Sunday, November 29, 2009

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

In Zeitoun, Dave Eggers takes the reader to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He doesn't narrate the story from the point of view of the government or the many agencies involved. Instead, he tells the story through the eyes of a family that lived through the chaos and the horror.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun immigrated to the United States from Syria, after a decade of working on ships and traveling all over the world. He married Kathy, an American who grew up as a Christian in America, but converted to the Muslim religion. Kathy and Abdulrahman built a life together in New Orleans. They had four children, and worked together in a contracting business. Abdulrahman handled the workers and the actual jobs, while Kathy handled the business side. In addition to the contracting business, they owned several rental houses.

When Katrina headed for New Orleans, and evacuation was recommended, Kathy and the children left, taking refuge with relatives. Although his family begged him to come, Abdulrahman decided to stay behind, ride out the storm and watch over their properties. He expected a storm like most other hurricanes; a few days without power and some cleanup from water damage and structures hurt by falling trees. Of course, Katrina was no ordinary hurricane. Abdulrahman found himself stranded in a city that was flooded beyond belief. It was a city torn by looters and crime; one that the mayor described as "animalistic".

Abdulrahman had bought a canoe years before at a yard sale as a reminder of his seafaring days. He paddled through the neighborhoods near his home, saving several neighbors stranded with no way out, and distributing food and supplies to those he found. As the days went by, Kathy begged him to leave, and the city was under mandatory evacuation. Finally, he began to think about how he would leave and reunite with his family.

Fate intervened before he left. The police came to one of his rental houses, where Abdulrahman and some friends had gathered. All four men were arrested and taken to a holding facility at the city bus station. From there, they were transfered along with other prisoners under the authority of FEMA to a maximum security prison. The second half of the book tells the story of Abdulrahman's imprisonment, and how he was treated there.

Eggers has chosen an effective method of portraying this natural disaster, made worse by human decisions. Viewing the catastrophe through the eyes of a resident provides a different focus than seeing it through the focus of a state or federal agency which is focused on policy and the safety of property and survivors. It provides a window into how quickly government is willing to trample on basic human rights in an effort to restore order. This willingness is chilling, and Eggers portrays it convincingly. This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Dyodyne Experiment by James Doulgeris & V. Michael Santoro

James Doulgeris and V. Michael Santoro have created a vision of America in the near future.  Hold onto your hats, as their vision is full of events that could happen but that all hope will not be our fate.

America, and New York City in particular, has been targeted again by America's enemies.  This time the threat is multi-pronged.  The Muslim terrorists that were responsible for the 9-11 terrorist attack have come up with a new plot.  Hijacking an oil tanker, they have turned it into the biggest conventional bomb imaginable.  They detonate it in the port of New York City, killing hundreds of thousands.  In the meantime, North Korea has smuggled in six nuclear bombs, hidden around the country and are demanding the the United States ignore their takeover of South Korea.  Both Russia and China are involved in the political manuverings that occur in the wake of these events.

The Dyodyne company, along with the military, is the best hope America has of confronting and defeating the terrorists.  The company, under the guidance of Sarah Randall, has come up with a method of precisely locating and tracking terrorists.  This is accomplished with the use of a virus that interacts with the person's DNA, turning them into a radio beacon that can be tracked anywhere.  Sarah becomes romantically involved with Tim Hatcher, a career military man, who helps the team overcome the problem caused by depending on wireless phones, as he is an expert on satellite tracking.  Together with diplomats and CIA operatives, they  race against time to save America from her enemies.

This book is recommended for thriller readers.  The action is fast and furious, and many readers will stay up late, desparate to read just one more chapter and see if the plot will be defeated before all is lost.  The Dyodyne Experiment is a fast-paced thriller that will keep the reader glued to its pages. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Ex-cop Mason “Mace” Perry and lawyer Roy Kingman investigate the death of a partner at Roy’s law firm, uncovering surprising secrets from both the private and public world of the nation's capital. Soon, what began as a fairly routine homicide takes a terrifying and unexpected turn-into something complex, diabolical, and possibly lethal.

Giveaway Rules
You MUST, MUST, MUST leave an email address in your entry to be entered. I hate having to throw out winning entries because there is no way to contact the winner.

1. The giveaway starts Sunday, November 21st and ends Friday, December 4th at midnight.
2. There will be three winning entries, which will be chosen by a random number generator.
3. Winners will be emailed and must respond within three days in order to claim their prize. After three days, another winner will be chosen and notified.
4. For one entry, comment below with your email address attached. You can get additional entries by being or becoming a follower of this blog, posting about the giveaway on your blog, or tweeting about it on Twitter. If posting elsewhere, please provide the link.
5. Winners must have a street address in either the United States or Canada. No P.O. boxes allowed by Hachette, sorry!

Good luck!  I've listened to several of David Baldacci's books and they are great, and do well on audio.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Manhattan Prophet by Jake Packard

The world of The Manhattan Prophet is disquieting.  It is set in New York City after a nuclear bomb has been detonated there by terrorists, destroying American life as we know it.  Thousands of poor and sick have been herded into Central Park, now known as Shantypark, where they live lives of desperation, forced to remain there by the police.  The police have become para-military and have taken control of most areas of civilization.  Their leader has no intention of giving that control up, and will use whatever force is necessary to retain his power.  News organizations have been pared down to a few government-sanctioned ones, and the only information going out is thoroughly vetted. 

Into this environment Salem Jones emerges.  The child of parents who are criminals and both imprisoned, Salem has grown up in prison, and is now being released, having reached adulthood.  Even though he has been in a prison environment, stories of his effect on others has reached the outside.  He has turned prisoners into nonviolent men, and created sanity and peace in the prison.  The story of his emergence is eagerly waited worldwide, as everyone wants to know more about this man.

Maria Primera is the reporter chosen to tell Salem's story.  She is assisted by her cameraman, Herbie, the child of hippie parents who raised him to believe in everything and nothing.  On the day of Salem's emergence, he manages to evade all the media and crowds.  The police want to control him; millions just want to see him.  Salem moves to Shantypark and starts to spread his message of hope there.  He performs miracles, healing terminal patients and unarming men bent on violence.  Maria is caught up in his story, and both are caught up in the turmoil caused by those wanting to be free and those determined to keep control.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy urban fantasy.  Readers should be aware that there is an abundance of violence and adult language in the book.   

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spook Country by William Gibson

This book is written in one of my favorite genres; the intersection between sci-fi, urban fantasyand cryptic events.  As someone whose love for Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle trilogy leads her to read it multiple times, William's Gibson's Spook Country allows me to add another author to my collection in this genre.

Gibson drops the reader into the middle of a big puzzle, and then reveals clues in the stories of three separate groups.  There is a prize out there although it is unclear what it might be, and everyone is trying to locate it for their own purposes.  The first group is made of The Old Man, a former government operative and his employees.  This group also includes Tito, a Chinese-Cuban young man brought in to perform the heavy work, and some of his relatives. 

Another group features Hollis Henry, a former rock star turned investigative journalist.  She is working for a secretive character called Bigend, who owns the magazine that has just hired Hollis, and who wants her to locate Bobby Chombo for some reason.  Chombo is a genius programmer, heavily into computer-generated art, and apparently, part of the plot to locate whatever it is that's out there. 

The final group is made of Brown, a government operative who seems to be a functionary in some nameless government agency.  He has kidnapped Milgrim, a high-functioning drug addict.  Although a drug addict, Milgrim has utility as a translator.  Brown keeps him under control by feeding him drugs.

The book concentrates on bringing these three groups together, and their interactions allow the reader to slowly comprehend what all are searching for.  Gibson creates a landscape where information is key; no one's life is private, and technology is an integral part of all plans.  It is a futuristic thriller/spy novel, and the spare language Gibson employs is perfect for a plot that is slowly revealed.  This book is recommended for sci-fi and fantasy fans.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tirissa And The Necklace Of Nulidor by Willow

Tirissa wakes up one morning, going about her day with her adopted family.  But this day is not like any other.  A spell is cast on her village, and everyone she knows is affected.  They become dazed and unaware of their surroundings; victim of The Deadening.  Tirissa runs to the house of the local herb lady and healer, and hears that a wizard may have put on this spell.  It is similiar to the spell in the old stories of what happened to the town of Nulidor.  First, The Deadening occured, and then a second spell that killed everyone there.  The healer tells Tirissa that she is the only one who can save the town, as she is the only one unaffected. 

Scared and alone, Tirissa starts out and journeys to the house of a more powerful healer.  That woman gives her more information and a silver necklace that has come down through the ages.  As Tirissa journeys, she meets a group of wood nymphs.  They tell her the missing pieces of her background.  She is the child of a wood nymph and her human lover.  That explains why Tirissa is not affected by the spell, and why she has access to magic such as hiding inside trees and talking to stones and forces of nature.

Tirissa picks up some allies on her trip.  Oglo is a troll, hundreds of years old, that had fought against the forces of evil once before and lost.  Now he is eager to go with  Tirissa, to help her and to redeem himself.  Along the way they get another member of their party, Storge.  Storge is a n'er do well who finds himself pressed into service as a king's guard.  He joins Tirissa and Oglo on their journey, reluctant at first to help but becoming a valued member of their group as time goes by.

It is good that Tirissa finds friends along the way, because she also finds many enemies.  There are the horrific Beaks; men who transform into huge birds that attack humans, stabbing them as they swoop down.  There are Kings and Princes that want to stop Tirissa's mission, hoping to gain power through helping the evil wizard that created the spell.  There is a hellhound named The Tracker, who tries his best to bring down Tirissa.  Finally, there is the wizard himself, with all his power and weapons.  Can Tirissa stop his evil spells before everyone is destroyed?

Young readers will enjoy this rousing adventure.  Tirissa is just twelve, and shows resourcefulness, loyalty, compassion and courage.  The plot is exciting, and both heros and villians are imaginatively created.  This book is recommended for children 9-12.  It could easily be the first book in a series of Tirissa's adventures, and children will be eager to read of further tales.

Join Tirissa's Facebook fan page for a chance to win a free copy of the book:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

She Had No Enemies by Dennis Fleming

Mary Michelle Fleming, known as Mickey to her family, was eighteen when she was brutually murdered by a serial killer.  Noticing her walking home from a grocery store, he followed her and stabbed her and slit her throat, leaving her for dead after attempting and failing to rape her.  Mickey was the baby of the family, with seven siblings, one of whom is the author, her brother Dennis.  She had graduated high school and was ready for college and the rest of her life when Anthony J. LaRette, Jr. stole her dreams and plans from her.

But Larette didn't just kill Mickey.  He also stole the heart and soul from the family.  The author writes movingly of what the aftermath of such a brutal crime is, and what it does to the survivors.  The Fleming family had not been the success story that we often expect families to be.  Their history was full of abuse, emotional and physical, from alcoholic parents who let their demons escape over and affect their eight children.  Dennis, like many of the siblings, got out of the house as soon as he could.  He escaped himself into drugs and alcohol before realising that he wanted something more from life.  He found the military and it helped him escape his background and find a purpose.

The book follows the family in the years after Mickey's murder until the execution fourteen years later of her murderer.  The killer was found and arrested within two weeks, a blessing to the family, and one that was possible because Mickey found the strength to run for help even with her deadly injuries.  It was determined once LaPrette was imprisoned that he had killed other women.  He claimed to have killed thirty women, and law enforcement tied him to twenty-four. 

Dennis Fleming had moved back home after his military career to try to help the rest of his family.  After the murder, the old patterns of abuse and inter-familial betrayal re-emerged.  His first marriage failed, and his wife and daughter left for another state.  He entered several other relationships, some to hide his pain, and some to try to bring some stability into his life.  Others in the family sunk into alcohol or drug abuse.  Quarrels among family members erupted over money and possessions, and some members were estranged from others.

Fleming refused to let this one event determine his entire life.  He continued his education, and although he made his living in a scientific lab, he spent his afterhours life writing and creating film as a way to process his thoughts on life.  This creative outlet enabled him to carve out a successful life, never forgetting Mickey, but refusing to let a tragedy define him.

So much of what Dennis writes rings absolutely true.  His description of the initial feelings after a loved one dies is stunning in its accuracy.  He explores the hate he feels towards the killer, and how for a while his only desire was to kill the man who killed his sister.  He writes about how it feels to go into a store and see magazines and newspapers selling copies based on the crime against a family member.  Finally, he writes of the acceptance and ability to move beyond this personal tragedy.  He viewed the execution of the man who murdered Mickey, but not out of vengance.  He witnessed it to represent the family and to close the circle.  Dennis Fleming is not an advocate of the death penalty; he believes such killers should be imprisoned and studied to understand what causes such behavior.

This book is highly recommended for readers searching for ways to move past tragedies, as well as for those interested in criminal justice and books about criminals and what motivates them.  It shows the human side of the other victims of crime; those left behind to carry on and try to make sense of random, unspeakable violence.  I came away from reading this book full of admiration for the author and what he has been able to accomplish with his life. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Art Of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein

In The Art Of Racing In The Rain, Garth Stein has chosen to tell his story through the eyes of a dog, Enzo.  Enzo comes to live with Denny Swift as a puppy.  Through the years, he is there as Denny meets Eve and marries her, and as they have their daughter, Zoe.  He is there as Denny starts to have success as a race car driver, and is treated as a full member of the family.

Then tragedy strikes.  Eve sickens and dies young, and Denny is caught up in a fight with her parents for custody for Zoe.  The fight gets vicious, and he loses custody while things are being resolved.  Through all this grief, Enzo is there as a steady touchpoint for Denny and Zoe, bringing them solace through his love and loyalty.

The reader hears how the custody battle works its way out over the years.  Enzo gets older and starts to deteriorate physically.  The book, in many ways, is the story of Enzo's life as he looks back over it as he nears his own end.

This book is recommended for animal lovers.  Many dog owners rave about this book, and it is one that they recommend highly and will remember for a long time.  For me, computer nerd that I am, the whole device of an animal narrator never really clicked as I found it impossible to engage with the viewpoint that Enzo understood the human world and what makes humans act as they do.  His philosophical discussions on being trapped in a dog's body when he should surely have been created a human just didn't ring true for me.  Still, this book is very popular, and most readers will enjoy it immensely.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chocolate-A Love Story by Max Brenner (R)

A chocolate lover's delight (and which of us aren't chocolate lovers?), Chocolate-A Love Story by Max Brenner is a cookbook brimming with delicious recipes of all things chocolate.  If you can imagine a category of food, there's a chocolate recipe here to make it.

The author, Max Brenner, is a world-renowned chef, specializing in chocolate confections.  He opened his first chocolate shop in 1996; a traditional candy shop where he chatted with customers while mixing chocoate on the marble tabletop.  This start grew into a worldwide chain of restaurants called Chocolate by The Bald Man. 

Some of the recipes include Bohemian French toast chocolate sandwiches, Control Freak chocolate spread, Politically correct Sacher torte, A therapuetic chocolate pot pie, My lost childhood chocolate birthday cake, Guilt-free fried chocolate truffles, Controversial cherry soup, Innocent meringue kisses, Well-disciplined ladyfingers and Frozen very hot margaritas. 

The book is laid out in a way to facilitate cooking.  Each page has the recipe on the left page, with a graphical representation of the dish on the right page.  This allows the cook to lay down the cookbook and not worry about mixing ingredients from one recipe into another on the same page, a mistake most of us have made once or twice.  The ingredients are all those that are readily available, and the directions are clear and concise.

With Christmas coming up, readers will be tempted to buy multiple copies; one for themselves and others to give as thoughtful Christmas gifts.  This book is recommended to readers that love to cook, and cooks that love to read.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dust by Susan Berliner (R)

Karen McKay notices something strange as she returns home one afternoon.  A small dust funnel appears inside her house.  Instead of normal dust, this dust is multi-colored; blue, red and green.  The funnel picks up a small figurine as Karen watches, then drops it, breaking it into pieces.  Karen thinks it is strange and does a bit of computer research about dust funnels, but then decides it is a strange one-time occurance and goes on about her business.

But it isn't a one-time occurance.  In the following days, the dust seems to be targeting the condos where Karen lives.  Numerous people are targeted by the funnel, which picks up objects and hurls them at the victim's heads, catching them unawares.  The condo occupants start to realise that the number of incidents are no accident.  People are falling, having car wrecks, slipping in the shower or down flights of stairs.  Several are hospitalized and some don't make it that far, dead at the scene of their attacks.

Karen and her ex-husband, Jerry, band together to figure out what is going on and how to defeat this evil that is threatening life and limb.  Over the next few days, they learn more about the dust's methods, it's likes and dislikes.  Can they figure out how to defeat the dust before it defeats them? 

Susan Berliner has written a story that will be enjoyed by those fans of cozy mysteries.  Although there are deaths, the violence isn't graphic or stomach-turning.  The heroine, Karen, is a fresh character; a research librarian with a need for knowledge and the impetus to defeat evil where others might turn away.  This book is recommended for mystery and thriller readers.

Bookstore Signings: 10 Lessons I've Learned

by Susan Berliner, author of DUST

Although I'm still new to the bookstore-signing scene, having done just two (the most recent one earlier this month), I am quickly learning what works and what doesn't work for me. Here are my conclusions:

1. Most authors can't just sit behind signs with pictures of their book covers and expect to generate sales to strangers. Of course, that'll work if you're a world-famous author like Stephen King. But most of us have to stand in a main aisle and introduce ourselves (and our books) to customers.

2. Don't be shy and reserved. I once watched an author spend hours slumped in a chair, not promoting her novels at all. The only books she sold were to friends.

3. Don't be loud and obnoxious. I watched another author scream at people (from his seat) as they entered the bookstore: "Do you like [name of genre] books?" Nearly everyone said "no" and I didn't see him sell a book.

4. Be friendly and outgoing. I wear a badge that has both my name and a picture of the cover of DUST and stand at the front of the store as a kind of unofficial greeter, smiling at people as they enter. Most make eye contact and some even say "hello" to me. Then I go into my spiel: "Hi. My name is Susan Berliner and I've just published a book called DUST." (I hold up the book.) "Do you like supernatural thrillers like those written by Stephen King or Dean Koontz?" Most people say, "no" or "sorry," and I thank them for their time.

5. Let people who like your genre skim through the book. I hand fans of paranormal fiction—about 20% of the people I talk to—my book while I summarize the plot: "DUST is a supernatural thriller about an evil swirl of dust that terrorizes a condo development..."

6. Find something about your book that will intrigue the customer. Since DUST is based on a real weather phenomenon called a "dust devil," I ask people if they've heard of dust devils. If they haven't, I explain dust devils are miniature tornados that arise suddenly on hot and dry spring days. I then tell them my novel was inspired by a dust devil incident in which an auto body shop collapsed, killing the owner. "It happened in Maine," I say, "so I thought Stephen King would write a novel about dust." All this time, the customer is looking through my book. Often, when I've finished my explanation, the person will offer to buy a copy.

7. Try to close the sale immediately. If the person doesn't want to buy the book, I thank him or her for listening and give him/her a DUST bookmark. Some people say they might buy the book later, but few of them ever return to my table. I usually sell DUST immediately or not at all.

8. Take a photo with the buyer. I walk the customer back to my table to sign a copy of DUST and have a picture taken of both of us with the book. (I post some of the best photos on my Website and Facebook pages.)

9. When dedicating a book, always ask the person for the spelling of the name. At my last book signing, I had two unusually spelled names: "Krisy" and "Annabela." If I hadn't asked for the correct spelling, I would have written both names incorrectly.

10. Wear comfortable shoes. After standing for more than five hours at my November book signing, my feet were killing me!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick (R)

Set from 459 to 466, Pendragon's Banner is the second book in Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner Triology.  It tells the story of Arthur of Britain, who fought, conquered enemies and brought peace to England.  It also tells of the love between Arthur and his wife, Gwenhwyfar, better known to most readers as Guinevere.

A king's life was one of war, of alliances and betrayals.  There were few families of royalty, and the balance of power between them and the desire for more power fuels much of the action in this book.  Arthur had many enemies, men who wanted the kingdom he had carved out.  Some of these included Lot, husband of Morgause, Arthur's stepmother; Hueil, a Northern ruler who attempted to defeat Arthur and even his own uncle, who persuaded Arthur's council to split the kingdom. 

Arthur had other enemies.  Morgause was a sworn enemy and cursed him that she would see all his sons dead.  Winifred was his first wife, put aside when he met Gwenhwyfar, and resentful of that, wanting to force Arthur to acknowledge her son and willing to join with his enemies to accomplish her goals.  There were other women also, slaves he took, women he had affairs with and the Lady of the Lake, who bore him another son.  Women's lives were hard; their children lucky to survive to adulthood.  There were many ways to lose a child, war, accidents, illnesses, plots.  Children were pawns in the power plays of the powerful, and as they grew, they learned to desire and scheme to gain power for themselves.

Hollick has created a realistic tale of this ancient history and this mythological man.  Arthur is shown as a warrior first and foremost, quick to go to battle, to defend what was his or claim more.  He is shown as a man greatly in love with his wife.  But Hollick also shows the dark side of Arthur.  That love did not prevent him from having other women.  Reflecting the violence of his time, slaves were treated as chattel.  Those who lost battles were maimed or blinded, or simply killed.  In one gruesome episode, Arthur has Lot and Morgause's daughter killed after Lot's defeat, to eliminate her as a problem in the future. 

Readers of historical fiction will enjoy Hollick's tale and be eager to read the other books in her triology.  Arthur Pendragon's reputation has survived for centuries, and a glimpse into what life must have been like in his court is fascinating.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers as well as those interested in a complex tale of power, corruption, love and war.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


President of the United States Donald Vanderdamp is having a hell of a time getting his nominees appointed to the Supreme Court.  After one nominee is rejected for insufficiently appreciating To Kill A Mockingbird, the president chooses someone so beloved by voters that the Senate won't have the guts to reject her -- Judge Pepper Cartwright, the star of the nation's most popular reality show, Courtroom Six.

Will Pepper, a straight-talking Texan, survive a confirmation battle in the Senate? Will becoming one of the most powerful women in the world ruin her love life? And even if she can make it to the Supreme Court, how will she get along with her eight highly skeptical colleagues, including a floundering Chief Justice who, after legalizing gay marriage, learns that his wife has left him for another woman.

Soon, Pepper finds herself in the middle of a constitutional crisis, a presidential reelection campaign that the president is determined to lose, and oral arguments of a romantic nature. Supreme Courtship is another classic Christopher Buckley comedy about the Washington institutions most deserving of ridicule.

Giveaway Rules
You MUST, MUST, MUST leave an email address in your entry to be entered.  I hate having to throw out winning entries because there is no way to contact the winner. 

1.  The giveaway starts Sunday, November 1st and ends Friday, November 13th at midnight.

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

3.  Winners will be emailed and must respond within three days in order to claim their prize.  After three days, another winner will be chosen and notified.

4.  For one entry, comment below with your email address attached.  You can get additional entries by being or becoming a follower of this blog, posting about the giveaway on your blog, or tweeting about it on Twitter.  If posting elsewhere, please provide the link.

5.  Winners must have a street address in either the United States or Canada.  No P.O. boxes allowed by Hachette, sorry!

Good luck!  I love Christopher Buckley and think this book will be a gas!