Silver: The Roof Top Hop, Words and Music by Michael Sheahan; illustrated by Doug Wright (Finest Books)
Bronze: Emus and Owlhoots, Written and illustrated by Sid Hausman (Azro Press)

7. Picture Book - Preschool
Gold: Crabby Pants, by Julie Gassman; illustrated by Richard Watson (Picture Window Books)
Silver: The Vole Brothers, written and illustrated by Roslyn Schwartz (Owlkids Books)
Bronze: The Five Senses of Love, by Janet Parsons; illustrated by Claire Richards (Potoroo Publishing)

8. Picture Book - 4-8 Year Old
Gold: The Lost and Found Pony, Written and illustrated by Tracy Dockray (Feiwel and Friends)
Silver (tie): My Cat, Coon Cat, by Sandy Ferguson Fuller; illustrated by Jeannie Brett (Islandport Press) and Night (A counting backwards book!), by Melessa Henderson & Jana Schweiss (Dreamland Books)
Bronze: Sheila Says We’re Weird, by Ruth Ann Smalley; illustrated by Jennifer Emery (Tilbury House Publishers)

9. Picture Book - All Ages
Gold (tie): Ben and Lucy Play Pond Hockey, by Andrew Sherburne; illustrated by Kevin Cannon (Beaver’s Pond Press) and Over in Australia: Amazing Animals Down Under, by Marianne Berkes; illustrated by Jill Dubin (Dawn Publications)
Silver (tie): Moon Mangoes, by Lindy Shapiro; illustrated by Kathleen Peterson (BeachHouse Publishing) and Deep in the Desert, by Rhonda Lucas Donald; illustrated by Sherry Neidigh (Sylvan Dell Publishing)
Bronze: Faces…Who are We?, by Cathy Isles; illustrated by Michelle Eggan (Dreamland Books)

10. Juvenile Fiction - Early Reader/1st Chapter books
Gold: Kylie Jean Blueberry Queen, by Marci Peschke; illustrated by Tuesday Mourning (Picture Window Books)
Silver: The Case of the July 4th Jinx (Book 5 in The Milo & Jazz Mysteries), by Lewis B. Montgomery; illustrated by Amy Wummer (The Kane Press)
Bronze: The Magic of Top Sail Island, by Lindsay McAllister Zarse; illustrated by Brian Martin (Beach Glass Books)

11. Pre-Teen Fiction - General
Gold: The Last Notebook of Leonardo, by B.B. Wurge (Leapfrog Press)
Silver: Treasure in Sugar’s Book Barn (A Bailey Fish Adventure), by Linda Salisbury (Tabby House)
Bronze: Ivy: Homeless in San Francisco, by Summer Brenner (Reach and Teach)

12. Pre-Teen Fiction - Fantasy
Gold: Merlin’s Dragon: Ultimate Magic, by T.A. Barron (Philomel Books)
Silver: Wilkinshire, by Brenda Hasse (iUniverse)
Bronze (tie): Kingdom of Trolls, by Rae Bridgman (Sybertooth Inc.) and Hunter Brown and the Eye of Ends (The Codebearers Series #3), by the Miller Brothers (Warner Press)

13. Pre-Teen Fiction - Mystery
Gold: The Tale of Edgar Trunk, by Jason O. Silva (Thimble Publishing)
Silver: Stealing the Wind, by Beth Hodder (Grizzly Ridge Publishing)
Bronze: Quenton Cohen: Professional Chef, by MAC (Toasted Coconut Media)

14. Pre-Teen Fiction - Historical/Cultural
Gold: Ghost Messages, by Jacqueline Guest (Coteau Books for Kids)
Silver (tie): Bloodline: A Time for War, by M. Zachary Sherman (Stone Arch Books) and Hannah & the Spindle Whorl, by Carol Anne Shaw (Ronsdale Press)
Bronze: Finding Faith, by C. E. Edmonson (WinePress Publishing)

15. Young Adult Fiction - General
Gold: The Girl in the Steel Corset, by Kady Cross (Harlequin Teen)
Silver: Signs of Martha, by Sarah Raymond (Great Plains Teen Fiction)
Bronze (tie): Drummer Girl, by Karen Bass (Coteau Books) and Archibald and the Blue Blood Conspiracy, by SherMay Loh (Epigram Books)

16. Young Adult Fiction - Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Gold: Black Bottle Man: A Fable, by Craig Russell (Great Plains Teen Fiction)
Silver: The Goddess Test, by Aimée Carter (Harlequin Teen)
Bronze (tie): The Dragon, the Blade and the Thread (Book Three of the Star Trilogy), by Donald Samson (AWSNA Publications) and Mortals &Deities (Book Two of the Genesis of Oblivion Saga), by Maxwell Alexander Drake (Imagined Interprises)

17. Young Adult Fiction - Horror/Mystery
Gold: Sleeping Angel, by Greg Herren (Bold Strokes Books)
Silver: Mercy: The Last New England Vampire, by Sarah L. Thomson (Islandport Press)
Bronze: The Survivors, by Amanda Havard (Chafie Press)

18. Young Adult Fiction - Historical/Cultural
Gold: Broken Trail, by Jean Rae Baxter (Ronsdale Press)
Silver: The Key, the Magic Mirror, and the Topaz Ring, by Jeanette M. Dodge (CreateSpace)
Bronze: Entangled in Freedom (The Street Life Series), by Ann DeWitt and Kevin M. Weeks (Xlibris)

19. Young Adult Fiction - Religion/Spirituality
Gold: Act of Grace, by Karen Simpson (Plenary Publishing)
Silver: The Seer and the Scribe, by G.M. Dyrek (Luminis Books)
Bronze: At the Back of the North Wind, a Modern Version of George MacDonald’s Classic, by Sheila Stewart (Anamchara Books)

20. Young Adult Fiction - Mature Issues
Gold: Saving June, by Hannah Harrington (Harlequin Teen)
Silver: Brooklyn Burning, by Steve Brezenoff (Carolrhoda Lab)
Bronze: Chance to Dance for You, by Gail Sidonie Sobat (Great Plains Teen Fiction)

21. Children's Poetry
Gold: Mister Lemur’s Train of Thought, Written and illustrated by Mister Lemur (Ringtail Learning)
Silver: Suzie Bitner was Afraid of the Drain, Written and illustrated by by Barbara R. Vance (Copperplate Publishing)
Bronze: Poop, Butt, Booger & Snot, by L.W. Lewis; illustrated by Lorrayne R. Harris (Red Pumpkin Press)

22. Non-Fiction - Picture Book
Gold: Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It, by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D.; illustrated by Sarah Ackerley (Little Pickle Press)
Silver (tie): Curious Critters, Text and Photography by David FitzSimmons (Wild Iris Publishing) and Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, by Gloria Spielman; illustrated by Manon Gauthier (Kar-Ben Publishing)
Bronze: The Legend of the Werewolf, by Thomas Kingsley Troupe; illustrated by D.C. Ice (Picture Window Books)

23. Non-Fiction - Young Adult
Gold: Ripley’s Believe It or Not!®: Strikingly True, by Geoff Tibballs (Ripley Publishing)
Silver: The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon, by Carla Killough McClafferty (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group)
Bronze: Learn to Speak Dance: A Guide to Creating, Performing & Promoting Your Moves, by Ann-Marie Williams; illustrated by Jeff Kulak (Owlkids Books)

24. Multicultural - Picture Book
Gold (tie): Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician and Activist, by Gina Capaldi & Q.L. Pearce; illustrated by Gina Capaldi (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group) and The Arabian Nights, by Wafa’ Tarnowska; illustrated by Carole Hénaff (Barefoot Books)
Silver: Cinco the Clinic Cat (Cinco, el gato de la clínica), by Carol Brickell; illustrated by Jim Hastings (Brown Books Publishing Group)
Bronze: The Park Our Town Built (El parquet que nuestro pueblo construyó), by Diane Gonzales Bertrand; illustrated by Tanja Bauerle (Raven Tree Press)

25. Multicultural Non-Fiction - Young Adult
Gold: Lolli’s Apple, by Tomas Fleischmann (AK.A. Publishing)
Silver: Cindy Bentley: Spirit of a Champion, by Bob Kann and Caroline Hoffman (Wisconsin Historical Society Press)
Bronze: Lucky Ears: The True Story of Ben Kuroki, World War II Hero, by Dr. Jean A. Lukesh (Field Mouse Productions)

26. Comic/Graphic Novel
Gold: Lily Renée, Escape Artist, by Trina Robbins; illustrated by Anne Timmons and mo oh (Graphic Universe/Lerner Publishing Group)
Silver: Cahoots (An Aldo Zelnick Comic Novel), by Karla Oceanak; illustrated by Kendra Spanjer (Bailiwick Press)
Bronze: Fishing with Gubby, by Kim LaFave & Gary Kent (Harbour Publishing)

27. Religion/Spirituality
Gold: Francis Woke Up Early, by Josephine Nobisso; illustrated by Maureen Hyde (Gingerbread House)
Silver: Snort’s Special Gift, by Suzann Yue; illustrated by Lin Wang (Beaver’s Pond Press)
Bronze: Martin in the Narthex, by Martin the Dog; illustrated by Riley Cohn (Shearer Publishing)

28. Holiday
Gold (tie): The Roof Top Hop, by Michael Sheahan; illustrated by Doug Wright (Finest Books) and Problems in Purimville: A Purim Story, by Karen Fisman; illustrated by Wendy Faust (JoRa Books)
Silver: A Christmas Legend, by Frances M. Schindler; illustrated by Michael LaDuca (Action Title Publishing)
Bronze: An Invitation to Santa Land, by Diane Myerson; illustrated by Janene Grende (

29. Book with Merchandise (plush toy, etc.)
Gold: Boogie Monster Dance Kit, by Josie Bissett; illustrated by Kevan J. Atteberry (Compendium, Inc.)
Silver: Tommy Starts Something Big: Giving Cuddles with Kindness, by Chuck Gaidica with Kris Yankee; illustrated by Mary Gregg Byrne (Ferne Press)
Bronze: Mama, Won’t You Play With Me? by Meg Walsh; illustrated by Aga Korfanty (AuthorHouse)

30. Spanish Language Book
Gold: Los zapatos de goma…una lección de gratitud (Rubber Shoes…A lesson in gratitude), por Gladys Elizabeth Barbieri; ilustrado por Lina Safar (Big Tent Books)
Silver: Mi Amigo El Pato (My Ducky Buddy), por Michael Smith; ilustrado por Octavio Oliva (East West Discovery Press)
Bronze: El pequeño zorrillo que temia su propio tufillo (The Little Skunk Who Was Afraid to Stink), por Brielle Kelley; ilustrado por Mark Wayne Adams (Growing Field Books)

31. Environmental Issues
Gold: Sofia’s Dream, by Land Wilson; illustrated by Sue Cornelison (Little Pickle Press)
Silver: What If There Were No Sea Otters? A Book About the Ocean Ecosystem, by Suzanne Slade; illustrated by Carol Schwartz (Picture Window Books)
Bronze: At Home with the Gopher Tortoise: The Story of a Keystone Species, by Madeleine Dunphy; illustrated by Michael Rothman (Web of Life Children’s Books)

32. Health Issues
Gold: Nowhere Hair, by Sue Glader; illustrated by Edith Buenen (Thousand Words Press)
Silver: The Sick Bug Goes to School, by Susie Bazil; illustrated by Shawn McCann (Beaver’s Pond Press)
Bronze: Fruits I Love, by Victoria Boutenko; illustrated by Katya Korobkina (Raw Family)

33. Mind-Body-Spirit/Self-Esteem
Gold: Every Kid’s Guide to Living Your Best Life, by Sara Jensen-Fritz, MS, Psy.S, Paula Jones-Johnson, BSW, M.Ed, and Thea L. Zitzow, M.Ed. (Beaver’s Pond Press)
Silver (tie): Journals of the Big Mouth Bass, Book One: Keeping Secrets, by Debbie Sue Bass Williamson (Souper Publishing) and Return To Her Roots: Revelations from a Young Girl’s Journey Home, by Lynn Lederhos; illustrated by Dan Drewes (AuthorHouse)
Bronze: Yuki Spread the Love, Written and illustrated by Sueling Garcia-Hyde (

34. Reading Skills/Literacy
Gold: Sardoodledom: A Spelling Bee Tail, by Krishna Dalal; illustrated by Jessica Warrick (One Word Publishing)
Silver: Make Your Writing Stand Tall: A Creative Writing Handbook, by Rhonda Gowler Greene; illustrated by Brad Greene (Reading Bird Books)
Bronze: Dr Zhou’s Fun Stories: Based on Dr. Zhou’s Rhymes, by Drs. X. Zhou & J. Li (Peking University Press)

35. Best First Book - Picture Book
Gold (tie): The Legend of Painted Pony and Western Wind, by Cathy Huffman; illustrated by Marie Craven (Ambassador International) and Yogurt the Ogre: A Magical Tale in Mudd Hollow, by Jessica Lowe and Shawna Sheldon; illustrated by Agnes Garbowska (pdoink inc.)
Silver (tie): Adventures of Rusty & Ginger Fox, Written and photographed by Tim Ostermeyer (Synergy) and Stripey Follows His Dream, Written and photographed by Gail Melville Shumway (Snow in Sarasota Publishing)
Bronze: The Year My Dad Went Bald, Written and illustrated by Brian Kraft (

36. Best First Book - Chapter Book
Gold: Angel or Not? Angel for Sure! by Lori Diez (Angel’s Books)
Silver: As We Cherish: My Great-Grandfather Sri ANNA N. Subramanian by Sahana Jayaraman (CreateSpace)
Bronze: KenKarta: Battle of the Onoxmon, by Alison Kartevold (The Artist’s Orchard)

37. Best Illustrator
Gold: Sonja Wimmer, for La Coleccionista de Palabras (The Word Collector) (Cuento de Luz)
Silver (tie): Rob Ryan, for The Gift, by Carol Ann Duffy (Barfoot Books) and Dennis Ochoa, for Why? Moon, by Cory J. Basso (Brown Books)
Bronze: Lisa Greenleaf, for John Greenleaf Whittier’s The Barefoot Boy (Apprentice Shop Books)

38. Best Book by Youth Author (under 18)
Gold: Unbelievable, by Claire M. Balliro (iUniverse)
Silver: Aura, by Colton Starley (Bookworm Art)
Bronze: The Official Kids’ Guide to Scrabble®, by Bradley Robbins (Family Matters Publishing)

Moonbeam Spirit Awards - For dedication to children’s literacy and inspired writing, illustrating and publishing. All recipients will receive gold medals.

Most Cutting-Edge Format: The Social Times, by Kari Dunn Buron; edited by Claire and Winston (AAPC Publishing)

Most Spiritual: The Color of Grace, by Jennifer Neill; illustrated by Amy Fox & Charles Bishop (In the Wind Books)

Most Sympathetic: Max Archer, Kid Detective: The Case of the Wet Bed, by Howard J. Bennett; illustrated by Spike Gerrell (American Psychological Association/Magination Press)

Most Humane: Maggie’s Second Chance: A Gentle Dog’s Rescue, by Nancy Furstinger; illustrated by Joe Hyatt (The Gryphon Press)

Most Patriotic: Military Life: Stories and Poems for Children, by various authors; illustrated by Quinette Cook (Elva Resa Publishing)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In honor of National Day of Writing: 3 free works of fiction

In honor of National Day of Writing (today), I'm giving away some free novels. Up for grabs are:

1) "Hot, Shot and Bothered: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery" by Nora McFarland (Simon & Schuster trade paperback, $14.99, August 2011, 284 pp., Genre: fiction, mystery)

Here's a summary of the novel from Simon & Schuster:

TV news photographer Lilly Hawkins is on the biggest assignment of her career. A deadly wildfire is racing through the California mountains toward the town of Elizabeth Lake. After barely slipping in ahead of road closures, Lilly has her hands full photographing the massive evacuation and approaching inferno. She has no time to cover the accidental drowning of a reckless party girl in the lake . . . until she learns the victim's name.
When Lilly knew her thirteen years ago, Jessica Egan was a principled environmental activist and not a bit reckless or wild. Could she have changed that much, or is a killer exploiting the chaos surrounding the fire to disguise a murder? Soon Lilly's juggling the story she should be covering with the story she can't let go. What could have been the motive for Jessica's death? Was it sexual jealousy, long-held grudges, or just plain old-fashioned greed that got Jessica killed? Meanwhile, Lily has to contend with her station's low-budget technology, the antics of her dodgy uncle Bud, and the alarming job offers her boyfriend is fielding from big-city competitors. Lilly is racing against the clock to get answers. If only the murderer—or the fire—doesn't get her first . . .

2) "The Scroll" by Grant R. Jeffrey and Alton L. Gansky (Waterbrook Press a division of Random House Inc., trade paperback, $14.99, Sept. 2011, 338 pp., Genre: Christian fiction)

Here's a summary of "The Scroll" by Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group:

One last dig. One final descent into the twisted tunnels of ancient Jerusalem. Will the truth be found among the treasures that lie beneath the holy city?  Dr. David Chambers, leading archaeologist, has spent his professional career uncovering the facts in the artifacts. His work sets the standard for biblical research in the Holy Land. But surrounded by the evidence, David has sunk into an abyss of doubt. A painful experience with a seemingly unresponsive God has left him without hope.  The Old Testament scriptures that used to fill his mind with wonder now drive him to frustration. His unanswered questions have ripped him from both his academic pursuits and the love of his life, his fiancée, Amber.
   An old friend and mentor reaches out to David, enticing him with the riches described in the enigmatic Copper Scroll. Losing ground with his peers, his love, and his faith, David Chambers has a choice to make. Will he undertake one final dig to unlock a secret that could alter the course of history? Do the mysteries of the Old Testament hold the key to the political turmoil of the Middle East?
  In a world where faith has been eclipsed by the allure of doubt, The Scroll offers a different journey: a gripping adventure to find truth worth dying for.

View the book trailer here.

3)  "The Seraph Seal" by Leonard Sweet and Lori Wagner (Thomas Nelson, paperback, $15.99, June 2011, 517 pp., Genre: Christian fiction)

Here's a description of the book from Thomas Nelson Press:

An epic tale of good and evil based on the four horsemen of the Apocalypse found in the book of Revelation.
Using the four horsemen of the Apocalypse to symbolize the four Gospels, four transcendentals, and four forces of the universe (air, water, earth, and fire), Sweet and Wagner weave a fast-paced, end-times tale of good vs. evil and the promise of a new dawn for humanity.
Set in 2048, when planet Earth is suffering from the damaging effects of years of misuse and abuse, cultural history professor Paul Binder receives a mysterious letter that leads him to examine a lost 2nd-century Diatessaron manuscript. Ancient prophecies, cryptic letters, and strange events set him on a course to uncover the missing clues that could lead humanity into a new age. Each character embodies elements of the four horsemen in a race to save the world from total destruction. Layered with forgotten symbolism from the ancient Jewish and Christian traditions, the book is a story in which the main character's journal serves as a guide to the reader in interpreting clues and understanding the conclusion.

Thanks to all the publishers for providing these books for me to give away. If you would like to win any one of these books, simply comment here with your mailing address or email it to me at I'll select a winner for each in the coming days. Note: I need your address only to mail the book to you. I don't keep it, sell it or give it to anyone else. 

As always, if no one claims the books, I will donate them to the Pottstown Regional Public Library.

Monday, October 17, 2011

'Fly Away Home' entertaining, but perhaps inappropriate for family time

In preparation for a 28-hour (roundtrip) car trip with my folks to the St. Louis area for my cousin's wedding last weekend, I went to the local library and checked out four audiobooks. I picked the last in the Stieg Larsson Millenium trilogy, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" (which I'd been meaning to read anyway); Jennifer Weiner's "Fly Away Home" (chick lit - sure to please my mom); John Irving's latest, "Last Night In Twisted River," which clocked in at an impressive 24 hours (but I feared we might not finish during the trip); and Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol," a thriller I thought might hold my stepdad's interest.

Before we set off, I let my mom choose which book she'd like to listen to for the trip. (It was her car, after all). She picked Weiner's novel, "Fly Away Home," read by actress Judith Light. The novel (Simon & Schuster, 2011, 432 pp., trade paperback, $17. Audio version currently selling for about $30 on promised to occupy 14 hours of our trip.

Mom wasn't familiar with Weiner's books, but her interest was piqued when I told her that the author had worked, for a time in the 1990s, as a reporter for her local State College newspaper, The Centre Daily Times. I also mentioned that Weiner's novel "In Her Shoes" had been made into a movie featuring Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, and Shirley MacLaine. Mom didn't recall seeing the movie, but she was sold.

And so we started off on a beautiful, unseasonably warm fall day, heading east on Route 80 and acquainting ourselves with the Woodruff family. The novel is told, in turn, from the view points of Sylvie (Serfer) Woodruff, 57, a senator's wife and judge's daughter, and her two grown daughters, Diana and Lizzie.

Click here to see a video of Weiner and Light talking about the book.
Click here for a YouTube recording of the first chapter. Here you can read the first chapter.

Sylvie's life seems almost picture perfect. She's still very much in love with her husband of several decades, but her own desires have gotten lost in the shuffle of managing his life. Though Sylvie has a law degree, her job for year has been taking care of her husband, Richard. And, as she calls it, being a professional dieter to keep herself thin for photos and appearances.

Her daughter Diana, around 29, is a successful ER physician in Philly with a young son and a husband with a good career. Younger daughter Lizzie, 24, is a recovering drug addict, and is fresh out of rehab when we meet her.

Her husband Richard is a New York state senator, esteemed, popular and seemingly beyond reproach. But we discover pretty quickly that Richard has been having a dalliance with a much younger staffer. Sylvie has no idea about the transgression until the story breaks on TV one day, as she's traveling home from yet another day of being her husband's rock.

Let me pause here to add that I've read all of Weiner's novels except the latest one, "Then Came You," which was just published in July. I recall characters I could relate to, and some sexual innuendo, sure, in the books with names such as "Good in Bed" and "Certain Girls." But I never expected some of the language I heard while whizzing down the interstate in the car with my mom and stepdad. I will not repeat these things, which would not have been so shocking had a not been sitting next to my ma. But be forewarned that there are some sexy passages in "Fly Away Home."

You see, Diana, for all her hard work and perfect life, is unsatisfied in her marriage. She's got a humdinger of an affair going on with a hunky younger guy at work. And they do it. A LOT. In ways that - and using language that - certainly had my stepdad taking interest in the story. And Lizzie, too, has some intimate moments, current and remembered, that got a little sticky while hearing about them an arm's distance from my 'rents.

At one point fairly early on that first day in the car, as I blushed at one of Diana's energetic encounters with her beau, I took out my iPhone and tweeted Weiner (who resides in the Philly area, by the way). She gamely responded. Here's that exchange:

@jenniferweiner Listening to the audiobook of "Fly Away Home" on a long car trip w/ my folks. My, there are a lot of sexy passages! #awkward

@mercbiz Oof. A thousand pardons. It is not, in fact, fun for the whole family.

Nonetheless, I felt like the prude of the bunch on this car trip, for sure. My mom and stepdad became engrossed in the tale and didn't let some sexy writing get in the way of their enjoying the story. My stepdad actually learned the names of the characters and followed along. And not just for the juicy bits.

The family saga/love story that's both funny and sad is highly entertaining. It's several stories in one, blended together gracefully.

I was quite impressed with the vocal stylings of Judith Light ("Who's The Boss?"), who did distinct voices for all the characters, which included Sylvie's hard-nosed, old-school Brooklyn-accented mother and her 6-year-old grandson, Milo.

In the end Sylvie makes choices that change her life and the lives of everyone in her family. The route she takes from the backseat of a limo screaming down the New Jersey turnpike while watching the shocking news about her husband's affair to making firm and empowered decisions about the fate of her marriage and her future is intriguing. This would be a great beach read or weekend escape.

I'd like to add that after the audiobook had run its course, and we were not quite back from our St. Louis trip (maybe somewhere in Ohio?), my stepdad said thoughtfully that there had to be more - he wanted to know more about the characters. He was especially concerned with what would become of Diana's "mouth-breathing" whiny husband, Gary, and about Lizzie and what would become of her. I'd say that makes a great story, when you want to know more.

"Fly Away Home" is worth the trip. But you may want to leave your parents at home.

About the author (from her website):

Jennifer Weiner was born in 1970 on an army base in Louisiana. She grew up in Connecticut and graduated with a degree in English literature from Princeton University in 1991. She worked as a newspaper reporter in central Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Philadelphia until the publication of her first novel in 2001, and has been a full-time fiction writer ever since.

Her books include GOOD IN BED (2001); IN HER SHOES (2002), which was turned into a major motion picture starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine; LITTLE EARTHQUAKES, (2004); GOODNIGHT NOBODY (2005); the short story collection THE GUY NOT TAKEN (2006); CERTAIN GIRLS (2008), the sequel to GOOD IN BED, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER (2009); FLY AWAY HOME (2010); and THEN CAME YOU (2011). She is also the co-creator and executive producer of the (now canceled) ABC Family show State of Georgia.

Weiner is married with two daughters and makes her home in Philadelphia. She's active on Twitter and, according to Wikipedia, Weiner is "known for 'live-tweeting' episodes of the reality dating shows "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." (very true)  

Learn more about Weiner on her website.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Area authors to give lectures/book signings at Reading museum

The Reading Public Museum has announced two literary events this week:

Local author and historian George Edmond, will sign his new book, "Classical Digs: Archeology, Reading Public Museum and Gustav Oberlander," on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 5:30 p.m. at the museum. The event will include a lecture/book signing with Edmonds, complemented by lectures from two of the region's foremost archeologists: Professor Ann Steiner (Franklin &; Marshall College) will present Reading Greek Vases in Reading and Beyond, and Professor Donald White (University of Pennsylvania) will present Some Perspectives from a Classical Archeologist.

Lecturer and artist Bruce Becker will sign his new book, "Kindness and Compassion: The Inspiring Aftermath of the Tragic Amish Schoolhouse Shootings," at the museum on
Saturday, Oct. 22, at 2 p.m.

Becker will talk about his response to the deadly shootings of the Amish Schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, PA. The program will include an exclusive exhibition of Becker's never-before seen, Amish-related paintings, with a book signing to follow.

Cost for both lectures is $5 for museum members, $10 for non-members. Seating is limited. To register, click here for downloadable PDF form. To learn more, call 610-371-5850 ext. 227 or email Tickets will be held at the door.

Reading Public Museum is located at 500 Museum Road, Reading, PA 19611. To visit the museum website, click here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Guest post: "Redwood to Deadwood"

Pottstown resident Janet Jay recently sent me an email singing the praises of a novel her book club had read. I asked Janet if she would guest blog her review of that book. It is as follows. I just added the photos. Thanks, Janet! If you would like to guest blog, too, post a comment.

Book review: Redwood to Deadwood: A 53-year-old dude hitchhikes around America. Again. By Colin Flaherty

Robert Pirsig famously said Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is not about Zen and it is not about motorcycles.

But when you talk about great books about great American journeys, Pirsig has to be on any book lovers shelf, along with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and if you insist, John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley.
More than travel, these books are all about discovery. 

To this list of great travel and discovery books, I am adding Redwood to Deadwood, a 53-year old dude hitchhikes across America, by Colin Flaherty.

When he first started his three month journey around the country, Flaherty rejected any kind of talk of self-discovery as indulgent, and he said, kind of silly. He soon learned better:

"Before I tucked my thumb in for the final time, I'd run with wild horses. Visit a pot farm. Hunt big game. Poach big game. Get by a police helicopter. Get info family feuds. Ride in cop cars. Reconnect with old friends. Make new ones. Get tired and exhilarated. Lost and found. Kicked out and invited in."

"I know how to cook muskrat, squirrel and rockchuck. And oh yea, I almost got killed.”

“I did not know why I objected so vigorously to anyone thinking I might actually learn something about myself after such a journey. Had I known what  the next three months would bring, I would not have said anything so stupid.”

You better believe there was discovery of all kinds aplenty there. Whether he wanted it or not. Most of it is fun and funny and adventurous. 

During one part of the book, Flaherty describes hitchhiking around to meet the people who were with his brother Kevin when he died in Viet Nam. Then learning at the same time his son was heading off to Afghanistan.

Very moving. 

And when mixed with the wry observations of the material that comes before and after this, that pushes this writer and this book into a whole new level. This is not just a travel book. This is literature at its most riveting and relevant.

But I suppose if you really need to learn how to cook squirrel, how to ride the rails, or how to get free food, you can learn that here too. 

Flaherty grew up down the road in Wilmington, Delaware, but spent most if his adult life in San Diego, as a reporter, political staffer, and owner of an on-line ad agency.

When the world stopped in the Winter of 2008, Flaherty started. He took off for Colorado, where he taught snowboarding for five months. Then, after wondering why no one hitchhikes anymore, he decided to find out.

So this 53-year old award-winning writer stuck out his thumb, and sticking to the back roads and curvy twists on the map (a la Pirsig) he spent the next three months zig zagging around to places where the closest Wal-Mart is 120 miles away.

These places still exist. Great characters still live there. And in Redwood to Deadwood, a great writer tells us all about them. 

I’ve had a lot of fun reading this book. And so have my friends. And I hope you do too.

Here’s a link to the book’s web site.

Janet Jay

p.s. I think he came pretty close to Pottstown, too.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Author of 'The Help' to speak in West Reading Thursday


This Thursday: Kathryn Stockett, author of "The Help" (2009, Amy Einhorn Books/G.P. Putnam's Sons, $24.95 hardcover ... and now a major motion picture), is coming to Berks County.

But you'll have to cough up $32 just to hear her speak for 45 minutes (and that doesn't include the book.) I think it's a bit steep - hit book and movie or not.

A question-and-answer period will follow the program.

Members of the audience are permitted bring their own copies of "The Help" for Stockett to sign. Or you can buy "The Help" - available for purchase in a variety of formats - at this event.

Stockett will be speaking on Thursday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, 310 S. 7th Ave., West Reading, PA. To order tickets, call 610-796-9001 or email and put “Tickets” in the subject line. All major credit cards accepted.

Doors open at 6 p.m.

"The Help" has been published in 35 countries and has sold more than 5 million copies. It spent more than 100 weeks on the New YorK Times Best Seller list. The movie was released Aug. 10 and is currently in theaters. Click here to see the trailer.

Thursday's event, hosted by the Berks County Public Libraries, is part of Reading Reads 2011: The annual Greater Reading Literary Festival held during the month of October.
There are literary events scheduled for almost every day of the month, mostly at various libraries and colleges in Berks. Highlights include:
Oct. 17: A discussion by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder, Author of "Strength in What Remains," at 6:30 p.m. at Alvernia University. 

Oct. 26: "A Dark and Stormy Night in Reading," 6 to 8 p.m. in The Wise Old Owl Book Store, West Reading. Participants read short stories by Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker. 

Oct. 29: "In A Galaxy Far, Far Away," the third annual Halloween bash at noon in Reading Public Library. The Reading Philharmonic Orchestra will play "Star Wars" music.

A complete listing of events can be found at