Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eating Smoke by Chris Thrall

Chris Thrall leaves the Royal Marines in his early twenties, sure that he is cut out for bigger things.  He goes to Hong Kong to make his fortune in the security business, but soon finds it falling apart.  He moves from job to job, his engaging personality making it easy to get jobs, but his restless nature making it difficult to keep one.  He soon makes his way to the nightclub world, where he is employed as a doorman. 

This way of life suits him, with nighttime working hours, lots of new faces and above all, the drugs.  Chris has the knack of quickly making friends with almost anyone, and he spends his days in a whirl of socializing and doing drugs.  He becomes addicted to crystal meth.  Although he can see the effects of the drugs on his friends, decrying the depths they fall to, he seems oblivious to his own deterioration. 

As time goes on, he finds it more and more difficult to keep a job, eat, sleep, or maintain a home.  Wandering the streets, living off his friends, he becomes a typical meth addict, but with one terrifying difference.  He gets on the wrong side of one of Hong Kong's fiercest gangs and must now figure out how to save his life, both physically and to wrench himself out of his drug addiction.

Readers will want to not like Chris.  He blithely moves through life, never finding anything that goes deeper than an inch, taking drugs, moving from job to job, friend to friend.  Yet, somehow, the reader is engaged with this man who seems so oblivious yet is so engaging, and soon finds that they are cheering for Thrall to be successful in his attempt to change from an addict with no future.  This book is recommended for those interested in learning about the Hong Kong culture and those interested in tales of redemption.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Things are not going well in Swamplandia!  Once a major tourist draw with hordes of visitors each day, the death of the show's main attraction has put a serious dent in the business.  Even worse, the main attraction was also the mother of the Bigtree family that runs Swamplandia.

Karen Russell's novel is the story of how this family comes to grip with the loss of their mother and the possible ending of the only life they have known; that of the Bigtree family of Swamplandia!.  There are three children.  Ossie, the oldest sister who is sixteen, has never been that involved with the business, being a fey girl who drifts through life.  She becomes entranced with spiritualism and soon convinces herself that she can talk to the dead and that dead boys are perfect boyfriends.  Kiwi, the oldest and only son, has always wanted a 'normal' life on the mainland, and leaves the Swamplandia! island, determined to make it on his own and then figure out how to save the park.  Ava Bigtree is thirteen and the novel's protagonist.  She loves the business and her only dream is to grow up and take over for her mother.

Chief Bigtree, the father, is one of those optimistic people who is sure everything will work out even when he has no plan to make it happen.  He leaves on a mysterious business trip shortly after Kiwi's departure, leaving the girls alone on the island.  Ossie disappears into the swamp, chasing her ghostly love, and Ava soon goes into the swamp to rescue her.  Will this family ever be reunited and made whole?

Readers will love the fresh voice and writing style of Karen Russell.  Ava's spirit is so big it jumps off the page, and the ability to experience life from her young perspective is intriguing.  The characters are memorable, and the reader gets to experience the Florida swamps in all their murky, humid, bug-infested, dangerous appeal.  This book is recommended for all readers, and especially those interested in coming of age stories and those of families finding their way to make a live together.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Just in time for Valentine's Day, Booksie is pleased to announce the giveaway of a Booknerds Are Sexy t-shirt, thanks to the generousity of R.Lynn, who is promoting her new book, Vanity & Valor. R.Lynn is a multi-genre author from Victoria, BC, Canada. She lives there with her hubby and their two four-legged children. She has entered the literary scene with a bang, and recently became one of the first authors to receive a publishing sponsorship.

About The Book

His father’s dying wish was for him to give up racing chariots and focus on being the new Dominus. The problem with that was, all he ever wanted to do was race chariots. When his desires and duty clash he finds himself at the verge of losing everything. She was sold into slavery by her father and purchased by Rome’s champion charioteer. Forced to work in his trigarium with the horses, she learns that women hold little to no value and that a prized racehorse has more rights than she does. When faced with the choice to risk her life and deny her status… will she? Doing so could get both her and her Dominus killed.

Giveaway Rules

1, The giveaway starts Saturday, January 21st and ends Friday, January 27th, 2012.

2. There is one t-shirt, size Large, to be given away. The winner must live in the United States or Canada, sorry!

3. For one entry, leave your email in a comment.

4. For additional entries, be or become a follower of Booksie's Blog post the giveaway on Twitter or Facebook with a link in your comment.

5. Entries without valid email addresses will not be entered. The winner will be chosen by a random number generator.

That's all! Thanks and watch here for Booksie's reivew of Vanity And Valor in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When she woke, she was red. This is the opening lines from Hilary Jordan's new novel, When She Woke. In this updated version of The Scarlet Letter, those who sin against God and the state wear their shame openly so that all know. Criminals are chemically treated so that their skin shouts their crime, whether yellow, green or red, the most serious.

Hannah's crime? She fell in love with a married man, had an affair, got pregnant and had an abortion. Even worse, she refused to name the man or the name of the doctor who performed the operation. Her sentence? A month in detention, on 24 hour video for all to see, then sixteen years of living with red skin so that her crime was the first thing everyone saw when they saw her. Living as a criminal who could be easily discriminated against, unsafe from those who searched for victims who could not fight back.

Hannah tries desparately to forge a new life for herself. She finds enemies such as a vigilante group who takes punishment of Chromes as their life mission. Friends such as other Chromes and those committed to end this practice and to save those condemed by it. Can she find her way through this new life she is forced to live to ever find happiness again?

Hillary Jordan has created a believable world and a pace that draws the reader along, anxious to discover what will happen next to Hannah. This thought-provoking work will be one that the reader finds hard to forget but instead will think of long after finishing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

How To Be A Best Friend Forever by John Townsend

What is a friend and how can someone bring friends into their lives?  That is the premise of Dr. John Townsend's book, How To Be A Best Friend Forever.  His position is that friends are our second family, those who after we are nurtured in our birth families, help us to finish growing outside that protective environment.  They bring needed diversity of opinion.  Of course, to have a friend, one must be a friend and Townsend covers what makes a great friend and what one must do to have them.

Best friends should not be considered an exclusive title, he suggests, but rather an inclusive category such as best movies or best songs.  An individual needs a variety of best friends, each of whom brings a different viewpoint that allows the rounding out of one's personality.  Nor are best friends better than other friends rather they are those whom an individual feels the most connection with.

In order to be a good friend, several items are required.  One must commit time and effort to building the relationship.  The shared times are currency in a friendship bank that allow withdrawals when that is inevitable.  Friends should make sustained efforts to carve out time for their friends and to be available when they are needed.

Another item that is required is the commitment to be vulnerable, to let the friend see you as you are, to know your strengths and weaknesses, your faults and your best characteristics.  Without this vulnerability, there is not a best friend relationship but a strong acquaintanceship one.  Finally, truth is an absolute necessity; the truth to reveal yourself honestly, and the truth to tell your friend what they may not want to hear but need to.

Dr. Townsend is a psychologist, speaker and leadership coach.  He has a daily radio show and has authored several other bestselling books.  His advice is succinct and written in an approachable manner.  This book is recommended for those interested in bringing another resource into their lives, and those interested in nurturing and sustaining the friendships they already have.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Remarkable Creatures by Sean Carroll

In Remarkable Creatures, Sean Carroll takes the reader on a lively tour of the discoveries in evolution, biology, genetics, archeology, geology and scientific dating that have revolutionized the thinking about how man appeared on earth and changed over the years.  Carroll is a professor of molecular biology and genetics and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

The book is structured in three areas.  The first talks of the beginnings of the theory of evolution with chapters on Darwin and on Alfred Wallace (Amazon explorations) and Henry Walter Bates.  The second group of chapters discusses the role of fossils and the lengths and privations taken to obtain them, as well as the conclusions reached from them.  The final group of chapters talks about the human evolution from the cradle of life in Africa to the Neanderthal chapter and the scientists such as Leakey who pioneered this work.  It ends with the new role that molecular biology is playing with providing more exact dates when various life forms existed and the genetic relationships between various forms.

This book is recommended for curious readers who want to know more about how we know what we know.  It is an overview of the area and highlights the various scientists who advanced knowledge, providing a look at the human side of their lives as well as the scientific discoveries they made.  The privations and enthusiasm these individuals displayed as well as the total focus they had on their life work is an amazing characteristic that all shared.  Carroll has done an excellent job in explaining the overall theories of life without drowning in the details, providing enough information for those who want to delve more deeply. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

From The Memoirs Of A Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry

Prepare to be charmed.  From the moment, Boyet Hernandez hits New York City from his native Philippines in 2002, his exuberance and talent starts to propel him to the top of the fashion world.  He comes with nothing but determination to make it in the only world he cares about.  Several years later, he has his own line (B)oy, magazine spreads and an American girlfriend.  He has it all, or so it seems, until the knock comes in the middle of the night and he is hustled off to a military prison.  His crime?  Fashion terrorist.

It seems that his main financial backer, a Canadian Muslim who believed in him and invested the money to get Boy his start, has been arrested as a smuggler with terrorist ties, and a stash of enough fertilizer to make many bombs.  There is the Indian gangster who tries to blackmail Boy--pay up or he will turn Boy in as a known associate of the smuggler.  His American girlfriend turns their love affair into an off-Broadway play about falling in love with a terrorist.  Even his publicist is a mark against him.  An Irishman whose family changed their name from McLaden to Laden to escape the prejudice against the Irish a century ago, Ben Laden has come full circle and this gay Irish man has lost most of his customers who don't want to be associated with someone whose name sounds so much like Bin Laden.

A travesty of justice, no doubt.  Boy is left in a prison cell under isolation, his only human contact guards and interrogators.  But then, but then.  Under the torrent of Boy's words, his exuberant explanation for everything, a worm of doubt starts to build in the reader's minds.  Is he as innocent as it seems, or is there a kernel of truth to be uncovered?

Alex Gilvarry has created a memorable character in Boy.  His exploration of the immigrant mind and the New York fashion scene is fascinating.  Readers will walk away from the experience of reading From The Memoirs Of A Non-Enemy Combatant with many questions about what is correct when a country is dealing with terrorism and to what lengths we are willing to go to protect ourselves.  This book is recommended for readers interested in fresh writing, great characters and writing that makes them question their positions.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Men And Dogs by Katie Crouch

The defining moment of Hannah's life was the disappearance of her father.  Her father, a hero whose medical skills saved the life of a child in front of her.  Her father, who disdained convention and made life interesting.  Her father, who went out in a boat when Hannah was eleven and never returned.

Everyone agreed that he must have drowned, but without a body, Hannah refuses to believe this is true.  She grows up and becomes successful, but still checks out older men on the street of every town she goes to, hoping against hope that she will see the face of her father.  She refuses to believe that any other man won't also leave her so she spends her time leaving them first, or making them leave her by her bad behavior.

John, her husband, has just reached his limit with Hannah and her drinking and infidelity.  Hannah goes home to Charleston to try to put her life back together.  She spends her days talking with her brother Palmer, her mother and stepfather and her high school boyfriend.  Can she solve the mystery of why her father left her behind?

Katie Crouch has written a compelling tale of how women's lives are shaped by their experiences with their fathers.  Hannah cannot heal and have a successful relationship until she puts her first relationship into focus.  Women readers will see themselves in Hannah's longing for her father, and men will discover how important they are in creating strong, independent women.  This book is recommended for readers of modern fiction and who are interested in family relationships and how secrets can tie up lives for many years.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Midnight Fugue by Reginald Hill

Superintendent Dalziel is back from his recuperation.  Caught in a terrorist blast, he spent time in a coma and the local criminals as well as his men thought he was a goner.  Now, he is ready to come back, but is he the same Dalziel that has held sway and created terror for so many years before the blast?

The day starts with a good-looking blonde asking for his help.  Seven years ago, Gina Wolfe's husband disappeared without a trace.  He was a police officer suspected of being corrupt when he disappeared.  Now, someone is trying to make Gina think that he is still alive and ready to come back.  She goes to Dalziel for help. 

Dalziel is willing to help, but also has other matters to consider.  His second in command, Pascoe, seems to have taken to being the man in charge a bit too easily and he shows signs of not wanting to give up the power now that Dalziel is ready to come back.  Dalziel sees other worrying signs; a suspicion from his peers that he is not fully recovered, that perhaps it's time for the king to be dethroned.  There are also others who seem interested in what happened to Alex Wolfe.  There's the local hot-shot reporter.  An up-and-coming politician seems involved somehow, or perhaps it's just his father, a local gangster now gone respectable.  Can Dalziel find Wolfe or what has happened to him before another tragedy occurs?

Fans of the Dalziel-Pascoe series will be grateful for another chance to visit with this team of detectives.  Reginald Hill has opened the door into the world of these Yorkshire detectives.  Readers are comfortable visiting this world and eager to return whenever there is a new adventure to read.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy suspense and intricate plotting.  Hill is a master at the top of his form and always a pleasure to read.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Mother-Daughter Show by Natalie Wexler

It's just after the holidays, so that means it's time for a honored tradition at Barton Friends School.  Every year, the mothers of the senior girls put on a singing, dancing show honoring their daughters with fun songs and humorous skits to show their love.  As those familiar with this environment might imagine, competition is fierce to put on the best show possible and outshine the shows that came before.

Natalie Wexler's The Mother Daughter Show tracks the creation of this year's extravaganza through the lives of three mothers.  Barb is the perfect wife and mother.  She is married to a high-powered attorney and spends her life serving on various committees at the school, always ready to give of her time and energy, and a shoo-in for the coveted service award this year.  Susan has a career where she facilitates cooperation and team building so she is a natural match for the organizational job.  She can organize any task and build consensus and it's just coincidence that consensus always seems to be built around her opinions.  Amanda has spent her time being an old-fashioned mom, making a house, being there for her kids, but before marriage she had dreams of being a songwriter and performer.  Obviously she should write the show.

While all is perfect on the surface, there are tensions underneath.  Barb spends her time caught between her aging mother's needs and the dramas of her willful daughter, who has just announced that she wouldn't be going to college afterall, but instead moving out to live with her tattooed, disreputable rock musician boyfriend.  Susan's family is starting to show signs of revolt against her perfectly organized homelife where every choice they make turns out to be what Susan wanted.  Amanda now has to find a job with college looming for her daughter, and after a twenty-year hiatus, that isn't going to be easy.

Natalie Wexler has written a humorous, lively book with characters that every woman will recognize.  She deftly lays out the conflicts that face all women; whether to work outside the home or stay home and make the family the prime focus; the fine line between being interested in the children's lives and overwhelming them; the struggle to keep love alive with husbands of many years, and the fierce tug of obligations between children and aging parents.  Readers will sympathize and cheer for the characters, and find much to relate with in their own lives.  This book is recommended for women readers, but all readers will enjoy it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Booksie's Best of 2011

It's always difficult to pick out the best books of an entire year.  So much of enjoyment of a book depends on whether it is in the reader's preferred genre, their mood at the time, and the background they bring to the book, which influences how the book resonates with them.  That being said, here are my favorites of 2011 in no particular order:


1.  Take Good Care Of The Garden And The Dogs, Heather Lende
2.  Savage City, T.J. English
3.  Grand Pursuit, Sylvia Nasar
4.  Triumph Of The City, Edward Glaeser


1.  The Oracle Of Stamboul, Michael David Lukas
2.  Inherent Vice, Thomas Pnychen
3.  Jamrach's Menagerie, Carol Birch
4.  The Woodcutter, Reginald Hill
5.  The Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kastova
6.  The Summer Of The Bear, Bella Pollan
7.  Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson
8.  Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, Christine Watson
9.  The Keeper Of Lost Causes, Jussi Adler-Olsen
10.  Doc, Mary Doria Russell
11. A Small Hotel, Robert Olen Butler
12. A Man Of Parts, David Lodge
13.  Luka And The Fire Of Life, Salmon Rushdie
14.  The Tranformation Of Barthlomew Fortuno, Ellen Bryson
15.  Stone's Fall, Iain Pear

My favorite book for 2011 was a debut fantasy by R.T. Kaelin.  It is a rare delight to read a book and instantly realise that a new star is being born.  I believe Kaelin will be a name in fantasy to rival Sanderson, Jordan, Donaldson and Martin.  The Booksie Best Book of 2011 goes to:

Progeny by R. T. Kaelin