Monday, February 27, 2012

Chasing China by Kay Bratt

Mia has come to China to discover the truth about her birth family.  She is one of the many Chinese girls who were adopted overseas.  Although Mia had a wonderful childhood and a loving adoptive family, part of her cannot rest until she discovers more about who she is, where she came from, and why her birth family deserted her at the age of one in a train station, leaving her to spend several years in a state-run orphanage before being adopted at age four.

When Mia visits the orphanage where she lived with a translator, she is appalled at the shabbiness but even more at the emotional starvation the children there encounter.  In order to feed, clothe and educate so many children, every minute of their day is strictly scheduled, and the caretakers don't have time to give praise or affection.  The children are treated as items on an assembly line.  Mia is also suspicious when her questions go unanswered or given an airy reply of  "Later".  She is unsure if her translator is giving her all the information the officials speak.

As the days go by, Mia explores other avenues to discover her past.  She meets Jax, another Chinese-American who helps her.  Jax is in China on an internship and is willing to help Mia find out whatever they can.  They post fliers and hunt down clues.  Mia also starts to work with a group of foreign women; expatriates who are in China for a year or two and who have chosen the orphanage as a charity.  Through these avenues, Mia gets closer to the truth, but it is uncertain if she will ever discover what occurred all those years ago.

Kay Bratt has worked in the field of overseas adoption for many years.  Chasing China allows her to educate readers as she entertains them, and to share the issues surrounding intercultural adoptions.  This book is recommended for readers interested in adoption, and those interested in other cultures.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Narrows Gate by Jim Fusilli

Narrows Gate is the kind of immigrant neighborhood in New York that everyone is familiar with from books and movies.  Lots of poverty, but close-knit families.  Not many chances for economic success leading to enterprising men making their way however they can.  Started as an Italian immigrant neighborhood, by WWII it was divided between the Italians and the Irish.

This is the world Leo Bell, his friend Sal Benno, and Bebe Marsela grow up in.  Each chooses a different path for his life.  Leo is smart and joins the military during the war where his intelligence is recognized and he is recruited to work for the government.  Benno has to hustle to make a living, and finds ways to make himself useful to the Mafia figures that control the city.  Bebe recreates himself as Bill Marsela, a crooner that makes the women swoon and all the men jealous of his luck. 

Jim Fusilli has written an intriguing novel that follows the life of these three characters as they navigate life in the city in the 1940's.  Full of well-researched details, the reader learns how criminal organizations grow and take over any enterprise in their vicinity that has the potential to make money.   This was the heyday of the Mafia and their plans to control the entertainment industry.  It was the time that Las Vegas was built, created by Mafia figures as a money-making enterprise.  The tension between the main characters, the government and the Mafia is carefully crafted and ratcheted up leading to a satisfying resolution.  This book is highly recommended for readers interested in a compelling read with fascinating characters and an intricate plot.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pigeon English by Stehen Kelman

Prepare to fall in love. Harrison Opuku bursts off the page and into the reader’s heart. Harri is eleven, a recent immigrant from Ghana. He is now living in England with his mother and sister; his father, grandmother and baby sister left behind until the family can afford for them to come also. Living in the projects, Harri is amazed at all the new things he sees. The subway is an amazing item that he can’t quite believe work. He thinks it is bo-styles; the word for the ultimate cool. He is thrilled by remote control cars, cell phones, and new trainers. Harri’s best skill is his running; no one can catch him when he runs. He is the kind of boy who is open to all experiences, taking them in and finding the good in everything around him. Harri tends to like everyone; even the pigeons who flock around the housing projects, occasionally getting inside. Where others see a mess that should be cleared away, Harri sees a friend.

But not everything is positive in Harri’s world. Gangs abound, and as a newcomer, he is tested for inclusion. Daily life is full of insults and casual violence, and Harri is sometimes tempted by these acts. Worst of all, a boy who is the star of the basketball court, is murdered on the streets. The motive? No one knows for sure, maybe even just for his dinner. Harri and his friend Dean decide that they will find the killer. Full of facts gained from CSI shows, they attempt to lift fingerprints and find DNA, sure that they can find the culprit and bring him to justice.

Stephen Kelman has created a character that readers will not soon forget. The language is spot-on for a child growing up in modern England in the housing projects. The language is sometimes rough, and the facts that are commonplace knowledge breathtaking, but through it all, the sweetness of Harri’s personality shines through. Kelman himself grew up in the housing projects of England and worked as a careworker, a warehouse operative, in marketing and in local government administration before focusing on writing. Pigeon English has been nominated for the Booker Prize and readers will not be surprised by that fact. This is a stunning, excellent book; the fact that it is a debut novel is almost unimaginable. This book is recommended for all readers.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dark Side Of Valor by Alicia Singleton

Lelia Freeman, a child advocate, knows what she speaks about.  She herself spent years on the street, running from a miserable homelife.  She managed to find a way out, but not before a tragedy occurred that stole her best friend from her, a victim of the streets and the predators that prowled them.

These days, Lelia is well past those days.  Her adopted family supported her as she used education to build a life for herself.  A life that not only sustained her, but allowed her to give back to society, to help others who found themselves on the streets due to poverty, drug or alcohol abuse, or lives filled with sexual and physical abuse.  She can relate to the children she saves since she was one of them.

Her work does not go unnoticed.  She is nominated to go work in Africa with the children orphaned from a civil war.  Once there, she discovers that all is not what it seems; that those who requested her did so to use her work as a cover for the evil they had done and planned to continue doing.  She escapes from the government, her allies two mercenaries who are there for their own purposes.  Relieved at first, she comes to realise that this was no accident; the men she was counting on to save her life had old ties to her past that left her anything but safe.  Could Lelia escape the danger she finds herself in and make it back to the kids that give her reason for living?

Alicia Singleton has written a compelling story that highlights the pain behind the lives of street children and abused and neglected children all over the world.  The reader will cheer for the heroine who attempts to assuage their pain, while learning more about what goes on in their world.  This book is recommended for readers interested in social justice, an exciting story and tales of those who rise above their background to make a new life.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch, Hollywood homicide detective, is called out one night to investigate a body found in a large drainage tunnel.  He is surprised when he gets there to realise that he knows the man.  They served together in Vietnam, where they were 'tunnel rats'; the soldiers that went down in the tunnels to flush out the enemy soldiers.  Some vets came back and found their way as Bosch had.  Some, like Billy Meadows, the victim, never seemed to make it all the way back as a productive member of society.

Bosch discovers that Meadows is a suspect in a large bank heist that happened six months ago.  The robbers had tunnelled into the bank's vault over the Labor Day weekend and made off with the contents of the safety deposit boxes.  The FBI is investigating, and Bosch is soon attached to work with the FBI.  His partner there is Eleanor Wish, one of the few female agents on the bank robbery squad.

As the team investigates the robbery, it becomes clear that it may have been only the start of a larger plan and that another robbery may be occurring in the coming weeks as Memorial Day weekend comes up.  Additional victims are killed, and Bosch becomes even more determined to discover who is behind the plan.  Can he and Agent Wish discover what is going on in time to prevent the next robbery?

The Black Echo was Michael Connelly's first book in the Harry Bosch series, and the reader is interested to not only discover how the murder is solved, but to look back and see how the series originated.  Bosch is the outsider, a cop not loved by the police organization he works for.  He has issues relating to others but is recognized as a consummate detective, worth the hassle he tends to bring along with his investigations.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers, and especially for Michael Connelly fans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Midnight Rising by Tony Horowitz

Painstakingly researched, Midnight Rising is Tony Horowitz's account of John Brown and the raid at Harper's Ferry. Militarily, this was a small operation, but most people have heard of it. What makes it so important? Horowitz explains the country's environment and ambiance at the time which made this such an explosive event.

Tensions ran high in the country. The Abolitionists were convinced that slavery was an abomination; one that there was no action too desperate to try to eradicate. Those who owned slaves were convinced that without slavery their entire economic world would collapse. As always, when there are two such diametrically opposed viewpoints, tensions ran high and extremists on both sides were willing to take drastic actions to further their beliefs.

Horowitz examines the life and philosophy of John Brown, a figure that most recognize but few know much about. He covers Brown's early life and his start as an Abolitionist vigilant in Kansas, the place that gave him his reputation as a bloody yet effective leader.  A staunch Abolitionist, he was willing to sacrifice his livelihood, his family and the lives of others as well as his own to further his beliefs. The result of Harper's Ferry, which stunned the nation, was to move the country even closer to the brink of the Civil War. 

Tony Horowitz has had a fascination with the Civil War. His earlier book, Confederates in the Attic, explored this topic, and Midnight Rising continues this exploration. His writing style is fluid and entertaining and the reader is educated without feeling that he is lectured to. This book is recommended for history readers and those interested in the Civil War and the events leading up to it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Andy Barber has achieved the middle-class dream. He has a great job he loves as the lead assistant district attorney, a long-term marriage to a woman he still loves, a fourteen year old son, a wide circle of friends, a house and enough money not to worry about it. Then tragedy strikes. A child at his son's school is murdered, knifed down in a near-by park. Andy heads up the investigation and is shocked when the evidence starts to point at his son Jacob.

Jacob is arrested and everything starts to fall apart. He is suspended from his job. Their friends drop them cold. The marriage becomes strained as they struggle to extradite their family from this nightmare. Jacob is sullen and uncommunicative. Their savings are demolished by the cost of retaining a lawyer to fight the charges. Even worse, old family secrets Barber has repressed come to light.

William Landay has written a compelling novel that readers won't be able to put down until they find out what happens to this family that rings so true and that could be their own. It forces the reader to consider how precarious their own life and happiness may be, and to what lengths they would go to protect what they have. Those who have read it will want to seek out others to discuss the book with. This book is recommended for all readers, and is one of the season's best.

The Little Book Of Bitchy Thoughts by Elizabeth Fairlight

The Little Book Of Bitchy Thoughts by Elizabeth Fairlight is a compendium of sayings to give the reader pause, to make them think.  This is a book to pick up and read when the reader has a few minutes and wants something to reflect on.  The book is organized into topics with thoughts about each category.  Here are a few of my favorites, although it probably says more about me than the book:

On Music
Opera is only vaudeville with attitude

The Arts
Spare design is for the emotionally autistic

On Religion
Most Southerns are Baptists because the Baptist religion allows you to live a life full of sin, but lets your repent on your deathbed.  Many Southerners would never get to heaven otherwise.

On Taxes
Do you know what poor is?  Reaching the age of 40 without knowing when taxes are due.

On Writing
Writers with talent need to avoid reading James Joyce's Ulysses the way a flawless skin needs to avoid smallpox.

On Mountain Climbing
So what?  You climbed up.  You could do that on a ladder and clean your gutters while you're at it.

And my favorite:

On Adulthood
To hell with grace under pressure.  Give me effectiveness under pressure.

This is a fun book, one that can be dipped into when the reader needs a quick life.  This book is recommended for readers that don't take life that seriously and are quick to appreciate humor.

Monday, February 6, 2012

History Of A Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

It is 1907, and Piet Barot has come to Amsterdam to make his fortune.  He has applied to be the tutor to the ten year old son of the fabulously wealthy Vermeulen-Sickerts family.  Piet is moderately well-educated, can play the piano adequately and can sing.  But his real assets are his looks and his ability to charm.  His mother was a singer before marrying his father, and raised him to have the manners and knowledge that a wealthy young man would have. 

Piet is successful in getting the job, and uses it as a station to improve his lot.  He charms each member of the family.  Maarten is a successful businessman, but one who also made his way to the top and he sees himself in Piet.  The two daughters of the family try to play with Piet as they do their suitors but he is able to avoid that trap and instead become their friend.  The mother, Jacobina, is attracted to Piet, and he plays on that attraction to solidify his position.  Piet is also, after many months, able to free the son from the phobias that have restricted his life.

Mason has created a character that will long remain in the reader's mind, as they try to determine if he is an admirable figure or a scoundrel.  Piet shows flashes of both, along with a steely determination to live life on his own terms and use all his strengths to make his way in the world.  This book is recommended for readers interested in the golden age of Europe and the way the upper class lived.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gravestone by Travis Thrasher

Can anything be worse than being picked up in your junior year of high school in a big city and plunked down in a small rural town where you’re known as the outsider? That’s Chris Buckley’s predicament. When his parents divorce, he is forced to leave his normal teenage life in Chicago and move to the small Southern town of Solitary in North Carolina. He has no friends, his mother is caught up in her own world of grieving, and Chris is left to his own devices to figure out what his life will be from this point on.

That would be a crushing blow for most teenagers, but Chris has added issues. Solitary is a town full of secrets that can’t be discussed and evil that can’t be hidden. Chris’ girlfriend, the one person he trusted, has supposedly moved away with her family, but Chris knows better. He saw what happened to her one night. Of course, no one in town will believe him. Not his mother, not the school, not the sheriff. He has never been more alone, and now it appears that he is the next one targeted. Can he find out what is occurring in the town, and how to survive it?

Gravestone is the second book in Travis Thrasher’s series, The Solitary Tales. Fans of suspense and horror will enjoy the slow unraveling of the evil that surrounds Chris, and his attempts to discover what is happening before it overwhelms him entirely. The writing is moody and somber, with an insistent pulse of eminent disaster that grows and grows as the reader discovers more of Solitary’s secrets. This book is recommended for horror fans looking for a series that will satisfy their interest in things that go bump in the night.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal

In The Hare With Amber Eyes, Edmund De Waal narrates the rise and fall of his maternal family over decades and countries.  His mother was one of the members of the Ephrussi family.  The Ephrussi were Russian grain traders who became wealthy and branched into banking and art collections.  They owned grand mansions and banks in Paris, Vienna and later lived in Japan.

The book starts with the story of the French branch.  Charles Ephrussi was an art collector, dandy and ladies' man, living with the rest of the family in a mansion in Paris and seen in all the best circles.  One of his early collections was a set of 274 netsuke; the Japanese ivory miniatures carved to illustrate animals, daily life memorabilia such as logs or a sheaf of grain, and the inhabitants of the country.  He later gave this stunning collection as a wedding gift to a couple in his family from the Austrian branch, and the netsuke moved to Vienna for their next home.

In Vienna, Viktor and Emmy Ephrussi lived the life of fabulously wealthy Austrians; days filled with social visits and clubs and business relationships; the nights filled with society dinners and balls.  The children of this couple were entranced with the netsuke, which lived in Emmy's dressing room and which the children were allowed to play with as they watched their mother dress for evenings out.  But this fabled existence was shattered by the German invasion and conquer of Austria in World War II.  In a manner of days, the entire Ephrussi fortune was distributed to various German strongholds as the family was forced to sign over everything and finally managed to flee the country.  Imagine the surprise after the war when one of the children returned and found that the netsuke had miraculously survived.

The next home for the collection was in Japan, where they had been created.  Iggie, who had become a fashion designer after fighting with the Americans in the war, settled in Japan and lived there for many decades.  His nephew, Edmund De Waal, visited him there and had a close relationship with him.  De Waal, a potter who lived in England, appreciated the artistry of the netsuke and Iggie left the collection to him.  The netsuke now reside in England with De Waal.

De Waal has written a splendid history of his family, using art to tie together the generations and the various branches of this illustrious family in various countries.  The chapter in which the family is made destitute by the Nazis brings home the horror of that time in a way that dry history books cannot.  This book is recommended for art lovers, for history lovers, and for anyone interested in a marvelous read.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Here's a great idea for Booksie's Blog readers.  Why not make this Valentine's Day a memorable one with a copy of the new edition of the Kama Sutra, released by Penguin Classics.

From the publisher:

True to the original, this new Penguin Classics edition of the Kama Sutra offers a cultured guide to life, love, relationships and pleasure.  Little is known about Vatsyayana, who is reputed to have composed the book 'while observing a celibate's life in full meditations'  In Sanskrit the word "kama" means desire, especially for sensual pleasure, and its proper pursuit was considered an essential part of a young, urban gentleman's well-rounded education.

Giveaway Rules

1. The giveaway starts Wednesday, February 1st and ends Friday, February 13th, 2012.

2. There is one copy of the book to be given away. The winner must live in the United States or Canada, sorry!

3. For one entry, leave your email in a comment.

4. For additional entries, be or become a follower of Booksie's Blog post the giveaway on Twitter or Facebook with a link in your comment.

5. Entries without valid email addresses will not be entered. The winner will be chosen by a random number generator.

That's all!  Good luck and Booksie hopes your Valentine's Day is a very happy one indeed!