Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Warm August Thank You

What a great variety of books for this month's roast, don't you think? Please join the Roast Masters in extending heartfelt thanks to:

Stephanie Bodeen (The Compound)
Laurel Snyder (Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains)
J.J. Salem (Tan Lines)
Susan McBride (The Debs)
Brian Jay Jones (Washington Irving: An American Original).

If contest winners haven't contacted the authors to coordinate receipt of their prizes, please do so when you have a chance.

Stay tuned for more delicious roasting in September, and may even a surprise or two.

See you then!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Friday's special is...Washington Irving: An American Original

Washington Irving: An American Original by Brian Jay Jones

Click here to order from Amazon

Brian's website

During a decade of service to the U.S. senate Brian Jay Jones wrote speeches, analyzed policy, and dissected 900-page bills, "which," he says, "he dutifully tabbed, underlined, highlighted, outlined and scribbled cartoons on—all skills which prepared him for the formidable seven-year task of digging through Washington Irving's letters and papers."

Friend o' the blog Josephine Damian wrote a stellar review of Brian's biography, which she called "by far the best I've ever read."

"Of the accomplishment that Mr. Jones has achieved with this book," Josephine wrote, "I think it best to repeat the quote made by another much feared reviewer—Edinburgh’s Francis Jeffrey—whose sentiments towards Irving’s work mirror my own on this most excellent and readable of biographies: We have received so much pleasure from this book that we think ourselves bound in gratitude to make a public acknowledgement of it."

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 9:

Set up: it's 1825, and Washington Irving is sulking in Paris after the critics have rather lambasted his latest book, Tales of a Traveller. He's carrying on a correspondence with his friend, the rascally playwright John Howard Payne, who was living in London, where he was trying to put the moves on a young literarily-inclined widow named Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Things went rather downhill for Payne from there:

In late June Payne had been invited to dinner at the Godwin home in Gower Place. As Payne walked Mary back to Kentish Town after dinner, they had a frank conversation in which Payne learned that Mrs. Shelley had developed something of a crush on Irving. "She said you had interested her more than any one she had seen since she left Italy," Payne told Irving, his eyes emerald with jealousy, "that you were gentle and cordial, and that she longed for friendship with you. I rallied her a little upon the declaration, and at first she fired at my mentioning that she talked as if she were in love. Upon her reply, I answered, 'What! Would you make a plaything of Mr. I[rving]?'"

Mary shyly asked for copies of any of Irving's letters—"Irvine" she called him—that Payne might have on hand, and Payne grudgingly obliged, handing over a dog-eared pile, along with a cover note declaring he would end his one-sided pursuit of her. "I have given way to an absurdity," he huffed, "and have only myself to blame."

Mrs. Shelley made reassuring noises. "Your letter gives me pain," she told the rejected suitor. However, she admitted: "W.I.'s letter pleases me greatly. I shall be glad to see Irvine's letters, and the handwriting . . . will become as clear to me as Lord Byron's letterless scrawl. As to friendship with him—it cannot be—though everything I hear and know renders it more desirable. How can Irvine—surrounded by fashion, rank, and splendid friendships—pilot his pleasure bark from the gay press into this sober, sad, enshadowed nook?"

Dutifully, Payne continued sending Irving's letters to her even as he prepared to leave for Paris for his meeting with Stephen Price. Mrs. Shelley maintained a friendly correspondence with Payne, and joked that her relationship with—indeed, she teased, her plans to marry—her "favorite I[rving]" was not proceeding as quickly as she had hoped:

[M]ethinks our acquaintance proceeds at the rate of the Antediluvians, who, I have somewhere read, thought nothing of an interval of a year or two between a visit. Alack! I fear that at this rate, if ever the Church should make us one, it would be announced in the consolatory phrase that the Bride and Bridegroom's joint ages amounted to the discreet number of 145 and 3 months.

The following day, a blushing Mrs. Shelley sent a follow-up note to Payne, asking him to speak well of her to Irving. "Tho' I am a little fool," she wrote, "do not make me appear so in Rue Richelieu by repeating tales out of school—nor mention the Antediluvians."

Payne gave Irving a parcel containing his correspondence with Mrs. Shelley, along with a note stating his intention to step aside and allow Irving to pursue what the playwright clearly thought was a golden opportunity. "I do not ask you to fall in love," Payne said, "but I should feel a little proud of myself if you thought the lady worthy of that distinction, and very possibly you would have fallen in love with her, had you met her casually but she is too much out of society to enable you to do so."

One can only speculate what might have happened had Irving and Mary Shelley created literature's first trans-Atlantic power couple. Irving, however, while likely amused, wasn't interested. "Read Mrs. Shelley's correspondence before going to bed," he noted in his journal that evening—the only words he ever wrote regarding the entire affair. Irving handed the correspondence back to Payne without comment.

Pop into the comments section to say hello to Brian. Be sure to mention Antediluvians. Stick around long enough to answer the following three questions and you might win a personalized copy of Washington Irving: An American Original straight from Brian's shelf:

1. Who would Brian pick to play Washington Irving and Mary Shelley in the movie version of his book?

2. How many love letters did Brian write to his wife before she married him?

3. Translate into modern English: "How can Irving pilot his pleasure bark from the gay press into this sober, sad, enshadowed nook?"

Thursday's Special Is...The Debs!

The Debs by Susan McBride

Click here to order from Amazon.

Susan's Website. (Even if you don't enter the contest, please stop by and say hi.)

Get a peek at Susan's cool book trailers HERE.

Roast Master Jason here, and I'm all a-flutter.

You see, Susan McBride said I should explore my inner debutante, and I never had a coming out party.

I'm here! I have my tiara! And I'm ready to par-tay!

*Looking around at the quizzical faces*

Oh, who am I kidding? No one's going to give me a coming out party. *sniff* I'm not debutante material.

But Susan's characters don't give up so easily. Not by a long shot.

In The Debs, the heat is on down South! (Erm, down South. You know. The direction.) The paths of four very different girls are about to collide in a four debutante pile-up. Let's meet Laura Delacroix Bell, our first contender:

As for her father . . . well, Laura didn’t see him much as it was. He ran his plumbing parts business with a tight fist on the reins and was forever jetting somewhere on business. When he wasn’t, he spent long hours at his downtown office, often not getting home until Laura was fast asleep. But Tincy Bell was another story entirely. She was the classic Helicopter Mother, hovering about and keeping tabs on everything from Laura’s friends to her GPA to her weight. And lately, Laura’s weight had been the touchiest subject of all.

What would Ma Bell do when she realized Laura hadn’t lost a single pound in two months? Would she cut off Laura’s platinum AmEx? Deny her their traditional everyother-Sunday post-brunch mother-daughter mani-pedis at Sensia, with its cool seagrass floors and shoji screens? Get rid of all the Pillsbury Slice ’n Bake cookie dough in the fridge, to which Laura had been addicted to since childhood?

Like the immortal Scarlett O’Hara, Laura figured she’d worry about that tomorrow. Instead, she shrugged off her apprehension, silently repeating her personal mantra, which Mac had claimed she’d partially stolen from the old Popeye cartoons: I am who I am.

Someday, she decided, after she died, she was coming back as a lizard, the kind that lived in Mexico and spent all day lying on rocks in the sun.

I like Laura's style. She knows who's boss. The other Debs better watch out.

I'm turning up the grill to holy smokin' today in honor of Susan's release of The Debs this past Tuesday!! Congrats, Susan! Fresh and hot off the presses.

Oh, and by the way, be sure to ask Susan how she met her husband. (Newlyweds!) Cool story. I want to know the winning bid.


Questions for the contest:

1. If you were a lizard, would you be open to wearing alligator-skin shoes? Why or why not?

2. One piece of cake is left on the table. Your piece. Great Aunt Mildred and her untreated eczema are heading this way. Strategy?

3. Does that purse go with this?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wednesday's Special Is...Tan Lines!

Tan Lines by J.J. Salem

Tan Lines is J.J.'s 22nd book to be published, but his first "bonkbuster." I think you have to live in England to know what a bonkbuster is.

It's a fiercely contemporary tale about strong women and the choices that relationships, society, and high-pressure professional arenas thrust upon them. Tan Lines explores the issue of public faces/private selves.

One risky encounter.
One scandalous breakdown.
One horrifying murder.

Don’t even try to take cover from this scorcher.


Billie noticed that Liza seemed relieved when they moved past the subject of March. She didn’t quite believe her friend’s denial. How could Liza be content with a man like Justin? Okay, physically, he was flawless. But Liza was such an intellectual creature. March’s politics might take a hard turn to the right, but at least the man could think. When Justin wasn’t pumping iron, he just sat around waiting for an alarm bell to ring.

There was real electricity between Liza and March. Billie was almost drunk, but she could still read a situation. It didn’t matter, though. Not now. March was fair game. She’d given Liza every opportunity to stake a claim of interest, even on a look-but-don’t-touch fantasy
level. So Billie would just have to take the woman at her word.

They lingered at the table, nibbling on the peanut brittle teasers, talking about their first weekend in the summer share. They intended to spend most of the daylight hours working on their tans. With a two-week head start, they just might be able to stand next to Kellyanne without looking like a couple of ghosts.

Beyond that, the evenings were all planned out. Reservations at Nick & Toni’s for Saturday night. Half a dozen cocktail parties on Sunday. Film director Harrison Beck’s big Memorial Day bash in Sagaponack on Monday. Too bad they had to be escorted there by K.K., the fat queen. Billie had seen him on television leading a panel to dish red carpet fashion after an awards show. Cartoon fags were so annoying.

When the check arrived, Billie made no move to contribute. It wasn’t her idea to come here. Liza didn’t blanch, though. With tip, the bill had to be almost eight hundred dollars. But she just threw down her American Express Black. Must be nice. Amy lectured Billie regularly on cutting down her spending. Meanwhile, Liza was making money in her sleep. And for what—raising hell about some stupid slasher movie? Some people had all the luck.

As they made their way out of Savanna’s, Billie announced, “I’m going to the ladies room. Meet you outside, okay?”

Liza seemed to think nothing of it and ventured on.

Billie fell back, waiting for her to exit, then made a beeline for the pavilion. There was a tent-like structure. More Grecian columns. A beautiful garden. But with balloons everywhere and a table chockablock full of gifts, it looked like Amaryllis was celebrating her sweet sixteen.

Suddenly, March appeared and offered a flute of champagne. “Where’s Liza?”

Billie drank up and passed the empty glass back to him. “Waiting for me outside.”

He took a step closer. “That’s not very sociable.”

“I can’t stay, either. I just wanted to give you my number.” She slipped a scrap of paper into his front pocket.

He smiled. “Is that the kind of information that could get me into trouble?”

Billie licked her lips. In her white jeans and black lace camisole top, she knew that she looked hot.
“Use it. Find out for yourself.”

March opened his mouth to speak.

But Billie was already gone.

From across the room, Amaryllis stood watching.

Billie matched her glare for glare. Then she silently mouthed the words, “Happy birthday, bitch,” and walked out.


1) Name three things JJ likes to nibble on.
2) What's JJ's favorite cartoon?
3) What's JJ's recipe for a Birthday Bitch Cake?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tuesday's Special Is ... Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder

Laurel's Website

Release Day!
Coincidence? Hardly. Well, only a little. The Book Roast crew is delighted to have Laurel Snyder here with us on the day her first middle-grade novel, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains OR The Search for a Suitable Princess, lands on the shelves.

Um, Laurel, can you came back down to earth for a few minutes, please?

Well, at least we know she'll be in a good mood for us today -- if we can keep her from dashing off to the bookstores!

Laurel is one of those people who always want what they can't have. Take her two small kids, for instance. They leave her no time to write. So, of course, that just makes her want to write -- 24 hours in a day be damned. Lucky for us, she somehow finds a way to compromise and, while her kids still get all the love and attention they need, we get to read Laurel's lovely poetry, personal essays, and children's fiction. Yay us!

Oh, and if anyone wants to provide the seed money (suggested amount is a mere billion dollars), Laurel will be happy to set up and run a kibbutz-style writing colony. You know, one where CHILDREN are welcome. It will, she promises, be wildly successful. Just ask any writer-parent.

OK, getting down to business. Our topic today is (un)suitability. What makes a thing suitable or unsuitable for a particular purpose? Why is a milkmaid an unsuitable match for a prince? Even when said milkmaid, Lucy, and said prince, Wynston, are best friends? And do prairie dogs and milk cows make suitable traveling companions? Let's find out! To be eligible to win a hardcover copy of Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, read the excerpt then answer the 3 questions at the end.


Lucy never spoke at all. She was silent as a stone until one night when she was two years old. Lucy’s mama was putting her girls to bed, and as she tucked them in she began to sing the goatherd song. “Though winter snows may freeze us…” she began.

Suddenly, Lucy sat up bolt-upright in bed and opened her mouth. “… and spring-storms flood our beds,” she sang in a warbling little-girl-voice.

Lucy’s mama shrieked and clapped her hands to her mouth. Sally shrieked too, and Lucy’s papa came running from the next room. “Hello? What’s all this screaming about?”

Lucy’s mother pointed and stammered, but Lucy kept right on singing. She had never said Papa or Mama. She had never said yes or no or dog or cat or Lucy or uh-oh. She had never uttered a word, but now she was making up for lost time. Lucy sang the entire song from memory as her family stared in surprise. When she was done she lay back down, stuck her thumb in her mouth, and closed her eyes. She had sung herself to sleep.

In the long silence that followed, Sally turned over like the good four-year-old-girl that she was and went to sleep. But then, the very next day, something terrible happened. To Lucy and Sally, who barely remembered, and to their poor Papa, could never forget.

Yes, in the time shortly after Once-Upon-A-Time—in the little white stone house beside the dairy—in the walled village of Thistle—in a corner of the world known as the Bewilderness—in the shadow of the Scratchy Mountains where the goatherds sing—something terrible happened.

Just as it was getting dark, and with no warning whatsoever… Mama was there, and then… she was gone.



1) Laurel, unlike Lucy, talks and talks and talks. What is Laurel's favorite word?

2) If Bewilderness is one corner of the world, what are the other three corners? (Yes, yes, the world is really round and 3-dimensional -- just work with us here, okay?)

3) Is Laurel more suitable to be a goatherd or a milk maid?

Monday's special is...The Compound

The Compound by Stephanie Bodeen

Click here to order from Amazon.

Stephanie's website.

Stephanie Bodeen's eight picture books have garnered a list of awards and honors as long as my arm. (And I have a long arm.) Now her debut young adult novel The Compound is continuing the tradition. It has already been nominated for a pair of American Library Association awards, including Best Book.

Publishers Weekly gave it a coveted starred review:

Bodeen, acclaimed as the writer of such picture books as Elizabeti's Doll, turns out a high-wire act of a first novel, a thriller that exerts an ever-tighter grip on readers. Eli, the 15-year-old son of a billionaire techno-preneur, has spent the last six years with his family in the massive underground shelter his father has built, knowing that nuclear war has destroyed the world he knows—and killed his grandmother and his twin brother, who couldn't reach the compound in time. With nine years to go before the air outside will be safe to breathe again, the food supply shows signs of running out, but Eli's father has a solution—provided they jettison all morals and ethics . . .

PW went on to call the climax to The Compound "breathless." I don't see how it could be anything but, given how it begins:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

---T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot was wrong. My world ended with a bang the minute we entered the Compound and that silver door closed behind us.

The sound was brutal.


An echoing resounding boom that slashed my nine-year-old heart in two. My fists beat on the door. I bawled. The screaming had left me hoarse and my feet hurt.

Through my teary eyes, the bear and elk on my father’s shirt swam together. Beneath the chamois, Dad’s chest heaved. Most likely a result of the previous forty minutes. Finally, my gaze focused and went beyond him, searching. I gulped down a painful sob.

Had everyone made it?

Further down the corridor I saw my weeping mother, dressed in a burgundy robe, dark tendrils dangling from her once-careful braid. Mom clutched my six-year-old sister, Terese, a sobbing pig-tailed lump in pink flowered flannel. From one small hand drooped her beloved Winnie the Pooh.

Behind them stomped my eleven-year-old sister, Lexie, dark hair mussed, arms crossed over the front of her blue silk pajamas. Not being brother of the year material, I didn’t care if she made it or not.

But my grandmother wasn’t in sight.

“Where’s Gram?” I shouted.

Dad patted my head, hard and steady, like I was a dog. He spoke slowly, in the same tone he used to explain to the household help the exact amount of starch he required in his shirts. “Eli, listen to me. There wasn’t enough time. I waited as long as I could. It was imperative I get the rest of you to safety. We had to shut the door before it was too late.”

The door. Always, the door.

Another look. No sign of my twin brother. He was the person I needed the most. Where was he?

My pounding heart suggested I already knew the answer. “Eddy?” His name caught in my throat, stuck tight by the panic rising up from my belly.

Dad whirled around, his tone accusing. “I thought Eddy was with you.”

My head swung from side to side. Between sobs, the words barely eked out. “He went with Gram.”

Dad’s face clouded with indecision. Just for a moment. Had that moment lasted, it might have changed all of our futures. But Dad snapped back into control. “I still have one of you.” With just six words, my childhood ended, went away.

As did the rest of the world.

1. Stephanie was obviously locked in the closet once or twice as a kid. What did she do to deserve such punishment?

2. With what Hollywood actor would Stephanie most want to share six years in an underground bunker?

3. How did her characters in The Compound solve their dwindling food crisis?

Best set of answers wins a personalized copy of The Compound straight from Stephanie's shelf. Autographed books make great gifts.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Smokin' Roast for August

The corn is piled on roadside stands. The crickets sing all through the day. The dark and sweet aroma of hickory smoke is drifting over the countryside.

Crack open a beer, settle yourself in a lawn chair, and try not to drool waiting for your food. The books are a-cracklin'!

This month bring your paper plate and napkins for:

  • Monday, August 25: Stephanie Bodeen, The Compound - Set somewhere near the time of the apocalypse, the story tells of Eli and his family, who are forced to live in the compound his father has built for them.

  • Tuesday, August 26: Laurel Snyder, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains - Lucy sets off for the Scratchy Mountains to solve the mystery of her missing mother.

  • Wednesday, August 27: J.J. Salem, Tan Lines - Three young women on a wild Hamptons summer reinvent themselves.

  • Thursday, August 28: Susan McBride, The Debs - Four very different girls find themselves on a collision course of debutantes.

  • Friday, August 29: Brian Jay Jones, Washington Irving: An American Original - Follow Washington Irving through his childhood in a religious home in New York, his entry into law, the death of his fiancĂ©e, his years abroad and, of course, his writing career.

We'll be open for business 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Monday, August 25th. Make sure you get to the potato salad before Uncle Billy Bob gets his unpleasantries all over it.

Remember that our 24-hour business hours for the week means that as soon as one contest is done, we start cooking with another! No waiting!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reach Out and Read

August is a special month at Book Roast. We're teaming up with Reach Out and Read, a national non-profit organization that makes literacy promotion a standard part of pediatric care so that children grow up with books and a love of reading:

Reach Out and Read (ROR) trains doctors and nurses to advise parents about the importance of reading aloud and to give books to children at pediatric check-ups from six months to five years of age. A special focus is placed on children growing up in poverty. By building on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers, ROR helps families and communities cultivate early literacy skills so that children enter school prepared to succeed at reading.

To date, ROR doctors and nurses have distributed 5.4 million books to more than 3.3 million children and their families annually at more than 3,795 pediatric practices, hospitals, clinics and health centers throughout the country.

What will we see if programs like Reach Out and Read work? Not only will our children be curled up on the couch with a good book, they'll be writing books. We went out and posed the following question to kids of all ages: "If you could write a book, what would it be about?"

Here are the wonderful answers we received:

Tony, age 10: A book about sports. Two chapters on lacrosse, two chapters on soccer, and two chapters on football. It would be stories because you learn better by doing them, not by a book.

Sarah (age 14): A book about recovering from scoliosis.

Noreen (age 4): Barbie. A Barbie book with lots and lots of stickers.

Shamus (age 14): A soccer book.

Victor (age 9): I would write about skateboards. Skateboards are fun. You can go to the skatepark. They have ramps there. That's why it's fun to skateboard.

Virginia (age 7): I would write about my little puppy because she likes to play with me. She is a mutt. Mutts are one breed mixed with another breed or breeds.

Barbie (age 4): How to send her little sister back, cause she gets all the attention.

Dustin (age 8): How to play second base in baseball.

Kyle (age 3): The toy truck his dad got him.

Keri (age 14): How to put make-up on correctly.

Dani (age 3): She would write about herself.

Chris (age 12): A fantasy in which the main protagonist is a snake.

Steve (age 10): Probably about space.

Justin (age 8): I would call it "The Magic Pen" and it has two characters. They like to scare each other so so much and their favorite day is Halloween. They go to an old abandoned house and then meet an old ghost who gives them a treasure box this big. Inside there is a pen and when they write 'my dog can talk' their dog starts to talk. And that's when the adventure begins.

Jake (age 7): About Pokemon and Digimon and Yu Gi Oh, because kids like those.
Or about animals, so people know how to look after them and not hurt them.

Ashley (age 5): Me.

Madison (age 11): It would be a scary book about an evil dog who makes people believe that he's an innocent little dog, and the real pets try to tell the owners that he's evil, but they don't know until the end. At the end, they bring him to the vet and give him a pill that makes him go to sleep and then when he wakes up, he is a good puppy and they keep him.

Emily (age 9): It would be called Revenge. And it would be about these two twins Abbey and Allie who have the worst 4th grade teacher in the whole school. She gives really hard assignments, like a 24 page project due the next day. She sends people to the principal's office if their notes are sloppy. The twins notice that she's sending everyone down to the principal's office, so on the way to the principal's office they make a plan to seek revenge.

Eileen (age 6): I would write about my family cause why family is the most important thing in my world. (From the time she could talk, Eileen would always say "cause why" instead of because. She still does it.)

Brenda (age 8): Winter.

Tomas (age 12): Persons' view about their life and problems.

Syd (age 7): (Discussing the question with his parent) Syd: You just want one of my ideas so you can write it? Parent: No, my writing partner wants to know what kids would write about if they could. Syd: Oh. Okay then. Um. I would write about a girl named Lucy. No wait. Her name is Cindy. Not Sydney, but Cindy. Let me spell it for you. C - i - n - d - y. Get it Ciiiindy. Parent: Okay. What else? Syd: Yeah. Cindy. And she is very nice. And very smart. And very pretty. She's actually hot. Parent: That's great! What else? Syd: That's it.

I think my favorite answer is Ashley's!

Please consider making a donation to this worthy cause. It's easy. Stop over HERE to put your donation to work ensuring the vivid imagination of our new generation.

To learn more about Reach Out and Read, visit

Say, what was your favorite book as a child? Have you shared it yet with a child in your life? I and the other Roasters will reveal our all time favorites in comments.

(P.S. The next round of Book Roasts begins Monday morning at 6:00 a.m., U.S. eastern time. We've loaded up on those little paper umbrellas for the tropical drinks!)