Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Exclusive movie screening "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"

Charlotte Weekly and Ballantyne Village Theatre will host a special advanced screening of Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei. The movie is garnering great Oscar buzz and our screening will be held Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7:15 p.m. at Ballantyne Village Theatre in Charlotte.

Seating is limited and you must R.S.V.P. to attend. Please e-mail your tiquet requests as soon as possible to Sean O'Connell at, Be sure to include the film's title in the subject line, and the number of people who will be attending the screeing in the body of your e-mail.
The screening will be a first-come, first-served affair, and all winners will be notified by e-mail.

Hope to see you there!

Check out the "Atonement" trailer

The movie is already garnering Oscar buzz as a potential Best Picture nomination. Check back here to find out the date and location for an exclusive showing of the movie.

CW Book Club Pick for Holiday season 2007: Atonement by Ian McKewan

This month, we're reading "Atonement" by Ian McKewan.

We're working on securing a date. Most likely it will be in early December. We're also working on securing a date for an exclusive movie preview. But in the meantime, I know a lot of readers are eager to start reading our pick.

Ian McEwan's symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment's flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia ' s childhood friend. But Briony's incomplete grasp of adult motives - together with her precocious literary gifts - brings about a crime that will change all their lives.

As it follows that crime' s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Charlotte book events for November

With tons of great events this month, it's hard to choose which ones to go to. Circle your calendars and try to make as many as you can!

At Joseph-Beth Booksellers, SouthPark, 4345 Barclay Downs Dr., (704) 602-9800

Thursday, November 8 at 6:00 P.M
International Bestselling AuthorPATRICIA SCHULTZ discusses and signs 1,000 Places to See in the USA & Canada Before You Die . Join us for the latest installment of this very popular book. Mann Travel will be here to present brochures and information. We will also have Sharon Luggage here to give us some packing demonstrations. Join us for a wonderful time that will make you want to catch the next plane to...well, you will just have to wait and see the destinations that are covered. The demos begin at 6pm and Patricia Schultz will join us at 7pm.

Wednesday, November 14 at 11:30 a.m.
Discusses and signs Soby’s New South Cuisine Cookbook
Rodney Freidank is a transplanted New Yorker whose first job, at age 16, was at a Long Island delicatessen. He later headed south to help out at a family-owned restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina. Then he moved to Greenville to take a job at The 858 Restaurant, where he displayed his talent for bold flavors and his insistence on topnotch ingredients. He worked at the highly rated Occasionally Blues before signing on as chef de cuisine at Soby's. Check out this great cookbook highlighting Soby’s talented chefs.

Saturday, November 17 at 1:00 P.M.
Charlotte AuthorCURTIS CHISHOLM signs Balloons Filled with Water Balloons
Filled With Water is a reflective and engaging poetry collection which captures the pleasant and unpleasant experiences of life. The collection is made even more inviting as the author effectively blends information and imagination that make the work accessible for the novice and entertaining for the more seasoned poetry reader.

Tuesday, November 20 at 7:00 P.M.
Charlotte Writer’s Club host Novello Press Winner MIRIAM HERIN discusses and signs Absolution
Absolution is the story of Maggie Delaney, an idealistic wife and mother whose world implodes when her husband is murdered in a seemingly random act. When Maggie attempts to find out what really happened, her search leads her back to her Carolina roots and through the streets of modern-day Boston. In the jungles of Southeast Asia, she uncovers a legacy of secrets about the man she thought she knew – and the troubled world they shared as they came of age together.

Thursday, November 29 at 7:00 P.M.
North Carolina AuthorNANCY SMITH THOMAS discusses and signs Moravian Christmas in the South
This inviting book explores the Christmas celebrations of the Moravian Church in the South, whose members were marking the holiday as early as the 1780s in ways recognizable to modern Americans. This abundantly illustrated volume explores the many facets of traditional Moravian Christmas celebrations, including decorations, food and beverages, gifts, services, and music. Thomas discusses how these traditions evolved over time, within and outside the Moravian communities, as well as how certain non-Moravian Christmas traditions were incorporated into the Moravian customs.
For more information, visit

At Park Road Books, 4139 Park Rd. (704) 525-9239

November 8th Thursday 7 pm
Notes From A Classroom: Refections on Teaching Charlotte Observer community columnist Kay McSpadden will be here to sign copies of her fascinating accounts of teaching school for over 30 years in South Carolina.

November 9th Friday 6 pm
Perils and Promises Francis Seymour will be here to sign copies of her book. Perils and Promises is a moving account of the spiritual calamity faced outside one's one's comfort zone.

November 10th Saturday 1pm
Cooking: First Presbyterian Church Recipes and Reflections from the Heart of Charlotte Come by and have some samples from this beautiful cookbook.

November 12th Monday 6 pm
Boone: A Biography Robert Morgan, bestselling author of Gap Creek & Brave Enemies, will be here to talk about and sign copies of his new biography of the American scout.

November 17th Saturday 2pm
Broken Hearts Pamela Miller will be here to sign her book.

November 18th Sunday 2 pm
Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire Cecil Bothwell will be here to sign books.

November 23rd Friday 2 pm
Jack’s Christmas J. Paige Straley of Charlotte will be here to sign copies of his new Christmas classic.

November 24th Saturday 11:30- 1:15
The Care & Feeding of an Athlete and The Care & Feeding of a Dancer Toni Branner will be here to talk about and sign copies of her books.

For more information, visit

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rowling Says Dumbledore Is Gay

The news broke on Saturday. I'm more surprised about the reaction than the news itself. Not that I ever really thought about Dumbledore and his sexual preferences. I don't have the time or inclination to think about what anyone does in the privacy of their own home. But a firestorm of conversation has started.

Here are my two cents: It doesn't matter!

The people who love and admire Dumbeldore will continue to love him. Those who have banned the Potter books will just see it as another reason why they won't let their children read them. Why must we pretend to live in a world of moral absolutes when the rest of the world is grey? That's madness!

Here's the story, if you missed it.

For the full story in Newsweek, click

J. K. Rowling, author of the worldwide best-selling Harry Potter series, met some of her American fans Friday night and provided some surprising revelations about the fictional characters who a generation of children have come to regard as close friends.

In front of a full house of hardcore Potter fans at Carnegie Hall in New York, Rowling, sitting on the stage on a red velvet and carved wood throne, read from her seventh and final book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," then took questions. One fan asked whether Albus Dumbledore, the head of the famed Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, had ever loved anyone. Rowling smiled. "Dumbledore is gay, actually," replied Rowling as the audience erupted in surprise.

She added that, in her mind, Dumbledore had an unrequited love affair with Gellert Grindelwald, Voldemort's predecessor who appears in the seventh book. After several minutes of prolonged shouting and clapping from astonished fans, Rowling added. "I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy."

In answer to the question "Did Hagrid marry?" Rowling replied that sadly, no. The half-giant had a flirtation with a giantess but she found him "a tad unsophisticated" and the relationship never went forward. In response to the audience's groans of dismay, Rowling said, jokingly, "OK, I'll write another book." And when the audience continued to express disapproval added, "at least I didn't kill him."

Other minor characters, according to Rowling, came to happier ends. Neville Longbottom, Harry's meek and hapless classmate, married Hannah Abbott, another classmate.

Books-to-movies just reached a whole new level

The conversation, and sometimes controversy, about whether great books can turn into great movies is getting even more serious. The agents who 'discovered' "The Kite Runner" manuscript have been lured to Random House from their home at Penguin and are now helping the aforementioned publisher turn great tomes into ideally, great flicks!

See the latest from Variety.

Random House, Focus take 'Dog'
Duo option Beth Raymer's gambling memoir

Random House Films and Focus Features have optioned the bigscreen rights for "Lay the Favorite, Take the Dog," an upcoming gambling memoir by Beth Raymer.

Tome, which traces the scribe's journey into the world of professional sports gambling, is skedded to be published by Random House's Spiegel & Grau division in spring 2009. Division snared book and audio rights in an auction; bigscreen rights were negotiated separately.
Under their partnership, Random House Films and Focus jointly acquire bigscreen rights for lit properties and partner on all stages of development through marketing and publicity; co-productions are jointly owned, with Focus hanging onto worldwide distribution and sales rights.
Raymer fell into professional gambling in Vegas, where she started working as a cocktail waitress in hopes of making fast cash. Her gambling led her to New York and the Caribbean, with gamblers soon becoming her second family. But when she fell in love, she had to re-evaluate her life.

Raymer, an MFA candidate at Columbia U., will continue to report on offshore gambling in Central America under a recently awarded Fulbright Fellowship.

"Beth Raymer has that extremely fortunate and rare combination of having lived through some extraordinary times and having the means to write about them with assurance and style," said Julie Grau. "The world she opens up to her readers is fascinating, dangerous, memorable, and terrifically funny."

Random House Films prexy Peter Gethers said the book proposal "connected perfectly" with the shingle's literary and film sensibilities. "This is going to be a fun one," he said.

The project will be part of Focus's expanded production slate. "Reservation Road," the first film under the partnership, made its limited debut last weekend.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Kite Runner Movie

Charlotte Weekly/Union County Weekly hosted an exclusive showing of "The Kite Runner" Monday, Oct. 8 at Ballantyne Village Theatre. Based on the best-selling book by Khaled Hosseini, the story is about two boys growing up in Afgahanistan before the revolution in the late '70s. More than 250 guests had the opportunity to watch this breathtaking movie, whose wide release date was postponed because of safety concerns over the two young Afgani actors.

This forum is a place to share your thoughts on the movie.

How did the movie compare with the book?

What impact did the movie have on you?

Would you recommend this movie to a friend? Why or why not?

Feel free to leave your thoughts here.

All the best,


*A special thanks to Sean O'Connell, CW/UCW's arts and entertainment editor for helping to make the screening happen.

October 2007 Book Club Pick: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

From the stunning stained-glass window turned book cover, it would be easy to think that “Loving Frank” is the story of the private life of a controversial public man – Frank Lloyd Wright. But the book is far more than that. It’s an exploration of one woman’s life and her choices that brilliantly captures the struggle many women still face today.

This historical fiction is based on some nuggets of truth. Wright arguably made one of the most indelible imprints on American architecture. With his emphasis on harmoniously blending nature into private spaces, and his desire to create a uniquely American style, he created many waves in the architecture community. Those soon translated to the personal level after the brilliant, but difficult architect designed a home for Mamah Borthwick Cheney and her husband in Oak Park, Illinois at the turn of the century. Both trapped in loveless marriages, the two quickly became engaged by the other’s wit and charm, and a scandalous personal relationship grew.
Horan uses her training as a journalist to convey the details of Cheney’s unraveling heart and the excruciating decisions she was forced to make. Her characters ask questions such as, “What role do women have?”, “What use is it to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of the children?” and “What duty do adults have to themselves when it comes to their happiness?”

Although the story of “Loving Frank” is enmeshed in the details of Wright and Cheney’s relationship, it does what great literature is supposed to do: it makes you think. Horan creates a world so beautiful, readers might slow their page-turning just to be engrossed in her lushly written world a bit longer.

Join Charlotte Weekly’s book club on Monday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark for a phone chat with the author of “Loving Frank.” R.S.V.P. at

September 2007 Book Club Pick: Mockingbird by Charles Shields

CW/UCW's book club pick for September 2007 is "Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee" by Charles J. Shields.

A great book on literary's most unique authors.

Harry Potter Mania!

It's official! I'm in love!

The newest Potter book is easily the best in the entire series.

It may also be the most satisfying read I've dived into in the last five years. Great closure. Favorite chapter is the one right before the end where Harry and "the creature" are in somewhat of a limbo state. Just the best book ever!

Bravo, J.K.!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Congratulations Khaled Hosseini! This week's New York Times best-selling books

Congratulations to marvelous author Khaled Hosseini, whose "A Thousand Splendid Suns" -- our book club pick for June, is No. 1 on The New York Times' best-selling list.

Here are the top 10 hardcover fiction books for this week:

1 . A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, by Khaled Hosseini. (Riverhead, $25.95.) A friendship between two women in Afghanistan against the backdrop of 30 years of war.

2. THE QUICKIE, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. (Little, Brown, $27.99.) A police officer’s attempt to get back at her husband, whom she suspects of cheating on her, goes dangerously awry.

3. HIGH NOON, by Nora Roberts. (Putnam, $26.95.) A hostage negotiator must face down her unknown stalker.

4. THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN, by James Lee Burke. (Simon & Schuster, $26.) The Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux copes with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

5. LEAN MEAN THIRTEEN, by Janet Evanovich. (St. Martin’s, $27.95.) The New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum becomes a suspect when her ex-husband disappears.

6. UP CLOSE AND DANGEROUS, by Linda Howard. (Ballantine, $25.95.) After a suspicious plane crash, a woman struggles to find a way out of the Idaho wilderness.

7. THE FIRST COMMANDMENT, by Brad Thor. (Atria, $25.95.) Scot Harvath, a Homeland Security superagent, is stalked by a terrorist mysteriously released from Guantánamo.

8 . SOMEONE TO LOVE, by Jude Deveraux. (Atria, $25.95.) A haunted house in England holds the key to a young woman’s mysterious death.

9 . THE JUDAS STRAIN, by James Rollins. (Morrow, $25.95.) Sigma Force operatives trained in science search for the secret behind the re-emergence of an ancient plague.

10. BUNGALOW 2, by Danielle Steel. (Delacorte, $27.) A writer must deal with the effects of Hollywood success on her family life.

For the complete list, visit

This week, our book club pick for August, "Water for Elephants" is No. 1 on the Paperback Fiction list!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

What is your patronus?

Dear friend Regan White asks that question on her great blog, visit

I can't believe she took my seahorse! I had visions of Aquaman and my Avon toothbrush, circa three years old, but alas a new moniker must be found.

I do however love the idea of recognizing that there are always dementors amongst us. I'm not in for labelling, however it does reduce the stress of thinking you can reason with them. Who would want to be friends with a dementor? Only another dementor!

Potter update No. 3/What house do you belong to?

I'm not as far ahead as I had wanted to. I'm still middling about in the mid 300s but it makes me ponder what is it about Harry's story that has captivated the world over? Could it be that we long for a magical world beneath our mundane existance? There must be more to life than working and daily routines. Harry reminds us that we are more than what we think we are and capable of extraordinary things.

While I get back to the book, feel free to take the Sorting Hat test and see which house you belong to.

I took two of them and the results were the same:
I'm quite surprised! I think everyone wants to be part of Gryffndor.
But alas, I'm quite happy. The description of Ravenclaw's students says:

The sorting hat says that I belong in Ravenclaw!

Said Ravenclaw, "We'll teach those whose intelligence is surest."

Ravenclaw students tend to be clever, witty, intelligent, and knowledgeable.
Notable residents include Cho Chang and Padma Patil (objects of Harry and Ron's affections), and Luna Lovegood (daughter of The Quibbler magazine's editor).

Take the most scientific Harry Potter
ever created.

Get Sorted Now!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Potter update No. 2

It's 7 p.m. and do I know where my Potter book is? It's in my bag, by the door and after a long week I can't wait to dive into it.

While I check out what happens to Harry and his friends, check out this great interview USA Today did with author J.K. Rowling by clicking

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Potter update No. 1

First of all, major kudos to the fine people at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Charlotte's SouthPark mall for an awesome Potter party. It was the finest I've seen with more than 1,000 people who were all entertained and thrilled while waiting for Midnight. I can't remember having that much fun in a long time. My dear friend and colleague Regan White said she found it truly heartwarming to see such mayhem and excitement surrounding reading!

I scooped up my book and rushed home and read the first two chapters. By 2 a.m., I was snockered and had to sleep. By the time my one eye opened at 8 a.m., I couldn't wait to reach over and start reading again.

I'm only going to talk about where I am in the book without giving away major plot points. Nothing is worse than trying to stay away from all the hoopla. I was at Borders last night and the coffee servers were chatting about the book as if everyone has finished it. At 700-something pages, not likely. It's only Thursday! If one didn't have work, family and life stuff to take care of, inhaling the book would be a breeze.

Best thing so feels like Dan Brown wrote the book instead of J.K. Rowling. I have the utmost respect for Rowling but, truth be told, I have found many of her previous Potter books to be slow and plodding. Even downright boring. That's why I, like my friend Kate Bacon, have loved the movies.

But"Deathly Hallows" is very different. From the first chapter the reader is engrossed! And what a thrill to have a can't-put-down book again. Ah, reading!

It's a lot like falling in love. You constantly hope this will be the one and then when it happens, it takes your breath away.

I'm leaving now to go back to get in another chapter. I'm at Chapter 15. More soon!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

August 2007 book club selection: "Water for Elephants"

We're reading the phenomenal best-selling book "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen for August. Hope to see you all Monday, August 20 at 7 p.m., at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark. To R.S.V.P., visit

The novel, told in flashback by Jacob Jankowski, recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures, including an elephant who only responds to Polish commands. He also falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers-a romance complicated by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for. This is a book filled with characters you will not forget!
To discuss the book, click on the comment section.

Author Will Allison

What a cool, cool guy! From now on, I'm going to have to start taping our author chats -- it was one I think all readers would have loved. I think I may even like the author even more than his book (if that's possible.) Talking to the author after reading the book actually gives one an incredible sense of completion. You finally get to ask, "What were you thinking in chapter x, what made you do this, how much you do you love or hate your characters?"

Allison's book was our featured pick for July. The author was funny, charming and witty. If I were casting the movie about him, I'd choose scrumdelicious Michael Varnet from "Alias." He had such great insight into his characters. As a stay-at-home dad, he wakes up at 4 a.m. to get into a regular rhythm of writing. Then when he gets stuck he said he reads.

He said he found it difficult to remember the title of his debut book, "What You Have Left" and thought that it sounded like a lot of other titles out there. But soon he realized how it was truly a theme for all his characters. I think what I love most about "What You Have Left" was how raw he was. The chapter where an ancilliary character muffs out his young collicky son was so heartbreakingly honest, it was breathtaking.

Allison said his dream is to see someone reading his book on the subway. Go out and pick up a copy and start reading. You won't only make his dream come true, you'll also enjoy some memorable fiction you forget for awhile.

Allison is currently working on his second novel which is set in New Jersey. Learn more about him at

What CEOs read

Ever wonder what tycoons read? It's incredible how personal reading is and you never know how those thoughts on the page intertwine with your own thoughts, words and actions.

New York Times writer Harriet Rubin interviewed several brilliant CEOs to find out what they read. For more, click the title of this post.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What are you reading now?

What are you reading this summer? Tell us your favorite book or help select our next book club pick. Post your comments here or e-mail me at

Monday, July 16, 2007

Potter pandemonium

Anticipation builds over book’s final installment
by Siva Ramesh and Alison Woo

In the Charlotte area, the signs have become clearer as the end draws near. The bookstores have laid out their witch hats, wands and brooms. Bookstores around the Queen City are barely suppressing excitement over nothing less than the most coveted book this year—the seventh and final Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Potter pandemonium begins this week with the release of the “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” movie. In the meantime, bookstores around the area are getting ready to party.

Bewitching night
In Charlotte, Barnes & Noble at Sharon Corners on Fairview Road will fill a model train with Berts jellybeans to prepare for the release at midnight on Friday, July 20. Local Borders also will have a midnight celebration with a Harry Potter costume party and potion-making classes. But the largest event in the Charlotte area will be Joseph-Beth Booksellers’ “Marauding at Midnight” party.

The signature event will include a concert with Seth Boulton & the Dream Machine, in an homage to a band Dumbledore selected for a concert. Other attractions include a hedgemaze and kits that determine who is a dark wizard. Bronte’s Bistro will offer treats for adults including Hufflepuff muffins and Butterbeer.

At the 2005 event to promote Potter scribe J.K. Rowling’s previous tome, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the store had more than 1,000 visitors – at least that many are expected this year. “Charlotte readers tend to make their decisions at the last minute but we encourage people to buy tickets before the event,” said Jamie Thurman, the store’s public relations coordinator.

If staying up late isn’t your thing, consider Park Road Books who will open at 8 a.m. Saturday . “We think more people will want to be fresh and ready to read Saturday morning. We’re planning to be the place for those readers,” said Park Road Books co-owner Frazer Dobson, who plans to have plenty of copies on hand.

Most branches of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County will hold Harry Potter-themed events, ranging from showings of Harry Potter movies and costume parties to a huge release celebration at ImaginOn, where fans can purchase copies of the book, learn about owls and play a Harry Potter trivia game.

For more information on any of the stores mentioned in this article, visit the following:
Joseph-Beth Booksellers,; Park Road Books,; Borders,; and Barnes & Noble,

If you are interested in visiting a library branch for a Harry Potter event, go to Some events require registration.

Monday, July 02, 2007

July 2007 Featured Book Club Pick: What You Have Left

Meet Will Allison. A native of Columbia, S.C., and a former Charlotte resident, Allison’s debut novel “What You Have Left,” released this June from Simon & Schuster’s Free Press, is taking readers by storm in 210 unforgettable pages.

Take me home, country road

Allison tells the story of Holly Greer, whose father, Wylie, leaves her in the care of her grandfather on the day of her mother’s funeral in 1976. Thirty years pass before Holly sees her father again. Through Holly’s search to reconnect with her dad, Allison deftly weaves the stories of three generations grappling with the effects of love, loss, disappointment and forgiveness. Set in the author’s hometown, the book’s country roads and NASCAR dirt tracks echo the coarse exterior of the novel’s characters and belie the story’s strong undercurrent of emotion.

The book was eight years in the making, beginning with a short story that became the novel’s penultimate chapter. “I asked myself, ‘What else do I want to know about these characters?’” Allison said. “Then I wrote each succeeding chapter using whatever time period and focal character best allowed me to answer that question. The method was a bit haphazard, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle or a collage.”

Allison, who now lives in South Orange, N.J., with his wife and daughter, admitted that a fair amount of the novel’s setting came from his South Carolina childhood. “My dad was a big NASCAR fan; he knew Cale Yarborough as a teenager and volunteered as a track steward at Columbia Speedway in the 1960s,” he recounted. “He used to take me and my brother to races all over the South.” In addition to racing research, Allison’s father read over the manuscript to make sure the facts were straight.

The description of the farm belonging to Holly’s grandfather, Cal, was inspired by Allison’s grandfather’s dairy farm on the outskirts of Columbia. “My grandfather’s full name was William Elmer Allison, same as mine, but he went by ‘Skeet,’ after the sound of cow’s milk hitting the pail,” Allison explained. “I wish I could have named Holly’s grandfather Skeet, which I’ve always loved as a name, but Cal (the character) isn’t at all like Skeet, and it would have just been too weird.”

A good story

The former executive editor of Story and a staff member at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Allison has penned short stories that have appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, Glimmer Train, One Story, Kenyon Review and other magazines. He has taught creative writing at various universities and, in addition to working as a freelance editor, writer and ghostwriter, also has been everything from a busboy and landscaper to a process server and baseball card dealer.

Given his past of “cobbling together whatever work” he could, Allison is grateful for the chance to write and the warm reception his debut novel has received. “It’s so hard for first novels to get attention,” he said. “Mostly I’m just grateful to the readers and booksellers who’ve taken to the book, and to Free Press, which has done a bang-up job publishing it.” He is currently working on another novel, set in New Jersey, for Free Press.

As for “What You Have Left,” Allison said, “I hope (readers) find it compelling and moving,” he said. “That’s all I’m ever shooting for – to tell a good story.”

Want to go?

Join the Charlotte Weekly Book Club on Monday, July 23, at 7 p.m., for a phone chat with Will Allison and a discussion of “What You Have Left.” R.S.V.P. for the event at

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

June 2007 Featured Book Club Pick: A Thousand Splendid Suns

The success of a best-selling book can be a double-edged sword. Khaled Hosseini’s first book, “The Kite Runner,” became an international bestseller by spending 103 weeks perched at the top of the best-seller’s list. It also set the bar very high. Readers anticipating the author’s next book wondered if he could capture lightning in a bottle. Hosseini’s latest book, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” actually manages to do something few authors can: follow up a best-selling book with another probable one. This searing portrait of love, loss, friendship and survival is Charlotte Weekly’s book club selection for June.

Like his previous book, “Suns” is set in war-torn Afghanistan and focuses on the lives of Mariam and Laila, two women brought together by war and fate. As they endure dangers in the midst of their war-torn city, they form an inextricable bond with one another that helps them get through unimaginable circumstances. Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to self-sacrifice — a decision that ultimately becomes the key to her survival. The story of a country at war is one that is a difficult story to tell. But it is Hosseini’s masterful ability to weave words as poetry that exalts their struggle and ultimately makes this literary classic a book that is difficult to put down.

Hosseini’s own life story is fodder for his literary prowess. He was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965 to a father who was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and a mother who taught Farsi and history at a high school. After a short relocation to Paris, his family returned to Kabul in 1980 shortly after the invasion of the Soviet army. The Hosseini’s sought and were granted political asylum in the United States and moved to San Jose, Calif. Hosseini became a doctor but used his background in Afghanistan as the backdrop of his first novel, “The Kite Runner” in March 2001. Last year in recognition of his ability to capture the essence of refugees’ plight, a United Nations Refugee Agency named him a goodwill envoy.

Join Charlotte Weekly Monday, June 25, at 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark to discuss this story you won’t soon forget. R.S.V.P. at

Friday, April 27, 2007

Book review: "This Year I Will..."

‘This Year I Will… How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution or Make a Dream Come True’ by M.J. Ryan

When was the last time you thought of your New Year’s resolutions? With just eight months left in 2007, there might not be a better time to determine if this is how you want to live the rest of the year.

Books can change lives by inspiring or saying something to you at the right time. “The Year I Will…” shows readers the steps to take if they want to change and how to make that change permanent.

“The human mind is conditioned to make choices that are easy, known or safe,” said author M.J. Ryan. Known to the publishing world as the editor who launched the “random acts of kindness” trend, Ryan said the lack of illumination in her own life inspired her to make a major change. She began practicing the stuff her books preached and went from “a very negative person to one that finds joy in everything, everyday,” she said. “I was 50 years old and had never exercised a day in my life but I realized that if I wanted to be around for the next 10 years and beyond, something had to give.”

Ryan was inspired by medical data which showed that even after life-threatening events, only 10 percent of patients who had suffered from a heart attack made permanent changes. She began to wonder just what it would take to really make people change.

“Fear can only be used as a motivator for the short term,” she noted. “In order to make long-term changes stick you have to have positive incentives.” Ryan breaks the sometime-scary concept of change into three easily digestible sections: preparing to change, getting into action and keeping going. And if readers just need to jump into making these changes, they can skip to the end where she offers “12 tips to keep your promise to yourself.”

Ryan suggests picking just one big goal at a time and working on it until you reach the finish line. Feel inspired? E-mail me at and let me know what you’ve decided to change this year.

Pick up the book at Charlotte Weekly’s display at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark

Friday, April 20, 2007

May 2007 Featured Book Club Pick: "Special Topics in Calamity Physics"

Charlotte Weekly’s ‘Speaking Volumes’ book club pick for May is completely different than any other book we’ve ever read before. This Ashville author Marisha Pessl’s first novel took critics by storm. I interviewed her shortly after her hardcover came out last summer the day before Janet Maslin of the New York Times published her review of Pessl’s work. It’s amazing what a difference a day can make! Overnight Pessl went from dreaming to be a novelist while slaving away at her day job in financial services to a celebrated writer.

Pessl’s book received rave reviews, both by myself and Maslin, who loved the freshness and invention of Pessl’s voice. “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” is modeled after the syllabus of a college literature course—36 chapters are named after everything from Othello to Paradise Lost to The Big Sleep—that culminates with a final exam. Narrator Blue Van Meer, the daughter of an itinerant academic, has an impressive vocabulary and a knack for esoteric citation. Following the mysterious death of her butterfly-obsessed mother, Blue and her father, Gareth, set out on a tour of picturesque college towns, never staying anyplace longer than a semester. This doesn't bode well for Blue's social life, but when the Van Meers settle in Stockton, N.C., for the entirety of Blue's senior year, she befriends a group of eccentric geniuses (referred to by their classmates as the Bluebloods) and their ringleader, film studies teacher Hannah Schneider. As Blue becomes enmeshed with Hannah and the Bluebloods, the novel becomes a murder mystery so intricately plotted that, after absorbing the late-chapter revelations, readers will be tempted to start again at the beginning in order to watch the tiny clues fall into place.

Think of this book as taking the best elements of Harry Potter and Agatha Christie twisted together with a dash of Vanity Fair magazine for pop-culture mentions. Last year, the book was named one of the New York Times’ best ten books for 2006.

Pessl, a native of Ashville, will join our book club meeting to talk about her exhilarating ride to success and the inspiration for one of the most unconventional and unusual books of the year. Join us for dessert and coffee on Monday, May 21 at 7 p.m., at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark to discuss this brilliant book. R.S.V.P. by visiting

Friday, March 23, 2007

April 2007 Featured Book Club Pick: "A Light on the Runway"

“A Light on the Runway” by Janet Haack

One of the most intriguing qualities about Janet Haack is the life she has led. Acknowledged as a community leader and patron of the arts, Haack may not be as widely recognized for the adventuress’s heart that beats beneath her persona. She tells her inspiring stories in her new book, “A Light on the Runway,” Charlotte Weekly’s book selection for April.

Definitely a woman well before her time, in 1955 Haack studied women’s journalism while many of her peers were at home giving birth to the baby boomers. She credits her father for choosing that path for her and her sister after focusing on opportunities available to women in the postwar boom. After marrying, Janet and husband Donald bundled up into their two-seater plane and flew to British Guiana where they learned firsthand about mining and trading precious gems. That legacy and knowledge became the foundation of a legendary career.

After more than 50 years of marriage, Haack says that being each other’s best friend was one of the secrets to the couple’s success. “We learned to depend on one another in a way we might not have if we were living a conventional life,” she said. “When you’re in the States, you have support people like a (parent), a (sibling) or a friend. We learned to be all of that for each other.”

“Runway” is the female perspective of their adventure saga. Donald wrote “Bush Pilot in Diamond Country” about their life together. But after reading the book, many wondered how a woman could live through such adventures and hardships and still raise a family. Hence, the book “Runway” was born.

The two continue to work together as owners of Donald Haack Diamonds in SouthPark. The store offers everything from everyday jewelry to magnificent gems and everything in between.

The author says she’s the first to concede that their life together – surviving in the jungles of South America and readjusting to “normal” life in the States – has been challenging. If you’ve ever dreamed of living exotic adventures, this book offers an honest appraisal of what it takes to live your dreams.

Meet the author
Join Charlotte Weekly at an exclusive cocktail party with author Janet Haack at Donald Haack Diamonds at 4611 Sharon Road on Monday, April 16, at 7 p.m. Seating is limited to the first 25 readers who R.S.V.P. us at
For more on the author, visit

– Alison Woo

Saturday, March 03, 2007

March 2007: Eat, Pray, Love

Every story of finding one’s self starts with a quest. It’s enmeshed in all great tales from the sacred – Moses’ search in the desert – to the secular – Luke in “Star Wars.” The outer journey mirrors the inner journey; it is as if placing one foot in front of another helps one delve deeper into the heart, mind and soul.

When faced with a devastating divorce and a life that just wasn’t working, author Elizabeth Gilbert decided to plunge into new possibilities. The book, “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” is Gilbert’s bold pursuit for herself; it is also Charlotte Weekly’s book pick for March.

After trying unsuccessfully to conceive, Gilbert realized that there was a huge chasm between the idyllic life she fantasized about and the reality she lived. Following a divorce, she decided to trek to foreign lands where she hoped to be imbued by each chosen city’s unique offering to salve her soul. She chooses Rome to teach her about pleasure, Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to inspire her spiritual longings, and Bali to find balance.

What makes the book sing is Gilbert’s fresh voice, which transcends the “somebody done somebody wrong song” tone which self-help books can sometimes take, and vaults it into true introspective territory. During the yearlong journey, Gilbert learns about herself, and her quest may even inspire readers to begin a journey, even if from the safety of an armchair.

Gilbert is an accomplished writer and memoirist. Her story for GQ magazine about her early bartending days was made into the movie “Coyote Ugly” and it appears that lightning has struck twice: In November, Paramount Pictures announced plans to turn “Eat, Pray, Love” into a movie starring Julia Roberts.

Join CW’s book club as we meet to discuss “Eat, Pray, Love” on Monday, Mar. 19, at 7 p.m., at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in SouthPark. R.S.V.P by visiting

February 2007: In the Company of the Courtesan

Finding the inspiration to spark creativity is a perpetual challenge that faces many artists. For Sarah Dunant that spark came after a walk through Florence’s Uffizi gallery led her to a painting from legendary Renaissance painter Titian. The book cover of ‘In the Company of the Courtesan" is not just beautiful art that draws you in; it evoked and inspired the book’s central character, Fiametta. “It is the first painting of a woman where the woman is actually looking at you,” Dunant said from her home in London. “Before the Renaissance, the only time you saw women was through religious figures. After that period, suddenly there are all these Venuses on the wall; it was a major change in perspective. But (the look on this woman’s face) says ‘I see that you are looking at me and you’re interested, so let’s carry on a conversation to talk about what you are interested in.’”

Dunant said that she realized that the only woman who would pose for a portrait like this would have to be a courtesan. Like geishas, courtesans are often misunderstood throughout history. Their sexual relationships with men were only a small part of what they were about. They were often well-educated, well-dressed women who were consorts to kings, wealthy businessmen and the elite. “They had some kind of independence but they were not going to be romantic about it,” said Dunant. “You cannot read a lot about women in this period, but one thing we do know is that 500 years ago, it was very, very tough for women.”

Writing the book proved to be a labor of love for Dunant who says she spent nine months burying herself in research in Italy to get the details right. The result is a book where you feel immersed in the sights and smells of 16th century Rome and Venice. “There is a satirist who wrote a whole series of letters that were being published at the time and (I read them) to get into his head,” she said. “But it’s much harder to penetrate the minds and hearts of women (at that time). One realizes they must have been very smart and sharp, but at the same time they had to be quite calculating and shrewd. For that reason I’m not sure if I had written in the first person and in her voice that we would have necessarily liked her. That’s why the book is narrated from the voice of the dwarf. It’s her companion; someone who could admire her and give her applause.”

Dunant said that writing both “The Birth of Venus” and “Courtesan” changed the way she viewed women of the past. “As modern women, we look at how women were treated and how they suffered and we want to write down the injustice of it all,” she said. “But actually I’ve become more interested in how they really did cope and get on with it. I suppose that’s what women do best, we get on with the business of living no matter what the adversity.”

Meet the author
“In the Company of the Courtesan” is CW’s book club selection for February. Join us on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark mall. Please R.S.V.P. by visiting,

January 2007: Pride and Predjudice

A new year and an old book!

January we read one of my all-time favorites: Pride and Predjudice by Jane Austen.

The story of love found, lost and won is a classic that rings true to every romantic. If you don't have time to read the book, run, don't walk, to Blockbuster or Netflix the A & E version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Don't even bother with last year's remake with Kiera Knightly. The six-hour miniseries captures Austen's light and beauty and I think Jane, herself, would approve greatly!

My Top 10 Books of 2006

What's a year in review if you can't have lists?

This past year was a banner one for books. From series endings to noteworthy
nonfiction to brilliant literary debuts, 2006 offered it all and then some.

Here’s Charlotte Weekly/Union County Weekly’s list of this year’s

10. “A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler” by Frances Mayes. Broadway Books, $26.

Mayes, also the author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” uses her venerable talent on other exotic locales and captures the nuances and subtleties that make travel books such enchanting reads.

9. “The End: Book the Thirteenth (A Series of Unfortunate Events)” by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist. HarperCollins Children’s Books, $12.99.

Fans of the famed Lemony Snicket series found that all good things do come to an end. And in this last book, aptly named “The End,” the book found its just desserts. Too delicious to put down, even for adults!

8. “The Audrey Hepburn Treasures: Pictures and Mementos from a Life of Style and Purpose” by Ellen Erwin and Jessica Diamond. Atria Books, $49.95.

Before Angelina Jolie made caring for the world’s forgotten children a cause célèbre, Hepburn raised awareness of humanitarian causes. The proceeds from this incredibly inventive and well-designed book go directly to her UNICEF fund.

7. “State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III” by Bob Woodward. Simon & Schuster, $30.

The journalist who wrote so eloquently for the Washington Post and broke the story of Watergate continues his series on another president. This book looks at the first days George W. Bush thought seriously about running for president through the recruitment of his national security team, the war in Afghanistan, the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the struggle for political survival in the second term.

6. “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Viking, $24.95.

Gilbert tries to mend a broken heart, induced by divorce and love gone awry, by traveling to three centers that offer rejuvenation for her spirit, mind and body. Ultimately on her search for both pleasure and passion, she finds romance, but that’s the bonus of this earthy read.

5. “Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany” by Bill Buford. Knopf, $25.95.

Love The Food Network? Wonder what it takes to become a world-famous chef? Journalist Buford takes readers into the kitchen of chef extraordinaire Mario Batali and acclaimed New York restaurant “Babbo.” The drama and great characters in this book alone are worth it for
even nonfoodies.

4. “Brothers” by Da Chen. Crown, $25.

At the height of China’s Cultural Revolution, a powerful general fathered
two sons. Tan was born to the general’s wife and into a life of comfort and luxury.
His half brother, Shento, was born to the general’s mistress, who threw herself off a
cliff in the mountains only moments after delivering her child. The brothers end up
falling in love with the same woman and move toward the explosive moment when
their paths converge.

3. “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” by Marisha Pessl. Viking,

North Carolina native Pessl’s first literary work – one of the most inventive books of
the year – made her a best-selling author. In this murder mystery set at a boarding
school, each chapter is named for a literary classic. Read this mostly for Pessl’s stylistic
writing and quick wit.

2. “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama. Crown, $25.
This sobering and visionary view on how the nation might tackle some of its most serious challenges comes from potential presidential candidate and current U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

1. “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill,

This beautiful love story takes place during the Depression. Gruen said she
felt compelled to write “Water for Elephants” after seeing a photograph of circus performers during that era. “This is an era that’s disappearing from memory and it’s an important part of American history,” she said. The book is a delightful read with characters that remain on the mind long after the last page is read.

December 2006: The return of Adriana Trigiani

Turns out you can go home again.

Best-selling author Adriana Trigiani revisited her most succesful series with a great book, "Home to Big Stone Gap." The ever-gracious Adriana was a phone guest and is much beloved to our book club as she helped launch it in June 2006. Welcome home!

November 2006: The Mermaid Chair

This is an amazing book from the author of "The Secret Life of Bees," It was a true favorite of mine and we even had a chance to meet author Sue Monk Kidd at Myers Park Presbyterian Church. She was awesome! Sadly she wasn't able to join us at book club but Nancy Horn, our guest book club editor did a smashing job.

The Return of The Book Blogger

The hallmark of a great blog is many, many postings!

Hello blog readers!

I've returned. It's been a very busy few months. But without further adieu, let me catch everyone up with all that we've read.

Thanks for e-mailing and asking about our whereabouts. Our book club has been going on stronger than ever but many have missed our blog component. I've learned that people are somewhat shy in cyberspace. While they won't post, they will e-mail. Please feel free to do either and contact me directly at or at

Happy reading everyone!