Fiction

Review: Of a Feather by Scott Weidensaul


As promised, here’s my review of Book 4 of 52, Scott Weidensaul’s Of a Feather. This review ran in Sunday’s St. Petersburg Times — St. Petersburg as in St. Petersburg Florida, NOT St. Petersburg Russia.

I went to college at the University of Tampa, so even though I live in NJ, and have lived here most of my life, it’s not that odd for me to be reviewing at the St. Pete Times!

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Book 7 of 52: Smart Girls Like Me by Diane Vadino

Smart Girls Like Me by Diane Vadino is the perfect example of a book that I judged by it’s cover. It’s pink, and the cover image, as you can see, is of a rack of clothes. Even the jacket copy wasn’t too promising — 24-year old who works at a fashion magazine afraid of 1999 turning to 2000. Boy trouble. Wedding trouble. Drugs, sex and rock and roll.

Yawn. If it looks like chick lit and talks like chick lit, it’s chick lit, right? I am not a fan of the genre. I have no patience for Jennifer Weiner, or her commentary on the subject (which I liken to a Catholic priest defending the church while molesting the alter boy). I gravitate toward non-fiction, but if I’m in the mood for a good story, I seek out books by young women for young women that reflect what our lives are actually like, not some technicolor mock up filled with martinis and shoes we can’t afford, and, if we could, shouldn’t buy because there are plenty of other places to put $500.

So Smart Girls Like Me stayed on my shelf until I got an email from Vadino. […]

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Interview: Caroline Leavitt

Click on over to Down the Shore With Jen to check out my interview with Caroline Leavitt, author of eight novels, including Girls in Trouble and Coming Back to Me. She’s an Ocean City gal — not a bad kind of gal to be!

You can also check out Caroline’s blog at carolineleavittville.blogspot.com.

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Review: Brainiac by Ken Jennings

It’s been a while since I reviewed Brainiac . So why am I highlighting it again right now? Because the paperback just came out, and my review from The Philadelphia Inquirer is blurbed on the back of the book!

This is the first time (that I know of) that this has happened with one of my reviews, and it couldn’t have happened with a better book. It was, hands down, my favorite book of 2006. Yes, it’s by the guy who won all those Jeopardy! games. But it’s also a history of trivia in America, and it’s hysterical.

The blurb’s not that long, but long enough that, when I saw it Monday night, I did a little dance in Barnes & Noble. Here’s what I said: “Keen characterization, pithy commentary, and pop-culture associations . . . make Brainiac a sharp and witty read.”

And I don’t care what kind of look that guy in the other aisle gave me. It was a good little dance.

Read more about Brainiac at www.ken-jennings.com.

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Book 6 of 52: The First Campaign by Garrett M. Graff

Book 6 is a political title: The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House.

I will be the first to admit that while, yes, I do have an interest in politics (I think anyone who votes should educate themselves about it, and everyone who can should vote — good cycle, right?), I get most of my information from the news, whether that be from TV, newspapers or the internet. But pick up something book length? Not likely.

So how did this book end up as part of my project? Simple: I know Garrett.

Before Garrett ever put pen to paper for this book, he helmed FishbowlDC, one of Mediabistro‘s city blogs. I was new to freelancing then and educating myself about the business by poking around content on the site. From the day FishbowlDC launched, I was hooked. I liked Garrett’s informal yet informative style, and his knowledge of what seemed to be everything going on in the media world down there. I was also writing for DC STYLE magazine and, being located in New Jersey, relied on his updates to see how the magazine was being received by media folks in […]

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Review: Backyard Giants by by Susan Warren

I wrote a review for today’s St. Pete Times. Normally, I would post about that here, but the book is so bad that I would not recommend it to anyone (if you’re curious, that review is here).

So, instead, I’m going to refer you to a fantastic book I reviewed for the Philadelphia City Paper: Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Susan Warren. That review is here (fourth item).

I like reading non-fiction books about strange topics, and this is example of the perfect book for me. It’s fascinating, from how people grow 1500 pound pumpkins, and, even more so, why. I’m not really a garden person, but the people who take on this quest every year were ripe for a character study as Warren writes, so it’ll be interesting to anyone who is interested in people and the odd things they do. My interest in quirky non-fiction books is the same reason why I consider Ken Jenning’s Brainiac my top book of 2006 — yes, it’s about trivia, but it’s also about the people who care so much about it. […]

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Book Video: Extreme Pumpkins by Tom Nardone

In honor of Halloween, check out this video, which goes with Tom Nardone’s Extreme Pumpkins:

Happy Halloween!

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Interview: Eric Nuzum, author of The Dead Travel Fast

Over on my other blog, downtheshorewithjen.blogspot.com, I interviewed Eric Nuzum, author of The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula. I run a regular feature over there called “Down the Shore with…” where I ask people with ties to the South Jersey shore what they love about the area, and here’s a direct link to my Q&A with Eric.

Why the South Jersey Shore? Check out my author profile — that’s what my book is about! That’ll be coming out on May 5, 2008 — as soon as a pre-order link is available, I’ll post it here.

Whenever that Q&A over at “Down the Shore with…” is with an author, I’ll post a link here, too. I write about authors and books quite a bit, so if any of those articles are linkable, I’ll give you guys a heads up. For example, if you’d like to read my article about Eric from the October issue of Washingtonian, click here.

Read more about The Dead Travel Fast here.

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Book 5 of 52: Wired by Liz Maverick


Surprised, right? Me, too. Romance novels aren’t exactly my thing.

Not that you could really call Wired a romance novel. Yes, there is a sex scene, and a battle for love, and a mention of six pack abs. It’s not exactly an adventure or sci fi novel, either. It’s a merge of all three — and I don’t read any of these genres. So how did I choose Wired? Because of Book Expo America.

For the last two years, I’ve gone to Book Expo America on assignment for Poets & Writers magazine. It’s hard to describe what BEA is because it can be a lot of things for a lot of people. For me, it’s a long, exhausting pair of days where I try to take in what just about every publisher in America — and beyond — is saying will be the next greatest thing, and it’s my chance to get a jump on what will be coming out over the next six months. I mine for story ideas, shake hands, kiss babies — well, maybe I don’t kiss babies, but I do try to pass out as many business cards as I can, and […]

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Book 4 of 52: Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul


I’ve been asked why I review what I review. In 2007, I’ve offered my opinions on books about giant pumpkins, rats, smokers, and a cancer patient addicted to the Price is Right. Sometimes the books are assigned, but, more often than not, I pick what I review. I’ve been drawn in by an interesting cover and a great pitch letter, but the usual reason I’ll pick something is because a book crosses wires with something else going on in my life.

Such is the case with Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. This time last year, I had zero interest in birding. Like Weidensaul thought as a teenager, my idea of a birder was more along the lines of that woman on Old Maid cards than someone like, well, me.

But then I started writing a book about the South Jersey shore, and I learned, among other things, that Cape May is a birders haven. Weidensaul writes that “Cape May…may be the single best place in North American — perhaps the world — for birding.”

Well, damned if I didn’t write a bucket of pages […]

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