Talking Books at 37000 ft

I’m eight and a half hours into my eleven and a half hour flight from Tokyo to D.C.  I have every form of entertainment, minus a computer and the blessed Internet, with me to help pass the time but I’m having trouble focusing on one activity at a time.  My carry-on contains an iPod loaded with TV shows, movies, audiobooks, podcasts and 9666 songs (yes you read that correctly, 9666 songs).  It’s an 80 GB iPod and with all that stuff on there I still have 23.5 GB of free space.  CRAZY!  So I have that, my DS Lite plus five video games; The NY Times Crossword Puzzles, Brain Age 2 with Sudoku, Super Mario Bros., Lego Star Wars and Dr. Mario; O Magazine, People Magazine (thanks Sandy!), this notebook and The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson.

Of course I had grandiose ideas of reading along to the audiobook of The Gargoyle, but that hasn’t happened yet.  I still have four hours to go though.  We are currently over Canada, just south of Great Bear Lake and coming up on Edmonton, according to the in-flight map.  The sun is coming up over the horizon, or actually the plan is coming up over the horizon. 

My seat neighbor is a lovely woman from Taipei, Taiwan.  She is on her way to Buenos Aires, Argentina where she lives due to her job.  I don’t feel as full of self pity about my long flight after learning about her itinerary.  Taipei to Tokyo (3 hours), Tokyo to D.C. (11.5 hours), a six hour layover at Dulles Airport followed by the final leg of her trip, D.C. to Buenos Aries (10 hours).  Yikes!

So my new friend is reading Ten Thousand Suns.  Her copy is a translated edition in Chinese.  It’s about the same length as in English at about 385 pages and has a gorgeous cover.  It’s so cool to see the pages covered in Chinese characters and her reading it, what seems to us as back to front.  We talked about the story a bit.  Though I haven’t read it yet, it’s sitting on my shelves at home in Okinawa with a ton of others, I’m still familiar with the story.  My neighbors English name is Josephine and she was talking about the unfathomable conditions that women live in in Afghanistan.  That “…they are treated worse than dogs…” and that she could “…not imagine living a life like the women in this book live.”  I agreed with her but told her that I have friends in the U.S. Marine Corps who have deployed to Afghanistan and were extremely moved by the people they encountered there.  Some even talked about returning for future deployments just to be able to help the great people of that war torn country.  Keep in mind that Ten Thousand Suns takes place over thirty or so years and under Taliban influence/terror. 

It is so cool to talk about a book that has reached across the languages of the world to share one story.  To sit here and talk with Josephine about a book I have read about endlessly on your book blogs and to connect with someone who is as entranced by the book she is reading as you and I are with the books we read.  

Well, I had better try to get a little shut eye before breakfast is served.  I wonder what crazy, non-food-like concoction they will be serving us?  Dinner was a scary beef and gravy dish.  Thank goodness I packed “Uncrustables”, brownies, pumpkin bread muffins, baby carrots and granola bars, or I would be starving right now.

Through The Worm Hole

Well, I’m here in Northern Virginia, and I can’t believe that I live in Japan.  It’s so hard to grasp that sometimes.  Having a life on two continents; friends, things to do, places to be and even doctors appointments.  (I’m getting my knee checked out this Friday to see what is going on in there.)

I wrote a blog post while I was on my eleven and a half hour flight from Tokyo to Washington Dulles, but I left it upstairs, so I will work on getting that typed up and posted later this week.  Are you doing anything out of the ordinary this week?  Reading any good books?  Do you have anything to recommend I look for when I’m on sensory overload at B&N and Borders these next two weeks?  Oh, BTW, I asked the hubby for an Amazon Kindle for my birthday in January.  I’ve wanted one since it was first introduced in 2007 but after seeing Oprah on Friday, yes Oprah, I decided that I must have one.

Book Review ~ Lulu In Marrakech by Diane Johnson

Summary ~ Lulu In Marrakech:   Lulu Sawyer, the heroine of Diane Johnson’s captivating new novel, arrives in Marrakech, Morocco, hoping to rekindle her romance with a worldly Englishman, Ian Drumm. It’s the perfect cover for her assignment with the American CIA: tracing the flow of money from well-heeled donors to radical Islamic groups. While spending her days poolside among Europeans, in villas staffed by local maids in abayas, and her nights at lively dinner parties, Lulu observes the fragile coexistence of two cultures which, if not yet clashing, have begun to show signs of fracture. Beneath the surface of this polite expatriate community lies a more sinister world laced not only with double standards, but with double agents.

As she navigates the complex interface of Islam and the West, Lulu stumbles into unforeseen intrigues: A young Muslim girl, Suma, is hiding from a brother intent on an honor killing; and a beautiful Saudi woman, Gazi, who is vying for Ian’s love, leaves her husband in a desperate bid to escape her repressive society. The more Lulu immerses herself in the workings of Marrakech, the more questions emerge; and when bombs explode, the danger is palpable.

Lulu’s mission ultimately has tragic consequences, but along the way readers will fall in love with this endearing young woman as she improvises her way through the souk, her love life, and her profession. As in her previous novels, Diane Johnson weaves a dazzling tale in the great tradition of works about naive Americans abroad and the laws of unintended consequence, with a new, fascinating assortment of characters, as well as witty, trenchant observations on the manners and morals of a complicated moment in history.

Lulu in Marrakech

Lulu In Marrakech is a post-911 look at foreign counter intelligence in Morocco.  The novel, by award winning, bestselling author of Le Divorce author, Diane Johnson, stars Lulu, a CIA agent assigned to build a case in Marrakech.  She has conveniently met and fallen into bed/love with an English businessman named Ian.  Now, Ian may or not be who he says he is and has the potential to be involved in some shady business deals with radical Islamic groups.  With a cast of interchanging characters going in and out the revolving door that is Ian’s dessert oasis, things are never too dull for a CIA agent who isn’t always sure where her assignment will lead. 

Lulu In Marrakech was a bit slow, as is the work of an embedded Foreign Counter Intelligence CIA agent in a foreign land.  The characters and scenarios that Lulu is faced with in Lulu in Marrakech may lend for an intriguing read for some, but I lost interest fairly early in the story and never recovered my interest in Lulu and her unfocused story. 

{Rating ~ 1 out of 5}

It seems that I am not the only one who didn’t care for Diane Johnson’s latest penned release.  The New York Times just published their review of Lulu In Marrakech and though they were much harsher than I was with their review, I completely agree with the reviewer.  You can check it out HERE.

It’s A Busy Life This Week!

I am getting ready to head stateside next week for a friend’s wedding and have been busy with preparations.  On top of that, I am co-hosting a baby shower for a friend here on island on Sunday which I have to make Martha Stewart’s favorite Coconut Cupcakes for, getting a door replaced in the master bedroom closet, supervising the house cleaners on Saturday morning, picking up the hubby from the airport on Saturday evening, getting in one more acupuncture/massage appointment before sitting on the plane for a total of sixteen hours on Tuesday and getting a pedicure.  Whew!  So, needless to say, I am not getting a whole lot of reading done this week/weekend.  That is okay though because on the flight over, I have set aside THE GARGOYLE that I won from BOOKISH RUTH this summer as well as the audio download to read along too.  I’m really excited about that and will try to stay awake for most of the flight (Tokyo to Dulles is 12.5 hours) so I can get on the East Coast sleep schedule more quickly.  I only have two weeks at home and I have things to do and tons of people to see. 

Tonight, I ran out to get Rocky some food with my friend Shyla, and while we were at the PX we found a Sock Monkey dog toy.  Well of course I had to get it for Rocky.  It’s pretty cool and has a plastic bottle inside of the monkey so it crunches when gnawed on.  This thing was an immediate hit with Rock when we gave it to him but he ended up loving it too much.  After about twenty minutes he started to chew a hole in the monkey’s head.  No more Sock Monkey Rocky.  Here’s a rawhide.  Enjoy!

And The Winner Is…

… BEBE!!  Congratulations!

Congratulations Bebe!  You have won a signed copy of Natahsa Bauman’s THE DISORDER OF LONGING.  (I used to get the winning name.) 

To everyone else who entered, and there were a lot of you, thank you so much for your readership here at Planet Books and for entering my contests.  I wish I had a copy of the book for everyone.

Sunday Salon ~ October 19th, 2008

Well, I had written a pretty good post for this Sunday Salon but something happened and I lost the post.  I am pretty bummed out and now don’t feel the same creative juices flowing as I had earlier.  I’ve been working on making more Christmas cards this weekend so I haven’t really been reading much.  When I am reading though, it’s from Candace Bushnell’s new release, ONE FIFTH AVENUE.  It’s pretty good so far and I am enjoying the characters and where the story is going. 

Today I went to Torii Beach on Torii Army Base in Yomitan, Okinawa for a beach/birthday party.  It was a spectacular day and though I had been worried about the storm clouds that did burst earlier in the day, they stayed away this afternoon and a brisk, warm yet cool breeze kept everyone cool in the sunshine. 

This coming week is pretty busy as I prepare for my trip to D.C. for a friend’s wedding.  I leave in nine days for a two week visit which will fly by so fast I’ll be back here in our study blogging again before I know it.  I’m not looking forward to the 12+ hour flight from Tokyo to D.C. but have set aside my copy of THE GARGOYLE that I won this summer in a book giveaway.  I also splurged and bought/downloaded the audio version because it sounded so good, so I can read along with the narrators.  I’m also hoping for good in-flight movies too. 

I also have a few books waiting for me at my folks house in Maryland that arrived over the last week.  Some publishers won’t mail packages unless they can use their own shipping vendor, which proposes a challenge for my situation.  Because we live in Okinawa and have an APO address, the only way things can be mailed to us, without shipping and paying internationally, is to use USPS and preferably Priority, unless you want me to get the package in two months.  So in the cases of a Fed Ex account or UPS, my parents have agreed to receive books on my behalf and then ship them on to me.  It takes a bit longer but it is better than losing out on reading and reviewing a book here and there.  So I have a few titles waiting for me when I get to the East Coast in a week.

What are you reading this weekend?  Is it a review copy for your blog or another, or is it a book you bought and have been looking forward to reading?  Did you participate in the 24 hour Read-A-Thon yesterday or did you barely find time enough to check e-mails, let alone read a book?

BTT ~ What’s Sitting On Your Shelf?

btt button

Okay–here was an interesting article by Christopher Schoppa in the Washington Post.

Avid readers know all too well how easy it is to acquire books — it’s the letting go that’s the difficult part. … During the past 20 years, in which books have played a significant role in both my personal and professional lives, I’ve certainly had my fair share of them (and some might say several others’ shares) in my library. Many were read and saved for posterity, others eventually, but still reluctantly, sent back out into the world.

But there is also a category of titles that I’ve clung to for years, as they survived numerous purges, frequent library donations and countless changes of residence. I’ve yet to read them, but am absolutely certain I will. And should. When, I’m not sure, as I’m constantly distracted by the recent, just published and soon to be published works.

So, the question is this: “What tomes are waiting patiently on your shelves?

This is something I think about and worry about too often.  What books are waiting, some impatiently, for me to finally pick them up and read?  Where to begin.  Well, I’ll start by looking at the shelf to my right. 

New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn ~ Stephenie Meyer
Hellen of Troy ~ Margaret George
Sweet Love ~ Sarah Strohmeyer
The Gargoyle ~ Andrew Davidson
Final Theory ~ Mark Alpert
Drama City ~ George Pelecanos
Barefoot ~ Elin Hilderbrand
The Alienist ~ Caleb Carr
The Host ~ Stephenie Meyer

Now let me check out the shelf to my left.

Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins ~ Rupert Everett
Audition ~ Barbara Walters
The Little Friend ~ Donna Tartt
The Golden Compass ~ Philip Pullman
The Innocent Man ~ John Grisham

I won’t even look at the two tall book shelves in the study to add more titles to my lists from.  I’m embarrassed and depressed as it is just looking at the two lists I just constructed based on me two short book shelves alone.  The reason I have fallen behind on reading these titles is because of my book reviewing endeavor I have jumped into.  I love it and enjoy it immensely but I do wish I was a much faster reader so I could read everything I have, not just the books for reviews. 

Do you find yourself in my predicament too?  If so, do you alternate one review book than one of your own books?  Are you a speed reader so you don’t have these frivolous worries?  Do you have any advise?

Book Review ~ Home Girl by Judith Matloff

Summary ~ Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block

After twenty years as a foreign correspondent in tumultuous locales including Rwanda, Chechnya, and Sudan, Judith Matloff is ready to put down roots and start a family. She leaves Moscow and returns to her native New York City to house-hunt for the perfect spot while her Dutch husband, John, stays behind in Russia with their dog to pack up their belongings. Intoxicated by West Harlem’s cultural diversity and, more important, its affordability, Judith impulsively buys a stately fixer-upper brownstone in the neighborhood.

Little does she know what’s in store. Judith and John discover that their dream house was once a crack den and that “fixer upper” is an understatement. The building is a total wreck: The beams have been chewed to dust by termites, the staircase is separating from the wall, and the windows are smashed thanks to a recent break-in. Plus, the house–crowded with throngs of brazen drug dealers–forms the bustling epicenter of the cocaine trade in the Northeast, and heavily armed police regularly appear outside their door in pursuit of the thugs and crackheads who loiter there.

Thus begins Judith and John’s odyssey to win over the neighbors, including Salami, the menacing addict who threatens to take over their house; MacKenzie, the literary homeless man who quotes Latin over morning coffee; Mrs. LaDuke, the salty octogenarian and neighborhood watchdog; and Miguel, the smooth lieutenant of the local drug crew, with whom the couple must negotiate safe passage. It’s a far cry from utopia, but it’s a start, and they do all they can to carve out a comfortable life. And by the time they experience the birth of a son, Judith and John have even come to appreciate the neighborhood’s rough charms.

Blending her finely honed reporter’s instincts with superb storytelling, Judith Matloff has crafted a wry, reflective, and hugely entertaining memoir about community, home, and real estate. Home Girl is for anyone who has ever longed to go home, however complicated the journey.

I’ll admit that I have never been to Harlem.  I’ve watched the Harlem Globetrotters on T.V. in exhibition games as well as when they were cartoon guest stars on Scooby Doo.  I have watched performances on T.V. that were broadcast from the stage of The Apollo Theatre too.  After reading Judith Matloff’s Home Girl, my interest in Harlem has piqued.  First of all, I did not realize exactly where Harlem was in relation to the Theatre and Garment Districts, Midtown Manhattan and another area I have frequented when in NYC, Soho. 

Home Girl is a retelling of events that happened to a former New Yorker and her Dutch husband John, when she purchases, practically without any idea of what she was getting into, a row-house on a drug infested block in Harlem.  After the rose colored glasses had been yanked off, Judith realized just how much work she and her husband would be in for.  Not only the work and money that would have to go into renovating their dilapidated house, but the work it would take to co-exist with crack dealers and scared, racist neighbors, who weren’t willing to make a difference themselves.

The house eventually recovers from the cancer that had plagued it for too many years.  Judith overcomes her odd feelings of loyalty to the drug dealers on her block and begins attending some community policing program meetings and starts to unite with the neighbors and community.  She finally feels a sense of belonging where, for the first three months after buying her house, she felt like the crazy outsider who didn’t belong.

After the adventure that was Judith and John’s life as foreign corespondents over the last twenty years, followed by the seemingly treacherous times after buying a major fixer-upper in West Harlem, they are faced with the most unknown of all territories, Parenthood!

Home Girl is an enjoyable, fly-on-the-wall look into the lives of author Judith Matloff, her patient and trusting husband, their wonderful dog, their new baby, the house that they resurrected from death’s door and the many dangerous, outrageous and kooky characters on their block that they adopt when they move to West Harlem and a colorful array of tenants in the upstairs and basement apartments of their beloved brownstone.  Judith captures life pre- and post- 9/11 beautifully and in Home Girl’s post 9/11 chapters, the sadness and unity that New York City goes through is described perfectly.

I loved reading about the relationships Judith built with some scary characters that surrounded her and entered her life.  I winced at all the work Judith and John had to do on their house and I breathed a sigh of relief when it all came together for them and knowing they are still living in their home on that “lawless block” shows that a home can be created out of the most undesirable of conditions.  Just ask some of Judith’s squatter-neighbors! 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

A couple of months ago author Judith Matloff joined us here at Planet Books for her first blog guest post.  You can check it out HERE as well as watch the book trailer for Home Girl.  It’s cool to see the people that Judith got to know and wrote about in Home Girl, and she still spends time with.  To learn more about Judith Matloff, check out her web site HERE.   

Sunday Salon ~ October 12th, 2008

This weekend was a good one for reading and stampin’.  My knee has been killing me over the last few days so I’ve been laying low lately.  I injured my knee in college while holding the position of goal keeper on the Shenandoah University Women’s Lacrosse Team for one season, and have been bothered by it ever since.  A fall a couple of years later didn’t help things either.  Well, I don’t know if its been the hot and humid Okinawa weather (that is FINALLY making way for cooler temps) or if there is a new problem I’m dealing with but I’m a hobbling mess this weekend.  I had a few hours of relief yesterday, thanks to my amazing acupuncturist, but when I woke up this morning I realized that relief was short lived and the pain was back.  Thanks to a friend I got my hands on some heat rub which has helped a little bit.  Aleve is my new best friend too. 

I know what you are thinking.  “Why don’t you go to the doctor Karen?”  Well friends, I did go on Thursday morning and was declined a referral to the Orthopedic doctor.  Apparently in the military system (remember Hubby and I are civilians living in a military world) the only reason to see an Orthopedic doctor is to prep for surgery.  At least I was granted the opportunity to get X-Ray’s taken, too bad they won’t be read till at least Tuesday due to the long weekend, and I will get copies of them and my medical records.  I go home to D.C. for a friend’s wedding in two weeks and have made an appointment with an Orthopedic doctor (without a referral mind you!) and we’ll see what is going on in there.

In the mean time, I’ve been elevating my knee, reading Home Girlby Judith Matloff and working on my Christmas cards this weekend.  I also posted a new signed book giveaway contest that you can check out HERE

Did you do anything exciting this weekend?  Please let me live vicariously through you until I’m back to normal, walking without a crutch, literally, and living life to it’s full potential again.


Book Giveaway ~ The Disorder of Longing by Natasha Bauman

This Contest Has Concluded.  A Winner Will Be Announced Soon.

Summary ~ From Publishers Weekly
In Bauman’s overwrought debut, 1890s Bostonian Ada Pryce longs to escape the restrictions of a sexually frustrating, socially constricting marriage with tyrannical Edward, a gentleman hobbyist. Though he is an advocate of Karezza (spiritual purity through sexual deprivation), Edward can’t suppress Ada’s physical desire, first unleashed in a premarital affair with her college Shakespeare professor, nor can he rein in her intellectual tendencies, encouraged by friends but frowned upon by Ada’s Boston society matron mother. When Edward brings home a trio of orchid hunters—William Parrish, Walter Kebble and Jao da Cunha—opportunity for an Amazonian adventure knocks at Ada’s door. Bauman’s spirited heroine, range of settings and intimate knowledge of turn-of-the-century society impress, but they get smothered in descriptions of sexual dissatisfaction and rhapsodies on the erotic beauty of exotic plants. The overripe language may be meant to dramatize Ada’s unrequited passions, but the humidity makes for more squish than swoon. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I have one signed copy of this intruiging novel to giveaway to a lucky winner this week.  If you would like to enter to win The Disorder of Longing by Natasha Bauman, please leave a comment including your e-mail address below.  This giveaway will conclude on Saturday, October 18th at Midnight, EDT.  To be eligible for a second chance to win, just blog about this giveaway and include in your comment below the link to your post.  If you do not have a blog, please e-mail three people about this giveaway and cc me on it.  My e-mail address is  I promise not to use your friends e-mail addresses and will delete your e-mails as soon as I mark that I received them.

To read the first chapter of The Disorder of Longing and learn more about Natasha Bauman you can check out her website HERE.