Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ashes To Water by Irene Ziegler

Annie Bartlett has returned to her hometown and the memories she fled from years ago. She received a call that her father, Ed,  has been murdered and his current girlfriend has been charged.  Annie and her sister, Leigh, grew up in a household full of anger and recrimination.  Her father was a serial adulterer and her mother, a nurse, committed suicide when the girls were still young. 

Leigh grew up to be the girl she thought her father was attracted to as she attempted to get his attention.  Flitting from man to man, her beauty her weapon, she has become mired in addiction and a dead-end life.  Annie took a different route.  She rejected everything about her upbringing and left town the minute she could get enough money to do so.  She has carved out a good life for herself, engaged to a man she loves and has a career as a photographer.

Now both girls are back and trying to make sense of what has occurred to their father.  Did the girlfriend kill him over another woman as the police believe?  Or were the other tensions in town involved?  There is an arsonist at large and Ed seemed to know something about that.  Then there is the struggle between developers who wanted Ed's lakeside house and the people in town who were fighting against having their area changed from a sleepy lakeside town to a major tourist area replete with casinos and the crime and changes that brings.  Can Annie find out what has happened before the town pulls her back into her former life and the heartbreak it brought?  Will the truths she learns as she struggles to find out what has occurred help her also make sense of her upbringing?

Irene Ziegler has written an engaging mystery.  Her characters are complex and the plot twists and turns satisfactorily.  In addition to the mystery, there are themes of past issues resolution, conflict between development and tradition, and the struggle of characters to move past what was done to them as children and to become strong, independent adults.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Separate Country by Robert Hicks

In A Separate Country, Robert Hicks takes the reader to post-Civil War New Orleans.  The book follows the life of General John Hood and his family in this period.   General Hood came to New Orleans as a feared and respected man, a Confederate general who led forces and unleashed chaos upon the land.

After the war, he flounders trying to find what his new life will be.  Grievously injured with one leg missing and one arm that won't work, he isn't sure he even knows how to fit into society when he isn't needed to lead men to war.  He finds his purpose when he meets and marries Anna Marie Hennen, a famous New Orleans society beauty.  Hood and Anna Marie have eleven children. 

Hood introduces the reader to the intricacies of Southern society.  There are cotton brokers, lotteries, freed slaves now attempting to make a living, and men in societies formed for the sole purpose of refusing African-Americans their rights.  There are many orphans who also claw and fight for a chance at a new life once their family ties have been cut asunder by war.  There are men that learn to fit in, and those who are so damaged by the war that they never find redemption.

This book is highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction.  It is rife with complex characters.  There is Rintrah and Pascale, orphans who run away from the orphanage and carve out lives for themselves.  Pascale has both black and white heritage and sometimes passes as a white man, a scheme for which he pays dearly.  Rintrah is a dwarf who fights and schemes until he controls much of the underworld of the city.  Father Mike is a priest who isn't priestly, except when the yellow fever plague arrives.  He recruits all these characters along with John Hood to fight the plague and try to save the poor people of the city who are it's first and most severely affected victims. 

Hicks has created a city where the reader feels they could walk down the streets and encounter people they know.  The characters are intricate and Hicks outlines the various relationships that tie them together.  He explores what it means to be a man at war, and a man who seeks redemption.  This is an extremely satisfying book, and readers won't be disappointed. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose

Lucian Glass's life was defined by one moment in time.  As a young art student, he arrived at a galley to find his girlfriend murdered.  Attacked also, Lucian barely survives.  That event changed his life.  Rather than pursuing a career as an artist, he becomes an FBI agent who specializes in art fraud.

His current case is one of his most challenging.  His long-time nemesis, Dr. Malachi Samuels, is a doctor who explores the fields of reincarnation and past-life regressions.  Glass also believes that he is a mass murderer who kills his way to the treasures he acquires to help in his research.  When the new case evolves, he believes that Samuels must be the mastermind behind the scenes.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is involved in a custody case with Iran.  The Iranian government believes that the museum has wrongfully acquired a statue of Hypnos, the god of sleep.  As they work through the legal intricacies, a new player bursts on the scene.  The museum is sent a masterpiece; a Matisse.  But, the painting has been shredded, ruined beyond restoration.  The sender claims to have four more paintings of the same quality.  He has a proposition.  The museum can give him the statue in return for the paintings, or he will send them one at a time, destroyed.  Glass works the case, sure that his opponent is Samuels, but is he right?  He is also pulled back in time when he becomes involved with his girlfriend's cousin, who has remained in the art world.

Fans of M.J. Rose won't be disappointed in this novel.  Fast-paced with entrancing characters and an exploration of reincarnation and the art world, The Hypnotist is a compelling read.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Blessings Of The Animals by Katrina Kittle

Veterinarian Cami Anderson returns from a horse rescue to find her husband of eighteen years packing.  To her shock, he tells her he is moving out.  Even more shocking, within a week she discovers that he is living with a girl not much older than their daughter, a young woman that Cami had employed at her practice.

The Blessings Of The Animals follows Cami's life after this door slams shut on a big piece of her life.  Readers get a viseral sense of what this kind of betrayal feels like.  The book explores the depths of her shock, anger and despair, and how she begins to move beyond the nightmare to carve out a new life that expands her horizons and brings her contentment, love and even joy.

Kittle fills the book with vibrant characters.  There is Gabrielle, the couple's smart, vivacious teenage daughter who reacts by breaking up with her longtime boyfriend and refusing to let anyone get close.  Cami's birth family is introduced.  Her patrician mother and father, who raised her in the horse-racing and training business, show up in stark contrast to her ex-inlaws, who are a extroverted, noisy and nosy bunch.  Her brother is gay and in a relationship that seems very stable.  Friends surround Cami, from her best female friend to a male doctor friend who has been in her life since childhood, and who now wants to make the friendship something more serious.

Then there are the animals.  There is Moonshot, the horribly abused stallion she rescued that day, who comes back to life and health under Cami's care, all the while restoring her own sense of well-being.  There is a comic goat, a rescued three-legged ginger tom, and various other dogs and horses and donkeys.  The animals unfreeze her heart and help her remember what she loved about her career.

What a joy it is to find a book that you can't wait to pick back up!  Kittle's deft portrayal of this common situation and her insight into how life can start over will strike a chord in readers.  This book is highly recommended for all readers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Vanishing by Deborah Willis

In the fourteen stories in Vanishing, Deborah Willis explores the ways that we lose people and items that are important to us.  Some are vanish through infidelity and some through physical separation, while others vanish through death or even loving outside accepted boundaries.  In each case, there is the person who vanishes, and those left behind, who must determine how to move on in their lives without the person who is gone.

The opening story, "Vanishing"  is my favorite.  In this story, a playwright father and husband leaves his house one day, never to return.  The story follows his wife and daughter throughout their lives after this event, outlining the various ways that his disappearance changes their lives, even decades later.  The deftness Willis demonstrates in this outline of all the repercussions caused by his decision to leave brings the story close to the reader, and makes them spend time thinking of how their life would change without their loved ones close at hand.

In this first book of fiction, Deborah Willis displays the insight into human decisions that has marked her previous work.  She won the PRISM International annual fiction prize.  She was long-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and short-listed for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction.  Her work can also be found in The Bridport Prize Anthology, Event, and Grain.  This book is recommended for readers interested in determining how we relate to each other, and what it means when the human connections are broken, either through actions or physical space.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Tom Rob Smith--the author whose debut, Child 44, has been called "brilliant" (Chicago Tribune), "remarkable" (Newsweek) and "sensational" (Entertainment Weekly)--returns with an intense, suspenseful new novel: a story where the sins of the past threaten to destroy the present, where families must overcome unimaginable obstacles to save their loved ones, and where hope for a better tomorrow is found in the most unlikely of circumstances 

"THE SECRET SPEECH continues the headlong pace of Child 44." --- Wall Street Journal

Tom Rob Smith graduated from Cambridge University in 2001 and lives in London. His first novel, Child 44, was a New York Times bestseller and an international publishing sensation. Among its many honors, Child 44 won the ITW 2009 Thriller Award for Best First Novel, The Strand Magazine 2008 Critics Award for Best First Novel, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. You can visit Tom's website at and follow @tomrobsmith on Twitter.


1. The giveaway starts Sunday, August 15 and ends on Friday, August 27th 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!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Twin boys are born in Ethiopia.  A normal event, but this birth was not normal.  These twins were born of a mother who was a nun, someone no one had known was pregnant.  The father was an American surgeon named Thomas Stone.  The nun, Mary Joseph Praise, was Stone's assistant in the surgery and his confidant.  They had been in love for months, but never spoke of it.  Her pregnancy, hid from everyone around, resulted in her death on the delivery table as Stone tried unsuccessfully to save her.

Stunned and shocked, Stone disappears, leaving the boys in the care of two Indian doctors, Ghosh and Hema.  Hema delivered the children after Stone's inability, and claimed the boys as her own when Stone disappeared.  She named the children Marion and Shiva.  The boys grew up in Ethiopia at Missing Hospital, surrounded by love and a close family.  In addition to Hema and Ghosh, Matron and various servants were their family.

The boys had the special relationship that twins do, but they were very different.  Shiva was extremely intelligent but had no ability to conform to rules.  School wasn't something he was interested in.  Marion was the super-striver who did everything the right way, determined to make his way in the world and make his family proud. Both boys end up with medical careers.  Marion becomes a trauma surgeon while Shiva, without a medical degree, becomes a world-renowned expert in a woman's surgery method to cure fistulas.

The boys' intense childhood bond is severed when Marion discovers a betrayal by Shiva that he cannot forgive or forget.  Due to the political situation in their homeland, Marion immigrates to America.  Years later, he discovers and is reunited with his biological father.  A medical crisis brings both branches of the family, biological and adopted together to forge new relationships and learn what they all mean to each other.

Verghese has written a sprawling, extremely satisfying novel.  The reader learns of the Ethiopian culture, as well as the medical culture of surgeons and the challenges they face.  This is hardly surprising as Verghese is a doctor as well as a novelist.  Readers will not soon forget the various faces of love that are portrayed in the novel, and will remember the characters long after they finish the book.  This book is recommended for all readers interested in an engrossing novel that will entrance and entertain.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cairo Modern by Naguib Mahfouz

In Cairo Modern, Naguib Mahfouz follows the lives of a group of friends at the university in 1930's Egypt.  Some are from prominent families, some are brilliant, some are handsome, some are none of these things.  The book focuses on the life of Mahgub Abd al-Da'im, a desperately poor student determined to make his way in life.

After much privation, Mahgub manages to get his degree, but much to his dismay, any jobs are given out only on a patronage basis.  Mahgub has no one to serve as his patron.  Desparately he contacts anyone he knows even slightly, hoping to find a job that will allow him to escape the poverty he has known his whole life.  Finally, he is offered a job, but it comes with a price.  He is offered a job by an influential rich man who needs someone to marry his mistress.  Mahgub swallows his pride and marries the woman.

This humiliating situation leads to his first job; a job where he receives respect and more money than he has ever had in his possession.  The price he pays, a sundering of his ideals and cutting ties with his college friends, is one he regards as a viable solution.  In fact, he determines that he will not be tied down by any ideals, not friendship or family ties or any kind of morality.  The book follows the outcome of Mahgub's decision as it plays out in his life.  After initial success, he is totally defeated when he is exposed as what he is, someone who will do anything and betray anyone.

Mahfouz received the Nobel Prize in 1988, and spent his prolific writing career portraying Egyptian life in all its aspects.  Cairo Modern is an analogy for what happens to his beloved country as it veers from it's principles prior to World War II.  This book is recommended for literature lovers, and those interested in the literature of other cultures. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Language Of Trees by Ilie Ruby

The small town of Canandaigua has a hold on its citizens.  Some have grown up and moved away, but find themselves drawn back to their childhood haunts.  Others have lived their entire lives in this small community, centered around a lake and the trees and animals and Indian heritage that is evident everywhere.

There are also secrets.  More than a decade ago, a tragedy changed the lives of several families.  Three children, two sisters and a brother, fled the wrath of their alcoholic father and took a canoe out on the lake at night.  When a storm whipped up, the canoe capsized and the young brother, Luke, disappeared and drowned.  That death had many consequences.  It broke the marriage of his parents.  One sister< Maya, had to be hospitalized with a mental breakdown, while the other, Melanie,  became a drug addict.  Now Melanie has defeated her addiction and has a good relationship and a baby she loves.  But she has gone missing....

Echo comes back to town to deal with the illness and old age of Joseph, the town's grocer and holder of many secrets.  He took Echo in when she was orphaned and provided her with love and security.  Grant has also returned to town to try to reconcile his past.  He is fleeing a broken marriage, and trying to determine why his father was so distant from him as a child.  When he and Echo see each other, they are drawn to rekindle the past where they were each other's first love.

Ilie Ruby has created a wonderous place, a land that seems shrouded in fog and secrets that the reader must push their way through to discover the secrets that bind these individuals to this place.  This is a debut novel and it's haunting voice will linger in readers' minds long after they close the book.  This book is recommended for readers who are interested in discovering the items that make people the way they are. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010


"Admissions. Admission. Aren't there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides...It's what we let in, but it's also what we let out."

For years, 38-year-old Portia Nathan has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. Her reluctance to confront the truth is suddenly overwhelmed by the resurfacing of a life-altering decision, and Portia is faced with an extraordinary test. Just as thousands of the nation's brightest students await her decision regarding their academic admission, so too must Portia decide whether to make her own ultimate admission.

Admission is at once a fascinating look at the complex college admissions process and an emotional examination of what happens when the secrets of the past return and shake a woman's life to its core.



1. The giveaway starts Sunday, August 1 and ends on Friday, 13th 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.