Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bonnie McGee left a life as a teacher to circumnavigate the world on a yacht with her husband. Voices On The Wind is the story of that voyage. The book starts with the famous poem by Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”. McGee’s yacht shared the same name, Road Not Taken, and provided the means for the couple to embark on a voyage that few of us have the courage and daring to attempt.

The book is a series of stories about the various places and people encountered along the way on the voyage. The reader is transported to far-away places rich in animal life and beauty, and discovers along with author the cultural visions of the people in those places. McGee narrates the values and beliefs of these tribal people of Africa and Australia and South America and the Tahitian islands. The overriding value of all these people is that of sustaining family relationships, and the work ethic of the West is viewed with surprise and suspicion. When, they ask, does a man spend time with his family and friends? The need for money and material possessions is greeted with astonishment. Most of these tribal people share their possessions with those around them, and take from the environment only what they need to survive for that day or week. Storing up treasures is foreign to them.

Another interesting theme of the book is the sailing language and concepts the reader encounters. One of the longest stories in the book tells of how the couple survived Hurricanes Irma and Jason while wintering in Australia. To hear the tale of what is required to survive such a harrowing natural event is eye-opening. The reader learns how dangerous it is to enter harbors, and how sailing through storms is a test of courage that few of us will ever have to endure.

This is an oversized book, and the reason is the gorgeous photographs that illustrate every page. There are shots of scenery from islands to jungles to bustling coastal towns. Animals such as elephants and sea life and an intrepid sea-faring dog are portrayed. There are scores of images taken from the yacht, showing the glorious maritime scenes that the couple was able to see daily. Many of the pictures show the various people met. There are scenes of tribal women performing traditional dances, of tribesmen paddling long canoes, of men performing the fishing work that sustains life. Above all, there are photographs of the many children. All are curious, interested to see how life is lived elsewhere, and smiling smiles of joy and welcome.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy travel books as well as for those interested in hearing about reaching out and grabbing the dream of another life. Those who indulge will come away inspired and refreshed. This is a gorgeous book and one that is highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

In Bad Mother, Ayelet Waldman talks about how all mothers are made to feel like they are performing poorly as mothers, regardless of their choices.  Waldman is married to the novelist, Michael Chabon, and together they have four children.  She gives the reader an intimate view of the choices she has made as a mother, and the negative feedback she has gotten for some of her choices.

The book is written in eighteen chapters, each discussing common parenting issues.  The stay-at-home mom vs. the working mom is covered, and how each is criticized for what they choose for their family.  The marriage partnership and how work is divided is a chapter.  Chapters I found especially relevant was one about how they elected to abort a child identified with birth defects, and one that talked about how to discuss sex and the parents' sexual history with one's children.  I also liked the chapter about the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship which gave me new ways to look at this common issue through a new filter.  The chapter about helping children with their social relationships and not dragging your own angst into the issue was timely, and I loved the chapter about hating homework.

This book is recommended for all readers.  Those who are parents will recognize themselves, or at least the issues that most parents face, while those who have remained childless will gain a better understanding of what family life is like. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Impossible Motherhood by Irene Vilar

Impossible Motherhood is the memoir of a woman who had fifteen abortions in fifteen years.  Although many will find the author totally unsympathic, others will read her story and understand what motivated her.  Irene Vilar lost her mother at age eight, when her mother opened the car door while the car was in motion, throwing herself out and killing herself in front of her child.  Having learned from her mother that a female should be pleasing to others, Vilar stuffed down her feelings about this event and channeled her emotions into her schoolwork, succeeding to the point that she is accepted to college at age fifteen.

Leaving her family behind in Puerto Rico, Irene attends Syracuse University in the Northern part of the United States, an environment as different from Puerto Rico as is imaginable. At fifteen, she is left by her father at the college, knowing no one, with little money and little life experience.   Her family experiences are bleak.  Her father is an alchoholic, who cheats on all the women in his life.  Two of her brothers are drug addicts.  Vilar falls under the influence of a professor at the university and ends up staying with him for a dozen years.  He is sixty years old when they meet, and Irene is sixteen.  He insists on his freedom, never paying her way but insisting that she pay for her food, and half of any vacations, as well as paying him rent.  Since a child would tie him down, he insists on no children.  His basic rule was that he took but did not give back to anyone.

Irene's only rebellion, as she saw it, was forgetting to use her birth control.  Her pregnancies were acts of rebellion against this overpowering influence, a way of asserting her independance.  Yet after a month or two, the thought of losing him overwhelmed her, and she would abort another baby. 

This book, although it is hard to read at times, is recommended for all women; feminists,women caught in dependant relationships that are bad for them, mothers who want to avoid their daughters falling into this trap as well as any woman ambivalent about abortion.  Vilar's life story shows the dangers of giving up independance and control of your life to anyone else, of needing someone so badly that you rebel against your ideals.  The reader is simultaneously repulsed by the fate of all these babies and compelled to read further to hear how Vilar overcame this life and all it entailed. 

The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

In this, the fifth book of The Chronicles Of Narnia, Lucy and Edmund have returned to Narnia without Susan and Peter, who are now too old.  Their cousin, Eustace, considered obnoxious by everyone except his parents, is brought along with them, although he is fond of telling them that Narnia and Asland do not exist and are just a figment of their imaginations.

They arrive to find that King Caspian has decided to take a voyage on his royal ship, the Dawn Treader.  He plans to sail to the end of the world and find out what lies there and along the way.  He has pledged to determine the fate of the seven lords, friends of his father, who went on expedition when Caspian was a child and then never returned.  Lucy, Edmund and Eustace accompany Caspian, along with other characters the reader has met in previous books of the Chronicles.

The company encounters many strange lands and people.  There is the Land Where Dreams Come True, the Land of Deathwater, the Land of the Dufflepods, and the land where three of the lords are found to have been asleep for years.  The reader is drawn along on the adventure, interested to hear what will befall the company next.  At the end of the book, Caspian returns to Narnia, while the children return to their world.  This book is recommended for readers of all ages, and is especially recommended for families to read together.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Death In The Stocks by Georgette Heyer

Arnold Vereker has been found murdered and his body has been left in the stocks on the village green.  Vereker was wealthy and as the police investigate, they discover many characters who had a motive to kill him, most of them his relatives. 

There are his half-brother and half-sister, Kenneth and Antonia Vereker.  Arnold was their guardian and kept them on a very short lease.  Antonia is engaged to Rudolph Mesurier, the accountant at Vereker's business.  Arnold had just discovered that Mesurier had been embezzling funds and was ready to prosecute him.  Kenneth is also engaged, to a venomous but beautiful woman named Violet Williams.  She flirts with every man she encounters, and makes it clear that her affections can only be bought and paid for, never freely given.

Then there are the investigators.  Superintendant Hannasyde, finds the case perplexing, specifically because it seems so simple.  Giles Carrington is Kenneth and Antonia's cousin, and also their lawyer.  He helps the superintendant understand the relationships that exist, and they discuss the case over drinks and dinners.  A further wrench is thrown in the case when another half-brother emerges; Roger, who the family had thought dead for years.

Readers who enjoy cozy mysteries such as those written by Agatha Christie will enjoy Georgette Heyer's writing.  The character's speech and personalities place the setting firmly in England, and the mystery gets untangled satisfactorily.  This book is recommended for all readers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bitter Night by Diana Pharaoh Francis

In Bitter Night, Diana Pharaoh Francis takes the reader into a fantasy world.  But this is not a pleasant fantasy.  This world is brutal and violent, where loyalty is given by compulsion spells that cannot be broken and everyone is out to best those around them. 

This world is controlled by witches.  Each witch has their own coven, and within their coven, they have soldiers who protect them with their lives, if need be.  The soldiers are of two types.  Shadowblades work at night, and can not withstand the light, while Sunspears work during the day, with darkness deadly to them. 

Max is the leader of the witch Giselle's coven; the Prime Shadowblade.  Giselle tricked her thirty years ago into giving up her human qualities to become an immortal being.  The problem is that she didn't tell Max that she would be giving up her life, her family, everything she loved.  Max hates Giselle, but cannot leave or disobey her orders. 

Now, in addition to the battles between witches, an even greater danger looms.  The Guardians, lords of all, have decided to bring down ultimate war and cleanse the earth of all humans.  To do so without destroying the earth, they need the obedience of the witches.  Both Giselle and her arch-rival Solange resist the Guardians, and their angels of destruction. 

Can Max and her crew manage to survive this new threat?  What kind of relationship will emerge between Max and Solange's Prime whom she defeated in battle and then recruited to her side?  Will the Guardians be successful or will the witches emerge as the new ultimate authority?

This book is the first in the Horngate Witches series.  It is recommended for sci-fi and fantasy fans who don't mind extreme violence.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Secret Of Joy by Melissa Senate

Rebecca Strand is at a crossroads.  She lives with Michael, but she's not sure she wants to take the next step and get married.  She has a job as a paralegal, which she knows she doesn't like, but can't get it together to move on and do something else.  Her beloved father is dying, and she doesn't know what she'll do when that happens.

Then everything changes.  Her father, in his last days, tells her a family secret.  He had an affair twenty-five years ago, and there was a baby from that relationship.  He couldn't face what he had done, and abandoned the baby and its mother; he never saw Rebecca's sister, nor had any kind of relationship with her.  No support money, no cards, no letters, no phone calls.

When he dies, Rebecca is left with huge questions.  How could someone she had loved so much and who had been such a wonderful parent to her have done such a thing?  Should she try and find her sister?  Will she be accepted by her?

After mulling it over and discovering that her sister's name is Joy and that she lives in Maine, Rebecca is pulled to go visit.  She finds Joy, who is not excited to meet her, and who insists that Daniel Strand means nothing to her.  Joy says he was nothing more than a DNA donor.  But Rebecca refuses to give up.  She falls in love with the town and develops relationships with several women there.  Even more, she fiinds Theo, who is everything that Michael is not.  Before she knows it, Rebecca has started a new life in Maine, with a rented house, a new dog and a determination to make her life what she knows she needs it to be.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy women's literature and for those who enjoy books about family relationships and women finding their way in the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives is the story of a group of young poets in Mexico in the early 1970's.  The book is written in three parts.  The first part is the story of the Visceral Poet group, young poets and writers living in Mexico City, all Hispanics from various countries.  The founders of the group are Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, who named the group after an earlier set of visceral poets in the 1920's.  That group centered around a female poet, Cesarea Tinajero, who disappeared mysteriously. 

In the first part, we meet the various characters through the eyes of a 17 year old, who thinks he might be a poet.  This young man, Juan Garcia Madero, spends his days reading and writing and discussing literature with the group members.  He also discovers his sexuality, and much of the section deals with his sexual awakenings and various partners.

The second part is written forty years later, and is written as a series of short interviews with various people who have encountered either Lima or Belano over those years.  Through these vignettes, we discover what has happened to these poets over the succeeding decades.  The story winds through several countries and continents.  Each person knows a bit of their stories, and the reader is able to slowly piece together their lives.

The third part is a flashback to the road trip that Belano, Lima, Madero and a prostitute take to try to find Cesarea and what caused her to disappear.  The events of that trip fuel the rest of the book, although the reader only realises this in retrospect.

The Savage Detectives is a book that will be considered important for years, and will probably become a classic.  Many readers might pick it up thinking it is a mystery, and they might be disappointed.  But those readers that stick around for the ride will be entranced as they enter Bolano's world.  This is definately a book that will bear rereads, and is recommended for readers who appreciate cutting edge literature and exposure to the literature of other countries.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) by Richard Polsky

In i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon), Richard Polsky takes the reader on a tour of high priced art and the dealer world of  artists, buyers, sellers, galleries, auction houses, and of course, the deal.  Polsky is well suited to this task as he has been involved in most of these roles.  As a former galley owner and collector, he purchased art and sold it.  He is intimately familiar with the big auction houses and the inside manuverings that characterize the transfer of great art from one collector to another.

The book is loosely organized around Polsky's quest to find an Andy Warhol painting for one of his clients.  They work the network, approaching known Warhol collectors, quizzing galleries, and attending auctions.  All of this brings angst to Polsky.  He had had a Warhol and sold it years ago, before the meteoric rise of art prices.  Seeing what a Warhol brought at today's prices (a million or more) made his selling that much more painful.

I found the discussion about how the art world is changing quite interesting.  Polsky sees a decline in galleries and more and more attention shifting to the big auctions.  He redefines himself in this world, changing his role to an art purchasing advisor rather than a gallery owner, and believes this is where many who want to stay in this world will end up as a career choice.  I also found the world of the super-rich and their concerns interesting.

This book is recommended for anyone interested in art, how artists work, and especially the finance of great art. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Thanks to Hachette, I'm able to give away three audio versions of Oprah's most recent Book Club pick, Say You're One Of Them by Uwem Akpan

Uwem Akpan's stunning stories humanize the perils of poverty and violence so piercingly that few readers will feel they've ever encountered Africa so immediately. The eight-year-old narrator of "An Ex-Mas Feast" needs only enough money to buy books and pay fees in order to attend school. Even when his twelve-year-old sister takes to the streets to raise these meager funds, his dream can't be granted. Food comes first. His family lives in a street shanty in Nairobi, Kenya, but their way of both loving and taking advantage of each other strikes a universal chord.

In the second of his stories published in a New Yorker special fiction issue, Akpan takes us far beyond what we thought we knew about the tribal conflict in Rwanda. The story is told by a young girl, who, with her little brother, witnesses the worst possible scenario between parents. They are asked to do the previously unimaginable in order to protect their children. This singular collection will also take the reader inside Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia, revealing in beautiful prose the harsh consequences for children of life in Africa.

Akpan's voice is a literary miracle,rendering lives of almost unimaginable deprivation and terror into stories that are nothing short of transcendent.

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, December 13th and ends Tuesday, December 29th 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! This sounds like an amazing book.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

100 Sporting Events You Must See Live by Robert Tuchman

100 Sporting Events You Must See Live is a no-brainer gift for the sports lover in your life.  Robert Tuchman's book, subtitled An Insider's Guide To Creating The Sports Experience Of A Lifetime, guides the average person in doing just that. 

The book lists 100 different amazing sports events.  Everything is here from the Masters and Super Bowl and World Cup to the Kentucky Derby, Westminister Dog Show, Calgary Stampede, Boston Marathon, Monaco Grand Prix, Ironman World Championship, and the most important down here in Tarheel country, the UNC vs. Duke basketball game.

For each event, Tuchman gives valuable information.  Categories include where the event is held, when, the significance and history of the event, notable athletes participating and how tickets are obtained.  He details travel arrangements, and even provides hotel and restaurants close by the action. 

This book is sure to be a favorite with any sports lover.  Meticulously researched, it provides help for those interested in going in person to these events, and a pleasant fantasy for those unable to go as they page through the book.  This book is recommended for sports lovers of any variety, and would be a welcome gift.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

Ren has spent all twelve of his years in Saint Anthony's Orphanage.  No one seems to know how he arrived or who his parents were, or most mysteriously, why he is missing his left hand.  This defect means that when the boys are lined up for inspection by those who come to adopt, Ren is never chosen.  Then one day a young man comes.  When he sees Ren, he falls to the ground in tears, exclaiming that this is his long-lost brother and of course, he must come with him immediately.  The Fathers of the orphanage agree, and Ren leaves with his new family, Benjamin Nab.

Within an hour, Benjamin lets Ren know that he isn't his brother.  He expects to find Ren and his disability useful in his profession; that of grifter and scam artist.  Benjamin has a partner, Tom, an alchoholic ex-schoolteacher.  Benjamin and Tom live life on the move, scamming the townsfolk in one place, then moving on.  There is little they won't do.  One of their more lucrative sidelines is graverobbing.  Sometimes they rob the corpses of jewelry but sometimes they steal the bodies and sell them to a local doctor.

One night, they get a huge surprise when a body they have dug up turns out not to be dead after all.  This is how Dolley, a huge mountain of a man, a stone cold killer who for some reason loves Ren, comes to join their group.  Tom goes back to the orphanage and gets two twin boys who were Ren's friends there.  All of the group lives in a boardinghouse run by Mrs. Sands, who also takes a shine to Ren.

But trouble is always lurking when you're a grifter.  The local rich man seems very interested in Ren, and seems to have clues about Ren's family background.  Can Ren find out who he belongs to and change his life, or will he end up a grifter forever?

Hannah Tinti has created fascinating characters in The Good Thief.  The plot is intricate and will keep readers reading to find out the next twist and turn and attempting to solve the mysteries of Ren's background.  This book is recommended for fiction readers looking for a great read and memorable characters.