Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bear Portraits by Jill Greenberg (R)

A visual feast for those who love bears, Jill Greenberg has captured the many aspects of bears.  The book is full of portraits of different kinds of bears, polar bears, Kodiaks, black bears, Russian and European Brown bears, and grizzlies.  There are pictures of cubs and pictures of mature bears.

Many would be tempted to only show the cute side of bears, but Greenberg is not afraid to shoot portraits that show the power and ferocity of these animals as well.  Moving from portrait to portrait, the reader is aware of how humans came to view bears as central to so many myths and legends.  One fact that I'm always surprised at is how small the bear's eyes are in relation to the rest of their features. 

Along with the portraits, there are quotes about bears by various famous people and authors, from Homer to Homer Simpson.  One of my favorites is "The alleged power to charm down insanity, or ferocity in beasts, is a power behind the eyes"--Ralph Waldo Emerson.  At the end of the portraits, there is a spread that tells about each bear used in the book; type of bear, height, weight, geographic region, movies the specific bear has been in and their name.   

The book would be a great gift for anyone who loves bears, or anyone who appreciates nature photography.  The portraits are not shot as most nature photography; instead the individual bears are shot with lighting that highlights their features and characteristics.  Those lucky enough to own this book will treasure it and display it proudly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Financial Lives Of The Poets by Jess Walter (R)

The economy hasn't been kind to Matt Prior.  A business newspaper journalist, he decided to make the big jump to start his own business.  His business idea?  A website where investors could go to get investment advice written in poetry.  Hmmm, how's that working out for you Matt?  Not well.  Having used his savings to start the site and quickly realizing that there was no market, Matt jumps back to his newspaper job, just in time for the layoffs that are plaguing that market. 

So, Matt is unemployed, savings gone.  His wife, Lisa, went on her own get-rich quick scheme; buying scores of collectibles from Ebay that she planned to store for a few years and sell at a huge profit.  To finance this, she has maxed out their credit cards.

Matt has social problems as well.  He is the caretaker for his father.  His father's dementia increases every day.  Matt's two boys are moving further and further away from him as they grow up.  He discovers that Lisa has struck up a relationship with her high school sweetheart online, and it seems ready to move into a more physical realm.

There they sit, Matt unemployed, Lisa employed in a marginal job, no savings, deep in credit card debt.  Matt hasn't even told Lisa that he's been avoiding a foreclosure notice on their house.  He visits their financial planner and cashes out everything left.  What to do, what to do?  Stressed, he leaves his house one night to go get milk for the morning cereal.  At the local 7-11, he falls in somehow with a group of stoners, who take him to their apartment, where he gets stoned for the first time in twenty years.

Suddenly, his great revelation occurs!  He can sell pot to finance his way out of financial crisis.  There is a whole market of older, professional men and women who used to smoke and would probably jump at the chance to buy some pot from someone they trusted.  Matt uses his entire retirement savings to finance this new career choice.

This all sounds bleak, but in reality, this is one of the most upbeat books I've read lately.  I laughed out loud repeatedly, following Matt on his adventures.  Jess Walter has a perfect ability to write characters that breathe and stretch on the page, individuals you know in your own life.  This ability to make believable characters allows him to stretch reality, as the reader can always see what led the character to make what would normally be a horrible choice.  It's fairly uncommon that I read one book by an author and rush out to find more by him, but I'm rushing out for more Jess Walter books.  This book is highly recommended for fans of literature and current events.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Desert Hedge Murders by Patricia Stoltey (R)

Retirement is supposed to be relaxing, right?  It's not working out that way for Sylvia Thorn.  Retired from her job as a judge and at loose ends, she agrees to accompany her mother's group of friends on a Las Vegas trip.  The group, who call themselves the Florida Flippers, travel together several times a year.  Usually Sylvia's brother, Willie, travels with them, but can't this time, so Sylvia agrees to go with them and ride herd.

There's another newcomer to the group, a woman named Patsy.  No one seems to know much about her except for the Flipper who invited her, Sandra.  Things get off to a rough start when the group gets to the hotel, and a dead body is found in the bathtub in Sandra and Patsy's room.

Then Sandra disappears.  The group tries to stay on their routine and go to a deserted mine that has been turned into a touring site.  The manager there says Sandra has beat them there.  Relieved they enter the mine, only to find Sandra's body twisting over a crevice in the mine. 

Now there are two dead bodies, and mystery galore.  It turns out that Sandra's husband is under investigation for hedge fund fraud, operating without Sandra's knowledge in Nevada.  Worse, most of the Flippers have invested savings with him.

Sylvia steps in to solve the mystery with the help of Patsy and of Willie, who has joined the group after he and Sylvia's father get alarmed when they can't contact the group by cell phone.  There are law enforcement officers to dodge, along with a certain FBI agent that seems very interested in Sylvia as well as the crime.  Will they solve the mystery before more tragedy occurs?

This debut novel stands up very well.  It is recommended for mystery readers, especially those who enjoy the "cosy" mystery genre.  It appears that this is the start of a series, and I'd be interested in reading more adventures featuring Sylvia and Willie. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hellbound Hearts, Anthology (R)

Readers looking for a book that reflects the terror-filled parts of Halloween will be interested in this anthology.  The theme of these stories is some connection with Clive Barker's hit movie, The Hellbound Heart.  Each story reflects the world of the Cenobites, a merciless collection of horror-producing stories that are not recommended for bedtime reading.

Authors in the collection include Neil Gaiman, Conrad Williams, Sarah Langan, Chaz Brenchley, Nancy Holder, Tim Labbon and Kelly Armstrong, among others.  The stories are graphic and not for the faint-hearted.  These are stories for fans of full-blown horror.  Many revolve around a puzzle that as it devolves, takes characters into a bleak, horrific world filled with demonic beings.

This is my current car book, the book I dip into while waiting at appointments.  Now that twilight is coming earlier and earlier, the background provided by Nature emphasizes the horror of the stories.  Fans of this genre will be delighted with this new addition to the horror bookshelves. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly (R)

This is Michael Connelly's 15th book in his series about Harry Bosch.  Harry is a homicide detective in LA.  He lives for his job, and for his 13-year old daughter, Maddie, who lives with her mother in Hong Kong, and who he sees every couple of months for a few weeks.

As the book opens, Harry and his partner are assigned the next homicide.  It seems a routine shopkiller murder; the victim an elderly Chinese man who immigrated to this country with his family and opened a store, then expanded to a second one.  Harry and his partner soon discover though, that this killing isn't as routine as it seems.  The storeowner was paying a weekly tribute to one of the Chinese Triads, the organized crime gangs that operate in both China and the United States.  There is a good chance that this was a Triad killing, as the shopowner had told them he would stop paying due to lower sales.

Having identified the Triad operative who collected the tribute and is probably the killer, Harry and Chu, a policeman from the Asia Group Unit in the LA Police, start surveillance, hoping to find a way to make their case.  They are surprised when the suspect comes out with a large suitcase, obviously on his way to flee the jurisdiction.  Harry suspects that the man has been tipped off on the police investigation, something that could only occur from the inside.

To prevent the man's escape, he is arrested at the airport.  The plan is to hold him until evidence can be found, but then a new, startling episode occurs.  Harry gets a video on his cellphone.  It is footage of Maddie being held hostage in Hong Kong, and there is a message that Harry must back off on the suspect or she will be harmed.  Harry drops everything and flies to Hong Kong.  There, helped by his ex-wife and her new partner, a man who works in security, they race against time and the Triads to find Maddie before she is hurt.

Fans of the Harry Bosch series will not be disappointed.  I liked the first part which showed the routine workings of a murder investigation.  It showed the beaucracy and budget and political considerations that often hamper police work, and seems much more realistic than many books that portray everything falling into place almost magically.  The book changes tempo as Harry moves to Hong Kong.  The suspense rachets up with every new encounter, as the reader anxiously follows to see if Harry will be successful.  This book is recommended for mystery and thriller readers.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Your colleague's husband's sister can make you fat, even if you don't know her. A happy neighbor has more impact on your happiness than a happy spouse. These startling revelations of how much we truly influence one another are revealed in the studies of Drs. Christakis and Fowler, which have repeatedly made front-page news nationwide.

In CONNECTED, the authors explain why emotions are contagious, how health behaviors spread, why the rich get richer, even how we find and choose our partners. Intriguing and entertaining, CONNECTED overturns the notion of the individual and provides a revolutionary paradigm-that social networks influence our ideas, emotions, health, relationships, behavior, politics, and much more. It will change the way we think about every aspect of our lives.

Giveaway Rules


1. The contest starts Saturday, October 17th and ends on Friday, October 30th.

2. Winning entries will be chosen by a random number generator.

3. In order to claim your prize, you must respond to the notification email within three days.

4. For one entry, comment below and tell us how you use social connection media such as Twitter, Facebook, etc, or if you aren't interested.

5. For extra entries, you get one more for any or all of the following: become or be a follower of Booksie's Blog, post about the giveaway on your blog, or tweet about it and send me the address.

6. Winners must have a street address delivery in the US or Canada. No PO Boxes allowed, sorry!

Good luck! This looks like a great book!

Angels by Chuck Fischer (R)

Angels is the latest pop-up book by Chuck Fisher, complementing others he's done such as Christmas In New York and Great American Houses and Gardens.  It is a stunning, gorgeous book that would make a perfect book to leave out for visitors to open and spend time with.

Each page opens to an amazing 3-D popup.  It's difficult to give the sense of how intricate and eye-catching each popup is.  These were done by Bruce Foster, a master paper engineer.  The reader can look at these again and again, finding something new to delight the eye on each viewing.

Along with the popup on each set of pages, there are informational sections on each set of pages.  The pages are broken into categories. The Origins Of Angels exploring the historical timelines and all the cultures that had a history of angels.   Angels as Messengers look at Biblical angel messengers such as the burning bush with Moses, or the angels that saved Daniel in the lion's den.  A Hierarchy Of Angels explains the six tiers of angels and the differences between such entities as cherubim, seraphim, thrones, dominions, virtues and powers.  There is an entire set of pages devoted to the Archangel Michael, with what I found to be the most visually appealing popup with rich red tones and an elaborate dragon.  The page for the Archangel Gabriel talks of how he was the one who told Mary her babe would be the Savior, and explores whether Gabriel is the only female angel.  There is a section on angels in art and music.  The final popup is on Angels of the Zodiac, with each sign assigned a specific angel.

This is an amazing book.  The intricate popups with their moveable parts, and the text explaining angels make this a feast for the eyes as well as the brain.  This book is recommended for all readers, and those who are able to view it are lucky indeed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes (R)

What a difference a year makes in the lives of royalty.  As The Tudor Rose opens, we meet Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of King Edward IV.  She is getting ready for a wedding to the Dauphin of France, a man she has never met.  Word comes that the marriage offer has been rescinded, and she is comforted by her father.  Secure in the love of her family, she is a happy young woman, easily able to overcome this rejection.

But a year later, her life has changed dramatically.  King Edward has died, and life changes forever.  Her uncle, Richard, who should be serving as protector of the new King, Elizabeth's brother Ned, instead takes the crown for himself.  Worse, he imprisons both Ned and Richard of York, the eight-year-old brother known as Dickon.  Elizabeth and her sisters and mother are living in santuary in a monastery.  They agree to move to the castle under King Richard's protection, but then disaster strikes.  As history fans know, the Princes in the Tower are murdered to eliminate the threat to Richard's crown.

Filled with hate and scorn for her uncle, and knowing that the crown should now be hers, Elizabeth agrees to join forces with Henry Tudor, who has been living in France in exile.  Henry has royal blood to substantiate his claim; he is related to King Arthur of the Roundtable.  With the knowledge that Elizabeth will marry him if he defeats Richard, Henry invades England and kills Richard in battle.  He is crowned King.

Six months later, he marries Elizabeth.  Far from her romantic dreams, it is unclear if he wants her for herself, or just to consolidate the royal bloodlines and end the civil War of The Roses.  Elizabeth is a warm, outgoing woman and marriage to a cold, calculating man like Henry is difficult for her.  They have four children.  Arthur is the eldest, raised to be the next King, while Harry is known now as Henry the Eighth.  Margaret becomes Queen of Scotland, marrying King James.  Mary is the youngest girl. 

While she is content with her life and children, there are always troubles in a royal household.  There are various pretenders to the Crown, and Henry must defend his right to rule.  Two pretenders over the years both claim that, far from being murdered in the Tower, that instead the Princes escaped and that they are Dickton, now grown.   Many rally behind them, and even Elizabeth is torn between her desire to believe her beloved brothers are still alive, and the common sense that knows that they are indeed gone forever. 

The book follows Elizabeth and Henry's life.  It gives an inside look at royal marriages and the restrictions royal women lived with.  It is ifascinating to see the background that produced Henry the Eighth, whose impact on English history was so significant and long-lasting.  This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction.  Margaret Campbell Barnes has done an excellend job of researching Elizabeth of York's life, and of putting the reader into her shoes to get a glimpse of the obligations and constant manuvering for position those who were royal lived with. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

Breaking The Bank by Yona Zeldis McDonough (R)

Mia Saul is barely keeping her head above water.  She lives in New York City with her daughter, Eden, and works a series of temp editorial jobs.  Her husband, Lloyd, has walked out after sixteen years of marriage for a young girl he met while filming a documentary on the nail salon industry.  He sends child support haphazardly  when it suits him, but still considers himself able to interfere in all of Mia's decisions.  Mis is constantly worried.  Worried about Eden, who is having trouble at school, worried about money, worried about their apartment, just worried. 

Then one night it happens.  She goes to an ATM to take out one hundred dollars, and the machine gives her two hundred, while putting out a receipt for the hundred she asked for.  She assumes the machine just made a mistake and it would reflect on her next statement, but the mistake doesn't show up.  The next time it is five hundred, then a thousand, and finally an uncirculated ten-thousand dollar bill.  Mis can't believe what is happening, but doesn't tell anyone.  She starts to give money to those around her in need, trying to make their lives a little better as the money does hers.

But worse is to happen.  She sells the bill to a local dealer, who then gets killed soon after.  That brings the police to Mia's door, and she is even arrested and spends a night in jail.  This just provides more ammunition to Lloyd, who manages to get Mia's family on his side.  They all insist that she is making poor decisions that affect Eden, and Eden goes to live with her grandparents, leaving Mia miserable.

Along with these woes, there are romantic ones.  Will Mia get back with Lloyd, who seems to be around more and more?   Will she start a new relationship with Fred, the steady laid-back bartender who is definately interested in her?  Or will she throw everything away for an exciting mystery man who everyone thinks is totally wrong for her?

Breaking The Bank is a charming book.  It is a light romance as well as an interesting take on the everyday life of single moms.  The reader finds themselves cheering for Mia to make it.  This book is recommended for those looking for a feel-good book, and for lovers of women's literature. 

Saturday, October 10, 2009


We suffer today from food anxiety, bombarded as we are with confusing messages about how to eat an ethical diet that's good for you and the planet.  Should we eat locally?  Is organic really better for the environment?  Can genetically modified foods be good for you? 

JUST FOOD does for fresh food what Fast Food Nation (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) did for fast food, challenging conventional views, and cutting through layers of myth and misinformation. 
For instance, an imported tomato is more energy-efficient than a local greenhouse-grown tomato. And farm-raised freshwater fish may soon be the most sustainable source of protein.  Informative and surprising, JUST FOOD tells us how to decide what to eat, and how our choices can help save the planet and feed the world.

James McWilliams is an associate professor of history at Texas State University. He was a fellow at Yale University's Agrarian Studies Program, and is the author of three previous books. He has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. He lives in Austin, TX.

Giveaway Rules
1. The contest starts Saturday, October 10th and ends on Friday, October 23rd.

2. Winning entries will be chosen by a random number generator.

3. In order to claim your prize, you must respond to the notification email within three days.
4. For one entry, comment below and tell us a food worry you have or something you believe is a food myth.  For example, I love baby spinach but now worry when I buy it because of the food poisoning scares.

5. For extra entries, you get one more for any or all of the following: become or be a follower of Booksie's Blog, post about the giveaway on your blog, or tweet about it and send me the address.
6. Winners must have a street address delivery in the US or Canada. No PO Boxes allowed, sorry!

Good luck!  This looks like a great book!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Shimmer by David Morrell (R)

Dan Page's wife, Tori, has disappeared.   Frantic with worry, he puts out requests to police to locate her knowing that they will do their best as he is a policeman also.  He gets a call the next day from a little town in Texas named Rostov.  The man on the phone says Tori has been found, but when Dan asks if she is all right, he is told he needs to come and see for himself.

When Dan gets there, he finds that Tori seems to be mesmerized and in another world.  She has come to Rostov because of a local feature; mysterious lights that some can see and some cannot.  Tori can see them and is spending most of each night just staring at the lights.  She is joined by many others, who all seem fascinated by what they are seeing; at least at first.  While Dan tries to get Tori to leave, a man seems to have a psychotic break, and starts firing at the crowd.  Multiple individuals are killed and the man gets Dan in his sights.  Coming out of her trance, Tori grabs a sheriff's gun and kills the madman.

Others start to be affected by the lights.  The lights are located outside of a military installation, or as things evolve in the Page's understanding, the installation has been located near the lights.  Personnel at the base start to have the same kind of breakdowns that the man at the observation field did, and more and more people are killed.  In the midst of this, Dan and Tori do their best to determine what is going on, and what part the lights play in the havoc that has come to Rostov.

David Morrell has written twenty-three other novels.  The most famous are probably the Rambo novels that the popular movie series was based on.  In The Shimmer, Morrell has created another suspenseful world that draws the reader to find the answers to the questions he poses.  This book is recommended to thriller readers.

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

In this fourth book of The Chronicles of Narnia, things are not going well.  The King and his wife have both died, and their heir, Prince Caspian, is being raised by his uncle, Miraz.  Miraz takes the throne and declares himself King.  Caspian escapes and finds his way to Narnia.

Miraz never believed in any of the old tales about Narnia, talking animals, dwarves or even Aslan.  Caspian does, and is delighted to encounter all of these characters when he arrives in Narnia.  The dwarves and animals all pledge their loyalty to Caspian, but Miraz is determined to put an end to him once and for all.  He brings an army and the battle for control of the kingdom begins.

Outnumbered, things are not going well for Caspian and his forces.  Fearing defeat, he blows the magic horn left behind by Susan when she, Peter, Edmund and Lucy reigned the land.  Although it was a thousand years ago, the tales of their heroics and kind governance remain part of the fabric of Narnia.  The horn is supposed to bring the four to the aid of whomever blows it.  Desparate, Caspian does just that.

Back in England, the four children are in a train station, ready to journey back to their respective schools after holiday.  To them, only a year has passed since their time in Narnia.  But when the horn sounds, they are transported back, only to find that little remained that they recognized.  They met up with a dwarf from the Caspian army, and he took them to meet Caspian.  There, they fight at his side with the help of Aslan who awakens the old magic of the land and Mariz and his army are defeated.  Caspian will be King Caspian and rule Narnia as it's rightful ruler.

This was another enjoyable journey back to the land of Narnia.  This book is recommended for young readers, and for parents who wish to share the adventure with their children, and for lovers of fantasy series.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


This is a HUGE giveaway! Five lucky winners will receive all five books from Hachette. The titles included are:
Amigoland By Oscar Casares

What better way to celebrate our love of Hispanic culture than by reading great books!
Giveaway Rules

1. The contest starts Sunday, September 27th and ends on Wednesday, October 7th.
2. Winning entries will be chosen by a random number generator. All entries MUST have a valid email address; those without email addresses will be disqualified.
3. In order to claim your prize, you must respond to the notification email by Friday, October 9th.
4. For one entry, comment below and tell us one thing you're grateful to this culture for. It might be food, music, art, books, whatever makes you happy.
5. For extra entries, you get one more for any or all of the following: become or be a follower of Booksie's Blog, post about the giveaway on your blog, or tweet about it and send me the address.
6. Winners must have a street address delivery in the US or Canada. No PO Boxes allowed, sorry!
Good luck! This is an incredibly generous offer from Hachette.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Across The Endless River by Thad Carhart

In Indian culture, the ocean was called "the endless river" as no one ever sailed across it. Thad Carhart explores the life of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who was the baby born to Sacagawea on the explorations of Lewis and Clark, where she served as a translator. Because of this connection with Americans, Jean-Baptiste grew up with connections both to his Indian heritage, the French trapping culture of his father, and the American/English culture. Sacagawea died when Baptiste was eight, and he lived after that with Captain Clark, who treated him as a ward and provided him with an education. There, he met and grew to know a German nobleman, Duke Paul of Wurttemberg. Paul is in America to satisfy his longing to make a name for himself as a natural history scientist. Baptiste is invaluable to his efforts, serving as a guide and helping him capture various wild animals.

When Paul returns to Europe, he convinces Jean-Baptiste to go with him.  What is meant as a short journey ends in Jean-Baptiste staying as Paul's guest for five years. He learns about European royal culture and it's strict structure for every part of life. During these years, Baptiste learns about royal hunting, familial expectations, music, art and various scientific studies. He also forms relationships with two women. One is a young widow, Theresa, who is Paul's cousin and who starts a friendship with Baptiste that turns into an affair. He also forms a relationship with the daughter of a wine-merchant to European nobility. Maura is half French and half Irish, and understands better than anyone else the way that Jean-Baptiste feels balanced between two opposing worlds.

Thad Carhart has done extensive research into this man's life, and it is evident in his writing. One of the strongest examples is the contrast in hunting. The reader is taken along on an Indian hunt for buffalo, and this writing is exciting and compelling. When Baptiste goes to Europe, this hunting, which is done for survival, is contrasted with the very formalised hunt performed by the noblemen, where one animal is selected, his moments traced, and he is harried to exhustion and then executed. Another example is Carhart's writing of the ceremony that young Indian men underwent to become braves. It is a chilling ceremony, and the reader is transported into the smokey, loud tent in which the ceremony occurs. The contrast in European culture is the stylized dance that Baptiste attends, where all moves are structured and there is a definate pattern to every stage of the evening. This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction. I enjoyed getting to know Jean-Baptiste, and I think others will also.
Reviewed for Book Pleasures

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer has written an amazing debut novel in Everything Is Illuminated. It explores the Jewish culture and history in the Ukraine. A young American writer, also named Jonathan Safran Foer, has come to this country to find his family's history. In particular, he wants to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazi's. In order to accomplish this, he engages the services of Alex Perchov, a young Ukrainian translator. The men take off an a journey of exploration and discovery, accompanied by Alex's grandfather and the family dog, Sammy Davis Junior, Junior.

Jonathan knows the name of the village his family came from, Trachimbrod. Unfortunately, that name is not on any maps, nor can they find anyone who knows anything about such a place. Finally, they find an old woman who says she has been waiting for years for someone to come and ask about this place and all that occurred there.

The book is told through several devices. Some of the narrative is Alex writing to Jonathan after Jonathan's return to America. These portions are where we find out Alex's story and his hopes and desires. Another part is the recounting of the journey they take. Finally, stories of the Jewish people in this region are interwoven with the current narratives.

Foer has written an amazing debut novel. It is, by turns, ribald, humorous, breathtakingly depressing, passionate and trivial. The stories of the families that made up Trachimbrod over centuries are told. It explores love, betrayal, kindness, violence, hopes for the future and actions grounded and caught in the past. There were scenes that made me laugh out loud, and scenes that brought me close to tears. This book is recommended for those readers looking for a unique reading experience that validates the human experience.