Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Queen Of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham

In The Queen Of Last Hopes, Susan Higginbotham traces the life and marriage of Margaret Of Anjou.  She leaves her French home at the age of fourteen to marry Henry VI.  The book covers their lives from 1444 to 1482, when Margaret dies.  Her life went from that of an honored queen, welcomed by the London townspeople and loved by all, to one in exile, alone and reviled by the English people.  What caused such a life change?

After eight years of marriage, Henry, never a strong man, went "mad".  Mad is the description that was given to him, and the descriptions seem to describe a catatonic state that lasted for a year and a half.  During that time, Margaret finally gave birth to their only child, a son, Edward.  Those who follow history know that power hates a vacuum, and Henry's illness started the change of events that led to the war between the House of Lancaster (Henry) and the House of York (Edward).  The fight for the crown and the ability to rule England tore the country apart for years, dividing men who had served on the battlefields as brothers, severing families and spreading death and destruction for decades.  Margaret spent years as the power behind the throne, advising Henry and finding men and money to fuel their attempts to regain the throne once it was lost.

One of Higginbotham's strengths is taking the reader into this world and letting them feel what day to day life was like.  The fate of women was not a pretty one.  Used as pawns in political powerplays in their marriages, once married they were to do nothing but produce babies.  Their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers and uncles were also pawns as they fought in wars and political maneuvers.  One day a family might be rich and powerful; the next, having chosen the wrong side in a powerplay, impoverished and subject to long years of imprisonment or even death by beheading or other barbarous methods.  Any woman who dared to step outside this stricture was subject to rumours and disgust.

This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.  It really filled in a gap in my knowledge of this period, and may do so for many other readers.  Margaret's strength and resourcefulness is now being reevaluated as the stigma of being a strong woman is being examined by historians.  The reader will enjoy Higganbotham's research and ability to bring an era and its characters to life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Way Of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

In The Way Of Kings, Brandon Sanderson has written the first volume of what will be the decade's foremost fantasy trilogy, The Stormlight Archive. The book takes place in Roshar, a bleak world of stone and storms. The people of Roshar have been involved in a war for years to avenge the killing of their king. The war takes place on The Shattered Plains, a bleak area with massive chasms and stony ground. They meet and fight the people of the Plains, both for revenge and to win gemhearts.

The society is based on magic. Centuries ago, the land was ruled by the ten consecrated orders of the Knights Radiant. Those orders and warriors fell, leaving nothing but their almost-invincible armor and swords, called Shardplate and Shardblades. When armored in Shardplate, an ordinary warrior becomes almost invincible and can fight off entire battalions. Shardblades can cut through anything. Both are valued above anything else in Roshar; and those who own them are the rulers of the country.

Roshar now is ruled by a young king, the murdered king's son. He has ten Brightlords who each have armies and who fight for him, but they are not united. There are plots and counterplots, alliances and betrayals. Overall, the land is much weaker than in the past. And the signs are grim. Everything points to the coming of The Desolations again, perhaps to utterly destroy the land.

There are four individuals who seem to be the focus of both the hope and the despair that may come. Dalinar Kholin is one of the king's Brightlords, and his uncle and most trusted advisor. Renowned for his battle expertise, troubling rumors have started to circulate about Dalinar. He has been having visions of the past, and those visions make him question whether the ways of man are the way forward, or if they need to reach back to the ways of old.
Shallan is a young woman, ignorant and untested. She comes to court hoping to become the ward of the king's sister, a renowned scholar. She is accepted and learns to love knowledge and education, but she can't forget that she has come to court to attempt to steal a great treasure to help out her family back home and save it from ruin and poverty.

Then there is the assassin. No one knows who he is or why he kills, but his targets are never safe. He kills with ruthless efficiency, but each killing grates at his soul. His life is not his own, but hostage to the master who owns his oathstone. As long as his oathstone is held by another, he must obey their every command, no matter how foreign it is to his nature.

Finally, there is Kaladin. Raised as a surgeon's son, he joined the army instead when his younger brother was recruited. Far from admiring the Brightlords he joined the army to protect, he has grown to loathe them as they betray him and the codes of honor again and again. Due to these betrayals, Kaladin is now a slave, assigned to the bridge carriers, the most dangerous job in the army. Yet even in this lowly position, he finds a way to affect events around him.

This book is highly recommended for fantasy readers. If you have a fantasy reader in your life, run, don't walk, to the nearest bookstore and purchase The Way Of Kings for them. Sanderson has created a harsh world that challenges the men who attempt to survive in it, but gives glimpses of what can be. Like the best fantasy sagas, there is a moral code underlying the entire story that keeps the reader enthralled. Readers will be thrilled with this first book and anxiously await the next.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ansel Adam In The National Parks, edited by Andrea Stillman

This large volume of Ansel Adam's photographs is a perfect Christmas gift for anyone interested in nature or art.  The book reviews Ansel Adam's life, with excerpts from statements ranging from President Jimmy Carter to Wallace Stegner to Richard Woodward.  At the back of the book are several pages of photographs with notes by Andrea Stillman.  Stillman worked with Adams in the 1970's and is considered the leading expert on his work, having edited several books of his photographs.

Then there are the photos.  Page after page of treasures, these photographs allow the reader to view nature as Adams did and marvel at it's wonders.  The book focuses on his photographs taken in National Parks.  There are 225 images, 50 of which have never before been published.  Many of the photographs have sidebars giving insight into what Adams was doing at the time the photograph was taken.  He visited and shot images in more than forty national parks.  The images are taken in black and white, showing the stark beauty of the world, highlighting the natural wonder as seen through this man's eyes and knowledge.

Adams is recognized world-wide as one of the world's premier photographers and naturalists.  His work on behalf of the national park system of the United States defined his career and make his work instantly recognizable.  This book is recommended for those readers interested in the world around them, or for those interested in art history.  Ansel Adams In The National Parks is a stunning work that will be treasured by those who own it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Etta by Gerald Kolpan

In Etta, author Gerald Kolpan takes the reader on a rollicking ride that explores the life and times of Etta Place. For those for whom this name does not ring a bell, Etta was the mistress/partner of The Sundance Kid and a member of the Hole In The Wall Gang which included Butch Cassidy, Kid Curry, Peg Leg Elliot and a host of others. Although this gang were bank robbers and held up trains, they enjoyed a popularity in the general population for their insistence on stealing only from the rich.
Since little is known of Etta's life, Kolpan is free to make up an interesting tale. What is known is that Etta was a beauty, who dressed fashionably and could ride and shoot like the best cowboy. In Etta, the name is a pseudonym for a rich girl who grew up riding; the daughter of a wealthy man without a son who taught his only child to ride and shoot and be adventuresome. This background makes the character believable in terms of what is known about her.

From that point, various storylines from the era are brought into the story. Koplan gives Etta a famous friendship. He has her meet and become best friends with Eleanor Roosevelt in her pre-marriage days when she spent her time in New York working in a settlement house. Etta is also portrayed as replacing Annie Oakley in the Wild West show of Buffalo Bill Cody. She also has run-ins with various Pinkerton detectives, especially the top operative who spent years looking for her and the rest of the gang.

Readers will enjoy this look at the last of the Wild West. The privations of frontier life are shown. Badmen and lawmen alike are featured, with often only fate separating the two. An underlying theme is the way the poor are mistreated by the wealthy, and the lengths that fair-minded people are driven to as they attempt to remedy this disparity. The characters are engaging, and the tone is breezy. The reader is swept along on a rollicking tale that they will hate to see end. This book is recommended for all fiction readers who enjoy a great tale about a time in our country's history when life was less structured and men made their way by various means to survive.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Active, Creative Child by Stephanic Vlahov

The subtitle of The Active, Creative Child is Parenting in Perpetual Motion, and parents of these children will surely recognize this description.  These are the children who are born very intense.  They tend to talk early, have boundless curiosity that leads them to do things most children would never think of doing, and seem to have little need for sleep.  They are hypersensitive to their environment, and may be picky eaters or have tactile preferences and dislikes for certain materials.

The author, Stephanie Vlahov, relates her experiences parenting such a child, along with research from various child experts to explain why the child does what he/she does, and how best to help the child adjust to the world.  She suggests that such children should be cherished, not dreaded, as they are bright, creative and interesting.   Yet, she also believes that they must be grounded in the real world, and realise that they must follow the rules as well as others. 

The first chapter discusses what children like this tend to be like.  In it, she gives the reader eight observations and ten hints from her own experience.  These observations and hints are useful to the parent struggling to understand why their child is so different from that of their peers, and once they have identified their child as an active, creative child, how to manage their environment to best support their enthusiasm and help them fit into the rest of society.

The second chapter talks about the large part imagination plays in the lives of these children.  They tend to be very focused on what they are interested in.  Imaginary friends may make an appearance and remain in family life for months or even years.  Creative outlets are extremely necessary, and often are the pathway for the child to fit in with other children.

Chapter 3 discusses how to help the child fit in.  These children are often challenged at making friends, as they are too high-energy for other children who can see them as bossy.  Often they are interested in other activities than those of the children surrounding them.  The author helps the parent recognize the importance of helping their child find a peer group of other children who share the same interests.  She also gives strategies for helping the child, from an early age, fit in by recognizing the needs of those around them.

School is often a challenge.  These are the kids who question everything, not the kids who come into class, sit down with organized work and homework assignments.  Instead, they are the ones who question constantly in their need to understand.  They have more difficulty with structure, and a teacher that demands compliance with no room for exploration is not the best match.  The author feels that these children are at risk for being wrongly diagnosed with ADHD or ADD, more to make them compliant than because they actually have a disorder.  She also discusses gifted programs and how these gifted children make not fit that mold, as their talents and gifts may be in the arts rather than the traditionally tested fields of math and language.

Finally, Vlahov discusses family dynamics.  When there are multiple children, it is difficult sometimes to give those who are more laid-back the attention they need as the active child demands so much more attention.  But it is critical to help the other children in the family also find their areas to shine.  In addition, if the active child is a star in a creative field, it should not preclude the other children from also enjoying it.

This book will be a godsend for those who have an active, creative child in their lives.  It explains why they do the things they do, and how to help them be the most successful people they can, and they are often the stars of our world if raised appropriately.  Intense, focused, creative, always-on, these children have abilities that many of us can only wish for.  This book is recommended for parents facing this issue and those interested in child development. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Polski Affair by Leon Gildin

Anna Adler is living in Israel as the book opens.  She and her husband Chaim are immigrants and Holocaust survivors.  They have a son, Sholom, and a daughter, Tamar, and are a happy family with successful lives.  But before this life, they had other lives back in Poland.  Anna was Rosa Feurmann and was married to a professor and had two lovely boys.  She left the house one day and when she returned they were gone.  Chaim was Itzik, and he lost his wife and four children.  Drawn together by shared tragedy, they made their way to Israel and started new lives.

But the past cannot be forgotten.  They made their way to Israel after staying in the Hotel Polski.  It was touted among the Jews as a refuge in the madness, somewhere that families could stay and get visas to other lands.  Desperate to escape, it was always crowded with families, although no one really knew if those who left were taken to jail or the camps, or if they did make it to new lives elsewhere.  They are willing to give up their entire fortunes for a chance at survival.

Rosa has no money to try to purchase papers.  She lives in the hotel, passing as a Polish maid.  Then one day she catches the eye of Colonel Peter Hauptmann, the Nazi who is in control of the hotel.  He informs Rosa that she will be his personal assistant and companion.  Over the weeks that follow, she does that; dressing in the designer clothing of women killed in the camps and doing whatever he asks of her, including a sexual relationship.  She is torn and ashamed, but knows she must do whatever is asked of her to have a chance at survival.  When the Colonel is reassigned, he makes arrangements for Rosa and Itzik to be sent overseas.  The papers he arranges for them gives them their new identities and Chaim and Anna Adler.

Now the past has returned in two ways.  Anna is called after the war to testify at the International War Crimes tribunal about Colonel Hauptmann's role at the Hotel Polski.  She testifies that he was involved in the departure of many families; some to be saved; some to be killed.  The Colonel is given a prison sentence, but Rosa's testimony keeps him from execution.  Then years later, a reunion of Hotel Polski survivors is held and she attends.  It is another piece in the puzzle of those years that she constantly works and rewords, trying to make sense of her life.

The Polski Affair is the 2010 International Book Awards winner for historical fiction.  The hotel did exist, and the mystery of what the Nazis were doing there has never been solved.  What is clear and what Gildin portrays so movingly, is what people will do for survival, and how one can move on in later years to a more successful life.  The past will never be forgotten but it can be integrated into the present in a way that doesn't destroy the survivor.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and for those interested in survival stories.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hollywood Ending by Lucie Simone

Trina Stewart is at a crossroads.  She came to Hollywood ten years ago to make a career.  Unfortunately, she is stuck.  Stuck in a dead-end job, teaching English to foreign students.  Stuck without a relationship.  Stuck emotionally, unable to get over the trauma of her mother's death years before as it made her feel abandoned and unready to trust.

But maybe, maybe things are looking up.  She has a new gorgeous boyfriend, a would-be actor she met when her rich friend took her out to dinner and he was their limo driver.  Even more intriguing, a new man has moved in upstairs, and she felt an instant attraction to him.  Matiu is a New Zealand Maori, in Hollywood to take a course in set design.  He seems attracted to Trina, then they have a misunderstanding and both leave, determined to have nothing more to do with each other.

But that attraction is still there.  Trina has never had two men fighting for her favors.   Which should she concentrate on?  Is there a chance of a permanent relationship with either of them?  And what about that career she should be working on?

Lucie Simone has written an engaging, frothy romance that will entrance readers and leave them determined to discover how Trina's life will turn out.  This book is recommended for readers ready for some light-hearted fun.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

To Nourish And Consume by Ryan O'Reilly

Brian Falk has returned home.  His parents still live in the lakeside town he grew up and where his family had a heritage of building boats.  Brian, on the other hand, gave up the expectation that he would be the next generation involved in the boatyard.  When he left to go to college, he didn't return for ten years.  Instead he spent the time traveling and writing, and lived in Boston.  As he nears thirty, he realises that big-city life is not what he wants.

Yet returning home is not an easy transition.  His high school years were consumed by a relationship he had with two of the "rich kids" in town.  His family was middle class, respected as artisans but not rich or famous.  As a tourist town, there were summer people who spent the rest of their moneyed lives in other locations.  Brian was friends first with Dabney, who started as a shy boy who grew up to be demanding and petulant.  They both became friends with Jackie; a beautiful girl who grew into a temptress who gained her power by making everyone around her emotionally dependant on her.  Brian left for college in disgust after both he and Dabney fell in love with Jackie, and she decided to go with what she had always known and chose Dabney for his money and connections.

Brian settles into town slowly, getting an apartment, working part-time for the newspaper and then starting to work at the boatyard with his dad while waiting for the time to be right to work on another book.  He connects with old friends, and meets a new woman, Alissa, the little sister of a former high school buddy.  He doesn't expect to see Dabney or Jackie again, but that is exactly what happens.  They are in town and try to draw Brian back into their games and deceptions.  Can Brian carve out the satisfactory life that has so far eluded him, or will he be drawn back into the competitive, shallow world of the moneyed tourists?

This book is recommended for readers who are interested in stories of individuals finding their life paths and resolving past hurts.  O'Reilly portrays a man caught between the past and the present, and the difficulty of deciding which will rule his world. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

In Outliers, The Story Of Success, Malcolm Gladwell shows research that puts forward the theory that success is a combination of factors.  While intelligence plays a large part, so do birth order, cultural assumptions, and above all hard work.  Individuals must have the ability to see opportunities and then have the skills to take advantage of them.

One of the earliest chapters focuses on professional hockey players.  They are overwhelmingly born in the first three months of the year.  Inexplicable coincidence?  No, more likely that this phenomenon is the result of age cutoffs in sports teams, so that those born in January, February and March are usually the oldest on their teams, so more developed and more likely to be noticed.  Those noticed are picked for more advanced teams where they get more training, better coaching and more practice and playing time, all of which give them the opportunity to become better players than those who are left on their first skill level teams.

This plays out over and over again when trends are seen.  The dot-com millionaires?  Almost all were born from 1952-1955, when the computer was first introduced to the public, and kids in schools could get hours upon hours of programming time.  Successful musicians?  Most practice hundreds more hours than those who just never quite make it to the top.  Both groups are talented, but one group takes advantage of opportunities and hard work to develop that talent.

In one study, bright children in California were tested and tracked for over forty years.  Although all started in the brightest groups, by adulthood they had fallen into the superstars, the average and those who didn't quite make it.  Luck of the draw?  That assumption can be challenged when the facts show that those in the bottom group almost overwhelmingly had parents who were uninvolved in their lives and who didn't help their children focus and refine their talents.  Parenting styles seem to make a big difference.

Gladwell has written a thought-provoking book.  His thesis can be summed up in this quote: "...success follows a predictable course.  It is not the brightest who succeed.  Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf.  It is, rather, a gift.  Outliers are those who have been given opportunities--and who have the strength and presence of mind to seize them. ...To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success--the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history--with a society that provides opportunities for all."  This book is recommended for readers that are interested in learning how the world works and how we might improve it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cake Boss by Buddy Valastro

Viewers of TLC's hit show, Cake Boss,  will be delighted to discover that Buddy Valastro, the genial host, has written his memoir.  Those not familiar with the show will also quickly become engaged in reading Buddy's life story.  Scumptious recipes, gorgeous photographs of the finished products and a great memoir make this a book to enjoy and share.

Buddy is the product of a traditional Italian family.  His family have been bakers for many generations, and he knew from a child that becoming a pastry/cake baker was the life he wanted.  The book traces the Valastro family history.  We get to follow the immigration of the family on both sides from Italy to America and hear how they became successes at their Italian bakery.

When Buddy took over, he made some changes that improved the family business while maintaining the traditional Italian fare his customers had grown up loving.  He changed ingredients and expanded the cake decoration and custom cake part of the business.  Part of the change was the expansion of the business as Buddy makes a splash in the national bridal magazines, and finally on the TV show that has made the bakery a recognized business nationwide.  Regardless of the changes, the same core values continue the success of the business; love of family, hard work and the determination to send every customer home happy.

In addition to the engaging memoir, the book includes the recipes that made Carlo's Bakery famous.  There are recipes for traditional Italian pastries, cookies, cupcakes and cakes.  Along with the recipes are tips on kitchen equipment, quality ingredients, and cooking techniques.  This book is recommended for cooks everywhere and for readers interested in a feel-good, interesting story. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lipstick in Afghanistan by Roberta Gately

Growing up poor in Boston, Elsa is determined to help those worse off than her family.  Several events helped her carve out her lifework.  One was helping her mother care for her disabled niece, who died young.  Another was seeing the pictures of families, especially the children, dying of famine in Biafra.  Elsa becomes determined to become a nurse, and with hard work, manages to do so.  Shortly after her graduation, two things occur.  Her mother dies and 9-11 occurs.  Elsa is determined to go overseas to help however she can.

She contacts a relief organization and they soon come up with an assignment for her.  She will go to a small town in Afghanistan called Bamiyan and work in a clinic, helping the villagers.  Elsa is excited and scared, but agrees to go.  She is astonished at much she finds there.  The poverty is overwhelming.  For the next year, she will bathe only sparingly, as her bathroom is a bucket and a latrine.  There is no electricity and the food is sparse.  But Elsa finds her calling helping the sick villagers.  There are also people who have been injured by Taliban forces, and Elsa finds that many hate the Taliban for the things they do and inflict on their own people.  The way women are treated is another cultural shock.

Elsa makes a close female friend, Parween.  Parween was lucky enough to find a husband who valued her mind and taught her to read and write and do math.  They have a daughter and are a happy family.  When the Taliban moves into town, everything changes.  They blow up centuries-old heritage icons such as the huge Buddhas that have stood guard over the village.  They impose strict Muslim law and the women must cover up and cannot walk around town.  Finally, as the villagers start to revolt, they round up many of the men and massacre them; Parween's husband among them.

Roberta Gately has written a compelling debut novel.  It explores the fate of the Afghan people, and the nature of female friendships that can endure regardless of war, poverty and other troubles.  The reader is swept into Elsa's world, and with her, starts to understand the complexities of the region and the difficulties of helping in many cases.  This book is recommended for readers interested in female stories about overcoming challenges.

The Book Of Eli by Sam Moffie

Eli Canaan wakes up to find himself in heaven, or at least he thinks it's heaven.  He believes he has led a good life, except for the fact that he has been a serial adulterer for all his married life.  He cheats with new women, women who he's been involved with for years; any woman, any time.  Surely that can't be so wrong?

As he starts to try to navigate his new surroundings, he is assigned a guide.  A heavenly angel?  Sorry, not so.  Instead he finds his guide to be Groucho Marx.  Marx arranges a series of interviews for Eli to explain both how life on Earth works from God's perspective and how Eli's life is viewed from above.

Each visit gives Eli new perspectives.  He is taken to talk with Sigmund Freud, who explains how the relationship between human men and women works.  Donald Joseph, a master winemaker, explains addictions and how they work to Eli.  Jesus explains the role of humor in human lives and explains the basis of the Ten Commandments.  Immediately afterwards, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the only unhappy person Eli meets, explains why she is still an atheist, even in Heaven.  Ayn Rand explains her philosophical and economic beliefs, and then Eli is given the chance to meet with his mother and hear her story from her perspective.  The book ends with Eli's audience with God, and God's decision about what happens to him next.

Sam Moffie takes on the philosophical questions of why we are here, why we have estabished values in society, and how to get back on track when one has strayed.  He does so through the use of parables, but even more, through the use of humor and wit.  Eli is a wiseacre who is slowly led to understand the reason for human life and the role of religion in it.  This book is recommended for readers who are interested in a breezy look at what life means and how to make the best of it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Let's Eat! by Denise Burroughs

Denise Burroughs grew up in a large Italian family, and in Let's Eat!, she shares her heritage and love of food in a series of recipes reflecting that tradition.  The book begins with several useful pages.  There are 10 Tips From The Kitchen, an equivalency measure (How Much Of This Equals That?), a page of Baking Tips, Baking Substitutions, a page on Preparing Marinades And Sauces, and a page called Is It Done Yet? which helps the cook determine doneness of various foods.

The recipes are organized into main dishes, salads, desserts and drinks, and there are plentiful entries in each category.  The recipes are simple enough that the novice cook can feel comfortable attempting them while the experienced cook will welcome meals that are nutritious, appealing, and don't take hours to cook.  Burroughs is a professional woman, so understands the limited cooking time many households have each day.  The color photos spread throughout the book are quite enticing.

This book is recommended for all cooks.

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Rose Mae Lolly is defined by one central fact.  When she was eight, she went to school one morning and returned to find that her mother had left.  She left to escape the beatings and abuse of her husband, but left Rose Mae to take her place as the target of her father's drunken rages.  Rose Mae grew up knowing several things.  She knew how to flirt with men and get under their skin.  She knew the attraction of a controlling man.  And she knew she was getting out of her little Alabama town as fast as she could.

Fast forward fifteen years and Rose Mae Lolly has transformed into Ro Grandee.  Ro is the wife of Tom Grandee, a handsome man who most women would be attracted to, but who happens to be the man who fits the pattern Ro grew up with.  He controls her every move and beats her when she slips up.  Ro tries to fit the role of the perfect housewife, making the usual excuses of the beatings being her fault, or that if she tries hard enough to please Tom, he'll learn to control his temper.

A chance meeting at the local airport changes Ro's life.  She is approached by a gypsy, who offers to tell her fortune.  She tells Ro that she is in a battle to the death with Tom, and it will be her or him.  If she stays Tom will kill her eventually.  If she flees, he will come after her.  As Ro thinks about this in the days afterward, several things become clear.  The gypsy wasn't just a happenstance encounter; this was her long-departed mother who recognizes her life patterns in Ro's choices.  She also realises that her mother is right; if she doesn't leave Tom, she is dead.

Hitting the road with her pet dog and a new identity, Rose Mae returns for the first time in years to the town where she grew up.  After laying some ghosts there, she begins to have an idea where her mother can be found, and takes off for her new home, hoping to find refuge.  After finding her, mother and daughter must rebond and answer the hard questions of why they are each drawn to dangerous men and the nature of love.

Joshily Jackson has written an incredible novel that explores the lives of abused women and shows how their minds work to the outside world.  Settings are detailed and recognizable, and the characters are memorable.  Rose Mae Lolly will quickly become a favorite of the reader and they will cheer her on in her attempt to reconcile her early life with her adult one.  This book is recommended for readers interested in what makes people act in ways that seem outside the range of normal understanding. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Cries Of Vampira by Sean Robertson

It is August 15, 1130, a day that will live in the histories of two empires.  The king of the Vampira empire, King George and his brother, Prince Shannon, ride to celebrate the birth of the new Vampira heirs.  Triplets, Prince Koble, Princess Kristin and Princess Kylie, are the hope of the kingdom going forward.

Suddenly, the King and his brother are surrounded by troops of their deadliest enemy, the Grey Wolves, werewolves in human form.  Battle ensues and the end result is deadly.  Both George and Shannon are killed, as are the King and Queen of the Gray Wolves.  Their son, ten year old Gaad Grey, watches his parents killed by King George and vows undying enmity.

Seventeen years later, war still reins.  The triplets are now mature enough to take part in the defense of their land.  Princess Kristin is the foremost assassin in the land, while Princess Kylie works to bring peace between the Vampiras and the Grey Wolves, as she was able to do between the Vampiras and the humans.  Prince Kolbe is still a bit adrift, but a formidable warrior when his attention is engaged. 

News comes to their castle that the wolves have created a massive army, and that it is only hours away from a final assault on the Vampira stronghold.  Their mother, the Queen, makes plans for the defense of their land.  Can she and the triplets ward off the evil that Gaad Grey has planned for years to avenge the deaths of his parents?

Sean Robertson has created a new series.  The Cries of Vampira is the first book in his anticipated saga of the Vampira empire.  The novella creates the characters and lays the plotlines that will be brought to fruition in later books.  Robertson is a fresh new voice in fantasy sci-fi, and readers will want to read the rest of these books after finishing this one. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

And The Pursit Of Happiness by Maira Kalman

And The Pursuit Of Happiness is artist Maira Kalman's celebration of democracy and the founding fathers.  Part art book, part graphic novel, the reader will be drawn through her exploration of what democracy means in the United States, and learn about the lives of many of the prominent men who created our amazing system of government.

Many readers will recognize Kalman's unique artistic renderings.  She is a frequent provider of New Yorker magazine covers.  She illustrates children's books, and her work has been featured in museums and by designers in their lines.  She uses vibrant colors and Grandma Moses-like depictions of scenes for striking illustrations that are memorable.  Inspired by the inauguration of Barack Obama, this book is her tribute to the democracy and the people that made his election possible.

There are chapters devoted to various Founding Fathers.  The book is organized by months.  January is devoted to the Obama inauguration.  February is devoted to Abraham Lincoln while March celebrates the philosophical underpinnings of democracy and its forms such as town halls.  April is about the laws of the land.  May discusses our military and the price we owe these brave defenders of freedom.  June discusses Thomas Jefferson and his many interests, while July is devoted to Benjamin Franklin and other scientists and inventors.  August is about the explorers who discovered America and the issues surrounding immigration today.  September talks about cities; specifically New York City.  October covers Congress, while November is devoted to our national foods.  December is reserved for George Washington.

This book is recommended for all readers.  Everyone will learn new facts and the knowledge is imparted in a breezy fashion that make the learning fun.  The illustrations are vivid, brilliant, amazing.  Maira Kalman has created a visual feast and we are the richer for it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Steven Lamb is a twelve-year old boy much like any other.  Except that he is a twelve-year old boy whose family is forever known as the one whose child eighteen years ago was kidnapped by a serial killer.  That child was Steven's uncle.  He never knew him, but for his entire life his entire family dynamic has revolved around this stark fact.  His mother, the child's sister, has drifted from man to man, never trusting anyone.  His grandmother still spends hours at the window, waiting for Billy to return.  His body was never found, and she still holds out hope.

Casting around for a way to heal his family, Steven naively starts a secret correspondence with his uncle's purported killer.  Arnold Avery has been in prison for years, six child killings to his tally with others like Billy suspected.  Arnold knows that he is unlikely to ever leave prison, and his days are mindnumbingly routine.  There aren't many visitors to a pedophile killer.  When the correspondence starts, he suddenly has purpose again; he wants to get out somehow and find Steven.  Steven, who believes he can trick Avery into revealing Billy's gravesite on the nearby moor, has no idea what he has touched off.

The action accelerates when Avery manages to escape prison during a riot.  He heads straight to Steven's village.  He knows when he is recaptured he will never leave prison again, and is determined to have one last kill; one that will revisit his power on this family as he takes another child from them.

Readers are advised to have plenty of lights on to read this book.  Arnold Avery is one of the most chilling killers in recent memory, and the views inside his head won't soon be forgotten.  Belinda Bauer has created memorable characters who ring true.  Both Steven's and Avery's characters' actions are as believable as they seem inevitable.  This book is recommended for mystery and suspense readers.  They will, as I have, find a new star in suspense writing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


When Hannah Legare was 11, her father went on a fishing trip in the Charleston harbor and never came back. And while most of the town and her family accepted Buzz's disappearance, Hannah remained steadfastly convinced of his imminent return.

Twenty years later Hannah's new life in San Francisco is unraveling. Her marriage is on the rocks, her business is bankrupt. After a disastrous attempt to win back her husband, she ends up back at her mother's home to "rest up", where she is once again sucked into the mystery of her missing father. Suspecting that those closest are keeping secrets--including Palmer, her emotionally closed, well-mannered brother and Warren, the beautiful boyfriend she left behind--Hannah sets out on an uproarious, dangerous quest that will test the whole family's concepts of loyalty and faith.



1. The giveaway starts Sunday, November 7th and ends on Friday, November 19th at midnight.

2. There will be three winners, chosen by random number generation.

3. Winners must have street addresses (no P.O. Boxes) in either the United States or Canada.

4. For one entry, leave a comment (with your email!). You will get an extra entry for any/all of the following; being or becoming a follower, blogging to this giveaway or tweeting about it. If you blog or tweet, please include the link.

5. 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.

Good luck!

Making Light Of Being Heavy by Kandy Siahaya

Kandy Siahaya is a "fat chick".  She's had a weight issue most of her life, and is what most people and doctors would classify as obese, being over 350 pounds.  Making Light of Being Heavy is her book detailing her life and struggles with weight her entire life.

She starts by telling of her childhood; being the largest kid in every class she was in; having the boys on the bus start the "Hey, hey, hey, it's Fa-a-a-a-t Albert" whenever she got on the bus.  Clothes were an issue and she was steered to the Chubby section, which specialized in clothes that were never quite the same as the cool ones the slim girls were weighing.

Siahaya believes that overweight is less a matter of what is eaten and how much exercise is done.  Rather, she believes in a genetic factor as the overall determinant of whether a person will be slim or overweight in their life.  She cites an interesting study that matched adopted children against their adoptive parents and their birth parents.  There was a positive correlation between the adopted children and their birth parents.  If the parents were overweight, the children tended to be, and the same held true for slim parents and kids.  There was no correlation with the adoptive parents, and Siahaya believes this shows that eating styles and family lifestyles (active or sedentary) has little effect on how a person's body will end up.

There are chapters that discuss the various diets she has gone on over the years, with sample week's meals laid out.  She discusses the fact that healthy foods are so much more expensive than the unhealthy diets many have.  She also discusses various exercise programs, and how many are difficult for the truly obese who can not flexibly move and are often too heavy for the exercise equipment limits.

As the title implies, the tone is light.  The author has maintained a positive feeling about herself, and refuses to let her life be limited by this issue.  This book is recommended for heavy people looking for insight and for slimmer individuals who can have little experience with the issues discussed here.

Haint Blue by Carl Linke

From the first pages of Carl E. Linke's Haint Blue, the reader is transported south to Beaufort, South Carolina, and its Lowcountry heritage and traditions.  Spanish moss festoons the trees in front of stately old homes.  Feasts of shrimp and grits, oysters, hushpuppies, sweet tea and pecan pie fight the air for dominance with magnolias and gardenias. The book's title comes from an old belief that ghosts (haints) won't cross water and painting ceilings, doors and windows haint blue protects the inhabitants from them.   Church is a big priority, followed closely by the fortunes of the local high school and college football teams.  Above all else is the closeness to the land and the fortunes tied to the bounty found by fishing and farming.

But there is a darker side.  This is an area built on the cruelty of slave labor.  The descendants of those slaves, the Gullah people, are still here, mired in poverty with few prospects for work as the old powerhouses of the economy, seafood, tobacco, textiles and furniture leaves for other areas.  Outside interests want to buy up property because of its location and charm, but then build megamalls and residential subdivisions that take away the very things they chased to the area.  There are still vestiges of voodoo, Tarot cards, hexes and superstition.

Kip Drummon is caught in the middle.  He bought the local oyster factory six years ago, and built a life in Beaufort for his wife and stepson.  Now, he is being pressured by investors to sell the property, and they are playing hardball, buying off his suppliers and giving better prices to his buyers, squeezing the life out of the company bit by bit.  His wife hates the area and wants to move back to her native Charleston.  But on the other side, the workers who have worked in the factory their entire lives depend on him.  Without the factory, there will be nowhere for them to make a living wage.  Will Kip be able to keep his head and make the right decision?  He is haunted by a deep secret that influences everything he does, and along with the other pressures, it threatens to come out. 

Carl Linke has written a solid debut novel.  He has captured the feel of the Southern Lowcountry so well that the reader can close their eyes and be there immediately with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that seem more realistic than the room they sit in.  His descriptions of tailgating parties, a typical Southern church service, the suddenness of weather changes, the aftermath of hurricanes, and the tensions between those born in the area and those moving in are spot on.  The reader will want to find out what happens, and how Kip resolves his dilemma.  This book is recommended for readers interested in regional writing that also hits broader themes of how the country moves forward to a new economy, and how people from different backgrounds can live together.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Dead Hand by Paul Theroux

Jerry Delfont is a travel writer. He finds himself at loose ends in Calcutta, making speeches at various locations for the American Embassy, and trying to fight off "dead hand", another term for writer's block. His is an extremely bad case and he wonders if he will ever find a way to write again. Sitting in his hotel room, he receives a handwritten letter from a Merrill Unger, who asks for his time and help with a delicate situation. Although he doesn't know her or hasn't even ever heard of her he has nothing else to do and he agrees to meet her.

Mrs. Unger comes to the hotel with her son and his friend, Rajat. At first glance, Delfont sees that she is a wealthy woman, who seems to have an air of mystery about her. She seems to fit in with the stereotypes of the colonial ruling class in India. Her problem involves Rajat. He had stayed in a local cheap hotel while the Ungers were out of town. He awoke in the middle of the night to find a dead boy lying in the floor. Stunned, he packed his things and ran from the hotel. Now he is unsure what to do or if the police are looking for him. Mrs. Unger requests that Jerry investigate the matter and see if he can determine what has happened and if the police are investigating the matter. Delfont is unsure why he has been asked; he is a travel writer, not a detective. But as the meeting goes on, he finds himself charmed by Mrs. Unger, or Ma as she is known to all, and agrees to look into the incident.
As he attempts to discover the truth, he finds himself drawn more and more to Ma. She is a woman of means who has chosen Calcutta as her residence. No one seems to know much about her, which is unusual in a former colonial setting, where all British and Americans tend to know each other, or at least of each other. Ma devotes her life to the poor children of Calcutta; the beggars and street urchins. She has turned her palatial home into an orphanage for these children, and there is never a shortage of candidates. She brings them into her home to live and educates them. The children are plucked from pan and misery and given a new lease on life by the Ungers. Much of the mystery about her comes from the fact that she funds this home entirely from her own means, not asking for help from the various social organizations or the local government but using her own wealth and business contacts.
Ma is also a devotee of Indian religion; specifically the goddess Kali. She eats only natural food and that very sparingly. She is a master at Tantric massage and uses this mechanism to introduce Delfont to her beliefs. He is overwhelmed by her personality and the difficulty of finding out anything about her. One minutes he is hopelessly devoted to her and the next he is attempting to break out of her sphere of influence. He is more successful learning about the incident with Rajat. He learns enough at the flophouse to convince himself that the incident of the dead boy did occur, although the police were never involved. The book deals with the way that Delfont is drawn deeper and deeper into the Ungers' world and starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding this powerful, generous woman. As he delves into the mystery, he is unblocked and his writing starts to flow again.
An interesting sidelight is that a chapter has Delfont meeting the author Paul Theroux in Calcutta. He dislikes him on sight and feels that he is pitiless, using others' tragedies to make fodder for his writing. This is a common device of Theroux's books, that he brings himself into the action, and usually in a fairly negative viewpoint. The reader feels a frisson of interest from this sudden introduction, as it makes the reader take a step back from the book's action to try to discover why this is done.
As Delfont becomes more involved in Mrs. Unger's life and businesses, suspense starts to build. Why did she not just go to the police or the Consulate? Why has she chosen Delfont to investigate the matter, and how has she even heard of him or known that he was in Calcutta? Is her selflessness what it seems or does she use her charity as a cover for more sinister activities?
This book is recommended for all readers. It pulls the reader along just as Delfont is pulled along and starts to uncover the intricate, involved life of this mysterious woman. The reader learns much about modern-day Calcutta and how the culture there works, and the part that religion plays in everyday life. Suspense starts as a quizzical wondering and builds to a stunning crescendo as the plot devolves and the life of the Ungers is revealed. Theroux has created a character in Ma Unger that the reader will not soon forget.

Queen Of The Night by J.A. Jance

The Indian people around Tucson have an annual tradition where they get together one night to celebrate the annual flowering of the Queen of the Night flower which only blooms for twelve hours, always at night.  Most go to the local cultural center, where there is a festival celebrating the night and the traditional way of life. 

But this year, as an anniversary surprise, Jack Tennent has planned a surprise picnic for his wife, Abigail.  He has set up a meal near a towering Queen of the Night plant out in the country, a symbolic celebration to mark their love.  They are disappointed when a local couple calls and says they are planning to drop by.  The next thing is a fusillade of bullets, and all four people are killed.

There are several investigators that work on the case.  Brandon Walker is a retired homicide detective, who now works on cold cases.  His wife, novelist Diana Ladd and he are drawn to the case.  Brain Fellows is the current investigator working the case, and there is also Dan Pardee, a war hero who now works in the Shadow Wolves, a border patrol unit.  All of these men work the case, determining who were the main targets and what in their pasts have led to this event. 

J.A. Jance has written a suspense novel that will have readers on the edge of their chairs.  She skillfully intertwines this case with one from forty years ago that Brandon is also working.  The reader learns of family relationships and much about the traditions of the Tohono O'odham people.  Jance has written 41 other suspense novels and is at the height of her craft.  In addition to this series, the Walker Famly Mysteries, she has series named Joanna Brady Mysteries, J.P. Beaumont Mysteries and Ali Reynolds mysteries.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Next Queen Of Heaven by Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire's new book, The Next Queen Of Heaven, focuses on small town America and the role that religion plays in this setting.  The cast of characters rely on religion in various ways for various purposes, some spiritual, some skeptical while others are going through the paces of their lives looking for ways to connect and finding them in different churches.  The book is set in the small town of Thebes, New York in the late 1990's.

Jeremy Carr is the choir director at the local Catholic parish.  He is hoping to make his big break after Christmas as he has won a place in a musical revue in New York.  Jeremy is gay, and his singing group is made up of his friends who are also gay; one fighting AIDS.  What has kept him in Thebes outside of a sense of obligation is his inability to stop loving Willem, who had a fling with him before Willem got married.  Jeremy knows his love is impractical, but is stuck and can't bring himself to leave.

Another part of the book revolves around the Scales family.  Mrs. Scales is raising three children by herself, and looks to religion to help her get through the days and provide a structure for her children.  She is met by indifferent success, at least by the measures of traditional success.   Tabitha is the oldest and the town scandal as she moves from man to man.  The middle son is Hogan, a dropout who is interested in cars and garages and video games, but not much else.  The youngest is a son named Kirk, who is interested in music and drama and doesn't fit in well in a traditional school setting.  Mrs. Scales, who is a fundamentalist Christian, is transformed when she goes next door to the Catholic church and gets hit over the head with a statue. 

There are other characters that play a part in the patterns.  A group of ancient nuns live in an old convent outside of town, and a friendship develops between them and Jeremy's group.  There are various ministers and priests, some of whom are helpful and some of whom use religion to accomplish their personal goals.  Each person is clawing their way towards finding some meaning in their lives.

Gregory Maguire is best known for his Wicked series, which used The Wizard Of Oz story to reinterpt live and love.  This new book strikes out into fresh territory, which retaining Maguire's offbeat humor and ability to delve into his character's lives.  This book is recommended for all readers.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol, Paper Engineering by Chuck Fischer

If you look up this book on a book seller site, it will say Pop-Up book.  But calling what Chuck Fischer does with paper pop-up is like saying the ocean is a bit wet.  He calls it paper engineering and that is a much more accurate term.

Fischer has retold Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol with magically intricate paper art.  Each page unfolds to amazing figures that leap off the page.  The images are amazingly detailed and take the reader to Victorian England.  Each page also has an insert booklet where the reader can read related chapters from Dicken's novel.

Fischer has done images for the title page (a Victorian London street scene), You Will Be Haunted by Three Spirits (a ghost trailing chains and weights, The Ghost Of Christmas Past (a spirit rising from a candle), The Ghost of Christmas Present (a harvest king with a magnificent feast is portrayed), The Last Of The Spirits (a towering black figure which fills the viewer with awe), and God Bless Us Every One (showing Scrooge and Tiny Tim in a glorious conclusion)

Chuck Fischer is an artist whose designs have been replicated world-wide in paintings, holiday ornaments and home furnishings.  His designs include wallpaper and fabrics in the permanent collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.  He has done six previous paper engineering books.  I was lucky enough to get a copy of his glorious Angels last year.  These books are destined to become family heirlooms for the joy they bring to the viewer and are highly recommended for all readers, whether young or young at heart.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Up From The Blue by Susan Henderson

Tillie is seven months pregnant, newly moved into an apartment she is supposed to be getting ready while her husband goes on one last business trip, and frantic.  She feels contractions, and doesn't even have a phone connection to call a hospital or doctor to see what is wrong.  Desparate, she reaches out to her father from whom she has been estranged for years.  He comes to her rescue and gets her to the hospital where it is confirmed that her baby is to born today, early or not.

As she waits for the birth, Tillie is torn between the uncertain future and her memories of growing up, especially the year she was eight.  That was the year her family moved from a military base to Washington DC, so that her father, the colonel, could work at the Pentagon on a new missile system.  That was also the year her beloved mother disappeared from her life, first mentally, then physically.  Her mother is caught up in a deep, bone-numbing depression, and can not function in a normal family setting.  Tillie relives those years and how her mother's absence affected all her relationships.  It affected not only her maternal relationship, but her paternal one at all.  Having normal friendships were beyond her, and even her brother and she were remote figures passing each other without connecting.  Only one teacher could see behind her moods and distractedness to the real little girl hiding inside.

This book  is dangerous.  Readers should make sure that they have carved out a sufficient amount of time, as once they start reading, all else fades into insignificance.  Jobs will be neglected, children left to fend for themselves, spouses ignored.  Susan Henderson has written a book that grabs the reader by the throat, and brings them into a world where the love between a mother and child when the mother is damaged is explored.  The topic is grim, but the book is anything but.  Tillie is a little girl the reader will fall madly in love with.   One hopes she can make her way in the world to a successful future.  This book is highly recommended for all readers.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Regression by Kathy Bell

When fourteen-year old Adya Jordan wakes from a coma, she awakes with detailed memories of her life as a forty year old married woman.  She remembers in detail her house, her love affair and marriage to her husband and the six children they had, and can picture them in her mind.  Of course, her parents and the doctors are skeptical and feel that her memories indicate the need for further brain scans and tests.  She learns to hide her memories from those around her.

Yet, she is sure that her memories are correct, and interacting with others does nothing to diminish the detailed memories she holds.  Then, after several months, she starts to understand.  In school, the only place computers are allowed, she answered a question and is given a number to call.  It is the number of the powerful Three Eleven Corporation, and they offer her an internship.

The Three Eleven Corporation controls most of the world's economy.  They control all technology, and thus the financial, manufacturing and government realms.  As Adya begins her stay with them, she learns the secret behind their power.  The Corporation is composed of other individuals like her who have been regressed from the future.  In particular, they all have specific memories of their last date in their former lives; November 11, 2011, or 11/11/11, Three Eleven.  Adya is the first woman to be regressed and the others are not sure what that means.

The men in Three Eleven believe that there is a worldwide catastrophe coming on 11/11/11, which is currently twenty-seven years in the future.  They have joined together to try to stop this, and to do so, have taken power over all facets in government.  They see themselves as benevolent, but Adya questions their authority and whether their decisions are correct.  Is it right to be incredibly wealthy because you can control the stock market with knowledge from a former life, or "discover" technological advances made by others in the future?  This is the path they have chosen, and it is now time for Adya to decide if she will fight with them or against them as the world moves closer to 11/11/11.

Kathy Bell has written Regression in a manner that will fascinate those who believe in past lives and regression, and intrigue those who are willing to consider the possibility.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers and those interested in New Age philosophies.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

When Life Throws You Lemons, Make Cranberry Juice by Shari Bookstaff

In 2006, Shari Bookstaff went into a hospital to have surgery to remove a large benign brain tumor.  Although this was a serious operation, all signs were that it would be a successful surgery, followed by a week's stay and then several months of recuperation at home.  Instead, something went wrong in the surgery and she spent nine months in various hospitals and has been left with serious complications that are life-altering.

Bookstaff had faced adversity before.  While she trained as a marie biologist, she was so seasick that she had to find ways to use her degree to work as a marine biologist on land.  She became a college professor to overcome this.  She faced pregnancy difficulties, and after years of disappointments, had two children.  Her marriage fell apart.  But none of these life experiences could prepare her for the new life she was given after her surgery.

Shari talks in the book about how she has adjusted to her new life; being realistic about what has been taken away and finding ways to bring positive features into her life to counteract what has been lost.  She talks in detail about the medical procedures, the long months and years of physical therapy and the ways her daily life is different and harder than that experienced by most people.  But she also highlights the joyful events that center around her children and her determination to bring happiness into her life.  She talks about what she has lost, but she also describes what is left and what is new with vim and vigor.

No one gets out of life alive.  Everyone faces adversity, although some people's lives are much harder and more difficult than others.  This book can help those struggling with a life event.  Yes, things have changed and there are negative impacts that won't disappear, but there is also life after a tragedy, and it can be a wonderful life.  This book is recommended for those who are facing a struggle or those who have others in their lives who are doing so whom they want to help. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mr. Darcy's Obsession by Abigail Reynolds

In Mr. Darcy's Obsession, Abigail Reynolds explores the period between Darcy's first wooing of Elizabeth Bennett and their marriage; a time that they were estranged for a while due to Elizabeth's misunderstanding of his intentions. 

Hard times have fallen on the Bennett family after the death of Mr. Bennett.  Jane has married a tradesman to provide some relief for the family; she doesn't love him but honors him and is grateful for his help.  She now works in trade herself; a shop that sells ribbons and other lady's accessories.  Elizabeth has been sent to her aunt and uncle to serve as a nanny.  It is there that Mr. Darcy once again encounters her, and realizes that no matter the difference in social status, she is the only woman he has ever wanted. 

Although determined to win her for his own, life intervenes.  Another Bennett sister, Lydia, has become pregnant out of wedlock, a situation much worse than genteel poverty as it meant the whole family would be socially ostracized, as would anyone who acknowledged them.  Mr. Darcy cannot help but contrast this situation with similar ones in his own family and comes to realise that the only difference is the money and power that allowed his relatives to hide their shame.

Meanwhile, he becomes more and more disenchanted with the social structure he has always taken for granted, with its huge discrepencies between those with money and the vast majority without.  His eyes are opened by the disgraceful actions of his cousin and uncle and their treatment of women, despoiling where they wished, never caring for the aftereffects they condemned the women they picked to. 

Regardless of the various situations, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth manage to break through the strictures of society and come to a happy ending.  The reader is taken along on their journey, while gaining insight into the day to day life of this period.

I was prepared to dislike this book.  I'm far too much of a feminist to accept a society where a woman's every move is dictated in advance, and there is little room for advancement or ability to follow interests.  But Abigail Reynolds has charmed me with her portrayal.  While portraying the romance and the passion that simmered beneath, she hasn't made her characters into ones consumed with passion and sexual desire every minute of the day.  Reynold's writing is gentle as the subject but she does not veer away from the inequalities that marred this social setup.  I enjoyed a further glance at the backstory of these characters and of daily life in this period.  This book is recommended highly for lovers of the Elizabeth Bennett/Fitzwilliam Darcy love story, and for those interested in an insight into this era.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Angel Of Death Row by Andrea Lyons

Nineteen times, Andrea Lyon was appointed as the defense attorney in a death penalty case.  Nineteen times she was successful in avoiding the death penalty for her clients.  In Angel Of Death Row, a name given to her by the Chicago Tribune, Andrea Lyon takes the reader through twelve of these death penalty cases.  Along the way, the reader learns of Lyon's legal philosphies, the intense and engrossing work that defending a capital case involves, and the scary misperceptions and misjustices that make being charged with a capital offense such an overwhelming perception.

There was the case of the mother on trial for killing her daughter.  The truth was, however, that the police coerced a confession from her by telling her that confessing was the only way she could go to her baby's funeral.  When the case was reinvestigated, it turned out that someone else entirely was responsible.  Another case involved a woman on death row for killing her husband.  Her issue?  Her original defense attorney decided that the case against her was so flimsy that no one would believe she did it, and did no investigation of his own, and put up very little defense.  Since the prosecution came to court prepared with his version, the woman was convicted and served behind bars for years before Ms. Lyon was able to help her gain her freedom.

Lyon doesn't pretend that everyone she defends is blameless.  She is willing to have a guilty client serve a reasonable term, but one of her core beliefs is that it is imperative that the whole story comes out so that the jury can determine if there are mitigating factors that would lead toward a long jail term rather than a death sentence.  Several of the cases illustrate this tenet.  Others show defendants that she saved from a death sentence in spite of themselves, when they were to mentally ill to provide much help.

This book is fascinating for those who follow crime and legal tactics.  They are taken behind the closed doors of a defense attorney at the top of her game, and given an illustrative look at what really decides many court cases.  If one is charged with a crime, that doesn't necessarily mean that they won't be convicted if innocent.  It takes an attorney willing to investigate and determine the truth and also one competent enough to get enough points raised that an effective appeal is possible.  This book is recommended for readers interested in legal matters or those who enjoy hearing about someone at the top of their game relate their experiences.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Take A Chance On Me by Jill Mansell

Love doesn't run smoothly in Channing Hill, and there's no more entertaining narrator than Jill Mansell to document it's rocky course.  There is Cleo, local limo driver, who has finally settled down into a job she likes and a man she adores, Will.  Unfortunately, she runs into Will and his wife, Fia one day while out on a trip and realises that once again she has fallen for someone totally unsuitable.

Fia, who didn't know about Cleo but did know about Will's propensity to lie and cheat, ends their marriage and ends up as the new chef at the pub in Channing Hill.  Cleo's neighbor and best friend, Ash, falls in love with Fia the moment he sees her, but doesn't stand a chance.  Fia has fallen in love with the local gentry, Johnny LaVenture, a world-class sculptor.  Cleo who grew up with Johnny isn't thrilled to have him back in town as he made her adolescent days a nightmare with his constant teasing.

Does no one have it right when it comes to love?  Cleo's sister Abbie and her husband Tom, seem to have the right recipe.  But their world comes tumbling down when two things occur.  Abbie's boss falls in love with her and Tom discovers he has a teenage daughter he knew nothing about.  She turns up on their doorstep and has soon moved in, while Abbie has moved out and in with Cleo.

Mansell has written another hilarious, engaging romance with characters the reader would love to meet and a plot that twists and turns and somehow manages to resolve all these romantic entanglements neatly and successfully by the end of the book.  The reader is treated to a cozy yarn that never fails to entertain.  This book is recommended for readers looking for a lighter book that will make them realise that love exists for us all, no matter how long and difficult the journey.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Magician's Book by Laura Miller

Laura Miller is a cofounder of and writes frequently in The New York Times Book Review.  She is also the editor of The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors.   In The Magician's Book, she takes readers back to her discovery of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles Of Narnia, and how they changed her life as a child.

Miller was entranced by the books as soon as she read them.  This absorption lasted for many years, but then was marred when she read some criticism and realised what had been obvious to most adult readers; that the Chronicles were an allegory that replayed the Christian tenets of a savior who self-sacrifices to save the world.  She felt manipulated and used, and it took many years before she could come back and enjoy the series again as an adult.

The book gives the reader background about Lewis' life, his friends and his influences.  He was a great friend of Tolkien, who was writing his epic Lord Of The Rings series.  But while Tolkien was very serious, creating an entire universe and worried about its consistency, Lewis saw his series as fairy tales and borrowed bits and pieces that didn't make logical sense but somehow combined into a magical world.

There is also much discussion of how language is used; how older, oral literature is mirrored in more modern works, and how authors construct their works.  This is a fascinating look behind the scenes that only someone as connected to this world as Miller can give the average reader.  She also brings in several other modern authors like Neil Gaiman and Susannah Clark for their childhood and adult reactions to the Chronicles.

This book is recommended for those readers who enjoyed the Chronicles as a child and who are interested to see how they were constructed and the meanings behind various scenes.  I've been listening to the books this past year with my daughter and so found this book fascinating. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Haiku by Andrew Vachss

A group of men have come together as a family in a large city. The world sees them as homeless, but they see the worth and talents each brings, and have banded together to take care of each other. Ho is a former martial arts instructor who walked away from fame and fortune when he decided he was losing his honor by gaining riches. Lamont is a former convict and poet, now a man who drinks to make it through the day. Michael was a high-roller; a stockbroker with all the accomplishments of wealth until he became a gambler and lost all that he had accumulated. Brewster is a high-functioning schizophrenic, rejected by his family and on and off of his medicine. Target is a damaged man that none of the others understand. Ranger is a Vietnam vet who returned physically but not mentally from those brutal fields.

This group comes together to accomplish a goal, something that is compellingly important to one of the group. Each man contributes what talents he has and they work together to accomplish their task. As they work, each also starts to let go of his demons and move toward a healthier place; helped by each other when nothing society had to offer seemed to help at all. The theme is that each man has his own truth, his 'haiku' and his life task is working toward the discovery of this inner truth and honor.

Readers will recognize Andrew Vachss as the author of the Burke series; eighteen books that have some of the same themes. That series focuses on how society ignores the helpless; children who are molested and women who are degraded and brutalized. Burke and his group of friends work together to save these victims. In this series, the theme has been twisted a bit to show that there are other victims of society; the homeless who each have a story and an event that has put them where they are. Another twist is that now the same individuals others would see as victims have the ability to save themselves as well as others. Fans of previous Vachss books will enjoy Haiku; it uses the same sparse writing and the themes of honor and protection of those less able to help themselves. This book is recommended for readers of crime and mystery books.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


A brand new thriller featuring returning characters Shaw and Katie James from The Whole Truth.
Bestseller Baldacci's sequel to The Whole Truth (2008) lacks the creative plotting and masterful handling of suspense that marked his earlier thrillers. Evan Waller, outwardly a respectable Canadian businessman but secretly a human trafficker who sells children into prostitution, has expanded into arranging nuclear weapons deals with Islamic fundamentalists. Shaw, the lead of The Whole Truth, sets out to stop Evan, as does Regina “Reggie” Campion, a British femme fatale, who works for a clandestine group that tracks down and executes war criminals. Reggie and Shaw, both of whom intend to make their move while Evan is on vacation in Provence, cross paths while maintaining their cover stories. Shaw becomes attracted to Reggie, even as he fears that Evan, who's in fact a sadistic Ukrainian who served the Soviets, will abduct her.



1. The giveaway starts Saturday, September 25 and ends on Friday, October 8th at midnight.

2. There will be three winners, chosen by random number generation.

3. Winners must have street addresses (no P.O. Boxes) in either the United States or Canada.

4. For one entry, leave a comment (with your email!). You will get an extra entry for any/all of the following; being or becoming a follower, blogging to this giveaway or tweeting about it. If you blog or tweet, please include the link.
5. 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.

Good luck!