"You see more in you..."

"When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before." 
~Clifton Fadiman

The Oracle of Stamboul

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas is a picturesque historical fiction set around the Ottoman Empire in 1877 at the brink of the Russo-Turkish War. The book centers around a young girl, Elenora Cohen, whose birth is marked by strange signs and prophecies. A flock of purple and white hoopoes take up residence near her house marking her as unique even before she develops reading and writing skills at a young age showing her to be a prodigy. Her father, a carpet merchant, dotes on her and when he sets off for Stamboul, Elenora stows away on his boat. Arriving in the city, and entering the home of her father's wealthy business partner Moncef Bey, Elenora is swept up in the world around her and her remarkable talents soon catch the eye of the Sultan himself.

I really liked the scenery and the historical setting of this novel, but I was expecting a little more depth to the characters and more development of the intrigue in the plot. I loved that the story focused on Elenora but the mysterious aspects of her birth were never explained or fully developed. I also liked the interaction between Elenora and the Sultan, but again, I wish their relationship had been given more time to expand. I was really drawn into the stories of the supporting characters - Moncef Bey and Elenora's tutor Reverend Muehler - as well. Lukas did a nice job weaving their subplots into the main story and I was very intrigued by them both.

While there were things I wish had been done differently, I still rather enjoyed this book. The writing was well done and it is a fast paced story. The Ottoman Empire was a unique setting, as it seems rarely chosen in historical fiction works, and I enjoyed the details of the political climate and the pictures of Turkish life. As a debut novel, The Oracle of Stamboul was definitely a book that will have me remembering Michael David Lukas' name for seeking out his future works.

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery is a book that for me falls firmly in the category of "how did I go through my childhood without having read this?"  (Also falling under that header are Treasure Island, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Little Women, and numerous works by Frances Hodgson Burnett.)  I had seen the miniseries and its sequel so I was familiar with the story, but it took me past the age of thirty to actually dive into the text of this classic.

The story follows orphan heroine Anne (with an "e"!) Shirley who comes to live with aging siblings Marila and Matthew Cuthbert.  The precocious young girl is a wealth of imagination and her vibrant spirit breathes new life into her adoptive family's world.  L. M. Montgomery's descriptions of Prince Edward Island are wonderfully detailed, but it is the neighbors and townspeople that really make Anne's tale so charming.  From town busybody Rachael Lynde to Anne's bosom friend Diana Barry, the cast is unique and entirely lovable.  I was especially drawn into the relationship between Anne and Gilbert Blythe.  From the television series, I knew love was in their future, but their early interactions, in which animosity and competition grow slowly into admiration and friendship, contained a sweet childish innocence that made me all the more appreciative of their relationship to come.

I also found myself reflecting a lot on Anne's character.  She has a tendency to allow her daydreaming to carry her thoughts away, often in the middle of everyday chores and conversations.  In real life, I think a person like this would probably drive me crazy.  With so many tangents and seemingly irrelevant comments, I picture that I would be fed up with Anne after only a short conversation with her.  However, in text, I loved every minute of her vivid imaginings and troublesome antics.  Her creative naming of the ordinary things around her as well as her romantic spirit were lovely to read in a storybook character, and I know I was left wanting to incorporate a bit more of Anne's dreamy outlook in my own everyday perspective.   Herein lies the true beauty of this book.  Even those of us who have little in common with Prince Edward Island's fictional past can still savor the spark of color that a boisterous little redhead can impart on the world around her.

Books on the Big Screen (Top Ten Tuesday)

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by one of my favorite book blogs The Broke and The Bookish!  Surprisingly, this is my debut participation in the meme so I want to welcome anyone who may be visiting Her Book Self for the first time!  This week's Top Ten Topic is Best Book to Movie Adaptations and it is a theme I can't resist weighing in on... my biggest challenge will be whittling this down to a top ten!  (I have 93 works in my LibraryThing catalog that are tagged "movie"!)

To be fair, I'm going to automatically leave the following books off this list: The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Wizard of OzHowl's Moving Castle, Gone With The Wind, & Little Women - I've already blogged about them and my love of their movies (click the titles if you want my thoughts).  I also want to give honorable mentions to Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice which I'm leaving out of my top ten since I feel they were done best on TV and I'm going to stick with big screen picks.  I'm also choosing to leave out Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.  Don't get me wrong, they are BEYOND awesome, but with LotR I think it's best to take all three movies as a whole entity and with the HP series I think some of the movies were much better done than others but I don't really want to dissect the series here.

With that preamble, I give you  

Her Book Self's Top Ten Big Screen Movies Adapted From Books 
(In no particular order and with the caveat that I'm sure I've forgotten some that are ultimately awesome.  I apologize for the omissions and look forward to reading lists from everyone else to see what I missed!)

10. The Secret of NIMH (from the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH)
This was one of my favorite movies as a child and it wasn't until after college that I actually got around to reading the book by Robert C. O'Brien.  As a child, I know I overlooked some of the darker portions of the movie, but rewatching it as an adult I realize they did a pretty decent job of referencing some of the more intense portions of the novel - lab rat research for kids! - into the screenplay without making it way too disturbing for the target audience.  (And I sooo would have loved this lunchbox when I was in grade school!!)

9. The Neverending Story (from the book The Neverending Story)
Well, if it wasn't obvious that I was a child of the 80's I'm sure it is now.  The book by Michael Ende is fabulous and imaginative and lovely; and the movie definitely does it justice.  Interestingly enough, the movie actually only covers the first portion of the book (and yes, the movie's sequel dabbles in the next portion) but the book more or less tells two separate tales, so it makes for a natural split.  The movie made me fall in love with the story and I think this is one where I even prefer the film to the text.  I mean, really, who among us saw the film as a child and didn't secretly wish for their very own luck dragon??

8. Interview with the Vampire (from the book Interview With The Vampire)
Fast forward to my high school self who fell in love with this movie.  (I promise it had nothing to do with Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas and Tom Cruise....okay well, maybe a little...)  I remember there was a bit of backlash against Cruise playing Lestat - many were set against the image of a blond-haired blue-eyed creature of the night - but I really think he captured the character well with a great mix of sinister malice, restrained violence, flippant arrogance, and a touch of dry humor.  I read the Anne Rice book a few years after seeing the film and I still really enjoy both.

7. Bridget Jones's Diary (from the book Bridget Jones's Diary)
This pick has the distinction that I read Helen Fielding's novel before seeing the film.  I liked the way the quirky humor translated to the screen and, as with Interview, I think the casting was really well done (including a pre-Battlestar Gaius Baltar!).  I found it especially funny that in the novel, Mark Darcy is described as looking like Colin Firth who ended up playing him - complete with tacky jumper - in the movie.  And for an especially sappy note, I saw this one with Tony when we were just friends but after we were dating he charmed my socks off with a "Just as you are" line. 

6. The Princess Bride (from the book The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure)
I actually almost didn't include this one on my list because it almost seems like the "Well, Duh!" choice of the group.  Then it occurred to me that if everyone chose to discount it for that reason then none of the participants of this meme would include it and we would be doing a grand disservice to "Best Book to Movie Adaptation" lists everywhere.  Again, this pick goes back to my childhood steeped in the richness of fantasy movies of the 1980's.  People often ask me if I prefer the Reiner film to the William Goldman book and I'm really uncertain how to answer.  On the one hand, I adore the movie.  Robin Wright and Cary Elwes were enchanting and the supporting cast was glorious.  So much of the brilliance of the book has ingrained itself in pop culture because of the way it was acted.  Few can read "My name is Inigo Montoya..." without hearing the voice of Mandy Patinkin but at the same time, the movie would not be so amazing without such wonderful source material.

5. Fried Green Tomatoes (from the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe)
I really enjoyed this movie and I think it was very true to the spirit and content of Fannie Flagg's book.  I could certainly raise the complaint that the book held much greater depth and detail, but at the same time I think if everything in the text had been tackled, the movie would have been a bit bogged down.  The screenplay adapters did a good job of selecting the main stories from the book that they wanted to visualize and I think they did a great job of creating a vision that flattered and highlighted Flagg's work.

4. Chocolat (from the book Chocolat)
Despite my appreciation for the movie-tie-in book cover, I didn't select this one solely for the Johnny Depp eye candy factor.  This is the book that introduced me to Joanne Harris and the fabulous genre of magical realism.  I know my memory is failing me a little because I recall that there were plenty of alterations from the book to the screen but I also know that I really liked both the text and the film.  One of the things that I know the movie did a spectacular job on was the confections themselves.  This was a book that literally made my mouth water and the film achieved the same goal (even in the scenes without Johnny Depp). 

3. Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (from The Capture, The Journey, and The Rescue
I really wanted this list to include something that's been in the theaters more recently so I went with the movie based on the first three books in Katherine Lasky's The Guardians of Ga'Hoole series.  (A quick disclaimer, I've only read the first book in the series so obviously the book to movie comparison from my perspective is rather incomplete, but I still have pretty strong reasons for putting this one on my list.)  I had the privilege of not only seeing this movie in the theater but of watching it in 3D.  I know some people don't feel that movies should be judged based on their graphics and computer generated technology, but I think it is these cinematic elements that really set this film apart.  The story may have been just as endearing in classic animation (don't forget I started this list with 1982's Secret of NIMH) yet the visual dessert that came to life with this one really set it apart as excellent.  It's one thing to see owls soaring across the screen in front of you and it's quite another to see the stunning details of each individual feather blowing in the wind!

2. To Kill A Mockingbird (from the book To Kill A Mockingbird)
I don't know that there's much I can say about this book or movie that has not been said before.  Harper Lee's book is amazing.  Rober Mulligan's movie is equally so.  Gregory Peck did not just play the role of Atticus Finch, Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch.  I know I stated "no particular order" in this list, but I'm purposely sandwiching this pick between two visually stunning movies to show that sometimes a beautifully told story with phenomenal acting is all it takes to create a wonderful film.  

1. Jurassic Park (from the book Jurassic Park)
Yes, Michael Crichton, your book was great.  That doesn't mean that a $63 million dollar budget, Steven Spielberg at the helm, and a score by John Williams won't take a great book and turn it into a phenomenally awesome movie!!  Don't get me wrong, I like the book - but I didn't sit through an hour of the book almost peeing my pants because I was certain that a Velociraptor was only seconds away from gnawing off one of my limbs.  I'm glad to have been old enough to see this film in the theater because in terms of CG and sound, it really was like nothing ever done on film before!  The acting was beyond awesome - say what you want about Richard Attenborough, Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Samuel Jackson, and Wayne Knight, personally I thought they were all great choices, but no one can argue that their digital costars stole the show. 

So there you have my choices.    Any that you wholeheartedly agree with?  Any that you're appalled to find I included?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and look forward to hopping around to see what movies/books everyone else chose!  (I'm already thinking of plenty I should have added - The Joy Luck Club, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Watchmen...but I'll stand by my list.)
Thanks again to The Broke and The Bookish for hosting Top Ten Tuesdays and for choosing this topic!  As I mentioned, this is my first time participating in the meme, so thank you also to any new visitors to Her Book Self - I hope you'll stick around, read some of my other content, and maybe even join up as a follower!  Leave a comment saying you stopped by and I'll be sure to check out your site too!

Emma (A Weekend to ReCOVER)

The other day on the bus I saw someone reading this book and I did quite the double take to make sure I was reading the title correctly:

Jane Austen's Emma

I thought it was really interesting to put such a contemporary cover on such a classic novel.  It reminds me of a modern YA fiction cover which in a way is kind of neat if it entices younger readers to pick up the book.  Of course, it also got me thinking about what other creative covers I could find to this book.  With a little help from my good friend LibraryThing, here's a small sampling of some of my favorite covers for Emma by Jane Austen:

Some of them I love for their artistry and interpretation and others I just think are kind of cute.  Overall, I'm pretty amazed at the scope and variety of different covers that can be found for this book - I didn't even scratch the surface of the various movie-tie-in artwork too!  (Though I read Emma on my Kindle, the first cover in the block is the edition I have.  Here's my review of Emma from last December.)

Do you have a favorite cover to Emma?  What do you think of the really modern one?  If you saw it on the shelf - or saw a stranger reading it on a bus -  without reading the title, would you guess it to be an Austen work?  Do you think contemporary covers are a useful way to entice young readers toward classic literature?

A Weekend to ReCOVER is a meme hosted by Her Book Self that is all about discussing and analyzing interesting and unique cover art - new or old, anything that strikes your fancy!  Whether it's a comparison or just a single work that stands out to you, feel free to chime in with a comment below or join in the fun with a post of your own.  Be sure to leave a link so I can stop by and read about what cover(s) you're admiring or criticizing this week!

Fever Dream

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have done it again! Fever Dream marks their tenth thriller (holy cow! Is it really ten? Mental roll call: Relic, Reliquary, Cabinet, Still Life, Brimstone, Dance of Death, Book of the Dead, Wheel, Cemetery... Definitely tenth!) featuring their Sherlock Holmes-esque hero Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast, and it is another great work.

The latest adventure begins with a flashback set in Africa chronicling the events surrounding the death of Pendergast's wife Helen. Longtime Preston & Child fans will appreciate this glimpse into the enigmatic history of Agent Pendergast's past, but there's little surprise to be found that evidence arises indicating what was once declared an accident may have actually been murder. In present day, the search for answers leads Pendergast and his frequent partner Vincent D'Agosta from New York to New Orleans to seek out the truth.

Much like the previous Preston & Child collaborations, this action-oriented story blends sleuthing with science in an intelligent and multi-faceted mystery. Fever Dream is full of suspense and surprises and is definitely one of the best entries in the Pendergast series thus far. As usual, the door has been left wide open for future adventures, and in my opinion, the eleventh book can't come soon enough!
I actually started this series with book three or four but was so enamored with the main character that I had to go back and fill in the blanks and have since eagerly devoured each book as it is released.  I also managed to get my husband, Tony, hooked on the series as well.  As crazy as it sounds, we really enjoy reading books aloud to each other and this series has lent itself well to audio.  The downside of course is "one more chapter!" syndrome which inevitably occurs when each chapter ends with an agonizing cliff hanger.  It's near impossible to insert the bookmark when one's favorite character is in mortal peril.  Also, I usually make Tony do most of the reading because he switches seamlessly between Pendergast's southern drawl and D'Agosta's New Yawk accent - yes, in our family character voices are a must!

Any one else a fan of creating a voice cast when reading aloud?  What are your favorite novels to perform... er... I mean read?  Any other Pendergast fans in the blogosphere want to weigh in on Fever Dream?  What is it about this smart but not sardonic agent that is so addictive?

The Town That Food Saved

I confess I had never heard of Hardwick, Vermont before picking up Ben Hewitt's book The Town That Food Saved. The anecdotal nonfiction work tells about the history of the town, built upon the industry of granite, that suffered a severe economic downturn and looked to a local stimulus of food and agricultural business to provide jobs while promoting healthy food, organic farming and sustainability.

It's hard to describe the width and depth of food related businesses that this book covers, but I found the whole work remarkably fascinating. From exploring the simple but profound work of banking seeds to the impact of hormone use in the world of dairy farming, this work is one that will make anyone think twice about the everyday food we buy, prepare and eat.

It is the people of Hardwick, as well as their strides towards a system of local food production, that make Hewitt's book an engaging and entertaining read. The various interviews of farmers, businesspeople, restaurateurs, and politicians - many classified by Hewitt's invented portmanteau "agripreneurs" meaning agricultural entrepreneurs - lend a charming readability to the narrative. Hewitt presents the problems and conflicts openly and admits that there are not concrete solutions to the dilemmas Hardwick (and many towns like it) faced yet the positive economic and environmental strides being made are heralded.

Overall, The Town That Food Saved is an interesting book for anyone whose curiosity is piqued by the origins of the meals on their plate.  Ben Hewitt could just have easily switched the last two words of the title because this deeper look at the ingenuity of Hardwick's people may just have an impact on the food culture of an entire nation.

"In literature as in love..."

"In literature as in love, 
we are astonished at what is chosen by others."
~Andre Maurois

The Phoenix Bird (Fairy Tale Fridays)

One of the reasons I love fantasy as a genre is for the mythical creatures.  Unicorns, griffins, minotaurs - I love the imagination of new beasts and monsters and one of my favorites is the Phoenix.  I knew the legend of the bird that dies by immolation and is reborn from its own ashes and of course, I loved how J. K. Rowling used Fawkes the Phoenix as a hero and symbol of hope in the Harry Potter series (most notably in book/movie two: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).

But I was intrigued when I discovered that Hans Christian Andersen had his own story about and titled after The Phoenix Bird (click the link to read the story).  It's a short tale - more akin to the origin type story told in The Ear of Corn by the Brothers Grimm than the usual fairy tale style I've come to associate with Andersen - but I do like it.  If you're not familiar with it, take the time to read it before continuing with this post because my favorite part really is the ending. 

There are a few things that speak to me about this story.  If we take the Phoenix as a symbol for the spirit of creativity and imagination, we see that it has been around since the dawn of creation.  As long as there have been human beings, this spirit has lived among them.  Andersen writes, "The bird flutters round us, swift as light, beauteous in color, charming in song," and one can imagine the natural gift of creativity in the form of a mythical bird swooping through Andersen's pen as this tale was composed.  We can also see that the Phoenix is shown to be universal - belonging to no single land or culture - and with the varied lands described in the story it is clear that the Phoenix "is not the bird of Arabia alone." Andersen ends the story with a lovely tribute to the bird in proclaiming a name for it:
"...thy right name was given thee—thy name, Poetry."
I think this is a fitting conclusion to the simple story because in its essence this piece is much more of a poem than a traditional  tale.  The short length of the work and the vibrant writing speak much more of poetry than of a typical fairy story with a happily ever after ending.  What do you think about Hans Christian Andersen's The Phoenix Bird

This post is part of my 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge (2 of 12) and continues the Fairy Tale Fridays meme originally begun by Tif of Tif Talks Books.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this story or any other fairy tale of your choice!  Leave a link in the comments below if you're joining the Fairy Tale Fun this week!

Furies of Calderon

Sometime back in 2006 I discovered the author Jim Butcher and his series The Dresden Files.  I admit I probably would not have given the author or series much of a glance were it not for the setting and premise of an urban fantasy following the adventures of the only wizard listed in Chicago's phone book (I'm a sucker for a local story!).  I took an immediate liking to Butcher's clever plot lines and witty characters and have been pacing myself through the series for the past few years (I read and reviewed the ninth book in the sequence last fall).  For a while now, I've been aware that Jim Butcher has another series out with a decidedly different flavour than The Dresden Files and though the first book has been sitting on my shelf for over a year, I've resisted reading it.  Part of me doubted as to whether or not it could live up to the expectations I had.  Earlier this year though, I took the plunge.

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher introduces the reader to fifteen-year-old Tavi, who is somewhat of an anomaly in his village due to his lack of furycrafting - the ability to bond with and control an elemental of earth, air, fire, water, wood or metal. Tavi's village soon comes under attack by a barbarian tribe and the boy more than makes up for his strange lack of furies with an excess of resourcefulness and clever wit. Where he could have emerged as a stereotypical pig-boy of a protagonist, he is instead likable and charming - a character for whom the reader can not resist cheering.

True to Jim Butcher's style, the barbarian attack is not even close to the only point of action driving the story. Politics amidst the leaders in the villages (including Tavi's uncle and aunt) have tensions running high and Amara, a woman on assignment from the First Lord of the land becomes embroiled in the drama while trying to sort out treachery and betrayal among her own compatriots. Multiple storylines are woven together brilliantly and Butcher's meticulous details are never extraneous - actions, motives, thoughts, and emotions for the entire cast of characters complement each other seamlessly.

Furies of Calderon is the first in Butcher's Codex Alera series. I loved the worldbuilding in this book as well as the complex character development.  If the subsequent Alera books are as good as the first, I dare say that this is a series with the potential to outshine Butcher's more well-known (and also highly enjoyable) Dresden Files.

I really wish I hadn't waited so long to dive into this series because I was definitely impressed with Furies and it exceeded my expectations.  I may have even waited longer to read this one but my super awesome spouse got me the next two books in the series for Christmas (he frequently feeds my book addiction).  I try to pace myself through series that I really enjoy so I'm giving myself a few weeks before diving into book two but I really hope the next ones are as good as the first!

Do you ever have odd expectations of books only to have them totally surprise you - for good or bad?  Do you ever put off reading a book because you doubt it can be as good as something else you loved by the same author?


Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, relates another gripping and emotional biography in her latest book Unbroken. Subtitled A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Hillenbrand's work is exactly that.

Unbroken tells the story of Louis Zamperini. With humble beginnings as a neighborhood troublemaker in Torrance, California, Louis rose to the national spotlight as a runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Barely missing a medal, he set his sights on the next Games, but like many, he delayed his dreams in order to serve his country and enlisted in the Armed Forces as a bombardier. His duty turned nightmare when his plane went down and survival on a raft drifting through the Pacific was only a sliver of torment compared to life as a POW in Japan.

Despite horrid and dehumanizing conditions, Zamperini survived, and his story is chronicled along with details of his family and fellow servicemen. Hillenbrand relies on primary sources and unfolds the story with an expert pen. Powerful, amazing, dramatic and inspiring barely scratch the surface of describing Zamperini's journey. I was captivated throughout the book and really enjoyed delving into this biography of an American hero of whom I was previously unfamiliar. This is a story of history and survival, but even more so it is a testimony to the power of the human spirit which in Zamperini's case, through the darkest times, remained Unbroken.

The Book Thief (A Weekend to ReCOVER)

Markus Zusak's The Book Thief is one of the best books I've read in the past decade and has joined the shortlist of my all time favourite novels.  (Don't ask me what else is on that shortlist because it's a very fluid ever-changing answer...)  I blogged a bit about this book in a comparison review a while ago, but I wanted to revisit this work for A Weekend to ReCOVER and compare a few covers that I've seen for it recently.

For those that have read The Book Thief, which cover did your copy have?  Which do you prefer, and what do you think of the others?  If you have not read The Book Thief, which cover most catches your eye?  Would any prompt you to a closer examination in a bookstore, or would any cause you to pass over the book?
I own this novel with the first cover shown (left), and - perhaps because it was my first exposure to the work - it remains my favourite cover.  I think the darker tone corresponds with the serious subject matter, and I like the focus on the domino chain.  It lends an air of anticipation and spotlights a dramatic scene from the story.  That said, I also like the second cover (middle).  For those unfamiliar with The Book Thief, the story is about a little girl, but is narrated by Death.  The image of Death dancing with the girl is a clever one and I think it captures a bit of Zusak's tone in juxtaposing humor with seriousness throughout his writing.  The third cover (right) is the only one with which I'm not too impressed.  I like the image of the lone figure on the snowscape, but I find the blood spots a little disconcerting. For some reason, the cover reminds me more of a horror story than a historical fiction. What do you think?

A Weekend to ReCOVER is a blog meme discussing and analyzing cover art hosted by Her Book Self. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section or feel free to join the fun with your own post!  Help yourself to the AWTR badge image at left and leave a link below so I can be sure to check out what covers you are admiring or criticizing this week!

Snow Falling on Readers

Call it Snowmaggedon, Snowpocalypse, SnO-M-G, or any other type of Blizzaster - whatever cutesy moniker you pin on it did not make it any less of an annoying or inconvenient weather phenomena.  Schools canceled, work canceled and the general advisory was not to leave the house on Wednesday unless absolutely necessary.  And after the necessary shoveling was done (digging or tunneling might be a better word...) staying inside all day really did seem a pleasant option.  Warm clothes, comfy blankets, hot tea, and of course - good books! 

I suppose I have Chicagoland's third largest snowfall in history to thank/blame for my recent reading progress.  Not only did I finish Preston & Child's Fever Dream (a read aloud with my husband), but I made extensive progress through Romancing Miss Brontë by Juliet Gael as well as jumping back into a bit of The Count of Monte Cristo on my Kindle.

Were you home-bound by severe weather recently?  Did you use it as an excuse to get some extra reading done?

photo credits: "Snow Day" by Betty M and "Dude - Where's my car?" by Tatiana A.

Author Interview - Bonnie Rozanski

With a novel centered around the odd connections that strangers can make online, it's no coincidence that I was thrilled to connect with yet another awesome author online.  Please join me in a big Her Book Self Welcome to Bonnie Rozanski!

*applause, applause*

How did you come up with the idea for your novel Six Clicks Away?

I’d been thinking for some time about how the world is getting smaller; with people increasingly linked to each other in social networks, businesses connected by global links and whole economies dependent on one another.  And it was obvious that practically anything – a rumor, a virus, a financial crisis – could cascade throughout the world in record time. I began reading about computer networks and, specifically, what happens in very highly connected networks. One thing I read about was a winner-takes-all network, where the fittest node suddenly grabs all the links, causing it to develop a star topology, and all the nodes end up connected to a central hub.

I thought immediately of what would happen to Facebook if someone could go beyond the current restraints of 5,000 friends, and get a half a billion friends. Poof! Facebook reconfigures to form a star, and everyone has to go through one person to get to anyone else.

That’s what gave me the idea for the central plot. As for the six degrees of separation idea, it inspired me to write about people in disparate places. I had lived and worked in New York, New Jersey, Seattle, and Toronto, so it was natural to set four of the stories there. I really had fun with that.

The book features a diverse and extensive cast of characters.  Are any of them based on people you know (in real life or online)?

The only character based on a real person is Raj, whom I had read about online.  A mortgage broker much like Raj did, indeed, bilk a lot of people in just the way Raj does, putting the profits into his Bollywood productions and his over-the-top mega-mansion with fountains of elephants spouting water into the air. He had a wife and children he doted on, just as Raj did, but I filled in all the personalities with my imagination, and once I did, they seemed to react as real people would.

I find that most of my characters are concocted of bits and pieces of real people, but very rarely is anyone based on a particular person. Julia, the writer, has a number of my experiences, but even there, her scenes are filtered through my imagination (e.g., the Amazon sequence, which really happened but not in that way and not in a coffee shop.) But Julia is definitely not me, thank God.

Likewise, I had been to the Pike Place Market many times when I worked in Seattle and always loved the bustle and the noise, especially of the fish mongers. But Kevin is very much a made-up character, as is Antara (I read a lot about Bangalore and its call operators.) Same for Matthew and Mabel. To be honest, I don’t know where these characters come from. They more or less write themselves. When I first started writing SIX CLICKS AWAY, I had worried whether I could create a character like Antara, about whom I knew so little. As I began to write her story (or as she wrote herself), however, she became this universal caring character in a sometimes uncaring world, someone who seemed very real to me.

Which character is most like you, or to which one do you most relate?

Gender aside, I think Kevin is the one most like me. He so wants to find his bliss, but family obligations always seem to pull him back to reality.

As an avid Facebook user, I'm often surprised when friends that I know from different circles - schools, jobs, activities - are already connected to each other.  Have you had any similar experiences in the world of social networking?  What's the most random connection you or someone you know has discovered?
Funny you should say that. I don’t believe that any network connection is random. Networks have this deep underlying order and operate according to simple but powerful rules. For instance, there’s the tendency of people to congregate with people they like; and the general rule that people who like you have a greater probability of liking each other. Both of these simple non-random rules, executed over and over, are at work in generating a complex network.

That said, I’m still puzzling over the odds of my meeting my husband at a college mixer.

How long have you been writing professionally?  Tell us a bit about some of your other works.

Uh-oh, I’m already stuck on your question. What is the meaning of “professionally”? The moment I got published? And where does that leave the writers who are self-published?

The fact is I’ve written most of my life. As a child I wrote poetry and short stories. In my mid-twenties I finished my first novel (it shall remain nameless). When it was rejected by Viking, I decided that I needed some life experience before I could produce anything worthwhile. So, I worked in business for quite a few years, raised my son, collecting a few academic degrees along the way. Finally, when I finished my last degree, a MS in Computer Science, I decided that what I really wanted to do was not to go back into computers but to write. That was twelve years ago. But I wasn’t published until six years later, and that was actually the fifth book I had written.

Currently, I have two traditionally published books, BANANA KISS and BORDERLINE, both by Porcupine’s Quill, a small but fine literary press in Ontario, Canada. BANANA KISS is narrated by a young woman with schizophrenia who lives in a psychiatric institution and thinks she is God. The Toronto Globe and Mail called it “powerful, compelling storytelling and a unique reading experience.” It’s also funny, believe it or not.  BORDERLINE, a story about a boy, his autistic brother and a wolf was shortlisted for Foreword's Book of the Year Award in 2008 and received a silver medal at the Independent Publishers' Book Awards in the same year.

I have three other Kindle e-books besides SIX CLICKS AWAY. All have some kind of scientific conundrum at their core as well as a wicked sense of humor.

Y is a sci-fi thriller about what would happen if a microbe infected women of child-bearing age, and in its wake women were to find they were no longer able to give birth to male children. How would society cope in a mostly female world?

RIGHT SIDE TALKING is a psychological thriller about Anna, a young girl with epilepsy who undergoes an operation to sever the connection between the two sides of her brain (this is a real procedure for relieving epilepsy but don’t try it at home!) In the hospital she is then witness to a murder. Unfortunately, her left brain cannot recognize unfamiliar faces, and so is unable to identify the killer. Her right brain can, but is unable to speak. Only by painstakingly spelling out its thoughts in scrabble letters can Anna describe the killer. But then….

TODD THE DREAMER is another psychological thriller about lucid dreaming, the rare state in which a dreamer knows he’s in a dream. This is probably the most surreal of all my books.

What authors would you say have inspired or influenced you?

I’ve always been very eclectic in my literary tastes. I remember when I was growing up, loving Pearl S. Buck, A. J. Cronin, James Hilton and Sinclair Lewis. More contemporary loves are Phillip Roth, Michael Chabon, Anne Patchett and Mordecai Richler. I’m sure they inspired me by their capacity to paint wondrous universes out of what is essentially our own, realistic world.

I also loved anything medical or scientific. I know this is going to surprise you, but the one who actually inspired me most was Michael Crichton. I love science, but up till Jurassic Park, I had rarely seen it incorporated so effectively into contemporary fiction. I think Crichton actually inspired a lot of people, because since the late seventies, there has been an explosion of real science in fiction.

What projects are you currently working on?

You’d be surprised how much time goes into marketing your own books. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few months.

However, when I am finally done marketing my e-books (if I am ever done marketing my e-books) I’m planning to go back and rewrite book #7, which has yet to see the light of day. The story is based on newspaper reports of zombiish behavior in people who have taken the sleeping drug called Ambien. These people get up in the middle of the night to walk, eat, and drive cars in their sleep. The next day, sometimes finding themselves in jail, they have no memory of what they’ve done. And then (!) there are the patients who wake up after years in a vegetative state – ten minutes after they’ve been given Ambien. You’ve got to admit there’s something intriguing about all this.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My Author Central page at Amazon.com:

Porcupine’s Quill for my print books:
BANANA KISS: http://porcupinesquill.ca/bookinfo3.php?index=199
And BORDERLINE: http://porcupinesquill.ca/bookinfo3.php?index=213

Red Adept Annual Indie Awards site where SIX CLICKS AWAY won a 2010 award for top drama: http://redadeptreviews.com/?page_id=4166

I am also a playwright:

Thanks so much!  
Six Clicks Away and Bonnie's other works are available now!

Six Clicks Away

Since I seem to be in the mood for confessions, I'll toss out another one.  I'm an internet junkie.  I grew up in a household of technology and mastered PacMan around the same time as cursive writing (as an adult the former may actually be a skill that gains me more compliments).  Comfort with computers and the ease of integrating technology into my life stayed with me and grew throughout my college experience and I still spend (probably a great deal too much) time online.  When I'm not blogging or reading blogs or commenting on blogs; there's a good chance I'm checking email, playing games, popping around facebook, or making edits to my LibraryThing catalog.   I try to keep my internet dependence in check and have resisted getting a smart phone or a Twitter account because I really don't need any more online distractions or addictions in my life, but I am a firm believer that in moderation the convenience of technology making our world smaller really can be a good thing.  This theme was explored in a novel I recently read and enjoyed.

Taking a modern spin on the theory of six degrees of separation - the theory that any two strangers can be linked through six different friends of friends - Bonnie Rozanski's novel Six Clicks Away starts with a New Jersey college student who sets out to become online friends with the Dalai Lama. What starts as a sociology project quickly spirals outward to become a look at the interconnectedness of people around the world.

The story begins with sorority girl Rachel and her geeky classmate Jeremy but as their network expands, the reader meets many endearing characters such as Julia an author in Canada; Kevin an engineer turned fish vendor in Seattle; Antara, a collections agent in India; and multiple others. The lives of these individuals seem to have nothing in common but over the course of the novel their stories impact and affect each other in creative and interesting ways.

I enjoyed the tales that Rozanski wove together in this book. She presents an interesting look at the world of social networking, and "MyFace" - her fictional blend of facebook and MySpace - proves to be a literary mirror that will leave readers considering their own online presence and digital lives. Overall, this is a unique and modern story that raises ideas about how small the large world has become and will make any reader stop and think about from whom they might be Six Clicks Away.
The list of reasons I enjoy blogging is numerous, but high up in rank is the ability to connect with people so far away.  A few months after creating this site, I added a flag tracker (on the right sidebar below recent comments), and I love checking it out every month or so to see where in the world people visiting Her Book Self are located!  In just a few months, I've had hits from almost all 50 states in the USA (where's the love from Idaho?!?) and over 70 other countries (every continent but Antarctica!).  I love that reading and books are universal passions and that the blogosphere really has made the world a slightly smaller place.

I'm curious if other bloggers have had a similar sense of wonder at connecting internationally.  Have you ever been amazed by the site traffic to your blog?  Any Her Book Self readers want to brag about how far away from Illinois they are?

Stay tuned for my author interview with Bonnie Rozanski this week!