Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Based Upon Availability by Alix Strauss

In Based Upon Availability, Alix Strauss explores the inner life and longings of women through the lives of several New York City young professionals.  Each has the sense that they just can't get what they really want and need, and most are isolated and lonely, seeking relationships with others in order to feel more connected.

The main character is Morgan, who works at the Four Seasons Hotel.  She has never gotten over the death of her sister as a child, and still views events through that loss.  She has broken up with her longtime boyfriend and now picks up men for quick sex when she feels especially unconnected.

The other women can also be defined by what is most missing from their lives.  Trish has started a gallery but feels her best friend slipping away as she prepares for marriage.  Anne also works at the hotel and is obsessive-compulsive as she fights to feel in control of her world.  Sheila is a teacher who longs for a man and marriage.  Robin longs for her sister to love her as she loves, but is constantly thwarted by her coldness.  Ellen is desparate to have a baby.  Franny has moved to the city and builds a life, but doesn't feel she is connected to anyone.  Louise is an aging rock star, staying in the hotel to detox. 

Alix Strauss has done a masterful job in constructing this novel.  The book is laid out in a series of life stories, each chapter following one of these women at a point in time.  There are recurring characters such as several men that more than one of the women interact with over time, not knowing that others also have a relationship with them.  Some of the characters meet each other and develop friendships, while others have a passing acquaintanceship.  The lonliness of each woman is portrayed through their struggles to find what they need, and the reader is compelled to examine their own lives to determine what needs drive them.  This book is recommended for all readers interested in the human condition and the ways we seek to establish connections.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


One by one, children of New York's wealthiest are taken hostage. But the criminal doesn't crave money or power--he only wants to ask the elite if they know the price others pay for their luxurious lifestyles. And, if they don't, he corrects their ignorance--by killing them.

To Detective Michael Bennett, it becomes clear that these murders are linked and must be part of a greater, more public demonstration. With the city thrown into chaos, he is forced to team up with FBI agent Emily Parker, and the two set out to capture the killer before he begins his most public lesson yet--a deadly message for the entire city to witness.

From the bestselling author who brought you the Alex Cross novels comes James Patterson's most action-packed series yet. With the heart-pounding suspense that only Patterson delivers, WORST CASE will leave you gasping for breath until the very end.



1. The giveaway starts Monday, June 28th and ends on Friday, July 9th 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!

The Making Of A Duchess by Shana Galen

Sarah Smith is a governess in Lord Northrup's house.  An orphan, she is grateful to have the job although she feels untettered and without a family to anchor her.  Her contentment is cruelly ended when her employer reveals that he works for the Foreign Office to catch spies, and that due to the injury of another operative, he needs Sarah to pretend to be Comtesse Sarafina de Guyenne.  As the comtesse, she will move in with a French noble family that Northrup has suspicions about.

Julien Harcourt, duc de Valere, has built a life in England.  He and his mother escaped from France during the Revolution while his father was caught and eventually guillionted.  His two twin brothers were never heard from again, and Julien has brought himself to the attention of the English government by his secret journeys back to France.  He is looking for evidence that his brothers still live, but the English suspect him of being a traitor.

Sarah moves in and begins the deception..  She is skeptical of her mission's success, as she has no idea how to play the role of a comtesse.  Even worse, as the days go by, she finds herself attracted to Julien.  Can Sarah discover the truth before Lord Northrup becomes too impatient?  Is Julien a hero or a traitor to his adopted land?  Will Sarah's love be returned or is Julien playing her for a fool?

Shana Galen has created a romance sure to find favor with readers of this genre.  The love scenes are steamy and authentic, and the characters are well written.  The fact that the reader learns something of French history is an added bonus.  This book is recommended for romance readers.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gould's Book Of Fish by Richard Flanagan

Gould's Book Of Fish tells the story of nineteenth century convict, William Bulow Gould.  A petty criminal, Gould is sentenced to life imprisonment on the most feared penal colony in existence, Sarah Island in Tasmania.  Once there, in the midst of brutal guards and routine torture of convincts, Gould finds a way to exist--he uses his talent as a forger to become an artist and paint pictures for the top authorities of the prison.

The reader meets a multitude of characters.  There is Gould, saintly one minute, crass and crude as the most villinous character the next.  There is Tobias Achilles Lempriere, the prison surgeon, who wants Gould to paint fish so that he can rival Audobon's study of birds and become a member of the Royal Society of Scientists back in England.    The Commandant has clawed his way to the top and has a vision of creating a model society based on what he understands of European society in Tasmania.  Jorgen Jorgensen is a pompous Danish clerk who writes the history of the island, and makes much of it up to hide the truth of what happens there.  Twopenny Sal is a native women who is the Commandant's mistress, and also Gould's.  Matt Brady is an escaped convict who is fabled by those still imprisoned to have made his escape and is only waiting for the right time to come back and free them all.

Above all, there is the cruelty of the island.  The prisoners are treated horribly, tortured for the smallest infractions, starved and beaten.  The authorities were often mad, and had the ultimate power of no oversight so that their smallest wishes became law.  The native people were considered less than human, and massacred offhandly, as a matter of convenience or to take what they had. 

Yet, throughout the ordeal of life on Sarah Island, Gould finds life was never sweeter.  He chronicles the true history of the prison and what was done there.  His unquenchable optimism helps him survive and even thrive at different stages. 

Richard Flanagan has created a masterpiece.  The writing is reminiscent of Charles Dickens, with many characters who are finely detailed and a plot that twists and turns, where a character mentioned offhandly in one chapter will return in a later one to play a major part.  Flanagan shows the indomitable strength of the human life and hope for a better tomorrow, while detailing the horrible things that man is capable of.  The intricate plot and writing leads the reader on a journey they will not soon forget.  The book was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year as well as the winner of the Commonwealth Prize.  While not an easy read, it is one that leaves the reader challenged and satisfied.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Farm Fatale by Wendy Holden

Rosie and Mark want to move to the country.  Rosie, a freelance illustrator, can work anywhere and is tired of the city noise, traffic, smells, people, hustle and bustle.  Mark, a rising journalist, first refuses to consider relocating, but when his editor approves a weekly column on the trend of moving from the city to the country, he is on board.

Samantha also wants to move to the country.  A frustrated actress who married super-rich Guy, she wants to get in on the trend, and she wants to move Guy further away from his first wife and daughter.  Guy is not enthusiastic, but when he has a heart attack, Samantha sells their city place and buys a country one while he is out of commission.

Both couples end up in the small village of Eight Mile Bottom, although in vastly different circumstances. Rosie and Mark are in "a restricted financial condition" as their realtor puts it, and move into a small cottage in need of renovations.  Samantha picks out the local manor house, a seventeenth century house she then proceeds to renovate until it loses its authenticity.  Rosie is entranced with the local folk, livestock, local produce and small town relationships and ways.  Samantha, who expects the local landed gentry to beat a path to her door, is less entranced.  She regards the locals as buffoons and the animals as nuisances.

Can these two couples adjust to life in the country?  Wendy Holden, author of Beautiful People and Bad Heir Day, will entertain the reader as they find out which couple, if either, makes a successful adjustment to this new way of life.  Holden is in fine form.  Her prose is witty and has an off-beat, self-deprecating humour that many authors try to accomplish but few can pull off.  Her depiction of Lady Avon coming to visit Samantha (she turns out to be the Avon Lady!) is priceless and had me laughing out loud.  This book is recommended for readers looking for a fun entertainment. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon

Four art students meet in college and soon form a group.  Suz, Winnie, Tess and Henry are consumed by their art and by Suz's belief that to understand something, you must tear it down.  Their group is named the Compassionate Dismantlers. They start out small, then graduate to "missions" such as shooting out transformers, burning art, and even kidnapping.  They move into a cabin together.  As a summer comes to an end, they start to fall apart with intra-group betrayals, secrets and alliances.  The summer ends with a tragedy and the group breaks up.

Fast forward ten years.  Henry and Tess have married and have a daughter, Emma, who was conceived that summer.  They are separated although still living in the same house and getting more and more distant from each other.  Emma, desparate to find a way to get her parents back together, searches their studios and finds evidence of The Dismantlers.  She sends a postcard to each member whose address she can find, writing only their motto:  "DISMANTLEMENT = FREEDOM.  To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart."

As the postcards are delivered, strange things start happening.  Some of the members come back to town, and perhaps others have also secretly returned.  Is the tragedy, hidden for a decade,  about to be discovered?  Have some members return to get revenge?  McMahon rachets up the tension from page to page until the reader can't determine reality from fantasy.

Wow, this book is amazing.  The suspense level is intense with multiple plot twists and turns.  The reader is sure they know what is happening and then a page turns and everything is different from what was perceived.  The characters are realistic, and the group leader, Suz, is so vivid that the reader expects to look up and see her striding into their room.  This book is recommended for mystery/suspense fans.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Anyone who reads fantasy/sci-fi/horror knows Dan Simmon's name.  He is the author of some of the scariest books around, and a real rival to Stephen King and Clive Barker.  You can see my review of his last book, Drood, on this site, and I rarely miss one of Simmon's books.  They are riveting although not always for the faint-hearted.  Thanks to Hachette, I'm able to do a giveaway for an audio copy of his latest, Black Hills.

A blurb from Amazon's site:

Simmons's previous novels The Terror (2007) and Drood (2009) meld historical figures and events to occult phenomena, and Black Hills follows a similar pattern. Here, Simmons fuses the triumph of American Western expansion and the marvels of early 20th-century science and engineering with Native American spirituality and mysticism. Simmons is a gifted storyteller whose meticulous research and evocative prose deftly transport readers to another time and place. However, the Christian Science Monitor found the frequent barrage of historical minutiae tedious and criticized the novel's interpretation of Manifest Destiny and the harsh treatment of native populations, which it considered obnoxious and disrespectful. However, most critics praised Black Hills as a highly imaginative, interesting novel and a worthy addition to Simmons's oeuvre.



1. The giveaway starts Monday, June 14th and ends on Friday, June 25th 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!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Partisan's Daughter by Louis De Bernieres

Chris is like millions of middle-aged men. Stuck in a loveless marriage, he is frustrated at the thought that this might be all there is to his life. One night, while on the way home, he sees a streetwalker and impulsively, stops and tries to hire her. He is instantly filled with regret when the woman is insulted that he thought she was a prostitute. She then tells him that he can take her home to make up for it, and he does. As she leaves his car, she tells him that he seems a nice man and that he should come by sometime for coffee. Then she off-handedly mentions, "When I was bad girl I never took less than five hundred. I don't do cheap."

Thus starts the relationship between Chris and Roza. Roza is a young Yugoslavian woman who is in England illegally. Chris does stop by her apartment and she becomes a modern-day Scheherazade, full of exotic stories that have made up her life. Each story reveals more and more of her character and needs. Chris is entranced, both by Roza personally and by the stories she tells. He is shown a side of life he'd never seen as he realizes that while he wants more adventure in his life, he is actually unlikely to pursue it if it means leaving his comfortable, boring life. "I wouldn't want to be a partisan unless I got weekends off and missions were optional."

Roza's stories revolve around men in her life, starting with her father. He fought for various factions in Yugoslavia as a partisan, and lived his life afterwards extolling the strength and honor of men like him who were willing to sacrifice everything for the land and lives they loved. Then there is her first love, met when she attended college. After that, she met a man who brought her to England and she lived with him for a while, then slowly drifted away when she got bored. She drifted into hostess work. Roza is fatalistic about her life, and is quick to say she has disappointed the idea of being a partisan's daughter.

Louis De Bernieres has created two characters that the reader quickly learns to care about. The slow emergence of Roza's history and of Chris' reaction to its revelations creates a tension that leaves the reader anxious and intrigued. The reader wants to read more of the emerging relationship between these two people who are so diametrically opposed in outlook and life experiences. This book is recommended for readers of current fiction, and is one that will remain in the reader's mind for quite a while after it is completed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Art Of Devotion by Samantha Bruce Benjamin

On a sun-kissed island, two beautiful children play in the waves.  Sebastian and Adora are not twins, although many mistake these children with their golden curls and piercing blue eyes for twins.  Brother and sister who are two years apart, they are fiercely devoted to each other and need no one else.  Even their mother Sophie feels excluded, although she knows she should not be jealous of their closeness.

The book then moves to thirty years in the future and follows the relationships of this family, and another that they are intertwined with.  Adora has married Oliver.  They have no children of their own, but she has emotionally stolen Genevieve, the daughter of her husband's best friends, James and Miranda.  Genevieve spends every summer with Adora and is now entering adulthood.  She meets Jack, and her love for Adora is changed as she finds first love with him.

Samantha Bruce Benjamin explores the many facets of devotion.  There is devotion between siblings, between mother and daughter, between lovers, between friends and between adults and the children they foster.  Not all devotion is positive, and Benjamin explores the dark side of this emotion also.  The book is told through the voices of the women involved, moving back and forth from one to the other.  As each speaks of the summer that exists, and the years leading up to the events of that summer, the reader is taken on a road of discovery, as each event is told from multiple views and secrets and betrayals are revealed. 

This book is recommended for all readers.  It is compelling.  The writing is lyrical and what seems a gentle book constantly surprises as the plot twists are revealed.  The author has created one of the most memorable villians I've found, or have the motives of the villian been misinterpreted?  Readers of The Art Of Devotion will be thinking about what happened long after they close the covers of this book.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

Addie Downs couldn't be more surprised when she answers her door one evening.  There stands her best friend from high school, Valerie Adler.  Her best friend, who turned on her in their senior year.  Her best friend, who stood by while Addie was teased and taunted and made miserable.  Her best friend, who she hadn't seen in years, but who now has come to her for help.

The local high school had had their fifteenth high school reunion.  While Addie hadn't gone, Val had and had taken the chance to wreak some revenge on Dan, the guy who had date raped her in high school, and who had lead the torment of Addie when she turned him in.  Val has left Dan naked and bleeding in the country club parking lot, after hitting him with her car as she leaves.  She runs to Addie, not sure if the man is alive or dead, and if alive, how hurt he is.  The friends go back to the parking lot, but all they find is Dan's belt and some of his blood.

In the years since high school, both Addie and Val have made lives for themselves.  Val is now a TV weatherperson who has just made it to the big-time; a TV station in Chicago.  She is determined to move from that spot to an anchor chair.  Addie has stayed in the same house all these years.  She helps her brother, who was injured in an accident years before, and paints greeting card illustrations.  She has what many would consider a "small" life, but she is content.

Now these friends must determine if there is any friendship left between them, and if they can pull together to get through this crisis.  Can they rebuild the relationship that sustained them both throughout their childhood, or is it all too late?  This book is recommended for readers that enjoy books about women's lives and the problems that define them.  Jennifer Weiner is the queen of this genre, and this is another strong effort by her. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Woman Of Influence by Rebecca Ann Collins

Jane Austen fans, rejoice!  Rebecca Ann Collins has written a series of ten books extending the lives of the Austen characters and moving them forward into a new historical era.  Specifically, the series is billed as the sequel series to Austen's Pride And PrejudiceThe series is called The Pemberley Chronicles, and A Woman Of Influence is the ninth book in the series.

Becky Tate is the widow of a publisher and she is entering a new stage in her life.  She has sold the London house she and her husband shared and bought a new estate in Kent, where she is close to her sister.  Becky is deciding what she will do with the rest of her life.  An author, she is also interested in moving forward the plight of women, especially the poor, uneducated and often abused women of the serving class.

A young woman is found wandering the estate.  She has a young son, and has been trying to support both of them by working in the hops fields.  They are dirty and hungry.  Becky takes them in and discovers that the woman claims that her husband is imprisoned, leaving the family to make its way as best it can.  Along with her circle of friends, Becky becomes fascinated with this story and attempts to discover the truth and right any wrongs committed.

While this story is one of the linchpins of the book, there is much else.  There are deaths, weddings, the birth of children.  Relationships between family members and friends are explored.  The relationship of parents to adult children is a recurring theme.  The life of an upper class woman in the eighteenth century is displayed in depth.  How I wish I had the time to spend on relationships and causes that these women did!

This book is recommended for those who love Jane Austen, or are interested in stories of women's rights when society had cast them as the weaker sex, or for anyone interested in a great read.  A Woman Of Influence is written in a gentle style, and I found it compelling.  The reader is drawn into this world and what happens next is all that can be thought of.