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BooktopiaAVL ~ Zelda and Guests on Earth

This past Thursday I left work after lunch and drove to gorgeous Asheville, North Carolina. You really don’t need an excuse to take a long weekend to spend there, but I did anyway. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, the book lovers behind the Books on the Nightstand podcast, hold three bookish retreats each year that they quite aptly call Booktopia. The last event of 2014 was held in Asheville. On top of the obvious reasons why I’d want to attend, I’d never been to Asheville. How could I pass it up?

You’re right, I couldn’t. Thankfully neither could Jenn from Jenn’s Bookshelves, Jennifer from Bookalicous Mama, and Shannon from River City Reading couldn’t either.

Because there is so much I’d love to talk about, I’m going to write a little bit at a time. Today I’m going to focus on Zelda Fitzgerald and Booktopia’s Official read, Guests on Earth by Lee Smith.

The three Jennifers (Jennifer3 or #JenniferFest2014) all arrived in Asheville on Thursday evening. Shannon wasn’t able to come until the official registration started on Friday. Since registration didn’t start until noon, we decided to head out Friday morning in search of Zelda. Zelda Fitzgerald has been all the rage in fiction as of late. I’m pretty sure all three of us have read Z and Call Me Zelda. We had also read Guests on Earth, which would be discussed later in the afternoon. We were ready for our pilgrimage.

Highland Hospital PorchOur first stop was to pay our respects at Highland Hospital, the place where Zelda died in a tragic fire. It took some time to figure out exactly which building was the hospital itself, but it was worth the searching (many thanks to Erika Robuck for her help via Twitter). Highland Hospital was a beautiful building. Given its surroundings, it was easy to see how the doctors would consider the setting and exercising outdoors essential to recuperating. There were newer buildings nearby, but I could sense how peaceful Highland Hospital must have been when Zelda was treated there.

There wasn’t any overt acknowledgement of the hospital or its most famous patient. Had we not known to look for it (once again, thank you Erika Robuck), we might have never seen the memorial plaque that was on the grounds. It was a nice place to pay our respects.

ZeldaPlaque

After leaving Highland Hospital we decided to continue our pilgrimage to Grove Park Inn, the hotel where F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed when he came to Asheville to visit Zelda. We first took a potentially illegal pit stop to take pictures of the sign Jenn spotted while we were GPSing our way to Highland Hospital. You can’t see this in my picture, but from the sign you could see what we believed was the original driveway to Highland Hospital. There are some beautiful gardens there now.

ZeldaSign

Our final stop was absolutely gorgeous. As with the sign along the side of the road, there wasn’t any authorized parking for us available, but we didn’t let that stop us from parking in the bus lane to take pictures. We later learned from Ann Kingman that Grove Park Inn is one of the top spas in the country. I believe her. I could almost feel the post emanating from the facade. I took a million pictures of the building, but my favorite is the selfie we three Jennifers took.

Selfie at Grove Park Inn

We returned to our hotel to greet Shannon and to register. From there we split up. Jenn and I went to Malaprops for book seller recommendations and some preliminary shopping. More on that in a book recommendation post to follow.

Cover of Guests on EarthThen we attended a group discussion on Guests on Earth and were reunited with Jennifer again. Knowing that it was the official read of Booktopia Asheville, I brought my copy with me on my trip to California in July. I haven’t read any Lee Smith before, despite the fact that she’s a fellow Hollins graduate. I enjoyed reading other books featuring Zelda Fitzgerald, so I was expecting to enjoy Guests on Earth as well. What I didn’t expect was how I was going to gobble the book up. I read it in less than 24 hours, something I very rarely do. As with Call Me Zelda, this book featured a fictional character who knew Zelda. Unlike Call Me Zelda, Evalina is the main character in Lee Smith’s novel and Zelda is much more in the background. Regardless, I ate this book up. I found it to be beautifully written and irresistible.

I enjoyed the opportunity to enjoy the book with my fellow Booktopians. What I found most interesting was the wide variety of opinions about the book. As someone who loved it, I was in the minority. While I think overall people enjoyed the book, most people had issues with it. As it dealt with treatment of those with mental illnesses, there was a good deal to discuss. I think both the topics and the setting of Guests on Earth made it a good choice for the Booktopia Asheville read. I highly recommend it, especially if you have the opportunity to visit Asheville after. What a treat.

Bloggers Recommend Picks for May – July 2014

As much as I had hoped to write full reviews of the books I’ve loved and shared so far this year through Bloggers Recommend, it just hasn’t happened.  Here are my recommendations from May through July.

In case you haven’t yet subscribed to the newsletter, scroll down to the bottom of the Bloggers Recommend homepage and enter your email address. It’s easy peasy. If you’d like to go back and explore more recommended books thus far, you can access past issues of Bloggers Recommend on the website.

May Recommendations

Cover of The VacationersThe Vacationers by Emma Straub

I am a happy subscriber to Book Riot’s Quarterly Box. I love getting a box filled with bookish delight every three months. In the first quarter box this year I had the great good fortune of getting an ARC of The Vacationers. I was so happy when I saw it. I was going to Las Vegas in March and I knew it would make the perfect book to read while I was there. I was right. I enjoyed every minute reading waiting for my friend Trista’s plane to arrive, at the pool, and in bed at night before going to sleep.

While this was a perfect book to read out in the summer sun, this book about the complexity of family, love, and relationships can be enjoyed anywhere. I look forward to see what Emma Straub writes next.

Here is my blurb for the newsletter:

For the Post family, a vacation of a lifetime to Mallorca, Spain couldn’t have come at a worse time. Sylvia, Franny and Jim’s youngest child is graduating from high school, but their troubles run deeper than empty nest syndrome. In The Vacationers, Emma Straub has created long lost friends through whom she explores the ways in which love cuts us and prompts us to grow throughout our lives.

Cover of Cutting TeethCutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

The summer between my kindergarten and first grade years, my mother held a garage sale because we were moving. In that sale, I sold my beloved Raggedy Anne doll. I’m sure I liked the idea of making money but didn’t understand what it would mean to sell that doll. I have no idea what I did with the dollar I earned when it sold and I still feel whimsical regret whenever I see Raggedy Anne.

When I saw the cover of Julia Fierro’s debut novel, I knew this was a book I had to read. I’m so glad I did. Fierro presents early parenthood as it is – full of uncertainty and upheaval. Unlike so many novels about parenting young children, this book was refreshing in that it shows the toll it takes on relationships, the crazy competitiveness between mothers to be all things to your children, and, while we love our children, our lives do not consist solely of warm hugs and sighs of joy over being a parent.

Here is my blurb for the newsletter:

Parenthood doesn’t magically make men and women’s less stellar habits, fixations, or attitudes disappear. Nothing makes this clearer than four young families vacationing together. It is in this setting that Julia Fierro captures the realities of parenting preschoolers and how those responsibilities impact adult relationships. Cutting Teeth portrays parenting and its many anxieties openly without the homilies and sugar coating.

June Recommendation

Cover of Those Who Wish Me DeadThose Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Kortya

I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but books like Those Who Wish Me Dead are so good they make me wonder why I don’t read them more often. This book gave me an “edge of my seat” reading experience all the way through. I would read every snatch of time I could find and I had no memory of the pages being turned. I love getting lost in a book that way. Summer may be waning at this point, but don’t let that stop you from picking up this book. It will keep you warm during the fall and winter, too.

Michael Kortya has a great Facebook page. I enjoyed getting updates on Facebook as I was reading and after I was done. He posts pictures and other articles that pertain to the book and it’s Montana mountain setting. Be sure to check that out while you read.

Here is my blurb for the newsletter:

The Blackwell Brothers want 13-year-old Jace Wilson dead before their trial. Secreting him away at Ethan Serbin’s remote survival camp buys him time, but it doesn’t guarantee anyone’s safety. The vivid details in Those Who Wish Me Dead drop the reader in the midst of a smoky fight for survival high in the mountains of Montana, making it the perfect choice for a fast-paced summer adventure.

July Recommendation

Cover of StormbirdWars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

When Michele was planning a trip to England last year, she asked me if there were any books I’d like her to pick up for me. I scoured British books sites looking for something I wanted but couldn’t get here. What I found was something that I didn’t know I wanted: Wars of the Roses: Stormbird. It’s the first novel in a trilogy about the Plantagenets. I’m loving reading about them and this book sounded fantastic to me. Michele not only picked it up for me, but when I sent her a check in the mail, she refused to cash it. Boy, what a gift!

It wasn’t until I noticed it’s July US release date that I actually got a chance to read it. Just as I expected, I loved this novel. If you are interested in British history or just love fantastic historical fiction, you should pick this up.

Here is the blurb I wrote for the newsletter:

In a time of political upheaval, the decisions and desires of a weak king to reach a truce with an enemy can lead to far worse consequences at home. Conn Iggulden portrays the realities of living during Henry VI’s early reign so vividly that knowledgeable readers will find themselves holding out hope for a better outcome. Well written and engaging, readers will be anticipating the next book in the series.

Bloggers Recommend Picks for January – April 2014

Cover of The Art of Falling

As much as I had hoped to write full reviews of the books I’ve loved and shared so far this year through Bloggers Recommend, it just hasn’t happened.  Here are my recommendations from May through July. In case you haven’t yet subscribed to the newsletter, scroll down to the bottom of the Bloggers Recommend homepage and enter […]

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Monday Mini ~ The Hidden Child by Camilla Läckberg

Cover of The Hidden Child

Getting back into the swing of things each week is hard. So is finding the quiet time to write a review over the weekend. In order to ease out of the weekend, I’ve decided to begin my blogging week with a mini review. For me, Swedish crime fiction is where my love of audiobooks began. […]

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Monday Mini ~ Overwatch by Marc Guggenheim

Cover of Overwatch

Getting back into the swing of things each week is hard. So is finding the quiet time to write a review over the weekend. In order to ease out of the weekend, I’ve decided to begin my blogging week with a mini review. It’s not often that I pick up a political thriller, but I […]

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Reading, Blogging, and the Power of Why

TheBigWhy

I spent half of last week attending the Human Performance Institute‘s Corporate Athlete course. While the title of this course focuses on work, this course has changed my life on every level. Having listened to much of the audiobook of All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner leading up to that business trip also helped to set the […]

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Monday Mini ~ The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

Cover of The Transcriptionist

Getting back into the swing of things each week is hard. So is finding the quiet time to write a review over the weekend. In order to ease out of the weekend, I’ve decided to begin my blogging week with a mini review. It’s been a while, folks. Blogging just hasn’t been a priority for […]

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The 2014 Short Stories/Collections Audie Award Winner and Giveaway

Audie-Logo

When I was asked to participate in the APA’s @Audiobook Community Audio Month campaign I jumped at the chance to feature the Short Stories/Collections category. After judging the Literary Fiction category for three years, I discovered this category and was so happy judging it. It offers such a wide variety of stories and narrators. While […]

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Summer Shorts ’14 Blog Hop featuring Jo Anna Perrin

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I am so glad that Summer Shorts has returned again this year for another round of wonderful short narrations recorded by the best of the best audiobook narrators in the business. Today I have the good fortune of featuring Jo Anna Perin, talented narrator, writer, co-founder of Abbreviated Audio, and personal friend who frequently makes […]

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Monday Mini ~ The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

Cover of The Snow Queen

Getting back into the swing of things each week is hard. So is finding the quiet time to write a review over the weekend. In order to ease out of the weekend, I’ve decided to begin my blogging week with a mini review. I typically don’t listen to celebrity narrators outside of the titles I […]

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