Changes in the Wind

george-bernard-shawI hope you are all as flexible as I am, and I don’t mean physically I mean mentally.  With autumn upon us, I felt it was time to do some redecorating around Cate’s Book Nut Hut, and this will mean change.

In some things, particularly when it comes to my books, I like them to be in a certain order and ‘catalogued’ in a way where others may get lost looking for something but I can go straight to it.  I think the Book Nut Hut is beginning to head down this alley, as after looking at it on a different computer, and heck even a different operating system to my own, I realised there needs to be changes.  I don’t want my ‘readers’ to get lost in its digital annals only for me to discover their skeletons propped up against a meta-tag somewhere down the road.  Don’t worry though, the changes won’t take place over night, like everything else that is worth doing well, it will come into being in a slow and deliberate manner.

The first of these changes has already taken place, some of you may (or may not) have noticed that it is no longer catesbooknuthut.wordpress.com but just catesbooknuthut.com.  If you have the WordPress link in your bookmarks, there is no need to change this, as you will be automatically redirected to the dot-com site.  Other changes that will be taking place are the redesigning and wording of some of the pages (review and ratings guideline being one of them,) and page titles in the hopes of making ‘The Hut’ easier to find your way around.

‘The Hut’ also now has its own Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CatesBookNutHut.  Here you can find links to some of the Authors already reviewed on the site, such as Heidi Peltier and Lee Foust, and there will be ‘bookish’ items and trivia posted here on a regular basis.

Another big change coming up shortly; one I’m really excited about and hope you will be too,  will be the inclusion of a podcast.  This is currently being worked on by myself and © Altered Reality Productions, and will be called ‘The Acorn’ as Cate’s Book Nut Hut is a mouthful to say at any time of the day.  The podcast will have its own page on the site where you will be able to listen to ‘chapters’ (after all this is a book podcast), and links to iTunes where free subscription will be available for those who want to make sure they don’t miss out.  ‘The Acorn’ will also feature Author interviews, and I already have some lined up, along with other goodies to keep the bibliophile in all of us happy.

There will most likely be other little changes as I progress through my housecleaning, but for now these are the major big ones that I wanted to let you know about.  So, as the saying goes…….

“Watch this space”

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‘And now for something completely different’

“Let’s face it, writing is hell.”
~William Styron

writers almanacI thought it was about time to take a break from the book reviews, and my attempts at writing articles I think may interest people, and hand today over to those who actually know what they are about.  Today, Wednesday August 28, 2013, I am turning my blog over to “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor”.  For those of you reading who may not be familiar with this web site, it contains daily poems, prose, and literary history from Garrison Keillor, and other Authors.  Not only do these great folks keep this website full of wonderful tidbits, they also produce a podcast for us to listen to as we go about our day.  So, without further ado, take it away “The Writer’s Almanac”:

“Song of Smoke
by Kevin Young

To watch you walk
cross the room in your black

corduroys is to see
civilization start—
the wish-
whish-whisk

of your strut is flint
striking rock—the spark

of a length of cord
rubbed till

smoke starts—you stir
me like coal

and for days smolder.
I am no more

a Boy Scout and besides,
could never

put you out—you
keep me on

all day like an iron, out
of habit—

you threaten, brick—
house, to burn

all this down. You leave me
only a chimney.

“Song of Smoke” by Kevin Young, From Jelly Roll © Knopf, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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It’s the birthday of the father of German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , born in Frankfurt, Germany (1749), the author of the epic drama Faust.

He moved to Italy in 1786, and when he returned to Germany two years later, he fell in love with a woman from Weimer, Christiane Vulpius, a 23-year-old who was 16 years his junior. That year, he wrote her an epithalamium, a wedding poem, but he didn’t actually marry her; instead, the couple lived together for 18 years unwed. That is, until one night, Christiane saved Goethe’s life by driving off a band of Napoleon’s soldiers who had broken in their home. Goethe went down to a church the very next day and married her, his live-in girlfriend of 18 years.

In 1806, the same year of the home invasion and marriage, Goethe published a preliminary version of Part I of his great work, Faust, the story of a brilliant scholar named Heinrich Faust, who makes a deal with the devil. The great epic has it all: seduction, murder, sleeping potions, an illegitimate love child, a stray poodle that transforms into the devil, contracts signed with blood, imprisonment in dungeons, heavenly voices, and even redemption. Faust is often called a “closet drama” because it’s intended to be read, not performed. Goethe spent 50 years working on this two-volume masterpiece, finishing it in 1832, the year of his death.

Christiane survived for only a decade after her and Goethe’s wedding. In later life, after recovering from a heart disease that nearly killed him, the 73-year-old Goethe fell passionately in love with an 18-year-old woman, Ulrike von Levetzow, and was devastated when she turned down his proposals of marriage.

Goethe, who said, “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

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It’s the birthday of poet Rita Dove , born in Akron, Ohio (1952). Her father had a master’s degree in chemistry but had to work as an elevator operator because he was black. He eventually became the first African-American chemist to work for Goodyear Tires.

He encouraged his daughter to take advantage of education, and she was at the top of her class. She was chosen as one of 100 of the best high school students in the country to visit the president of the United States. Her parents assumed that she would go on to become a doctor or lawyer, so when she announced that she wanted to be a poet, they weren’t sure what to make of it. She said, “[My father] swallowed once and said, ‘Well, I’ve never understood poetry, so don’t be upset if I don’t read it.'” Her teachers at college told her that she was throwing her education away if she didn’t study something more practical.

But with her poetry collection Thomas and Beulah (1986), based loosely on the lives of her grandparents, she became only the second African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and she went on to become the first African-American national poet laureate.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Guest Host: Billy Collins
Host: Garrison Keillor
Writers: Betsy Allister, Holly Vanderhaar
Technical Director: Thomas Scheuzger
Engineer: Noah Smith
Producer: Joy Biles
Permissions: Kathy Roach
Web Producer: Ben Miller”

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‘You are NOT allowed to read that!’

bebelplatz-berlin-memorial-to-burned-books

Bebelplatz Book Burning Memorial

 ‘The fact that anybody wants to burn a book shows you how powerful the physical object is, both as itself and as a symbol’ ~ Chuck Wendig.

Until I married my American Husband I was not fully aware of the fact that there are people out there who want to restrict my access to the types of book I read, not just fiction but non-fiction as well.  I was also naive in thinking that book burning was a thing of history; for example the May 10 1933 book burning in Berlin, the monument to which I have visited.  Book burning is also a thing of the 21st century and takes places in America for various reasons; Non-approved Bibles, books and music in Canton, North Carolina in 2009; Tolkien’s works publicly burned in Alamogordo, NM, in 2001 as satanic.  Really?  In the 21st Century, here in America, intelligent people would fail to celebrate Tolkien’s masterful achievement and, instead, find it threatening enough to burn it?

I feel it would be amiss of me as a lover of the printed word not to write about this form of censorship and, how we are slowly creeping towards a more complete ‘Nanny State’ where we are told what is good for us, and how much of it we can consume.  I understand that there needs to be checks and balances in place for some things, but when it comes to art, and to me writing is an art form, personal choice needs to be allowed to run free.  If, after reading the synopsis of a book on a fly-leaf, we feel uncomfortable or it may be against our beliefs, we have the choice to put the book down and find something more to our tastes.

jailed-book1If you are completely confused by this topic, I’m referring to the upcoming Banned Books Week.  Whether you may be blissfully unaware, or choose to pretend it doesn’t exist, it does with challenged and banned books spanning all genres and reading age groups.  But what is Banned Books Week?  It is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read that is typically held during the last week of September and highlighting the value of free and open access to information; it brings together the book community, from reader to publisher, like nothing else can as they share their support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some may consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship, and all of the books featured during this week have been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools, by individuals or groups. While books have been and continue to be banned, the fact is that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available, unless you happened to be in Alamogordo NM, where not only Tolkien but the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling were committed to the flames.

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Although we are still a month out from Banned Book Week, I strongly feel it is an issue that needs to get publicity not just for one week of every year but all the time.  However, I know how difficult this would be so, in my attempt to stand up for an art form that gives me great pleasure, as well as broadening my mind and horizons, I am going to focus all of my posts for the week of 22-28 September 2013 with books that have been challenged since the beginning of the 21st century.  I will be choosing four books and proudly showcasing them on the blog.

I am giving you all advance warning of this, in case there are some people out there who would rather not see these books blazoned across their computer screen, and they will know to give my reviews a miss for that week.  I will not just be showcasing the books that week, but also listing why these books were challenged and also giving a little background on the Authors.  List of nominees for this week of challenged books are:

2001 – Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
2002 – Harry Potter (series)*, by J.K. Rowling (because I have never read any Harry Potter books)
2003 – The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1), by Jonathan Stroud
2004 – The Alice Series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
2005 – Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
2006 – The Handmaids Tale, by Margaret Atwood
2007 – The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
2008 – His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
2009 – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, by John Berendt
2010 – Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
2011 – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, by Alan Moore
2012 – The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeanette Walls
*Please note, where books are part of a series, I will only be featuring the first.

One last thing to bear in mind, and an indication of just how out of hand some of these book challenges are becoming; in 2010 in the Menifee, Calif. Union School District pulled the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary because a parent complained when a child came across the term ‘oral sex’.  Officials for the District said, at the time it was pulled, that they are forming a committee to consider a permanent ban of the dictionary; whether they went ahead with this is not known.

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Paper and Pies

I know that National Book Lovers Day took place yesterday August 9, but I had a review that I just had to post on that day so I was unable to write about this.  Plus it was also an unofficial holiday for all us book-worms and this would’ve meant taking time out from my latest read to sit down and put a piece together.  How could I possibly do that?

Apart from reading I also love to cook, in fact it’s another passion of mine that very few people know about.  So I tend to get a little excited when I come across something that hits both of these loves in one shot.  I’m talking about food centred fiction, and if that fiction contains recipes, be still my beating heart!

In celebration of National Book Lovers Day, although belatedly, I’d like to share with you my top ten reads, not in any order of preference, for lovers of the printed word AND food:

Book cupcakes

Friendship Bread ~ Darien Gee;  About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family, this book tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café ~Fannie Flagg; As an elderly woman relays her dynamic life story to a friend in the throes of a midlife crisis, readers get to know the townsfolk of Whistle Stop, Alabama, and their many mysteries.

Like Water for Chocolate ~ Laura Esquivel; In Mexico, a repressed daughter forbidden to be with the man she loves learns how to affect her world via the food she serves to others. Recipes set the tone for every chapter.

Blackberry Crumble: A Culinary Mystery ~ Josi Kilpack;  Sadie accepts her first investigation-for-hire and travels to Portland, Oregon, at the request of a woman who has suspicions about her wealthy father’s untimely death; includes eight recipes.

The Epicure’s Lament ~ Kate Christensen;  Hugo smokes and cooks and sexually schemes and pokes his perverse nose into other people’s marriages and business; and he records these events as well as his mordant, funny, gorgeously articulated personal history and his thoughts on life and mortality in a series of notebooks complete with recipes.

Monsieur Pamplemousse ~ Michael Bond; An esteemed food critic and his trusty bloodhound, Pommes Frites, find themselves embroiled in mystery when they are served a man’s head on a platter. It’s the start of a light-hearted series set in France.

Chocolat (Chocolat #1) ~ Joanne Harris; Mayhem ensues when a newcomer opens a chocolate shop in a small French village. Soon the townspeople crave not only the delicious confections available to purchase but also the company of the eerily insightful shop owner.

World of Pies ~ Karen Stolz;  Roxanne is our guide through a life that has moments of tenderness, poignancy, sorrow, and great humour, as well as some pretty great baking moments (recipes included).

Pomegranate Soup ~ Marsha Mehran; Each chapter is loosely based around a new recipe that is made in the cafe where the story is based. Mostly Middle Eastern

Househusband ~ Ad Hudler; Lincoln Menner is finding out just how hard it is to be a woman. “When his wife Jo was offered her dream job, Linc supported her wholeheartedly, leaving his thriving landscape business in Los Angeles and moving to Rochester, New York.

So there it is.  The recipes that are contained in some of the above books are amazing and play a part in the novels as a whole.  Even without the recipes, all these books are well worth taking some time out of your busy lives to read.

Buon appetito!

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Review: Happy Easter ~ Michael Gemma

Happy Easter

For many many years people have adopted the Easter tradition of coloring and hiding eggs, and by far the most popular treat given to children to consume is the chocolate Easter bunny.

This is a short story about a twisted take on the holiday celebrations from the chocolate bunnies point of view.

*WARNING* this story contains gore, it is not intented to be read by children.

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This is definitely not a touchy feely short story intended for children.  This will also probably be the shortest review I’ve ever written and, to date the lowest rating.

The basic idea of the story is good, a nice little horror twist on the traditions of Easter.  It has all the components of intending to be a serious competitor in the horror short story club; blood, suspense, ‘monsters’ but falls short sadly.

There is no character development, and I’ve seen shorter novels with more character oomph than this one has, so length is not the issue.  Descriptions are reserved for the gory scenes, so another negative mark there unfortunately.  So what made me read this?  I like new twists on old traditions, and this had the hallmark of being able to deliver and, I think if the Author had spent a little more time thinking through his concept, it would’ve worked perfectly.  As it is I feel I wasted the 99c I paid for this, but if you are a little intrigued it’s now free on Amazon.

The proofreading and editing of this little tome was the worse I have seen so far (the spelling error in the disclaimer should have set my alarm bells ringing) and really detracted from the story the Author was trying to convey.  I’m not trying to be mean to the Author, as I understand we all have to start somewhere, but if you are going to offer your work for sale please make sure you have made the necessary corrections.

Again this is a first for me, and maybe because of all the ‘firsts’ I should have rated this higher but, I cannot recommend this short to anyone and, as it seems to be the first (there’s that word again) in an ongoing series I dread to think how the other parts will turn out.  In summary, this short read as if the Author has sat down one lunchtime, thrown a few words on paper, then published it; even Writers Carnival, where it was first featured on July 9 2013 no longer carries it, or the subsequent other 3 parts, on its website.  It’s not often I really mess up when buying a book based on Amazon’s ‘look inside’ feature, but oh boy was I duped this time.

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From Steampunk to Steamy (and all ports in-between)

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The question of why people read literature continues to perplex. The usual assumption is that people read for pleasure and, of course, reading is pleasurable. But does this mean it’s like eating chocolate? (mmmm, chocolate)  That doesn’t seem quite the right idea, and doesn’t explain why we read the genre we do.

Is a love for a particular type of writing something we learn at an early age, or is it like a fine wine, it matures and grows as we get older?  And why are there some genres we just can’t love, no matter how many times we read them (romance in my case)

I suppose to find the answer to these questions; we first have to understand why people read.  Is it for learning, aesthetic pleasure or to confront experiences?  Defining why we read, may then lead to an understanding of how this links in with the genre we choose to read.

Literature, in all its forms, can offer us many things; from exciting narratives that can be read uncritically, simply because they allow us to escape the problems and responsibilities of our everyday lives and to participate, however briefly, in a world of experience that differs radically from our own; to works that serve as a social document, giving us insight into the laws, customs, institutions, attitudes, and values of the age in which it was written or in which it is set.

One of the most compelling characteristics of literature, in my opinion, is its relationship to human experience. When we read we have to actively engage and participate.  Simultaneously, it is also an act of clarification and discovery. Literature allows us, as no other medium can, the chance to overcome our own bias and the limitations that are imposed by sex, age, socio-economic conditions, and the times in which we live. Characters in our chosen genre, offer us immediate access to a wide range of human experiences we otherwise might never know. As readers we observe these characters’ private as well as public lives, and become privy to their innermost thoughts, feelings, and motivations. We almost become the voyeur in another’s life, and this is amplified in books such as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.  Many of the classics as well as ‘paperback pulps’ have survived precisely because of the freedom and escape they can offer our imagination

Character make up in a particular genre, may also be instrumental in our reading it.  To know why we identify with one character and not another may tell us about the kind of person we are or aspire to be. If we are sensitive and perceptive readers, we may have much to learn from these encounters, which may possibly enrich the quality and affect the direction of our lives, though the precise effects of these encounters are impossible to predict and will vary from one reader to another. One mark of a ‘great’ written word is its ability to have an effect on the reader. In the same way, it is this effective power of fiction, drama, and poetry that also helps to explain the survival of these works.

So, it seems from this brief journey we can surmise that the genres of book you prefer is driven by many things and, not implanted into your mind from an early age.  It is a good thing that we all don’t like the same genres, as if we did, they would be in short supply and a lot of good Authors out there would never have their dream of becoming published realized.

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