29 January 2012

Baker Towers, by Jennifer Haigh

Jennifer Haigh has done it again for me, folks. Baker Towers may have been released six years prior to Faith, but it successfully continues the fascination I have for her work. Baker Towers was everything I wanted, and so much more. This blue-collar family saga beginning in the 1940s in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania was absolutely magnificent. It is a genuine look into the lives of young men and women who helped set another block into the foundation of America and made history. 

Bakerton, Pennsylvania is made up of residents who are Swedish, Polish, and Italian immigrants, with the coal mine employing a good majority. In the Novak family, the home is traditional to the time and place. Rose and Stanley, first-generations to America, live in Polish Hill in company-owned housing. Rose, an Italian wife and mother, remains at home to take care of their five children, and her Polish husband, Stanley, works every day in the coal mine. It was never expected that he, provider of the family and gentle disciplinarian, would suffer a fatal heart attack leaving too early his wife and five children to make a place for themselves in a town and in a world that is rapidly changing.

This is the story of the five children who would be members of the Greatest Generation, living in a town whose existence thrives off the hulking mass of coal mined daily from deep in the mountain, resulting in Black Lung for miners and making widows of their wives. Each of the Novak children must find their way through life and whether it's enlisting in the military, or moving to Washington, D.C. and working for the government, or running away with no other goal but to just leave Bakerton, and who cares where you end up, their lives are ultimately filled with family, loss, love, and regrets, and it is a beautiful story with sincere contemplation on the painful choices each of them make. Combined with a glimpse into what life may have been like for those who lived during this time, ignoring the expected vintage nostalgia but instead strongly imbuing the story with remarkable authenticity, Baker Towers captures America during a time that will never be forgotten. The Novaks grow up, marry, and live their lives, and although some escape small-town life, over time they find that their paths invariably meander around and back to the very place that once made them want to flee.

This was impossible to put down, the story weaving between characters and historical events with an efficiency and skill that captured me from the very first page. Quite frankly, it swallowed me up in the time and even made me feel the aesthetics and intangibles; I could see and feel the outfits the characters wore, the jobs they took, and the cars they drove. I also could easily see this as a movie, and with all of HBO's recent endeavors into successful adaptations to the small screen, I think it would follow up quite nicely after their expert remake of Mildred Pierce this past summer, starring Kate Winslet.

Jennifer Haigh is just brilliant with her storytelling, and I decided that she is now one of my favorite authors. Her writing is expressive, moving, and thoughtful, and she has an astounding way to take tough subjects and events and turn them into the most painfully memorable moments of reading that I've had in the past year. I've enjoyed it all and can't wait to read Mrs. Kimble and The Condition next.

What I read over the weekend
In the interview with the author at the end of the book, it wasn't surprising to find that the small tidbits that made the story feel so authentic to the time, came from reading old magazines and noting advertisements of popular products and places. It made me a bit wistful for a hobby I have, so I picked up a few magazines from the 1940s on Saturday. I must admit, you can get lost in reading Life magazine, and over the weekend, I read a few editions from 1943. One issue included pictures from the celebrated photographer Margaret Bourke-White and her series of women in the steel mills. It was definitely a pleasure to read what the country was experiencing at the time, and I wanted to pick up Baker Towers right away and read it all over again. 

While I can't predict what 2012 will hold for me with all of the amazing books I hope I'll be reading, I brazenly will propose that Baker Towers will more than likely be in my list of favorite books read this year. Without question, this is my favorite for January 2012.

I loved this book and promise that if you enjoy historical fiction, family sagas, the Greatest Generation, and especially if you love Jennifer Haigh's writing, you will more than likely love this book as well.

Others said:
If I missed your review, let me know so I can link to you here.

Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: 12/27/2005
Pages: 368

About the Author
Jennifer Haigh is the author of the New York Times bestseller Baker Towers, winner of the 2006 PEN/L.L. Winship Award for outstanding book by a New England author; Mrs. Kimble, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and was also a finalist for the Book Sense Book of the Year; and The Condition.

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Many thanks to TLC Book Tours. In celebration of the release of Faith in paperback, all of Jennifer Haigh's books are on tour through February 2012. To read all of the reviews at each tour stop, click here.


26 January 2012

A Walk About Town: Town Point Virginia Wine Festival

A Walk About Town is a weekly feature hosted here at Coffee and a Book Chick. You do not need to have a book blog to join; any blogger can participate. Write about a spot in your town, or in another city you've visited, include the button for A Walk About Town, and add your link in the Linky below so we can all visit your post. You don't need to include a picture to participate. I will post on Thursdays, but you can post any day of that week. Just make sure to add your link to the most recent week's post here at Coffee and a Book Chick, and if you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #AWalkAboutTown.
Although this event happened a few months ago, I wanted to share a few quick pictures of the annual wine festival at Town Point Park in Norfolk, Virginia, right at waterside. The 2011 festival held in October was its 23rd year, and yes, it was quite the fun day. It was a beautiful and clear, crisp afternoon, and was a welcome event to reacquaint myself with an area I love. I encourage you to attend a wine festival in your area. You really can't go wrong with paying an entry fee and then wine-tasting away...


25 January 2012

Bunheads, by Sophie Flack

Over the weekend, I read one of the books I picked up at BEA last year. A Young Adult book (with a beautiful cover) focusing on ballet dancers at a fictional prestigious New York ballet company, I thought it might tip my personal reading scales for something different than what I normally read. I didn't expect that I would enjoy it as much as I did!

Bunheads is a term for a female ballet dancer, one who constantly wears her hair in a bun, which is the common hairstyle for any woman who performs ballet regularly and most especially, professionally. While the book focuses on Hannah, a nineteen-year-old who is trying to juggle relationships with those outside of the theater, the book is actually quite an insightful look into the life of the extremely disciplined dancers that bring the art of ballet to life. As the author Sophie Flack is a former ballet dancer herself, I did not have a difficult time at all believing in the world Hannah lived. It's clear that this may also be loosely based on the author's life, just from reading her biography. After all, she was a member of the New York City Ballet and performed in over 75 ballets at a young age.

At fourteen, Hannah's gift was astonishingly evident and with permission from her parents, moved alone from Massachusetts to New York on scholarship to attend the Manhattan Ballet Academy full-time. With the School of Arts providing the regular course load of writing, math, etc., Hannah is able to continue her schooling. As all of her classmates are ballet dancers as well, there is no turning back from this new life. It's the hope and dream of each of them that they may be able to graduate to become a member of the Manhattan Ballet and ultimately, to be promoted to principle dancer.

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Hannah's made it to the Manhattan Ballet as a "corps" dancer, a supporting cast dancer who could, with enough commitment, make it to be a star. With close friends who are all ballet dancers, each of their personalities shine through, whether sweet and supportive, or jealous and competitive. But when Hannah meets a young NYU student, Jacob, she begins to feel conflicted for what she thought she always wanted in her life and with what might be outside the theater, the "real" world, as the corps of dancers call it. None of them really know what it's like out there at all, as they live, eat, and breathe ballet, exercise, diet, and commitment to the art of dance. But Hannah begins to feel an urge that fulfillment in life might now be better found outside the walls of the Manhattan Ballet.

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For lack of a better way to phrase it, I was pleasantly surprised by this story. It is extremely well-told, with characters that genuinely bounded off the page with their dedication, discipline, and sometimes, dramatic and gossipy sides that was quite believable for a group of people so closely working together. While there are several ballet terms in the book, you don't need to be an expert in the craft to grasp it. I took ballet as a child (I felt fairly confident that Mikhail Baryshnikov and I were meant to marry one day), but I soon found I wasn't as coordinated as I needed to be and dropped it soon after, so I don't remember anything but the basics (pl├Če, pirouette, etc.) But even if the terms for the movements are confusing, it's not necessary to have the accurate image in your mind, as you can pretty much ascertain that it's a lot of amazingly difficult twists, turns, pirouettes, and leaps. All things aside, it's a lesson to the reader of the complete exhaustion and intense scrutiny of the body that a ballet dancer will go through.

Which is important to point out, of course. Female ballet dancers, like runway models, are expected to have nary an ounce of fat on them, and the puberty that they go through is ultimately delayed because of their intense workouts from an early age. By the time the natural growth of their bodies begins to take womanly shape, it's another battle for them to go through to work out more, diet more, all to ensure that their shape remains lean, and quite frankly, stick-like. It's this excruciating battle that Hannah also fights with that was interesting to read. I felt horribly for them all and wish it were different.

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I relished the glimpses of the logistical elements of the tools professional dancers used, particularly their beautiful pointe shoes and how they wore them in. I had no idea how many pairs of pointe shoes that the dancers go through in a week. Hannah and her friends can go through eight pairs in a week. Eight! It's those little things that shaped the story nicely and was extremely interesting to read. I'm so glad I spent the past weekend with it.

The ultimate finale of this story was surprising and sent an excellent message. I enjoyed every bit of this book. I hope more YA enthusiasts get a chance to read this book and I encourage those who don't normally read YA to give it an honest go. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Others said:
If you have read this book and I've missed your review, let me know so I can link your review here.

Publisher: Little Brown Books Young Readers
Release Date: 10/10/2011
Pages: 304

About the Author
Sophie Flack was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At age seven, Sophie began taking ballet lessons at the Boston Ballet School. She accelerated her ballet training, and after seeing a videotape of Patricia McBride dancing Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Sophie decided that she wanted to dance with the New York City Ballet. At fifteen, Sophie was accepted into the School of American Ballet on full scholarship, and moved to New York City. At age seventeen, Sophie joined the New York City Ballet as an apprentice and became a member of the corps de ballet the following year. As a member, Sophie performed in over 75 ballets. Bunheads is her first novel.

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24 January 2012

I cannot wait to return back from my business trip and dive into this one. It's part of the Beacon Hill Mystery series, and I haven't read this sort before, but I think I might like it, just based on the first few paragraphs of the book. What do you think?

Boston: The January thaw, 1892. A watery gloom hung over the city like a shroud.

Day after day of heavy, relentless rain had threatened to submerge the new-filled Back Bay, and the miniature lagoon in the Public Garden had overflowed its banks. On Beacon Hill, streams of water pounded the brick sidewalks and cascaded down the narrow streets, splashing women's voluminous skirts, splattering horses with mud up to their blinkers. People clung to their firesides, waiting for winter to return.

In the South End, Officer Joseph Flynn of the Boston police was making his rounds. he had been on the force for less than a year, and he was eager to do well in this job which until recently would not have been given to an Irishman like himself. When he saw the shape on the ground halfway down the alley behind West Brookline Street, he paused. Because it was night, and very dark in that district, he could not immediately tell what the shape was. A heap of refuse, he thought, or a pile of rags. Or, at worst, some drunken tramp from the nearby railroad yards.

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly featured hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea. To participate, share your selection from the book you're reading.


23 January 2012

The Breathing Method, by Stephen King (Audio Review)

Oh. My. Goodness. This three-hour audio punched me in the face and I loved it. This is the Stephen King that makes your knees buckle from the horror, and I was victim to it. Good gracious. Reeling, I am.

The Breathing Method is the final story in the collection by Stephen King, entitled Different Seasons. It is released separately in audio, and is under 3 hours.

Gathering in an unofficial club, gentleman share stories of their lives and experiences. One evening, a doctor tells a story of a young patient from many years before, who was extremely determined to give birth to her baby, no matter what. And while the doctor has a sense of foreboding about the upcoming event, he isn't quite sure what will happen. After all, the young mother is healthy, smart, and dedicated to planning and doing everything correctly, including following his advice on the appropriate breathing that must be done to help with labor.

This is the Stephen King many are familiar with. Horror through and through. Each moment is written in that simple and genuine way only King can do, and it was difficult to hit the stop button. Thankfully, as total audio time is less than 3 hours, it was a snap to listen to in one sitting.

But be warned.  This is NOT for the faint of heart, especially with one scene. *shudders*

Audio Notes: Click here to listen to the 5 minute audible.com sample. (I'm not sure if you need to have a membership to listen, so maybe try here from iTunes, but they only give you 30 seconds.) The narrator is Frank Muller and he. is. DIVINE. I could spend a lot of white space here scribbling about how incredible he was in all capital letters, but that might be a bit much. But, it's true. Yet another man's voice that will not put me to sleep. Thank goodness. Frank Muller, you are my new best friend, sir. I am anxious, ready for the next audio to listen to with you at the helm!

There's not much more I can say except that I would encourage you to listen to the audio version versus reading it, simply because Frank Muller perfectly captures the unsettled and shaky sense of the events. He keeps it suspenseful, brings you to the edge with his emotion, and you are ultimately left a bit dazed.

Publisher: Penguin Group
Release Date: 04/1/2010
Audio Time: Under 3 hours
Narrator: Frank Muller

Others said:
I didn't find another blogger in my Google Reader who had listened to or read it, but if I missed your review, let me know so I can link to you here. I'd love to see what others thought, so let me know!

About the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty novels, including The Stand, The Dark Tower, It, The Shining, oh...what more can be written that one doesn't already know? So here you go, click here to visit this cool author's official website.

The Stephen King Project. This is my first selection for the challenge that Kathleen and I are hosting, The Stephen King Project. It was a perfect start! The reviews for January 2012 from project participants can be found here.

The 2012 Audio Book Challenge. This is my second selection for the Challenge hosted by Teresa.


22 January 2012

The Sunday Salon: This and That

Alas, it's karma, my friends. I complain about being busy two weekends ago, but not so much. Behold, I begin my week of traveling for business, and I will be in Dallas for part of the week. Unfortunately, I will not be able to visit anything for fun, as it will be one meeting session all day on Tuesday, team dinner in the evening, and then all day in a meeting session on Wednesday...my, oh my. Which means, for the most part, it will be pretty quiet on this homefront even with the few scheduled posts I have set up.

So a couple things to tell you about:
  • Audible.com. I just got a membership, and hello? Where has it been all my (blogging) life? Sure, I just started really enjoying audio books, but I had no idea the great deals they would have. Yes, yes, I know I need to finally get a library card in Virginia Beach since I've been living here for all of three months now, but I had to pass this along to you... Audible.com had a fabulous sale the other day, and I picked up five audiobooks for $40. If I had purchased them at regular price, it would have been approximately $100. Deal, right?
  • The Stephen King Project. I am so excited on the number of participants. Each month, Kathleen and I are giving away something (one book or other bookish stuff) to one participant who linked up a Stephen King review for the month. It's never too late to join, folks, so click here if you are interested.
  • Challenges I Can Do. Or, at least, do well. Which is why I signed up for Teresa's 2012 Audio Book Challenge. This, this I can do, and not feel pressured.
That's it for now. See you on the other side of next week.


21 January 2012

Saturday Snapshot: It's Not *That* Cold.

I mean, really. Could a dog and a cat hang out more with each other? Sure, it's colder in Virginia than they're used to in Florida, but it's not *that* cold.

For more of this week's Saturday Snapshots, please visit Alyce with At Home With Books.


20 January 2012

Weekend Cooking: Noodle Pudding

Every now and then when I read a book, I get motivated to look up the food that's mentioned, especially when I've never heard it before, so when the words "Noodle Pudding" danced along the pages of Night Swim by Jessica Keener, I thought I might give it a whirl. It has egg noodles, cottage cheese, and... sugar? I initially expected a dessert of some sort, especially since it has Graham Cracker Crumbs as a topping.

I'm not knowledgeable on the best cookbooks, so after I exhausted Google, I clicked on one option from allrecipes.com and thought it sounded simple and unique. And it was. I liked it a lot and I've never tasted anything quite like this! I found it was actually more suited to be a good side dish for a big family meal. I might make this for Thanksgiving this year.

My husband loved it. He ate it as a side with chicken, and even warmed some up for breakfast.

Here's the family recipe from agk1.

Noodle Pudding

  • 1 (16 oz) package wide egg noodles
  • 1 (16 oz) package cottage cheese
  • 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large casserole dish.
  2. Cook egg noodles until al dente; drain.
  3. In a large bowl, blend together cottage cheese and cream cheese until smooth.
  4. Mix in sour cream, vanilla extract, sugar, and eggs.
  5. When noodles are done, drain, and return noodles to pot; set on cooled stove top.
  6. Stir 1/2 cup melted butter into noodles.
  7. Combine cheese mixture and noodles into bowl; blend well.
  8. Place into casserole dish.
  9. Topping: Mix graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar. Sprinkle evenly over top of noodle mixture.
  10. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
  11. Then, lower temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking for 45 minutes.
  12. Cool before cutting; serve warm.
Weekend Cooking is a feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is an opportunity each week to share your food love. It is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share. Whether it's a recipe, a film about food, or a book, click here to visit her site and read about the feature. Don't forget to link up your food-related posts each week.


19 January 2012

A Walk About Town is a weekly feature hosted here at Coffee and a Book Chick. You do not need to have a book blog to join; any blogger can participate. Write about a spot in your town, or in a city you've visited, include the button for A Walk About Town, and add your link in the Linky below so that we can all visit your post. You don't need to include a picture to participate. I will post on Thursdays, but you can post any day of that week. Just make sure to add your link to the most recent week's post here at Coffee and a Book Chick, and if you're on Twitter,use the hashtag #AWalkAboutTown.
One of the things I love about Virginia Beach, and the Hampton Roads area, is the strong connection to the military. Norfolk has the largest naval base in the world, and many of the personnel, service members, and staff supporting the base and other bases around it, live directly in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, etc.

Right on the oceanfront, in the same area as last week's visit to The Norwegian Lady, is the Naval Aviation Monument. Dedicated on May 6, 2006, this monument  of incredible bronze sculptures by artist Michael Maiden, recognizes not only the Navy, but the Coast Guard and Marine Corps aviation history from the 1900s through today. It was an exceptionally clear and bright day, so since a lot of the beautiful bronze sculptures were difficult to see, I thought a nice sepia filter made it look a little more vintage in the first shot. I love how this is situated right on the boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean is visible in the background.

This is what it all means, at the end of the day, right?

Is there a spot in town you'd like to highlight? Link your post below and visit your co-participants.


18 January 2012

Recently, I mentioned that Cassandra Campbell was fast becoming one of my favorite narrators for audio books. There is an atmosphere her voice creates, light and humorous (as in Very, Valentine) or mournful and haunting (as in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). It's always perfect for the story. So when Sandy commented that I should pick up The School of Essential Ingredients, I did. When it comes to audio, Sandy's an exceptional guide.

I'm never going to get tired of books about cooking food and living life. I love it. The connection of recipes, knowing which spice should go with which dish, and how that translates back to relationships, loss, and love, will fit the bill for me every time, and this story did not disappoint.

The story is told by the eight students taking a cooking class on Monday evenings, their personal stories and memories meaningfully unfolding for the listener. There is humor, tragedy, sadness, loss, and newly found love. Usually, when there are more than three or four characters sharing their stories, it can become overwhelming or confusing, or one character may be completely uninteresting, but not so with this story. All of the characters contributed a significant part of their lives, and not one was overdone, or wasted, or skipped over. It all fit.

At the heart of it is Lillian, the instructor and owner of the restaurant where the classes are held. She, too, has a quietly compelling story, one that has shaped her with whom she has become. She was an exceptional character, the rock of knowledge for each of the students, quickly learning what they needed to be taught. She is what kept them moving forward, both in their cooking skills and in life.

And this line stuck with me, about Tom and his wife, Charlie. It's this character's story which made me cry, and if you've read this book, then you know what I mean.
She was nowhere and everywhere, and he couldn't stop looking.
Erica Bauermeister's novel was released in 2009, and the story has such a sophisticated style that it's surprising it was a debut novel. It's a story that will make you cry and laugh, but most importantly, it will remind you that living is about the here and now, and that while mistakes happen, the choice to never let a moment pass you by is clear. Love, and be loved, and do so with integrity and kindness.

While the school deals with the essential ingredients of cooking, it is by far the fundamental elements of living that are the most important lesson to be learned. I cannot wait to read (or listen to) Joy for Beginners which was released in June 2011.

Audio Sample: Click here to listen to the five minute sample of this book, narrated by the incomparable Cassandra Campbell. She knocks it out of the park yet again, but you know what? It's really no surprise. She's just a phenomenal narrator. You can't go wrong with her.

Publisher: Penguin Audio
Release Date: 01/22/2009
Audio Time: 7 hours
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

About the Author
Erica Bauermeister is the author of the recently released Joy for Beginners. Her debut novel, The School of Essential Ingredients was released in 2009 and has been published in more than 21 countries. She has also co-authored 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide with Holly Smith and Jesse Larsen, and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14 with Holly Smith. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and currently lives in Seattle.

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This is my first selection for the 2012 Audio Book Challenge hosted by Teresa.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book from audible.com.


17 January 2012

2012 Audio Book Challenge

I swore I wouldn't do any challenges, but I do want to sign up for this one since I just started a couple audiobooks, one of which I'm sure I'll finish tonight. I learned to love audiobooks last year and I want to track my selections. Hosted by the fabulous Teresa, there are four levels:
  • Flirting: Listen to 6 audiobooks
  • Going Steady: Listen to 12 audiobooks
  • Lover: Listen to 25 audiobooks
  • Married: Listen to more than 25 audiobooks
I'm shooting for Going Steady. It will push me, but I think it's an achievable goal. I'm also looking forward to Teresa's feature of audiobook publishers.

Thanks for hosting, Teresa. So far, there are over 100 participants, so it will be quite a fun year!


16 January 2012

Night Swim, by Jessica Keener

Sarah Kunitz is sixteen-years-old and lives in a suburb just an hour north of Boston in the "perfect" family. After all the recipe for a perfect family is that of a mother and father who both live at home, children, a big house, and money. On the surface, at least, it's perfect. This is the Kunitz family of Boston in the 1970s.

In this quiet and compelling coming-of-age story of the only daughter in a dysfunctional family, sixteen-year-old Sarah has never felt mothered by the woman who now glides through life, a drink in one hand and a pill in the other. A classically trained violinist, was it the arthritis in her mother's hands that forced her to stop playing? Was it inheritance money that caused an emotional distance for them? Or was having a family the mistake? What was it that made Sarah's mother drift through life without being connected with her own children?

It's a question no child would want to ask of their mother, and especially by an only daughter. Sarah is just beginning to find her own place in life, and even a slight connection with her musical mother by developing a strong singing voice. But her chances to learn more of her mother's past are cut short when a car accident in the heart of Boston on an icy night leaves Sarah and her three brothers motherless. Now a new question surfaces: Was the car crash truly an accident, or did her mother choose to leave them?

This was a deeply touching and acutely felt story. Jessica Keener succeeded in building a fully developed character in Sarah, one whose emotional story was laced with flaw, tinged with regret, and ultimately ached to receive motherly guidance in any way possible. While I felt there were a few plot points that went on longer than necessary, those are minor quibbles about a story that felt genuine with every page and character. The sad fact was that it already seemed as though Sarah had always been living without a mother, with the accident securing what she couldn't (or didn't want to) recognize before. That might be what ringed the most genuine in this story. It's not when the person dies that makes you realize that things can never change now; instead, it's realizing that nothing ever would have gotten better even if the person had lived.

Night Swim is an emotional tale of growing up and feeling lost in a big family with parents who are emotionally absent. With summer romances, tough questions, drugs, loss, and heartache, the 1970s will be Sarah's time to make the choices that will shape her future and ultimately, make her whole. I enjoyed this story and anticipate a long career from Jessica Keener; I look forward to reading much, much more from her.

Publisher: The Fiction Studio
Release Date: 1/10/2012
Pages: 284

Side Notes
  • Although this is not a memoir, readers who enjoy them, along with coming-of-age stories, will find a lot to discuss and think about with Night Swim. A book club will likely feel comfortable to reminisce with their own personal stories of growing up as well.
  • While the character is a teenager, the reader should know that the story does deal with big topics such as drugs, alcohol, and sex, but this can provide a great opportunity for discussion with your teenager. If they read it, you should, too, and talk about the issues addressed.
  • Food was occasionally mentioned throughout the novel, and whenever I see something I've never heard of before, I research until I find a good recipe. For that reason, I made Noodle Pudding over the weekend, and I'll be posting it this Friday for Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking meme.

About the Author
Jessica Keener is the author of her acclaimed debut novel, Night Swim. She grew up in Boston and received her Master's from Brown University. A freelance writer, she has published in The Boston Globe Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Inspired House, Coastal Living, Design New England, and Poets & Writers. Her stories have been listed in The Pushcart Prize under "outstanding writers." She currently lives in Boston.

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Others said:
Beth Fish Reads

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me. The Night Swim tour goes through February 23, 2012. To read the reviews at all of the tour stops, click here.


15 January 2012

For my fellow bloggers on Google Blogger (blogspot)... finally, we have threaded commenting. That means we can reply back to individual comments versus having to do it in one bulk response and bolding the commenter's name, etc., etc. Finally. We are no longer behind the times and can keep up with our fellow WordPress friends!

I linked to the article for it above, so it should show you step-by-step how to implement it (only two steps). You do have to use the new Blogger interface, not the old Blogger dashboard (easy switch). If you have a custom blog design and threaded commenting is not working even after you've made the simple required changes, you might need to contact the designer for your blog so they can help facilitate it for you as there might be a need for extra HTML coding to correct it.

Otherwise, it's a cinch to set it up. I love it.


14 January 2012

Saturday Snapshot: My Baby Shoes

One of the benefits of moving and tackling those final boxes is that I come across a gem like this. These are my baby shoes, that even have the baby ID tag from the hospital in Manila, Philippines looped around the buckle. I didn't wear these on my way home from the hospital, of course, as I wore them when I was a little bigger, but it's nice to have them together like this. I haven't seen these in more than five years. They were in my storage unit that I hadn't looked at until we moved back to Virginia Beach. I had forgotten about them completely.

For more of this week's Saturday's Snapshots, please visit Alyce with At Home With Books.


13 January 2012

Weekend Cooking: Filipino Ensaymada and Pandesal

Moving back to Virginia Beach allows me to return weekly to Angie's Bakery, a Filipino bakery about fifteen minutes from my house. Among the many delicacies available, I am a big fan of ensaymada and pandesal, and every time I go to the bakery, it reminds me of my mother and my family in the Philippines.

As the Philippines was once a settlement of Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries, several of the recipes have these Spanish roots. One is Ensaymada, which is a sweet bread pastry. With a cup of coffee in the morning, it is one of the best ways to start your day off. It's a fluffy concoction with a luscious buttery cream coating on top and while it's sweet, it's not rich or overwhelming. It's just perfect.

Pandesal is basically what some may be more familiar with as a breakfast or dinner roll, but it is so much more than that. It's got a hint of sweetness that adds to the flavor without making it too sweet to eat any time of the day or night. It is my absolute favorite. Angie's Bakery in Virginia Beach makes them fresh, and they have a constant stream of people walking in and standing in line to order them. They literally take them out of the oven, put them in the paper packaging and it's impossible to be on your way home without grabbing one and munching as you drive. Not to mention, your car ends up smelling amazing with the warm baked bread scent... If you get a chance, get it fresh and hot after they are pulled out of the oven. They are so soft and delicious and divine.

Weekend Cooking is a feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is an opportunity each week to share your food love. It is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share. Whether it's a recipe, a film about food, or a book, click here to visit her site and read about the feature, and also to link your posts up each week.


12 January 2012

A Walk About Town is a weekly feature hosted here at Coffee and a Book Chick. You do not need to have a book blog to join; any blogger can participate! Write about a spot in your town, or in a city you've visited, include the button for A Walk About Town, and add your link in the Linky below so that we can all visit your post. You don't need to include a picture to participate. I will post on Thursdays, but you can post any day of that week. Just make sure to add your link to the most recent week's post here at Coffee and a Book Chick, and if you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #AWalkAboutTown

In this coastal town in Virginia, shipwrecks are a frequent part of local history.

In 1891, a Norwegian ship named the Dictator wrecked off the coast of Virginia Beach. With a small crew of fifteen, and the captain with his family, the Dictator carried a large cargo of pine lumber and was heading to England from Pensacola, Florida. With repairs scheduled in the Hampton port, the Dictator made her way up the Virginia coastline. It was Good Friday.

With gale force winds, the Dictator grounded into the sandbar and both lifeboats were smashed. All on board were feared to be be lost.

But the Cape Henry and Seatack Lifesaving Stations (the forerunner to the current day United States Coast Guard) began to work tirelessly through the storm and dangerous waves to rescue the trapped passengers. At the end of the day, 8 were saved before the ship fully broke apart by nightfall. The captain's pregnant wife and their toddler, along with five sailors perished. The captain washed ashore onto the beach, alive, but barely conscious.

1918 Va Beach Postcard featuring The Norwegian Lady
Ships in that time frame, had a wooden figurehead carved into the prow of the ship that rested horizontally to the water. The figurehead for the Dictator was found on the beach days later and it was positioned at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Eventually, it was removed due to hurricanes in the area, and unfortunately, the figurehead was lost. As news of the loss of the figurehead in the early 1950s reached Norway, the city of Moss discussed with Virginia Beach the possibility of replacing the missing figurehead. Instead, two statues were crafted; one in Virginia Beach, and one in Moss, Norway. On September 22, 1962, The Norwegian Lady in both cities was unveiled, and in 1974, Virginia Beach and Moss, Norway became sister cities.

Every year on the anniversary of the wreck, a wreath is placed at The Norwegian Lady. In 1995, Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway visited Virginia Beach to place flowers at the statue.

The following is inscribed into the statue: 
I am the Norwegian Lady. I stand here, as my sister before me, to wish all men of the sea safe return home.
Pretty neat story, huh?

What about you? What's going on in your area that you want to spotlight?

Article sources from VirginiaBeach.com, Wikipedia.


11 January 2012

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (Audio Review)

There is a male voice that can read a book to me and his voice won't bore me. FINALLY.

Liz Michalski, author of Evenfall, kept recommending the audio version of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book but for some reason, I kept putting it off. Something else would pop up to distract me for a bit, or I would forget, but I finally downloaded and gave it a listen and now I'm in love with Neil Gaiman. Few authors can read their own works and provide distinctions between characters' voices and really do it justice, but Mr. Gaiman doesn't have that problem at all. His smooth and warm British voice is quite possibly the perfect voice to give life to The Graveyard Book.

Nobody "Bod" Owens has lived his whole life in the graveyard. Well, almost his whole life. Right before he came to live there, he had a proper life with a proper family in a proper house, but he doesn't remember it at all. When The Man Jack came to visit one dark night, the only one in the family who survived The Man Jack's murders was the little boy, the toddler who crawled out of the house and somehow ended up in the graveyard. The Man Jack had missed him and left his job undone.

The little boy is so little that he doesn't even know his own name. The ghosts in the graveyard convene to determine what should happen to him and Mr. and Mrs. Owens have decided to adopt him, which is a bit unusual considering they are ghosts and the little boy is quite human. Were it not for another ghost, Silas, who has access to the outside world, and who has agreed to be the little boy's guardian, the graveyard ghosts would not have granted permission for him to be raised there. The little boy will also have access to the graveyard, which includes learning how to do a few things that only ghosts can do. And so Mr. and Mrs. Owens adopt the little boy and raise little Nobody "Bod" Owens as their own.

I'm not sure if it was Neil Gaiman's voice or the story, or maybe a combination of both that pulled me right in. I loved it. It was sweet, adventurous, dark, and suspenseful. The characters were remarkable and even though I was supposed to dislike The Man Jack, I even found him unique and intriguing. Neil Gaiman was undoubtedly the only possible choice to voice this story, and he did such an effective job distinguishing between Bod's younger voice and his friend Scarlett's, Silas' all-knowing and assured adult voice, along with the evil ghouls and all the other ghosts that Bod would encounter throughout his life while living in the graveyard. This inventive and quirky story is meaningful and fun, and I enjoyed every bit of it.

I highly recommend this middle grade book in audio format, and in fact, would even suggest that you select this versus the printed version. It really is quite the lovely tale to listen to, and if I could paint the perfect evening for you to listen to this, I would suggest a cold and rainy night, preferably in the fall. You should be sitting by the fire, cozy in a blanket, drinking a cup of hot chocolate.

Audio Sample: Click here to listen to the five minute sample on audible.com. I'm pretty sure you'll want to pick up the audio after listening to Neil Gaiman's voice.

Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: 9/30/2008
Audio Time: 7 hours, 30 minutes
Narrator: Neil Gaiman

About the Author
Neil Gaiman's work has been honored with many awards internationally, including the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. His books and stories have also been honored with 4 Hugos, 2 Nebulas, 1 World Fantasy Award, 4 Bram Stoker Awards, etc., etc...

He is the author of such works as Coraline, The Graveyard Book, Stardust, and American Gods, which the 10th anniversary edition has just been released in the U.S. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.

Picture credit: Kimberly Butler

Visit the author:
Others said:
The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Book Journey
Books I Done Read
Indie Reader Houston
Literary Musings
The Literate Housewife
The Sleepless Reader

Did I miss your review? Let me know so I can add it.


10 January 2012

Blog Design Giveaway!

Today is the day for the $50 towards a Blog Design Giveaway! I'm puttin' this $50 in because I'm so gleefully ecstatic with the work Tawni did, and I want to share with one lucky winner. (To be entered for the giveaway, click on the "Read More" link at the bottom of this post and input your info into the Rafflecopter widget, but please read the interview first).

The Evolution
Those who have been following this blog since its inception have seen the design change fairly frequently because nothing ever seemed right. I played around with the Blogger templates, moved stuff around a lot, but I could only stick with it for it for a few weeks until I had to make changes. One day, frustrated with the adjustments I was yet again trying to implement, I decided to take a quick break and troll through my Google Reader. A post from YA book blogger The Story Siren caught my eye in which she mentioned Forever Design Studio designed her site, so when I clicked on over to look at Tawni's full portfolio, I knew I wanted to put a request in. A couple of months later, voila! Coffee and a Book Chick looks exactly how I wanted it to look, and so much more! And with that, I'd love to introduce you to Tawni... welcome!

Name: Tawni
Design Site: Forever Design Studio
Book Blog Site: The Book Worms

Q - What are the full range of services you provide?
A - I offer just about everything! This includes custom blog designs, book/print designs, logo designs, information and e-commerce web designs, Etsy shop branding, and advertisement/button designs. Most recently, I have been working on blog and book designs. I'm trying to wiggle my way into the book design world, because I truly enjoy it the most!

Q - Do you also design for WordPress?
A - I do design for WordPress! I initially started designing for WordPress and realized just how many bloggers used Blogger. I'm not 100% in the know with Blogger, but I learn with every new project. (note from Natalie: I use Blogger, and I think it's pretty obvious that Tawni knows a lot more about Blogger than she gives herself credit for!)

Q - What is normally your schedule from first discussion to blog design upload?
A - I always have a client fill out the quote form because this helps me get all the details and goodies I need in order to create something they'd love. Once we've talked about details, color schemes, styles and feels, I get started on a concept. If we hit a wall, we start over, but that's okay, because I'm doing it for them. We continue to go back and forth about slight changes until we've completed it and it's time to install the design!

Q - What made you get into designing?
A - When I was about 10 years old, my family had just moved into a new town and I entered a new school. I didn't really have a hard time finding friends, I just missed my old ones and started finding new ones online. I discovered a whole new world of blogging and creativity that I didn't even think was possible. I have always been creative and techie so it really intrigued me. Once other people started taking an interest in my designs, I decided to start up a little business and it's just rocketed from there!

Q - How long have you been designing?
A - I am now 22 (and I don't know where that time went)... so that would be about 12 years! Wow - I didn't even realize.

Q - You're also a book reviewer, yay! Which came first: blog design or book reviewing?
A - Yes! I am the blogger at The Book Worms. Blog design came first, mainly because that was my "books aren't cool" stage. I got over that one though and I adore reading and writing about all the awesome books I come across!

Q - Are you interested in being a designer as your ultimate career? Or, do you have something else you're interested in?
A - As a matter of fact, yes I am! But I want to veer to graphic design only. I'm actually very interested in working in the publishing world, but we will see how that goes! I always ask myself if there is something I love more and if I will ever get sick of design... but, I always come back to it. It's a part of me!

Q - What advice can you give for bloggers looking for a designer?
A - Take your time. I've come across many bloggers who have rushed into working with a designer or chose one just because of the reasonable prices. But, in reality, you should just slow down, take a breather, and choose one who feels right for you and your blog/website or whatever project you may have.

Q - How can people connect with you to discuss a project for their blog (or other design inquiries)?
A - I am currently working on my return for taking project proposals. You can send me an email here if you want to be notified of my return. Once I come back, everyone is free to fill out the quote form and projects will be booked on a first come, first serve basis! (note from Natalie: Tawni will keep a slot open for the winner upon her return in the next month!)

Thank you so much, Tawni! I absolutely LOVE the design!

Rules for Giveaway
  • Click on log in (either with your Facebook account or with your name and email address). Don't worry, the personal information you entered will not be public.
  • Click the + sign and the number to enter your name, email address, and blog url, along with other details.
  • You do not have to be a follower of this blog or have to tweet it out, however it will give you more points if you do which only ups your chances. But, it is absolutely not required, so don't fret.
The winner will win...
  • $50 towards design options. You can simply use the $50 for whatever items are priced up to that total amount, or you can put my $50 towards more options, or get a full design. (Note: if you decide to get anything that is more than $50, you are responsible for paying Forever Design Studio the balance of anything over $50)
  • Winner will be announced Thursday, January 19, 2012.
Good luck!