Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dear Austin by David M. Perkins

In every parent's life, there comes the bittersweet time when their child grows up and leaves.  This may happen when a child goes to college or the military, or just moves out and starts their own life in their own living quarters.  While, as parents, our biggest job is to raise our children to be fully functioning adults, it is also difficult to end the years of dependence on the parents' wisdom and everyday guidance.

Dear Austin is David M. Perkins' letter to his son as Austin leaves his home to start his adult life in college.  David covers all the themes we want to share with our kids.  He talks of love, career, choices and beliefs.  He asks only that his son consider what he wants of life and then follow his own dreams, drawing on the gifts his parents gave him for eighteen years to make his own way in the adult world.

This is a beautiful book.  It will be a rare parent who doesn't feel a tug at their heartstrings when reading this, and a rare young adult that can't benefit from it's honest portrayal of the next stage of life.   In addition to being a great read, it is a great gift for other parents as they also move through this time.  This book is recommended for all readers.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Death By A Dark Horse by Susan Schreyer

Thea Campbell arrives at the stable where her prize horse, Blackie, lives for a ride, only to find him gone.  When she quizzes the stable employees, she realises that Blackie has been stolen, probably by Valerie Parsons, who seems to delight in creating chaos all around her.  Rich, beautiful and talented, Valerie goes through life grabbing everything she wants--and she has wanted Blackie for a long time.

Thea drives to Valerie's farm to retrieve her horse but finds something much worse than a stolen animal.  Valerie is there, her skull crushed, very dead.  Who could have killed her?  There is no shortage of suspects.  The police suspect Thea, who had the motive of her horse.  Valerie had been involved in an affair with a local cowboy, very much married.  She had also been making moves on Thea's sister's new boyfriend.  Then there was her own boyfriend, Greg, who had planned to propose the day Valerie was killed.  There were also nefarious business dealings going on that could have provided a motive.

This is Susan Schreyer's debut mystery, and she can't write another one fast enough to suit me.  The pace is fast and engaging, the characters believable.  Thea is an independent woman who cares for her family and friends, and is determined to solve the mystery before the police.  The reader is introduced to the world of horse dressage trials along with the fascinating mystery.  All the threads are resolved satisfactorily in the end.  This book is recommended for all mystery readers.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

In the late 1800's and the early 1900's, popular imaginations were excited by the explorations of the many gentlemen explorers who through courage and daring pushed the boundaries of human knowledge.  The exploits of men like Teddy Roosevelt, Roald Amundsen and Sir Richard Francis Burton were exciting to those left behind, and their discoveries moved the boundaries of what was known of the world we inhabit.

Another of these explorers was Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett.  From a military background (although the Colonel title seems self-imposed), Fawcett had early successes in his explorations.  He concentrated on taking small expeditions over land, and trying to befriend rather than confront the natives of the various countries he explored.

Like several other explorers, he became obsessed with the Amazon.  The common viewpoint was that the Amazon was populated by primitive tribes, who had never developed an extensive civilization.  Fawcett came to believe otherwise; he believed there was a rich, ancient civilization with huge cities and extensive laws and population.  Unable to find traces of this city, he mounted one final expedition in 1925.  By then, exploration was starting to change.  No longer was the gentleman explorer the preeminent authorities.  Scholars and scientists were taking over the expeditions, which become large, fully funded enterprises with scientific equipment.  On Fawcett's last trip, he took only himself, his son Jack, and Jack's best friend Rawleigh.  They entered the forest and were not heard from again.

David Grann has written an entertaining account of this period of history, the men who explored and the forces that were changing exploration.  He follows Fawcett's accomplishments and weaknesses, and the massive reaction to his disappearance.  It is estimated that over one hundred additional people have died hoping to find Fawcett or the true explanation of his disappearance.  Always engaging this book is recommended for readers with a sense of adventure who like to read about the ways our world knowledge has been expanded.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Pointed Death by Kath Russell

Nola Billingsley has been caught in the dot-com burst.  Her company, which added value to biotechnology companies, goes under when an employee embezzles funds.  The news gets worse.  Nola, walking her dog, finds the decapitated body of that former employee, a coincidence that is hard to believe.

While the police don't come out and tell her she is a suspect, it is obvious that suspicion has attached to Nola.  Between trying to put her life back together by going back to her career as a biotech consultant, she decides to try to solve the mystery of who killed her former employee and why.  She is helped in this venture by her extensive network of contacts in the world of biotech, and by her new-found romantic relationship with one of the police assigned to the case. 
Before the case is solved, Nola uncovers high-tech corporate espionage, and connections to overseas governments determined to steal the intellectual property of these firms in what is one of the next economic frontiers. 

A Pointed Death is an engaging mystery.  Nola is a strong, independent career woman who makes no apologies for her intelligence and ability to put facts together to solve the case.  The romance is handled in an adult fashion also, with none of the coyness that is so often found in mysteries and which is off-putting.  The supporting characters are fun to read about.  Nola's eighty-year old mother lives with her and spends her time trying to manage her daughter's life.  Her dog, the pointer in the title, is an engaging canine who alternatively drives Nola crazy and enriches her life.  The mystery is difficult enough that the reader doesn't feel talked down to.  All in all, this book is a wonderful debut to a series that mystery readers will fall in love with. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011


The world has changed.  The power grid has vanished.  No electricity.  No computers.  A world in chaos.  The Change demands new rules, old violence and unlikely heroes.

Murderous bikers--modern-day pirates--have invaded the Canadian prince of Alberta.  An enigmatic survivalist, Matthew, the "Gatekeeper", stands against their hordes.  Meteor, a blue-eyed rogue, refuses to choose sides.  A biker king, "The Man", unites the motocycle clubs and builds his army, with a goal towards domination.

None of these men are prepared for the wild card that is Martha.  Martha is a woman with a will of iron, and a spirit of steel that will challenge and change each of their lives. 

But Martha has a deadly secret....

Giveaway Rules.

1,  The giveaway starts Tuesday, January 11th and ends Saturday, January 22nd, at noon.

2.  The winner will be chosen by random number.

3.  For one chance to win, leave a comment with your email address.  Entries without email addresses will not be considered, sorry!

4.  For additional chances, link this to your Facebook or Twitter pages and send me the link in your comment.

5.  Winner must live in the United States or Canada.

Thanks and good luck!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Muslim Women Reformers by Ida Lichter

In Muslim Women Reformers, Ida Lichter does an exhaustive survey of the state of Muslim womens' rights in countries around the world and profiles women and organizations in each country working on the issues.  While there is some degree of suppression of womens' rights in each country as compared to Western countries, there are differences with some countries completely restrictive while some have started work on the issues.

The book covers the mid-Eastern countries that the reader would expect, but also covers Muslim women's rights and struggles in African countries as well as countries such as the United States and Canada.  The range of issues is wide.  Women are often considered legally half the worth of a man.  Honor killings are tolerated in some countries.  Education is a major issue in all the countries, as the reformers realise that without an educated female population, it is unlikely that reform will occur.  Female circumsion is very common in some Muslim countries, less so in others.  In some countries, focus has been concentrated on items as seemingly prosaic as a woman's right to drive a car.  While this is a commonplace right in Western societies, it is not as accepted in many countries.  There are issues with driving uncovered; taking a driver's license picture, and the ability to travel without male supervision.

The women who have been highlighted are heroes.  They have given up employment, been imprisoned, forced to live in secretcy, and even tortued.  Yet, they continue the fight, and slowly, slowly they are making changes.  Some are adamently opposed to Islam.  Others are devout Muslims who believe that the religion has been misinterpreted by male clerics.  They want to redefine Islam in a way that promotes gender equality, which they believe was the original intent.

This book is recommended reading for all those interested in human rights, and especially those focused on womens' rights.  The sustained courage and vision of these women is awe-inspiring, and it makes the reader question how far would they be willing to go to fight for their rights in a similiar situation.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


You'll want to check this out!  I'm one of the bloggers participating in this huge tour and giveaway.  Check out the site and enter for great  giveaways (even a Kindle!) and be sure to check out the reviews for each book.  Come back to Booksie's Blog on the 29th for my review of  Death by a Dark Horse.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Tattoed Girl By Joyce Carol Oates

Joshua Siegl is a respected novelist and scholar.  He made his reputation early with the publication of an acclaimed novel that wrote about the Holocaust, and which was based on his grandparents' experience with the death camps.  Although Joshua is young, still in his 30's, he has found himself becoming more and more of a recluse.  Fiercely independent, he has few outside relationships and lives alone.

Alma Busch is quite different.  A poorly educated woman from a poor family, Alma has made her way through life, often by depending on men.  These men, who she always believes love her, end up treating her badly.  She has been prostituted by them and forced to write bad checks or steal.  In a stunning episode, she was imprisoned in a motel room by a gang of men, raped and then tattooed by them on her face, back and hands.  She drifts from man to man and job to job, never finding human validation.

Everything changes for both of these people when Joshua is diagnosed with a progressive nerve disease.  He at first refuses to admit this is happening, but as the weeks go by and he starts to lose functioning of his body, he realises he will need to have some help.  Still shunning from public disclosure of his condition, he meets Alma in a restaurant and impulsively offers her a job as a live-in assistant. 

Thus begins their strange relationship.  Joshua sees Alma as a project of sorts, as he wants to help her gain Independence and education.  He begins to depend more and more on her help.  She helps him get around, organizes his scholarly papers, and takes over the organization of the house. 

Alma sees Joshua as different things.  She doesn't understand his world, and is filled with contempt that he spends so much money on things that she could do for him.  Slowly, she takes over these things like cleaning his clothes, cleaning the house, etc.  She loves him at times, and is filled with hate for him at others.  Unused to decent treatment from men, she has been conditioned to see this kind of treatment as weakness.  Over time they develop an uneasy relationship that has each dependant on the other for their lives going forward. 

Joyce Carol Oates, who is a prolific writer, has created a chilling portrait in this book.  It is unclear throughout where the reader's sympathies should lie, with Joshua or Alma.  Is he saving her or condescending to her?  Is she helping him, or making him dependant on him for a unsavory reason?  The reader will be compelled to read to the end to discover what happens in this relationship, and who will emerge as the winner in the battle of wills.  This book is recommended for all readers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Fire Lord's Lover by Kathryne Kennedy

The place is England in 1724.  Mankind is subjugated to the rule of seven dissident elven lords, who broke free from their land and came through the gateway that separates the lands.  Having magic and strength on their side, they quickly managed to take over the country and now rule it, each lord in his own territory.

The strongest elven lord, Mor'ded, rules London with an iron hand.  His power is that of fire.  His main general, Dominic Raikes, is also his bastard son.  Dominic is half-human but has learned to suppress any human feeling as Mor'ded just uses it to torture him, killing his pets and friends to teach him not to get attached to anything. 

Cassandra is a sheltered young woman who has been raised to become the bride of Dominic.  She also has a secret; she has been trained as an assassin by the Resistance.  The Resistance are those human who want to throw off elven rule and restore the human king.  She is to marry Dominic, and use her relationship with him to get close enough to Mor'ded to kill him.

When they meet, nothing goes as planned.  Cassandra is shocked and humiliated by Dominic's unfeeling treatment of her and his flaunting of his mistresses.  Dominic is determined not to feel anything for Cassandra, knowing that to do so will doom her.  Yet, they both hate and fear Mor'ded and as time goes on, create an alliance to try to defeat him.  Will they be successful before he discovers their feelings and destroys them both?  Can Cassandra and Dominic manage not to fall in love?

The Fire Lord's Lover is Book One of The Elven Lords.  Kennedy has created an interesting world, with enough historical grounding that the reader feels familiar with the background.  The love story has the reader curious and makes them want to read to see how it will work out.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid

England is faced with a serial killer.  He targets gay men and tortures them with medieval tactics and painstakingly recreated devices before killing them.  Baffled, the police bring in a new resource.  Dr. Tony Hill has been the head of the criminally insane hospital unit that houses England's existing serial killers for several years.  As such, he has more insight into the minds and motivations of such men than the average policeman.

Detective Inspector Carol Jordan is intent on making her way to the top.  She realises that as a woman detective, she will have to work twice as hard, and she is fine with that.  Carol is selected to work with Dr. Hill, and she finds his methods fascinating.  His work, especially the psychological profile he prepares, shows her different ways of bringing investigations to a successful close. 

But the killings go on.  More men are killed and shockingly, one is a member of the police force.  The killer is obviously thumbing his nose at the police, defying them to discover his identity and end his murderous spree.  Will Dr. Hill and Dectective Jordan, along with the task force dedicated to the case manage to end his reign of terror?

The Mermaids Singing is Val McDermid's introductory volume in the Hill/Jordan series.  She has since written six others. The books are very popular and have also been dramatized into a miniseries.  McDermid's forte is strong characterization and the relationships formed between members of a police force and between the law-breakers and the law-enforcers.  This book is enthusiastically recommended for all mystery or thriller fans.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell

The Darling Strumpet details the life of Nell Gwynn in the late 1660's in England.  Nell started life as a child of poverty, never sure if she would have enough to eat or whether she and her drunken, abusive mother would have a place to live.  She escaped that life by becoming a prostitute at an early age, probably around eleven or twelve.

She and her sister meet a group of actors, who with the return of King Charles II, are reviving the London theatre.  She leaves the whorehouse for the theatre, starting as an orange-seller but then getting her heart's desire and moving to the stage where she became London's darling.  She also caught the attention of royalty and became the mistress of several lords and dukes.

Over time, she met and settled into a long-term relationship with King Charles himself.  They had two sons together and she was his mistress from her early twenties to the end of his life in her late thirties.  Although Charles had other mistresses and children, he always came back to Nell, who was his comfort.  She was also loved mightily by all who knew her and popular with the crowds of London

Gillian Bagwell has created a book that will be a delight to readers of historical fiction.  She does not attempt to hide the harshness of life--the plagues, the crime, the uncertainty of fortune.  The political atmosphere was charged as this was the start of the tension between Protestants and Catholics.  Succession to the king was always a charged issue, especially as in Charles's case, where he did not have a legitimate heir.  Although these issues are discussed, the tone of the book is rollicking and merry for the most part, drawing the reader along and entertaining as it educates.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Beneath The Sands Of Egypt by Donald Ryan

Readers interested in Egypt and archeology will be fascinated by the life and career of Donald Ryan in his book Beneath The Sands Of Egypt.  Ryan was fascinated by ancient cultures and exploration from his childhood; the kind of kid whose favorite magazine was The National Geographic. After he finished his education he found work and made significant discoveries in Egypt. 

There are several points that I'd not really considered prior to reading this book that were quite interesting.  One was the day to day danger and tedium of an archeologist's life.  Those who work in the Valley of the Kings are exposed to grueling heat, nerve-wracking climbs down steep cliffs and crawls through narrow underground passages.  They endure this to find shards and pieces of the past, which then must be painstakingly put back together.  The modern archaeologist in Egypt is getting to tombs after the early discoveries by scientists who didn't have advanced methods of protecting the finds and after repeated predations by graverobbers.  They battle bureaucracies, both in their home country and in the country where the work is done.  Disease is common from the dust and animals found in the sites.  A common enemy of their work is water.  Egyptian tombs are located in such a way that they are often repeatedly flooded over the years, destroying much of the evidence the scientist is looking for.

Another interesting point is how common objects are as precious to the scientist as the big, showy items that make it into museum showcases.  Ryan had a fascinating chapter on the rope used during the era of the Pharaohs, and his scholarship is displayed as he researches how it was constructed and used.  Another common object is papyrus, and he discusses those who have brought this art back from extinction.

A point most hobbyists don't consider but that Ryan discusses is how few career jobs there are in archeology and how hard it is to make a living in this field.  Ryan spent years patching together a career from teaching in several colleges, lecturing on cruise ships, being a consultant to TV productions about Egypt and serving on different site digs.  The life is one of constant scrambling for funds, and those not comfortable with a career outside the box need not apply.

Although Ryan focuses mainly on his work in Egypt, he also discusses the seven years he spent as an assistant to the great Thor Heyerdahl.  Heyerdahl burst onto the archaeological scene with his theories about how primitive men were able to transverse oceans, and his replication of such a journey on his raft, the Kon-tiki.  Ryan had grown up with Heyerdahl as his childhood hero and the opportunity to work with him as an adult was a dream come true.

This book is recommended for history readers, and those interested in archeology.  Ryan is a fascinating man, and he has covered his career in an interesting fashion.