Category Archives: Author Review

Morning Meanderings… What Would Patrick Ness Do?

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Whirlwind week already and I am finally getting a chance to chat with you!  Weekend away, start of the week out of town for work, and then…. what I want to tell you about today… the Patrick Ness event in ST Paul Minnesota at Magers and Quinns book store.

To bring you up to speed, Patrick Ness is the author of the Chaos Walking Series, the first book being The Knife Of Never Letting Go, which I read in fall of 2011 and flew through the following two books in the series. 

SOOOO GOOD!

When I read that Ness was coming to Minnesota I could not believe it.  Currently living in London, his only Minnesota stop on his tour for his new book, The Crane’s Wife ,  was the day after the books release date, this past Tuesday.  Honestly – I really did not even know what the book was about.  This for me… was all about Ness.

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My friend Amy (crazy adventure friend and book club cohort) joined me, having also read and loved the Chaos Walking series.  We arrived early as we expected there would be quite the crowd, purchased our Crane’s Wife books at the book store and asked the nice book store guy if we would hold two spots once they set the chairs up, for the Brainerd girls who drove two hours to the event.  He said he would… and we went down the block to my favorite Thai restaurant.

When we came back, sure enough, two seats were saved for us right up front.  RIGHT UP FRONT.  Like, Patrick could have spit on us close.  :D

When he came out to talk he was funny, although admitting he wasn’t feeling well and therefore was requesting that someone out of the audience come up and read him the questions for his time with us…. and so…

Amy did. :razz:

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The first question on the page was, “So Patrick, tell us a little about yourself?”

He was fun and interesting.  He talked about his books, and then her read a bit out of The Crane Wife, explaining that it stemmed from a story his teacher used to tell to the class when he was 5.  He said he loved that teacher.  He wanted her to be his mom and his wife…. at 5 years old, he felt they could work out the age difference somehow.

When Patrick read from the Crane Wife, although he denied it, his voice was perfect for narration.  I fell in love with the story – through him… and suddenly couldn’t wait to read it. He has a personal story within the book that he shared with us…a childhood happening that he tied into the read.  Again… I wanted to read the book more that ever. 

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Patrick talked about his YA books, which included the Chaos Walking series *sigh* and a book he released last fall, More Than This.  He says each book he writes has a theme song that he listens to over and over again during the writing process.  I found that fascinating. 

I wish I would have taken notes, but early on in his talk I was uploading that first picture of Amy to Facebook and he called me out of the crowd …ok, not the crowd as I was sitting about 18 inches away from him and asked if I was playing Candy Crush.  Oops!  Embarrassing!  I put my phone away which is what I take notes on too… :D

Patrick had some advice for want to be writers:

  • If you think you have a good idea, wait.  If it is good… things will be added on to it to make it grow in your mind.
  • Write something you want to read.  Do not write for the masses thinking you will create the next vampire story, or dystopian war story because that is what is popular… you have to LOVE it.   You will never make it through the writing if you do not love the story yourself.
  • Be original.  No one knew that they wanted a Harry Potter, until we had him.  No one knew we wanted Twilight or a Hunger Games. 

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If you ever have the opportunity to see Patrick Ness in person, please do.  If I could have him come for Wine and Words this fall I would, but the man’s schedule is crazy busy.  Absolutely if you have the chance to pick up the Chaos Walking series – do it.  I love these books.  There is a little buzz saying they will be movies and oooohhhhhh I hope so. :D

I found this one Amazon under his description of himself and loved it:

Things you didn’t know about Patrick Ness
1. I have a tattoo of a rhinoceros.
2. I have run two marathons.
3. I am a certified scuba diver.
4. I wrote a radio comedy about vampires.
5. I have never been to New York City but…
6. I have been to Sydney, Auckland and Tokyo.
7. I was accepted into film school but turned it down to study writing.
8. I was a goth as a teenager (well, as much of a goth as you could be in Tacoma, Washington and still have to go to church every Sunday).
9. I am no longer a goth.
10. Under no circumstances will I eat onions.

So in answer to my Patrick Ness question this morning, what would Patrick do?  he would write… he would run… he would keep it fun and keep it real. 

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Book Chat with Author Randall Arthur

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Let me just start by giving you my background story with this author.  I read Randall Arthur’s books Wisdom Hunter  as well as Jordan’s Crossing and Brotherhood of Betrayal and enjoyed them so much I became a stalker of his work… waiting and waiting for that next great read.  As time went on I could not find any info of any upcoming books so sadly, stopped checking.  Then, he contacted me several months ago to let me know he had a new book out and asked if I would review it.  Has the word “yes, ever been typed faster?  Forgotten Road was everything I enjoyed about Randall’s writing and more… it was real, and painfully so and that was exactly what I had always enjoyed about his writing… Randall does not take the easy road…

but the real one.  The one that I walk, the one that many of you walk…  the hard one at times.

Please welcome, Randall Arthur.

 

Should I call you Randall or Randy?

 

Randall:  Randall.  It keeps things more consistent with my recognized name as an author.

 

 

Randall it is.  Are you a coffee drinker?  And if you are, how do you take it?

 

Randall:  This is no exaggeration; I drink maybe 5 cups of coffee a year.  A couple of times I will drink it black, other times I will add a bit of cream.

 

 

Ummm…  I am sorry, “5 cups a year” does not compute.  :razz: Just kidding.  So, as you know, I am a big fan of your past writing and was so excited when Forgotten Road came to be.  What was the reason for the large time span between the books?

 

Randall:  First of all, let me say I am not a full-writer.  I write only in my spare time.  Secondly, I wrote Wison Hunter, Jordan’s Crossing, and Brotherhood of Betrayal during the years I lived in Europe.  The pace of life was a bit slower; therefore; I had a greater amount of spare time to write.  Over the last twelve years I’ve lived in the United States, the pace of life for me and my family has been absolutely maddening, with many distractions.  I’ve honestly had less spare time to write. 

 

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Forgotten Road was certainly worth the wait and I also found this newest book to be significantly different from your previous books.  Why did you choose to write this story?

 

Randall:  I don’t see Forgotten Road as being significantly different.  In all my books, including Forgotten Road, I try to create characters who – because of extremely bad choices or extraordinary courageous choices to live contrary to the cultural norm – win the readers deep interest.  We need these type of characters who will challenge our world views and our average behavior.

 

 

Very well put Randall.  Forgotten Road deals with an incredibly hard subject, the death of a child; and I was amazed by the way you wrote that particular part of the book.  What was writing about such a hard topic like, and what was the effect you were hoping it would have?

 

Randall:  The death of the child in Forgotten Road is a scene-by-scene re-creation of a real life tragedy that happened to a two-year-old son of a lifelong friend.  The book was written in memory of this little boy.  I wanted this part of the story to draw the reader into the main character’s overwhelming shock and pain. I wept as I wrote it. 

 

 

What is the one thing, if you had to choose only one, that you hope reader’s would take away from this book?

 

Randall:  I learned years ago that any one of my books can relay myriad messages, even a few messages that I never even thought of.  With that said, one of the main messages of Forgotten Road, as least from my perspective, is that God can not be manipulated by our faith, and that He is not predictable.  Subsequently, we must learn to trust and love Him regardless of the pain and discomfort He allows to come our way.  He knows ultimately what is best for us.  We must learn – despite our massive self-centeredness – that we are not the center of the universe and are not entitled to everything good and easy. 

 

 

With my fingers crossed, I have to ask, any more books in progress?

 

Randall:  Yes. I hope that my first nonfiction book will be released sometime in the next 18 months.  Beyond that, I have at least two more books of fiction that I eventually would like to put into writing. 

 

 

A nonfiction?  I will be keeping my eyes open for that one!  Any other thoughts you would like to share?

 

Randall:  My goal as a writer of Christian Fiction is to rip the smiling mask off American Christianity and tell stories that portray true-to-life-struggles, true-to-life-thoughts, true-to-life-reactions, and true-to-life-journeys.  As a result, my first book Wisdom Hunter got me fired from a mission agency in 1992 after serving that agency for 17 years.  Even though being fired was devastating at the time, I now count it as a badge of honor.  Granted, Forgotten Road will not be as controversial, but I am pleased to the max that the reviews of Forgotten Road – from both men and women – have already exceeded all my expectations.

 

 

Wow Randall, thank you for sharing with us so openly.  There is something powerful about being kicked out of our comfort zones.  I have my own stories of such, and so do many of my friends.  I know I truly appreciate that in your books… they are not sugar sweet, they are hard stories but they come across as real life if we like to admit it or not.  It has been a pleasure chatting with you.

 

Randall:  Thanks Sheila for being a fan, and for your special interest in Forgotten Road.  I am truly honored. 

 


Please check out Randall Arthur’s website here

You can find his books here:

Forgotten Road

Wisdom Hunter

Jordan’s Crossing

Brotherhood of Betrayal

 

Titanics Last Secret’s by Brad Matsen

In August of 2005, 93 years after Titanic had sunk and become the worlds biggest ship disaster – a discovery about the ship is revealed.  A team that had been diving found previously undiscovered wreckage of the ship that led to the conclusion that Titanic’s bow had not rose up in the air as the famous movie scene dictated – but instead had broken in half while the ship was horizontal. 

How is it that all these years later that this could be true?  With all the eye witnesses from the life boats, how was this one fact told incorrectly or pushed so far from what really happened?

I have always been fascinated with all things Titanic.  The tragedy is monumental and to this day I struggle wrapping my heard around the sheer magnetism of the senseless loss of life.  I have read many books on the subject feeling almost as though I had put myself on the ship, trying to escape Titanic and hoping for another outcome….  when I seen this audio I knew I had to listen to it.

What Brad Matsens research for this book covers is why the Titanic sunk so quickly, when in all rights it should have been fine to float until the rescue boats came… instead, the time between the iceberg hitting the boat and the sinking of this great ship was two hours and forty minutes.  That’s enough to give my chills.  What is pointed out in this telling is that the Titanic and in fact other large ships like her, were not built sound enough – too large for the building skills of the time.

The book while  starting out in modern-day, travels back to the original building of the ship from the three famous men who were the creation and ultimately the fate of Titanic, Lord Pirrie, Bruce Ismay, and Thomas Andrews, all through the discussion of the lifeboats and how ugly they were on the ship so really why not cut them to the bare minimum?

You also get a retelling of what happened that night and perhaps most interesting for me, what happened in the days and weeks after the ship sank as far as the trials and the holding of the ships crewman who survived for questioning. 

Those of you who are interested in Titanic like me will find this an informative and thought-provoking read – a definite addition to my Titanic resources.

LoVe In A Nutshell by Janet Evanovich

Kate Appleton’s life had hit the skids.  Suddenly jobless, husbandless, and really feeling kind of low, she decided that the only she wants to be right now is at her parents summerhouse, The Nutshell in Keenes’ Harbor Michigan.  Unfortunately, much like her life, The Nutshell has seen better days as well and Kate finds herself needing cash in supply if she is about to renovate this house into her dream, a bed and breakfast.

Enter Matt Culhane, owner of a local brewery but having some major issues with someone sabotaging his company.  When Matt meets Kate, he likes her spunk and hires her to be an undercover spy on his employees.  If Kate can figure out who is out to get him, he will pay her a $20,000 bonus.  Kate quickly accepts this “dangled carrot” and tries to wiggle her way into the trusts of the brewery employees.

Only… there are a few problems.  Kate despises beer and has an odd reaction if she drinks it.  None of the employees seem to trust her.  Oh, and she is falling for her boss. 

Janet Evanovich and I have not crossed paths for years.  Recently when I was in my local library I wandered over to a display they put up of new arrivals.  I like to see what audio has come in and there this was.   Evanovich writing something new after the recent release of the movie from her book One For The Money…. I admit I was curious.

While a fun listen (nice job narrator Lorelie King!) it was what I have come to expect of Janet Evanovich, cooky characters, a romance in the making, a small plot that unrolls throughout the book.  Kate is nowhere near as doopy (my word) as Stephanie Plum, and I did like that.  Where Plum is surrounded by family, Kate only has her potato chip addicted dog, a brief cameo of her mother and a briefer of her father, and a hostile ex husband. 

It was a good listen and I think Evanovich fans will enjoy this one as much as they have enjoyed her other books.

Amazon Rating

Goodreads Review

I borrowed this from my local library

Heartbreakers by Pamela Wells

Sydney’s boyfriend decides to break off the relationship.  Kelly’s boyfriend has big plans for Valentine’s Day… just not with her.  Raven is stuck in the middle of two guys and can not decide.  Alexia has never had a serious boyfriend and wonders if she ever will.

Four friends all single start to wonder if this teenage love is worth all the pain of heartbreak.  Together they make a list of 25 Rules that they call the Breakup Code.  These rules are to get them all through the next few months and they are to make sure that not one of them falters…

  • Rule No 1:  You must not text or IM the ex boyfriend

but rules were made to be broken…

right?

I think I have found a true YA book that really felt to me to be YA… a young YA.  There is no paranormal activity, while partying is mentioned, it is just that…a mention.  No sex, no drugs, just clean sweet relationships that reminded me of Jr High.

(Yup…. we are going to have a flashback…. hang on!)

I remember those first what I thought were serious relationships in that 14 – 17 year range.  And I quite easily remember what it felt like when “the one” you thought was :the one”… wasn’t.  Seriously, do you remember that feeling?  You though you were going to die from the pain of heart-break!  I remember barely being able to get my head off the pillow…

This is the kind of love we are talking about in Heartbreakers.  The girls are still young and each break up or relationship feels overpowered with emotions.  And of course you can’t break girl code – your friends come first at this time in your life and if that say he’s wrong for you… then he is… even if you think he is so right.

I thought how each chapter started with one of the Break Up Codes was smart writing.  I thin I would have liked it more if the chapters and codes were in order instead of the code skipping around that is in the book.

Over all I can imagine that this would be a book more appreciated by tweens.  I have heard this book be compared to the Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants and I think that is a fair comparison.

**Update:  Pamela has a third book in the series coming out yet in 2012!

 

Amazon Rating

Goodreads Rating

Borrowed from my local library

Something Blue by Emily Giffin

Darcy was born beautiful.  Really… it’s true.  Just ask her.  She will be the first to tell you that she is perfect.  She loves that men find her attractive so it’s no big surprise that she is stunned to find that her fiance friend Marcus takes work.  Oh but never fear, Darcy continues to work her magic until she gets her way… only to be truly shocked and offended when she finds out fer fiance Dex, has also found his way to another… her best friend Rachel.

Oh the nerve of some people!  While yes, Darcy to has cheated with Marcus (more than once but really who is counting) she is still appalled to think that Dex and Rachel had done the unthinkable to her.  Yes… once again it is all about Darcy…

and as the title suggests….

she turns out to be pregnant with Marcus’s child… a child he does not want… and in fact he’s pretty tired of Darcy’s uppity ways as well.  Darcy quickly finds herself without a place to stay, so she packs her bags and goes to London to stay with her writer friend Ethan… only the life lessons continue as Ethan’s flat isn’t “all that” and he is not about to put up with selfish behavior.

Oh whats a girl to do…. and a pregnant one at that….

The character of Darcy is desribed as 5' 9" and 124 pounds. I had to Google such a body type to get a visual... and here she is .... "A Darcy"

Occasionally I enjoy a bit of a fluff read.  Just a fun, no thinking involved read.  When I found this audio on Amazon I thought I would give this audio a try.   A series of emotions came forth as I listened to this audio:

disbelief

annoyance

horrified

disgusted

cautiously optimistic

passive

accepting

Ugghhh…. it’s almost like the stages of grief.  :razz:  I started out not liking Darcy at all.  Really there was nothing to like.  She is an extremely self-centered character who only cared about making sue all men had eyes only for her, always wanting what she could not have until she got it… and then drinking while pregnant just about pushed me over the edge.  Fictional character or not, I was about to take Darcy out. 

Then…. slowly…. she began to change, in an almost predictable way, she learns the errors of her ways and well… you will just have to read it to see exactly what that means.

This is the sequel to Something Borrowed which I have not read.  ( I heard it was a movie and I was going to try to see it before I listened to this audio but I did not… I still may watch it at some point.) However I don’t think I missed anything by diving into this one, the characters were easy to figure out where they stood. 

In recap…. I didn’t hate it.  It actually grew on me a bit.  Not so much as I would pursue the series, but in the end I may have been able to have lunch with Darcy without stabbing her in the neck with my fork. 

Amazon Rating

Goodreads Review

I have updated the 2011 WHERE Are You reading map to include Something Blue

I purchased this audio from Amazon


Brown Bag Book Event with Author Laurie Hertzel

On Monday, July 18th, our local library hosted author Laurie Hertzel to discuss her latest book, News To Me, Adventures Of An Accidental Journalist.  *you can see more details about this event on the Morning Meandering post*

Laurie Hertzel always knew she wanted to be a writer.  She grew up knowing books, and knowing they were important and valued.  With nine siblings, Laurie had said, her dad would occasionally take whoever was around at the time and load them all into the van and they would go into the book store and each be able to pick out whatever book they wanted.

Laurie who is the Senior Book Editor for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune says she receives around 1,000 books a month for review.  They arrive in shopping cart loads and it is up to her to sort through them.  She says on a good week she can get 6 reviews in the paper – one on Monday, occasionally one on Wednesday and four in the Sunday paper.  It is not easy to choose she says but what she says this is what she looks for:

  • Obviously the big read – like Freedom by Johnathon Franzen (she says people expect these to be reviewed)
  • Regional Reads
  • Human Interest
  • Non Fiction or a poetry read
  • Small Presses

Her job is not sitting at a desk reading.  During office hours she is writing reviews, answering calls and emails.  Her reading comes after hours.  She loves her job and says it is really more like a 24 hours a day job.

For anyone who has an interest in journalism this is Laurie’s advice:

  • Keep practicing your craft… in other words write whenever and wherever you can
  • Dont become political as in choosing sides, you need to stay responsible and neutral
  • Be nimble… learn to use pics, video, twitter, Facebook… report across platform

As far as Laurie’s book goes… she is hilarious.  She read aloud the chapter about making coffee being part of her job at a newspaper office.  She was told that the pot was never to be empty. Laurie doesn’t drink coffee and the only faucet that had enough space to put the coffee carafe under it to fill with water, was the one in the mens bathroom.  She learned quickly that by making really bad tasting coffee, and then responding, “What?  Oh does it not taste good?  I don’t know what it should take like as I do not drink coffee”, soon caused that task to be removed from her list of duties. 

The book itself takes us through Laurie’s careers from the library to the news room… and um… back to the library.  She speaks well, she is fun and funny to listen too.  She also has some amazing chapters in the book such as when in the mid 80′s she went as a reporter to Russia with a group of people from Duluth Minnesota who wanted to make one of the Russian towns their sister city, and when letters requesting such were ignored, they decided to go in person.   Laurie pretty much sold out of her books at this event. 

I am currently reading News To Me and I will have a review of this book up in the next couple of days.

Me and Laurie Hertzel

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain, the star of the series No reservations on the Travel Channel, and the author of Kitchen Confidential now releases his sharp tongue, never apologizing ways in this new collection about the chefs in the industry, the economy, the best places to find a good burger… it reads like we are sitting and talking about cooking and food…. Anthony Bourdain flies from topic to topic, while occasionally hard to follow – it almost always is interesting.

If you have seen his show, you pretty much know what you are in for.  At least… I thought I did.

 

Here is a little sample (or two) of Bourdain’s show, No Reservations:

 

 

 

Anyway – you get the picture.  Food is what Boudain does.  And for the most part he does it well.  This was also the draw for me to this audio, narrated by Anthony Bourdain himself.

I admit it.  I like the tone of Anthony’s voice.  He is level and matter of fact.  he has a quick wit, a knack for sarcasm – and he tells it like it is.  Even, when I necessarily do not need to know to that extent of “what it is”.

What do I mean by that?  Well, while I do enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations… I have come to realize that they clean his words up quite a bit.  In this audio, there is none of this and you can plan on being encased in everything that is on Anthony’s mind and without any sensors, all of this will come right out of his mouth.  You will hear the “F” word… frequently.  You will hear pretty much every other word as well.

So why, a person that usually avoids such books and audio, why would I put myself through this?

Honestly… I like to hear about the food behind Anthony’s language.  If you can filter (and you will need a heavy-duty one at that) through that, the audio is quite interesting. 

I enjoyed hearing how the economy changed the look and feel of some of New Yorks higher class restaurants forever – and even possibly for the better.  Anthony shares that while some restaurants may no longer be able to afford to serve the salmon they once did, they have found ways to serve delicious lesser priced fish just as well.  In some cases – they are thrilled to do so as chefs have known that some of the fish that normally would not grace their menu, is actually very good – and the economy has given them the opportunity to show this.

I also learned – that the economy has made the classy restaurants friendlier.  There was a time you would be snubbed for walking up to a high-class eatery without a reservation.  If you called to get a reservation without weeks and weeks notice, you would practically be hung up on.  These days are gone.  People are now encouraged to come in anytime.  The phone service has greatly improved and the wait staff is considerably friendlier.  Well – yay for all of that.  :razz:

I also enjoyed hearing about other big named chefs.  Bourdain is not easy on any of them.  He takes no prisoners. Some he admires.  More, he does not, and he is not shy to tell you why.  Names are tossed on the chopping block.  He even goes into detail about his time as a judge on Top Chef.  Bourdain will share, occasionally at great lengths about the importance of the great chefs actually being at their restaurants – actually cooking meals instead of relying on their name alone to get people in the door. 

The chapter talking of the great detail that chefs go to prepare the fish for our meals – astounded me.  I had never thought about what the big name restaurant may pay for a pound of fish and that would be including – head, innards, scales etc… much of which they paid for is thrown away in the cleaning process and they pay a very talented chef with a knife to do just that long before we ever see it on our plate. 

At times I applauded Anthony Bourdains’ boldness.  At other times I cringed at his references, language and crudeness.   I am well aware that some of what make me cringe… are part of what has made him the success he is today.

The over all thing I have to admit here is that despite his great flaws…. I like him.  

 

This review is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking.  Pop on over and see what others are cooking or reading about food this weekend!

 

Amazon Rating

Goodreads Review

 

The 2011 WHERE Are You Reading Map has been updated to include Medium Raw

I purchased this audio from audible.com

Dinner with Beth Hoffman – author of Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt

There are moments in my life that are so wonderful I have to pinch myself to make sure they are real. 

On Tuesday, May 24th, I had the privilege to join a group of wonderful book bloggers and have dinner with the amazing Beth Hoffman.  We were to meet at 7:15 pm at Mercer’s Kitchen, in Soho New York. 

I experienced my first subway ride which I caught with Candace from Beth Fish Reads, Dawn from She’s Too Fond Of Books, and Swapna from S. Krishna’s Books.  We arrived early and waited at the bar for the rest of the bloggers and for Beth.

I met at the restaurant Lydia from Lost Entwife and she brought her sister Candace too.  Shortly after Nicole came from Linus’s Blanket, and then Julie from Booking Mama and Kathy from Bermuda Onion.  Two new to me bloggers were Stephanie from Steph The Bookworm and Mandy from The Well-Read Wife.

And of course, there was Beth Hoffman.  Beth may as well have walked right off her website as we all knew her right away – she looks exactly like her picture!  Sweet and friendly she came in and hugged each one of us, calling us her girls and escorting us to a large table for our reservation. 

She had flown in the previous day just to meet with us.  The dinner was lovely and the conversation just as lovely.  It was so interesting to listen to her talk about the characters she brought to life in Saving  Cee Cee Honeycutt as well as the one character in the book that is requested time and again by her fans to make a come back, Oletta.  (I would have to agree)

I ordered the halibut which was so amazing, and a raspberry wafer dessert that was melt in your mouth delicious. 

What a great evening!  As we talked Beth shared what was next on her agenda and I am excited to share that it is another book (SSQQUUUEEE!!!) called Looking For Me.  Beth shared that Looking For Me is going to be quite different from Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt. I am sooooo excited!

A sweet little notepad and a bookmark. The notpad says "What would Oletta Say?" - a gift from Beth Hoffman (so sweet!)

After a wonderful meal and good byes (and a few tears shed), I made it back to the hotel at 11:30 p.m.  Thrilled with a wonderful evening and the excitement of a second book by this incredible author.

Author Chat with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (author of A Tiger In The Kitchen)

A few weeks back I had a wonderful experience reading the book A Tiger In The Kitchen.  I loved the book, I loved the imagery, and oh yeah.… I loved the food.

After reading the book I made quick time of contacting author Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan to tell her how amazing I thought her book was and if she would like to stop by Book Journey and share with my readers a little about herself, the book, and what may be next.

I was thrilled when she said yes.

Please welcome author, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan!


Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

 

Cheryl, as a coffee lover, I have to know how you take yours?


Cheryl:  My favorite coffee is Singapore-style coffee — in old-school kopitiams (or coffeeshops) there, the beans are wok-fried with lard or butter and corn kernels to give it a buttery, nutty flavor. The coffee “uncle” will then add condensed milk and sugar to the brew — it’s incredibly delicious. I also like “yin yang,” which is a cup of coffee and tea combined in equal amounts with condensed milk and sugar added to the concoction. I’m a big tea lover, too, so yin yang is the ultimate morning beverage for me.

Now I want to try that coffee!  :razz:  Growing up in Singapore, were you a reader?  (If so I would love to hear what books captured your attention!)

 


Cheryl:  I read voraciously as a child — I remember my mother taking me to Singapore’s national library every Saturday to check out nine books a week. I could have read more but that was the maximum number of books we could take out, even after combining my family members’ library cards! Enid Blyton was the author who first captured my imagination as a child — she was a very prolific British children’s author who wrote several series involving plucky children going on all sorts of adventures. I adored the Secret Seven, Famous Five and Malory Towers, about a girls’ boarding school, series. Most of all, I loved The Faraway Tree, which was about a group of city kids who move to the English countryside and are totally unhappy and bored until they discover an enchanted tree inhabited by fairies and other magical creatures. I later moved on to Judy Blume, Anne Tyler, Ernest Hemingway and more but the creativity in Enid Blyton’s books were truly an early inspiration.


When did your interest in journalism start?

Cheryl:  I knew as a child that I wanted to write for a living and when it came time to apply to colleges, journalism seemed like a way to be able to make a living doing it so I interned at The Straits Times, Singapore’s national newspaper, right after high school. During my internship, I wrote an expose of an illegal dog farm in which these poor dogs were kept in deplorable conditions — tiny, dirty cages etc. — that resulted in the Singaporean officials immediately swooping in and fining the owners. After seeing the power of the press and its ability to right wrongs, I was hooked.


Oh that is amazing!  I have always loved the power of words!  Your move from Singapore to Illinois  had to be one of excitement and a little fear too….  can you share a little bit what that was like?

 

 

 

Cheryl:  I moved from Singapore to Evanston, Illinois, to study journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. It was a terribly exciting time but also terrifying, naturally. I’d traveled widely before but moving all by myself halfway across the world at age 18 was something else entirely. I loved learning about American culture (Friends! Seinfeld!) through my new friends and dorm-mates but it was also trying sometimes — Singapore is near the equator so it’s sweltering hot all year round. The first winter I was at Northwestern, which is on a lakefront, there was a day when the windchill was minus 70. That was dismal. I also missed Singaporean food desperately — back then it was impossible to find good versions of the curries and fried noodles I grew up eating anywhere near me.


How long a flight is that from New York to Singapore?

 

 

 


Cheryl:  There is a direct flight from the New York area to Singapore that takes 18 hours but usually, most flights (with connections and all) will take you close to 24 hours.


Oh wow!  24 hours!  You mention the fried noodles and the curry that you miss and even thinking about it makes my mouth water.   I still can picture that scene of the pineapple tarts, when you walked into the kitchen to discover that you were about to make 3,000 tarts.  How long did it take the 5 of you to complete that project?

Cheryl:  That was quite a scene! It was a two-day process to make all those tarts — but along the way we made a variety of other cookies, as well. On the first day, we prepped the pineapples — skinning them, gouging out the eyes, chopping them up into small chunks, running them through a juicer — and made the jam. The jam then has to cool overnight before we make the butter cookie base the next day, brush those cookies with beaten egg, top them with jam and then bake them. It sounds like a lot of work but it’s so very worth it. Pineapple tarts are out of this world.

The bonding of family cooking together puts an amazing picture in my head.  Can you describe what that was like with your family?  When you talk about missing out on that time with your Grandmother and learning her secrets and talents in the kitchen, do you feel that you accomplished that goal through the family members who did teach you?

Cheryl:  I had never cooked with my family before so throughout the year, I felt like I was connecting with them in a way that I never had before. When you’re in the kitchen with your family for hours, that’s when old stories and jokes are going to be shared. I learned a lot about various family members and my ancestors and that was a very special experience. It was also lovely to see the younger generation getting curious about the process as well — my 10-year-old cousin Matthew, for example, even set aside his iPhone games when he saw us cooking sometimes and joined in with the assembling of rolls. I’m a big proponent of passing down the recipes and stories of families so it was touching to see Matthew joining in. I feel fortunate to have had this experience — you do often take your family members for granted and it can be too late to ask them to teach you. My maternal grandmother was already starting to lose her memory when I was back for that year — if I had waited any longer, I’m not sure she would have remembered all the recipes that she was sharing with us.

This book came about as the result of being laid off from your job.  That devastating event freed you up to be able to travel and spend the time with your family and learn the traditions.  Do you look at that time now as a blessing?

 

 


Cheryl:  I definitely do — after I’d gone back to learn how to make my late grandmother’s pineapple tarts, I wanted to take a year off and travel back to Singapore to learn more recipes but there was just no way that I could have asked for the time off to do it. Right when I was rather despondent about that, the Wall Street Journal decided to eliminate its fashion bureau. I was in shock at first but literally, by the time I got back to my desk from the meeting where they laid us all off, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I don’t think I would have had the courage to request a sabbatical to go on this journey if that hadn’t happened. I’m very thankful for that.


Do you have a favorite recipe either from the book, or personally that you enjoy making?

Cheryl:  I have so many recipes I adore — it’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child! One of my favorite dishes is this dish called tau yew bak, which basically means soy sauce meat. My late grandmother used to make this with pork belly or duck and it’s basically meat braised for hours in a stew of dark soy sauce (which has the consistency of molasses and is rather sweet), cinnamon sticks, star anise, sugar and garlic. (I have a recipe for the duck version of this in the book.) My family also adds cubed tofu and hard-boiled eggs to this stew — you want to cook it long enough so that the tofu cubes are saturated with the gravy and the eggs are the color of milk chocolate. Now that I know how to make it, it is part of my regular rotation in New York — I don’t often make it with duck, though. (Putting my hand in the cavity of a duck is still not one of my favorite things.) I’ll do it with cubed pork loin, ground beef or pork and cubed tofu. People often think Southeast Asian cooking is daunting because the recipes sometimes have many steps and ingredients — I like to look at the recipe, try to understand the flavors of the dish, why they work together and figure out how I can simplify it for an easy weeknight meal. That’s what I’ve done with my grandmother’s tau yew bak.

Tau Yew Bak

 

 

What next for you?  Another book?  *fingers crossed*

Cheryl:  I’ve started on my second book, which is about women in their thirties. I can’t say more about it right now — but I hope you enjoy it as much as you liked A Tiger in the Kitchen!

It is a tradition around here for me to ask each author I interview to share a little known fact about themselves.  (Ie. a hobby, a funny or embarrassing memory), an unusual talent, a trip you have taken, an instrument you played in school, an award you once won…)

 

 

 

 

Cheryl:  I once drove four hours across Sicily (and four hours back) just to have lunch at a restaurant. It was a place that I’d heard of and was terribly curious about but where we were staying (Palermo) was nowhere near it. It didn’t deter me, however — the group of us just piled into two cars and went on this zany, hours-long road trip across the island just to lunch at Ristorante Duomo in Ragusa. It felt a little like we were in The Cannonball Run — but with lunch as the reward. We got very lost on the way back and I remember it being incredibly late at night by the time we made it back to Palermo. But the lunch — so fresh, so inventive — was worth the crazy, exhausting road trip. A good meal, to me, is always worth the extra mile — or, hundreds of miles.

 

 


Oh that is a wonderful fact!  Thanks so much Cheryl for joining me today!  I am so excited about your next book too!

 

 


Readers:  Please take time to check out Cheryl at her website.   Her book A Tiger In The Kitchen was a delight to read and you can see the link to my review below.

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