April 26, 2011

New Fresh Meat at H&H: Anna Campbell's Midnight's Wild Passion

My newest Fresh Meat for Heroes and Heartbreakers just went online. In it I talk about Anna Campbell's new historical romance, Midnight's Wild Passion. Please drop by and check it out, then post a comment over there. As for me, I'm settling into my newest book, with an idea (with a little help from Megan) on my next article...


A Big Smile

In a couple of recent bloggings for for Heroes and Heartbreakers, I wrote about what is perhaps my most unique skill: the ability to match books with people. Previous to my two-year stint as a B&N bookseller, I never knew I had this savant-like skill, and it's what I miss most about working there.

Last month Lewis and Alice, two of my most favorite relatives, spent a couple of days with me while they were passing through town. Lewis, recently retired, wanted mostly to relax and read, so I lent him a book I thought he'd like...and he did. So I gave him another, this time knowing he'd be leaving my house with it, which should tell you how very much I like him, because I never give books to people knowing I won't get them back.

Later he emailed to say how much he'd enjoyed that second book, so I started thinking about additional recommendations. Not long thereafter we sat next to each other at one of the meals during the recent Benjamin family reunion. After talking about spirituality and nature, I wrote down a few titles I thought he'd enjoy. Lewis is a long-time fly fisherman and quite comfortable expressing his emotions—which no doubt accounts for the love so many of his patients expressed for him when he was their pediatrician—so one of the recommendations was for Mary Alice Monroe's Time is a River.

This morning he sent a most heartfelt thank you, written five minutes after finishing the book. It put a huge smile on my face and helped erased the worry I've felt since Rachael called a couple of days ago from the vending machine room in her dorm while the sirens blared in Conway. Conway, you see, is little more than a hop, skip, and a jump away from the town destroyed in Monday evening's tornado.

I've already added three more Mary Alice Monroe books to his short list: Sweetgrass, The Beach House, and Swimming Lessons. I hope he'll love them too.


April 25, 2011

New at H&H: Fresh Meat: Rachel Gibson's Any Man of Mine

Fresh Meat: Rachel Gibson's Any Man of Mine

Wow, what a week! In the last seven days I've read and written about four books: one was literary fiction, another Steampunk, a third contemporary romance, and the fourth a European Historical romance. I have a reprieve for a few days as my next PW review isn't due until Monday of next week. I've got so many books that I'm dying to get to just for the fun of it that I don't know quite where to begin. Whatever I choose will wait until tomorrow as I need a break for the rest of today.

The online result of a portion of that reading and writing just started, with my new blogging at Heroes and Heartbreakers. Drop by and give it a read, then post a comment over there.

Look for another "Fresh Meat" from me, perhaps as early as tomorrow. I'll let you know.


April 13, 2011

New "You Are What You Like to Read" at H&H

You Are What You Like to Read: A Book-Selling Savant’s Recs, Pt. 2

Yesterday at Heroes and Heartbreakers, part one of Recommendations from a Book-Selling Savant went online. Just a few minutes ago part two was posted. Drop by and check it out, and if you can, post a comment. As for me, it's now day three of Whatever It Is That Ails Me.


April 12, 2011

All About the Benjamins

My husband and I flew to Rhode Island Friday to be a part of the 110th anniversary of the founding of the United Brothers Synagogue in Bristol. Anyone who knows me realizes I'm a fairly secular person, so why would I fly to New England to celebrate the 110th anniversary of a once-orthodox synagogue? Actually, it's quite a story...

In the late 1800s, in what is now Latvia, a man named Joseph Benjamin was married to a woman named Etta. They had three surviving children when Etta died, and according to local Jewish tradition, although Joseph was 20 years older than Etta's younger sister Emma, Joseph married Emma. They had four children—the eldest of whom was Jacob—before moving to America and settling in Bristol, Rhode Island, where they had many, many, many more children. It seems Joseph was particularly fruitful.

Joseph, along with several other Jewish immigrants, founded an organization to maintain their Jewish identities and perform good works in their community. In 1900, they consecrated the United Brothers Synagogue. By 1905, btw, there were 36 Jews in Bristol.

When Joseph died, there was a schism between Etta's children and Emma and her children, and while most settled in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York, the ill will spread like a disease so that two generations later, few of the cousins of the original descendants knew of each other.

Jacob moved to New York and married Dora; they had two children, Emma and Martel. Later they moved to Texas where Jacob became what I imagine was quite the rarity: a Jewish wildcatter. When that didn't work out, they moved to Austin and started a cafe in a building that eventually became the University of Texas' bookstore. Eventually Jacob and Dora moved back to New York. I don't know when he died, but she passed away in 1979.

Marty married Rhoda and had two daughters, Carole and Sharon. They settled in New York. Emily stayed in Texas and married Sammy. They had four sons: Lewis, Paul, Harold, and Jack.

Harold is my husband, and until about a year ago, he had never heard of most of his family, let alone met them. But over time, a few of the cousins had independently begun to research the family tree, including Paula Reynolds, a most amazing woman whose work on tracing the family tree back in time has been phenomenal. My s-i-l Alice (married to Lewis) got involved early last year and last July there was a family reunion that we unfortunately could not attend as we were scheduled to be on a cruise ship to Mexico at the same time.

Meanwhile, a member of the United Brothers Synagogue, a PhD (who sat in on Bill Cosby's orals, from what I gather!), who had started doing family trees a decade earlier, decided to find the descendants of the synagogue's founders for the big anniversary celebration. When she and Paula found each other, they were able to locate the final missing pieces of this large family puzzle, so that 31 Benjamin descendants took part in this weekend's festivities.

Friday evening we attended a Shabbat service at the synagogue, led by the lay leader. The synagogue reminded me of what I imagine an old European or Russian shtiebel looked like. It's a small, unprepossessing building on the outside, but on the inside one immediately feels a strong sense of family and community. That sense of community extends beyond the building; local churches donated the pews and one of their reverends taught the synagogue's first group of children Hebrew.

The difference then and now is that rather than separating the women from the men, as the Orthodox do, this congregation had decided some time ago to become Re-constructionist (I'm still working on a definition for that, but I think it's becoming somewhat of a replacement for Reform Judaism as Reform Judaism moves to the right). The founders were forward-thinking: The by-laws allow a majority of congregants to choose their own sect. By the time we arrived Friday night, the place was packed, so we sat up top, where the women would have sat back in the day. Having that bird's eye view somehow made it all the more special. Not as special, though, as actually meeting some of the Benjamin relatives and hearing stories about the olden days.

Saturday morning we returned to the synagogue to look at old documents and photos, and to take part in an official get-together of the founders' descendants. One of the second generation Benjamin cousins had put together a book with photos and a narrative. Both fascinated me, particularly the photographs, because two of the men depicted—they would have been my husband's great-uncles—looked exactly like him. Some powerful genetics are at work in the Benjamin family!

After milling around and looking at the history, a videographer set up and some of those in attendance began to share stories. The first was Alfred, who would be Emily's first cousin, and the "patriarch" of the Benjamin family. He's 87 and sharp as a tack. A number of Benjamin descendants spoke, but we also heard heart-breaking and heart-warming stories from descendants of other founders, including a 35-year-old woman who never knew any of her extended family until she spoke up. It was but one of many Kleenex moments. Then three siblings spoke: their ancestors had died in 1910 and 1913, leaving young orphaned children behind. As a result, most family connections were lost.

What most people don't realize is that it's far easier to do a family tree if you're from Western European stock. Eastern Europeans present a problem for a variety of reasons, including name changes at Ellis Island. Apparently what's helping today are genealogy centers created by the Church of LDS. When I attempted to do a basic family tree a decade earlier, I could get no further than my mother's parents on her mother's side. She has no knowledge about any relatives on her father's side, other than "a cousin with pretty hair who used to visit once a week" when she was a young girl. The Benjamin family can now trace its roots to the 17th century.

As if discovering all these family members weren't enough, the icing on the cake is the kindness and generosity of the entire Benjamin clan. I wished oh-so-much that Harold's mother Emily had been able to make the trip, but beyond spending time with Lewis and Alice and Paul and Susie, my husband and I each quickly developed relationships with other family members. We're both in the process of Facebook friending, and after one of my new second cousins-in-law (I think) linked to my twitter feed, he proudly showed me his daughter's feed; she's a sportswriter at the Boston Globe. As the credentialed lexophile, I've even been given the task of setting up a sort of Benjamin book club. I can't wait.

Our weekend ended with a trip to a Jewish cemetery in Providence where Harold's grandparents are buried. It was there that we said goodbye to Lewis and Alice, and when we spoke on the phone with our daughter Rachel last night, we couldn't wait to begin sharing stories. Already we're thinking about another trip to New England where Rachel can meet the Benjamins.

It's possible I've presented some of this information inaccurately or incompletely. If any corrections are necessary, I'll make them.


New "You Are What You Like to Read" at H&H

You Are What You Like to Read: A Book-Selling Savant’s Recs, Pt. 1

My newest blogging at Heroes and Heartbreakers just went online. It's the first of two pieces (I think the second goes online tomorrow) detailing my recommendations and sales pitches as a bookseller for two years. I've written about many of them here, but it's nice to have it all in one (or two) handy-dandy, print-outable articles. Drop by for a read today (hopefully you'll like it enough to come back for part two), then post a comment over there.

FYI, currently I'm working on a third "savant" piece, featuring my "straight" romance recommendations.


April 7, 2011

A Table...at Last!

We're heading out to Rhode Island tomorrow for a weekend-long family extravaganza. Because I knew this was coming, I planned for it, time-wise:

  • I turned in my review to PW Editor B, due today, last Friday (in addition to my other PW review last week, for PW Editor A).
  • I turned in my review of PW Editor A, due Monday, on Monday as planned, and started to read the book for the PW review due this upcoming Monday, also to PW Editor A, so that I would not need to worry about it this weekend, or face a last-minute review Monday morning before eleven.

Alas, my best laid plans were to write the review this afternoon, leaving me enough time for mani-pedi, trip to tailor to pick up hemmed trousers and slight damage repaired to a sweater/jacket I found on deep discount earlier in the week. It's 4:30 in the afternoon now, and I'm just home after a last-minute three-hour adventure. It'll be a late night tonight, but since I don't sleep the night before we fly anymore, I'll be up anyway.

As for that three-hour adventure, here's the story: World Market's online circular arrived in this morning's email, indicating a huge sale on dining room furniture. We've lived in our house for 22 or so years, and don't have a real dining room table and chairs. We always end up renting when we entertain, but the thought of possibly getting a terrific deal on something appealed to me so much that I went through the circular and sent my husband photos of four possible options that were approximately half off—at least—prices we'd seen in the design district.

Next I drove to the nearest World Market. Two of the four options looked better in the photos than in person, and of the other two, which were quite nice to look at and featured clean lines, only one had chairs I found both comfortable and appealing, and were made from a wood and in a finish I liked. Had we been working with the decorator we occasionally use, he might have steered us away from buying eight side chairs rather than buying six and finding two other arm chairs, but I made an executive decision: time to finally take the plunge.

To get the best price, I needed to buy the six-piece set (four chairs, extendable table, and bench), then add four more chairs—two as swap outs for the bench. We don't yet know where, or if, we'll even use the bench, but because of the sale, the store would not swap out the bench for two chairs so that we'd need to only buy two more to end up with eight.

Unfortunately, the sole table at the store was damaged, and after they spent a figurative eternity phoning around, they finally located the one table in all of Dallas county at a store about a half hour away. The other store, which had the table but no chairs or bench, put the table on hold for me, and I paid for all the seating while the managers arranged so that when I paid for the table at the other location, they'd refund the difference to give me the lowest price. We had to eat a second delivery charge, but I went on my merry way to the other store. Because of the high finance involved, it took three employees at each of the two stores to make the transaction work, and I've got my fingers crossed that on Monday the actual two deliveries will be correct...not to mention Amex requiring me to call in to unfreeze my card due to all the strange activity.

I'm quite happy with what I picked out, and happily anticipate a dining room furnished with a dining room table and chairs rather than the small conference table and Windsor chairs that moved with us from our first house back in the day. It would be wonderful to finally replace the china cabinet we inherited with our first house, but hopefully it won't take another 22 years to find one now that we have a style with which to work.