Author Interview with Juliana Maio and Giveaway

City of the Sun, Juliana Maio

Read and interviewed by Amanda

Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press on March 11, 2014

380 Pages

From Goodreads…


Espionage, love, and power play upon the shifting sands of wartime Cairo

CAIRO, EGYPT 1941. As the Second World War rages, the city known as ”Paris on the Nile” plays host to an international set who seem more interested in polo matches and swanky nightclubs than the Germans’ unrelenting advance across North Africa. Meanwhile, as refugees, soldiers, and spies stream into the city, the Nazis conspire with the emerging Muslim Brotherhood to fuel the Egyptian people’s seething resentment against their British overlords.

Ambitious American journalist Mickey Connolly has come to Cairo to report on the true state of the war. Facing expulsion by the British for not playing by their rules, he accepts a deal from the U.S. embassy that allows him to remain in the country. His covert mission: to infiltrate the city’s thriving Jewish community and locate a refugee nuclear scientist who could be key to America’s new weapons program. But Mickey is not the only one looking for the elusive scientist. A Nazi spy is also desperate to find him–and the race is on. Into this mix an enigmatic young woman appears, a refugee herself. Her fate becomes intertwined with Mickey’s, giving rise to a story of passion, entangled commitments, and half-truths.

Deftly blending the romantic noir of the classic film Casablanca with a riveting, suspenseful narrative and vivid historical detail, City of the Sun offers a stunning portrayal of a time and place that was not only pivotal for the war, but also sowed much of the turbulence in today’s Middle East.

From Juliana’s website:

Juliana Maio was born in Egypt but expelled from the country with her family during the Suez Crisis. She was raised in France and completed her higher education in the United States, receiving her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her Juris Doctor degree from UC Hastings.

Juliana practices entertainment law in Los Angeles and has represented internationally renowned filmmakers as well as a host of independent production companies. Prior to that she served as vice president of worldwide corporate and business affairs for Triumph Films, a joint venture between Columbia Pictures and Gaumont Films.

Juliana co-founded Lighthouse Productions, an independent film and television company. She has spoken both domestically and abroad about the Arab Spring. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, film producer Michael Phillips. They have a daughter.

Amanda:  Your book was completely eye opening for me to read from a historical perspective. I’ve definitely read about the numbers of Jews that fled to Palestine during WWII, but I admit that I had not given thought to Egypt.  I did not know about the local population or really about their role during the war.  What drew you to write about this time period, rather than the events in your own life?  Have you been back to Egypt?

 Juliana:  “There was so much at stake during WWII that I thought it important to bring the story to that period. Not only was it a pivotal time for the war but also a determinative time with regard to relations between Westerners and Arabs. Also, with refugees, spies and thousands of soldiers converging into Cairo, I thought this would bring a rich canvas to the novel.

Yes, I have been back to Egypt a few times. Cairo is decaying unfortunately.”

It was amazing to me how many of your characters were real or based in real people; like the spy JOHANNES EPPLER or the belly dancer HEKMET FAHMY.  Who was your favorite person to put on the page-other than your own creations?  (I am really sad that Kirk’s secretary, Dorothy Calley, was not real!)

“Once you put yourself into a character and get under his/her skin, it’s impossible not to like the character. But I guess my favorite historical character is Anwar Sadat because he was truly genuine in his love for his country. By the same token, I really liked Bill Donovan for the same reason. I do admire patriotism.”

If you could describe City of the Sun in 3 words what would they be?  

 “Journey into another world – oops 4 words! But that’s what the novel did for me.”

What else would you like readers to know about you?   What do you like to read?

” This book is very close to my heart and I just hope that my readers enjoy it and learn from it.  I generally read non-fiction, but I hope to have more time to start reading more fiction.”

Are you working on another book?

“Not yet, but I’m starting to do research on a sequel to CITY OF THE SUN, which will take place in 1956!”

I found City of the Sun to be rich in historical detail and it opened my eyes to a subject I had never thought about.  What we learn about WWII and the Jews is so European focused, so I really liked reading a totally different perspective on the war.  I also have not read anything that addressed the different factions of the Jews during the war and how they felt about each other.   The appearances by Anwar Sadat and the Muslim Brotherhood also made me really think about how the stage was set so long ago for the Middle East and Egypt that we see today.

We are lucky enough to have TWO copies of City of the Sun to giveaway!

Comment to win!  So because Egypt is my favorite country that I have never had a chance to go to, I want to know-Where is your dream country to travel to?

Open to US residents only please and we’ll pick 2 random numbers to win on April 7.


Series I need to reread (like, yesterday)

I have a love/ overwhelmed relationship with books that come in series. As a kid, I could not get enough – The Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins (and the more risqué Sweet Valley High pinched from Amanda), and, my favorite, The Boxcar Children. I loved polishing off one and heading right into the next, and it seemed like there was always another book waiting for me in one of those seemingly never-ending series.

Sidenote: suddenly, I must know how never-ending these books really were. Hold on while I google… 132 in the regular series of the Babysitter’s Club (plus specials), 118 Sweet Valley Twins (plus specials), and 135 Boxcar Children (of course, plus specials).

Sidenote to my sidenote: I keep railing to my sister lately about how all the YA series that the kids (uh, and the adults) are reading these days include special “novellas” that tell the stories between the story. Usually, my reaction is, that if it wasn’t good enough for your main book, I don’t want to read the leftovers (I generally feel the same way about deleted scenes as “bonus material.”) Anyway, apparently I forgot that all my favorite series (serieses?) did include special extras – though, I maintain that at least those had the decency to be the same size (or bigger!) than the regular books.

Oh dear. Where was I? Yes, as an adult, I get overwhelmed by the idea of taking on a new series. Deciding to read one book – fine; deciding to read seven…well, that takes more dedication. Or, more threats, as Amanda might disown me if I don’t read everything by Mira Grant/ Seanan McGuire, pronto.

Anyway, adding to my clearly self-inflicted reading drama, is the further “problem” of wanting to find time to reread some of the series(es?) that I really really loved. Sigh. How am I ever going to find time to read all the new books that Amanda demands of me, plus all the well-loved favorites that are beckoning?

Here’s what I want to get back to:

Harry Potter – I read all the HPs pretty sporadically, picking them up here and there, and sometimes re-reading, sometimes not. I was the same way with the movies, until J-the-Completest wanted to watch them all in sequence (over several weeks, mind you). And then he found the complete set on blu-ray for cheap, so we went through and watched them all again, recently. Between the JK Rowling statement about Harry and Hermione, and Amanda and I’s love for Rowling’s newest character, Comoran Strike, I really need to do a HP re-read!

The Hunger Games – The HG trilogy was the first purchase I made when I get my Kindle a few years ago, and I sort of devoured the whole thing quickly. I liked it – and then I really liked the first movie – and then I really really liked the second movie. So, I’d like to reread the books sometime before the next movie comes out (though I think splitting the third book into two movies is extremely silly).

The Millennium Trilogy – I’ve been talking about YA books throughout this post, and these books are decidedly not! That said, if you haven’t read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, you are missing out. I have the first one and the third one sitting on my bookshelf. I really need to buy the second (I had borrowed it from a friend to read), and then re-read them all. My incomplete collection probably gives J the heebie-jeebies.

Anyway, I’ll get right on these…after I catch up in Game of Thrones…and finish the Lumatere Chronicles

What’s your favorite series to revisit?

Review: Attachments

Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

Reviewed by Amanda

Published April 14th 2011 by Penguin.

336 pages

From Goodreads…


“Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . . “


Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.


Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now- reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.


When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . .

 I admit I was hesitant to read another Rainbow Rowell book after Eleanor and Park.  Not because I didn’t enjoy it because I really did; but because I was afraid I wouldn’t love her books after the hype I’ve been hearing.  I should have listened to the hype because I loved Attachments.  I stayed up WAY too late to finish this and my first thought sitting down at my computer was to email my best friend (the Beth to my Jennifer if you will) and tell her to read this too.


We meet Lincoln when he’s standing still in life.  He did not expect his job as an Internet Security Officer for a newspaper to consist of reading flagged emails, and he hates it.  He becomes so drawn into the emails that Jennifer and Beth send during the day that he knows he’s in the wrong, yet he can’t bring himself to stop reading.  I just liked Lincoln.  I liked that he seemed to be just an average Midwestern guy in his 20’s, trying to decide what he wanted with his life. He wasn’t a genius and he didn’t have model good looks–he’s just a guy trying to be happy.  


Jennifer and Beth cracked me up.  They were sarcastic and witty, yet honest and felt real to me.  I could understand why Lincoln couldn’t give them up.  I would have liked more of them in the story aside from the emails, but I understand why this book was basically from Lincoln’s head.  Just through emails I felt enough of Jennifer and Beth’s emotions and the details of the stories they shared. There there were some sad moments too and I liked how Rowell handled those, they felt just as real to me as the jokes.  This was basically a happy book to me about good friends and a sweet love story.


I found the timing of this book really funny with the Y2K crisis and the television and music references.  Thanks for the flashback to the ‘90s Rainbow!  It might be a bit of a stretch to call this a 5 star book because it was a light read, but when I find myself smiling while reading on the el before I’ve had all my coffee, I’ll call it worth 5 stars.

Thank you Netgalley and Penguin for this copy to review!

Review: Notorious

Notorious, Allison Brennan

Reviewed by Amanda

Published March 25th 2014 by Minotaur Books

336 pages

Source: Netgalley

From Goodreads…


New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan introduces an irrepressible heroine in her pulse-pounding new thriller Notorious, which Lisa Gardner says is, “Guaranteed to keep you up late at night.”


Maxine Revere has dedicated her life to investigating murders that the police have long since given up any hope of solving. A nationally renowned investigative reporter with her own TV show and a tough-as-nails reputation, Max tackles cold cases from across the country and every walk of life. But the one unsolved murder that still haunts her is a case from her own past.

When Max was a high school senior, one of her best friends was strangled and another, Kevin O’Neal, accused of the crime. To the disgrace of her wealthy family, Max stood by her friend, until she found out he lied about his alibi. Though his guilt was never proven, their relationship crumbled from the strain of too many secrets.

Now Max is home for Kevin’s funeral—after years of drug abuse, he committed suicide. She’s finally prepared to come to terms with the loss of his friendship, but she’s not prepared for Kevin’s sister to stubbornly insist that he didn’t kill himself. Or for an elderly couple to accost her at the airport, begging her to look into another murder at Max’s old high school. Max is more interested in the cold case at her alma mater than in digging around Kevin’s troubled life, but she agrees to do both. As Max uncovers dark secrets, she finds herself caught in a complicated web of lies that hit far too close to home. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that someone will do whatever it takes to make sure the truth stays buried.

Thank you Netgalley and Minotaur Books for this advanced read copy for review.  

Notorious is a new mystery series by Allison Brennan following Max Revere, an investigative reporter, who looks into cold cases for her television show.  I really enjoy mysteries, but honestly I feel that so many mysteries today are just way too based on horrific violence towards women and rape and I don’t find that entertaining.  When I saw Notorious was a female lead I was excited to give it a chance hoping with a female lead it wouldn’t be too misogynistic.  On that note at least I was right.  

Reading Notorious I pictured Max as Investigative Reporter Barbie.  She had the looks, she had the body, she had the “dream house” in her apartment in Manhattan.  Max just tried too hard for me. She was a tough girl, but there was too much put into making her this tough as nails reporter and bragging about how hard she could be and not enough into humanizing her. Yes, we learn Max had a rough early life with her mother disappearing and an internal family feud over her inheritance. But, she has an inheritance; she talks about how she doesn’t really need her job, every straight man is attracted to her… Barbie.  

Max returns home to attend her high school friend’s funeral and finds herself investigating two cold cases.  I thought the mysteries themselves were pretty good.  I was intrigued as I was reading about what could have happened to both murder victims, her high school friend Lindy and the new case Jason, and how the deaths could be connected.

Max had some good supporting characters.  I enjoyed her assistant David and I hope he will humanize her a bit in the next book.  I  would be interested to see how the future books show her actually filming her show while investigating and her relationship with her producer since we only hear from him over the phone in Notorious.

Max reflects back on her losses quite frequently, that of her mother disappearing from her life, her high school friend Lindy and her college friend Karen. I appreciate that Brennan only really delved into Lindy’s murder in this book and left a lot of questions to be answered in the future. I often find myself liking the first book of a series the least and I hope that’s the case with Max Revere. I would read the next book to see where Max heads next and what questions she can answer. I liked the idea of Max’s pursuit of the truth and I would give her another chance.

2.5 stars

Review: The Lost Sisterhood

The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

Reviewed by Amanda

Published March 11, 2014 by Random House Publishing Group

608 pages

Source: Netgalley



The Lost Sisterhood is the new novel from the author of Juliet, an Oprah’s Book Club Pick published in 30 countries which has been picked up by Universal to be made into a feature film. The Lost Sisterhood tells the story of Diana, a young and aspiring–but somewhat aimless–professor at Oxford. Her fascination with the history of the Amazons, the legendary warrior women of ancient Greece, is deeply connected with her own family’s history; her grandmother in particular. When Diana is invited to consult on an archeological excavation, she quickly realizes that here, finally, may be the proof that the Amazons were real.

The Amazons’ “true” story–and Diana’s history–is threaded along with this modern day hunt. This historical back-story focuses on a group of women, and more specifically on two sisters, whose fight to survive takes us through ancient Athens and to Troy, where the novel reinvents our perspective on the famous Trojan War.

The Lost Sisterhood features another group of iconic, legendary characters, another grand adventure–you’ll see in these pages that Fortier understands the kind of audience she has built with Juliet, but also she’s delivering a fresh new story to keep that audience coming back for more.

This was a story of dual perspective.  We begin with Diana Morgan, a professor at Oxford, who is trying to leave her mark in academia with her work on the mythical Amazons.  We then flash back thousands of years to Myrina and her sister Lilly who are trying to find the temple of the Moon Goddess where they are sure they will be accepted as sisters.

A mysterious man makes Diana an offer she cannot refuse, a chance to see try to translate a newly discovered written language and hints at the Amazons and she’s off out of England to take her chance.  She finds herself examining an unearthed temple in Algeria and believes she has found her opportunity to prove herself in academia with the Amazons.  Before Diana quite knows what is happening she is following the trail through Europe.  She’s more deeply involved in a mystery than she anticipated and much more romantically entangled than she ever thought she would be.  

I really liked Diana.  I liked that she was flawed and she made some bonehead moves throughout her adventures.  However, she was brave and she was determined to find answers, despite the danger.  I enjoyed the romance and thought the emotional drama  added to the story.  

I was not as sure about Myrina at first.  She was clearly a tough girl, but I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into with her story.  As we followed her and Lilly I really grew to like her character.  I admit, I really don’t know anything about the Amazons and I don’t know much more than the basics of the Greek myths and Troy, but I loved this part of the story once it developed.  Oh Paris, he just made me swoon and made my heart hurt in the end.

I love reading historical fiction, because even if I don’t think I’ve really learned something, I always have a different perspective on the past when I am finished.  I can’t say I believe this is the story of the Amazons and Troy-but what a great hypothetical this was! I have seen some reviews calling this Dan Brown for women, and I can see where those comments are coming from.  The action was non-stop in the end and yes, a bit silly if you really think about it.  However, it was an entertaining story and a good read.  I think Fortier did well with Diana mirroring Myrina’s journey, and still choosing her own life. I was definitely caught up in the mystery in the end and pleased with the resolution.

4 stars!
Thank you Netgalley and Random House for this advanced copy to read and review!

Waiting on Wednesday: That Summer


“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

18404166From Goodreads

2009: When Julia Conley hears that she has inherited a house outside London from an unknown great-aunt, she assumes it’s a joke. She hasn’t been back to England since the car crash that killed her mother when she was six, an event she remembers only in her nightmares. But when she arrives at Herne Hill to sort through the house—with the help of her cousin Natasha and sexy antiques dealer Nicholas—bits of memory start coming back. And then she discovers a pre-Raphaelite painting, hidden behind the false back of an old wardrobe, and a window onto the house’s shrouded history begins to open…1849: Imogen Grantham has spent nearly a decade trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older man, Arthur. The one bright spot in her life is her step-daughter, Evie, a high-spirited sixteen year old who is the closest thing to a child Imogen hopes to have. But everything changes when three young painters come to see Arthur’s collection of medieval artifacts, including Gavin Thorne, a quiet man with the unsettling ability to read Imogen better than anyone ever has. When Arthur hires Gavin to paint her portrait, none of them can guess what the hands of fate have set in motion.From modern-day England to the early days of the Preraphaelite movement, Lauren Willig’s That Summer takes readers on an un-put-downable journey through a mysterious old house, a hidden love affair, and one woman’s search for the truth about her past—and herself.

I’ll read pretty much anything Lauren Willig writes by this point.  I love the Pink Carnation series and I really enjoyed her first non-Pink book, The Ashford Affair.  I have high hopes for That Summer!  Who hasn’t had that fantasy of an amazing inheritance from someone you’ve never met?  Or is that just me?

Can We Please Stop Hating on Sheryl Sandberg?

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In last summer, before this book blog was born. I felt compelled to go back and look at it again now, after seeing this article appear in my own Facebook newsfeed repeatedly. I laughed along with the article at the beginning – “some college students, like Sheryl Sandberg, teach aerobics classes. Other college students, like myself, lie around the dorm reading novels…this of course, is also why I hate her.” Then, I got to the end of article, and I thought, wait, I don’t think that was what Lean In was about at all.

In “Recline: A Manifestus for the Rest of Us,” Rosa Brooks argued against the idea of leaning in because a) Sheryl Sandberg has a lot of money and therefore she can make different decisions than the rest of us, and b) women still do the majority of housework and childcare so how the F are they supposed to lean in at work?

As for a), Sandberg acknowledges that her book. And b) Yes. That is part of the problem and part of the question and every time I see that particular criticism of Lean In, I wonder if the critic has actually read the book.

Lean In is not supposed to be a be-all end-all treatise on the status of women in society. It’s not about being supermom, and it’s not about the gender-wage gap, and it’s not supposed to compel anyone to put in more time for a lesser quality of life.  It’s about more women in leadership roles. It’s about breaking down barriers that prevent women from reaching the top leadership ranks in business and politics – specifically, self-erected barriers.

There are social and institutional barriers to women’s success, and Sandberg recognizes and acknowledges those. However, this book is not about external barriers – and I found that refreshing. I spent a lot of time studying, and I still spend a lot of time pointing out, the ways that society works to repress women. Lean In made me examine the trees, instead of the forest. Lean In made me think about the choices that are within my control. Lean In acknowledged some things that I knew, but perhaps could not articulate very well.

Like this:

In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet.

Yes. I met J when I was 27. For a short-time, we were both employed as part-time secretaries and high school athletic coaches with Master’s degrees. Up to that point, we had both made several moves and job changes in our twenties, trying to find the right place to land. I absolutely can look back on every major life decision I had made up until then, and know that I took into account the status of whatever relationship I was in, or even those “relationships” that might have a vague possibility of blossoming in the next six to twelve months, when determining my next steps. I know that J took absolutely none of that into account in his own trajectory. And yet, we both ended up at the same place (and fortunately for us, at the same time). I learned that I wasted, if nothing else, a lot of brainpower and energy overanalyzing decisions that probably deserved no room in my head. J got reinforcement for his M.O., that, the key to developing a healthy, happy relationship is finding someone who’s lifestyle can fit into yours (and you into theirs), rather than building your decisions around someone else – especially not a hypothetical “someone else.” Why don’t we teach girls that?

Instead, this is what we take on, per Sandberg:

A few years ago, a young woman at Facebook came to my desk and asked if she could speak to me privately. We headed into a conference room, where she began firing questions about how I balance work and family. As the questions came faster and faster, I started to wonder about her urgency. I interrupted to ask if she had a child. She said no, but she liked to plan ahead. I inquired if she and her partner were considering having a child. She replied that she did not have a husband, then added with a little laugh, ‘actually, I don’t even have a boyfriend.’ It seemed to me that she was jumping the gun – big time – but I understood why. From an early age, girls get the message that they will have to choose between succeeding at work and being a good mother. By the time they are in college, women are already thinking about the trade-offs they will make between professional and personal goals.

As I dove back into Lean In, I went back and forth on how to rate the book. I started thinking it was a solid 4-stars for me – the book covers many things I already knew about women and work, presented with a slightly different perspective. However, what pushes it over into a 5-star, is the chapter “Don’t Leave Before You Leave.” Here, I think Sandberg addresses something that no one else is really talking about, and that we need to talk about. It goes like this:

Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family. Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave. The classic scenario unfolds like this. An ambitious and successful woman heads down a challenging career path with the thought of having children in the back of her mind. At some point, this thought moves to the front of her mind, typically once she finds a partner. The woman considers how hard she is working and reasons that to make room for a child she will have to scale back…often without even realizing it, the woman stops reaching for new opportunities… The problem is that even if she were to get pregnant immediately, she still has nine months before she has to care for an actual child. And since women usually start this mental preparation well before trying to conceive, several years often pass between the thought and conception, let alone birth. In the case of my Facebook questioner, it might even be a decade. By the time the baby arrives, the woman is likely to be in a drastically different place in her career that she would have been had she not leaned back.

Sandberg goes on to talk about how this affects the new mother coming back to the workplace; she is likely to scale back her ambitions, and becomes more ready to leave permanently (if that is an option), because she’s no longer headed for the top, and no longer given challenging opportunities. Perhaps this is where the criticism of Sandberg comes in from Brooks and others – women shouting that they can’t lean in at work when there is so much to take care of at home.

Again, I wonder if they kept reading. Sandberg talks about her own parenting – yes, acknowledging that she and her husband can afford exceptional child care. She talks about how they manage household responsibilities, admits fault, and grapples with her decisions. I didn’t take any of the judgment that seems to be projected onto Sandberg and the Lean In movement by those working moms shouting “recline” or “lean out!” She talks about the need for women to engage with their partners to share household responsibilities, and how sometimes we need to settle for less than perfection, at home and at work.

One of my favorite posters at Facebook declares in big red letters. “Done is better than perfect.” I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst.

Sandberg spells out her objectives in black and white at the end: “I have written this book to encourage women to dream big, forge a path through the obstacles, and achieve their full potential. I am hoping that each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with gusto.

Sure, most of us don’t have Sandberg’s resources – whether partnered or single, parents or not. Not everyone aspires to leadership roles, and not everyone has the skill-set to lead. However, I’m tired of reading the same two criticisms of Lean In – “easy for her to say, with her salary,” and “I don’t want to sit at the table, thank you very much.”

If you want to criticize Lean In, fine. We can talk about addressing the social and institutional barriers versus chipping away individually. We can talk about the gender wage gap, and affordable child care, and the seemingly endless fight for women’s control over our own bodies. Believe you me, I can – and often do – talk about all those things until I’m blue in the face. But at the same time, I’ll quote Sandberg one more time – “let’s agree to wage battles on both fronts. They are equally important.

Reading Outside the Box

Holly here – you may have noticed that Amanda has been pumping out the books reviews lately! I must again point out,  in case anyone out there is feeling inadequate, that my sister reads at a super-human speed. In the meantime, I  was slogging my way through a few long books, and happy to let Amanda drive the blog, but she said something to me yesterday along the lines of:  “hey slappy – you better post something soon or else I won’t take you to this place I just heard about that serves Korean BBQ tacos on naan when you visit next month.” Clearly she knows how to motivate me – here I am.

Since Amanda and I started this blog, I’ve been reading more, but I’ve also been reading more deliberately – that is, paying attention to what sort of books I am most drawn to. And, while I am sure that I read across different genres, and a mix of fiction and non-fiction, I’ve noticed a few articles lately about diversity, or the lack thereof, in popular fiction (particularly YA).

At the same time, I was listening to the NPR TED Radio hour podcast recently, and in the episode “Identities,” novelist Elif Shafak was talking about her writing process – writing in Turkish and English, writing as a woman from the Muslim world, and navigating different cultures – and one line about the power of literary characters really struck me:

In my mid-20s, I moved to Istanbul – the city I adore. I lived in a very vibrant, diverse neighborhood where I wrote several of my novels. I was in Istanbul when the earthquake hit in 1999. When I ran out of the building at three in the morning, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. There was the local grocer there, a grumpy old man who didn’t sell alcohol and didn’t speak to marginals. He was sitting next to a transvestite with black – long black wig and mascara running down her cheeks. I watched the man open a pack of cigarettes with trembling hands and offer one to her. And that is the image of the night of earthquake in my mind today.

A conservative grocery and a crying transvestite smoking together on the sidewalk. On the face of death and destruction, our mundane differences evaporated and we all became one, even if for a few hours. But I’ve always believed that stories do have a similar effect on us. I’m not saying that fiction has the magnitude of an earthquake, but when we are reading a good novel, we leave our small, cozy apartments behind, go out into the night alone and start getting to know people we had never met before and perhaps had even been biased against.

Yes yes yes. I think reading a book about a character who you can identify with is extremely powerful, but so it is reading a book about someone who is not like you.

So, as I keep adding to my ever-growing to-be-read pile, I want to make sure I’m seeking out reads that reflect the variety of cultural and ethnic and racial differences in the world. I grew up reading about Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, and their Pacific coast adventures seemed a world away. I’d like to think that I can do better than that now. And I’d also like to think that young readers from every country, creed, or color can find an accessible, published book with characters they can relate to as easily as I was able to.

If you too, are looking to diversify your reading, here’s a few lists to start from:

  • This post from American Indians in Children’s Literature covers a number of Young Adult books with American Indians. I’ve added If I Ever Get Out of Here to my TBR list.
  • Diversity in YA is a website that celebrates “young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability.” They’ve got a number of book lists archived here. Noughts & Crosses is one book that jumped out at me, especially because I remembered reading a review of it here.

And, just this week thanks to Cuddlebuggery’s list of Hot New Titles (of all YA releases), I added Gilded, about a Korean-American girl who suddenly moves to Seoul with her Dad. (“Then she discovers that a Korean demi-god, Haemosu, has been stealing the soul of the oldest daughter of each generation in her family for centuries. And she’s next.“) Who’s intrigued?!

Any other recommendations?

Review: Don’t Even Think About It

Don’t Even Think About it, Sarah Mylnowski

Reviewed by Amanda

Published March 11, 2014 by Delacorte Press, 336 Pages

Source: Netgalley

From Goodreads


Contemporary teen fiction with romance, secrets, scandals, and ESP from the author of Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have).

We weren’t always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn’t expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

Since we’ve kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what’s coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same.

So stop obsessing about your ex. We’re always listening.

Don’t Even Think About It follows 21 students who develop mind reading abilities after being given the flu shot at their New York City high school.   I thought the idea of this book was fun, I mean clearly if you’re writing about mind reading teenagers you aren’t taking yourself too seriously.

This was a book about normal, fairly average teenagers doing pretty average things with the new and exceptional ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around them. All your basic high school archetype characters were covered-the pretty girl, the best friend, the smart girl, the nice boyfriend.  But now they call can hear every thought around them.   

I thought the group narration was funny, something I’ve seen other reviewers had a problem with.  I liked the jump around from student to student, and I did not mind that there was no one central narrator.  I laughed as the narrators kept pointing out that the espies would try to keep the others from learning something, but that this was futile basically.

“Now we know everything.  Even the stuff we try to forget.  Especially the stuff we try to forget.”

There were too many students included I think, because it bothered me that not all of the students were really part of the book.  I liked most of the central characters Mylnowski focused on, but I wanted to know all of the scoop! I felt like I was missing something because these other students were referred to, but then were not part of the book really.

I’m very curious to know whether there will be another book in the future, because I’m sure I’d read it to satisfy my curiosity.  But ultimately this is a YA book  that I think is best for a YA audience.  I think I would have loved it when I was younger.  Its a book about high schoolers and sticks to a high school theme, it was a cute and easy read.

2.5 Stars
I received an advanced read copy of this book from Netgalley and Delacorte press in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Accident

The Accident, Chris Pavone

Reviewed by Amanda

Published March 11, 2014 by Crown Publishing, 400 pgs

Source: Netgalley


From Goodreads…

From the author of the New York Times-bestselling and Edgar Award-winning The Expats

As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through the explosive revelations about powerful people, as well as long-hidden secrets about her own past. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals with publication of The Accident, while always looking over his shoulder.

Over the course of one long, desperate, increasingly perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies, placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril.  The rich cast of characters—in publishing and film, politics and espionage—are all forced to confront the consequences of their ambitions, the schisms between their ideal selves and the people they actually became.

The action rockets around Europe and across America, with an intricate web of duplicities stretching back a quarter-century to a dark winding road in upstate New York, where the shocking truth about the accident itself is buried.

Gripping, sophisticated, layered, and impossible to put down, The Accident proves once again that Chris Pavone is a true master of suspense.

Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.  That is a lesson proved in the Accident.  

The Accident read like watching a movie for me. It was fast paced with a lot of action throughout. I felt the tension build from the beginning as I tried to figure out who wrote the manuscript and how far the subject of The Accident and his shadowy CIA associates would really go to find the copies and the author.  This was a fast read for me because I was so entranced.  The chapters were short with alternating points of view as the manuscript moved from person to person.  I found myself thinking ahead a lot and wondering where copies would end up which was fun.  Perhaps some of it was predictable, but I definitely did not expect this to go the way it did in the end.  

This was a great fun read when you want something not too serious.  Also, I just always love books about books!  

I haven’t read the Expats yet, but I will definitely go back and do so now.  I liked Kate, who had a brief but memorable role in the Accident and I’d like to hear her story.  

4 stars!

Thank you Netgalley and Crown Publishing for this advanced copy for review.