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Showing posts from 2008

Best Books of 2008

Since I'm still working on book 9 of 52 (the holidays were busy, plus I slipped on ice and fell on my tailbone so it was much easier to lie on my stomach and watch movies than sit and read!), here's my second annual post of top books of the year. Keep in mind that I don't always read the "important" new titles, most likely because I'd never get to review those back when I was regularily reviewing books, but also because, well, I like to read what I want to read, not what people tell me I should read. So here goes. Best Non-Fiction: Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer by Tim Stark. You know a good book when you give it as a gift, and a few people are getting this one for Christmas this year. This book was also the cap of my last 52 books in 52 weeks series ( you can read the review here ). Why my top non-fiction pick? Because of the beauty in how Stark wrote about what had been (and I can imagine) still is a frustrating yet rewarding profession.

A Family Book Find

I've been sick since Sunday. First I had a cold in my ears, nose and throat (mostly my nose). Then everything migrated south so now I have some sort of thing going on in my lungs. I'm miserable. It makes my dog miserable. So where do I go? Mom's of course. I bring a few things with me to mom's -- my dog (of course), laundry (since I STILL haven't gotten a new washer...I know, I know...but my computer's dying and that comes first), and reading material. I had visions of sitting by the fire reading a book with Emily on my lap, or at least watching Law & Order . Unfortunately, the book I brought made me gag after three pages (sorry, Julie Andrews and dad, who gave me the book), and I'd already read through this week's New Yorker , so I went through the book collection in the family room looking for something. My mom's not as big a reader as I am (then again, most people aren't), and the book collection downstairs is an odd mix of Danielle St

Book 8 of 52: A Dog Named Christmas by Greg Kincaid

A Dog Named Christmas is a short, sweet almost parable about -- you guessed it -- a dog named Christmas. Well, it's more about a farmer named George, a Vietnam vet who has loved dogs but was so hurt by losing them that he refused to keep a dog anymore. It's George's developmentally challenged son, Todd, who convinces George to give a dog a home for the holidays through the local shelter's "adopt a dog for Christmas" program. A big black lab who's a bit of a wandered wanders into the shelter and then into George's home. Todd names him Christmas since he's a Christmas dog -- and supposed to just stay for the season. This being a sweet story, you can guess what happens -- not that it's necessarily a bad thing. We all need a bit of sweet in our lives. It's a book that has "stocking stuffer" written all over it, especially for folks who have adopted dogs. And, no, I'm not going to compare it to Marley & Me because that wou

Article: Pictures and words, beautiful together

Did I ever tell you how much I love coffee table books? Well, I love coffee table books. They're so big and beautiful, and the best of them are engrossing reads. John Loring , Tiffany's design director, has put out some amazing books that I don't think enough people actually read (as opposed to look at the pictures). They're fantastic. I wrote an article that appears in today's Philadelphia Inquirer about coffee table books for the holidays . So if you're still looking for that last minute gift, give it a look. This is also an example for you freelancers out there of how you can re-use the same idea again. I wrote an article about coffee table books for SJ Magazine I think four years ago. The angle was completely different (e.g. why they're popular vs. choices), but when I thought about holiday stories to pitch, this idea came back to mind.

Book 7 of 52: Godchildren by Nicholas Coleridge

Nicholas Coleridge's Godchildren was meant to be book 5 and then book 6 of this series, but Nora Roberts and an assignment got in the middle. In a way, that was a good thing because of the structure of this long long novel. Goldchildren starts at the end of the story. In the year 2000, tycoon Marcus Brand is about to go into bankruptcy, something he finds out while on holiday with his six godchildren. The prologue gives a bit of information about each of the godchildren, but of course the reader has no idea what's going on. Then the narrative jumps back to 1966 when the godchildren are all eight years old and summoned to their first group holiday with Marcus Brand, and the novel brings them back to that prologue scene. Godchildren is quite a book, and not just because it's 551 pages long. It's an epic that follows so many people on an increasingly twisting (and sickening) path that it's hard to keep everyone's plot lines straight. Plus, some of the charact

We Can't Let This Bank Fail

I'm part of a state-wide blogger project to get the word out about the dire situation New Jersey food banks are in. I know times are tough, but anything we can do to help matters. To see what other folks are writing, and all the great people participating in this effort to get the word out, click here . I hope to get to the next review soon -- I'm deep into one of those novels that keeps you glued to the couch for hours on end. Should be a good one.

Book 6 of 52: Fine, I'll Go Online! The Hollywood Publicist's Guide to Successful Internet Dating

Remember in my last post when I said I'd read two books at once sometimes because of an assignment? This is one of those times. I'm writing an article about online dating and interviewed Leslie Oren, author of Fine, I'll Go Online!: The Hollywood Publicist's Guide to Successful Internet Dating , for the piece. I admit that I hadn't read the book when I wrote her questions -- I didn't even think about interviewing an author, but as I looked over my notes, I saw something was missing. I'd been sent Oren's book about a year ago (the attached press release is dated November 1, 2007), and in every book purge I've done, it survived because I thought she'd make a good source at some point. Yahtzee. So while waiting to do interviews today or avoiding the two annoying stories I had on my schedule, I'd read a bit here, and a bit there. And after planting my butt in my reading chair for the last hour, I'm finished book 6 of 52. I've said it b

Book 5 of 52: The Pagan Stone

Lawrence Meegan of the Ocean County Library recently asked me if I read more than one book at the same time. The answer, 99 percent of the time, is no. I like to finish whatever book I'm working on. The one percent of the time is usually when I'm given an assignment and must read something else, though most of the time I'll just finish what I'm working on and then go to the next book. That hasn't been the case with book 5 of 52. I started in on three books before I picked one, and then I stopped reading it when I found The Pagan Stone: The Sign of Seven Trilogy in Walgreens. Why Nora now? Simple: Escape. Monday was a bad day. The weekend had been fun (I ate a lot and ran a decent 5k), but the painting of my dining room had taken two wrong turns (wrong type of paint on the ceiling, then the wrong color on the walls), so my dining room was still in my living room. On Monday, I felt sick, whether from a stomach bug or paint fumes, I don't know. Plus, I'd

Book 4 of 52: Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports

I've been meaning to read Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports by Michael Sokolove for a long time. When I first saw that the book was excerpted in The New York Times Magazine my heart plummeted, which you'll understand in a minute. The book takes a look at the horribly high incidence of ACL injuries in female athletes -- they experience this injury eight times more than men. He asks the tough question of why do women get hurt more than men? It's not an easy issue to tackle. Sokolove makes it clear that he believes in the benefits of Title IX but that women need to be looked at as different athletes, not just smaller, lighter men. His theory that overspecialization too early makes sense. Instead of playing a different sport a season, girls are playing the same sport all the time. They aren't cross training, and their bodies start to break down. He takes a peek into the world that is highly competitive youth female

Recommendation: Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform

Those of you who followed my last book a week series might remember my post about Emily , my dog, that had to do with one of the books in the series. My gal turns seven on November 30, and I wrote up a post about her on my other blog . If you're an animal lover -- especially a rescue animal lover -- you might want to check out the new book Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform by Karin Winegar. I'm not including it as part of this series, but it is a fine piece about how saving animals can save yourself. If you know anyone who's thinking about getting a new pet and waffling on the shelter issue, give them this book. It could change their minds. Here's Emily's shelter picture: It was taken three years ago back when she was too scared in the shelter to eat. Can you imagine that someone hit this dog? So very sad. So very glad I found her.

Book 3 of 52: The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference

I read The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference (Pub date Dec. 2) by Jodi Helmer because I interviewed her about "green" holidays and one very green lady for an article I'm writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer . I started flipping through the book about a half hour before the interview, and finished it later that night. It's an easy read, which is a good thing for this kind of book. I write quite a bit about green topics, and I run into a lot of people who think that it would cost way too much money and time to switch over to a green lifestyle. That's why Jodi's book is a perfect way to get into a greener life, or give your own green ways a tune up. It's 365 ways to be more planet friendly and, yes, you can do just about every one in one day. That's also why it was a quick read -- it's one item per page, and they don't walways fill the page. Now, when I started in, I figured I was a green smarty pants and had al

Book 2 of 52: Lost in the Museum: Buried Treasure and the Stories they Tell

I was sent Lost in the Museum: Buried Treasures and the Stories They Tell by Nancy Moses back when I was working on a piece about holiday coffee table books for the Philadelphia Inquirer . Even though it's not a coffee table book, I held onto it anyway because I thought it might be interesting. And interesting it was. Moses, the former executive director of the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia , looks at museum "stuff" -- and not just any stuff. She told the stories behind nine items that are kept in the vast vaults of American museums but rarely seen by the public. And since a majority of the items are Philadelphia connected, I knew at least of the museums if I hadn't visited them, and could add them to my "to do" list as I have with the Physick House . It might seem strange that museums wouldn't display all of their objects, but who has the space. The Philadelphia Museum of Art opened a new building and still doesn't have enough space to show

Book 1 of 52: Don't Stop Believin': How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life

Confession: I have never done karaoke. Never. I've had opportunities, sure. It's not like I've been to a karaoke bar. The closest I've come to participating was on a trip to Atlantic City two years ago when I said that I might be interested in karaoke-ing at Planet Rose with another writer, and then I bailed to go to bed early. At a round of Terry-Oke (karaoke that's run at the Jersey Shore by Terry O'Brien), I didn't sing but was reportedly the first person to ever get up and dance. The song was "That Thing you Do." How could I not? It's a great song, but I didn't want to sing it. I don't think I'm a terrible singer, either. I had vocal parts in two high school musicals (no, not THAT High School Musical , but Grease (1997) and Bye Bye Birdie (1996) as performed by Haddonfield Memorial High School). I don't karaoke because I have little to no desire to get up in front of an audience and sing because of a mortal fear that I

The Beginning, Part 2

Here we are. Again. Like when I started this blog on October 2007 , I'm taking on another "52 books in 52 weeks" project because of a break up. I won't go into details except to say this: the story of the relationship's demise could be told three ways -- his version, my version, and what really happened. So it's time to get on with it. How? Step 1: Remove all pictures and mementos. This also includes unfriending each other on facebook and unfriending his friends who added me while we were in the relationship. Step 2: Eat an awfully unhealthy meal -- for two reasons. First, nothing comforts a broken heart like cheese that comes in powder form (sorry, Michael Pollan ). Second, I lose my appetite in such situations, so a high caloric meal to kick things off at least puts some fuel in my body. Step 3: Reclaim space. This meant reconfiguring the elements of what had been his temporary office in my spare room. I now have a the library I'd always planned for

Reboot

Hello to anyone still reading this blog! It's been a very very long time since I finished my 52 Books in 52 Weeks project. Well, guess what? It's starting all over again. The reason? Same one for starting the series the first time around . So check back soon for another 52 selections from the wonderful library and mind of Jen A. Miller!

Help a Writer in Need

I know it's been a long time since I wrote on this blog, but I wanted to come back 'live' to post about a writer who really needs our help. Lori Hall Steele is a freelance writer. She has had a long and flourishing career -- in fact, you can read one of her essays published in the Washington Post by clicking here . Read that essay first, then continue on. In September 2007, Lori lost the ability to move her feet. The paralysis then spread to her arms and legs, and she was eventually confined to a wheelchair. Then she could no longer move her hands, which meant that she could no longer work. Freelancing is how she supported herself and her seven-year-old son, Jackson. You can guess that the story does not improve from here. She's now confined to a hospital bed and depends on a Bi-Pap breathing machine, and doctors surmise that the cause is ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Her medical bills -- which the insurance company says are not their responsibility -- are alread

About those question marks...

Hey! I'm alive! I promise ;-) Been very busy promoting my book as of late. I've decided for sure that I won't continue this blog series through what would have been the end of the year, but I have some good news: I just got an assignment from a major magazine in part based on this blog series. The editor says that she thought of me because of my handle on the publishing world, as shown by this blog. VERY EXCITING! I'm also happy to share the books that were the three question marks on this series: I wrote about them for MORE magazine, which is why I couldn't write about them here. Click here for the reviews. And for fun, if you ever wondered what I was like live and in person...

Back in the Swing of Things

I know I haven't posted in a while, but that probably has something to do with the fact that I hadn't read a book since the end of the 52 books in 52 weeks series. Yes, I said "hadn't." I finished a book, two books actually. I started reading one and got sidetracked by the other -- and finished them both within a day of each other. Are they significant choices? Maybe. The first I finished was Nora Robert's The Hollow , the follow up to book 21 of 52 . I picked it up while food shopping at the Jersey shore. I'd brought half a dozen books with me, hoping to jarr my reading mind back open while spending six days away from home. But when I saw that book in the supermarket isle, I couldn't say no. It was an easy (and sometimes silly) way to get back into things. The second is Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto . My food education is progressing since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals , boo

In the Philadelphia Inquirer

Two articles of note in today's Philadelphia Inquirer : My write up of the Philadelphia Library Book Festival. My suggestions for summer beach reads. Ths books were numbers 45 of 52 , 49 of 52 , 35 of 52 , 50 of 52 , and one not included on this list I'm off to Cape May today for my father's wedding. I'm packing two books. I hope to get some quality reading time in before the ceremony today. We'll see! Remember, if you'd like to reviews in order from 1 to 52 in a word document, just email me at jenmiller27 [at] gmail [dot] com!

Someone's Been Reading my Blog...

...because this showed up in the mail today: I can't even tell you how excited I am about this bag. I must take it down the shore with me this weekend. Click here to read what the fuss is all about. Still haven't read anything since I ended the series. I don't know if it's book overdose or making a major push for my shore book -- probably a little bit of both! Remember, if you'd like to reviews in order from 1 to 52 in a word document, just email me at jenmiller27 [at] gmail [dot] com!

What I've Been Doing

Thanks to everyone who commented and emailed me about ending the blog series. It's nice to know that people enjoyed it. As someone said to me, "You should either write something worth reading or do something worth reading about," and your support makes me think that I managed to do that. So what have I been doing since finishing the 52nd book? A lot, actually. I haven't read a book! I tried -- even dipped into a few -- but they couldn't keep my attention. I don't think it's because of the material, but because I need a break. What I have done is sorted through all the magazines I didn't get to because I had my nose burried in a book. I forgot how much I enjoy reading magazines (and not stuff like Cosmo and Maxim -- I'm talking Portfolio , Metropolitan Home and National Geographic Traveler ), and how many ideas for articles I get from reading magazines. I've also been planning my book launch party , and finishing up a lot of work that I ne

Giving it All Away

I went through the blog today and put the reviews in order -- 1 to 52 -- in a word document. If anyone wants it, drop me a line at jenmiller27 [at] gmail [dot] com. Why give it away for free? Because it's already free online :-) But I realize that some people might want to be able to read it all in order without the clicking, or print it out and carry it with them.