Sunday, May 31, 2009

Last Night In Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

As this book opens, Lilia has just disappeared from Eli's life. Without a hint, she has walked out of their life together and moved on. He knows she has left for good because that is her life strategy. Lilia was kidnapped by her father when she was seven, and spent her childhood traveling all over the United States with him, one step ahead of law enforcement. These years of traveling have made her unable to stay anywhere or with anyone for long.

Eli is crushed, but a few weeks later, he gets a mysterious postcard from someone named Michaela who tells him that Lilia is now in Montreal. Eli immediately drops everything and goes to Montreal to attempt to find out who Michaela is, and where Lilia is now. It turns out that Michaela is the daughter of the detective who worked on the case of Lilia's kidnapping. He became obsessed and ended up deserting his own daughter and family while attempting to find Lilia.

It is difficult for me to believe that Last Night In Montreal is Emily St. John Mandel's debut novel. It is a stunning book, easily one of the best I've read lately. The themes of traveling and inability to commit to a relationship, the lure of just stepping out of one life and starting another, and family secrets and obsessions are written about in a compelling fashion. I highly recommend this book to all readers, and I'm thrilled to have discovered it.

COMPLETED AUDIO GIVEAWAY!!! Cemetary Dance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Thanks to Hachette, I'm giving away 3 copies of the audio version of Cemetary Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. This is an unabridged copy with 12 CD's, read by Rene Auberjonois. Here's a quick synopsis:

William Smithback, a New York Times reporter, and his wife Nora Kelly, a Museum of Natural History archaeologist, are brutally attacked in their apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Eyewitnesses claim, and the security camera confirms, that the assailant was their strange, sinister neighbor-a man who, by all reports, was already dead and buried weeks earlier. While Captain Laura Hayward leads the official investigation, Pendergast and Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta undertake their own private-and decidedly unorthodox-quest for the truth. Their serpentine journey takes them to an enclave of Manhattan they never imagined could exist: a secretive, reclusive cult of Obeah and vodou which no outsiders have ever survived.

Rules of the giveaway:

1. The giveaway starts tonight, May 31st, and runs until midnight, Wednesday, June 11, 2009.
2. Winners MUST leave their email addresses in their comments to be eligible.
3. Hachette rules say that winners must live in the United States or Canada and have a mailing address that isn't a PO Box.
4. Winners will be selected by a random number generator, and winners have up to three days to respond before new names will be drawn.
5. One entry for a comment, another if you are a follower, a third if you post an entry on your blog or twitter about the giveaway.
Good luck! I'll be doing other audio book giveaways this month, so check back later.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Madonnas Of Leningrad by Debra Dean

Debra Dean tells the story of Marina and Dmitri, Russians caught up in WWII, in The Madonnas of Leningrad. They become engaged just as Dmitri is called up to fight the Germans. They are separated for three years after that, with no idea if the other was dead or alive. While Dmitri is off at war, Marina, a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, lives in the cellar of the Museum to avoid the daily bombing of Leningrad by the Germans. Hundreds of others live there also, and as the months go by, they slowly start to die off from starvation.

Marina gets through this time by continuing to walk through the nearly empty museum each day. The majority of the artwork has been shipped elsewhere for safety. In her mind, she builds a memory building, where she correctly places each piece in its former location. She spends hours a day living in her memory.

After the war, the lovers are reunited and make their way to America, where they raise two children. Now, sixty years later, the children are trying to decide how to take care of their parents. Marina, who lived by her memory, is now a victim of Alzheimer's disease, and every day a bit more of her memory is taken from her. The book's climax occurs when Marina wanders off and gets lost, as many Alzheimer's patients do.

This was a wonderful book. Besides the compelling relationships, the reader is treated to a glimpse at the gorgeous artwork of the Hermitage, a place where very few Americans will ever view in person. This added dimension provides the framework on which the story is structured. This book is recommended for everyone.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles Of Narnia, C. S. Lewis' seven-book series, is one of those that we often think we know about, as it is being made into a series of movies and is discussed in general culture. I had never actually read it, though, and this year, my daughter and I decided to read this together. We just finished The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe and I'm very glad we've decided to do this.
Four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, have been sent to the country during WW II to get them out of London, as were hundreds of children since London was being bombed by the Nazis on a daily basis. Once there, they are housed in an old mansion owned by a professor. Left on their own to entertain themselves, they explore the house and discover a passageway to another land, Narnia.
The book explores the relationships between the children and their involvement in an epic battle going on in Narnia between good and evil. The White Witch is in control and rules through fear and total control. Yet there are rumors that the rightful king of Narnia, Asland the Lion, has returned and will save the country.
This is a wonderful book even if read only on the surface level of a fantasy adventure. There are obvious Christian overtones, especially involving a Christ-like sacrifice so that others can be saved. I'm looking forward to the other books in this series. This book is recommended for all readers, and is a great family activity to read together.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Mating Rituals Of The North American Wasp by Lauren Lipton

Peggy Adams is comfortable in her New York life, until she makes an unusual agreement with Luke Sedgwick, the last scion of an old New England family. The deal: Stay married for a year, and the two will inherit the Sedgwick mansion in New Nineveh, a quaint, preppy Connecticut town. But entering Luke’s world isn’t easy. Peggy must quickly learn how to pass herself off as a proper Connecticut wife and a perfect WASP.(Hint: At parties, nobody actually eats the food.) To make matters worse, she finds herself falling in love with the man she’s married to—despite that he seems to have no feelings for her.

I found this book a fun read. Peggy has just ended a seven year relationship with a shallow man who couldn't make a commitment, while Luke has drifted through life, not sure what he wanted. The repartee and love story between these two was entrancing. This book is recommended for all who believe love will find a way.

The author's website is, and she is a fashion, beauty and lifestyle editor at ForbesWoman magazine. I'll be watching for her next book.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Wow, just wow. This is easily the best book I've read this year. Rushdie never disappoints. When I read one of his books, I think, "Alleluia, how the angels sang, Alleluia, how it rang!" Opening a Rushdie book is like stepping into a raging stream; you have to trust to fate and let go and enjoy the ride.

Saleem Sinai is born on midnight on August 15, 1947, the exact moment when India becomes a free country. His life parallels the life of India. Along with Saleem, one thousand and one other children are born in the hour of midnight to one a.m. They are the convention of Midnight's Children, and Saleem is their mentor and guiding force. Their gifts and strengths are both a threat and a promise of India's young country's path to freedom.

Along the way we learn about Saleem's family and the milestones that make up his life. His sister, nicknamed Monkey, the witch he marries, his relatives and their life stories, his friends, his enemies; Rushdie writes of it all. Saleem believes that his life causes momentous events in the life of India and Pakistan. The entire book could be read as an allegory of independance, government control and the straining of people for independance.

The writing, as always in Rushdie's books, is glorious. Streams of words, torrents that rush over the reader and carry them along and somehow come together to pull disparate plotlines into resolution. This book is recommended for all readers; one of my favorites ever.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazell

Dr. Peter Brown has a huge problem. It's not bad enough that he gets mugged on the way to work. It's not bad enough that the hospital is controlled chaos with nurses never there and patients who can't go anywhere else for help. No, things are about to get much worse. A former Mafia hitman who has become a doctor in the witness protection program after testifying about his former bosses, Peter is recognized by a patient who knew him in his former life and plans to share that knowledge with the people Peter is being protected from.

Peter Brown is an unforgettable character. It's hard to imagine having sympathy for, and even liking, a Mafia hitman, but Josh Bazell succeeds in making the reader do both. Brown is a true original. The reader learns his motivation for becoming a hitman, some history of his crimes, how the Mob is organized and works and about the love of his life. By the middle of the book, the reader is on Brown's side, drawn into his world and compelled to read more to find out what happens.

I started this book not sure I'd like it. The language is rough and I couldn't imagine having any interest in the character. But it wasn't long before I couldn't wait to find out more. This book is highly recommended for suspense readers. It is a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writer's award winner, and quite deserving of the prize. I enjoyed it immensely.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Thanks to the great folks at Hachette, I'm giving away five copies of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. Rules are the standard ones; your address must be in the United States or Canada and it can't be a P.O. Box. The contest starts May 17th and ends May 27th at midnight. For one entry, post a comment; for two, subscribe or follow this blog, for three, post about this giveaway on your own blog. All comments must have an email address in order to be counted so I can contact the winners for addresses. Good luck!
Lauren Gray Hawthorne needs to make things pretty, whether she's helping her mother keep family skeletons in the closet or sewing her acclaimed art quilts. Her estranged sister, Thalia, is her opposite, an impoverished actress who prides herself on exposing the lurid truths lurking behind middle class niceties.While Laurel's life seems neatly on track-- a passionate marriage, a treasured daughter, a lovely suburban home-- everything she holds dear is threatened the night she is visited by the ghost of her 13-year-old neighbor Molly. The ghost leads Laurel to the real Molly, floating lifelessly in the Hawthorne's backyard pool. Molly's death is an unseemly mystery that no one in her whitewashed neighborhood is up to solving. Laurel enlists Thalia's help, even though she knows it comes with a high price tag.Together, they set out on a life-altering journey that triggers startling revelations about their family's haunted past, the true state of Laurel's marriage, and the girl who stopped swimming.


Thanks to the great folks at Hachette, I'm giving away five copies of The Richest Man In Town. Rules are the standard ones; your address must be in the United States or Canada and it can't be a P.O. Box. The contest starts May 17th and ends May 27th at midnight. For one entry, post a comment; for two, subscribe or follow this blog, for three, post about this giveaway on your own blog. Good luck!
Randall Jones, founder of Worth magazine, talked to 100 of the wealthiest individuals in a 100 towns and communities across the country. Remarkably, during his research, Jones found that these successful people were not so different from each other - they all had the same traits in common: The 12 commandments of wealth. Now he shares them with you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Four Corners Of The Sky by Michael Malone

Annie Peregrine Goode has a dilemna. What does an adult child owe to their parents, especially when those parents were bad ones? Annie's father, Jack, dropped her off with her aunt when she was seven and didn't come back. Jack is a major con artist, wanted by the police in several states and countries. Annie was raised by Sam, her aunt, and Clark, her aunt's best friend. She grew up and became one of the top pilots in the Navy. After a failed marriage, Annie returns home for a visit only to find out that her father is dying and asking for her help. Should she go to his rescue?

Not sure if Jack is even really dying, Annie goes to find out what is going on. Jack is in the midst of what he considers his crowning con. He claims to have a sixteenth-century golden Madonna, which was lost in a shipwreck and now worth millions. The Catholic Church is interested, but so is the local mob in Miami, which Jack has crossed. Add in the fact that Cuba wants the statue as a national treasure, and it seems that the cross-currents and loyalties are so tangled that they may never get unwound.

Annie also has another reason for going to see Jack. He has always refused to tell her who her birth mother was, and it is the final piece of her history that Annie needs to make peace with her life. How she helps Jack, finds love, and discovers the true meaning of family is the crux of this wonderful novel.

I really enjoyed this book. Malone is one of my favorite authors, and this book does not disappoint. I loved Annie's strong character. Subordinate characters such as her ex-husband, her new love, her best friend, and even a nursing home adminstrator are well thought out and portrayed. Characterization is Malone's strong point, but there is plot and subplot aplenty. As a Southern woman myself, I can attest that he gets the ambiance of the South dead on. This book is recommended for anyone wanting a great read or interested in family relationships.

Review of Will Marry For Food, Sex, and Laundry by Simon Oaks

Simon Oaks has crossed the line and is giving out secrets in the battle of the sexes. In Will Marry For Food, Sex, and Laundry, he tells women what men are looking for in a lasting relationship. He states that men will marry when their basic needs are met, and he defines those as food, sex and someone to care for them.

The book takes a relationship from the first date to a more serious dating relationship to possibly marriage. Along the way, Oaks reveals how men look at various situations common in male/female relationships, and tells how women can use this insight to their advantage when attracting and holding on to the man of their dreams. He lists some of the top reasons why relationships don't work out. He talks about what is appealing to a man, and the reasons why different behaviors will make a man loyal to a woman.

One of my favorite chapters was the one about food, where the author categorizes men into groups such as gourmet, vegetarian and carnivore, and gives menu suggestions for meals for each category. Simon explores the age-old argument about who does more chores and has an interesting insight. If the woman is best at domestic tasks, why not do them? Often a woman doesn't appreciate the tasks that the man performs, as they tend to be less routine. He suggests that the couple exchange tasks for a while to gain a new appreciation of what each brings to the relationship. Another interesting chapter explores the man/mother relationship, and talks about how a woman can replace the mother as the primary woman in his life.

This book is recommended for younger women who are in the dating world and not quite sure what men think or what is appealing to them. Another group that would probably enjoy this book is men themselves, as it gives quite an insight into typical male thought patterns and reactions.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I'm giving away five copies of Testimony by Anita Shreve, thanks to the great folks at Hachette.
At a New England boarding school, a sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape. A Pandora's box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voices--those of the men, women, teenagers, and parents involved in the scandal--that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment.Writing with a pace and intensity surpassing even her own greatest work, Anita Shreve delivers in TESTIMONY a gripping emotional drama with the impact of a thriller. No one more compellingly explores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming innocents, the needs and fears that drive ordinary men and women into intolerable dilemmas, and the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions.
Winners are limited to Canada and the United States and Hachette cannot mail to a PO Box. To enter, leave a comment for one entry. If you're a follower or become a follower, tell me that for a second entry. You can cross-post this giveaway on your blog for a third entry.
I'll need your email address in order to notify you if you win, and contact you for your mailing address. The contest starts Saturday, May 9, 2009 and ends on Wednesday, May 20th at 5 p.m. EST. Good luck!

Spook by Mary Roach

In Spook, Mary Roach examines the scientific evidence of whether or not we survive as conscious souls after death. She visits scientists who are doing research on brain waves, near death experiences and other physical phenomena. She visits libraries to read about the earliest experiments and investigations of mediums. But this is not all dry science. She also visits actual mediums and goes to medium school, where the sponsers claim to be able to help anyone discover their psychic talent. She even researches a case in NC where a court set legal precedent by admitting evidence that it said was revealed to the plantiffs after death, when a father "returned" and told his sons about a will that redistributed his estate.

I found this book fascinating. Roach strikes the right balance between dry science and more interesting personal antedotes. It is evident that the book is well researched and written. I enjoyed it quite a lot except for one thing. I listened to this on audio and the reader had such a mocking tone at times that it detracted from the book. I think this one would be better read than listened to. This book is recommended for nonfiction readers curious about the scientific explainations of life.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa

Mark Lockwood has a problem. He has been working for over a year with Merce Casals, the famous opera singer, on her memoir. As the book opens, Ms. Casals has passed away in her bathtub, leaving Lockwood with a dilemna. This is the biggest project of his writing career; the project that will make him a household name. He has hundreds of interview tapes, but no manuscript. Now the agent representing both him and Ms. Casals wants to give the project to an established author who will write it quickly to capitalize on Merce's death. Mark decides that he can't do that. Instead, he takes all the tapes, holes up in first a motel and then back home and spends up to twelve hours a day writing in a race with the other author to finish. The first book should make significant money, but an also-ran book will be a fiscal failure.

George Rabasa has done a nice job of telling Ms. Casals's story. She is sold as a little girl in Spain by her father in a poker game to a talent agent. This talent agent paid for her singing lessons and started her career. Casals becomes a legendary diva, her every move followed by fans. She marries another singer, Nolan Keefe, but they have a tumultuous relationship with many infidelities. She leaves him at one point for over five years and has a tabloid-delighting relationship with a jetsetting Prince, but finally returns to Nolan. I found the Casals's story the most absorbing part of the book.

There are also many secondary characters who are important to the plot. Perla, Casals's nurse, becomes part of Lockwood's team while he is writing the book. He fancies himself in love with her, but she puts him off. His wife, Claire, has left him as he becomes more and more obsessed with finishing the project. Casals's husband, Nolan, moves from his retirement home to the apartment where "the team" has assembled. Then there is Orson, a Casals's fan who routinely spends entire days dressed as her in tribute, who moves in to cook for the team and to be close to the story of his idol. This strange group of people come together to pay final tribute to the life of Merce Casals.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction will enjoy this book, although it is not based in fact. Rabasa has created believable characters, each interesting and finely drawn. I enjoyed the look into both the world of opera and into how a book is actually written and how an author goes about his work. This book is recommended for those ready for a good, sink-into-and-forget-the-world experience.